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Mark Bittman’s speech at Bedford 2020

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He spoke about the necessity to form movements to take action on a local level. Local action groups must pressure their local officials to outlaw antibiotics in meat and close factory farms. The other hot topic is to demand sugar tax at a local level, but more ideally across New York State.

No president has pushed food politics. The current climate creates more urgency than ever before to address these concerns. Food is tied into the following current political climates that are in danger:

Climate change – EPA regulations. Meat creates methane gas, the non organic growth of produce removes carbon from the soil, government use of land for drilling etc effects the soil, more land needs to be government subsidized for young farming businesses locally, big food companies growing excess of dangerous crops.

Public education – cutting back on food programs and lack of local officials accepting changes to the unhealthy foods and snacks allowed in the cafeterias. Less fortunate children need to have access to real produce at school. Rye and Mamaroneck school districts are having trouble being heard by their local school departments. I know as I am involved with the Mamaroneck Mums working hard to improve food in the schools as the new school budget is being drawn up for the next 5 years. At the last meeting the mums met with plenty of resistance. They need more support from residents. Bittman suggested contacting the New Haven school district, who have implemented a successful farm to table school lunch program.

Health care – misdirected subsidies. Pushing locally for sugar tax and using these funds to help health programs and food stamps for fresh produce. There are more illness contributing to high sugar and sodium diets, create kidney disease, diabetes, common colds, allergies, etc, these health care resources need to be spending more on nutritional education and access to fresh produce for all.

Immigrants – often are food workers. Bedford constituents are attending their local town council meeting to vote on sanctuary for their immigrants. More town members need to hold their local officials accountable.

Entice nonvoters to engage in political issues – as most them are on this side of the table

Support needed:

For local farm workers – agriculture needs to be regenerative (I spoke to the Stone Barns representative and said I would pass out the word about their farming program this summer for high school children, Stone Barns located in Potantico Hills houses an amazing farm program and is home to the top restaurant in America, a wonderful, summer, opportunity for high school children).

Push back financially in your local grocery store against big food corporations, by more local produce

.Build our local communities and have our voices heard about alternatives:

Unions

Co ops

Coffee clutches

Teach ins

Work on what is not good locally. We have pretty good people around here (Gillibrand, Maloney, Cuomo has gotten better, needs more pushing) but Fasso north of Westchester is a problem.

Necessary to build local power for the 2018 elections that are on our side for:

Restricting antibiotics in our food

Factory farming

Feeding junk to children

Fair treatment for workers

Land for those who want to work it and subsidize these farmers.

Support local farms small and medium in the area

THIS FOOD MOVEMENT supports peace, justice for all, health, jobs and security. It parallels President Rosevelt’s 4 freedoms. Our actions can hope to divert a catastrophe.

 

 

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Cultural New York, Recipe, Uncategorized

The Changing World We Live In

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In these challenging times remember to go out and enjoy the natural world we live in.

img_0131My favorite photo I took.  This girl was lining up at Starbucks. I asked to take her photo.  The youth are living in a new reality.

 

As the world watches American leadership make history with their cruel, unnecessary, executive orders, they also see their people rise up against injustice. Even though this devastating change of power has risen up against everything this great, democratic country has fought for over the last 200 years, the resistance movement will make sure that every human being is treated equally and that the environment will not be damaged any further by this party’s lack of belief in climate change.

 

The people elected this demagogue, but his charismatic, strong rhetoric convinced people that he would repair this country and bring about amazing changes. We know the jobs immigrants perform are low paying and hard labor. No American wants to work those jobs, I am sure they can have them if they wanted. We watch immigrants work hard and long hours so that their children have the opportunity to go to college and along with their parents work ethics they strengthen this country. Diversity in any country brings a far more interesting culture to the world. Who truly believes a land filled with only white people could be interesting?

 

Last weekend I went to the women’s protest march on Washington. I spoke to so many Americans from different ethnic, financial, educational and regional backgrounds. I loved the conversations filled with love and hope. I came home charged and ready to resist. With this week’s executive orders and being back in my day-to-day life I started to feel hopeless again. But social media keeps up the resistance and facts for all to follow and participate in. We ALL have a voice and we ALL have a responsibility to sort out the truths from the lies. Holding everyone responsible to report truths and not alternative truths, from both sides.

 

As well as being involved in protests it is my duty to ask our local democrat senators to vote and stand up for their constituents. The party needs to find their backbone and leadership to gain the respect they have lost. So many democrats refused to vote in this election as they have lost faith in their party. Let’s not allow that to happen in 4 years time. Or even on the local level in 2 years.

 

Putting my work hat on, I am so proud to be both a personal chef and health coach. Watching my colleagues on social media resist this new regime and make statements to their followers urges me to not only make my statement but keep up going to protest marches.

 

Having lived here peacefully for 35 years as a resident alien from the United Kingdom, yesterday I filed my immigration papers to become an American citizen. This current state of affairs has strengthened my love for this country and the people in it. This era will make us stronger and shows the youth of today, who have only known the gentle Obama years, what can happen in a democracy, and the need to stand up to power.

 

On a working note, my book will be published May 1 and yesterday I shot the cover photo for my book. Here is a rough mock up I did last night. The fonts will change once I have hired a graphic designer.

 

God bless America and all her people. May we find our strength through these changing times to unite as one and keep our focus strong.

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My book’s cover photo.  Taken by me in the studio.  So excited this is coming together so well.  My favorite recipe in the book is Salmon Salsa Verde.  These are the ingredients for the dish.

 

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Goodbye 2016.

 

As 2016 winds down we collectively reflect on this past year and what mattered in our lives, from both a personal and universal perspective. This year will certainly be remembered for the loss of so many artists that we grew up loving and expecting to always be around, and then the surprising, American election, changing the governmental track for the next 4 years. We have a strongly divided nation where half of us struggle with the anxiety of a businessman running this country, whilst the other half see this as a great opportunity for American growth.

 

Personally for me this year has been filled with tremendous hope and a two gigantic losses. The hope is that my business in the Westchester area has grown and I have built a strong group of clients that I love and they love my food. This perfect pairing inspires me creatively to provide healthy, fresh meals for happy, vibrant families. I am so grateful for these harmonious relationships.

 

My goal for getting my cookbook published by May is moving along nicely. The recipes are written, now for the editing stage. Still searching for the perfect title and intro, but those things will fall into place once the photos are finished. I have had tremendous input from friends as to what they think will sell best. I appreciate all the interest.

 

Christmas time for me is family time. Every year I spend it with my Mum, either in the UK or South Africa. For me, England holds a special sense of magic surrounding the holidays. I love the carol services in the churches and the annual pantomime. The British tradition of the Queen’s speech always leaves me with a sense of pride. These British sensibilities leave me with a true feeling of national community. And as I am now middle aged, I feel as if I am becoming more like my Mum, enjoying similar hobbies – cooking and photography, wanting to once again live in a small seaside town and become more civic minded, at the same time I want to age gracefully.

 

I urge everyone to reflect on the past year and what it meant to you on both a spiritual and emotional level. See where the lessons to learn were and what needs improving in 2017.

 

My lessons were to believe that there is a plan for me, and that I am not in charge. My job is to do the footwork by showing up and leaving the results to happen in good time. This is both in relationships with others and work.

 

The most difficult things I have had to contend with were the sudden death of two friends within the space of 3 months. I had known Iggy for about 33 years and Lorna for 14. They didn’t know each other, but were similar in many ways. Larger than life personalities, who were incredibly fearless and lived full lives. Their huge capacity for being of service to others who needed help, and the strong opinions coming from a place of love they expressed to total strangers, who were touched by knowing them. They both loved working with people who were less fortunate as well as those who were fortunate. Everyone was treated equally. I miss them so much, my heart has broken slightly more from this and I now know to treasure the moments spent with my friends because I will never take it for granted that everyone will be here forever. Make sure your close friends know how much they mean to you.

 

I hope you all have a nice holiday season, and that you get to spend time with those you love and are able to love them back. Treasure every moment and be grateful for the years of hard work you have put into these special relationships. There will be no recipe this week just a basket of love.

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Cultural New York, Uncategorized

My review of Springsteen’s autobiography: “Born to Run”

From left to right: Patti & Bruce with Evan and Jessie at the fair in NJ

Patti and Bruce with Evan and Jessie in the concorde lounge at JFK on the way to Sweden to begin the 1992 tour.

Evan’s birthday at the house in Rumson 1992.

All photos taken by me.

 

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run, is an honest depiction of his life, and his written tone is exactly how he is in person. I am impressed that he kept his style and didn’t have the book edited, but having known Bruce, this is hardly surprising, due to his need for control.

I enjoyed the book on many levels, having worked and lived in his home for a year, I got to know Bruce really well, as you can see, he is a friendly, introspective, cautious and an extremely sensitive man, who struggles like many of us, with his own demons.

The book begins with a cultural look at growing up poor in Freehold, New Jersey in the 50’s and 60’s.   The class divides are stronger than the multi-cultural divides when you grow up on the streets. He also describes the start of the musical revolution, where musicians were allowed to be more sexually provocative, Bruce describes himself as a misfit who suddenly comes alive when he sees Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones etc. performing on the television for the first time, “it lights a fire in” his “belly.”

The reader understands from Bruce the struggle to make a buck and be prepared to live and breath music in order to succeed at your craft. He explains how he understood the importance to be his own entity and have the band work for him. His honesty about all the different personalities and his personal intimate relationship with each member of the band is honest and interesting. For a musician trying to keep his own identity, and believing in what he is producing, and his intuitiveness that goes into the formation of his songs are all described in detail in the book. Everything Bruce does comes from his gut and he isn’t afraid to talk about it and stand by his convictions.

Family is a large part of his story, his place within his family, the parents before him and then being a parent. His feet are firmly on the ground in the rightful place of passage. At his age now he has finally come to terms with his past and has worked really hard to remain sane within the loving arms of his family and workers.

The fact that he returned to his place of origin – the state of New Jersey, and raised his kids on familiar territory has certainly paid off. They are one famous family that remains completely normal in regards to having a semi-private life.

I loved the epilogue where he rides of into the sunset on his Harley, that is such a Bruce thing to do.

 

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Cultural New York, Uncategorized

Walk in the Sunlight of the Spirit, during these changing times

img_1366My friend Olive and myself at the beach, on a windy day in the Hamptons.  iPhone selfie.

 

I have been remiss about writing my blog;  after promising myself to write weekly posts my life got busy, but now I am back to keep that promise. Since last posting, we now live in a changed America, the New Yorker Donald Trump is our President elect. A frightening prospect not only for America but the rest of the world.  As a Bernie supporter, this election has been all about helping the Americans struggling to survive without job prospects and find a solution for the many Americans trying to scrape by on very little whilst the wealthy gain more wealth.  The democrats shoved Hillary Clinton at us, saying she will do, even though she had no connection to the extreme poverty in this country.  Hillary is also a New Yorker, so we have plenty of local happenings around these two politicians. The day after the election, Hillary was photographed, by Bill,  with a mother and child who ran into them both walking their dog on a local hiking trail.  The photo went viral because it humanized her, after such an arduous battle, enjoying the same interests and terrain as we “Westchesterites”do. Meantime,  Trump is perched in his gold- gilded building, high above New York, impulsively tweeting away, and professing his deep understanding and concern for the American “deplorables.” His golden tower has turned the midtown christmas festivities into a complete security nightmare, whilst costing the city a fortune to protect him.  Streets are closed and businesses are struggling to survive. This being a huge inconvenience to New York visitors and locals alike.  As we all wait to see him “make America great again.”

Now that Trump’s elected and the shock has subsided, I have thought long and hard about what is my responsibility, as an individual, and how to participate in the conversation about the policies that I understand to be important.  On a national level, we have no idea what we will get in the next 4 years, but we are guaranteed change.  Having read Trump’s policies, some make sense to me, so I leave those political discussions to others, my concern are the food, immigrant & environmental policies he will try to change.  As far as the economy goes, we all suspect there will be a boost in the economy as the Republicans lower our taxes and dump money we don’t have into rebuilding the infrastructure, and creating many jobs.  However, after this huge spending takes place,  we will be left with a huge inflation.  As our most important commodity is food, my concern is to get involved at a grass roots level to make fruits and vegetables affordable to all Americans, especially with the impending outcome set out for us.

Having received full UCLA scholarships, I became a proud English major, having studied at the university whose English department ranks #8 in the world. My specialty being Post Colonial Literature, I learned, from some of the top professors in this field, about the plight of the immigrant diaspora. I now have a thorough understanding about the struggles and concerns immigrants face throughout the world. Largely due to the many writers who opened my eyes and heart through humanizing their fictional characters. From James Baldwin’s lively and colorful African American characters in 1960s Harlem, to Zadie Smith’s harmonizing the characters of multicultural London of the 1980s, to Jamaica Kincaid’s juxtaposition of imperialistic characters affects on Caribbean Americans, and the fabulously talented writer Caryl Phillip’s novels about identity within the African diaspora. Armed with a full heart of hundreds of fictional characters who taught me about race and identity and the post-colonial times we are living in, I am absolutely certain we cannot return to the reign of the crusty old white guys!!

I urge everyone to sign up on twitter and follow the powerful voices from both political parties, the writers and journalists you admire and trust, and the organizations supplying the correct information about what is happening at this moment in time.  This isn’t a time to be complacent.  Yes, we are lucky to live in New York, shielded from the extreme poverty and anger that has created this possibility for Trump to become President, but as democrats, we have also become unbending and narrow minded, believing we are the smart, philanthropic, sympathetic, open-minded, liberals and they – the republican supporters are greedy, selfish, racist, misogynist, bigoted people.  How wrong have we been by stereotyping and not listening or discussing other people’s point of view.  What has happened to the art of debating.  We certainly didn’t see it with our political candidates.  It is time to come out of the ‘ivory tower’ and help make a difference for the next generations. The white Americans who want to return to the 1950’s need to remember there are many different cultures who weren’t welcome in that time period.  And we are certainly not returning there. Big change is coming and there will be a new democratic party emerging in four years.  That is democracy.

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For this week’s recipes, I am doing roasted brussel sprouts with chopped hazelnuts

1lb of small brussel sprouts

1 garlic clove crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

large handful of hazelnuts

place brussel sprouts, garlic and olive oil in a roasting pan and roast in the oven, uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

sautee hazelnuts in a frying pan until lightly browned, rub in a towel to remove some of the skin and chop with a knife

once brussel sprouts are roasted, toss in the hazelnuts and serve as a side dish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Healing Process of Grief & A Recipe For Thai Shrimp Curry

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Kubler-Ross is my go to expert when I am struggling with grief after suffering a huge loss, this is her model for the 5 stages of grief:

The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:[4]

  1. Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  2. Anger – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
  3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  4. Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon, so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.

For me, I know when I suffer a devastating loss, every other loss I have ever felt in my life resurfaces, and there is a need to face these losses once again and go through the grieving again.  The importance to not fight grief or let it turn to anger and just be gentle, kind and nonjudgmental of yourself and others as you go through this process.

As I struggle with the losses I have been through just this year, I tie in with it the tremendous amount I have gained, through work and new friends I am making, and the last 3 weeks of training before I am a certified Health Coach.  Next year will bring many changes for me in a positive and exciting way.  This emotional set back and needing some time to photograph images for my book means a delay in publishing until early next year.

We need to remember at times like this that life is large and we are here on earth to help others and leave a good footprint of who we were to the future generations.  The newspaper article about how Iggy picked a homeless man off the street and gave him a job and a life is an example we all need to follow.  When I grieve my friend, I need to remember his legacy of kindness and providing a helping hand to all who needed it, always with that large smile and positive attitude.

You are probably wondering how this connects as being part of my “welcome to my NY world” blog.  Well, Iggy was a huge part of my NY world.  For 33 years.  My early days off the boat from England were spent in the bar he tended and provided major solace after a long day’s work.  The NY bar scene on the upper eastside in the 80’s was full of European transplants trying to find our way on the island of Manhattan.  And judging by the 400 or so crowd at his funeral on Wednesday, we have all done well for ourselves on many levels.  Reminding me that America is a land filled with opportunities and hope for a bright future.

Today’s recipe is Thai Shrimp Green Curry

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Ingredients:

1 can coconut milk

1 tablespoon thai curry paste green

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1lb peeled, deveined shrimp

1 red pepper thinly sliced

large handful of green beans

handful of cilantro

1 lime’s juice

 

in a large frying pan mix coconut milk with curry paste, simmer for 5 minutes

add fish sauce and maple syrup and simmer for 1 minute

add red pepper and green beans and simmer for 5 minutes

add deveined shrimp and cilantro and lime juice, simmer until shrimp turns pink and serve on rice

 

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As I plan my charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, I remember my Nepalese Trek

 

The Rooftop of the World

 

The success of our lives and our future depends on our individual motivation and determination – The Dalai Lama.

 

As our flight landed in Katmandu on September 20th, 2001, a strong sense of relief washed over me. I was finally physically detached from obsessively watching the devastating media coverage from the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. For me, these last nine days had been a waiting game, flooding me with feelings of guilt because I was self-obsessing about being able to go on my trip, and my utter disbelief about the events that occurred on 9/11. I wandered around aimlessly. Waiting and hopeful that I could get out of America and go on my highly anticipated charity trek in the Himalayas. As flights were slowly getting back into their schedules, and fear and panic still stagnated the nation, and the utter devastation was reverberating throughout the world. I still wanted to go to the mountain range closest to where Bin Laden was hiding.

 

After landing in the night, my first impression of this foreign land was the many young boys begging for ‘baksheesh’ (money) inside the airport. Every time I go to a 3rd world country the constant sight of beggars is always a humbling experience, as a gentle reminder of how lucky I am and to be grateful for all that I have. Feeling completely shattered after the arduous journey, our group moved swiftly through the hustle and bustle, as we were eager to find our guide, get to the hotel and fall into our beds. The seven of us clambered into the hotel’s mini-van and bounced our way through the busy city streets of Katmandu, not only avoiding the assorted modes of transportation, but most importantly making sure to not hit the Hindu’s sacred cows that aimlessly roam the streets. Once arriving at the hotel I headed straight to bed, knowing there would be an early start in the morning because would be ascending into the mountains. The small, Nepalese, mountain planes which would be transporting us into “Utopia” have a brief opportunity for landing in the foothills before the clouds settle by mid morning, we absolutely couldn’t lose that narrow landing opportunity.

 

This Himalayan trek idea had germinated from a conversation with a friend who briefly mentioned the possibility of trekking for charity; my immediate response had been “count me in.” What was I thinking? I had never even been camping, but recently I began to understand that with enough determination anything is possible. After all two years ago I had made a life changing decision to stop drinking and live a sober life. Learning to take things “one day at a time” was my life’s philosophy these days. Although I didn’t know this at the time, this trek was my spiritual quest towards attaining peace of mind. There had always been a constant chatter in my head, too much thinking and not enough action. This self-discovery journey finally showed me how to quiet the chatter.

 

In the morning, returning to the airport, we caught our thirty-five minute flight to Phalpu, the gateway village for the start of our adventure. During the flight, staring out the window, I felt completely at peace because of the breath taking beauty and serenity of the vibrant, green valleys with snowcapped mountain ranges as their backdrop, this was the most amazing scenery I had ever experienced. The absolute beauty after all the devastation I had seen in the last eleven days caused me to burst into uncontrollable floods of tears. I was the only traveller in the group coming from America. As we flew above the hills but below the mountains, there were vibrant aquamarine homes jotting sporadically throughout the region, with the occasional plateaus growing rice or corn, every detail added even more splendor to the beauty. For me, reality set in that I was actually here, at that moment I felt rewarded for all the physical work I had done preparing for this trip. However, all of a sudden I was jolted from this meditative state, my sense of calm quickly turning into a tight knot in my stomach as I saw what was to be our landing strip of about the size of approximately 6 soccer fields ended at the mountain’s ledge with a sheer drop into the abyss. Utter panic struck me, as I realized that a sudden strong gust of wind would push us into infinity. Nobody had prepared us for this. Luckily the pilot expertly landed the plane and we began our emotional, life changing journey in the mountains.

 

Phalpu lies in the heart of the Solu Valley, the North East Region of Nepal at an altitude of 2,400 meters. There is one hotel (at that time, I haven’t researched the area to see what there is in place at this time), a pool hall, a television and a phone, all rare luxuries in this desolate region. Our nearest mode of transportation, after leaving the airfield, is a seven-day walk down the hill. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere in a hurry. Getting of the plane, it seemed as if the entire region had arrived to greet us, we were one of the first trekking groups for the season. Winter was now over and the welcomed travellers would be coming back to the region. I felt like visiting royalty. The warm, smiling, shoeless men and boys eagerly watched and waved as we walked down the steps and across the field to the customs hall, which was located in a tiny, tin hut, but taken very seriously by the locals, it seemed as if we were in a Monty Python parody as our backpacks were inspected, but we respected their dignity and local customs.

 

My Himalayan ‘family’ consisted of six fellow British travelers and fourteen Sherpas, who walked 10 days up into the hills from Katmandu, without barely any clothes and no shoes, to begin their working season assisting the travellers hiking in the hills. The people living in the areas we were going to walk through, their ancestors had migrated many years ago from Tibet, escaping over the mountains from the Chinese, who had taken their land and slaughtered many people for practicing Buddhism. Our Sherpa leaders were called Tej, Dowar and Indra; the other eleven young men carried our belongings, cooked and set up our nightly camps. It was a wonderful union of cultural differences with many lessons to learn about endurance, strength and happiness along this mountainous journey.

 

Our daily, delicious, vegetarian meals were prepared on small burners. There was always soup followed by a main course consisting of various vegetables, chips, pasta or my favorite, momas (Nepalese dumplings), washed down with canned fruit for desert. Everything tasted delicious, especially at the end of the arduous treks. Although there was a language barrier between us, we communicated through laughter, actions and facial expressions. By the end of the trip I felt I had known everyone most of my life, not just for six days. Tej was the only guide that spoke good English, he spent four months living in Wales; and had been shocked by the supermarkets, he couldn’t believe how the shelves were stacked with so many products that were the same, but with different brands. He had spent his entire life in these foothills where everything is scarce, the locals we saw eating in the teahouses survive mostly on the potatoes they grow. I felt guilty eating our wholesome meals alongside them. It is definitely a harsh environment to be living in. Most of the locals have hacking coughs, probably due to this altitude and dampness, and a lack of medicine. It is known as the Sherpa’s cough. Their kindness, good nature and contentment added to my sense of feeling completely relaxed in this environment. Nothing I had ever felt before. Nothing seemed to be too great a challenge to these men. Everything was achieved with a sense of dignity and calm. They are an amazing example of a great culture to be admired and respected. Their lives cannot be easy, especially when the cold weather ravages through the region most of the year. Their homes have no electricity or warm water, and are a mere shell of concrete with a thatched roof. In the morning, as we ate our cereal, the barefooted Sherpas would get a head start, each of them carrying four heavy backpacks tied together. Their clothes were gifts left behind by appreciative travelers. Indra amused us by wearing a tartan cap with hair attached that had been sent to him by a Scottish pen pal named Eddie. In the evenings we saw a few tipsy locals coming out of the village teahouses. The local brew is made from corn that tastes similar to strong whiskey. The many teahouses are small huts with wooden benches and tables, usually seating around 10 people. Some villages had larger establishments. There are no toilets or sinks. The amenities consist of a tap outside, with a small burner to heat water and cook food.

 

Our first evening was spent visiting a school in Ghunsa. The children wear blue uniforms and walk many miles to get there every day, starting out before daybreak and arriving home after dark. Around 60 children had been waiting patiently for us to arrive at the school. They stood in a large circle, holding garlands of flowers, cheering as we crawled in, exhausted from the five-hour walk. We had brought them each a precious gift. Once we were seated, and our garlands had been hung around our necks, with much excitement the children lined up to receive their pencil. It was a humbling experience to watch their faces light up over such a simple gesture. Once the ceremony was over they went home clutching this precious commodity. There are several charities that fund these schools. It costs sixty British pounds a year to educate, buy books and dress a child. Sir Edmund Hillary started this tradition of building and financing schools in the region. He was so grateful to the Sherpas for the work they did to help the foreign climbers, he asked what he could do to repay them. The Sherpas replied: “Our children have eyes but they cannot see”. Every time Sir Edmund led a climbing expedition they would first help the locals build a school’s foundation.

 

My favorite time of the day was stopping along the path for lunch, I felt relieved when I turned the corner and saw the lads cooking in the distance. The lunch was always ready for serving as soon as we arrived. It is a custom to feed the men first. The first two days I was exhausted, I couldn’t eat or drink enough to sustain my strength. The weakness began to show, everyone was concerned that dehydration would strike. Luckily by the third day my lungs had filled with air from the altitude and I caught up. The daily afternoon downpours caused me to remain damp the whole trip. Sweating and heating up in the mornings, then getting soaked in the afternoons. This unpleasant experience was a minor discomfort when surrounded by so much beauty. Luckily I had placed my belongings in a garbage bag inside my backpack; at least all my clean clothes were dry. At night after the long walks, up and down steep terrain, I was always happy to get into my sleeping bag; it felt as welcoming as 400 thread Egyptian cotton sheets.

 

Day two of the trek had several challenges. The leeches were sucking my blood, I screamed every time they attacked, no part of my body was spared their tyranny; the Sherpas casually pull them off, leaving bloody trails. I couldn’t remove them myself because I was afraid that they would break off and remain in my body forever. Thank God they were only in one specific area of the hills, after that day we gratefully remained leech free. At nightfall on the second day, we were still heading ‘home’; the final part of the journey was a steep uphill climb, I needed to stop every ten minutes to catch my breath; I was too weak to even carry my small daypack. I was panicking that I had made a big mistake coming on the trek, I cried and complained bitterly, doubting my capabilities. However, I was determined not to give up. That night I worred about the next day’s journey.

 

After such an arduous start on day two, to my relief the next day was a flat, pleasant, walk. We chatted along the ‘well-groomed’ paths. Our destination was a small hotel, with a couple of other tourists and a few sinister looking locals hanging around. It didn’t feel safe. We arrived early in the afternoon, I washed my underwear and hung them out to dry, bras and knickers on full view. Everyone laughed at my domesticity. A Sherpa boy came to our tent, and in a fluent New Zealand accent asked, “have you got a plaster, my Mum cut her finger?” Shocked, I said “no.” Anything unfamiliar was unsettling in the safety of the hills. We found out later that his father owned the hotel, and had sent the boy to live in New Zealand with a family who had passed through. Thinking he would have a better opportunity in life. The smart little boy loved having toys, but missed his parents so much, the New Zealanders returned him home. His ruthless Dad was still willing to ship him off with any of us.

 

Shortly after we arrived at this ‘hotel’ one of our group (Claire) misplaced her pouch with her money and passport in it. It was nowhere to be found. As our return to Katmandu fell on a weekend, the British Consulate would be closed so a passport needed to be issued beforehand. The next morning Claire and Indra had to walk five hours to the nearest phone to handle these arrangements. On our last night in the hills she was taken into the village to meet with a tribunal of elders, for UK insurance purposes. When she returned from the meeting, she reported to us that the overcrowded room was filled with locals and a translator, they asked her to list the missing belongings, along with their value. When she said her face cream cost twenty-five pounds the whole room burst out laughing, I am sure this was an annual wage for a Sherpa. All the details were written down on a piece of paper and signed. This was her legal document. I am sure no British insurance agent will be wondering into the foothills any time soon to check its authenticity.

 

On day four we climbed to a Mount Everest vista point. The walk was in a national park. The vastness of empty beauty and nothing around was my favorite day walking. However, we did pass a solitary hut in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains; a very old man and a young boy sat weaving baskets together, something about this scene stays with me even today. I have a blurry photo of the old man and young boy in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived at the Everest viewing point we sat and waited an hour for the clouds to leave so we could see Everest. This did not happen. Everyone’s spirits sank, we had come all this way and had not seen the great mountain. Apparently that is very common, but no traveller is told that before the trip. The mountain is generally covered by clouds.

 

On our way down from the viewing point, we stopped at Thubten Chuling, a monastery where 500 Tibetan monks and nuns live in seclusion. Good luck was on our side the Lama was in residence. The gong sounded in the valley around five and we were led into the hall with all the monks and nuns to receive a blessing. The Lama sat on a large ‘throne’, everyone formed a line, once in front of him we bowed reverently and he place a white scarf around our necks. Tej said that in the ten years they had been coming to the monastery, this was their first appearance with the Lama. He is usually abroad seeking funds. So our luck that day was to be a blessing from the Lama and not a view of Everest. I was too content to care about seeing Everest because I already felt as if I was in heaven on earth.

 

On our last evening in the hills the sherpas prepared a farewell party, the cake read “happy last day”. We all decided to pay the hotel a dollar for a hot shower. The camaraderie between us had grown in such a short time that everyone in the group had to agree or we felt it would be cheating. It felt so good to be clean and dry. In the morning, before leaving I got up early and took a final walk around the village, no one was around except the children setting off to school. I was sad to be leaving this place, once again I cried as if I was leaving my home and would never return. Some day I hope to return. The peace that eluded me my whole life I finally discovered within myself in these hills. I felt grateful to the Sherpas for opening this window into their lives. With heaviness in my heart I kissed them all ‘goodbye’.

 

The powerfulness that this spiritual journey had shown me, I would not know I had received until I returned to America and gained distance from the trip. Today, when something is troubling me, or I lose a sense of feeling connected, I can close my eyes and visualize myself walking in the hills. It brings me straight back to feelings of inner peace, security and strength. No place else in the world has left this mark on my soul.

 

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Photography by Caroline Gray

My favorite food is Indian curry. The Nepalese also eat delicious curries.  I am including a simple chicken curry recipe:

Prep Time : 15 mins                                                          Cook Time : 25 mins
Serves : 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Chicken breast, cut into small cubes
  • 1 yellow Onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp Garlic, diced
  • 1 tbsp Ginger, grated
  • 2 Medium Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Coriander ground
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1Cinnamon stick
  • 3 Green Cardamons (Elaichi)
  • 1 Bay Leaf (Tej Patta)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  1. Heat ghee. Add the cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf and chopped onions and fry the onions till they become light pink and soft. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for another 5 mins.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and fry till the chicken become  light brown. Now, add the chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder, chilli powder, cumin, coriander  and salt and fry for 3-5 mins
  3. Add 1 cup of water, simmer covered for 1/2 hour
  4. Serve with rice and mango chutney

 

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