Well, after years of being away from home and traveling all over the world, I've finally decided to take the step into the world of blogging. As most of you know, I will be spending the next four and a half months teaching English in Nepal. And, as I remain a bit unsure about the communication outlets I will have at my disposal, or frequency at which I will be able to access them, I figured this was the quickest and easiest way to get in touch with those who wish to follow my time there. So here you go. As I said, I really don't know how frequently or thoroughly I will be able to update this but hopefully I can provide at least some small anecdotes regularly enough to provide you all will some sort of insight to my time in Nepal. Enjoy :)
Monday, March 21, 2011
This past weekend was Holi...a massive festival in the Hindu world. It's called the Festival of Color...and boy was it. Basically, take bags and bags of colored powder, water balloons, water pistols, or any other kind of water distribution device (hoses and buckets included) and mix them all together with lots and lots of people and you have Holi. I spent Saturday running around the village with the other volunteers in a full staged color war against all the kids and a few fun-loving parents. By midday there was not a centimeter of my body that was not completely colored with the entire spectrum of the rainbow. And my legs were quite tired from full-scale sprinting after children, around houses, through fields of wheat and corn, and up into trees to cover them as thuroughly as possible. To finish off the day, and get some much needed rest and relaxation, the volunteers along with some of our Nepali friends headed down to the river (a walk which included further coloring of everyone we passed, as well as ourselves getting sprayed silver and gold by a group of revellers passing by on their motorcycles) where we spent the rest of the day having a few beers (ok, a lot of beers), singing, and, as it is every Nepali's favorite thing to make westerners do, dancing. A great way to end an absolutely amazing day. Holi is, by far, the best festival ever. All the volunteers have agreed that it is defintely something that should be instituted worldwide. And, it goes for two days! Sunday brought more color, more water, and more "Happy Holi" shouts filling the village. And many many showers trying to get all the color off at the end (I have washed my hair three times now and still have red and green streaks throughout, as well as down my arms and legs). For me, however, the end of the weekend brought a bit of a shock realization...I'm almost finished here. Holi was the last thing on my calendar before I leave PadamPokhari. It was the perfect way to end my time here, but also brings the sadness of leaving. This morning was my final class with my morning group and tomorrow will be my final class under the temple tree (those kids, the village kids, who have been a major part of my daily life, will be the hardest to part from). I don't think it's possible to summarize my time here. To put down just a few concluding statements wouldn't do justice to everything I've seen, done, and felt in my time in this village. I am forever indebted to everyone who's path I have crossed during my stay here and I can only hope that my footprint on their trail has had as much of an effect on their journey as theirs has on mine. Wednesday morning I will leave PadamPokhari and head back to Kathmandu where I will stay for about 10 days before leaving Nepal and going to India. I could never say good-bye to these people and this place, so, for now, "Pheri butala PadamPokhari. Ma tappaailai maya garchu!" will have to do. Next up...Kathmandu!
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Hello all...well this week has been so all over the place, mentally and emotionally, that I don't really know where to begin or really how to summarize it all...so I guess, I'll just start from the beginning. The start of the week was pretty much filled with some of my last classes at the local school. Exams begin this coming week and so we just concentrated mostly on working with the students preparing for their English exams...Which included a practice exam for grade 8, and the following nights being consumed with grading the 44 exams. Favorite moment: grading the exam of one of my best students who in the essay portion, wrote his essay on his favorite book...the English Dictionary. Ha! Awesome...that little nerd never ceases to impress me :) With Wednesday came the national holiday of Shivaratri. The day began with celebrations at the local Hindu temple and women lining up early in the morning at the temple to pray for a good husband. Because apparently this was a particularly auspicious day to do this. Mothers waited with their daughters outside the temple for a chance to enter and make offerings to ensure a good match for the young girls. The rest of the day was filled with more celebrations at the temple and a county-wide volleyball tournement. Highlight match: the Police team vs. the Maoist team...brilliant! It was by far the best match of the day and you could really feel the underlying political tension throughout the crowd. In the end, the Maoists totally blew the Police out of the water and it was quite amusing to see the Maoist team riding off on their motorcycles, one clinging to the commically large winner's check. Wednesday night was filled with more music and dancing at the temple as well as a few older gentlemen and teen boys taking part in the tradition of "getting closer" to the god Shiva (whos birthday it was we were celebrating) by way of his favorite activity...smoking the mary-jane. Thursday was a typical village day, a few were slow to recover from the previous night, but life was back to normal. That is, until Thursday evening when our village was struck with tradgedy. On that night, a young girl in our village decided to take her life. A poisonous liquid was used and, convulsing and foaming at the mouth she was raced to hospital. She was dead before they got her there. Her name was Kamala...she was 13 years old. I am still struggling to come to terms with it all, especially in the face of a people who seem so matter of fact about the whole situation. It really makes you realize how much these people suffer through when they can be so accepting of death. Even my young students know what happened and seem fully understanding of the whole situation. It's just quite jarring to have anyone, let alone kids, speak so frankly and unemotionally about death. This sad event was soon followed on Friday by my last day at the local school. And, again, I still have conflicting emotions here as well. The day itself was lots of fun with singing and dancing in the classes and enjoying my final time with these amazing students. And it really hit me as I walked home from school that that was the last time I would leave that campus, the last time I would make that walk surrounded by all those wonderful kids, the last time that little girl would walk me the whole way to my house, her little hand grasped firmly around my pinkie finger. Part of me knows it's time to move on, and the other part of me is quite sad to go. It was definitely time for a nice break after such a long week, and that's what I got with my journey to the jungle this weekend. I spent two nights in an amazing resort (i.e. it had western toilets and a hot hot shower!) and filled the days with canoe rides, jungle walks, bird watching, cultural shows, and a safari through the jungle on an elephant's back. Animals seen: lots of birds (mostly kingfishers), crocodiles, many many deer, a wild boar (who went crashing into a group of deer with all the style and grace of Pumba from the Lion King), and, best of all, on our elephant ride, we came across a napping mother rhino with her baby. We watched them for a while before they roused themselves, stood up, stretched a bit, and then lumbered off. Pretty cool. But, as all good things must come to an end, so ends the weekend and now I am back in the city, waiting for the bus back out to my village. I have about two and a half weeks left in Padam Pokhari...I really can't believe it's almost over! I don't know how I am going to even begin to say good-bye to this place. I'm not sure good-bye will be possible...I think the best i'll be able to manage is a "see you later".
Friday, February 25, 2011
Namaste! This week has been pretty full on. It began with the arrival of Stevie the Stomachbug. I was the lucky first stop on his village tour. It was not a pleasant stay, at least on my end. It seems like he was having a grand old time. Luckily, for me, he only stuck around for a couple days. But, unfortunately for the other volunteers, his friends quickly took up residence in them. It has now made a complete circulation of our house and, knock on wood, we think the party is now over, with five westerners now recovering strongly. This week at school has been pretty hectic with students preparing for final exams. You can feel the end-of-school excitement in the air and the kids are definitely getting a bit crazy (more so than usual). But, it seems that in class more and more students are beginning to buckle down and work hard. Wow, tests are coming up soon, maybe I should pay attention and learn something. Haha. And, apparently, my time at a Nepalese school would not be complete without some bloodshed. Earlier this week one of my favorite little 3rd graders, Assis, (it's always the cute ones!) was sitting quietly at his desk when one of the other boys in class decided to whack him across the face with his backpack. Luckily it wasn't anything to hard or heavy, but the zipper caught Assis on the forehead and, as foreheads do, began to bleed quite profusely. And, as I'm becoming quite the pro with this whole blood thing, my hand was quickly there applying pressure and helping him out to the teacher's lounge. Two male teachers who were on break at the time (wait! teachers sitting around doing nothing at a Nepalese school!?!? No! Say it ain't so! haha), they got out the first aid kit (which clearly hadn't been used or restocked since the 70s) and began fumbling through it trying to find something I could use. They were able to find little bits of cotton, which were completely soaked with poor Assis' blood by the time they could find the next one. But, as it was a pretty small cut, I got it under control soon enough and had him cleaned up with a band-aid slapped on and back in class before the other teachers could figure out what some of the things in the kit were (it was as if they had never seen one before and were quite fascinated by some of it's contents. Assis was quite the trooper. And I spent the rest of the period trying to wash the blood out of his tiny little school shirt and then drying it in the sun because the wet shirt was, as he quite firmly told me, "chiso cha!" (too cold!) So ya, it's been a full week, but definitely always bringing more excitement. Oh, and a quick plug before I rush off...If you read just one book this year, make it SOLD by Patricia McCormick. It is a quick read but such an amazingly beautiful story. She is dead on with her descriptions of people and places. It will give you an excellent idea of what the area of the world I'm living in is like and some of the sadness these people see in their lives. I could not recommend a book more.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
So, the Bryan Adams concert was absolutely amazing. I would honestly see him again (even at western prices). But what made the experience even more incredible was this...I had no idea what a big deal this concert was to Nepal. And not just that the people here totally love him, which they do...it was a big deal on a larger scale. This was the first concert of a western artist in Nepal...EVER. This country has never had any act from outside the eastern world (i.e. there have been a few shows from Nepali, Indian, and Japanese groups, but that's it). So this was a massive moment in Nepali cultural history. And I got to be a part of it. The whole feeling of the crowd and the energy that he brought to the stage was so powerful. Deffinitely "a night to remember...January, to December"
Friday, February 18, 2011
Namaste from Kathmandu...I am back for a quick visit to this wonderful city that, I have recently realized, I really love. The three other volunteers in the village and myself took the long and bumpy bus ride up for a weekend in the city for a few reasons. Firstly, most of us need to visit the immigration office (of which there isn't one in the lower half of the country) in order to extend our visas. Mine expires next week (I still can't believe I've been here nearly three months!) Secondly, and frankly the more important reason for our visit, haha, is to see Bryan Adams Live in Nepal! Yes, Bryan Adams (of "Summer of '69" fame) is playing one concert in Nepal before he heads back to the States and, through our Nepali contacts, we were able to get tickets. I probably wouldn't even go if it was back home, but to see an act like that, in the middle of a country like this, and for that price (i.e. CHEAP!), how could you pass it up? And thirdly, I think we all just needed a good break. I know that just after this past week, I definitely needed to get away for a bit. It began with Valentine's Day, and while the holiday is not really celebrated here, most kids were well aware of the western tradition and there just seemed to be something in the air that day that just had everyone at the school running amuck. To add to this, multiple events this week added to my frustration and, to be honest, growing disgust, with the Nepali education system. Corporal Punishment is still alive and rampant, with teachers (and even some students) now encouraging us to "beat" students that misbehave. And, as many times as I've seen a child hit with a stick or slapped across the face, I still cringe every time. Then, on Wednesday, the school principal was in our year 8 class to explain their upcoming exam to the students (what sections will cover what topics [grammar, spelling, etc.] and how many points each portion will be worth). The written English exam is worth 70 points and the Listening and Speaking portion is worth 30 points...although, it doesn't matter how they do on this second portion as it doesn't count into whether they pass or not (excuse me!?! It doesn't matter if a student can actually understand and speak English in an English exam?!?) No, all that matters is the written portion, worth 70 points. They need 22 points to pass. 22! Out of 70! For those of you playing at home, that's about 31% Are you freaking kidding me??? No wonder you have kids in year 8 and 9 that don't understand the language. And the principal told us that 75% of the students will NOT pass. (Now what does this tell you about your teaching, sir?) Then, after he had written all the exam sections on the board and how many points they were each worth, he asked the students how many points they felt they could get on each portion. Huh? The first part they guessed maybe half (4/8). On the second section, he didn't even wait for their answer. He wrote a big fat zero next to it and said aloud "they will not get any on this section" (What?!? Nice positive encouragement for your students there, sir!) By this point I was fuming and I'm sure it showed on my face. He turned and asked me what I thought. I said flat out "No! No 4, no 0. They should be trying for..." at which point I went down the list stating the highest possible points for each section. How do you encourage your pupils to try for only 50%, or, worse, 0%! On top of it all, we've spent the week taking other teachers' classes because they find it more important to sit outside in the schoolyard, reading the newspaper or talking with other teachers. I guess, on the plus side, we know that when we're in a class rather than their actual teacher, at least those students won't be getting a beating. But yes, it was a long, emotionally and mentally exhausting week. A break was definitely needed. Oh! And I didn't even mention the extremely drunk old man who stumbled into our year 5 class and started passing out candy to the kids! Well, that is a story for another time. Right now, I'm off to Bryan Adams..."Got my first real six string, bought it at the five and dime..."
Friday, February 4, 2011
Hello all from the lovely city of Narayangarh...and by "lovely city" I mean congested, single road town that serves as the bus hub for all traffic in and out of Chitwan. But it has a few stores and as our home has been out of toilet paper for three days now, necessity called for a trip into town. And so here I am. The past week has been pretty routine with teaching and daily life. There was one tragic passsing...Bessy, my beloved mode of transport each morning suffered a blow to the tire and has now been put out to pasture. And so I have begun a new journey...with Bertha. And quite frankly, it's just not the same. She is smaller, and therefore more difficult to ride. And does not take direction well, sending me into a rocky revine on one occassion. And if you think a grown woman standing in the middle of the road yelling at a bike sounds a bit strange, just imagine what all the locals working out in thier fields must have thought. But other than that, things continue to go quite well and each day I see new growth in my students which gives me further encouragement. There is one little boy in the village who, when I arrived, could not speak a word of English, and would constantly speak to me in Nepali as if I understood everything he was saying. But now, after talking with me and a few of the other volunteers for the past few weeks, he is slowly begining to learn the language. The other day, passing his house, and hearing him say "Hello Megan, how are you?" was like music to my ears. Definite growth! My cultural experience for the week came in the form of Puja, a Hindu ceremony marking the anniversary of a relative's death. A year ago, the father of the family that I am staying with passed away and, since then, the family has been in a period of what we would call mourning. The family was "juto" or contaminated in a sense. There were things they were not allowed to do or eat due to this for the whole year. But, in the Puja, a priest comes, offerings are made to the many gods, and the family is clensed of juto. It was definitely an interesting ceremony, long (i.e. 6 and a half hours in the scorching sun), but interesting. Over 200 people visited throughout the day, coming and going as the ceremony was taking place, and they all took part in the massive amounts of food served up by the family and their volunteers (i.e. we were the wierd white people carrying food...lots of strange looks from little old ladies). And when the ceremony was over, the dancing began. Drumming and dancing and singing. We were told that it would go on all night and the tradition is to dance until sunrise. Being quite tired by about 9pm, and having to teach early the next morning, the volunteers all left. And, I must admit, I assumed "we will dance all night" was a bit of an exageration. But sure enough, when I woke up at 3am, I could hear the drums still banging away on the other side of the village. They definitely know how to keep a party going here. And now a new week begins. I've been told we might have another public holiday this week...this is the land of public holidays...but we usually don't know until the kids at school tell us "no school tomorrow!" when we try to give homework. But for now, I am off to get the oh so needed toilet paper. Namaste :)
Monday, January 24, 2011
I know, I know...it's been a while since I've written...it's also been a while since I didn't have to use a flashlight to go to the toilet! We are all just pons in the games played by the electricity gods here in Nepal :) But life continues on here, power or no power (this doesn't seem to be much of a problem for the villagers, as they pretty much still live a pre-electricity life, save for a few village women who seem a bit aggitated when they don't get to watch their Indian soaps on the tiny tv that they crowd around in their gathering area)...I have started teaching at the local public school and initially, found it quite overwhelming. The school I taught at in Pokhara had all of 80 students (making the largest class I had about 12 kids)...where as here, the school has over 600 and all the classes I teach have at least 35 students. Which, when you tell them to read a passage and they all begin to read, out loud, at different paces, can get quite loud. And no, they don't seem to understand what "read to yourself" means. But, after getting over the initial shock of it all, I've settled in a bit and am really enjoying it. And, as you would expect from so many kids, there is the typical range of students, from the teachers pet to the group of boys sitting in the back of the class, scarves wrapped around their heads, way too cool for school. But, slowly, I am getting to know them all, trying to memorize their names (NOT EASY) and really loving the time I spend with them. And they are all so eager to learn about me and where I come from. When I told a group of the year 8 boys that I live in Australia, they all went home and studied it that night and came back the next day with this massive list of facts memorized about Australia...many of which I didn't even know! (And yes, to all my Aussie friends, we will be celebrating Australia Day here on Wednesday...we have a full day of cricket playing and beer drinking planned). Outside of the village, I spent this past weekend in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. And, after an exhausting 5 hour bus ride and a rickshaw excursion, I arrived in the most peaceful place I have ever experienced. At the center of the city is a temple which houses a stone that is encased in glass which marks the exact spot where Buddha's mother squatted down, grasping the low branches of a tree, and gave birth to the future god. The rest of the temple was filled with archeologists digging through piles of rubble and brushing away dirt from ancient bricks...I'm assuming to find the fossilized aforementioned tree branches with the gripping nail marks from the "peacefully blessed" event. The rest of the city is made up of temples and monastaries of Buddhists from all over the world, from Cambodia to Germany. On Friday night I stayed in the Korean Monastary, had dinner with the monks and got to sit in the temple and listen to their evening worship (quite a beautifully haunting experience...the dark temple illuminated by candlelight and the monks' chanting echoing throughout). And, at 250 rupees (just under $4) for a bed and two meals...best...deal...EVER! The next morning, as I walked around looking at the other monastaries, there was a thick layer of fog hanging in the air, making the whole atmosphere all the more mystical and peaceful. All in all it was a wonderful weekend. And now the week has begun again...more teaching, more rice eating (I'm actually beginning to crave the stuff), and, I'm sure, many more fun memories.