Monday, October 09, 2006


I'm sitting at the table with a potential minivan driver. He just asked for a month's wage...per day. We chuckle and proceed to bargain, each coming up with extraordinary excuses and justifications and in the end settling for nearly 10 times more than I'd budgeted (but better than 20).

On previous trips, I've always just taken the bus around Nepal, but we want to be out in some rural areas for about 3 weeks with lots of fragile gear, and anyway nobody else really wants to take the bus, which is dangerous, uncomfortable, and unlikely to have 9 seats available during festival season. (9 people? Where did that guy come from?) Despite my best bargaining efforts, our expedition budget has just devoured my plane-ticket-home-budget. But that's next month's problem...

The last few days have been spent writing last-minute grants in internet cafes and negotiating logistics in the Gandharbas' office. The Gandharbas might make around 40 US dollars a month, so they're all there waiting to be invited along on the foreigners' expedition. In the office it's a barrage of ideas from everybody who can make it in the door. We're here to help, but also have to keep the scams to a minimum.

500 rupees per person per day for food and lodging? Are you mad?

Ok, 250.

Tik-cha, tik-cha...

How many pencils? How many notebooks? No way, notebooks do not cost that much. How much should we pay the elderly musicians we record? Absolutely not, the driver does not get to bring a friend. How many pieces of clothing does each family get?

Which villages should we visit? Archale? Never heard of it. Are there any musicians there? Your grandfather? Can he still play? How much diesel to get there and back? Ok, we can go. If I don't shave do you think they'll charge me as a foreigner in the National Park?

Which Gandharbas will get to be our paid guides and translators? They look a little disappointed as we whittle the number down from 5 to 3. Guess we're not as rich as the Americans on TV.

We choose Buddhiman from Lamjung, the best sarangi player, Ganesh from Gorkha, the best translator, and Manoj from the Terai lowlands, the best singer and multi-instrumentalist. The president of the GCAO, a great guy in his own right, is gonna feel stiffed, but he doesn't really have much to offer outside the office. And besides, we need people with contacts in the different regions we're going. The ones who go will get some cash for their efforts, so it's got to feel lousy to not get picked. It will take some tight-rope wheel-greasing diplomacy over the next few days not to offend our hosts. We have to tell the president of the organization that he is unfortunately no longer invited. He loses face but takes it like a champ.

After four years in planning, you'd think we'd have had everything taken care of. Generous donors, fundraising concerts, a nice grant from a charitable foundation, hours of budgets and logistics and graphic designing. In the end one's expectations and those nice rounded figures get thrown to the wind.

The good news is that we're gonna pull off a good 3 weeks of filming and recording in some remote villages with some cool people. Tara and Danny are teaching a few musicians the Appalachian tunes, and we're definitely helping the Gandharbas out, teaching them how to make their own audio recordings, providing an emergency scholarship fund for those who almost have enough to go to school this year (many Gandharbas I've met average a 3rd grade education level), and giving out about 50 pounds worth of Salvation Army clothing. But no matter how many smiles and itemized receipts I get, the bottom line is that I'm gonna eat it on this one. Hope the footage is good.

Across the street as I type this there is a rather fat monkey using the telephone lines as a traffic lane, swinging across the street and has nicely managing to sever the internet connection. A couple of red-robed Tibetan monks chuckle as he untangles himself from the cables. I love Nepal...

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