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 :)

Friday, December 31, 2010

One last one from Pokhara

Firstly...Happy New Year everyone! Some of you still haven't quite made it to 2011 yet, so let me tell you, from what I can see so far, it looks like it's going to be a great year. Here's hoping, right :) Okay, so like the title says, this is my last post to you all from the wonderful area of Pokhara. On Tuesday I will be heading off to the Chitwan region in southern Nepal to begin my next teaching placement. It's been a great month here in and around Pokhara and I am really looking forward to see what the next experience brings. But, so that it will not be easily forgotten, Pokhara definitely gave me an excitement filled final week. There was copious amounts of blood and pleanty of celebration (odd combination, I know, and I promise one wasn't because of the other). So here we final week in Pokhara...Unfortunately, it began with some of the blood shedding. On Sunday, while at school, one of my favorite little three year olds, Amsita, was running across the campus, pencil in hand. And, as three year olds do, she tripped and fell. Sadly, this sent the pencil in her hand straight into her neck as she fell to the ground. And with that came the blood. Oh the blood, and the screaming. (Just as a side note to all those who might not know me that well, blood and I have a very shakey's been a constant battle in my life and, for the most part, it has won...the sight of it frequently sending me into a nice little fainting spell crashing to the floor...However...somehow, thankfully...I was able to keep my head about me and stayed relatively calm in the situation.) So, with thumb pressed over the hole in her neck, and doing my best to keep the screaming and writhing girl as still as possible, I looked up to see the majority of the teaching staff staring back at me blankly. 'How close is the hospital?' I asked in my broken mixture of Nepali and English. Which prompted them to begin discussing amongst themselves whether or not she needed to go to the hospital!!! Do we need to take her to doctor? they asked me. Gee...I don't know...there is a little girl here whos white shirt is now mostly red, she is screaming in pain, and I have blood pumping out from between my fingers...I'm not sure...let's take our time and DISCUSS THIS FURTHER!!! Not that I really said this so angrily to them, but I think I tried to convey that yes, it was quite important to get her to the hospital now. So, one of the male teachers reached down, scooped her up, and headed towards the front of the school to catch a taxi into the city. Meanwhile, I was on his heels, trying to get across to him that he really shouldn't be swinging her around so much, try to keep her stable, and dear God keep your thumb over the wound (versus holding her away from your body and letting the blood flow)... I truly had fears, as the taxi drove away, that she wouldn't even make it to the hospital. My dreams that night were filled with Amsita's screaming face and, yes, blood. But fear not readers, the next morning that brave little soldier came marching into school, sucking on a lollipop and showing off her massive bandage. She was the center of attention and absolutely loved it. To the rest of the kids she was a hero. It was just wonderful to see her little smile again.
The first bit of celebration came later in the week when, as per Nepalese tradition, it was time for the daughter of the family I'm staying with to return to her home. In Nepal, when a woman has a baby, she goes and stays with her parents for 2 months so that they can help her take care of the child and give her a chance to rest from all her household duties. But, come this week, Didi's two months were up and so it was time for her and her children to return to the house that they share with her husband and his parents. The night before, many of the women in our village came over to our house and helped make multiple different kinds of fried breads. (Delicious to say the least) And we made piles and piles of them which Didi would take back and distribute to her husband's family and his entire village (kind of an extension of the dowry system is how it was explained to me). And so, the next day a group of us set out, with all the breads and all of Didi's luggage, on a trek back to her home. About a half hour walk it would be, I was told. (I have come to take any estimate of time I am given here with a massive grain of salt). The grueling uphill climb, loaded with bags of heavy luggage lasted over an hour. But she was returned to her home and then we returned to ours, where the other bloodshed for the week occured...
As a quick background, the family I am staying with belongs to the Brahmin caste. The highest level in the Nepalese caste system. And, as members of this caste, they are not allowed to kill an animal. (Older, more traditional members of the community won't even eat animal flesh, but the younger generations are a bit more liberal thinking and, really, when you reach a certain level of poverty, are you really willing to pass up any kind of food??) So, in the past, when the kids of the family were to eat chicken, a village member of a lower caste would have to kill it for them. However, on this occassion, no one else was around at the time that the family rooster was to be killed. And so, I was asked if I would (and I quote) "do the sacrifice of the coq". (Let us pause a moment to allow the extreme feminists of the world to let out a joyful cheer). And I, somewhat hesitantly, said I would. I was handed the large curved knife, the rooster was laid across a wooden plank, I held the head and the son held the body. (He can't kill it, but he was certainly willing to show me exactly where and how to do it, haha) And, after a few quick blows, the coq was beheaded and I sat, somewhat dazed, hands covered in blood for the second time that week. I was, however, rewarded for my bravery with large portions of the rooster meat at both dinner that night and breakfast the next morning.
And, to end the week on a high note, we celebrated, with the rest of the world, the ringing in of 2011. (While it's not technically the Nepalese New Year, which occurs in March and will be ringing in the year 2068 this year, the Nepalese people seem not to be ones to miss out on an opportunity to throw any kind of party) And celebrate they did. Pokhara has been having a large street festival all week and last night, New Years Eve, was the final night of jubilation and merriment. There were food stands galore, balloons, flashing lights, carnival games, and loud music pumping from all the clubs along the city's main street. To say it was a festive atmosphere would be quite an understatement. And even the constant rain that fell for the majority of the evening could not hinder the spirits of the locals or tourists who partied together into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wonderful evening, spent with good friends and good drinks.
And that is how I leave has been an amazing ride thus far and I can't wait to see what's around the corner. See you in Chitwan :) Namaste!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Traditions of Christmas

As many of you know, I'm quite the fan of Christmas (to say the least). So, not surprisingly, a few of you were very shocked when you found out that I would be away during Christmas in a country that doesn't really celebrate the holiday at all. (To give some quick background here, Christianity doesn't even rank in the top 5 religions in Nepal. In a census of the population, Christians fall into the 1% of the country's people catagorized as "other"). But fear not, I was still able to maintain some of the religion's, and my own, Christmas traditions. To begin, we start with some Biblical similarities. There was a long journey from a small village to the town of Pokhara (insert Bethlahem here). Differently this time though, and thankfully, there was room at the inn. And an amazing hot shower which I'm pretty sure Mary would have appreciated and enjoyed as much as I did (I believe I emerged about 2 kilos lighter from all the dirt that was removed). And, as the story goes, there was livestock all around. (A cow is even meandering past the window as I write this.) And, well, thats about where the Biblical traditions end. Now on to more personal, familial traditions that I was still able to carry over. It started with a trip to church on Christmas Eve. I know! I actually found a church. About a half hour walk from town there was a small building serving the tiny Christian population of Pokhara (and, probebly many of the city's tourists). There was no service going on, but the lovely minister said we were more than welcome to stay a while and enjoy the decorations. (Let me break here to tell you that the Nepalese people, always wanting to please visitors, have gone out of their way in Pokhara to do up Christmas. I think they believe it is more of a party in the streets, festival type celebration than it really is. Most businesses in the tourist strip, especially restaurants, were filled with decor...balloons, streamers, lights and more tinsel than I've ever seen. Most of these were in anything but Christmas colors (i.e. lots of pastels), but the effort was there. I even saw a few waiters wearing santa hats!) But back to church...we stayed a while, prayed a bit, and then headed back to town for a Christmas Eve feast. Merry Christmas and Mexican food! Oh the food from the gods! Not really a family tradition but I think it's high time it became one :) And it was delicious, and actually came reletively close to tasting like authentic Mexican food. But anything smothered in the amount of cheese that these dishes were has my vote :) Then after being thuroughly stuffed (a grand and time honored Christmas tradition) we headed back to the hotel. There I got to open my one present (another family tradition)(it was actually just a piece of chocolate, but it was unwapping something, so I think it counts) and had a hot buttered rum delivered to my room (very Christmassy and the closest thing I was going to get to eggnog here). And that sent me it to a lovely sound sleep. I thoroughly enjoyed a "silent night". This morning I awoke and headed to the nearby bakery where I got my cinnamon roll (not fresh out of the oven and dripping in wonderful warm frosting like at home, but close). And now I sit here, eating my Christmas breakfast, looking out at the snowcovered mountains (hey! a white Christmas! something many of you only "dream of") and await wonderful discussion with family and loved ones. So that's it :) I hope you all are having a very Merry Christmas and all your traditions are being fulfilled as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What can you say when you shouldn't say anything?

I have seen a lot in my short time in Nepal. Far more, I believe, than the average tourist would see in double the time. Living with a native family and exposing yourself to the day to day ins and outs of the Nepalese lifestyle truly lets you in to the culture and shows you a more intimate side of life. With this comes great blessings. I have grown very close to the family I live with and many of the children at my school, my knowledge of the language has grown exponentially, and I have learned a great deal about things in life that I never even knew existed. However, with this intimacy comes exposure to some of the less pleasant things in life...things I never expected (naieve as it may have been) and don't really enjoy seeing (to put it lightly). Above all in this category is the somewhat overwhelming amounts of child abuse and endangerment that seems to be quite prevelant here. In the home (where a nightly ritual has the baby screaming for ages), at school (where physical punishments seem to be the norm), even on the streets (where riding with your child on your lap while speeding down the street on the back of a motorcycle is typical). It is far from anything I have ever experienced and beyond what I was raised to believe is acceptable. In fact, I have spent most of my teen and early adult years working and volunteering with agancies and foundations that fight this kind of treatment of children. The whole reason I'm in Nepal in the first place is to help better the lives of children. So what does one do when you come from a culture where beating a child is punishable by jail time and go to a culture where it is not only accepted, but a large part of some of their most traditional events? As an outsider, it is not really my place to step in. Or is it? They truly believe that much of this abuse will make the child stronger (as for the motorcycle incidents, I think it must be purely for convenience). But for the other bits, they do believe it is for the child's own benifit. And, with years and years of these techniques behind them, they do have plenty of evidence on their side. They all seem to grow up to be quite strong individuals. But I would hope that this could be achieved without the brutal attacks throughout childhood. However, as visitors, are we right to step in? Or do we accept it as a piece of the culture that we must respect as their own? I must say it is quite difficult to hear the nightly screams of the baby, or watch the child being slapped at school, and keep quiet. Very difficult.

Friday, December 17, 2010

We're going on a picnic!

"Alright boys and girls, we're going on a picnic tomorrow. Remember to back your sack lunches with your peanutbutter and jelly sandwich, a few carrot sticks, a couple chocolate chip cookies and a juice box. And please remember to write your name on the outside of your sack. The bus will be here in the morning to drive us to the (park/beach/zoo etc.) so don't be late. Oh and make sure your parent has signed the permission slip." That's a picnic right? At least the ones I knew growing up. We let me tell you, boys and girls, that is NOT the way they do picnics in Nepal. A Nepalese school picnic is unlike anything I had or, I'm sure I can safely say, any western school kid has ever experienced. It started early yesterday morning when all the younger kids (this picnic was for the younger half of the school, so kids aged 3-9) and the teachers met at the front of the school. It was actually quite interesting to see all the kids without their uniforms on (casual day for picnic day you see). Many of them I barely recognized they looked so different. We then set about collecting the necessary items for the picnic from the schoolyard and surrounding homes. This included (and this is where things start to get real different) pots, pans, buckets, bags of food (and I mean massive shopping bags, no brown paper bags here) and loads of wood (for the fire of course!). We then loaded it all onto, nope, not the bus, ourselves. And then set out for the picnic site. The spot for the picnic turned out to be a mountain top about a half hour walk from the school. Imagine if you will a parade of youngsters and their teachers all carrying loads of assorted goods, weaving their way through villages and over rockpiles. Even the little ones joined in, carrying one large pot between two kids. Then we got to the mountain and had to scale, again with arms full of very heavy, in my case, wood, up the mountain to where our picnic would be. And there was no trail to speak of. It was a clammouring through brush and ocassionaly stumbling upon a few stones that seemed to form a few steps. Not an easy task with loaded arms and three year olds to look after. But we finally made it. I threw down my bag of wood and rejoiced that we had finally made it. Getting to a Nepalese picnic is, well, no picnic. I even had a chance to look around at the beautiful scenery...these people sure can choose a good location...before I heard "Megan, come for pani!" (water). Yes, we had gotten everything up the hill, including empty buckets which all the women, including myself and Jana, had to carry back down to the nearby village, fill with water, and carry back up to the picnic site. What else were we going to drink and cook with. I think that mountain grew about a mile higher when I returned with my bucket full of water (to be honest, by the time I got to the top it was really more like half full and must of my clothes were quite soaked from all the spillage). And now, the cooking began, also the women's work. We peeled and chopped our way through piles of peas, potatoes, tomatos, ginger, garlic, onions, and radish while the male teachers prepared the fire. In the massive pot it all went along with (praise the Lord!) chicken! The first meat i've had since I left home I think. And while this was all cooking, the massive speaker, which one of the teachers had also carried all the way up the mountainside, began playing music and the kids were dancing their little hearts out. And the teachers all joined in as well. It was mostly Nepali folk and pop music, but then something came on that completely threw me...Folks, I have spent the past year in the Western world doing my best to avoid hearing anything by this artist. I knew his name and had heard a short clip on the news of his hit sing, but was able to avoid any further exposure...but here, on a mountain in the middle of Nepal, Justin Beiber finally caught up with me. And the kids loved him! The song played at least seven times throughout the day and it was so funny to watch them all dance and "sing along" to words they didn't even understand. So we danced and ate and danced and ate some more. At one point while we were all eating some of the best veggie curry and coconut fried rice I have ever had, the school principle came up and filled mine and Jana's glasses with what, to me, appeared to be apple juice. Without a second thought I downed about half of it in one gulp. Ladies and gentlemen, rather than the expected apple juice, I now had a mouthful of pure, straight up whiskey! Quite shocking when you're not expecting it and I provided all the teachers with quite a laugh. They all were thuroughly enjoying the two litre Mountain Dew bottle full of the stuff being passed around their little circle for the rest of the day :) Guess teachers need a little pick-me-up on Picnic Day. And then came the clean up. No just throwing your brown bag in the nearby trashcan. We had to wash all pots, pans, and utinsils, and then burn the pile of rubbish that we had left over (mostly the paper plates we ate off). And then, as the sun began to set, we headed back to school. At least the load heading back was a bit lighter as we had cooked, eaten, or burned most of what we took with us. As we walked, the snow on the mountains that surrounded us began to change to lovely hues of orange and pink. Absolutely incredible. So that was picnic day. Completely exhausting, but also totally fun. Namaste from Sarangkot :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rice and a little bit of learning...

Hello again all...I am writing today from the lovely community of Lakeside in Pokhara. After nearly a week of village living I finally have the chance to come down and be a bit more connected to the world. So here we go... Well, as much as you read about and feel you are prepared for what comes with living the rural life, nothing can prepare you for the reality. It is definitely rough. And I am staying in one of the nicer homes in the area. We have electricity (occasionally) and a water tap within walking distance. But mind you, this water is very cold, coming from the melting snow of the mountains above us, and provides for a very shocking experience upon washing one's hair early in the morning. I now undrestand why the monks here shave their heads...long tresses do not serve for the easiest of upkeeps in these conditions. And it is these small, everyday menial tasks which I am quickly coming to realize I have severely taken for granted in my posh little suburban life. Things like cooking and cleaning can take up the majority of a housewife's day when you can't just throw the clothes in the washing machine or chuck the rice into some boiling water. (There is a great deal more work to getting rice to the state where you can put it in said boiling water than I ever realized.) But, as rice and I do not have the greatest of friendships at the moment, I won't comment much more on its making. Yes, after a week of nothing but dal batt for breakfast and dinner my stomach has finally held a strong protest and battled on through the night for the right for familiar food. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the infamous "Delhi Belly" has struck. And if you think the average case of food poisoning (not that this is poisoning, but similar enough) is bad when you have all the luxeries of your modern western toilets, I can promise you it is no walk in the park when all you have is a hole in the ground. I have become well aquainted with the family's squat toilet and I hope not to meet under such cercumstances again. (Here's to wishful thinking). But other than that, village life goes on and I am enjoying getting to know all its little interesting details. The school I'm teaching at is also quite different than anything i've ever experienced. What these children have in location (the views from the schoolyard and many of the classrooms are absolutely spectacular...scenic vistas of snow covered mountains with a center focus on Anapurna, the second highest mountain in Nepal) they do, unfortunatly, lack in educational structure and content. The teachers here seemed to be quite impressed by the neatness of a child's handwriting and not at all concerned with the fact that there is very little being taught. Sadly, the children of the area learn much more about the art of copying than anything else. They know how to read and how to write (quite well actually and at a very young age, with the 3 year olds at the school writing perfect letters A-Z and numbers too) but there is very little understanding behind what is being read or written. This is unfortunate when you consider the fact that very few jobs in this world will ask you to read a passage and then answer questions about the passage by filling in the missing word (simply find the sentence in the passage that seems to match the question, find the missing word, and copy it down). To show some fairness, the school has only been teaching English for the past two years, so it is a very new medium. But there doesn't seem to be much hope for improvement when you consider that all the teachers at the school once attended the school, making this methodology all they know, and that the teachers who claim to be "English teachers" can barely understand the language themselves. A simple question such as "How many classes do you teach?" or "How far away do you live?" seems to send some of them into a fit of questioning looks. But through this frustration comes a few glimmers of hope in the rare student that seems to really grasp what you are saying and shows a desire to learn more. The real challenge at the moment comes in trying to asses at what level each student is (age or "grade level" apparently has no importace here) and figuring out how to go from there. But all we can ask for is baby steps and pray that something, somewhere along the line, gets through to assist the learning of just a few kids. My biggest hope, at this point, is even if I don't teach them any English (to the point of usefullness) maybe they can start to think for themselves, rather than just repeating the cycle of mindless copying. Fingers crossed...week two, here we go :) Namaste!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hello from the top of the world

I am sitting here looking at mountain tops that stretch on into the ditance, as far as the eye can see and know that I am completely romoved from everything I once say that my placement is remote might even be considered an locate where I am on a map, well, you can't...the closest approxomation I can give you is if you find Pokhara on a map...then take an hour long taxi ride into the mountains northeast of the city...there you find a small town called Sarangkot...from there it is a half hour hike up rockslide formed hills to reach the tiny house where I am located...this computer I am using, found in a small guest house just north of Sarangkot, is the sole and only computer within an hour of where I am yes, remote is the word. I am staying with a middleaged mother and father, their daughter, and her two sons (who are living there while the daughter's husband is "away", working somewhere I believe). They are all quite lovely and very welcoming. There is also another volunteer living with us who is teaching at the same school. Her name is Jana and she is a 20 yr old from Germany. So far I'm still trying to get used to everything...and after only one day of dal batt for both meals, I know I'm going to be real sick of rice by the end of this, haha :) But yes, I am okay...just trying to figure everything out and hoping I pick up the laguage will be a great help...but for now...must head off before the sun electicity up here :) Namaste!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ask and yea shall recieve...

So, after many requests by friends and family, an unfortunately expensive trip to the camera store (in getting my pictures placed on CDs from my camera, I forgot all about the multiple videos that I had taken and those were therefore transferred as well, leading to way too many CDs made), and now at my third internet cafe (having to migrate due to the power crashing in each one midway through my visits), I have finally been able to upload some pictures. So...if you scroll to the bottom, you will be able to catch just a glimpse of my life here in Nepal thus far. And enjoy these pictures and messages while you can. As of tomorrow I will be transferring to my first placement and I am really not sure as to the frequency with which I will be able to communicate with the outside world. For the next two months I will be in a village outside the town of Pokhara (basically the exact flip-side of Nepal from Kathmandu). I will then move on to Chitwan (an area just along the center of the Indian border) for the second half of my stay here. So an early rise for me in the morning with a 7-9 hour bus ride (depending on traffic) to follow. Hopefully I can write again soon...Namaste!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Monkeys, monks, and orphans

So I have now visited the two main stuppas in Kathmandu. The first being Swayambhunath, or better known as the Monkey Temple...and for good reason...there are literally thousands of monkeys climbing all over the temple and the mountain on which it sits...and to get to the stuppa, one must climb the 365 steps which ascend at a near perfectly vertical while you are huffing and puffing up the steps the monkeys are there to provide you with some lively entertainment (got close to them but still haven't been able to test the effectiveness of all those rabbies shots, haha)...needless to say, the view from the top was incredible with 360 degree viewing of the entire Kathmandu Valley...or at least what you can see through the smog. The second stuppa was Boudhanath...the largest in Nepal, and, until recently, largest in the world...absolutely spectacular and quite peaceful, with hundreds of monks and pilgrims circling the temple over and over. I spent this morning at a local orphanage in the city. An amazing experience, of which I'm still not quite sure how to put into words...sorry this end has been quite rushed but I just realized I'm going to be late for language class so must run...Namaste!