Adventures of Two Americans Living and Working in Nepal

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A guest blog I wrote for Edge of Seven. Stay tuned for one from Travis soon!

Originally posted on Edge of Seven:

Reflections By Board Member Sarah Andrews

I can’t remember where I first saw the photo below of three young girls in rural Nepal using a frightening, trapeze-like pulley to cross a river on their way to school, but I do remember having a visceral reaction to it of disbelief and awe. In addition to being blown away by the peril that these girls have to face every day in order to get an education, I was impressed by their courage and determination. Not a personal fan of treacherous heights, I cannot honestly say where I might be today if as a child I had to face a tightrope above a raging river twice daily just to get to school. I can imagine, though, that blowing it all off and staying home would have sounded like a very appealing option.

    Photo Source: Global Giving

This past March when visiting…

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F.L.O.E.! (For the Love of Earthbags!)


The school in Basa is rapidly nearing completion, and we need your help! F.L.O.E.! is our latest campaign with the goal of raising the final $6,000 needed for the school. Thanks to many generous donors (both online and offline) we have already brought in $3,200. Incredible.

We have just 7 days left to raise the remaining $2,800 and any amount helps! If you’re as much of a fan of building with dirt as we are we hope you will check out the campaign. Not only will the money go toward the cost of the school, but it will also be used to develop several free graphic educational and resource materials about earthbag construction that will help to further this practice of sustainable design across the globe.

Follow this link to learn more about F.L.O.E.!: http://www.indiegogo.com/floe.

And thanks to all who have supported this project throughout it’s duration. We appreciate you more than you can know!




By Travis Hughbanks

Blog post written on April 14 from Phaplu, Nepal

I have just arrived at the guest house in Phaplu from Basa where I will spend the night before my morning flight to Kathmandu, weather permitting.  This is one of those moments I will miss most after I leave Nepal.  After 30 days in the village at the project site and a fairly arduous hike out, I am dirty, bruised, bug-bitten, and completely exhausted.  What makes this moment so great is the anticipation of what is to come tomorrow.  A hot shower, clean clothes, rest and, most importantly, a relaxing diner with my lovely wife.  This moment and theses anticipations are entirely too rare in my day-to-day life in the States.  I don’t pretend to think that every time I step into a hot shower from here forward that I will truly appreciate my hot water heater, as previous experience tells me that it will only last a few days, but I do think I will always cherish the memory of these intense moments of anticipation.

Everything has been moving along well at the project site.  Building 1 is 95% plastered on the exterior, the cement floors are complete and we are ready to begin the roof as soon as the wood is ported in from the jungle.  Building 2 has the foundation complete and the first gravel bags are being set.

The weather has not been our friend of late, and we have been getting intermittent rain through out the day and night.  Luckily, we have plenty of tarps to cover our work areas but it definitely has slowed us down.  The great thing about all the rain is that after it clears out, we get some incredibly clear views of the mountains that have just been getting dumped on with snow.  My pictures do not do it justice.

Happy Nepali New Year to everyone (year 2069).

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By Travis Hughbanks

Off the beaten path from all of the trekking routes of the Solukhumbu, the village of Khastav in the VDC of Basa is very secluded.  Things are starting to change, though.  Over the past few years efforts have been made to construct a road through the mountainous terrain that will eventually pass near the village.  While the road itself is still years from being an accessible route for even the most off-road of vehicles, the excavator that was tasked to rough out the road has made its way deep into the mountains.  We were fortunate enough that our construction was scheduled when the excavator was working nearby, and the villagers agreed to allow the “dozer” (the local term for the excavator) to descend through their terraced fields to the project site to speed up the site clearing.

The first motorized vehicle in the village was a definite attraction; children cried (a bit scared by the noise), livestock scattered and the workers were eager for the chance to play with the new machine.  While the dozer worked at leveling the project site it quickly became a race for the workers to see who could save the most and largest of the unearthed stones.

First, you have to understand that throughout the VDC of Basa rocks for buildings are in short supply and are considered very valuable, hence why earthbags can be a great solution to building needs in the area.  Typically for construction, stones have to be cut from remote areas of the mountainside and hauled down to building sites by people.  So, introducing a 19-year-old excavator operator driving a machine that indiscriminately buries tree limbs, garbage, and rocks alike as he levels the site makes for an interesting scenario.  Workers and villagers were darting from left to right trying to rescue stones that weigh up to 100 pounds each.

As workers tried to role flat stones down the hillside the dozer operator would quickly pivot the steel shovel directly over their heads in a attempt to claim dominance of the work site.  You would think that after the first person was accidentally knocked to the ground, uninjured, the game would have found a victor.  Not a chance.  The taunting from the young operator continued and the villagers refused to back down. Eventually a mutual respect was gained.  By mid-afternoon, the dozer scope would rest momentarily on the ground as the workers loaded it with surfaced stones which would be deposited in a pile off to the side for future use.

After 3 days of work with the volunteers, we had both doors in place and four courses of bags laid for the walls.  Happily, we are a week ahead of schedule and hope to be finished with the earthbag walls of the first building by March 26th.  Excavation is complete for the second building and the retaining wall is under construction.  Below are some photos and more updates to follow.

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Phuleli Interior Photos

By Travis Hughbanks

I am back in Kathmandu for a few days for some rest and to get a little work done.  We finished up the interior wood paneling at the Phuleli project site about a month ago and I wanted to post some photos.  More on Basa to come shortly.

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More Phuleli Project Photos

Another quick update.  We are still on schedule to have the kids move into the new school at the beginning of February but we will still have a little work left to do in early spring.  We can not deliver the wood for the ceiling and exterior soffit until mid February but that will not delay the school from officially moving in.  The walls are currently being painted, windows have glass installed, and the project site is being cleaned up.

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Sherpa Wedding!

Last week, thanks to Karma and Sonam, I had the opportunity to attend a traditional Sherpa wedding in Kathmandu. It was quite the affair, and many thanks to Sonam for loaning me this lovely outfit to wear. Beautiful.

First thing to note was that there were a lot of people there. Held in a large event hall, I would say there were easily 300 people in attendance – probably more. Sherpa weddings start early in the afternoon, though the actual ceremony isn’t held until the evening and is a bit more casual than western wedding ceremonies. Without much announcement, the bride and groom quietly gathered at the front of the room and sat together on a rug on a small stage, each with an attendant (think maid of honor and best man) who assisted them by holding ceremonial umbrellas over their heads through the duration. (The umbrellas are meant to protect the couple from bad weather and evil spirits, according to this article I found explaining some of the traditions of Sherpa marriages.)

In addition to drinking tea together, the couple was serenaded by several family members during the ceremony and given blessings by two monks. Afterward, the bride and groom greeted each other’s families by pouring chang, and more dancing occurred among the bride’s male family members. One traditional dance involves these men waving a sword, clanging cymbals together, and whipping around a tuft of yak’s hair. Then a larger dance occurs in which anyone in the audience can participate. The format of this dance reminded me a little of the Rockettes, with everyone standing in a line with their arms wrapped around each other. Later, the bride and groom and their close family members sat at the front of the room and received Khata, or white scarves, from their guests. And then the real party began with some western-style dancing! Though I am not a big dancer, I gave it my best and have to say this was definitely a highlight of the evening, to see so many people in traditional clothing getting down to J. Lo and various other rap songs. A great experience overall.

Here are a few photos from the evening!

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No Direct Flights from Boise to Bangkok? Shocking.

Over the past several months, this day has, at times, seemed like it would never come. At the same time, having spent so much time talking about it and planning for it, it’s also seemed like this day has always been with us, permeating our every conversation and activity. But now it’s finally here! Tomorrow we leave for our nine month stint living and working in Nepal. In all, there will be seven flights in between our departure city of Boise, Idaho, where we’ve been visiting Travis’ family, and our final destination of Kathmandu (where we’ll arrive after a brief, five day detour to Thailand.)

The school site we worked on last year with Edge of Seven in Nepal.

To give a little background, the proposition to move to Nepal came up several months ago, when Travis was offered a job as the lead designer and architectural fellow on a five village educational and infrastructure projectin the Solukhumbu Region of Nepal, where Mount Everest is located.

We’re not exactly college kids anymore, so a move of this caliber definitely required careful consideration and planning. On top of leaving our jobs, leasing our house in Austin, Texas, and cramming the belongings we didn’t sell into a 10-foot-by-10-foot storage unit, we also had to say farewell to our family, friends, and our little dog Chester, who will be well cared for by Travis’ sister Andrea and her boyfriend Brad while we are away. (Thanks Andrea and Brad!)

Chester: A Face Only Everybody Can Love

But, truth be told, we both felt right away that this was not an opportunity to be missed. Not only do we love Nepal, its culture and its people, but, having spent two months in Nepal last year working on an Edge of Seven school building project, we know there is much to be done there and are grateful for the opportunity to contribute in any way.

That said, there are many things we’ll miss about home, food being one of the first things that comes to mind outside of friends and family. I won’t take up space listing everything we’ll miss here, as I am sure anyone who plans to keep up with this blog will hear enough about our queso cravings and longings for basic electricity in the months to come.

For now, the plan is to arrive in Kathmandu next week and immediately begin working and apartment hunting. In addition to the Solukhumbu Development Project, I’ll also be pursuing other projects and work with NGOs based in Kathmandu and look forward to keeping everyone updated on new developments, adventures, and culinary experiences as they arise! We’ll be building the blog out a bit more over the coming weeks, so stay tuned, but if anyone has any topics they would like to learn more about or issues they’re curious about, please send us an email and suggest it for a blog post!

And before we officially get started on this journey, we have to say a huge THANK YOU to all of our amazing friends and family members, who have been there for us and helped us throughout this endeavor. We couldn’t do it without your support!

We are ready to get going. Next stop – Thailand!

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