Archive for August, 2015

August 31, 2015

Final Construction Handbook

After returning back from Nepal I spent about three weeks working half-days to finish up the final document to provide to our partner Tearfund UK. There were several changes to be made based on their feedback that included drawing the stone with rubble infill more accurately, providing alternative wood details in the place of concrete and steel, preparing a one page poster that summarizes the information for homeowners, and preparing versions of both documents with no text so that they could later create a Napali version. The handbook is too large to include here, but I have attached the poster below. The techniques are summarized into six key points: (1) build with a strong foundation; (2) use horizontal reinforcement (ring bands at the foundation, lintel, and roof); (3) use vertical reinforcement (tie the foundation to the walls and to the roof); (4) connect the floor system to the walls; (5) provide junction and through stones to connect the walls together, and; (6) provide a gable that is wood instead of stone. The proposed techniques offer a hybrid solution that works with existing building methods in the region so that people can rebuild fairly independently and move back into homes as soon as possible. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to witness Napali architecture and way of life, and learn more about building in stone!


August 15, 2015

Elisabeth and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Air Travel Experience

So I have to share this story because after the fact I can’t help but laugh about it and want to remember what happened. It all started when I was packing my carry-on suitcase at my parents house before leaving for Nepal. They both warned me that my suitcase might be too heavy. I shrugged them off because I had flown many times, and no one ever weighed my carry-on. Off I went on my journey from Toronto to Chicago, to Abu Dhabi, and finally Kathmandu. Everything went smoothly until I got to Chicago. Yup, all of my problems occurred in the US. I arrived very early to my gate because I had a five hour layover. They were asking everyone to go up to the desk to verify peoples’ passports. This is where I made my only mistake…. I went up to the desk…. early. I should have known that the clerks would be bored and would target me. They weighed my bag and low and behold it was almost double the meager 7kg limit. They told me I would have to check it for an additional fee. Luckily I knew I was allowed two checked bags (I’m sure they wouldn’t have informed me of this if I didn’t know). I asked them to please please reconsider because I was going to be doing disaster response and could not afford to loose the bag. The male clerk responded by saying that it would not get lost. I asked how he could be so sure. I transferred a few necessities from the suitcase into my purse, and grudgingly let them take it. Then I got to sit back down and watch bitterly as the gate got busier and they didn’t weigh anyone else’s bags that were certainly just as heavy as mine. Then I got on the plane to discover that the flight was far from full!

Fast-forward to Kathmandu. There we were waiting at the baggage carousel and, low and behold, my carry-on suitcase was nowhere to be found! The following week was a lesson in patience and willingness to ask others for help and accept their generosity. Since the baggage claim folks in Kathmandu weren’t being very helpful, I called Abu Dhabi and, after a half hour of listening to the “sparkly” Etihad theme song, I finally got through and located my bag, which for some reason had not been loaded in Abu Dhabi. Even though it arrived in three days, I didn’t get it until a week later since we were away in Makwanpur for the field research. I borrowed shampoo, soap, hiking boots, a rain coat, a notebook, phone charger, and some drafting stuff!

The rest of the trip went smoothly but on the journey home I had another, far worse experience. I think that I had food poisoning from something I ate on the first flight from Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi I was feeling queasy, but since we were flying to the US, instead of having time to rest we had to go through US customs and then a long line of security (if I had been flying to Toronto I would have avoided all of that). What made it worse was that there was no washroom near the customs and security queue. I had to walk 300 meters to get to a bathroom and then by the time I was back at the line I needed to go again. I’m glad that my colleague Dan had gone ahead of me in line at that point. I knew I was going to be sick soon and so I asked a nearby attendant if I could fast track through security some how. She said I had to go back to the far washroom. I didn’t have that much time. A few minutes later I puked on the ground in the customs line. I felt better for a little while and so kept going, but then puked again right before putting my suitcase on the security conveyor belt. It was so embarrassing! An attendant at security wanted to direct me back to the far washroom but I put my foot down and told him I had come all this way and I was going to go through security and go to the washroom that was immediately on the other side! After that I felt okay again. I didn’t feel bad at all about the mess because they deserved it for the poor airport design! Luckily I had some water tablets so that I could rehydrate myself. They wanted me to wait until a medical team came and checked me out, but no one came and so I left for the gate. Later at the gate the same attendant was there and he held my passport because he wanted me checked out before getting on the plane! The medical team was apparently too busy (I think there were other cases of people being sick) and so eventually they let me go after I told them it had been two hours since I was sick and I was able to hold down water. I’m so thankful they let me on the plane; I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise!

I stuck to bread and crackers on the following flight and was fine. The next problem that arose was that I had a bout of restless leg syndrome that I get on rare occasions, usually because of low iron levels. I had never had it on a plane before though and it was horrible. I could not sit still for the life of me and so for the next sixteen hours I was shifting positions, doing stretches in my seat, standing up and walking up and down the aisle, and going to the lavatory for the sole purpose of doing squats. I am usually a big fan of window seats, but I am so thankful that I was on the aisle and had no one sitting next to me! Because of my restless legs I couldn’t sleep even though I was completely exhausted. It was the worst flight and longest 16 hours I have ever experienced!

Finally we arrived in Chicago, and upon exiting the plane, who was giving directions for transfers but the same attendant who made me check my carry-on thirteen days prior. I wasn’t going to say anything, but he recognized me and asked how the trip went. I told him that my carry-on did not arrive and he said he was so sorry. As we walked away, Dan and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Dan commented on how this was the moment of closure for the whole saga. I am thankful that despite the terrible air travel experience, I made it to and from Nepal safely. This experience gets to be added to my suite of memorable travel stories!

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August 6, 2015

Final Days in Nepal

The final days in Nepal were a bit of a blur as we switched into deadline mode to produce a draft of the training guide to present before we left. I hand-drew all of the drawings, scanned them, and then added the text and dimensions in InDesign. It was fun to draw by hand after so long! It also allowed me to produce the drawings fairly quickly. I drew mostly in isometric so that people unfamiliar with technical drawings would be able to understand the details. On Wednesday afternoon we presented, and that same evening we caught our flight home. Photograph of table covered in drawings

Team photo on the roof of Tearfund HQ: Howard, Dan, and myself

August 5, 2015

Patan Durbar Square

On Sunday we took a day off. In the morning we went to the same international church we had gone to the week before. During the service, a Napali pastor came and shared about a ministry for the blind, and a group of blind people performed traditional Napali music for the congregation. For the first two songs they played a harmonium (like an accordion but set on the floor) in a style I’ve never heard played before, and for the final song played a traditional stringed instrument called a Sarangi. The music was beautiful!

In the afternoon we grabbed lunch and then went to see a few sights and do some shopping.  Ben generously offered to be our tour guide! We chose to go and see Patan Durbar Square and then go to the Thamel district. Patan Durbar Square is at the centre of Lalitpur city, one of the three kingdoms that were situated in the Kathmandu valley. The square is full of Newa architecture, which is an indigenous style of building used by the Newari people in that region. The style is marked by intricate brickwork and wood carvings and is typical only to Nepal. I haven’t seen such beautiful architectural scale carvings in my life! Some of the temples had a similar style and then others were in what is known as Shikhara style and built out of stone. Two of the temples had completely collapsed during the earthquake, and the others were significantly damaged. There is also a palace in the square that was converted into a museum. Inside the courtyard there were a collection of carved windows and brackets that came from the collapsed temples and other buildings. We went to a cafe that had a rooftop terrace where we could sit and look over the square. Afterwards we walked some of the backstreets. I was kind of amazed by how many shops there were that sold all of the same brass plated hindu and buddhist statues and other symbology and wondered out how they all stayed in business! The streets were narrow and other temples could be found on street corners. Many of the buildings had the same style of carved windows, doors, lattices, and large overhands with carved brackets.

After wandering around the backstreets we grabbed a taxi to the Thamel district. It is the tourist shopping area and is an interesting mix of mountain equipment, souvenir, and clothing shops. Howard bought a small “khukuri” knife that is a type of knife still used by the Gurkha regiments in Nepal and around the world. I found myself a lapel pin of the Nepali flag to add to my collection. We went on a bit of a goose chase wandering through town to find a square by a fountain were Ben remembered a group of merchants sold yak wool blankets. We asked for directions a few times and were led a little astray, but I didn’t mind one bit because we entered a neighbourhood that seemed to be the hub of local activity. The streets were so narrow and there were so many people in this area that few cars passed through. We did find the square in the end and I bought a yak wool shawl. I also came across a wonderful shop that sold paper of all kinds. I bought several large sheets that included plain paper, traditional stamped patterns, leaf prints, and embedded flowers. I think the total I spent on all of the sheets was the equivalent of $3.50. I was hoping to find carved wood window frames or the traditional trousers that the Nepali women wear, but unfortunately we ran out of time and I don’t think the guys were as interested in shopping as I was! We had experienced so much in just one afternoon! I hope that there will be another opportunity for me to visit Nepal and have some time to explore Kathmandu and the surrounding region. The textures and historical layers and surprises reminded me somewhat of Rome. I could spend weeks walking the streets of Kathmandu and taking in the architecture, culture, and general activity! IMG_1554