Bringing 115 kg of books to Kathmandu and other travails

Arranging and re-arranging boxes of books in my office

Monday the 16th of May I got to the office early and did my last minute re-arranging of items and boxes. As you know, I collect donated nursing textbooks. At one point last fall I had 60+ boxes of books in my office – they were piled chest-high against every wall, as if they were sandbags in a wartime bunker. Passersby would snicker and chortle. Hah! They know nothing!   UBL did not own this many books at his lair in Pakistan.  Last November I re-sold many of the more recent ones  to a textbook buyer and got $600, which thinned out the pile. Next, I gave eight boxes to another faculty to take to the Marshall Islands. Then I seriously evaluated the remainder and threw ten box loads in the dumpster  – mostly outdated texts on the subject of research or nursing theory. (I detest those topics though of course my teaching is evidence-based and deeply grounded). Then I left a large pile on a table outside my office, and students scavenged them for their own use. Budget-minded students decided to use the fourth edition (free) as opposed to buying the sixth edition (listed in the syllabus) and save a few hundred bucks.

Almost looking like a normal office

After all this winnowing,  twenty boxes remained in the office. Two weeks ago  I gave a half-box to a student hoping to spend the summer with missionaries in Africa (textbooks are my version of loaves and fishes). From the remaining books I chose the ones to bring to KTM.   These are specifically about critical care, pediatrics or maternal-child. For the trip I also  purchased a set of current Heart Association ACLS materials as well. Lately I have been refusing to accept more books – maybe someday I will be back to having a “normal” office…. So the final tally is the  six boxes I checked-in today.

Down to the final six boxes

This leg of the flight cost me $384 in extra baggage – not bad all things considered. I will need to pay again when I switch airlines, unfortunately, but I am still well within the planned budget.  Overall, the degree of goodwill built up by bringing these books  is worth all the effort. To buy each of the books in these six boxes new would cost about $7,000. They replace books from the 1970s. One particular book is earmarked for my friend from Mission Hospital, Manju BK. Each outlying place I visit will get one book; and the bulk will go to LNC.

In Nepal no student ever owns a personal copy of a textbook, nor can they check it out for personal use. Consequently, at the Library a group of students will huddle around a book, while the best English-speaker among them reads out loud. If you ever wish to tour a hospital in a Low Income Country, a textbook to donate will be your ticket through the door.

and what else?

For personal items I packed the laptop this year, camera and Blackberry; relying on my saffron-colored rucksack with the sewn-on mini-flags to hold clothes and all the rest. That’s it, for ten weeks. I can buy kin-mel at the Bajar in Old Kathmandu if I need anything else. For  last summer’s backpacking trip I bought a nice poncho and an inflatable sleeping mattress which I packed. I expect to sleep on it during my eight-hour layover in Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok. For hospital work I will wear khakis and scrub top. I also packed two UH logo’ed polo shirts.

Willie brought me to HNL in his wife’s car (“we’d have trouble fitting all this on the motorbike!” he chuckled). Ballasted with the two of us plus 250 lbs of books,  Betty’s Camry lurched over the first speed bump with a grinding noise.  Willie then crept over  the other bumps on little cat’s feet. Slowly.

Chapter Three: Office Decor – what is normal anyway?

This culling leaves  a smaller pile of boxes in my office, smallest in three years. One last look before I closed the door for ten weeks. There are differing theories as to how to decorate a faculty office. Many faculty have bare walls. It’s actually called “the power office”  when the room is  uncluttered. One faculty told me she leaves it that way as a reminder not to think of herself  as “permanent”.  In a feminine touch, one of our Nurse-Midwives has tastefully done hers in the theme of cross cultural motherhood art (reminder to Joe Sar: go to Mangal Durbar and  buy Carmen one of those sensual Mahadevi statues); still others fill theirs with plants. I still don’t have an office-mate, but Webster 216 is festooned with  lots of visual art and quirky bric-a-bracs, such as my Maoist flag, a bust of Ganesh, a silver-inlaid Hindu conch horn, my rotary valved trumpet, the tropical fruit posters, and a clothes rack. When I bike to work I change clothes upon arrival. The Magar women’s costumes made of Dakka cloth hang  proudly on the rack. A few years back I bought 8 x 11 glossy framed prints of two dozen of my best Nepal pics for a photo display in the corridor and these now reside on my office wall along with maps of Nepal, Kathmandu and Vittoria ES Brasil. Another  wall has a USA map. Post-it notes indicate past campaigns of book publicity and marketing.  Lacking a New York publisher I attempted a national campaign from here.  Webster 216 is also the office where I wrote my book. Many hours from 0500 to 0800 each day.
Students always scrutinize the books in their professors’ office.  My shelves carry some out-of-the-ordinary books on global health subjects. Like a sports bar, the walls also display lots of  memorabilia from past clinical groups, like the trophies a fan would accumulate after following the home team for a few seasons. Because my teaching has a focus on teamwork, I do think of each clinical group as if we were an NCAA team, and each clinical day as if it were a game on our schedule. I am the coach.  Each semester we rebuild for future success.


I listen to  music in the office as well, lately it’s been the Carrie Newcomer channel on Pandora. It all complements my reputation (mystique?) as a clinical teacher. The net effect is that students who drop by for the first time can’t resist the visual appeal, and invariably spend a distracted minute gazing around while they get oriented. More so lately.  And it’s all on hold til I return – Cathy the custodian will check the dustbin  but rm 216  turns into a post-rapture museum until August. I left my room-mate’s space clear and ready in case I am ever assigned a room-mate; but that’s the only circumstance under which any body will enter. Like Einstein’s last blackboard.

Yesterday I submitted my grades. This morning I gave Willie, my Chowkidar, the checkbook with some blank checks, the last few mail-in bills to send on specified dates, stamps  and some petty cash. I try to look for out-of-the-ordinary gifts for Willie since he does a great job. Last time it was a Community Health Nursing textbook published in Delhi that was specific to South Asia. It has to be an esoteric gift.

Chapter Four: China Air and the Date Line

Flying on China Air – I like this airline. The flight is not full. Mostly asians with only a few westerners. This airlines distributes heated damp towels so  the passengers to freshen up prior to each meal. Breakfast options include a rice dish, and green tea. I tell the flight attendants  “domo arigato”.

China Air always closes every passenger window when approaching the International Date Line. Is there something we are not supposed to see? I once thought of writing an action  movie script in which the Date Line was a physical structure. What would it look like? Maybe a huge broken white line such as is painted on a highway divide… In the movie, the villains would have a sci-fi plan to relocate it or steal it, thereby disrupting the world’s airline traffic, holding the flying public  hostage. World trade and the future of Wal-Mart would be in jeopardy.

 At Tokyo I meet the six UH students from Asian Studies along with their faculty. This group does not go to Nepal during their month long trip. “Too unpredictable” says their faculty member. “Don’t drink the water”.

We are joined by a hundred Japanese school kids replete with plaid skirts, who cheer during the takeoff like it’s a roller coaster.

I will not be in Taipei long enough to take the free government-sponsored tour. If you are ever there, hop on the van, well worth the four hours. Chiang-Kai Shek was a great friend of America.

When I boarded for the leg to BKK I was surprised to learn that my seat was in Business Class. Very comfortable, and I slept well.

Chapter five: Books part two

Sleeping on the mat in BKK worked out just fine. When Air India opened I gathered my stuff to check in. The weight of books was 115 kg. The first 30 was free; they quoted me the price for the excess, and thereupon a glitch. The excess baggage needed to be paid for with *cash*, Thai Bhatt only! I needed to go an ATM pronto. It was going to cost $400. All I could with draw was $367. The daily cash limit was exceeded and could not be reset until midnight.  I was not able to withdraw the amount needed. I was just shy! “Almost” doesn’t count! Would I have to abandon some boxes ?!?!?!

After some phone calls and hurried problemsolving, I decided that I would first, send the “number one box” – the one with the ACLS stuff in it, via my flight, since the first 30 are no extra charge and it weighed 26 kg; then using the amount I could withdraw, I would use an air cargo next-day-delivery service for the other five boxes, which turned out to cost  only $350. So now I had enough money. Phew. I will pick up the five boxes in a day or two.

Adding this to the amount I already paid in HNL yesterday, the total cost from HNL to KTM is $734 for the six boxes, of which $600 was covered by my cannibalizing the donations last fall. So – for $134 of my own money I got 115 kg of books delivered.

On the plane I met an American photojournalist who will cover political instability here, for an American newspaper. And who will also freelance. This is her fifth trip to Nepal, but her first paid trip. She stays at the home of a producer for a Nepali TV news program.  She’s interested to produce some documentaries on the side and may also cover my work (!). Add her to the list of people in my network here. That would be cool. Stay tuned.

From SNEHA, the Honolulu Nepali Society my friends Bibin, as well as  Alok and Sudha, are in KTM and I look forward to visiting each of them within a few days of arrival. I will also have lunch with “Principal Ma’am,”  Mrs Thanju from TNS.

Bibin is mainly there to support his family during the illness of a relative. The Rajouria family returned once Alok finished his PhD. There is much to organize and many people to meet during the first week.

That’s it for now.

Joe Sar

PS Don’t text me – it costs a dollar per text. Don’t phone – I will mostly have the BB off. My flat in KTM includes wi-fi, and so email  is the best tool – use any one of my four and they will all get through. Or FaceBook (best yet!). I hope to crosspost this on WP, TravelPod and Dkos. Let me know what you think……


About Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

These blogs, and my books, and videos are written on the principle that any person embarking on something similar to what I do will gain more preparation than I first had, by reading them. I have fifteen years of USA nursing faculty background. Add to it fifteen more devoted to adult critical care. In Nepal, I started teaching critical care skills in 2011. I figure out what they need to know in a Nepali practice setting. Then I teach it in a culturally appropriate way so that the boots-on-the-ground people will use it. One theme of my work has been collective culture and how it manifests itself in anger. Because this was a problem I incorporated elements of "situational awareness" training from the beginning, in 2011.
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One Response to Bringing 115 kg of books to Kathmandu and other travails

  1. Pingback: How a doctor or nurse can prepare for a medical volunteer trip to Nepal since the April 2015 earthquake. | CCNEPal 2015

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