Vertical World

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Bumpy roads, meandering through mountain landscapes, lead us to the village. Small houses cling to steep mountain sides. Corn grows on fields that are more vertical than horizontal. Here on this slope, far from the peak of the mountain and far from the valley, people live their lives.

We’ve traveled here to observe Build Up Nepal’s training of the villagers and part of the construction of an earthquake resistant house. As we arrive they are making blocks. A mixture of earth and concrete goes in, a block comes out. A villager lifts out the block, blows away the dust that’s left on the surface and puts the block where the other ones are. Looks easy enough. But when we try it it’s hard to get a good grip. The block is heavy and as soon as you put your fingers too far out then the edges break and the whole block has to be scrapped. The new blocks are very frail. It will take almost a month until they are ready to be used.

Then we observe as they bend and place rebars on the foundation of the house that they are building. They get instructions as they work. We film, take pictures and ask questions.

Unfamilar bacterias and food has made most of us a bit sick by now. I felt worse a while before, really weak and sick, but now I’m feeling better. Hoda, whom I’m working on the project with, got sick a little bit later and is at the worst stage. Also no one of us has eaten since breakfast and the travel has been long so we’re all pretty tired. We sit down to rest and look at the landscape. The mountains are so large. There is a big difference in altitude between valleys and peaks which makes their size much more impressive. And they are completely covered in forest, cultivations and villages from top to bottom.

After a while the nice villagers put a foam rubber mat for us in the shadow of what looks like a banana tree and bring us some food. Beaten rice and cauliflower curry. We rest there almost until it’s time to leave.

In late afternoon they help us look for somewhere to stay. It turns out to be hard. We are told that there are school exams and all the children of the area are in the village now, occupying all the rooms. When it’s already dark we finally find two free rooms in a simple house with an unfinished upper floor. The family brings us some dal bhat which tastes excellent.

In the night some of us sleep bad because of mosquitoes and other insects making noise and being annoying but I sleep well almost the whole night.

In the morning Hoda still isn’t feeling very well so she leaves with our driver who is heading back to Kathmanu.

We hike up the mountain to the construction site which takes about half an hour. It’s raining a little but it’s still hot and we’re soon covered in sweat. The work at the construction site isn’t supposed to start until 10 so we hike and explore some more.

At the construction site they are still making bricks and also tying the rebars together. The engineer from Build Up Nepal is at another construction site that is too far away for us to walk to now but he says that he will be where we are in 20 minutes. After one and a half hour he still hasn’t been able to leave the other place so we hike back to the larger village and find a little dusty restaurant to eat lunch. At the restaurant they don’t speak English but we order dal bhat which is one of the two dishes we know the name of.

After lunch we explore the village a little. On the roads colorful trucks and busses travel. Their horns sound as funny as the vehicles look. Besides being very loud they are also musical and they are used all the time, constantly.

The engineer from Build Up Nepal is still stuck at the other place. We decide that there is nothing left for us to see at the construction site today so we walk down towards the guest house again. Back there we meet the engineer who is heading up the mountain now on his scooter.

We haven’t got much else to do today. We explore the area around the guest house and chat with a boy from the family who owns the guest house. He is the only one who seems to know English and is happy to talk to us. He wants to be a civil engineer in the future.

We are thinking of going back to Kathmandu but it’s 3 o clock in the afternoon and the last bus has already left.

In the night I have dreams about spiders. I can’t get rid of them so I turn on the light and see a really pretty large spider at the foot of my bed.

I knew it! I think.

It’s the same kind of spider as I saw in Togo. Probably related to the ones we have in our basement in Sweden as well, just a bit larger. Sooner or later one had to show up. I was just waiting for it to happen.

I take on my clothes and leave the room. At least I don’t panic too much, just hurry to put some distance between myself and the unpleasant creature.

It runs around the whole room at and amazing speed. Then it finds the exit to the corridor and runs along the corridor towards the front door. It doesn’t seem to be happy about how light it suddenly got in the room.

Eventually I go back to my bed and sleep a bit more with all my clothes on.

The next morning we meet the engineer from Build Up Nepal who answers our questions from the previous day regarding the construction. Then he helps us get on the right bus.

Another long, warm and dusty journey begins.

 

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The place where we stayed

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We got a flat tire on our way home. Luckily it was right in a small city.

Wild and Lively

 

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So we got to Kathmandu.

From the taxi we could see what a lively, cahotic city it was. It reminded a bit of Lomé in Togo. As cahotic, as unorganized, almost as bad streets. But Lomé mostly had small houses while here the houses were tall, very narrow and squeezed together, giving the city a much more urban character. The houses grew from the ground like trees in a forest. Many had beautiful facades, built of bricks with intricate wooden details. Such a contrast that such art should exist in the middle of the chaos!

I didn’t feel that overwhelming and unreal feeling I felt when arriving in Togo, which is quite common to feel when you visit a developing and very distant country for the first time and which the three other people with me definitely seemed to be experiencing. I felt that it matched my expectations well enough, although I found it to be somehow more exciting than I had immagined. I couldn’t stop smiling. Kathmandu was full of details and things to explore in every corner. An untame city.

Modern city landscapes in industrialized countries are often designed in order to be easy to understand, to create a simpler and controlled reality, the likes one cannot find in nature. Few details, straight lines, clean surfaces. One designs building to be beautiful yes, but still simple, so that ones surrounding shouldn’t necessitate much attention, nor much immagination, to understand, so that one can think of other things. So one can feel calmer too I suppose. It’s less tiering to walk around in such cities. Definitely. But a city like Katmandu makes you feel alive, makes you concious of things, feelings one might mostly experience in nature where I come from. One of them is the balance between life and death (especially knowing that the city is in a siesmic zone, prone to strong earthquakes). People go on living, eating, sleeping, laughing, crying, doing the laundry, giving birth and dying. Kathmandu goes on being lively, in spite of the big threat that looms upon it. And I also experience a feeling, that I do feel at home too but more strong here, of how many other individuals, not very different from me, there are on this planet.

The taxi couldn’t find the hotel. He didn’t seem to be able read the map on google very well nor did he know much English. From time to time he stopped to ask passers-by for the way. This mostly ended in long discussions. He passed the narrow entrance to our hotel but nobody of us noticed the small sign so he kept driving. When we finally got back and we found the hotel the whole taxi trip had taken us 2,5 hours.

During the following days we have explored the area a little, been at the office and discussed what we’re going to do. Turns out the office is moving closer to our hotell on monday. Lucky coinsidence but a bit frustrating that we hadn’t been told in advance.
We’re going to a village next week, to get a first look at how Build up Nepal works.

We’ve also had time to further explore the area, eat some local food (often served in large amounts with the consequence that I’ve constantly been feeling like I’ve eaten too much) and gone to the cinema in a shoping centre close to where we live. The shoping centre is oddly modern compared to everything around it.

Kathmandu is a pretty good place to go shoping. In contrast to Togo (when I was there) it’s not hard to find most things you might want to buy, from electronics to cloths. The prices are mostly low to very low. There are also quite a few book shops, also with books in English, so I’ll have to explore them one of these days.

This is probably one of the most interesting, challenging and personally developing things I’ve done. It feels good to be outside of Europe, in a distant country, for a long period again. It’s been four years since Togo already. Four years full of things happening, but non the less four years of life in industrialized, and relatively similar areas of the world, mostly in Europe.

However I also feel a little sadness at being so far away from friends and family, all the people that I love. There are so many mountains, seas, cities and other people between me and those who mean the most to me. So strange. At least with internet it’s easier to keep in touch.

 

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Project Entry 3 – Two weeks left

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Since the last blog entry we’ve kept working on the project plan for Engineers Without Borders and the thesis statement for our university. They both seem to be good enough at least. We have kept planning everything from accommodation in Nepal to what information we need to gather once we are there. What is the best way of teaching villagers the factors that make a construction resistant to earthquakes? Do they need to understand that or is it enough for them to learn how to build the buildings step by step? We need to look into questions as how cultural differences affect communication, what methods of communication are already being used during construction processes and if they can be used in Nepal. How can better communication make the construciton process more efficient? How could technology be used? How can misunderstandings be avoided?

We have finally bought flight tickets, something that took us a lot more time than it ought to have. Since Kathmandu isn’t the most common destination it was a bit challenging to find a combination of flights that was cheap, fairly direct, avoided stops of too many hours at airports on the way, allowed the most luggage possible, was on ok dates, with reasonable times of arrival, from reliable flight companies and so on. There were few tickets left and some of the best and cheapest sold out. To make things more difficult everyone has been really busy during this period. I’ve been in Vienna and Italy to visit friends and relatives for one and a half week since I won’t have the opportunity to do so during summer, then I was in the military for almost three weeks. I also still had things to do for the nomination committee in the evenings, when I was free from the military. Then it was unclear if we would have to change our planned travel dates a little in order to get a certain stipend. So it was a relief when the tickets had been bought at last, even if that meant staying up late and losing valuable sleep the evening before heading out in the forest with the military for a weekend of marching with heavy loads, without much food and a night in a spruce-branch shelter.

We’ll leave Sweden on the 13th of June. That day is not far away now but there are still quite a few things to be done here before the travel so I tend to think more about that and not so much about the fact that we’ll soon be on our way. That still doesn’t feel so real. Once in Nepal we will travel to the villages to observe the construction processes, take pictures, film and interview. A lot of online research still has to be done as well. We plan to create instruction manuals and an instructional video. We need a video camera for that part so if someone could lend us one it would be very appreciated!

You can also still contribute to the project by donating to our fundraising campaign here: https://www.gofundme.com/projects-for-build-up-nepal  All donations are very welcome!

Project entry 2 – Fundraising

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As I wrote recently I’m working on a project for Build Up Nepal. If you missed the post: https://theothertrain.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/projects/

Build up Nepal is an NGO that helps Nepalese villagers rebuild their homes in simple but earthquake-resistant ways (http://www.buildupnepal.com/). We will be making manuals and instructional videos which describe the construction process, as well as look for other ways of conveying knowledge about how to build earthquake-resistant buildings to the villagers. A parallel project will be looking into how the construction process itself of Build up Nepal can be made more efficient. Although they are two different projects we are working together quite a lot.

Now we have started fundraising and anyone can contribute. Even small donations are very appreciated!

The campaign page: gofundme.com/projects-for-build-up-nepal

You’re welcome to ask any questions about the projects or the fundraising campaign.

I will be posting updates about the projects regularly here in my blog.

Conscription – reintroduced

 

So now conscription has been reintroduced in Sweden, for both men and women. It is pretty much the system which I was hoping for (https://theothertrain.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/test/). However I don’t think it will be a drastic change. The number of conscripted soldiers will be low for now. It’s still mainly the people who want to serve that will serve and it seems like we will still have professional soldiers too. The big difference is that 18-year olds will be called to the tests to see if they are fit for service (but mainly if they showed interest to serve in the online test that everyone has to take) and that once you start your training you can’t just quit because you don’t feel like continuing.

Strangely, in spite of all, it still feels a little bit sad too that the short period a completely professional military in Sweden is coming to an end. After all it is the military in which I have served, which I have experienced, this far. We will be but a tinny group of people who have experienced this period soon. And several of the people who I got to know in the military, they might not have been there if it had been a conscripted army. Or we wouldn’t have met. Not in the same circumstances anyway. I suppose it’s just a human thing to feel something, from time to time, when familiar things change.

But on the whole I welcome this  and look forward to see how things develope.

 

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Projects

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Although I haven’t been writing here for a while I’ve been writing more on my story project. My goal is for it to be finished before next summer so I focus more on it than on my blog at the moment. However, hopefully, my blog will still see a bit more activity from my part pretty soon. Especially this summer.

I’m on my last semester of the Construction Engineering program at Chalmers university. I have three new courses. One is Production Management where we get to write contracts and make charts for the construction process of a mall. The second one is House Construction where we learn about bricks and have to design a terrace house. And we did a study trip to Vienna. Who says no to a study trip home? Maaaaybe I did partially chose the course for that. I love irony. Seeing both my Swedish classmates and Austrian friends in the same place was a little strange. But fun too. And I got to see the city from a new perspective, see things I hadn’t seen before and learn new things about buildings which I didn’t know much about earlier.

Now to the main thing I wanted to write about. As I said, a while ago, I was going to talk more about my thesis. For my thesis I’ve started a project for Engineers Without Boarders and the organization Build Up Nepal. Build up Nepal is an NGO that helps Nepalese villagers rebuild their homes in simple but earthquake-resistant ways (http://www.buildupnepal.com/). It’s almost since summer that I’ve been working on getting the project going. It was pretty hard in the beginning. I had never done anything similar before. I talked to a lot of people who told me to talk to a lot of people who told me to talk to people with whom I had already talked. And after all this talking I still hadn’t got anywhere and I didn’t know from where to start. The end of the semester was getting close and I was prepared to give up. Then I finally got in contact with the right person who could provide me with the information I needed and suddenly things started to feel a lot more clear. I started to plan the project and I found three people who wanted to work with me. So the project became two parallel projects. We’re working on them two and two since we’re supposed to write our thesis two and two. But we’re also helping each other a lot. Since Christmas things have been going forward at a steady pace, although my involvement in the student union nomination committee has kept me from working on the project as much as I wanted too the last month. Anyway we’ve worked on the objectives, planned the travel a bit, made an outline for a budget, applied for grants and looked for other ways to finance the projects, got vaccinations and been on several meetings.

Briefly, the objective of our project is to facilitate the spreading of knowledge about how to build earthquake-resistant houses. People in the Nepalese villagers should be able to build new homes on their own, without depending on external assistance. We plan to create manuals and instructional videos that describe the construction process in easy ways, as well as look for other ways of conveying knowledge. The parallel project, that the two other people are working on, will look more into how the construction process itself of Build up Nepal can be made more efficient. It’s possible that we will have to redefine our objectives along the way. The needs of Build up Nepal change very quickly and we have to adapt. We also have to keep the requirements of our university in mind so that we plan the projects in such a way that we can write our thesis based on them.

The plan right now is to spend this spring preparing and writing. As much as possible should be ready and planned when we travel in June so that we can use our two months in Nepal efficiently. Then i August we go back and finish the last things from home. My goal is that we’ll be done in September or October.

I don’t know how this will end. It is a big challenge. But challenges like these are fun and exciting so I will put a lot of commitment and energy into it. And I’ll keep writing about it here on my blog.

 

 

Busy Times

 

It’s been a busy time, the last few months. Studying more courses than required prooved to be a bit too challenging in the end. The courses (building services engineering, bridge construction and building maintenance) weren’t as easy as the ones at the beginning of the semester. I also had quite a bit of work to do for the nomination board. We’ve had a lot of intervews, even if it’s still nothing compared to what awaits us this spring. The good thing is that we’ve finnally managed to recruit more members to the board, so hopefully it won’t be as terribly stressfull as we were fearing it might be. I feel that I’m learning a lot from this work. I’m learning about organizing, about responsability, about my university and the student union. And about interviews of course.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time planning for my thesis. I want to do it in a little more challenging way than what’s common. It will take a lot of planning and work but I’ll do my best. More about this later.

All in all it has been a busy but also fun time. There has been a lot of work but not too many strange calculations that I don’t understand. The courses have been fun and interesting and I’ve done interesting things outside of the courses. It’s been a pretty good semester.

Not All Days are Good

Sometimes there are periods in life that feel heavy, periods of isolation and darkness. At the moment it’s not such a time for me, even if there are still difficult things of course. But I want to post a short thing I wrote during such a time, because even that is part of life.

 

The Days of Isolation

The daylight outside is too sharp. The night is too dark. Around me a world is going on but there is a wall between me and it. The sounds from outside press themselves against the wall, grow louder and louder, but in here nothing can reach me. People outside talk, laugh, joke, live, live, live, live.

How did I end up in this cage? What did I do wrong? Somewhere in the future I’ll find my way out and stand up straight. That’s what I tell myself. That’s what everybody tells me. But how come I still can’t find my way out after all my searching?

 

 

What I’ve been doing lately

I’m trying to study for my Heat and Ventilation course in a freezing tent. From time to time someone comes and looks at the drawings and calculations I’ve spread across the table.

“What’s that?”

I explain.

Sometimes people seem a bit enthusiastic. Some even know a little about the topic and discussions start. It’s a way to pass the time. We’ve had many hours of waiting today. But I’m not really sad about that. I have much to do for uni and I’m happy to get some time to study even here, at this five-day military exercise.

It’s the first semester of my third year at university. I’m having three courses: Heat and Ventilation, Construction Law and an Environment course. There are unusally few calculations to do and a lot of discussions. So that’s fun. Although it’s getting more stressfull now that deadlines and exams are aproaching, it’s been unusually calm. There has been more time than ever for other things next too studying. I’ve spent some time training for my role as a medic in the army as well as exercising, taking up old contacts again, repairing bicycles, sailing, looking for some interesting topic to write my disertation about in spring, joining the nomination board of my student union (which had an urgent lack of members) and more.

It’s getting too cold now in the tent. My fingers are numb and I can’t think clearly. Time to close the books.

During the days that follow at the exercise I work at a Role 1 medical facility. It’s smaller than a field hospital and without advanced medical capacity. My job as a medic is to assist the doctors and nurses. I get the equipment that they need, take measurments on the patients, change dressings, fill in forms, change blankets, keep the place clean, check that the equipment is working properly, etc. Many small things that don’t seem that complicated but there is much to keep in mind: what do I need when I change these dressing? Where do I find it? Is the patient feeling pain again? Am I taking enough precautions not to spread bacterias? What does the nurse need in order to put a catheter in place? Is it time to take measurments on that patient again? Did the morphine he recieved affect his breathing rate? Have we ordered food for everyone?

In between our shifts as medics we wait in a small, unheated, tent. That’s when I study. We have some theory lessons there too. I learn more about how the evacuation of wounded is organized and the various kinds of reports. Words and acronyms like Role 1, Role 2, PTR, PMR, TOC, PECC, that I’ve heard quite often but never completely understood, finally get a clear meaning.
One of the most fun parts of the exercise is when there is a mass casualty incident and the patients arrive quickly one after the other. My role is to take care of the equipment, which doesn’t sound too exciting I admit, but is important as well. Even here there is much to learn. I have to make sure the equipment of every patient is collected when they come, stored properly, that it follows them when they leave and that the ambulances don’t drive away without equipment that corresponds to the one that has been left with the patients. And in between this I try to comfort patients and help wherever I can. I get to change role and help the doctor for a little while too. Our patient is a guy from my university (also in the nomination board) who’s in the home guard. There are many people I know here at the exercise. Even people with whom I did the medic training last year, in the other city, are here with their unit. However they work in their own tents. 

Then the exercise ends and I go back to Heat and Ventilation and Environment group works, exams, nomination boards and all the rest. And sometimes, luckily, I have some time to write as well.

 

Familiar Streets

Looking out through my window I see trees, lawns, a few houses and streets. Now that the trees still have their leaves I cannot see that far. When the leaves are gone I see the amusement park with the ferris wheel and the 116 meter tall free fall tower. Further of I see the grayish spruce forest, often wrapped in a bit of mist.

Once the forest used to cover most of what I can see from here. It’s strange to think of that – how the city grew forth, how underneath this familiar street maybe there was a little stream lined by bushes where animals would come and drink. And bellow my house there was a hill with rocks and trees. And where the big streets are, the streets where people drive each day on their way to and from work and where the traffic jams form, there were only small paths created by wild animals and the only sound was that from their steps on the forest floor, of the birds singing, of the leaves rustling in the wind. Then the first people settled down in the area, they hunted under the trees and maybe they killed a few moose where the amusement park is now. They sat and cooked in little glades that, perhaps, used to be where the train station later was built. They searched the cliffs for gull eggs and fished in the sea. Then houses started to be built and more people arrived. And as time passed people continued to build and build. A street appeared, then a harbor. The city formed and expanded, changed over and over. The features that I am used to, that are part of my daily life, emerged. Now the stream is gone along with the trees on the hill. The glade and the deer path are since a long time forgotten as well.


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