Our research trip gets off to a shaky start. No worries.
We’ve arrived. After various flights myself and my friend, and fellow conservationist, Maurice Schutgens, arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday 4th February. Maurice will be helping me to manage our research assistants, and the information they collect, over the next three and a half months. He’ll also be in charge when I’m absent from the field due to family commitments.
On the Wednesday we held a training workshop for our team. Niki, Rinzin and Tsering are three young, talented Nepali graduates who beat off stiff competition from 70 other applicants, and then four other interviewees, to make the cut. It’s a mark of our increasingly interconnected world that the interviews for the positions took place by Skype between three countries on three different continents: Ireland, South Africa and Nepal. As a research unit, we’ll be spending a lot of time together so it’s important that we gel. We talked through the various aspects of our study and also hung out together over lunch.
Then, disaster! I called round to the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation to collect my research permit. It had already been approved by the government body directly responsible for wildlife – the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. But as a foreign researcher, my permit had been forwarded to the Ministry for final approval some weeks previously. After a year of emails, applications and meetings, I was assured it should be ready on time.
Alas, no. There weren’t any problems with the permit itself, I was told, it just needed a signature from the relevant official. And that particular official was at a workshop in the east of the country, along with all the other officials who could possibly sign it, for the rest of the week. They wouldn’t be back till Friday night and Saturday was a holiday so they could sign it on Sunday and I could collect it on Monday. Bummer.
What followed was a flurry of phone calls and conversations as we debated what to do. We’re on a tight schedule so every day missed in the study areas is a day missed collecting important information. We changed our flights to Tuesday 11th and then back again to Friday 7th when we got verbal approval from the Ministry that the rest of the team could continue to the Everest area to begin. I would then follow on Tuesday with the permit. Problem solved.
Life in Nepal can be fraught with difficulties like these, plus traffic jams, roadblocks, power cuts, etc. Yet local people seem to have a remarkably laidback approach to it all. Zipping around chaotic Kathmandu to get our trekking permit, National Park entry permit and last minute supplies, the words of a song from a movie about another big cat species sprang to mind:
Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase…
…it means no worries, for the rest of your days.
It’s our trouble-free, philosophy: Hakuna Matata.
A suitable motto for the rest of the trip! And as Maurice remarked after more than three hours spent packing our gear and equipment on Thursday night, these snow leopards had better appreciate all the effort we’re going to for them.
Follow the photo diary of our expedition on our Flickr account, though it will take us a few days to get this up and running properly.