29 Apr - 5 May 2016 #806

Twin Passage

Two American expatriates who devoted their lives to Nepal passed away this month

Jim Danisch

Jim Danisch came on a trek to Nepal in 1979 to meet his friend Judith Conan Chase. Their Guru Swami Rama suggested they get married, and they did in a Vedic ceremony in 1984 (pic, above). He worked for nine years in Thimi for the German agency, GTZ, to promote ceramics designing a new type of kiln and introducing glazed porcelain as a Nepali handicraft. He helped set up 24 new ceramics workshops in Nepal.

He returned to California in 1995 and worked on his ceramic art and sculptures, but the tug of Nepal was too strong and he returned to a village in Kavre where, with Judith, he set up the Everything Organic Nursery to promote green agriculture and got local farmers interested.

“Jim was energetically involved in village life, helping to fund the expansion of a local school and to fund rain-harvesting ponds so that villagers enjoy water year round,” Judith wrote in a tribute. Danisch was also involved with his wife in the design of the Living Traditions Museum at Changu Narayan, which was badly damaged in last year’s earthquake, although the exhibits survived.

Jim Danisch died on 29 March in Dhulikhel Hospital after a brief and painless illness, near where he was married at Hansda Ashram in 1984. He was cremated in the full Hindu tradition at Danphe Ghat, the village cremation site, and Judith observed the 12-day mourning process.

Danisch saw the Hindu spiritual side of Nepali pottery-making and wrote in an article in Ceramics Today: ‘Symbolically, the potters’ wheel as, great god Vishnu’s discus, spins out the Hindu creation myth…'

Barbara Adams

Barbara Adams came to Nepal 43 years ago even before the hippies did. The lush valley of Kathmandu, its pristine culture and nature attracted the early globetrotters of the new jet age. Sitting at the Royal Hotel one evening, she got chatting with Prince Basundhara, King Mahendra’s brother and the two became inseparable. Even though Basundhara was married, they didn't bother to hide their affair, and were often seen together in public.

She was a prominent member of the Kathmandu’s high society and diplomatic circles in the 1970s and 80s, driving around in her convertible along Putali Sadak (long before Kathmandu got its first traffic light) with her striking blonde hair flowing in the slipstream. After the 1990 People’s Movement that turned the king into a constitution monarch, Adams fell foul with the democratic leaders and was once deported by the Girija Prasad Koirala government when she landed in Kathmandu airport from Delhi. After the conflict began, she became a peace activist and many were surprised by her open sympathy for the Maoist rebels in her translated columns for Jana Astha.

However, she often voiced concern that violence would not achieve anything, and was critical of the state’s crackdowns in Maoist affected areas. Barbara Adams also wrote a weekly column for this newspaper in the early 2000s called Barbara’s Beat, with a strong voice in support of the downtrodden and the neglect of the Nepali state towards their needs. Having spent decades trying to bring about positive change through her writing, and despairing of the lack of progress after the conflict, she opted for direct action with the Barbara Peace Foundation to help Dalit families in far-western Nepal which buys land and sets up self-sustaining communities by giving the community more self-esteem.

“I wanted to give something back to Nepal,” she told this newspaper two years ago. At first she had tried to create a Nepali ‘Peace Corps’, encouraging young people to volunteer to work in their own country rather than to migrate abroad for jobs. While successful, the project was too expensive to sustain.

Barbara Adams died of complications after an abdominal operation in Kathmandu on 22 April. She was 84.

This line from one of her columns in 2001 in Nepali Times gives a flavour of Barbara Adams’ sympathy for the underserved in society and her direct writing style: ‘If we are to have peace, understanding and a meaningful dialogue with these young warriors who call themselves Maoists, we first have to…understand the problems which led young teachers and farmers to risk their lives to take up arms. We have to understand the movement’s roots, its deviations, its justification and compulsions, and the horror, the pain and also the humanity involved in the process of bringing change to the lives of the suffering masses.’

Read also:

Barbara beats around the bush, CK Lal

White ribbons, Arati Basnyat