Life in Nepal

First thing is first. In my last post I referred to the ‘Frosberry Flop’ which I have since been informed is actually called the ‘Fosbury Flop’. Sorry to all this may have offended – school girl error.

I thought I would split this entry into two sections; school life in Nepal and everyday life in Nepal. I’ll start with the school life! The school day begins at 10am which at first seems very late but considering that some children walk for up to 2 hours to get to school after doing their chores (such as milking the buffalo) it suddenly seems very necessary. There are 8 35-40 minute periods in a day – a short break of 5 minutes after the first two lessons and a lunch break after the next 3. However, there is no lunch! Most children run to the local shops and buy noodles that you crush up and eat straight from the packet (very yummy indeed). Nepali people have a huge breakfast so they aren’t very hungry at lunchtime – an alien concept to Olivia and I who eat eggy bread for breakfast and are hungry again by the time we’ve climbed the hill! We’ve recently started eating Dahl Baat and veg curry with the teachers before school. There is a staff ‘lunch’ which is more like a light snack (my favourite was rice pudding) which is followed by Chiya. There are then 3 more lessons in the afternoon and school finished at 4pm!

The school facilities here are so different to what we are used to back home. Each classroom has a whiteboard/penboard (not sure what you are allowed to call it these days) and hidden behind is a cloth. The teachers each have one whiteboard pen that is replaced when they run out of ink that they carry on them at all times. Purna really panicked one day when she thought that she had lost hers! There is no desk for a teacher and the pupils sit at benches with a small plank of wood attached at the front that acts as the desk. There are no computers in the classrooms, unlike in the UK where there would be at least one for the teacher and which would be hooked up to an interactive whiteboard or Apple TV. They don’t even have Overhead Projectors (a favourite of my Geography teacher) – the kind that use a mirror to reflect what is on a clear page onto a wall or board. There is one room of computers in our school. One is much more modern than the others (the only one I have been on) but they only get Internet for about 3 days every month and even then it is not guaranteed to work! Their science department consists of a cupboard in the computer room filled to the brim with models (my favourite is the model of a steam train), specimens (all of which seem to be marine for some reason), and chemicals which are covered in rust and would never pass health & safety in the UK. Their sports facilities consist of one ‘field’ at the front of the school which acts as a pitch for football and volleyball, their track for running (which is marked out by other pupils) and any other game they could wish to play. A favourite game of the younger children is played with a bunch of elastic bands which they do keepy uppies with and when the makeshift ball breaks they play some sort of flicking game with the bands themselves – they are very resourceful. I have seen some girls playing the keepy uppy game with old cabbages!

From what I can gather education is not compulsory at any age however, the Government recently declared compulsory free education at primary level. With 60% of Nepal’s children unable to get to a school this seems rather ambitious.Nepal’s literacy rate is 40% but is 55% in males and 25% in females. At present (from the statistics I could find) the registration of children to school aged between 6 and 10 years is 80% this drops to just 30% above the age of 10. This is supposedly due to parents’ ignorance and own illiteracy, child marriage and children still working in the fields.

At Chandi, there are pupils from age 4 to age 18 – much like in the UK – but in one ‘year group’ there will be children of at least 3 different ages. The school has one class for each year group and has Classes 1-10. In Class 1 there are around 14 pupils (that I have seen) and it is much like nursery – they sit on cushions around very low tables. In Class 2 I have taught as many as 11 pupils but they are extremely hard to control as unfortunately the only punishment that seems to have any effect on them is hitting them – something which I will never do. Classes 3 and 4 have around 30 students each, while Classes 5 and 6 have around 40 students. I am not sure of the sizes of classes above this year but the general gist is that the peak size is around Grade 6. The number of students that turn up day to day varies hugely though and makes the continuity of their education very difficult. Within each class there will a huge disparity in the ability of the pupils and quite often, when teaching English, the brightest student will finish first and then their book will be passed around and everyone else will copy their answers. Either that, or they start translating what you are saying to their classmates completely defeating the purpose of our being there!

Grades 1-5 are taught in an ‘English Medium’ so all their other subjects are taught in English. In reality this isn’t what happens as the English speaking teachers will just translate everything as they go! It made it extremely hard to teach Grade 3 Science as they had no idea what we were trying to say – and we could not translate it for them! Olivia and I are sticking to teaching just English for now and are hoping to teach some of the older students and perhaps try having conversations with them (like French and German assistants do with us) to improve their spoken English. Freya and Sam started doing this a few days ago and it seems to be working very well for them and they feel that they are making more of a difference doing this than trying to become a Nepali teacher teaching English.

The Nepali way of life is very laid back. Everyone’s favourite phrase seems to be ‘slowly, slowly’ as we rush around and carry on our lives at a British pace. The locals never seem to be in a rush – they take their time getting to places which makes a lot of sense considering that we are surrounded by hills. It is so nice and refreshing to be in a place where people aren’t constantly rushing from A to B and have time for others. Even now as I write this, Purna has come to check on me. I’ve been off school for two days now with a really bad cold which I fear is heading towards my chest and she took time out of her day to make sure that I was OK. The Nepali people really have been so welcoming to us. They are among some of the most open and hospitable people I have ever met. We have had so many invitations for Chiya (tea) and dinner. It helps that their food is always delicious and the company are always in good spirit and are genuinely excited to have you round and learn more about you and your culture.

Most Nepalis here have a mobile phone. I did bring one with me but stupidly had thought that I had unlocked it previously. I hadn’t and so when I bought my Nepali SIM Card, my phone wouldn’t accept it. I really don’t want to have to buy a new one so Dad is trying his damnest to get mine unlocked for me (thank you, Dad). I was talking to him about the whole thing though and saying how freeing it is to not be contactable every minute of every day. Understandably it is reassuring that in an emergency you will be able to contact someone for help (and I will get one if mine still won’t work by the time I start travelling independently) but unlike at home, where my iPhone is always seen in my hand, here I have noticed that I spend more time conversing with others, reading and, god forbid, tidying that I think I will have a new perspective on the use of my phone when I get back. Having said all of this, I am still on the Internet almost every day. I like to think it’s to reassure people that I am still alive but I think I just like hearing what is happening back home.

I am beginning to really enjoy other aspects of life in Nepal such as washing clothes by hand (weird, I know) but there is something almost ritualistic about the whole thing and I love having a crunchy towel that has been dried in the sun. I also really enjoy cooking – maybe because it is so much less complicated here. We have 2 gas rings and that is it! The down side is that almost everything seems to be fried. I had been getting used to freezing cold showers first thing every morning, but after coming down with a bad cold I have resorted to boiling water and at least washing my hair with warm water. I cannot wait for my first shower back home!

Friday 24th January was the opening of the Lamjung District Festival. Purna came to collect Olivia and I from our house and she walked us down to the river bank where the football pitches of Besisahar reside. Inside were hundreds of people all lined up. All of Besishar’s schools were present with the majority of their pupils and there were representatives of every caste in their traditional dress. Every school/caste had a leader who held the Nepali flag and behind them were 2 others holding either the school or caste flag. I went around taking pictures before the parade or ‘rally’ (we had originally though they meant a car rally) began. In very slow procession everybody left the football grounds and headed up towards the ‘high street’ of Besisahar. From here we walked all the way to the other side of the town where the festival was set up. It took about 2 hours to get there and only 15 minutes to get back which slows how quickly we were making progress! It was so nice to see the streets completely lined with onlookers who seemed to take a genuine interest in everyone taking part in the parade. It once again showed just how supportive the whole community here is of each other! When we finally walked into the festival area, I turned my head to the left as our school was announced and saw hundreds of faces staring back! I had no idea the festival was going to be so big. It was heaving inside and Freya and Olivia headed off to find Sam (which miraculously they did) while I stayed with Purna and some of the school pupils. Sam, Freya and Olivia couldn’t then find us so went to find something to eat while I watched all the teachers from Chandi get on a very precarious looking Ferris Wheel manually controlled by one man. They had asked if I wanted to go but I could just see something terrible happening if I did (and I don’t think my travel insurance would have covered it). The teachers all got off looking absolutely petrified and feeling very dizzy (not like the Big Wheel at Winter Wonderland)! Sam and the girls managed to find us and Olivia and Sam both got on the wheel while I went to find Momos to eat. Momos are dumplings stuffed, on this occassion, with buffalo and they are absolutely delicious. I will miss them so much when I get home and they are so complicated to make that I don’t even think I will try. It was so dusty and polluted inside due to the generators powering the rides that it made it even harder for me to breathe. I wasn’t in best spirits but the whole experience was enjoyable – if it hadn’t been so far down the hill and we hadn’t been so tired we probably would have returned on Saturday. No problem though as the festival lasts for 10 days and there is a wrestling match on the 9th! The festival is put on to promote agriculture and business in the district so there are plenty of stalls for buying fresh produce as well as plenty of places to eat, things to see (magic show and a circus) and rides to enjoy. It does remind me a bit of a very warm the German market and Winter Wonderland.

The genorosity of the Nepali people is incredible. On Saturday afternoon we had a teacher from Bhupu round to play cards and he brought with him his laptop and a Wifi extender so that we can always have Wifi in the house. He left his laptop with us saying that he had one he could use at school. I couldn’t believe that he had just leant us his laptop. Thank you, Shiva!

I have starting my yoga practice again on the roof of our builiding. The views are simply stunning! We found out that it is is actually part of someone’s flat but he has kindly let us use it to practice yoga and baske in the glorious sunshine! I have also been reading a lot in the last two days as I haven’t really left the house. I am reading Anna Karenina and am really enjoying it. It isn’t nice being ill but it is nice just to be able to relax for a while and get some well needed Vitamin D!

On a side note I seem to be making a habit of getting locked out of places. On Saturday night, none of us could be bothered to cook so we decided that we would go out for a meal. We left at around 7.30pm and our food came some time after 9pm. The food was delicious and we had a lovely time but on our return home we realised that the gate leading into our house had been padlocked from the inside. We obviously missed a curfew that we hadn’t realised existed! Sam bravely said he would jump the fence but after a teacher at my school had done the same and impailed his leg, we wouldn’t let him. There was also no hope of him jumping any of the surrounding walls as they have all been covered in glass – at least we now feel safe knowing that intruders cannot get in! We were just about to call Gaurav to get our landlord’s phone number when our upstairs neighbour must have heard us and came to let us in. I will try my upmost not to let this happen again.

I hope everything is well with you all at home and sorry that the start of this entry sounded much like a geography lesson, I wanted to make it a bit more informative!

Lots of love,

Emma xx