Survey Explained Simply

So, what exactly is my job? You probably know that I travel to villages and talk to people, and that I also spend lots of time in an office in front of a computer. But what do I really do? Sometimes it’s hard to explain things to people who have little or no exposure to the ins and outs of your field.

Many people (who are working in fields much more technical than mine) have encountered this challenge as well. One scientist and comic artist “took the elimination of jargon to an almost absurd degree” when he accepted the challenge to explain the inner-workings of the Saturn V moon rocket using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. To see the whole of his brilliant comic about “the only flying space car that has taken anyone to another world,” you can visit his site.

up goer five preview

Inspired by this idea, someone created a little project called Up Goer Five, which takes any text and checks for simplicity of vocabulary – basically checks it against the “ten-hundred” most common words in the English language. This quickly became an interesting challenge for scientists, and someone compiled a blog of various descriptions of different fields. So I decided to take the challenge too. Here is my description of language survey as I see it.

Language Survey in Simple Terms:
People around the world talk lots of different ways. My job is to go to places where groups of people have ways of talking that no one else has. I ask them lots of questions and they listen to stories made by people who talk other ways that are almost the same. Then I go home and look at all the answers I wrote down, and I think hard about the answers. How different are the ways these people talk? Once I know the answer I tell my friends and other people about it. Now everyone can know how many different ways there are to talk! And now if people want to write down their talking and read their talking in books, then someone can help them do it in the best way.

What do you think? Besides being a good mental challenge and an interesting way to learn about other technical fields, doing this kind of linguistic manipulation can actually be very beneficial for the one doing it. Some might claim that it is just creating a different kind of linguistic complexity (i.e. using a greater number of simple words to explain something that could be explained equally well with fewer, more specialized words). However, taking the time to think through complex ideas can help you understand your own field, and help you to remember why it is exciting. As one scientist wrote, “I think this is a great vehicle for getting us to be thoughtful about the way we explain our work to each other and to non-scientists. …in the end, if it helps people to understand what science is all about, then that effort and those carefully chosen words are totally worthwhile.”

So I encourage you to take the challenge! Write about your work, or something that you love to do, or anything that you are knowledgeable or passionate about! You’ll be surprised how fun it is, and how much you learn about your work and yourself in the process.

Click here to explain something in Ten Hundred words. Then share your creation!

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Secret Vegetarian

Last year my roommate at CanIL called me a vegetarian.
My response: “What? You saw me eat a hamburger yesterday.”
Her response: “Then why do you buy vegetarian chili???”

Granted, she’s from Texas, so her idea of vegetarianism is slightly different from mine. Although this interaction was funny, her new name for me, “secret vegetarian” wasn’t all that inaccurate.

I stopped eating meat by accident. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe I was too thrifty to buy it. Maybe it was living in Portlandia – the land of vegans and amazing vegetarian restaurants. Maybe it was all of these things. But you know what? I didn’t really miss meat. I still ate it from time to time, but with less and less frequency.

Then I realized it was the best idea ever. So, turns out being a vegetarian is amazing for many reasons. First of all, veggies are way cheaper than meat. Also, they are much better for your body – did you know our digestive systems are pretty much identical to those of herbivores? I always notice a distinctive difference in how my body feels (and smells!) after eating lots of meat. Another benefit of vegetarianism is that it’s much better for the environment. Unless your meat is from a small, local farm, there is a massive impact on the environment because of transport of feed, supplies, and the meat itself, as well as other environmental effects of large farming. Finally, there’s the whole eating another sentient being thing… I’m not totally against it, but you have to admit that it’s sad to think of animals living horrible lives on giant farms, purely for the sake of your culinary enjoyment.

But enough of my preaching. Let’s get down to the real reason I’m writing this post. I have an announcement to make: I’m coming out of the closet. I’m no longer a secret vegetarian. This time it’s for real.

Now that I live overseas, it’s much harder for me to casually avoid meat. My “once every week or two” policy is much harder to execute. In this culture, a hostess honors you by serving you meat. How does one refuse that?? “Yes, thank you so much for killing your only chicken on my behalf, but I had some meat yesterday so I’ll have to politely reject your display of respect.” Nope, that’s not gonna fly. But you know what is totally accepted in most parts of this country? Vegetarianism.

So in considering this dilemma, I realized that there was a clear and easy solution. I’m finally ready to commit. I’m really a vegetarian now.

You might be wondering, “Is it hard?” Yes, actually, it is. Before I went 100% veg, I never craved meat. But now I’m experiencing the forbidden fruit effect – which means that I have to actually have some character and self-control in order to stick to my guns. That’s not something my generation does very well, but I’m doing my best.*

Wish me luck on my new venture! Maybe one day some of you will hop on the bandwagon with me and Bahadur the bull.  

 From Don’t Do As I Do  by Joy Stephens
*Full disclosure: one day after I had my “last meat,” I ordered a breakfast that came with a side of bacon, and I couldn’t let the bacon just sit there, so lonely on the plate. But after that I’ve been good. I swear. Oh, except for that goat lung. You can’t turn down a goat lung.

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A Change of Scenery

Today is “Nepal bandh,” which means many offices and businesses are closed as groups are protesting a recent trade agreement between India and China.

For me, this means I’m working from home today, and what a great day it is for it! I’ve set up on my porch, and this is my view from my new “office”:

  
Hard life, I know.

Some days I feel really frustrated with work, but today isn’t one of them. I’ve been working on some stuff for my new part-time role as “Contingency Officer” (sounds exciting, but it includes a lot of spreadsheets), and practicing some Nepali stuff I’ll need for survey fieldwork. I can hardly believe that I’ve come this far – last year I would have been hard pressed to believe I would ever be able to read this page and understand it!

  
It’s days like this that make life amazing and exciting. We all need those moments where we think to ourselves, “I can do this!”

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Earthquakes, Now What?

It’s been over 2 months since the first 7.9 earthquake that rocked Nepal. Since then we have had another major 7.3 earthquake and 320+ aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or larger. As aftershocks become less and less common, the question remains: what now?

damage wallMy Experience
After two weeks in Malaysia (you may recall that I was there during the first major quake), I arrived back in Kathmandu on May 3. I was so glad to be back, yet it was surreal in many ways. The area where I live was barely affected, except for a fallen wall or two. Many of us are very surprised how well the buildings of Kathmandu withstood the magnitude of the quake. It is a mercy that the whole city wasn’t flattened.

After seeing the pictures and stories on the news, I was braced to return to a city heavy with loss and destruction. However, life in Kathmandu since the quake has been strangely normal in many ways. Water, electricity, and cell service are available. Many shops quickly reopened, the roads are clear, and schools are finally back in session. My house is structurally sound, and very few things fell or broke. If I didn’t leave my neighborhood, I would barely know that the earthquake had happened.

kathmanduEasy to Forget
It’s easy for me to forget what happened, as I’m sure it is for you. Although I sometimes still jump when something near me gets bumped (“was that a quake?”) and the rubble of a few buildings are still visible around Kathmandu, my daily life has returned to normal – as normal as things get in Nepal. I go to work, I have language classes, I deal with daily annoyances and chores. But for millions in this country, the aftermath of these earthquakes has not allowed them to return to normal.

Many of the country’s most treasured historical buildings are completely gone, with only piles of bricks left in their place. In many rural areas, whole villages were completely flattened. And now, as monsoon is in full swing, the rains are ruining crops, creeping into temporary housing, and triggering deadly landslides.

Relentless Rains
Although the government has distributed more than $80 million in aid across quake-hit areas, including $150 in cash to over 250,000 families, many people are still living in temporary shelters, in tents, or under tarps. As the monsoon season approaches its peak, these families are not only experiencing extreme discomfort, the old, young, and otherwise vulnerable are risking their lives.
Not only do these heavy rains make living uncomfortable and facilitate spread of disease, they also trigger deadly landslides that destroy roads, farms, and entire villages.

Forced Relocation of Many
On June 30, the government appointed a committee to help those living in high-risk areas temporarily or permanently relocate to safer places. The deadline is coming up, and many are still living in landslide hazard areas. There are challenges to this on many sides: the government is struggling to find places for all these refugees to settle, there is little money to support the move, and many people do not want to leave the places where their families have lived for generations. My good friend’s parents are living in a tent, dealing with monsoon rains with little supplies, but they stay because they are loathe to spend the last years of their life in a dirty city, away from the land and village that they call home.

Triage, then Recuperation
Along with a shortage of foodstuffs and other supplies that is caused by the challenge of transporting goods to remote areas, water shortages are affecting many areas in Nepal. Landslides are compromising people’s sources of water in rural areas, and in refugee camps in Kathmandu water and sanitation are becoming worse and worse.
A recently released report said that while government-led recovery was “scaling up”, there were still at least 2.8 million people – some 10 percent of Nepal’s population – that needed urgent help.
The problems aren’t over for people who live in cities either; as monsoon rains continue, people are working on the task of clearing debris from damaged homes, attempting to salvage personal belongings that were trapped in collapsed buildings. Residents in the Kathmandu area are receiving little to no help in the work of debris clearing and reconstruction work.
According to Nepali government officials, it will cost over $6.6bn and at least five years to reconstruct and rebuild the country.
In a country with poverty levels already among the highest in the world, th
e earthquake has pushed nearly one million people further into destitution.

wewillriseagainNepal Rises
If you’ve been following the quake on social media, you may have seen the hashtag WeWillRiseAgain. It was incredibly encouraging to see so many people jumping to their fellow countrymen’s aid. The news has been reporting lots about government incompetency and corruption, which may not be false. However, often unreported is the motivation of individuals to help others, which has been astounding. Police and army personnel worked tirelessly to pull people out of the rubble. Churches and others continue to spend time packing supplies to take to some of the harder hit areas. The passable roads were congested with people going out to village areas to help their family and friends recover from the destruction caused by the quake and its many aftershocks.

How to Help
Many people have expressed a desire to help financially with the quake. Thank you for wanting to participate in blessing those who have lost everything! Here are some suggestions for giving:

Five14: This organization works in remote villages to prevent human trafficking. They are in a unique place, able to supply aid to these villages and continue to build relationships with the folks there.

United Mission to Nepal: UMN has been working in Nepal since the 1950s. Their history in the country means that they understand the social and political climate of Nepal, and that they will remain in country long after the foreign aid organizations have gone, continuing the work of rebuilding Nepal.

This page has a list of a few more relief groups highly recommended by my organization.

Don’t Forget!
Keep praying for Nepal. Remind your friends of what is still happening here. Consider giving. Come visit and support the local economy. And don’t be afraid to contact me for a quick hello or an encouraging word – I’m not as busy as you might think!

nepal-earthquake-rubbleHere are some of the sources I drew from to write this post:
List of earthquakes in Nepal
List of historic buildings destroyed in the earthquake
At-risk settlements to be relocated (article)
Victims refuse to shift (article)
Water supply disrupted (article)
2 months since deadly earthquake (article)

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An Out of Time Experience

Shopping: I got this. Wait - are you supposed to put the items IN the basket?

Shopping: I got this. Wait – are you supposed to put the items IN the basket?

Whenever I travel, I have the surreal feeling that I’m entering a different universe that operates on a different timeline. Others I have talked to experience this too; whether it’s only for a weekend or for years and years, our brains have a hard time recognizing that time is passing anywhere but where we are.

My recent trip to the US, which was extremely short and packed full of visits, was no exception. Because it was my first trip back after moving to Nepal, I expected to feel overwhelmed. I expected to be confused and shocked by the wide roads, the shiny buildings, and the efficient workings of the Western world. I was surprised to find, however, that being back took little to no adjustment! I had the out-of-time experience, in which I felt that I had been gone for no time at all. Everyone welcomed me back as they would have after a very short absence, and everything I did felt normal, easy, and right.

Ever flown internationally with only a carry-on? Now I have!

Ever flown internationally with only a carry-on? Now I have!

I had a few more bags on the way back to Nepal :)

I had a few more bags on the way back to Nepal :)

Thinking about it later has made me wonder if, over time, I’m just becoming accustomed to changing environments frequently. I recall having much more culture shock during my first trip back to California after moving to Portland. Maybe going back and forth has helped me to create separate boxes in my mind for each place, so that as I change location, I change my expectations as well. This would reduce experiencing the shock of expecting one thing and experiencing another. Or maybe I had less culture shock because Portland is more similar to Nepal than it is to California…

I love LA!

I love LA!

Because of “the situation” in Nepal (as Nepalis love to call the earthquakes and their aftereffects), my fieldwork was postponed, which allowed me to take this last-minute trip to the US in order to attend the wedding of a lifelong friend. I spent 5.5 days in Portland and 4.5 days in Los Angeles. What a whirlwind!

During my 46 hours of travel time from Nepal to Portland (yes, that calculation is correct), I had lots of airport adventures and watched many, many inflight movies.

The Singapore airport really wants you to know that you can drink their water

The Singapore airport really wants you to know that you can drink their water

Free foot massage after a long flight? Sign me up! (maybe don't sign me up for the pain though)

Free foot massage after a long flight? Sign me up! (maybe don’t sign me up for the pain though)

Someday I'll actually go outside of the airport in Japan...

Someday I’ll actually go outside of the airport in Japan…

Japanese toilets are equipped with so many options...

Japanese toilets are equipped with so many options…

Los Angeles airport: supplying uber-Californian fare since 1983

Los Angeles airport: supplying uber-Californian fare since 1983

Some notes I jotted down during my layover at LAX

Some notes I jotted down during my layover at LAX

Portland was lovely! I kept asking myself, “When I lived here, did I realize that I lived in Paradise?” Besides attending Kristin & Loren’s wedding, I was able to see lots of my Portland friends and even attend another wedding that was the same weekend!

Kombucha on tap: SO Portland.

Kombucha on tap: SO Portland.

Successfully surprised my friend Seth!

Successfully surprised my friend Seth!

I don't miss many things in Nepal, but gourmet ice cream is definitely one of them!

I don’t miss many things in Nepal, but gourmet ice cream is definitely one of them.

Honest selfies...

Honest selfies… Traveling isn’t made purely of magical moments, despite what photos might lead you to believe.

 

The first wedding I attended was in an airplane museum! So fun!

The first wedding I attended was in an airplane museum! So fun!

Congrats Lisa and Joel :)

Congrats Lisa and Joel :)

IMG_2877

What a perfect day for a beautiful couple!

Got to see lots of high school buddies at Kristin & Loren's wedding!

Got to spend time with lots of high school buddies at Kristin & Loren’s wedding.

I caught the boquet... uh oh!

I caught the bouquet… uh oh!

Got to see Stephanie, my friend from Nepal!

I even got to see Stephanie, a good friend I met in Nepal!

Leaving the lovely green city I call one of my homes...

Leaving the lovely green city I call one of my homes…

It was hard to say goodbye to Portland, but I was glad to get out of the heat and go enjoy the cool weather California experiences during “June gloom”. As well as spending time with immediate and extended family members, I enjoyed my last In’N’Out burger, some delicious beers, and real Mexican food.

Not exactly the green paradise Portland is... but check out those skyscrapers!

Not exactly the green paradise Portland is… but it’s definitely got a more impressive skyline.

My generous and kind aunt and uncle!

My generous and kind aunt and uncle!

It's true.

It’s true.

Breakfast: also an excellent source of happiness!

Breakfast: also an excellent source of happiness.

California: the land of plenty. Is it possible for so many fruits to be in season at once?

California: the land of plenty. Is it possible for so many fruits to be in season at once?

Another thing I miss in Nepal: good bookstores.

Another thing I miss in Nepal: good bookstores.

Check out those palm tress!

Palm trees galore: classic California.

Sometimes America is... extremely overwhelming.

Sometimes America is… extremely overwhelming.

My lovely grandmother. Check out that gorgeous head of hair!

My lovely Gramma. Check out that gorgeous hair!

Bro - Sis

Bro – Sis

Matching colors! As Lindiwe would say, "This is why we're cousins."

Matching colors! As she would say, “This is why we’re cousins.”

My baby cousins. Or at least they were, once upon a time!

My baby cousins. Or at least they were, once upon a time!

The one true love of my life.

The one true love of my life.

By the time my trip was ending, I was feeling ready to head to my Nepal home. I can’t believe what a great visit it was: I got to see almost everyone that I hoped I would see, and didn’t feel rushed or stressed. When I arrived back in Nepal, I was back in my newest familiar environment and felt like I had returned to my normal timeline. I was e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d, but fulfilled and content.

Well, so much for a window seat.

Well, so much for a window seat.

[insert wisdom here about how endings always mean new beginnings]

[insert wisdom here about how endings always mean new beginnings]

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Getting a Research Visa … It’s a Process

I just secured my research visa!! Now I can go in and out of the country without worry for the next calendar year. I have such a happy sense of security and accomplishment.

I was lucky enough to have a buddy to do all my visa things with. It was nice to go to new places with someone else, especially since he visa process here takes time, patience, lots of photocopies, and lots of smiles.
My visa process included no less than:

7 copies of our 14 page proposal

10 visa & passport copies

4 approval letters from the university

13 approval signatures (that we know of)

9 office visits

7.4 magnitude earthquake (yep, we were at the visa office when it happened)

150 bank notes (rupee bills come in rather small denominations)

20 phone calls

2 interviews

5 trips to the bank

4 application forms

6 letters of no objection from our embassy

3 bank statements
Phew! Glad that’s over… Until next year!

  

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Earthquake in Nepal

Many of you have probably heard about the recent earthquakes hitting Nepal. I have been grateful for everyone’s concerns and prayers! I am actually quite safe, as I happen to be at a conference in Malaysia. Since I’ve been internetless the past few days, you probably know more about the incident than I do!

It’s strange to be far away as my dear friends are experiencing this pain and fear together. In some ways I wish I hadn’t been away; disasters are scary, but being away from loved ones during hard times is scary in a different way. Arriving to a disaster situation next week will be surreal.

Our apartment is fine, besides a few broken dishes. My housemate, along with most people in the city, is sleeping outside for fear of building collapse as aftershocks continue. Many of the city’s priceless historical buildings have been destroyed, and death counts continue to rise.

All of my expat colleagues are accounted for, but I don’t know how most of my Nepali friends are doing. Please pray for their safety and emotional strength in such a distressing time.

I’m ashamed to think that yesterday i was sitting on a beach, thinking that returning to Nepal might be hard. Yet now, just 24 hours later, I am aching to return to the place I am learning to call home.

Please pray for Nepal. Pray for wisdom in disaster relief. Pray for the many many grieving families. Pray for those who have lost home and family. Pray as the aftershocks continue, some almost as large as the first quake. Pray for my colleagues and me as we watch helplessly from afar.

As always, thank you for your love and concern!

Here’s a brief news article about Saturday’s quake, which was the largest in Nepal since 1934.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32461019

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Office Life Begins

Today marks my 8th official day working in the survey office! When I’m asked, “How’s it been working in the office?” even though my canned answer is, “I kind of hate it,” I don’t hate it. Usually.

In a country with no addresses, this is how you tell the bank where you live.

In a country with no addresses, this is how you tell the bank where you live.

Now that my full-time language learning period is over (for the time being), my responsibilities have shifted. I am no longer focused on producing a competent Nepali speaker (phew), I’m now focused on producing research! My first task has been to procure a research visa, which means that my colleague Jessica and I have been reading every source we can find about the Dee* language group in Nepal, diligently writing a proposal, and doing other exciting things like opening a Nepali bank account.

It has been a nice change to shift the focus away from myself and towards the Dee people that I will potentially be surveying. I’m really enjoying learning about the language situation in Nepal as well as learning about how survey works here. Spending time in the office with my colleagues is always fun as well; surveyors are notorious for being the “fun” ones in the group! Totally unexpected, I know.

First day in the office. Taking a photo Nepali style - no smiling.

First day in the office. Taking a photo Nepali style – no smiling.

SIL recently published an article about survey work here in Nepal. SIL, Tribhuvan University, and the government of Nepal are working together to survey all of the 120+ languages here. A daunting task!
http://www.sil.org/story/surveying-languages-nepal
(This is a great, short overview of our work here.)

So although I don’t enjoy sitting in an office or staring at a computer screen all day, I have been appreciating the chance to engage with my colleagues and start some “real” work! The sun shines in through our windows, we laugh, we make espresso (when the power is on), and we look forward to the few weeks each year when our office looks like this:

My colleague interviewing someone about their language.

My colleague interviewing someone about their language.

*Dee is a pseudonym

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Protected: Some Observations On Economics By An Inexpert Outsider

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Protected: Meet My Host Family

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