Monday, December 31, 2012

Update: 2012 in Review

2011 was admittedly a hard act to follow, 2012. Still, you managed to deliver, keeping us on our toes with highs and lows as we adjusted to a new home. In that sense, 2012 mirrored 2011; in many other ways, San Francisco could not be further from Kathmandu. As we reflect on the last year, we want to take the time to share some of what we have been up to since our return to the US.

Claudine kicked off her job at Kiva and wasted no time heading to the field to identify new field partners in Africa. In April she traveled to Uganda, Kenya, and Somaliland with a Kiva colleague, conducting due diligence on innovative organizations such as Grameen Foundation AppLab and Solar Sister.

Uganda captured her heart...

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Village outside Kampala, Uganda

...with colorful markets that reminded her of Nepal.

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Village market outside Kampala, Uganda

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Nairobi impressed, with its size and height and delights (sushi! decaf Americanos! Belgian beer!).

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And the orphan elephants (and their caretakers) at the Shedrick Wildlife Trust...well, there are no words.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

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She even spotted giraffes in the wild during a beautiful hike in Kenya's Rift Valley.

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Mt. Longonot, Kenya (do you see the giraffes?)

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And Somaliland had its own allure with its stark landscape and peculiarity.

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Abaarso, Somaliland

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Not to be outdone, Brian turned 30 in June. It was impossible to match Claudine's amazing birthday celebration we shared in Nepal, but hiking in Big Sur did not disappoint.

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Big Sur

Point Lobos State Park

To say that we have enjoyed exploring our new home would be an understatement. The Bay Area offers convenient access to excellent hiking, both nearby and far flung. Here is the view just a 15-minute walk from our apartment:

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View of downtown and the San Francisco Bay from Twin Peaks

One of our favorite activities is to take lengthy urban hikes around San Francisco to explore new neighborhoods. With so many hills, this can be more strenuous -- and rewarding -- than it sounds. Thankfully, San Francisco offers plenty of eye candy.

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Golden Gate Bridge hovers over morning fog

Looking southwest from the Marin Headlands (Pacific Ocean on the horizon to the right, distant San Francisco street grid on the horizon to the left)

View of San Francisco looking south from the Marin Headlands; Golden Gate Bridge playing peek-a-boo

Good morning: sunrise in the Marina

We even found some very authentic Nepali places in Berkeley across the Bay.

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Is there anything more beautiful than dal bhat? And look at that tablecloth -- they nailed the Nepali authenticity.

Farther afield, we spent a glorious weekend with friends at a friend's family home on Fallen Leaf Lake, abutting Lake Tahoe.

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Note to self: procure family home on Fallen Leaf Lake or maintain this friendship.

Our first trip to Yosemite National Park stunned us. Claudine mapped out a 14-mile hike that left me delirious thanks to the views and exhaustion. Hiking in the fall and getting an early start, we had the trail largely to ourselves.

Our first glimpse of Half Dome

Okay, Yosemite: we get what all the fuss is about. We are excited to return in the spring when the waterfalls are gushing full-bore. And again. And again.

Have you heard of Alex Honnold? I had not either, but someone pointed him out as we passed by him in the park. I went home and watched videos of him online doing things that blew. my. mind. Here he climbs the northwest face of Half Dome with no rope and no harness:

His next feat: wrestling a feral tiger into submission. Not really, but I wouldn't be surprised given what this guy does on any given Tuesday. It's inspiring.

And that is what 2012 has been about. Finding inspiration in the big and small. Riding the highs (weddings, summits) and enduring the lows (funerals, failures) together. Learning lots along the way and doing our best to embrace every moment. And in this sense the spirit of our Nepal adventure stays with us.

To answer some common reader questions: Yes, we miss Nepal. Yes, we are happy back living in the US. No, we do not regret a thing (other than perhaps drinking chhyang). Yes, we do miss keeping up with this blog and hearing from and meeting our readers (okay, no one has asked us this question, but thought you should know). And yes, we will always be the Kathmanduo, no matter where we go.

If the last couple of years have revealed anything to us, it is the frustrating, awful, delightful, and amazing path your life can take when you invite some unpredictability into it (and even when you don't).

For 2013 we wish you health, happiness, and unpredictability.

The Kathmanduo

Monday, February 27, 2012

California Dreamin'

For someone who hates packing and unpacking, I sure have done a lot of it in the last year or so. First came the Chicago apartment downsize that involved moving a haul of stuff to my parents' basement in Michigan and some of it to a budget-friendly month-to-month lease for the remainder of our time in the US. By January 2011, Claudine was off to Kathmandu, and weeks later I followed, only after yet another trip to Michigan, during which I ended up in a highway ditch.

And we are back to the States again, moving from Kathmandu to the US last month. If only it were that simple. Our relocation involved visiting family in Jersey, crashing with dear friends in DC (thank you, Todd and Lindsey!), driving to Michigan via a stopover in Virginia, flying to California for an apartment hunt, and driving from Michigan to San Francisco in a 16-foot moving truck. If you can't tell by now, we are not in the business of keeping things easy or boring around here.

Sound exhausting? It was. Please forgive our blog absenteeism, but between elbowing our way through the cut-throat SF rental market, driving coast-to-coast through 15 states (and one commonwealth), and swimming through moving boxes, we have been a bit preoccupied. The dust is finally settling and we are getting a chance to exhale and reflect on all that led us from Chicago skyscrapers to Himalayan hilltops and now to whatever awaits here in San Francisco (so far: hipsters and very expensive coffee). With all that we have experienced, "unpacking" the last year will take longer than emptying the moving boxes in our new apartment (no small task, mind you). For now, we are happy to be new residents of San Francisco and to have avoided certain death on a windy -- and I mean windy -- stretch of Wyoming highway. More on that later.

We are not yet sure of the new direction of this blog as we embark on our latest adventure. I do think we will continue to post and, like we have with everything this year, see where it leads. I hope to good places, but you will have to keep checking in to see.

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Claudine captured this moment as we officially arrived in our new home after three long days on the road. Sunny and 70 degrees in February? That is quite a welcome mat you lay out, California.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

San Francisco Bound!

Well, dear readers, since posting our absence memo on January 12, we have kept you in suspense long enough. What's going on with the Kathmanduo, you ask?

Drum roll, please: the 'duo is no longer in the 'du. That's right. We have left Nepal and are now back in the US preparing for our next adventure that is on the immediate horizon: a cross-country move to San Francisco, where I will be starting a full-time job at Kiva!

I am thrilled beyond words, and I feel very lucky to be taking this next step in my career with an organization that I am so passionate about. I'm also pretty darn excited about my actual job, which will be managing and growing the portfolio for Kiva's new strategic partnerships with businesses in targeted sectors outside microfinance, like One Acre Fund.

Of course, there is a long story behind our move, and we plan on sharing it over a few blog posts in the coming weeks. We don't want to leave you completely hanging, though, so -- in typical Kathmanduo fashion -- we will share with you some snapshots of our journey so far. You'll see that there's already been some criss-crossing of the US, and we're leaving tomorrow to do it again.

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January 18: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Just checking up on things.

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January 21: View of San Francisco from Billy Goat Hill. Switching gears from Nepali peaks to city hills.

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February 2: Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia. Lovely.

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February 3: Stretch of Ohio cornfields. Trying to entertain myself in the boring stretch between Columbus and Toledo.

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February 3: Gun store in Ohio. Welcome to America.

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February 5: Astro Coffee in Detroit. Prepping for the hipster coffee scene on the west coast.

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February 5: Dequindre Cut in Detroit. Making the urban planner's pilgrimage to Detroit's converted railroad line.

More to come soon! In the meantime, thanks for sticking with us.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Absence Memo

We are off on our next adventure and are taking a short blogging vacation. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Narayanhiti Royal Palace Museum

In 2008, Nepal ceased to be a monarchy, and the royal palace in Kathmandu was converted into a museum open to the public. Finally, average citizens of Nepal and the rest of the world can get a glimpse of what it was like to live as the king of Nepal.

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I wish I had more photographic evidence to let you be your own judge (cameras are strictly forbidden and security is surprisingly tight and watchful), but my experience showed that the king's perks did not necessarily lie in the furnishings of the royal palace. The interior flourishes are opulent to the point of tacky (mirrored walls! gold accents! chandeliers!). Constructed in 1969, the palace and its interior feel dated back to far before 2008 when it went out of use.

The throne room. [Source:, a blogger more brave with his camera than I.]

The furnishings are grrrrrreat! [Source:]

But do not be fooled by what you can see on the surface -- the museum is fascinating. Seeing first hand how royalty live(d) is always a bit interesting, even if (especially if?) it is the case that their decorating style includes more ceramic trinket-filled curios than your grandmother could ever dream. The story of Nepal's final royal chapters, however, has much more intrigue.

On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra, the heir to the thrown, murdered nine of his royal family members, including his entire immediate family, before turning the gun on himself. By the end of the massacre, everyone in this royal portrait was dead.

King Birendra and Queen Aiswarya in front. Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra, and Prince Nirajan in back. [Source:]

Blood Against the Snows is an excellent, detailed account of the massacre and a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in a digestible history of Nepal. The prevailing theory is that Prince Dipendra's motive was -- in a twisted way -- love. Apparently, the King and Queen would not sanction a wedding to the woman he loved, so the Prince settled the score using his famous gun collection. In the chaotic aftermath of the massacre, confusion reigned. King Birendra died within hours of the shooting, and Prince Dipendra was pronounced king for the three days he survived in a coma. Upon Dipendra's death, King Birendra's brother took the throne amid a flurry of suspicion and conspiracy theories. He would be the last king of Nepal.

The horrific events of that evening in June unfolded on the grounds of the royal palace, and while it may be morbid, I admit that this is what made my visit there so facinating. The actual rooms where the shooting occurred have been destroyed; their foundations are all that remain of them on the property. Still, signs at the museum do not sweep this history under the rug. The location of the rooms is identified, as well as places on the lawn where certain family members perished. You can even set foot on the small bridge where Prince Dipendra shot himself. Chilling.

The museum is open from 11 to 3 in the winter and 11 to 4 otherwise. It is closed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and public holidays (which are plentiful in Nepal). If you are lucky enough to catch it at an open moment, admission is 100 NPR for Nepalis, 250 NPR for Chinese and SAARC visitors, and 500 NPR for others.