What I’ve learned from my time in Besisahar

The end of my time here in Besisahar is rapidly approaching so I thought that I would take some time to reflect on what I have learned these past few months and what I have gained from the teaching experience.

I guess an obvious starting point would be the impact my teaching has had on the children as that is primarily what I’m here for. Just hearing me talk to them has helped the pupils’ pronunciation improve dramatically. Trying to get them to distinguish between their f’s and their p’s has been extremely difficult but tongue twisters such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” have been useful as the pupils seem to enjoy them and don’t notice that they’re learning. The whole class usually ends up in fits of giggles. However, I’m not a qualified English teacher and so I haven’t really enjoyed teaching the grammar side of the English language. Some of the pupils know more grammar than me (which is shameful but true) and the English teachers here are better equipped to do so. I’ve loved teaching them about British culture for example on Ash Wednesday Olivia and I taught Grade 9 about Easter and then explained how it is celebrated today. They really enjoyed the lesson and it was helpful having Binod, one of the school’s English teachers, there to translate. Another favourite lesson of mine was teaching Grade 2 ‘Flower of Scotland.’ Pretty early on I realised that teaching definitely wasn’t for me, which is useful I guess because I’m going to study medicine, so my focus has been more on having fun with the children and getting to know them. I feel that these conversations improve their level of English so much more than any lesson I can give. We found teaching Grade 2 extremely difficult as their level of English was so poor and they have so much energy that our lessons just became relay races in their playground. With the older grades (7, 8 and 9) we found that taking a group of 6 (usually 3 boys and 3 girls) out of the class and sitting and chatting with them on the grass was much more valuable than teaching out of their textbook. Marriage was always a hot topic – ‘Do you believe in arranged marriage?’, ‘What do you think of the dowry system?’, ‘Do you want a love marriage?’ and soon we were getting updates on when any pupil was married. A particularly memorable time was as I was walking down the stairs from the staff room on my way to Grade 9’s conversation class Binod stopped me saying that he ‘had some information for me.’ He then proceeded to tell me that a 13 year old boy in Grade 6 had just married a 15 year old girl in Grade 8 at the next school and it was a love marriage. I think we’ve made more of an impact on the teacher’s English which was in some cases already very good. You can tell the teachers that are keen to improve their English as they are the ones we’ve become closest to as they are constantly inviting us round to their houses.
Being here has confirmed for me just how warm and hospitable the Nepalese people are. I was told before I left home how welcoming they would be and how I would feel at home very quickly but I thought it would be very hard to adjust to a whole new country. The teachers made the settling in period so much easier for us by teaching us to cook, showing us where to shop and telling us the Nepali price of items. One thing that struck me when I first arrived was how developed Besisahar is. I had expected to find a much smaller town but you can pretty much find anything you would want here – except Nutella! The way that AV had described a small town with a few trekkers’ shops and hotels didn’t really do the size of the town justice.

I’ve learned just how hard teaching really is – so kudos to all of you out there reading this especially those teaching at a primary level. My biggest regret is not having made more of an effort to learn Nepali. I started off reasonably well in Kathmandu but after a few weeks I became really lazy and stopped learning. It’s no excuse but it is hard because everyone here wants to practice their English and so even if you ask them a question in Nepali, they reply in English.

I have definitely become more independent. I’ve learned a lot about living with a small group of people. We’ve had a cooking and washing up rota but never a cleaning one so Sam and I always end up emptying the bin, compost bin and toilet paper. I’ve never done so many chores in all my life! We’ve had our fall outs but have dealt with them pretty well and we’ve only had one major fight. It is a very odd situation to be in: four strangers living together and having to get on with each other. I have gained so much confidence and my public speaking has improved a lot. I’ve learned to think on the spot when teaching which should prove a useful skill as a doctor. Arranging public transport was one of the most daunting things when we first arrived and now we can quite happily arrange buses to places. I will miss the public buses with crazy conductors, insanely skilled drivers and the messages written on the back of them like ‘Road king’ or ‘Miss you.’ I do take for granted the straight roads in Edinburgh and I’m sure I’ll feel a lot safer on the roads after being here. I’ve also really enjoyed cooking together – I’ve learned so much from everyone. Freya has taught me to add a tiny bit of sugar to onions to caramelise them and it makes them taste so delicious!

I hate to say this but I do have favourite pupils. Monoj is one. He’s the cheekiest boy in the whole school and everyone knows who he is even though he’s only in Grade 2. There’s also Permilla in Grade 2 who is just so sweet. There are two sisters; the eldest is in Grade 1, who walked to school with me almost every day just chattering away in Nepali. In Grade 9 there is Dhan Maya who is so keen to learn English. She has written Olivia and me numerous letters about her life here. She then asked every day where her reply was until we finally got around to writing one. When we did she was ecstatic. There is also Roshan in Grade 9 who is undoubtedly one of the cleverest boys in the school. He has helped us to teach numerous English classes by translating for us and explaining to the rest of his class what we want them to do. I have also grown very close to Hom who will always go out of his way to help us with something, no matter what it is and even if it means meeting us at 5am to make sure we get on the right bus. He is one of the kindest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I know that we will remain in contact for many more years to come. Ben and Binod have also been extremely kind to us and are also willing to go out of their way to help us but that just seems to be the Nepali way. I have loved helping Binod with all his amazing projects. Purna did her best to make us feel welcome when we first arrived and helped us to buy our kurthas and sarees. On our third night she told me that she would be my “Nepali mother” and that if I ever needed anything that I should just ask. Her sons Ram and Laxman have also provided hours of entertainment as they are both so funny. Nirmal and his family have treated us like part of their family and I consider Nirmal my “Nepali father.” One of the best trips I have been on here was going to Nirmal and Rosmilla’s villages and meeting their families. I would have loved to have stayed longer and fully immersed myself in village life – I was so upset when I couldn’t help to milk the buffalo! Chandra and Sanu (Man Maya) have practically become my Nepali sisters and Chandra’s daughter, Preeti, and son, Laxmi, have welcomed us into their home on numerous occasions.

Some things I won’t miss are the squat loo (my flexibility has definitely increased) and cold showers which are fine at the end of a hot day but are rather unpleasant first thing in the morning when the sun has only just come up. I’m also looking forward to my shutters so that I can sleep past 6am. I haven’t quite got the hang of the Nepali way of getting up before the sun has risen and going to sleep soon after it has set. I’m also looking forward to light meals like salads as again I haven’t quite gotten used to two huge meals a day with only a few snacks in between. I definitely won’t miss seeing children being caned as their punishment. I will miss the slower pace of life where people make time for each other. Life back in the UK seems so hectic with people always rushing around and never really stopping to relax and enjoy time with others. I’ve noticed how much we as a society take for granted machinery whilst watching men and women carrying up baskets full of rocks on their heads. We don’t really see that kind of manual labour any more – it’s truly back breaking work. We see men lifting heavy things with their arms but most of the time it is just done by a fork lift truck. I will also enjoy coming back to a society where men and women are equal. At Bhupu the mothers come in at break time bringing ‘tiffin’ – snacks – in for their children. I think it says a lot about the women’s role as a housewife here. The only jobs that I have heard of women doing here are shopkeepers, nurses, teachers and receptionists but things are improving as more women go to school and on to college.

There are so many aspects of the Nepalese way of life that I value and that we have lost in our Western culture. Family, family, family. It’s really hard here to work out whether people are actually related or whether they just say they are. People call everyone ‘Dai’ – older brother, ‘Didi’ – older sister, ‘Bai’ – younger brother or ‘Bahini’ – younger sister. It seems such a nice way to refer to each other and it’s so inclusive which brings me on to my next point about community. The sense of community here is so strong – everyone knows everyone else and I think that is helped by the fact that there are still multiple shops along the “high” street including green grocers and butchers and people do their shopping daily. There are no supermarkets here! There are also so many weddings and celebrations where many people come together to sing and dance and eat good food. They definitely appreciate health above wealth whereas I sometimes get the impression that money is everything in our society, which is so sad.

I will definitely be crying come Saturday when we board our bus to Kathmandu and have to say our final farewells to everyone. It will be weird travelling around the rest of the country for a month but not having a home here in Besisahar to come back to!

I will definitely be returning to Nepal and I will make every effort to come back to Besisahar each time I do visit (I plan to be back many times) as I now feel like I have family here.

I’m excited for the next stage of my adventure. I start the Annapurna Circuit Trek on Tuesday which I am very excited but also very nervous about and then Sam and I will spend some time in Pokhara paragliding, white water rafting and canyoning before visiting Bandipur, the Manakamana cable car and Bhaktapur on the way back to Kathmandu. I fly home in just over a month! I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone but I guess ‘time flies when you’re having fun.’ I remember first arriving at our house and lying in bed that night thinking ‘3 months is such a long time – it’s going to go so slowly.’ Now I’m wishing that I had more time to spend here. It feels like we’ve only been here a few weeks!

I hope all is well at home!

Lots of love to all,

Emma xxxx