I’ve been mixing concrete again.
Thanks to my friends in the Philippines for teaching me that skill during the COVID years.
This time, it’s in Nepal. Other abilities revived too: communications via charades, begging ‘non-tourist’ prices from vendors, and paying meager – but appreciated – wages to poor laborers.
Yes, the Earth Vagabonds have been again involved in a developing-world, building project.
It’s not large or expensive, but it is the result of one of the most shocking things I have ever seen.
I’m still trying to process, understand, and accept the situation. I’ve been near tears a few times throughout.
Meet Ashik Nepali — a.k.a. ‘Ganesh’. That’s him pictured above sitting in his wheelchair next to my wife, Ellen. Notice his effervescent smile.
I’ve actually termed him ‘the happiest guy in Nepal”. He never stops laughing, smiling, shouting greetings at people, waving with his one usable arm. He’s a beautiful soul.
And he does these things from the side of the road – just outside Pokhara, Nepal, where we’ve been ‘slow travelling’ this month.
Near a driveway to a public park is where Ganesh’s family stations him every day; 10:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. His ‘job’ is to collect donations – to support the family. I can still hardly believe it.
When I first witnessed this ‘abuse’, I was appalled. Who would EVER put their disabled child (he is 20) out in the elements to earn a few dollars each day? Who in Nepal is tasked with making sure such a thing does NOT happen? My God!
My revulsion is a western reaction, of course. The response of a rich, privileged, American know-it-all. Somehow I assume nobody cares about Ganesh. That conclusion is disturbing too — and ripe for revision.
After watching for two mornings, as Ganesh was wheeled down the hillside road next to our Airbnb, then placed at the scenic bend in the lakeside road – I HAD to DO something.
In America, I’d call the police! Social services would be dispatched. Ganesh taken into some ‘protective custody’? His parents cited, maybe arrested, put on the nightly news.
But this is Nepal. The family is poor. Protective government services barely exist. In fact, as I wrestled with that reality, I was told Ganesh’s family receives 4,000 rupees ($30) per month in government assistance for their disabled son.
What could be done? I asked our Airbnb hosts for more info. I talked to people who stopped to chat with Ganesh or give him a few Nepali rupees (cents). We conversed with Ganesh himself – as best we could with English/Nepali translators. I ‘followed’ a teen girl, said to be his sister, to a small dilapidated home (a shack) after she left Ganesh at his roadside perch – confirming from afar that the family was indeed very poor.
Meanwhile, my wife and I both noted the continual stream of passers-by who stopped and checked on, talked to, and sometimes donated money to Ganesh. Not a lot; but maybe once every 15-20 minutes we could hear Ganesh loudly greeting or thanking someone or laughing – even from our balcony 500 feet away. His small donations always carefully stashed in a lap-purse hung from his neck.
The sister too would be there intermittently during the day. Eventually, I watched her lovingly spoon feed him lunch more than once. His mom and dad would appear whenever their day-hire work would allow.
For hours, days, nights… his plight tormented me. As we lounged on our big comfy terrace and beds, explored the quaint lakeside Nepali villages and attractions near Pokhara, and ate and drank at endless restaurants, Ganesh sat in the sun and ‘entertained’ visitors – morning ’til night (wearing a light parka and baseball cap, umbrella at the ready).
On morning three, I told Ellen I had a plan. I jokingly asked if she wanted to create an ‘international incident’? I imagined we might if we went to ‘the authorities’ or media or tried to involve the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu.
By then however, I had figured the best thing – the only helpful and realistic thing – to truly help Ganesh, was to construct some kind of shelter for him.
As much as it pained me to think of the young man spending years/decades of his life at that curve in the Pokhara lakeside road — what else could we as temporary visitors reasonably do for him in a few days time?
Involving ‘authorities’, creating tumult for the family, upending Ganesh’s life seemed counterproductive. Besides, Ganesh genuinely seems to enjoy the routine he has — the interactions and non-Western-style care and support that his developing world community gives to him. Who am I to intercede? Hell, the kid is happier than I am! And as an early-retired, global traveler and slacker, I’m pretty darn happy.
With a shelter, at least he would have some refuge from the sun and rain, some protection, some better comfort. Plus a place family and friends and donors could visit him, sit with him, and enjoy the delightful exclamations of ‘the happiest guy in Nepal’.
So that’s what we did.
My wife made and posted the video above a couple days ago showing the project and result. Of course, Ganesh is seen throughout – joyful as a lark, as always.
The photos here show more of the process and people involved – including Ganesh’s parents and younger sister. In fact, his father spent more than a day helping make a concrete pad that Ganesh’s wheelchair is now easily rolled onto (hard to see in the photos).
At the very end, I hand painted the sign seen below. Ganesh’s name is at the top. It is HIS shelter. Gopal (unrelated) was our quick and capable general contractor. Basu was my ‘right-hand man’ and translator. Without him, Gopal, and the other unnamed laborers, things would not have gone as smoothly. We Earth Vagabonds are proud to have our name on the sign as sponsors of the project.
In the end, for about $300 (40,000 Nepali rupees) in total, we created a well-built, handsome, functional space where Ganesh and those who help him can enjoy time together – no matter the weather.
Further, it gives my wife and I satisfaction to know that about half the expenditure was for wages and tips to Nepali workers who really need the money. As we can attest, developing world and tourist-driven economies remain challenged since COVID.
Finally, before we left Pokhara, we gifted Ganesh with some articles of new clothing. Going forward, we’d like him to be fresh and clean as well as protected.
Now in Kathmandu, I continue to think about Ganesh. His situation, his future, his health, his life. It’s all so unfair. He called me his friend and asked to take photos with us. When I view the pics and choke up, I swear I can hear his extraordinary laugh. I will never forget him.
It was our pleasure to come to know and care about Ganesh – as best we could. Hopefully, now his existence will be a little better and more comfortable. Moreover, we’re confident the family and neighbors who worked with us to improve his lot (and thanked us profusely) will continue to watch over our mutual friend and do all they can to keep him ‘the happiest guy in Nepal’.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!