Archives for category: Uncategorized

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This was the first Christmas she didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I had to put food for the old man and his reindeer in front of the tree. She just shook her head because I tried to keep the story going. I shared the “Yes, Virginia, there’s a Santa Claus.” to keep the spirit of Christmas alive and not just make it about presents and Christmas trees.

She leaves the house now daily at 6.30 by herself, takes the tram, the train and finally the bus to her school. While there are still many moments we share, Winnetou and Sissie movies we watch, vacations we take – I can see a future where this will become the exception, not the current norm.

There’s sadness in this: Longing for the days when she always held my hand crossing the street, when she walked in the kitchen first thing in the morning, just hugging me for the longest time.

And there’s pride: How she’s turning into a fine, young lady. Independent, loving books and happy to take on a new world and life in Amsterdam. Much quicker than I expected.

There’s also recognition: The life we live is not ours – Her life, your life, my life.

While there’s sadness, pride and pain seeing children grow up, we would never want to stop the process. And, thankfully, we can’t. Just like we can’t stop our lives from changing as children take the necessary steps that, one happy/sad day they will leave their home to create their own elsewhere. We did the same one day and arrived where we are because progress and change can’t be stopped.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” – C.S. Lewis

No matter what I do, how good a father and husband I am, how much I love, help others, I still live on borrowed time. We all have borrowed lives.

There’s no extension, no money-back guarantee. No ownership, no lemon law, no trade-ins.

This life is all we have. Each moment of it – sadness, happiness, love, pain, the past, children, work, the future, the present.

Enjoy the journey and each moment. Make the best of your present. Very soon, all of it will be gone.

Until that day, be the best borrower you can be.

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It’s been pretty dark months for liberals, city-dwellers, experts, gay people who desire equal rights, women who don’t want a President who boasts about sexually assaulting them, people of color who want to be heard.

Welcome to the pain of the citizens of Istanbul, of New Delhi, the liberals of Russia and Israel. Suddenly, you feel as if your countrymen have become strangers to you and your fond expectations of progress are revealed as childlike fantasy.

Others have castigated us as an elite, out of touch with real people and their real concerns. Apparently, we have been numb to the fact that this is a deeply divided world. Many want us to give up on our beliefs and leave the stage to politicians now displaying confidently their  isolationist views, their sexism and homophobia, they belief that all people are not born equal.

Well, sorry, but we are not going anywhere.

And, we are not shutting up.

The use of the word ‘elite’ to describe those that believe of us in education equality and opportunity for all is particularly shameful. It’s said with a sneer and suggests that those  to be in the elite somehow think they are better than everybody else. It’s intended to divide. More than that, it’s an attempt to suggest there are fewer of us than there really are. A reminder: More than 62 million voted for Hillary Clinton, while in the UK more than 16 million voted to remain in the European Union. Those voters are not the elite. They were 48% of voters in the UK and 51% of voters in the US.

We need to remember we have strength in numbers.

And, we also need to remember we are right.

There is nothing wrong believing in equality. That everybody should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexuality. That women should not be sexually assaulted, verbally abused in the street, and discriminated against at work. That black and Hispanic people should not be racially abused, Muslim or Jewish people targeted and no race should be targeted by the police because of the color of their skin. There is nothing wrong with being an expert, in getting an education, specializing in a chosen field, and using that knowledge to better understand the world around us. There is nothing wrong with being Cosmopolitan, learning a language, understanding different cultures, mixing with people who are from different parts of the world.

Oh, and let us pause for a moment and consider the absurdity that we, the ones with passports, the one with friends, family and colleagues from around the world, we are accused of living in a bubble.

Revisit the assumption that people themselves are inevitable becoming more inclusive and tolerant.

Yes, some of our fellow citizen around the world feel the stress of dislocation and dispossession. Fighting against this is part of being liberal. But don’t deny the fact they chose freely to blame that stress on those who have not caused it – Foreigners, Muslims, immigrants, women, the poorest of the poor.

Do not cozy up to the left, do not compromise with the right. Do not aspire for some ideological purity of your ilk. If they had the answers, the right would not have defeated them. The left hates you as much as the right does.

Liberals need to remember this important fact: Right now, we are losing. Not by much, but by enough. Therefore, we need to fight for our values as vigorously as they do for theirs. We need to be as adapt in using language as they are. We need to be as smart in engaging with people who are not automatically agree with us as they are. Now is not the time to hide away, lick our wounds, and meekly accept that the battle is lost.

We can’t deny the choice the UK and the US made, that would be condescending. It would be fatal to ignore it and just carry on, hope for better outcomes in the years to come. The choice needs to be fought, not wished away. The historic error corrected, not accepted.

Brexit and the last few days might feel like an endless nightmare to you. Actually, you finally woke up from your slumber and now understand fully what your country and the world is. And how fellow citizens are vastly different from you.

It will get better. And, if you don’t give up, one day your country and the world might feel familiar again.

 

 

 

  
Flowers at home make me so happy. Even in my poorest days, there was always enough money to bring the beauty of flowers home. 

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I fell in love with Mary Oliver’s poetry. The combination of tough mindset and tender heart really speaks to me. ‘Wild Geese’ is one of my favorites.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

“Wild Geese” embodies everything that I value in a poem: captivating opening lines; carefully chosen and concise language; similes and repetition; natural imagery; enough room for the reader to understand Oliver’s point of view while still imposing their own; and ending lines that make the reader feel complete. Her work pulls the reader out of a moment in our pressured world, and puts us into another moment – one vastly more real, more understanding.

 

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(Don’t dream our life. Live your dreams. – German writing in Byron Bay, Australia)

We live our lives making careful decisions. We try to be smart when we come to a conclusion, and then act. We take our time.

The real hard choices are not made by us. Any life-changing and heart-wrenching decision is made for us. We didn’t have a choice, we were chosen. It might feel unsuitable but it’s so powerful and uncontrollable, we just have to hand over the controls. Maybe a well-lived life is knowing when to take control and when to let go.

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Albert Camus said “Life is the sum of all choices.” I would add that the art of life is surrendering to the choices that were made for us. The biggest regret you can experience is when you were called upon and you felt an unknown power rising inside of you. And you gave it neither power nor time.

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The biggest decisions in my life were made for me, I just executed them: I had no choice when leaving my hometown, when changing careers, when moving to the US, when getting married, when having a kid. It was meant to be and I had to surrender to the choice that was made for me.

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When we packed up our stuff and moved our lives into one suitcase each, I never had a doubt. When you have no choice, why bother doubting that non-existing choice? We heard many remarks during the year, calling our travels courageous and crazy. For me, not taking this step would have been courageous and crazy.

When a choice is made for you, is it divine intervention, is it the Universe calling you or just a deep-seated intuition that knows more about your well-being than your conscious mind does? Smarter people than me will have the answer one day. What I know is that we need to have an open heart and mind to accept the choices that were made for us.

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My daughter was homeschooled throughout the trip, she worked many hours weekly on her math, read a gazillion books and more than half of the Nancy Drew series, she went to 2 German schools for a month each and she almost never watched any TV. A productive year.

As a bonus, she did all that while meeting new people every day, eating strange food, being awed constantly and learning to appreciate how small this world really is. A special year.

After all is said and done; when she looks back at this year, when these million moments are compressed into one thought, I just hope that she remembers it as the year where she learned that when you’re called upon and you feel an unknown power rising inside of you; you give it all your power and your time.

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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Life should be lived to the point of tears.” – Albert Camus

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One of the things we enjoy the most as human beings is to lose ourselves in an experience. To find ourselves in a situation where the gravity of the moment, the weight of the now is so powerful that we find ourselves outside of ourselves. You become what you behold. In these moments our neurotic inner critic, anxious of the future, paralyzed or saddened by the past, this inner critic goes silent. There is a grace to this moment. The weight of the now in all of its gravity and splendor, purges us temporarily from the angst.

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When you have this moment, whenever you put yourself outside of yourself, I am able to pierce the veil. I am able to see beyond my concerns and constraints. I connect with something larger than myself. It’s something we can all relate to.

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It’s something that we seek out. These moments are medicinal to our soul, they change us. It’s existential medication, we hit the Pause button of our existential angst. Death transforms from an imminent panic to a metaphysical abstraction. The constant thoughts of our mortality dissipate and we momentarily live in the space of the eternal now. It can be the most amazing lake ever, Burning Man, a moment with your family, a walk on the beach – anything. These moments become transformative experiences. We push ahead.

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And then the angst is gone.

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One year of travel is coming to an end. 20 countries. More than 40 different beds, endless nights in airplanes and countless hours of jet lag and naps throughout the day. We experienced one major fire, no visit to any emergency room or doctor, every bag made it to its destination, no major flight delays. Some food didn’t like us, some beds were too soft or too hard, there were pulled backs and muscles, the longest summer of our lives and a growing love affair with a city.

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And I wore a poop on my head.

When we decided to leave the daily life for a year, I didn’t have any philosophical insights or deep thoughts on why we did it. The stars just were aligned and we did it. Looking back, my main driver was to rid myself of this angst. At least, quiet it down for a while. When the daily routine turns into a daily adventure, those moments of now seem to happen on a daily basis. They not only happen at the Taj Mahal or Uluru.

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They happen when your daughter takes her first subway ride alone.

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Or you’re about to eat the perfect lunch.

I never understood the pursuit of happiness. The way I see it, happiness is like sleep. We can’t force ourselves to sleep. The harder we try to sleep, the less likely it will happen. The most we can do with sleep is to create external and internal environments that will allow sleep to occur. Ultimately, sleep comes only when we create an internal environment, that is, a particular physical and mental state, notably when our bodies are relaxed and our minds are clear and unburdened.

The same holds true for happiness. Happiness doesn’t arise from the presence of something (good relationships, passion, etc.), but rather the absence of something, notably angst. When we are free from angst we are better able to embrace and experience predictors of happiness.

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The angst is never fully gone but we pushed it aside on a daily basis by moments of the eternal now.

 

 

 

 

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I remember hearing about the Christchurch quake in 2011. I saw some of the pictures, remember reading about the 185 victims and moved on quickly afterwards. It’s just human. New Zealand is far away, Christchurch was just a name. 6.3 didn’t sound like that much, something one can encounter in Los Angeles every day.

When I was planning our trip through New Zealand, I met a fellow traveler who just returned and she mentioned that there’s no reason to go to Christchurch because “everything was destroyed”. Ah, the hyperbole, I thought and booked a night in Christchurch. We arrive late in the afternoon, dropped off our bags at the airport hotel because of an 6am flight and drove to the city.

The cab driver warmed up after a while and drove us around, explaining the multiple earthquakes that destroyed the town center. The further we drove, the only answer from me was “Oh, my God.” and “Wow, that’s crazy.” Not very literate but exactly how I felt.

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This is the Cathedral, with the adjacent Cathedral Square. The heart of Christchurch. Almost 5 years later, it’s still in complete disrepair. Most of the building that surrounded the square are gone or abandoned.

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It felt like we were walking around the movie set of “Walking Dead”. Almost no people on the street, more abandoned buildings than active stores. We had problems locating a restaurant, almost everything is just gone.

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Humans are very resistant. Because there’s so much red tape to start rebuilding the town center, the restart mall was made up of imported shipping containers that have been colorfully decorated and fitted out as banks, cafes and retail shops.  It is a great way of getting people back into the city.

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The temporary replacement of the cathedral, called the Cardboard Cathedral.

The building rises 21 metres (69 ft) above the altar. Materials used include 60-centimetre (24 in)-diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel. 

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Buildings are missing from the city centre, hundreds of them, tumbled and crumbled by wreckers’ balls and jackhammers. But art has appeared – murals, graffiti art, paintings on walls and sculpture. Lots of it. Much of the sculpture is new. Some has been there for a while, but is more obvious now, with fewer high-rise buildings around.

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A chair is not just a chair. Each of the 185 chairs, (Peter Majendie, 2012) is different to all the others, just as the 185 people who lost their lives in the February 2011 earthquake were unique individuals. The chairs are painted white so there is uniformity in their differences. I imagine an elderly man in the plastic garden chair, an office worker on the computer chair, a bohemian woman on the bentwood and the baby in the car seat. This empty-chair art installation is a heart-wrenching tribute to lost loved ones and the idea of eternal absence.

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The 6.3 quake in February 2010 was so devastating because it was preceded by a 7.1 quake in 2010 that loosened the ground, contributed to liquefaction and caused the devastation.

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This is just one image I found on the Web, taken a few days after the 6.3 quake. Walking around the ghost town, I started to wonder what will happen in California when the big ones hit? What kind of damage will it cause, how many lives will be lost? Will a rebuilding effort take as long?

Economists believe it will take Christchurch up to 100 years to recover from the events. We talked to a waitress in the only restaurant we could find. She just moved from Auckland down to Christchurch. She was astonished about the destruction in the beginning but believes “this is such an exciting time to be in Christchurch.” She hopes for a city filled with art and hopes. I share her dream.

 

After a 3am start to get to the airport for a 5am lift off to Uluru, we left the coastal humidity of Brisbane and flew into Australia’s heart – the Red Centre.

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Peering down onto the scrubby outback and gouged channel country from 35,000 feet we flew over flooded Lake Eyre and sparkling salt pans until as the mid-day sun was reaching its zenith the soil color changed from a bleached grey to rusty red, and… a tantalising first fleeting glimpse of Uluru came into view as we circled to land.
“There it is! There it is!” And with the excitement and anticipation of seeing a long lost friend – I beamed with delight.
There aren’t many iconic places you go to in your life, which prior to your visit, you’ve been bombarded with a gazillion images forming impressions and expectations. Such places have a lot to live up to – Could Uluru live up to my high hopes?
While it was summer, it was a comfortable 80-90 degrees throughout our visit in the National Park. To visit, you have many options: camping, budget hotels and a variety of hotels. The one think you realize quickly are the flies. Flies are everywhere. The moment you are outside they want to be with you and your humidity. They don’t attack, they don’t hurt, they are just annoying. One morning when I run, my back was almost covered with flies just going along for the ride. Since it was fairly windy and mild throughout our stay, we didn’t have to buy a fly net that covers your head completely. We just opted for a hat and bandana and were good to.
Luckily, the flies mostly stay out of the room and hotel. We didn’t have to deal with them during meals which was a huge benefit.
Back to Uluru.
Once you’re in your accommodation, you have many options to visit the National Park and they are super expensive. All of them. The cheapest one is just buying a bus fare plus park ticket and it will run you $85. Ouch. We opted for the sunset tour, including Kata Tjuta and ‘nibbles’ plus wine.
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Kata Tjuta, sometimes written Tjuṯa (Kata Joota), and also known as Mount Olga (or colloquially as The Olgas), are a group of large domed rock formations.
Kata Tjuta is a Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal tribe word meaning ‘many heads’. There are many Pitjantjatjara legends associated with Kata Tjuta. One legend tells the story of the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only come down during the dry season. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site for men in the Anangu Aboriginal culture and many of the legends surrounding the site are kept secret.
DSC00289The Walpa Gorge walk is an easy stroll for less than a mile, a gazillions of flies waiting for you.

On to the main event.

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Standing there with nibble and a glass of wine, many people started chatting away. I mostly just stood there and looked at the monolith. While the viewing conditions weren’t optimal due to cloud cover, we were still able to experience the perpetually changes of light and colors throughout the sunset.

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One of those experiences you dreamt about all your life, always imagining how it would be.

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You take pictures every other minute to capture the changing light and to find a way to experience the moment over and over again. And, deep inside you know that it will take time for the moment to really sink in.

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You are in the middle of nowhere to look at a monolith that was turned 90 degrees millions of years, spreading downwards for 5 kilometers.

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The vastness of the universe.

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The little specks that we are.

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Our inconsequential being in the big scheme of everything. And you feel the moment sinking in.

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The moment you see her, you are in love. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the just-perfect skyline, the climate: Everything is perfect about this place. While it’s expensive to live here, I mean, expensive; it still feels like a very democratic city. The best views are not reserved for the few rich people. The best views are for everybody, all around the city. DSC00051

Little side note: The Opera House was once discussed as overpriced, overhyped and over architectured. The original architect, Jorn Utzon,  actually never saw the final product. Humans are such fools.

It stands by itself as one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind.”

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Some people call Sydney London on the Carribean. It has more than 100 of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. And, for sure, the best coffee you’ll ever get.

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What makes Sydney so perfect is its incredible livability. Commutes don’t seem like a chore, they feel like an adventure. It takes you 30 minutes to get from downtown to Bondi Beach, my favorite beach. Ever.

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When you leave downtown 5 minutes behind, you walk through small neighborhoods. Neighborhood stores, local communities that seem to work. Kids on the street, dogs and a lot of heavy Australian accents.

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We spend more than 2 weeks in Sydney and I could have stayed a few more months. I didn’t experience all the beaches, didn’t see a performance in the Opera and didn’t drink my way through all coffee shops.

One thing for sure: If there’s any work assignment, speaking engagement or workshop in Sydney, just name the date. I’ll be there.

 

 

 

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Almost everybody knows about the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal April 25, 2015. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake violently shook the earth under them and their 27 million fellow countrymen and women, killing more than 9,000, injuring an estimated 23,000, and displacing more than 450,000 people.

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According to UNESCO, more than 30 monuments in the Kathmandu Valley collapsed and 120 incurred significant damage in the initial quake and the 7.3 aftershock that occurred a little more than two weeks later. This is in addition to the thousands of destroyed monasteries, shrines, office buildings, apartment complexes, and private homes that did not escape the wrath of one of nature’s most terrifying phenomenons.

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The devastation of the earthquake is everywhere. Especially in Kathmandu, almost half of the buildings are just rubble. Rubble, building, building, rubble, rubble, rubble, building. It’s amazing how life just seems  to continue. The human spirit is something to be in awe of.

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Bhaktapur, literally means a ‘place for worshippers,’ is still standing and continues to be the best-preserved of the city states.The streets are lined with temples, houses made of bricks glued together with mud, and handicraftsmen sells gorgeous dragon masks, little temples made of wood, and other artifacts made of brass. Bhaktapur is a delightful little town, with something to offer for everyone.

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Around 90% of buildings in Bhaktapur are structurally compromised. Even though the houses are standing, no one should be allowed to live inside them. Still, people do.

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When walking around the cities, you see tent cities everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to be homeless and hundreds of volunteers from all around the world trying to help as best as they can.

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As if this situation wasn’t difficult enough, Tibet has to deal with another crisis:

About three months ago, protests over Nepal’s new constitution led to violent protests and strikes, and eventually a complete halt to fuel trucks coming from across the border in India.

India denies it has imposed a blockade, but for the past two months, Delhi has refused to allow vehicles to pass through, citing security concerns due to the protests, which have killed nearly 50 people.

Aside from provoking anti-India sentiment among Nepalese, the border closure has hit locals hard.

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It’s almost impossible to get any official fuel right ow, everything has moved to the black market. Cab rides that normally cost $3 are now more than $50. You see up to 5 people on one motorcycle and hundreds of people on top of big buses. Gas lines stretch for miles and days of waiting.

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Buses from the blockade zone, windows destroyed by rocks are a normal part of life in Kathmandu.

Winter is coming. Residents try to survive by cutting as much wood as they can. But for many people it will not be enough to make it through the winter. Many organizations believe that the fuel crisis might be more devastating than the quake.

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#prayfornepal was the rallying cry after the quake. I fear Nepal needs more than prayers to make it through the winter and create a prosperous future for their citizens.

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