The Idea of a Book

I have been mulling over the idea of writing a book about Mahabir Pun for two years. I pitched the idea to him last year and his response was lukewarm…bordering on reluctance. He simply said someone else had already asked him. I approached him again a few months ago and after reading the first post he gave his permission in the form of this statement: “Thank you very much for the post. It is good and you are welcomed to write whatever you want. I have no objection on anybody’s writing.”  Whew…that was one worry resolved.

I started by researching about the different types of books and the art of writing. There are two main types, fiction and non-fiction, which are further sub-categorized. For example, types of non-fiction include histories, autobiographies, travelogues, biographies, how to and self-help books. My book is a biography because it describes Mahabir’s life and all the events leading up to the present. But I could argue there will be elements of fiction genre such as romance…when I describe his courting and marriage to Omaya, or a thriller…when I describe the challenges he faced during the Maoist war, or science fiction…because the technical tasks he and his team face daily read like a Jules Verne novel.

I’ve also been researching book design…an orderly manner of putting the book together which takes into account content, style, format and physical design. Putting the cart before the horse I dream of a slick artistic rendition of mountains and Internet wires and eye-catching fonts. As a paper artist…must admit to scrapbooking and card making here…I find this part really fun. Not that the writing isn’t fun…but I am still overcoming the inertia that self-doubt fuels.

I have created the chapter outlines but find myself constantly switching the order or deleting and adding new chapters…and wondering…is this normal and a necessary process or neurotic? The next post will describe the chapters and what you can expect to read once the book is published…how’s that for wishful planning. In the future I’ll create additional pages on this website where excerpts from the book will be posted.

Speaking of the website…its official… the website has its’ own domain and you can read updates by going to: Click on the RSS Feed or email option to get automatic notifications when I post. I plan to post only once a week on Mondays…but the next month will be spotty because of travel.

Early morning view of the Nangi volunteer roundhouse and Dhaulagiri mountain.

I leave for Nepal tonight. I’ll be there for three weeks interviewing Mahabir, researching material for the book…and bringing donated supplies for the paper bead project, teaching and working at the Nangi clinic with Lila and Rupa, visiting the new lodges and solar projects, teaching at Kathmandu Model Hospital and the College of Medical Science in Bharatpur. Then I head to England to interview one of the early wireless supporters, Dr. Robin Shields and Deobahadur, Mahabir’s uncle. As you journey with me on this project I just want to say…thank you for all the well wishes…along with a request to post your comments, criticisms and ideas…feedback makes an excellent compass.

How do I fit into the picture?

That was my question when I first explored volunteering for Himanchal Education Foundation (HEF) in 2001. After reading the BBC articles about Mahabir Pun referenced in last weeks entry, I contacted the organization based in Kearney, Nebraska where Mahabir attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). I spoke to Dr. Leonard Skov, retired Chairman of Education at UNK and HEF president. He is also the professor responsible for bringing Mahabir to the university to study education over 20 years ago. Stay tuned for that story in future posts.                                                                                   Dr. Skov, friends, colleagues and Mahabir started HEF in 1996 to support building a school in Mahabir’s home village, Nangi. After looking at other organizations, emailing former volunteers and Mahabir, and many conversations with Dr. Skov I decided to volunteer with HEF because they were a small non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to education.

Healthcare workers Rupa, Benika, Dr. Debra Stoner and Lila. Nangi Clinic, Nepal Oct. 2007.

Dr. Skov explained HEF’s purpose was to advance education and support the development of cottage industries as a means to improve the standard of living for the 800 inhabitants of Nangi. HEF encourages its volunteers to leave behind a footprint of knowledge and skills useful for the school and villagers instead of just a completed volunteer project. He and I decided on a plan…I would give lectures on emergency and wilderness medicine topics to the local health care workers (HCW) while working alongside them in the clinic. Good plan…except there was no clinic…so two rooms in the old library building became the first make shift clinic.

I made my first trip to Nepal in the spring of 2002. Mahabir and his uncle Deobahadur welcomed me to their home in Pokhara where I met their extended families. Along with medical supplies and training materials I bought two Nepal guidebooks and one phrase book along with a Walkman tape so I could practice the language. Most handy is the phrase “I’m lost, can you help me?”. I recommend learning that right after you learn to say hello and thank you in any language. After ten years I am far from fluent…far from conversational…far from having a clue what anyone around me is saying. Fortunately most everyone I work with in Nepal speaks English or graciously translates.

Mahabir took me on my first trip to Nangi. This involves taking a 3-hour taxi ride from Pokhara to Beni, which you’ll remember, lies along the Kali Gandaki River. A quick breakfast of rice and lentils fuels the climb from Beni to Nangi, a ten mile walk with an elevation gain over 5000 feet. It took all day. Step after step after step…thousands of stone steps built into the hillside climb…and climb…and climb to the village in the clouds.

During that first climb I watched Mahabir tirelessly walk upwards and over the past ten years I have watched him climb relentlessly towards his goal of improving education and living standards for his country. The wireless projects are simply his means to provide sustainable education, marketing avenues, raise money and tell his story to the world.



A little history…

I first heard of Mahabir Pun in 2001 while researching volunteer organizations in Nepal. I found a BBC article titled “Village in the clouds embraces computers”. Click on the link to read the original article.  This article sparked world-wide interest resulting in another BBC news article the following day.

Mr. Mahabir Pun inspecting a wireless relay station.

Mr. Mahabir Pun inspecting a wireless relay station.

Mahabir was born in Nangi and his ethnicity is Magar. The village is situated in the central foothills of Nepal. The foothills, slowly rising from the flat southern terai region, terminate at the base of the world’s highest and most formable mountains, the Himalayas which form the northern boundary of Nepal. The area is most famous to international trekkers as home to the Annapurna Circuit trek. Nangi lies west of Poon Hill, a popular stop along the trail. The closest town, Beni, which lies further west along the Kali Gandaki River, is a days walk down a steep trail cut into the hillside and descending 5000 feet over ten miles. This is rugged terrain and I am awed at the ingenuity of the inhabitants. As far as the eye can see there are terraced fields artfully carved into the hillside because the ethnic Magar group inhabiting the region are primarily agriculturists, herdsman and stonemasons.

It is believed the Magars are Tibeto-Burmese descendants coming into Nepal around 1100 B.C. They settled the central areas and spread out to the east and west. Reading about ethnic groups is confusing to this non-sociologist. Simplified, each ethnic population in Nepal can be divided into groups based on language, customs and location…think, New York and it’s boroughs. Each Magar group is further classified into clans: Aale, Benglasi, Budhathoki, Dharti, Thapa, Pun, Rana, Gurungachan, and Thumsing. Magars make up about 8% of the population, making it one of the largest ethnic groups in Nepal.

Magars had a reputation as fierce warriors when encountered by the British troops coming up from India in the 1800s. In this modern age they are recruited as Gurkha soldiers by the British and Indian armies. Applicants train for years and go through a rigorous physical exam before being chosen. I was fortunate to be in Nangi in 2003 when two young Gurkha soldiers came home on leave and the whole village celebrated their accomplishments with a feast….lucky for me but not for the ceremoniously sacrificed goats, water buffalo and assorted small game which is part of the Hindu religion. Magars practice a complex array of religious customs which embody Hinduism, Buddhism along with animists and shamanism.

Volunteer roundhouse in Nangi. Dr’s Debra and Gary Stoner at window.

Early houses were made of local stone, egg-shaped or rectangular with thatched roofs and painted white or red from the local clay. I would walk to the oldest area of Nangi to see one of these old homes each visit. I was told it was about 100 years old. Modern Nangi has mostly rectangular wooden and brick homes topped with wooden boards or slate. The first HEF volunteer quarters in Nangi was built traditionally as a thatched roundhouse.

It’s apparent that Mahabir comes from ancestors that were fierce, clever, and industrious. His genes were programed from birth to fight…but for this Magar the fight doesn’t involve swords or guns. His ammunition is knowledge. His aim is for higher education.