Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Joyful Celebration

Saturday, November 12 was the happiest day yet in the 10-year history of Ama Ghar! We celebrated both our 10th anniversary and the Grand Opening of our beautiful new home in the meadows of Godavari.

Dick and I came at this time specifically to help our friend Bonnie get ready for the event - and it was a logistical miracle to pull this off, particularly in a Third World Country... the intention was that this was a day to celebrate our children, their friends, and all the Nepali people, from dignitaries to local brick carriers, who helped to make our new home possible.

There was a children's tent, featuring face painting, Legos, Play Doh and lots of silly games and prizes, so the children invited their school friends and children from other homes around the Valley. The program itself was short on speeches and long on fun - the children sang, danced and entertained while they honored Ama Tika Basnet, our inspiration, as well as Bonnie Auntie and the Ama Ghar staff.

There were 400 people in attendance, laughing and clapping along with the program and then enjoying a generous buffet of Nepali foods and chai. After the luncheon, some people drifted off to their homes while others stayed late into the date, dancing, drumming and singing in the beautiful tent.

A special thanks to our friends who helped to fund the building of the suttal, the traditional Nepali stage which was the background for the festivities. Plaques with their names have been affixed to the suttal, and we'll send photos to each of you when we get home.

I, of course, was teary-eyed much of the time, as it's astonishing to see these beautiful children perform with poise and grace - their joy and pride on their home was palpable. At the end of the day, I watched in amazement as the teenagers danced - a mixture of every caste and class of Nepali... dark, light, boys, girls, Brahmins and untouchables... the new Nepal, the new world...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back Home in Kathmandu

After an 8-month hiatus, I’m back to my blog… because we want to communicate with our friends about our current stay at Ama Ghar. Such an exciting time here, as it’s the 10th anniversary of Ama Ghar and the grand opening celebration of our new Ama Ghar home. Not to mention the fact that we have six new children – which changes the dynamic of our family, but always in positive ways.

Our two new little ones, Pooja and Ang Maya, make everyone smile constantly – little bundles of energy and love. Pooja is 5-1/2 – her father was killed while working in Dubai and her mother, as a widow, has no rights. She lives in a remote village and is a virtual slave to her mother-in-law; she has three children and cannot feed them, so they’re malnourished… they go to school in rags and are teased and tormented by the other children. So she made the painful decision to give Pooja, her youngest, a chance at a better life by turning her in to Social Welfare, who placed her with us.

Ang Maya, who is 4-1/2, was found on a trail high in the Himalayas by trekkers – she had been abandoned by her family, probably because they couldn’t feed her. A Sherpa family took her in for a while, but she, too, was given to Social Welfare – and then to Ama Ghar.

These two beautiful little girls have changed within weeks from malnourished and terrified to silly, lively bundles of energy. It never fails to amaze me what food and love can do for a child – these girls are snuggled and hugged by everyone in the house, and they eat incessantly – which is amazing because they only weight 30-40 pounds each. But they are adorable, beautiful and smart – they’re already speaking some English, and going to school in kindergarten and first grade respectively.

Since we arrived here, in addition to spending quality time with the kids, we have helped with preparations for our big opening program on Saturday. I had a terrific work crew of 10-11 year old girls (and Dick Uncle) painting directional signs and welcome signs for the party – we’ve also cleaned, dusted, made name tags, weeded and watered – and managed to have plenty of fun as well… the kids love to play “long tennis” (why they call it this is a mystery) and card games with us. So far, Dick has lost heavily in Black Jack to Jenuka, a 12-year-old… I think he’s plotting his revenge.

Yesterday afternoon, Dick and I were sitting in the sun, taking our chai break and looking at the snowy Himalayas against the blue sky – talking about what a miracle it is that you can get on a plane in one place and get off again half way around the world. It’s a privilege, but also a necessity for us, as these people have become our family over the last 8 years… what a wonderful thing that a place can be at once so exotic and so familiar.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's all about how you play the game...

It's spring - which means it's time for the Bisbee H.S. Tennis Season! I have been recruited to do some volunteer coaching for the girls' team, and it's been a revelation. I have so much respect now for the patience of the brilliant coaches I've had in my life - and giving back to this town and to the game I love has been a thrill. Three hours a day of hitting balls and yelling "keep your head down, Haley!", "swing low to high, Megan!" and "move your feet!" has been a reminder of just how difficult this game is... it has all the elements of an addiction - frustration, risk, excitement, glory... and just the sheer thrill of hitting that little yellow ball...

This past Saturday was the Jim Thursby Invitational HS Tennis Tournament, named for the man who has been the Bisbee HS Tennis Coach for 28 years. Our buddies who comprise the Bisbee Community Tennis Association, a ragtag group of ex-judges and politicians, rock and rollers, artists and lady hackers like me, came out in force to support the kids and provide some refreshment. At the end of the day, we handed out medals and trophies, but the real prize was just being there.

We went home happy, and the next day the snow came... drifting down like feathers from some ethereal bird, blanketing the brown grass like a blessing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tempus Fugit

One minute we were celebrating New Year's Eve with beloved friends, the next minute it was Valentine's Day! If the level of action during the first month of 2011 is any indication, we're heading for an exciting year.

My brilliant nieces never cease to amaze me - I went to Chicago in mid-January to witness the great work of the Magical Starlight Theater team, when my talented niece Morgan danced, sang and beamed her beautiful way through six (count 'em, six - all in one weekend!) performances of the stage version of Disney's Aladdin. It was enchanting, full of beautiful voices and astonishing stagecraft. But sweetest of all to witness was the closeness of the troupe of actors and the excitement of the congratulatory crowds after the show. Morgan even got to give autographs! Weather was 25 degrees and sunny, though my little sis did have to shovel some snow. Luckily, I missed the blizzard that devastated the city the following week.

Devastating, though, was the news I got when I got home. Dick and I drove in to Tucson Medical Center for what we thought was a routine test for some heart flutters he'd been having. As I sat reading a travel book in the waiting room, Dick's doctor called me to the phone, said he had discovered a "nasty arrhythmia" and that if it was his heart, he'd have a defibrillator/pacemaker implanted. I gulped and said, "OK" - Dick was under anaesthesia - and that was that. This amazing little device keeps his heart from going too fast, or too slow - so we now call him the Bionic Man. He spent only one night in the hospital and is now playing tennis again. He's serving really great all of a sudden - maybe I need to get one of those things, too!

Then there was a trip to Boca, a meeting of the Bisbee Community Tennis Association at our house... and yesterday was pretty much a perfect day.

In the morning, we drove out to Whitewater Wildlife Preserve to witness the migration of the Sand Hill Cranes. Each year between January and March they pause their migration in this area, eating rice and corn left in the fields near Elfrida and Willcox, and enjoying the beautiful wetlands at Whitewater. The birds are very punctual - we had learned when Jim and Sara took us out here last year that they show up exactly at 11:30 AM each day.

Arriving early, we enjoyed sharing the beautiful weather with the friendly group of people gathered - from the serious birders making notes in their books and muttering to each other to voyeurs like us who enjoy the occasional reminder of nature's power and beauty. At approximately 11:29, we began to see tiny black dots in the distant sky... the dots grew and grew, as did the noise level, as thousands of cranes descended in flocks, their giant wings making "whoosh-whoosh" sounds in the crystal air, the birds gracefully landing among the hundreds already assembled, fluttering and squawking almost as excitedly as our little group of humans. These photos cannot capture the enormity of the sight, or the magic of the moment... but it's in our hearts (even bionic ones) forever.

We finally tore ourselves away from the birds and got home in time to prepare ourselves for the evening's festivities. Becaue I am devoted to the Bisbee Library, and especially to James, my writing teacher, I volunteered to serve at last night's Bisbee Chocolate Festival - our annual Library fundraiser. Local restaurants, as well as most of the culinarily-gifted ladies of Bisbee, have been dipping berries, baking brownies, mixing up ganache and whipping up truffles for the past week, and the results were overwhelming - and tasty!

My fellow servers and I handed out the goodies from giant Valentine-strewn tables on two floors of our handsome old Copper Queen Library, and I barely noticed that I was on my feet for two hours. Age and gender had no bearing on the enjoyment - everyone from kids to young couples on a valentine date to elderly gentlemen were in a kind of chocolate induced trance while trying to decide how to use the five (only five?!) Chocolate Tickets they received with their admission, while a lively Irish band played downstairs. And I didn't eat a thing - my heart was busy feasting on all those sweet faces.

Dick and his pals, who had been shooting pool and doing guy stuff, picked me up at festival's end, and we enjoyed the perfect ending to a perfect day... the West Texas Millionaires playing an impromptu concert after a wedding downtown... don't try to top this - can't be done!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I'm not going to write this particular blog post, I'm going to turn it over to someone who speaks much better than I... our brilliant and admirable President:

"What matters is how well we have loved...and how, in some small way, we have made life better for other people... we should do everything we can to make sure that this country lives up to our children's expectations... what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Taking Down the Tree

The holidays are officially over - I took down the Christmas tree today. That warm evening in early December, when I draped it with lights and tinsel and hung my favorite ornaments, drinking wine and singing along to my Frank Sinatra Christmas album, seems like eons ago. Yet as I perform the whole ceremony in reverse, I marvel at the ornaments that we've accumulated over the years, almost all of them made or given to us by family and friends... we don't have a designer tree, that's for sure - but we have a tree that tells a story.

Although I admire what Jesus taught, I'm not a formal Christian - I've studied Buddhism for about 20 years now. So why do the rituals of Christmas mean so much? Some say it's a primal urge to celebrate the Winter Solstice, to share warmth and comfort during the days of dark and cold. Childhood memories are invoked - the pungeance of evergreen, the brightness of cinnamon, the crackling fire all create visions - no, not of sugarplums - but of my siblings and I with Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, all gone now. It's about honoring the ones we love - even though I did call my brother a bad name while playing a board game at Christmas - I love him anyway.

So nostalgia plays a part, but it's also a basic human need to huddle together in the dark of winter, light candles and remind ourselves that spring will come again, that we hope to enjoy another year of human foolishness and frailty. Another year to find just one brilliant piece of writing that will float about our consciousness forever, one more embrace to warm us against the inevitable future, one more adventure to keep our hearts racing... one more chance to be alive.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Show me some Thanksgiving ATTITUDE, people!

Today I'm thankful that the check-in person in security at Miami International Airport is a joyous black woman who calls everyone "sweetie', "honey" and "baby". She says "That's YOUR birthday? You lookin' GOOD!" when she checks the I.D. of an elderly gentleman, and "That's what I'M talkin' about!" when she checks out an impossibly luscious young Latina. Only the most cynical can keep from smiling... and we all forget, just for a moment, that we're snaking through a security line at a snail's pace, heading for a pat-down.

Possibly this makes us remember that zooming across the country in a plane is a miracle and a privilege, not a hassle. And that we should respect our fellow humans, not suspect them. And that we should meet every day with gratitude - not just one autumnal Thursday per year.

I read a recent review of Armistead Maupin's latest book, where I found this quote:

“It all goes so fast,” Mary Ann thinks. “We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it’s over before we know it. We lose everyone we love, if they don’t lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality.”

Yes - that's reality. So we give thanks for every one of our wonderful crowd of family and friends, and for every experience that comes our way. We love you - pass it on.