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, 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.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Namaste all! Things continue to go well here in Chitwan. The weather remains, for the most part, very cold and I look forward to the few hours of sunshine that we seem to get about every other day. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my little village here and have found that my novelty as "the foreigner" has, for the most part, worn off. People no longer stop and stare and kids no longer chase me down the street wanting to know my name, where I'm from, my father's name and my mother's name (strange questions, I know, but quite common here). No, now, they have asked all these things and everyone knows who I am. People now say hello and use my name, ask me how I am and where I am going. I feel like I have really become part of the community and that really feels nice. The only time this changes, however, is when I go running. One of two things happens when you go for a run through Padampokhari and the surrounding villages. If the villager is of the age of about 18 or older (and especially if they are female) they will look at you as if you are completely out of your mind. What in the world are you running for you odd odd person? their eyes seem to say. The idea of doing any kind of physical exercise for fun is completely lost on a people who's days are consumed by physical labor. However, if the individual is below 18, particularly those of the group of young boys just down the street, they will run out to the street, wave hello, cheer you on, and, quite frequently, try to race you. And when you are coming back from a long run, and that morning's dal batt is still sitting heavy in your stomach, sprinting against some of these boys of 10 or 11 years old can usually be quite defeating. But hey, I "let them win"...right? :) Two days ago I went into town with two other volunteers (Mitch and Katie) and one of our program coordinators (Bikash) to see a Kollywood movie. That's right, not Hollywood, not even Bollywood, but the Nepalese cinematic genre of Kollywood. We saw "Arrest", an action film starring Rajesh Hamal (the most famous of Kollywood actors, having apparently been in over 2000 films in his long career). He didn't have that much screen time, only a quick few minutes at the beginning and then coming in at the end to be the hero...quite a cush job. Anyway, the film was, well, comical to say the least. And yes, it was meant to be a serious action movie. None of us, save for Bikash, had a clue as to what was going on, but stayed thuroughly entertained throughout the show by the actors' cheesy expressions, constant overdone sound effects, hysterical dance sequences (which included some rather riaque clothing and dance moves [and somehow we western girls are the ones that are meant to be the sluts???] and rarely seemed to have anything to do with the movie [especially the final dance number of the movie which was set to, the only english we heard for the whole afternoon, Simon & Garfunkle's "Cecelia"]), fight scenes that looked so fake (including a man getting both arms cut off but you could clearly see his arms folded up under the "blood stained" shirt), and a girl falling into the same river twice and flailing around as if drowning only to be saved by a man who picks her up and walks out of the knee deep water (and the first time she is rescued, she emerges from the water with the lower half of a white fish flopping around out of her mouth...absolutely hilarious, and possibly a 'had to be there' type of thing to get it, but I had to mention it as an example of the random nonsensicalness of Kollywood). All in all it was a two and a half hour cinematic experience (with intermission) that left us all laughing and utterly confused. So that's it for now from my little village by the jungle. Must sign off before the electricity decides to end this post for me. Namaste!
Friday, January 7, 2011
Well, after an early morning departure from Pokhara and a thankfully uneventful bus ride (save for an uncomfotably low ceiling that added new bruises to my head with every bump in the road...again, this country was not made for tall people)...I finally arrived in Chitwan and made it to the small village of Padampokhari. And after only two days I am already feeling quite settled and excited about the months ahead. I am living in 'The Library House', and quite appropriately for me, my actual bedroom is also the library itself...pleanty of fun reading to do. The house is run by the volunteer coordinator for the area and his mother who is an amazing cook and absolutely lovely lady who takes care of us all very well. The "us" I just mentioned is the three other volunteers who are working in the community...a 24 year old guy from Sydney, a 21 year old girl from London, and a 22 year old girl from Germany. The two girls are working in the local orphanage while the guy is the other teaching volunteer. It is quite an enjoyable group of people and we get on quite well, spending much of our free time engrosed in very competitive games of rummy and uno with our host and his friends as well as nightly bonfires made of hay and bamboo. The house we share is in the middle of our tiny little village and the village is in the middle of miles and miles of fields of crops. Mainly lentils, rice, beans, and mustard. We are an hour bus ride from the nearest city, and it definitely feels extremely remote, but it is so peaceful and there is a wonderful community feel within the village. As one of the locals said "We are close, we share everything. Happiness, sadness, we share." I am truly enjoying it here. And, to make the situation even better, the teaching placement I have here is amazing. In the mornings, I ride my wonderful bike "Bessy" (she's just like an old cow, big and clunky, but dependable), along the gravelly dirt roads to another village just 20 minutes away to a man's house. This man has set up a morning English session for some of the less fortunate kids of the local area (by less fortunate, I mean that this is a group of 18 kids who are all of the lowest caste or orphans and therefore cannot afford any other schooling). They range from 5-13 and we meet every morning in the attic space over this man's kitchen. And they are awesome! These kids are all so bright and desperately want to learn everything they can. It is so refreshing to have a group of kids who are all craving that knowledge. We meet for two hours every morning and after just two days I am already feeling like they are really learning and understanding a lot of what I am saying. After class in the morning, I head back home and have the whole midday free to explore the village and meet some of the people, all of whom are just so warm and welcoming. In two weeks time, once another volunteer who lives in another house in the area leaves, I will be taking her teaching position at a local school during the midday, but until then, I get to explore and learn more about my new home :) Then, in the evenings, the other teaching volunteer from Sydney and I run a two hour English tutorial for four little boys in our village (all about 10-12 years old). They are amazingly bright as well and they just pick up everything we teach so quickly. During this time, I have noticed some other children hanging around, trying to see what we are doing, especially some of the village girls. I think one of my first big projects here will be to try and get a group of girls to participate in these evening lessons as well. So that's life at the moment in Chitwan. I will definitely be taking the opportunity at some point while i'm here to visit the jungles and try and see some of the wildlife...but for now I am just loving my village, the people in it and all the wonderful kids that I get to spend time with every day.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Just a quick couple updates on the education side of things here that have left me quite optimistic for the future education of the kids that I have been working with. Yesterday, the district supervisor came to assess some of the teachers at our school. During one of his breaks we got to talking and he asked me about my time in Nepal and what I thought about the school. And I was completely honest. I told him all my concerns and where and how I thought things could be improved. And he was quite impressed with everything I had to say...so much so that he had me sit in on all the evaluations of the day, give my opinions of the teachers, and even asked me to keep in contact with him to share future thoughts about how the schools in the district could improve. He really seems like he wants to make some good, positive changes, and that was quite uplifting to see. Then today, on my final day at the school, I had the chance to approach one of the head teachers to discuss one big concern...his physical abuse of the students. I asked him why he did it and if he really felt it was effective. I tried to convey, as nicely, but directly, as I could that it really is not acceptable to ever touch a child in such a manner and suggested several other ways to go about punishing children for their misbehavior (i.e. detention during playtimes or extra homework) but never, never hitting a child. I also tried to make him see how him showing that hitting was appropriate was not only physically hurting the children, but also setting an example for them that it was okay to hit others and showed how many of his students were running around the playground hitting each other. I honestly think he took this all to heart and he seemed sincere in his plans to do better in the future. Fingers crossed but I think I made some good progress. All in all it was a positive final two days in Pokhara...and now...off to Chitwan :)