The actual journey to Besisahar deserves a mention. Getting out of Kathmandu took a lot longer than even Gaurav anticipated because there was so much traffic and there aren’t any traffic lights which doesn’t help! When Gaurav said we were finally on the “highway” we all thought he was having a laugh! The road was just about wide enough for two small vehicles but the Tarmac had worn away at the edges so when we passed another vehicle we were all holding our breath! There were also a few places were the Tarmac had worn away so much that we feared the worst for the underside of Gaurav’s car and in a few places we actually had to get out to help the suspension as we drove over huge rocks in the road. The car was most definitely at its full capacity and we were glad to stop for lunch and stretch our legs during the 6 1/2 hour journey. We arrived in Besisahar too late to “move in” to our house so we stayed in the Mongolian Guest House.
The next day (Friday 10th January) after breakfast we climbed the hill to Shree Jana Bikas Higher Secondary School (although it teaches primary ages too) or “Chandi Danda” – the school where I will teach English for the next 3 months. AV were not joking when they described the hill – it is huge! It then dawned on me that I would have to walk up it every single day! At least I’ll be super fit but the time it comes to trekking. The views from the top however are absolutely incredible and make the hike so much more bearable! When we got to the school the teachers were more than welcoming and we were each given a marigold garland – a Hindu tradition. The school was in the middle of its sports week so we just sat on a balcony in the sun watching the boys to the high jump. They are amazing at it. They do just jump over it – there is no such thing as a frosberry flip here! We then walked down the hill to Bhupu Sanik – the local boarding school where Freya and Sam will be teaching. The difference between the two schools was very apparent (Bhupu is a fee-paying school) and we were each given Buddhist scarves with prayers on them!
When we had visited both schools we finally got to see our house! It is very bare! There is no hot water at all (unless we boil it), no fridge or oven and no western toilet. Having now been here for almost 2 weeks I can say I’m almost used to cold showers and the squat loo! I have one of the smallest rooms in the house but I really like it! I have 2 beds so I put both mattresses on one bed and put all my belongings on the other! We decorated one of the walls in our dining area with pictures we had drawn and quotes from the trip so far and Olivia made us all matching anklets.
On Saturday 11th we made our first Dahl Baat and curry under Gaurav’s supervision. It tasted really, really good. I was very impressed with our efforts (even if Gaurav did do most of the work)! Whilst Sam and I were at the Internet cafe, Olivia and Freya bought 2 pet chicks who we named Gavroche (Les Mis) and Wolverine. We were told they had to stay in the house for a month but fortunately (because of the smell) they were big enough to move out after just one week!
On Sunday 12th we had our first proper day at school although as sports week was still on there weren’t actually any lessons! We had given ourselves so much time to get up the hill that we were the first ones in school! Our headmaster, Khila arrived shortly after and we ate Dahl Baat and vegetable curry with him. We then had assembly where we had to introduce ourselves to the school. They also have a prayer ritual every morning which I will have to upload a video to explain. They basically move to a drum beat, sing the national anthem and then say a prayer! Afterwards we were given our own pages in the Staff Register which was very exciting and we were shown how to sign in and out (more complicated than it sounds)! We then watched the triple jump – I tell you, the Nepali children are basically gazelles! Purna, a science and maths teacher then took us to watch some of the younger girls preparing a dance for Alex Memorial Day on Tuesday before she took us out of school and further up the hill for a snack. I ate a whole chilli (something I seem to do quite regularly) and came very close to crying. She then introduced us to jerry or Gerry (not sure of the spelling) which is a really sweet pastry – extremely delicious and my new favourite thing! After school Purna took is to get fitted for Kurthas (the loose trousers & long top that is traditional dress here) in the Government school colour -bright pink and then to buy sarees. I chose a turquoise one with pink flowers! You can buy the pre-stitched petticoat but we had to get the crop tops especially made! We then went back to Purna’s house for Chiya and homemade bread which looked a bit like a black pancake! When we got home we made our first Dahl Baat completely on our own. It tasted nice but we definitely have some room for improvement!
On Monday 13th we played some games with the younger pupils. They have this toy made for rubber bands which is really good for playing catch or doing keepy uppies! It was then time for the sprinting. It was brutal to watch! They run in a rectangle marked by other pupils and shove each other into walls on the way round. We then watched the house football competitions for both the girls and the boys and then it was time to walk down the hill and collect our sarees. We walked to Purna’s house and she showed us how to put them on but I don’t think any of us have a clue – even now!
Tuesday 14th was Alexander Ewart Memorial Day. Alex was an AV here 10 years ago who died whilst white water rafting in his month of independent travel. His parents set up the Alex Fund which has helped both Chandi’s and Bhupu’s development significantly. Every year both schools hold a ceremony on Alex Memorial Day which doubles up as prize giving and founders day. Olivia and I did however feel uncomfortable when we were asked to speak about Alex or his school RGS (Royal Grammar School, Guilford – who now have a partnership with both schools) as we neither knew Alex nor went to RGS. The ceremony was extremely long but broken up by dances for the school dance competitions and plays. We wore our sarees (Purna and her friend put them on for us) and were told many times how much they suited us and how beautiful we looked in them which was lovely to hear.
Wednesday 15th was a day off for us as it is a public holiday here. It was the Gurung new year and our landlord downstairs had so many people round for a feast to celebrate. We were invited to eat with them but we already had plans to go to Nirmal’s house for Chiya. He is the principal of Bhupu and his house is the top floor of the boarding block. We had tea and then he introduced us to the game Carim Board which we had seen being played in every street. It’s a lot like pool except that it’s played with counters and you flick them around a square board! It’s really good fun but is very hard to finish as you have to “pot” two in a row and if you pot them in the wrong order then you have to put 5 of your counters back on the board. We ended up staying at Nirmal’s for dinner and he gave us a lift home on his bike! The party was still going strong at our landlord’s – everyone was dancing and we ended up joining in. They then blessed us, gave us more Buddhist scarves, gave us food and then made us drink Raaksi which tasted a lot like vodka!
We started our proper teaching on Thursday 16th. Our first class was Grade 2 English but we weren’t given any guidance on what to teach. We taught them ‘Heads, shoulders, knees & toes’ which they absolutely loved! It’s hard to control them though as they’ve never really been disciplined so they just stand up and sit down whenever they like. We also observed a few classes. The teachers seem to have just as much trouble controlling their class as we do! I picked up my Kurtha in the afternoon so I could wear it the next day.
On Friday 17th, we taught Grade 2 the alphabet song and watched more classes. In the afternoon we had our second power cut so we couldn’t use the Internet cafe.
Saturday 18th was our first weekend off! It rained all night and was still raining when we headed off for a picnic in Udipur with staff (and their families) from Bhupu. We got on our first public bus which was much more comfortable than we had expected. There was only one hairy moment when we were driving fast up the hill and we had a close encounter with two buses coming the other way! When we got to Udipur we were taken up to the Hindu temple for the god, Kalika where we were given a blessing and a tikka (red spot on your forehead). We then took shelter in a cow shed with the children and danced with them until it was time to eat. We were fed two big meals within the space of a couple of hours. Getting home was a problem as were meant to get the school bus back which had started to leave but we got it in the end thanks to Olivia’s persistence. The whole day was definitely an experience. It was fun but very unexpected!
On Sunday 19th we taught Grade 2 English greetings and went through the numbers. We then attempted to teach Grade 3 Science in English but I don’t think the pupils understood a word of what we were saying! On a side note, I sped walked (?) up the hill in 12m36s though! We then taught Grade 4 English who were amazing!! We got locked out of the school when we went up the hill to get samosas. It was so embarrassing – the whole school saw us being let back in! School finished early as every pupil got their report cards today and so we had no afternoon classes although we stayed in school anyway!
Yesterday school finished at midday as the school effectively has to be evacuated when Grade 10 exams are on. We were sent home early and because we were bored Olivia spent half an hour doing henna/mindi on my left hand. We then went to the community hospital because Olivia’s foot has been hurting since she got to Nepal! The hospital staff were in strike and only a few were there and we spoke to the orthopaedic surgeon who was really funny and spoke very good English. He took us to get Olivia’s foot x-rayed. Everything was fine she just has soft tissue damage and got her foot bandaged up but she’s been told not to walk for 2 weeks! Nirmal picked her up on his bike and I walked home. Later on almost every teacher from Chandi came to visit to see if she was OK which was really sweet. We also had about 6 power cuts last night while we were trying to cook which made it all the more difficult!
We’ve been stuck in our house all morning as Olivia couldn’t get a lift up the hill and my back has been in spasm since I woke up. We’re meant to be going to a wedding feast this afternoon so fingers crossed someone can give us a lift there! Sam flooded the kitchen this morning and our landlord just came to have a look. We now don’t have a kitchen sink until the plumber comes!
Sorry it has taken me so long to write another post – we keep having power cuts around the time we like to frequent the Internet cafe but I will do my best to update this more often!
Love to all,