In March, Dan Maurer was supposed to be in Nepal organizing a medical clinic with Elevate Nepal. The pandemic grounded everything and over the matter of a few weeks it changed his plans for the entire year. We check in about how he and his team are doing and what has changed since we last spoke in early January.
Mentioned in this episode:
00:06 Speaker 1: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to every day people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
00:26 Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom: Greetings, I’m your host Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. And after our last episode, I decided that I would go back and contact some of our past guests, and see if we could have them on for an update, check in how they’re doing, how they’re coping during this crisis, and what they’re working on, or not. I have already started those interviews and I’ll be bringing you updates from several different guests over the next several weeks. On today’s episode, we start our updates with one of our most familiar voices, Dan Maurer of Elevate Nepal. If you’ve listened to this show for a while then you will absolutely recognize Dan’s voice. He was last on our show in January on Episode 40, but he’s also had five appearances before that. I’ll make sure to link to those past episodes in the show notes. Even if you’ve never heard the rest of Dan’s story, I think you will find our conversation interesting. So I’m gonna go ahead and just jump in. I was gonna start with a little bit of disclaimer that we’re recording outside, and in my backyard, far away from each other. Testing…
01:38 Dan Maurer: More than six feet.
01:39 ST: Yes, testing the limits of the microphone cord for how far away from each other we can get. You’re gonna hear wind. We might get some other weird sounds. I have no idea. So we’ll give it a try.
01:52 DM: Okay. I’m in. I’m here.
01:55 ST: How is everyone?
01:57 DM: Great, next question.
02:01 DM: No, we’re doing okay. I send out occasional updates to whoever. Thankfully, everybody associated with Elevate Nepal on both sides of the globe are healthy and safe.
02:14 ST: That’s great.
02:15 DM: That’s the main update. So we’re very obviously grateful. And so we’re all good. We’re all good.
02:21 ST: And where are you all in space and time?
02:25 DM: Well, let’s see. I’m here in Flagstaff, Arizona, Anthony’s down in Phoenix. Nepal is also on lockdown. They actually went into lockdown before us. Our team, we had a few in Kathmandu that are in their house. Our main partner, Resham, the day before lockdown, he went out to his village with his family, so he was actually lucky to get out of Kathmandu. So he’s in their, I guess, you could say their country house, but they’ve been locked down for I think almost three weeks now.
02:55 ST: Guessing that that means that the beautiful Sarsyu Primary School is currently closed.
03:00 DM: It’s correct. Nepal shut down schools, say, roughly March 10th. They actually moved all exams forward for the end of the year. Kids took them and then the country went into lockdown, so. And we also support an agriculture school over there, just outside Pokhara. That is also closed. Yeah.
03:21 ST: As far as you know, are they using the buildings for anything in the effort or have they not needed to do that?
03:28 DM: They have not needed to do that. Most of the villages are safe and people are kind of just staying in their homes and hunkered down. They have started using schools as… Oh, it was in another village we worked in named Phalante a few years ago, they’re using the schools or community centers as a quarantine area if there is people showing symptoms. Sarsyu, I don’t believe is using that, but they actually do have a small health post there that’ll be their quarantine area. But out in the villages, they have started to set up quarantine areas, which is good and actually surprising to me. So they actually are on top of stuff.
04:10 ST: So probably we’re being affected more in terms of the percentage of cases and the percentage of deaths than even the villages you work with in Nepal. Is that true?
04:20 DM: Yes. Nepal still only has five reported cases of COVID-19 in the entire country, and all those people have made a full recovery. I’ve been staying in touch with our doctors and nurse staff over there, I’m like, “What the heck is actually going on? How is this even possible? Is stuff not just getting reported? What the heck is going on?” There’s been reports even in the Nepali Times and Himalayan Times that maybe Nepalis have stronger immune systems from growing up in developing countries, that’s why they’re not susceptible to COVID-19. Is there some truth to that? Maybe yes, maybe no. Once in a while, you hear rumors of 100 outbreaks in a certain district, but that never comes to truth or being reported. I’ve asked the Nepali nurses and doctors over there, they’re like, “No, nothing.” There is a report but there is no truth to it. There’s nothing to back it up. So it’s very, very interesting. You’re kind of like, “What in the heck is actually going on?”
05:25 ST: And you were actually supposed to have been in Nepal right now instead of in the US, right?
05:31 DM: Correct.
05:32 ST: And what led to that decision not to end up in Nepal?
05:37 DM: COVID-19.
05:40 ST: Walk us through how that went.
05:42 DM: Sure. Well, I was actually on a walk yesterday trying to recall all the steps, because I thought we would talk about this.
05:46 ST: I know it all happened so fast. [chuckle]
05:49 DM: It’s funny how all the days are now just rolling into one and to the next and now you almost have to remind yourself what happened one or two months ago. So we were supposed to be doing a medical camp in early March with a nonprofit out of Sedona called HERO, a team of 18 American doctors and volunteers working with a Nepali… What was it? 10 Nepali doctors and nurse and then support staff. So there was a group of 40 of us doing this medical camp in two rural locations out in Nepal. We’ve been planning it for 18 months. Everybody’s very excited about it. Early January, I remember this, I’m coming back from New York after visiting family, and I remember hearing the first case coming out of China. They’re like, “There’s this potential new coronavirus that’s been coming out of Wuhan, China. We’re watching it right now, we’re gonna see what happens.” So I kinda followed it, kinda didn’t. It was… We had a bunch of other stuff going on. We had a fundraiser going on, we were playing for this medical camp. I was supposed to be on a flight two weeks later, kind of in my head, but kind of not.
06:56 DM: So then middle of January, it started to be officially reported. It says, “Okay, this is a new strain of coronavirus. It is spreading. It’s 99% contained in Hubei province in Wuhan.” Let’s call it January 18th or so. It was just… It was a Saturday. Julie Williams, the head of HERO, honestly, I don’t know, the doctor, she calls me and she goes, “Have you been following this coronavirus?” I said, “I have, but I haven’t kinda.” She goes, “Well, it’s growing. It has potential to be bad.” And she goes, “I’ve been talking with another team of doctors here in Flagstaff. We’re watching it very closely. We’re following the CDC guidelines,” blah, blah, blah. So later that day, we had a meeting with all the doctors saying, “We’re ready to go in Nepal. Everything’s set up. Transportation’s ready. Medicine’s being ordered. Accommodation, everybody has their flight. Any last minute questions before we get on this plane?” We went through the briefing. Then Julie said, “Just to let everybody know, there is something happening in Mainland China, and we’re gonna follow it very closely.” That was Saturday.
08:00 DM: Come Monday, Julie calls me, they had their first reported case in Kathmandu. Okay, so then, in Nepal. So we go back and forth. What should we do? Should we postpone? Should we cancel? By Wednesday of that week, it was going crazy. And then by the following… Or was that maybe that same day, then there was the first reported case in America out of Washington. So we said, “What should we do?” Well, we decided to postpone. So this canceled everything mid-January for us. I was supposed to go on… Be on a plane about 10 days later for the first few days of February. Well, China Southern, the airline I was on canceled flights. It was like, “Holy cow! This is becoming a real thing.” So scrambled to shut down the medical camp, flights were canceled. Everything just literally, within 10 days, just came to a screeching halt for us on the Nepal side, and was like, “Wow! What just happened?”
09:02 ST: How do you feel about the fact that… Now that you’re sheltering in place, thinking about the fact that they only have five cases over there, is there a part of you that kind of wishes you were sheltering in place in Nepal, or are you grateful that you didn’t get on that flight?
09:17 DM: A little bit of both. It’s funny to say once that medical camp got canceled, we’re obviously very, very disappointed, and then at times, even just bitter about it. But as the weeks went on, and even where I sit right now, obviously, that was the right decision. [chuckle] It was if we would have proceeded with everything, I would have been in-country a month before the team arrived. The team would have arrived, and then five days later, Nepal shut down its borders, and then they shut down all international flights. So there was a chance that all 20 of us may have gotten stuck in-country. Once that all got canceled even, or postponed, Anthony and I were like, “Well, we should just still go. Let’s just go. We have coffee stuff to work on. We gotta research a new project. We have tons of work to do in Nepal.” Then we hemmed and hawed about going in early March. And then we said, “Well, let’s sleep on it one more night.” And then the next night, we woke up and Nepal had canceled all inbound international flights, and non-residents were not allowed to, or non-citizens were not allowed to enter the country. So we’re like, “Well, I guess that answers the question. We’re not gonna go.”
10:25 ST: Wow.
10:25 DM: But I often think about if I was there, I think I would be okay with it, just mentally. And I have a good group there. We have an apartment there. I’d be sheltering in place there. I think I would feel very comfortable and fine with it, but I’m not, I’m here. And this is okay, too, all things considered.
10:45 ST: Yeah, so what is your sheltering in place situation like here in Flagstaff?
10:51 DM: Quiet days. That’s probably the most amazing thing for me, and I know a lot of people are experiencing that. It was how busy I’ve just been over the past three years growing Elevate Nepal, and then what was even projected for this beginning of this year. Fundraisers, this medical camp, new projects, starting a new project. And I’m supposed to be in New York right now for my sister’s wedding, so. Oh, and then we had a coffee expo coming up in Portland, Oregon. So I was very much booked until end of May, and then all of a sudden, literally, in 10 days, everything was shut down. I’m like, “Hmm, now what to do with myself?”
11:31 ST: That’s fascinating ’cause that was our last conversation, was about how there’s the seasons, and there’s the busy season and being stuck in summer all the time where you’re just like go, go, go at the fastest pace.
11:45 DM: Yeah, it is amazing. I have canceled all flights for the remainder of the year. And you know me, I tend to get on and off airplanes like people get on and off buses. So to look ahead at schedules to be like, “I don’t have one flight booked for 2020.” And the whatever, 10, 15 that I had booked, they’re all canceled. [chuckle] Though that’s a very bizarre concept for me. It’s like, yeah, talking about just wiping that slate clean, and then looking at the calender like, “Hmm, okie-doke!” [chuckle] So…
12:19 ST: Yeah. And do you find… I know that you also talked about picking up side jobs. What about that? Are you still working other places, or are you just 100% at home?
12:30 DM: 100% at home. A lot of it came to, I guess, what I felt I needed to do for this whole thing. And a lot of it came to just once I guess it actually hit America, to be like, “This is gonna be something.” I was just like, “I feel my social, moral responsibility to me, my roommates, my friends, my community is to do what every health professional, the World Health Organization and the CDC have been telling us since January, is stay at home.” So that’s what I’ve been doing.
12:57 ST: And I know we both have a sister in New York City. So it’s also just so different for each person how they’re experiencing this, and how real it feels, or how much it feels like they understand why it’s important to stay inside, or why it’s important to stay home. Certainly, my sister’s sense of realness with it and how her actions will make an immediate impact on the others around her is very different than what I’ve felt living here.
12:57 DM: I often think of my sister and brother-in-law who are in their Manhattan apartment and they’re on week four or five right now. They started way before the rest of the country, just because that was the epicenter of a lot of this. But yes, there are times where I can go out into the forest and I can go run around. I’ve been running a lot just because I need to get out. And I find it very safe. I can go out. I don’t see another person. I’m way out in the Coconino National Forest. It’s like, “This is so great.” Didn’t drive anywhere, I just left my house, and how lucky I am to have that. But there is that side of me where I almost feel, in a sense, I’m doing something wrong or I’m almost selfishly enjoying this. Where you look at my sister and brother-in-law or your sister held up in Manhattan. And they don’t have the luxury of that. But I’ve always thought even if it continues to get worse and we couldn’t even do that, at least I have my backyard. In my backyard, similar to the one we’re sitting in now, we have that. And how lucky we are to just be able to go sit outside. It’s like phew. [chuckle] Thank goodness.
14:51 ST: I’ve been grateful that the weather keeps getting better, too.
14:54 DM: I know.
14:55 ST: Oh, yeah.
14:56 DM: I know. We’re lucky, so…
14:57 ST: That’s what I did this morning, was… I was definitely woke up in a funk and woke up in a negative headspace. And so I just did a little writing exercise of like, “Okay, let’s remind myself, what am I grateful for?”
15:11 DM: Well, it’s actually nice to hear you say that ’cause I woke up in the same, and it was actually a news article that triggered me. And I won’t go into it ’cause I don’t wanna talk politics. But something triggered me. And I spent most of the first hour-and-a-half awake just in this bad headspace, and then I thought to myself, “Well, I’m going on Do Good, Be Good. I better change this headspace because it’s about doing good.” So I think I’m adjusted. I’m doing better. So hopefully, I’m not too negative for this.
15:40 ST: Yeah. And it’s… Yeah. It’s every day and it’s within each day how it cycles through. And we’re faced with all these different choices, which it’s weird to be in an emergency while sitting in your yard in the sunshine, drinking coffee. [chuckle]
16:00 DM: Right. Right.
16:01 ST: And have that persisting sense that we’re still in an emergency and yet you’re doing the right thing. Which means you’re staying at home, you’re taking care of your health, you’re checking in with friends and family. Maybe you’re learning a new recipe, which are all things that don’t make you feel like you’re in an emergency.
16:19 DM: Exactly. And you could still go buy beer.
16:22 ST: Yeah.
16:22 DM: It’s not that bad.
16:24 ST: It’s this weird dislocation.
16:26 DM: It is.
16:27 ST: Yeah.
16:28 DM: We got shut down, end of January. So we got shut down on the Asian side before the American side. So once it finally hit here, let’s say early March, I kind of in a sense felt like I had already been in a quarantine, if you will, for about five weeks already. Probably the first week of February was hardest for me because that’s when we started to shut down. And that was me wandering around the house, being used to being so busy and having… Being very ambitious and working towards my passion and my life pursuit of Elevate Nepal. And that just going away to being like, “What in the hell do I do now?” It was very, very funny. And it took several weeks to adjust to that. So once it kinda came to the American side and people were shutting down around here and getting to it, I’m like, “I kinda feel like I’ve already been into it in the sense for the past five weeks, other than the fact that I can’t go to the bar, so… “
17:22 DM: That was definitely a big change, but…
17:24 ST: At least they made it so the bar can come to you.
17:27 DM: Right. Right. Exactly. At least they made it so we could still get our alcohol. We’re gonna survive.
17:37 ST: I hope you’re enjoying my conversation with Dan. Just a quick pause to you remind you that you can find the show notes on our website at dogoodbegoodshow.com. You can also follow the show and join our conversation on Facebook at Facebookcom/dogoodbegoodshow. And we would always welcome if you would please rate and review the show in whichever podcast app you use. That would really help other people find the show and increase our listenership. Or just share this episode with a friend. That would be awesome. Thank you so much for your help. And now back to our conversation. Now, you did get a chance, before all this happened, to do your Big Lebowski fundraiser.
18:22 DM: Yep.
18:23 ST: Well, let’s check in on how that went, ’cause I don’t think we’ve talked about that. Because the last call you were getting ready to do it.
18:29 DM: Yeah. We did great this year. And again, the lucky thing is when we did do it, if we would’ve have planned that a month later, we wouldn’t have been able to do it, just ’cause of the restrictions that went into place. But we did awesome. It was February 2nd, I think. And knocked it out of the park. We doubled it from last year. We raised $33,000 in that night. 185 people showed up. A lot more support from businesses, not only here in Phoenix or… Do we live in Phoenix? [chuckle] In Flagstaff. But we got a lot more support out of Phoenix. And I guess, just generally in the sense of Elevate Nepal, it’s… We had finished the primary school. We don’t have any project going at the moment. So if it were to hit this pandemic, it kind of did hit at the right time. Obviously.
19:20 ST: Sometimes you just get lucky.
19:22 DM: Yeah. So that was the lucky part. Again, the medical camp is certainly very disappointing, but we’re planning to do it next year.
19:28 ST: Finally got to attend the bowling fundraiser. So I can attest it was a good time.
19:33 DM: Good.
19:34 ST: It was fully attended. Rockin’ Starlite Lanes.
19:38 DM: That’s it.
19:38 ST: Yeah. Good band, good food. Starlite Lanes is, of course, as you mentioned or alluded to, it’s closed down. It had to close down pretty early on in the things that got shuttered during this.
19:50 DM: Yep.
19:51 ST: They did have that hilarious sign. Did you see that?
19:54 DM: I did, yeah.
19:55 ST: I think… Wasn’t it like, “Wash your hands, while we clean our balls”.
19:58 DM: That was it. Yeah.
20:00 ST: Gotta love Starlite Lanes.
20:01 DM: Right. Which I’m sure Ron Getto put that one up there. He always said… He goes, “I wanna put stuff funny in those signs.” He goes, “I just wanna find something funny.” So there you go, Ron. You got it in the pandemic. Congratulations! You got people laughing. [chuckle]
20:15 ST: Yeah. We can use it right now. So that’s good. What was it? You said you had something you were gonna read or share?
20:22 DM: My friend, Tony Jones and Poker. Tony is an amazing human being. I don’t have enough time to talk all about it. But Tony is a 77-year-old English man. He started these Overland Encounters. He…
20:36 ST: Oh yeah, you mentioned him.
20:37 DM: Yeah. So he first moved… He first traveled to Nepal in 1964, and he drove from London, England to Kathmandu, Nepal, 1964, so that’s pretty crazy. Anyways, the guy has done some amazing things in his life. And I’ve been lucky to connect with Tony over the past five years and now I’m very honored and humbled to call him a friend. But he sends out emails once every few days about just what’s happening and whatnot. But he sent out an email to a big group of people and it was one of the better ones that Tony sent out. This was March 28th. And going on the theme of the show is Do Good, Be Good, we should be talking about good things, not only the bad. So I thought I would read what Tony wrote to us, and he said I could share this with the world.
21:31 ST: Nice.
21:31 DM: So, are you in for it?
21:34 ST: I’m in for it. Let’s hear it.
21:35 DM: Okay. The email kinda started with him just telling us the update from his end and whatnot. Tony has a Nepali partner, so I guess I’ll just kind of start from there. “I would feel pretty alone right now if it were not for G,” his partner. “I have absolutely no idea if I’ve done the better thing by staying, except that is this decision that I’ve made and shall be living with. How selfish or not, I really have no idea. I think that is one of the features of this thing, that it requires us to make calls as if we were deliberately holding back on the best facts by which to make the best decisions. So much of the rest is platitude. However, there are, I think, some things worth trying to apply, actually essential. Surely we must not hear only the bad news. Too much repetition of awful fact at the expense of just about all else is simply not good for us. In fact, it is bloody destructive. The most crippling weapon in this little shit’s armory is its ability to engender fear. If we recognize that, perhaps we can go some way to denying it that pleasure. Let’s seriously reduce the risk of overdosing on being so bloody morose.
22:48 DM: Yes, of course, I know it’s based on facts, and I know I am not suffering personally, but empathizing with those who are is not best done by joining them in their doldrums. It is with a passionate love of life that we will help lift them out of it. But so nasty is the bastard that at the same time he instills fears in many, he creates nonchalance in others. Don’t let him fool you. And further to that, your duty includes seeing it to that he is not allowed to fool your fellows. Maybe the modern liberal world dislikes the word, but the word is discipline. Well, we don’t have that luxury of much time to start practicing it in earnest. Discipline is not with fear. Discipline can help keep fear in its place. Practice it and propagate it. And you know what? It’s probably only working, only useful when it’s hurting. Easier said than done. So the sooner we start, the better. Please be of good heart. It was a wonderful world. And maybe we humans can trust ourselves with the duty of seeing to it that it will again be a wonderful world. Except with effort and care from us all, we might actually see to it becoming an even more wonderful and beautiful one. How fantastic an opportunity is that? Namaste, Tony Jones.”
24:13 ST: Thank you, Tony Jones. In echoing what Tony said, one thing I hear in my group that does entrepreneurial coaching and support is that if you’re doing something like running a podcast, for example, you have to keep showing up and keep creating that thing without any expectation of result if you really want it to be successful in the long term.
24:44 DM: Right.
24:44 ST: I mean, I’m in what year of this podcast? And it’s not like this thing has gone viral and taken off. [chuckle]
24:52 DM: Right, right.
24:52 ST: I have to just keep deciding and keep showing up, and being consistent and creating the content, and that’s what it takes in a lot of stuff. And I think even if you don’t have work right now, like I know my sister and her husband are both laid off right now, you still have to keep showing up for your life and for yourself, and for whatever it is that you think is worth spending your time on. Having that consistency and that word that now I can’t remember that Tony was using. Discipline.
25:28 DM: Discipline, yeah.
25:29 ST: Discipline. Keep doing it. But the key is you keep doing it even if you can’t see the result.
25:34 DM: Right.
25:34 ST: It’s like this whole staying at home thing. You can’t see the fact that you staying at home made a difference in flattening the curve and yet you have to have the discipline to keep doing it, because it is making a difference whether you can see it or not.
25:46 DM: Well exactly, which goes back to people getting antsy and ready to roll in these more rural communities. They’re saying, “We’re fine. Everything’s fine. Let’s go.” But you don’t see the fruition, I guess, while you’re sitting at home or growing that business. It takes a long time to actually see the fruits of your labor. As you’re busting your ass to get stuff done, you’re like, “All I’m doing is just wasting time and money is going down the toilet.” But then there’s that shift where you’re like, “Wait a minute, we’re actually succeeding. Wait a minute, this social distancing thing is actually working.” But it’s hard to see when you’re in the thick of it.
26:23 ST: Well, and that just reminded me how many non-profits are dealing with things like preventing disasters. Even with Sarsyu Primary School, you were building it so it’d be safe in an earthquake. There’s so many things that people build on which is to not have something happen. And I know that’s been maddening for a lot of the people I know in non-profit leadership when they get funders who are asking, “Well, how are you gonna measure that?” It’s like, “Ah, the building didn’t collapse?” [chuckle]
26:50 DM: Right. Right.
26:51 ST: “Another year went by, building didn’t collapse.” [chuckle] “I guess we’re successful.” In some ways, those of us who have tried to work on some of these really big issues, and keeping communities safe, and improving quality of life for people, these are hard things to feel the tangible effects of and certainly even harder to actually measure with metrics and stuff. And now we’re all living in a public health logic model. Any final thoughts, anything else you wanted to share that I didn’t ask you about?
27:33 DM: No. [chuckle] No, I think it’s a very strange time for everybody, of course. I think one thing that I’ve personally gotten to is it’s very hard to forecast the future, whether that be next week or several months from now. I’m even just going back to my work personally. Me just even thinking maybe May would be an okay time to do this medical camp. Maybe I can get to Nepal in June. Now I’m looking ahead, it’s like, “Will I even get there this year?” I think for one thing, there’s been a calmness in myself of just not speculating as much and kind of doing what the experts are saying, and just getting through each day with the best attitude that you can, and finding things you enjoy to fill your day with.
28:22 ST: Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. And of course, thanks Dan for continuing to share your story with us. If you would like to have a link to Elevate Nepal or the past episodes with Dan, or any other information, including a transcript of this episode, you can find that in the show notes at dogoodbegoodshow.com. If you want more behind the scene stories, pictures, insights, you can join us on Facebook at Facebook.com/dogoodbegoodshow. You can also always subscribe for free to this podcast at any podcast purveyor of choice, whether that’s Stitcher, Google Music, Spotify. Just search for Do Good, Be Good, in your app and subscribe. Today’s episode was produced by me and edited by me, and pretty much everything was done by me, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. Music in this episode is bathed in fine dust by Andy G. Cohen, released under Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in the free music archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, signing off.