Sunday, July 28, 2013

A is for pomegranate.

(From 24 July 2013)
Only two days in and my Nepali language skills have grown exponentially. Learning how to write devanagari (deh-van-AG-ar-e) script reminds me of learning to count in other bases. Not knowing the basics- like the alphabet- is humbling, but already understanding the larger concept makes progress exhilaratingly quick.
Today we learned our first phonemes: a, aa, ka, kaa, ma, and maa. There’s a picture below with some of the devanagari characters, the English letter(s) they represent, and an English word where the beginning sound is a good approximation of the phoneme. (Keep in mind that I'm just learning to write the characters, let alone write them on the touch screen of my computer!)

The best part is learning the Nepali words that typically go with each letter. A is for anaar (pomegranate), AA is for aama (mother), KA is for kamal (lotus flower), and MA is for maachhaa (fish). It’s a weird concept to wrap your head around.

Besides learning how to read and write, we have also done a lot of work with listening and speaking. Mostly key phrases and simple conversations, but even a few words in Nepali can help you get the lower “local prices” as opposed to the much higher amounts casually paid by unassuming tourists. Someday when the internet is being cooperative I will try to upload a video so you can hear ali ali (a little) Nepali.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Preparing to Teach

(From 22 July 2013)
Today was the first day of orientation. We reviewed Fulbright policies and opened a bank account this morning. Then we ate a delicious lunch including my first daal bhat. I’m working on readjusting to super spicy foods, like I ate with my host family in Cameroon, and Everest sized portions. The afternoon was our first of many trainings with Christine Stone.
Remember that song from Aladdin? Something about “you’ve never met a guy like me” – that is Christine. She has been in Nepal for 30-something years working with students and teachers and even doing some government curriculum work. (I already love her because she has held many of my dream jobs!) Her British accent makes her especially charming, and to complete the picture she rides around Kathmandu on a bicycle with her border collie running alongside. Oh, and did I mention she’s in her seventies!

On top of being a fascinating, and funny, person, Christine also has such a deep wisdom to share. Listening to her speak about Nepal evoked myriad expressions. She clearly has a pure love for this country and its people. She balances respect for Nepali culture with an urgent desire to bring outside ideas into classrooms where learning is rarely student-centered.
Standing with Christine and the box of flashcards she gave all of us.
Listening to Christine describe the various classrooms she has taught in, and the relationships she has built with students – my chest felt like it would explode with anticipation. I feel the same way I did in the weeks leading up to student teaching; ready to try, ready to fail, ready to learn, ready to teach.

There is no way for me to know what kind of impact, if any, I will have in my school. More often I think about how this experience will influence the way I relate to students in the United States. But even though I’m not working towards a specific objective, I have never been so confident that I am where I am meant to be. 

“The best days of your life are now.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One Quick Update

I'm definitely getting settled and really enjoying my time in Kathmandu. It's a beautifully disgusting, muddy, fascinating, welcoming, and wonderful city.

A view of the city and the mountains.

Standing in front of the Fulbright building with my new bag.

Dinner with Toni Mullens, the English Language Fellow in Nepal, and her husband.
It appears that my access to the internet will be limited to times when I have wifi access, and next week we head to Gorkha so I'm not sure how frequent that will be. But now that I'm over my jet lag I'll try to keep the posts coming :)

If you are praying, keep myself and my friend Sydney on your minds. (Sydney is the one at the head of the table in the picture above.) We enjoyed some delicious lemon iced tea last night, assured that the ice was safe, and it hasn't really been sitting well with either of us. Nothing terribly unusual, but a bummer none the less. Fortunately we are headed to the clinic for a medical briefing this afternoon so we'll be able to get any answers to our relevant questions.


Monday, July 22, 2013


“…there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” Jhumpa Lahiri

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Notes from the Sky

5:22pm _ Newark Airport

I am sitting at gate C90. The woman to my right has finally returned to reading her book. She stopped for 10 minutes and amusedly watched me repack my carry-on backpack after some last minute rearranging to get my checked bag back down to 50 pounds. (50.5lbs. if you want to be specific, but the man at the counter let it slide through.) Oh, and by last minute rearranging I mean frantic tearing out of all things. I managed to get one of my hiking boots to stay in the checked suitcase. Unfortunately, my carry-on now weighs a whopping 35lbs so we’ll see if I can sneak it past Swiss Air and their 8kg (18lbs) weight limit when I get to Zurich. I have no intention of paying for extra luggage and several strategies if problems arise: putting on more and more layers of clothing – including the one hiking boot if necessary – going into great detail about how I’m travelling to Nepal, crying, and/or making vague references to the US Consumer Protection Act. Because if you break it down, I’m taking two bags for eight months; do the division and consider whether you could live for a month on just the things in a quarter of one carry-on bag…even if it is a little oversized.


5:32pm _ Newark Airport
There is a baby. A screaming baby. At my gate. I am worried.


9:01pm (3:00am Zurich) _ 37,012ft Up
Good news. No crying babies, at least not yet. I did spot a young’un a few rows up but she seems very content at this point. Keep your fingers crossed.

I just finished a surprisingly delicious dinner of salad, pasta, and meatballs. I’m sitting in row 38 and the chicken dish was going quickly so I’m glad the pasta was at least on par with Phelps food because I didn’t have much of a choice. But don’t think I’m unhappy a mere three rows from the back. By choosing an aisle seat with no one in the window, I did manage to get a doubly comfortable ride and I don’t feel bad about it because there are 5 people across the aisle sprawled out over three seats. The airline blanket is quite warm and my compression socks mimic the weight of an extra thick comforter so I’m feeling rather cozy.

I’ve already watched a movie, I must have been 45 minutes in before the plane took off, and now that I’ve eaten I think I’ll walk a lap or two around the plane and settle in for a long nap.


9:24pm (3:24 Zurich) _ 11,280m Up

Just as I was closing my eyes I realized that I hadn’t read my notes and cards! Forget napping! I jumped up, dug through my back-up and continued to read by the light of my computer since the cabin lights have just dimmed.

The letters are beautiful. Beautiful. They touched my heart, made me laugh, brought tears to my eyes. For everyone who sent a card or a note or a hand colored picture, thank you. There are still MANY cards – in fact I believe the other package weighs at least a pound – to open, some on the plane and others scattered throughout the upcoming weeks and months. I look forward to all the little rays of Bucks County sunshine.

Now, about that nap.


3:52am (9:52am Zurich) _ Zurich Airport
I’m off the plane and hallelujah. After 5 ½ hours I was DEFINITELY jealous of the people with three seats instead of two. Two seats is just enough to taunt you with the idea of being able to stretch out, without really being able to do so completely. But I digress, perhaps because I didn’t sleep nearly as much as I might have hoped to on an overnight flight.

I did find success in meeting up with Peter, another Fulbright ETA headed to Nepal. Currently we are camped out at a random gate. Our flight to Delhi doesn’t board until 12:10pm Zurich time, so we’ve got another three hours to kill.


6:20pm (3:49am Delhi) _ Delhi Airport
Sorry my writing has kind of dropped off. My sense of day/time/place are faltering. Things are still very surreal. I am living in a weird time warped universe.

I did manage to get in and out of customs in India in hopes of increasing my likelihood of getting another visa to come back at the end of my grant. Getting into India was uneventful, and getting back through customs for the flight to Kathmandu wasn’t too bad. I did have to completely unpack my giant backpack in search of “many metal objects.” Turns out you are not allowed to carry any extra batteries when you are leaving India so my bag of extra double and triple A’s are gone. Oh well. What matters is that I have two lovely stamps in my passport – and more to come very soon!
(Sorry, no pictures yet. I promise things will get better!! Still working on the internet situation.)