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22/07 Back from Ratankot

Dear Family and friends,

We finally arrived back from Rathankot exhausted but satisfied after two weeks of very hard work. I have to apologize that this message won't be very long, because in Rahtankot we had no electricity for 7 days and I could not update my word documents (so the battery of the computer ran out very fast). The funny thing was that this morning when we left the electricity switched on the moment we left the house.

My problem is how to make a summary of this inspirational, emotional and exhausting trip...?

Maybe I will start with the highlights or maybe just by saying everybody is in very good health maybe a little low on the blood sugar level... but no one became ill or had some kind of stomac problem (exept for Sofie who had the opposite of stomic problems :) ). The only one who had to skip two days was me. I still have not learned when I reach my limits... so 2 of the last days I spent (of course) ... in bed.

I have to say that the villagers and Karma's family took outmost care of us.

We all think they have gone to a LOT of trouble to cook food for 8 people for about 10 days and make sure their own family had also enough food .

So hereafter the highlights:

-Our walk to Rathankot was really exhausting but on this journey you are overwelmed by the nature and peace (also the heartwarming NAMASTE's immediatly make you feel at home).

-I must admit the food was one of the highlights they made delicious food, noodles, pancackes, fresh bread, of cours everyday Dalh Bad. We ate chicken, goat, I even had the exceptional chance to eat fried hornets larves and I must admit it was gummy but very heavy! I ate this together with Roxy the local selfmade wine.

-Another highlight was the enthousiasm of the children in the school. Normally this year there our 150 children in the school (last year 200). Because of the rainy season the school was closed for two months, but especially for us they opened the school and most of the young children of Rathankot came to the school ( 40 students). Kristof and Melodie gave sports and English lessons sometimes with the help of Jonas Dreesen and Sofie. It was amazing to see them at work ...

Also to see the motivation of these very young students was incredible (luckely I still had some battery left so I had the chance to film a very small part in the school). Due to our battery problem we had to be very economic with our film shootings. Jonas and Sofie also gave teaching about waste managemt. They did a wonderful job. Although we think one waste management session is not enough. Next year I think we will give some teachings to the adults about this because they have to give the example.

-Another highlight is the motivation of the villagers. They were really motivated and they gave all the support to Karma and us in all the projects. They always showed their gratitude through their warm namast├ęs. Their way of living of the villagers was also very shocking for us. They wake up at 5 am in the morning to go to their rice fields, coming back around 7-8 pm only, after the very, very long walk.

-At one occassion we helped on the rice fields and this brings me to an other highlight ... this was I think the most unique experience (next to eating hornets in Rathankhot....): Working together with the villagers on their rice fields! First two oxes plow the field while some one else derives the water stream, so the field could be flooded. Next we walked through it with our bare feed to mix the mud so it was nicely divided. Afterwards the women and very young (8- 15) girls and some elder women came to plant the rice. Their planting speed was incredible for us. We could not believe this: they planted rice at machine speed. When we planted one plant (just pushing it in the soil) they already planted 10 and this even if we tried very, very hard to raise our tempo. You can imagine with 14 people standing in one small rice field this easily gets very funny... so at certain moments some mud travelled through the air, direction neighbour. And slowly, slowly the amound of mud flying through the air increased ending with a mud fight of course. I ( Brecht ) herewith sincerely admit that Kristof started EVERYTHING :) . I must say we were soaked with mud from hair to toe. Just to restore your peace of mind; we 'tourists' were not the only ones playing in the mud. We were also under mud attack from the villagers as we were the local entertainment. After a half day in the rice field we left and our working partners were very sad that we left. After the mud we went for a jump under the little jungle bridge in the waterfalls to wash off the mud. It was heavenly: no clouds and a tropical sun - we even had to search for some shade.

- Another highlight is our greenhouse. We are really proud of it and I think we rightly should be!
We worked non stop from early in the morning till it was dark. We went to the jungle to cut our own bamboe trees ( like 10 meters long) and we had to carry them up the very very very steep slopes to our construction ground. Before this we had to clean the garden of one of the villagers... he will get a very very small salary in exchange (but they are quite poor). I think you all remember the two very very sweet girls standing on the picture together last year. It is in their garden we built the greenhouse. To our very sadness these girls of only 4 and 3 years old were almost every day alone without parents ( all the villagers went to work very very hard on the rice fields). I must say this was truly heartbreaking. Sometimes their mother or grandmother was present. After a week the little girls even started to join the works... they are so so so sweet... incredible, but realy dirty full of flees and with almost nothing as clothes. The greenhouse was really hard work for everyone. In the greenhouse the villagers will plant 5000 butter tree seeds. The butter tree is a very rare tree to find in Kathmandu but it has a lot of benefits. The aim is to make butter out of the seeds and even one make wine to sell.

-As planned on our agenda we also planted 900 trees in the village and the border of the jungle and around the school. 40 villagers came to help. As a favour for their help they could buy very cheap fruit trees from the community (sponsored by us like this the community has new budget to buy next year new trees without our help). In the village they work with a small community who tries to organise everything. There are 20 different families in the community. They all pay 150 Nepali Rupies (1.5€) every month to be a member. From this money people in the community get education organised by the government about efficient farming.... Afterwards they go to other farmers to help them. They also buy all the fruits in the village from all the villagers and in order to sell these in all together in Kathmandu while taking a little profit. Villagers can also lend money from the community to pay for urgent hospital cost, they have to pay back the money but without any intrest.
The community is the main force to help the development in this village inspired by Karma and Geshe Pema Dorjee, carried by the villagers and supported by foreing friends like us.

-A personal highlight for me was helping Karma with the beehives. When I was young I helped my father sometimes while he was working on his beehives. But always with a terrible fear for bee stings. The bees in Rathankot are incredibly calm and peacefull (because it are Apis cerana bees and not Apis meliferas like in Europe). So when Karma and I were giving them sugar water to regain strength and surviving the flowerless period we didn't wear any protection only in short and t-shirt. We could open the hives and put the self made sugar bottles in the hives. I was really happy for the dedication Karma took care of all the bees. From the 14 beehives we bought last year there are still 11 be hives left 3 died. A few beehives are quite poor but most of them are doing good and some of them are doing very very good. We gave them 2 times sugar. And every day Karma went very early to kill some hornets (bee predators), it is a real plage. The hornets in Nepal are realy huge, if you get 5 stings you can die!! :s One night Karma his oncle and some other (brave) villagers went out on hornets hunt. We wanted to join them but they forbit us. Earlier we went to see the hornets nest it was 10m up in a very slim tree. So their plan was to put Kerozine in a bottle attach it on a very very big bamboe stick poor it over and burn it. In reality someone climbed the tree and cut the branch. They said this was the only way to kill them. If one trow stones they immediatly fly to the point the stone was thrown from, if one climbs the tree they fly down the tree to attack and defend. If one makes fire they immediatly start an attack. They are immensely aggresive and smart. I showed Karma how to make a hornets trap but the next day we only cought some bees to my very big disappointment.

-One of the last days we went with Karma (before the darkness fell down over Rathankot) to visit the 25 families for which we will sponsor the school fees from next school year. We only did 6 families an had to end our visit because it was too late and it was raining very very intensively. So we went back to have dinner. The next day (our last day) Olivier and me woke up at 5 AM to leave for visiting the other families because we wanted to take a picture of all of them. We had to climb up to the top of Ratankot and then I realised together with Olivier how big Ratankot was. We climbed 300m up the hill for one hour. And up the top there were a lot of houses spread around the many rice fields. A part of Ratankot I never saw. It had something very magic so early and so high in the mountains. It was enormously exhausting climbing so intense without any food. Luckely we got some hot milk from one of the families. For us it was very hard to distinguish the poor people from the normal people because living standards in Ratankot are very very low. But some of the houses we visited were very small and people were living sometimes with up to 6 people together on 5 square meter... Almost impossible....
But the thing that broke our heart was when we reached the highest place of our journey and we found 2 little houses and on the corner of the field a very very very small house. Karma thought there weren't any children but when we looked closer in the very small house there were 3 very young children (8, 6 and 4) all alone. We asked where their parents were and they told us they were working on the fields and after 1o or maybe 20 days they would come back. At that point I really felt my heart break. 3 small kids all alone looking after them self. Karma gave them the mushroom we found on our trip and told us that their parents left enough food for them to cook. I will put their picture I took on the blog (when you see tree little children standing on their doorstep you will know it was them).

At 9h30 we were back from our very heavy walk... It was very special...

Then we packed our bags and were ready to leave... meanwhile a lot of people and children gathered in front of Karma's parents house (the house where we slept : Olivier Jonas Jonas Brecht, others slept in the house next to it at Karma's uncle's house).
Also Karma's mother was very very busy making a small altar outside with incense and fruit and flowers.... while more and more people came together.
We got a very hartwarming goodbye ceremonie... it was incredible the gratitude of all the people towards us was so fantastic!! Also Karma's uncle said a very very big and quite emotional thank you towards my father which he is so grateful for all his hard work last year.
We all got a lot of Kata's, all the children offered flowers and we also received a typical Nepali head. Sofie and Melodie got a beautifull scarve, I also got a beautifull book for my father and Karma his uncle specialy offered a jar of honey from one beehive as a present to my father. So I really hope I can bring it savely back to Belgium so my father can taste the result of his hard work. I must say the whole group, the villagers and me admire my father for having been here all alone last year and working so hard!

Afther the emotional goodbye from all the villagers and children we left for a very hard walk, all the night and days before it was raining like it should be in a true rain season, but the moment we left the sun started shinning and the electricity jumped back online!

The sun burned a little bit too hard during our trip and some people of our group including me were swetting so hard that even our pants got soacked. Arriving on the top and the road, after a few breaks, we deprived the first shop from all the cola, mango juice, coockies and everything with sugar we could buy.
A few minutes later we realised that Karma and 6 people of the village who helped us carry the heaviest bags were standing a bit further waiting for us. After some rest we had some very spicy noodles in a local restaurant. Last night we decided on asking for a private bus and we were very happy for it when we climed on. On the road we visited a bio farmentation tank which was working but was very basic and mostly under the ground.

Arriving in the monastry the smiles on the faces of the monks almost made me cry.
They couldn't hide that they were so enormously happy to see us. It was like coming home. Tinlee made sure we had frensh fries and noodles it was delicous!! We all went to bed very tired but very happy!

So like always I think I gave a very big summary.... :)
I guess these where the biggest highlights. Still thinking about it, the whole stay in Rathankot was a fabulous experience. Goodnight!