In just three days I already feel at "home" in Nepal. I arrived in the capital of Katmandu on Friday, and found my way to Sana's house, a women who lived in Japan 18 years ago. She welcomed me into her home, where I stayed there for two nights. Sana's home in the Paton district of Katmandu was surrounded by large and small brick buildings. Her house, the white house from the gallery, was a three story home separated by a set of stair cases housing herself and another tenant on the first and top floor. I stayed on the 2nd floor, a three room apartment, rented by my university advisor for student and professor use. This house is considered a complete home, as the walls and roof is in tact. Many houses I have seen in Nepal, are non engineered and incomplete. The residents manage to complete them when labor, money, and time are available.
Some of the older buildings are traditional Newari architecture, like the red brick buildings and temples in the picture. These buildings and temples have not with stood the mighty earthquakes that shook Katmandu two years. This was clear considering the piles of rubble and brick scattered about the market streets and narrow corridors. I was getting comfortable at Sana's house, but knew I needed to move south to start work, so I arranged for a taxi early Sunday morning.
On Sunday, I traveled by SUV, snaking through the low hills of Nepal, landing in the "terrai" region. The SUV was filled with passengers, about 10 or so people loaded, heading to visit friends and family. It felt like being on a family vacation with a car full of strangers. Indian and Nepali music blared from the speakers, the car horn, maybe the most important feature of the vehicle, sounded every thirty seconds as we passed and were passed by other vehicles on the 200km stretch of laneless, signalless highway.
On this journey south, I got an understanding of the problems many people may be facing regarding adequate housing. Between my wanderings in Katmandu and my roadside gazing, you could see various housing types and building materials. Redbrick, concrete, mud/clay/sand (cob)mixture, are some of the main materials, as well as aluminum or wooden siding. The houses in the villages were surrounded by children playing and laughing, goats and cows grazing, and women not far off in the fields harvesting maize, wheat, and mustard seed. Some of these houses were nicely situated deep in the valleys, and just below the low hills of the terrai region. Though some of them were intact, the degradation of some of the homes I saw would make live unbearable if another environmental disaster were to strike.
On my trip south I didn't come across any hemp homes. I spoke with my host Dhiraj, from SHIV when I arrived in Janakpur, about this and he said he would gladly take me to the first hemp home in Nepal on Tuesday.