Friday, August 30, 2013

Mero Ghar

Mero Ghar = My House
Meh-row gar (rhymes with bar)

Click on any of the pictures below to see them larger.

Technically two houses, both owned by my family. We live in the more modern house that you can just see peeking out behind the one in front. Follow the sidewalk to the left of the house with the blue shutters (old house).

My bedroom. I love love love the giant window, even if the old house obscures a lot of my view.

The living room. There is currently no furniture because my family just moved over from the old house. Most Nepali families, especially those with enough money for two houses, have couches and coffee tables etc.

The view from the backdoor. This is what I see when I wash dishes.
One view from the rooftop.
Looking the other direction; you can see the neighbors more traditional brick house.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


It seems like there are lots of “uns” in my life right now. Unimaginably beautiful landscapes everywhere I look that are constantly evolving under the rain, sun, and fog. Unfortunately large quantities of rice making their way through my digestive system. Unanswerable questions about development, equality, worth, virtue, etc. (Seemingly) unutterable phonemes differentiating one letter from another in this language that I am struggling to teach my tongue, and uncoordinated attempts at conversation. Undrinkable water. Unexplored paths. Ungrammatical lists of uns.
Separate from all of the uns that I am confronting, tomorrow I’m teaching my first real lesson on the topic of uncountables.
Prepping all of my flashcards -- thanks again to Christine Stone!
If you are unfamiliar (ha! that wasn’t even intentional!) with English grammar, uncountables are things like rice, paper, wood, and jam that you have “some of” rather than “one of.” As in “kind sir, may I please have some kerosene?” It’s kind of a tricky topic but I’ve got vibrantly colored flashcards and a solid lesson plan to support me. And even if all sorts of chaos breaks loose, I will not allow myself to come unraveled.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Weekly Recap

Here is what I composed while lying in bed with a fever in a feeble attempt to catch-up after a week of blog delinquency. I really do promise that things will get better soon, or at least I have very strong intentions of that happening.


Monday – New Home
Arrive in Godavari and am confronted with my first plate of rice within five minutes of entering my homestay. Imagine a plate (in America you would probably refer to something this size as a platter) at least 12 inches in diameter. Now fill at least half the plate with a mound of rice three inches tall. Add lentils and broth. Eat. Just as you triumphantly glimpse a shimmer that must mean you are nearing the bottom of rice mountain… your host mom kindly spoons “just a little more” in front of you. (And to be clear, what is considered a little more in Nepal is definitely the equivalent of a complete second helping where I live.)

Tuesday – First day at my school!
Turns out to be an exam day so only the upper level students are there and they are literally just taking exams all day. I watched for awhile and then went home.

Wednesday – Raksha Bandhan (no school)

Thursday – Gaijatra (no school)

Friday – Return to school to administer a listening and speaking exam for students in grades 9 and 10. Basically, I sat at a desk in the hallway with 3-4 other teachers, and students were called one at a time to come and answer a series of questions with one of us. Questions ranged from basic introduction to giving directions on a map or telling a story in the past tense. I tried to smile extra nicely at my students who I’m sure were cursing in their minds when they walked out and realized they had to speak with that weird foreign girl with the crazy American accent.

 Saturday – Saturday (no school)
Brave the public bus system to go into Kathmandu with my host sister and another ETA, Sydney, to get blouses ordered for saris. Apparently everyone wears a sari at Tij, an upcoming women’s holiday, so I needed to prepare. My host mom was disappointed that I did not get a shiny/sparkly sari blouse, but I’m very content with the plain red one; I don’t think I need bedazzlements to attract attention to myself. I promise to post a photo when everything comes in from the tailor.

Sunday – school
Yes, that’s right. I might have a million seemingly-random holidays and I don’t have to be at work until 10, but the normal school week is Sunday-Friday so it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. This was my first real day and I was so excited to see the students, meet more of the teachers, observe some classes, and get a regular schedule mapped out; my American upbringing has resulted in a strong craving for routine and punctuality that is difficult to fulfill here. I will write more about the school itself in another post; let’s just say I still have a lot of questions at the end of day one. Perhaps I would know more if I hadn’t missed the next two days of school…home sick.

Monday and Tuesday – bacteria in my belly
Headache + nausea + fever + “southern internal disturbance” = trip to the clinic. Unfortunately, all of my tests came back inconclusive which is good because I probably don’t have typhoid or hepatitis A (seriously though, that is good news), but bad because I don’t know exactly what is causing such unhappiness in my body. Hopefully a few days of cipro and some strict dietary adjustments will get me back on track.

Wednesday – no school
I’m not even sure why tomorrow is a holiday, but it will be nice to have one more day of recovery before I head back to school. (Correction – today was Krisna’s birthday so that’s why we didn’t have school.)

So this week, if you can, enjoy a glass of potable water straight from the tap and think of me J

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rainy with a Chance of Earthquake

My life in the United States is largely insulated from the weather. I turn up the central heat when it snows, dart from car to building beneath the shelter of an umbrella, and chill in the comfort of air conditioning all summer long. So learning to accommodate the Nepali monsoon season is a new phenomenon for me.

You can be sitting in a café or waiting for a taxi and suddenly you’ll notice that the sky is a little darker than it was before. In the time it takes you to think that simple sentence, it will be raining cats and dogs… no rhinos and elephants. I was only in Cameroon for a few serious rainstorms, but the response here is the same as it was there: find the nearest doorway and wait it out. And to be honest, it’s really freeing. It’s nice not to have to rush through pummeling raindrops and leap over puddles because you have a 2:00 meeting and you can’t be late. It’s nice to stop and savor an extra 30 minutes to sit and read. It wouldn’t surprise me if a shopkeeper brought out tea if I ever found myself barricaded by a wall of water inside a little store.

In any case, here’s a little sampling of the monsoon. Just keep in mind that these pictures only represent times when I could take out my camera…so the heaviest rains aren’t represented.

Do you see the wake that motorcycle is leaving?

**Due to realistic description of risk, the following content may be inappropriate for some readers, parents and grandparents are advised to stop reading and check back later for a happier post.**
If you are unfamiliar with Nepal’s geography, the northern border is formed by the Himalayas. Having the world’s most majestic mountain range comes with certain risks, like a large magnitude earthquake roughly every 70-80 years.
You don’t have to be in Kathmandu very long to learn that geologically, a significant earthquake is overdue. But there’s no way to predict whether it will happen tonight, tomorrow, or two generations from now. It’s the kind of uncertainty that can paralyze you if you let it; especially if you take a minute to think about the compromised structural integrity of most of Kathmandu thanks to the well-intentioned, but poorly executed, road widening project. (Basically, the front three feet of buildings were shaved off to make more space for traffic, which really means that the whole city is a construction zone.)
Rather than packing my bags, I choose to take reasonable precautions without letting fear cripple my experience. The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has a long doom-and-gloom speech because it’s their job to prepare for the worst case scenario, but I don’t want to live in a state of constant anxiety.
Fortunately, the Fulbright commission in Nepal has done much preparation for me. Let me introduce the “Go Bag.” According to the Embassy, everyone should have at least one go bag containing the supplies necessary to survive an earthquake and several days/weeks following. Ideally it will include food, water, materials for building a shelter and keeping warm, a light source, first aid kit, and a crow bar.
The commission was kind enough to provide each of the Fulbright grantees with a fully-equipped “go bag” including the above and more. But when you add up five kilograms of food, a tarp, an axe, blankets, and other supplies you don’t get a go bag…you get a go barrel.

I’m not kidding. Barrel.

Some important considerations for making the most of a Go Barrel:
  • Keep it outside. Mostly to attract the attention of all the neighbors, but also just in case the house crumbles during the quake. It would be pretty depressing to know that you have everything you need to survive, but it’s buried beneath a large pile of rubble.
  • Keep it locked. You wouldn’t want your emergency supplies to be stolen.
  • Since it’s locked, think carefully about where you keep the key since it would also be really unfortunate to get to your go bag safely outside with all the supplies intact and not be able to open the barrel of life.
When the earthquake happens, it will undoubtedly devastate this city and country that I have come to love. People’s lives will shatter. It’s the kind of destruction that I cannot even fathom. Please do not misinterpret this post as making light of a genuine risk. But to cope with the uncertainty, I choose to laugh at myself, and my big blue barrel.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

First Day Jitters

Last week Wednesday was like the final exam for orientation. In three teams, the nine ETAs took over grades 3-5 at a school south of Patan, just outside Kathmandu. It was a time to get our feet wet in a low risk scenario since we’ll never see those kids again (which is actually really unfortunate since they were ADORABLE!)

If you’ve ever met me in person, you can probably guess that I was pretty stoked about the whole thing. My team (Virginia, Kelly, and me) wrote a great two day lesson covering some simple verbs, every day places, and directions. We had visual aids, interactive motions, and several exciting games planned for “no more than 20-25 at the absolute most” class four students.

In case you forgot, this is Nepal.

1.       Upon arriving at the school, we learned that the three groups would not be teaching in grades 4-6 but instead grades 3-5; which how our lesson slid down a grade to class three.

2.       Our classroom had 29 students clamoring for our attention, not counting the crowd that stood by the door until the school assistant shooed them away. Thank goodness I am always over prepared and just happened to have prepped for 30 students.

3.       Due to subtle differences between British English and American English, we were surprised when we asked the students to “skip” and all of them mimed using a jump rope. Fortunately, our lesson was flexible enough to allow for changing the meaning of one of the key verbs.

4.       Towards the end of our first lesson, I announced to all of the students that we would be back tomorrow to teach them again! But was interrupted by several students with confused wrinkles on their faces saying “tomorrow is holiday!” So our two day lesson was abruptly truncated.

Flexibility is an important disposition for any teacher, and a foundational skill for a teacher in Nepal. But even amidst what might sound like, and might have looked like, chaos it was a joy-filled afternoon.

The students were beyond eager; enthusiasm billowed out of them even more tangibly than the exhaust from microbuses in Kathmandu. When we tried to get them to respond silently by pointing at one of the pictures we hung around the room, many had to fight hard not to shout out the name of the place. But they listened to everything we said, picked up on how to play Simon Says and Four Corners really fast, and called out “Miss! Miss!” to show us their paper every time they drew another picture or wrote another word. It was beautiful and I loved it.

If you are reading this post on Tuesday August 20, 2013, know that it is the first official day at my placement school. I'll be meeting the students and teachers I'll be working with until March. I’m not sure exactly what my day will look like but the anticipation is building…just like the pressure between the Earth’s two plates whose fault line Nepal straddles so precariously :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Moving Day!

So long Kathmandu. Hello Godavari.
**Click on the pictures below to see them larger.**

Yellow pin: where I've been staying / Pink: the Fulbright office / Blue: Dhapakel / Green: my new home
Gorkha is where six of the other ETAs will be living and teaching. It's about 6 hours from the pink pin.

Here's a picture taken from the road near Dhapakel (the bright blue pin on the map -- not Gorkha). 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Americans have fat hands and I must love dogs.

Our language teacher, Prava, writing in Devanagari.
Since returning from Gorkha last week a lot has happened. I am now capable of maintaining a delightful conversation with a taxi driver including who I am, what I’m doing in Nepal, and a brief description of my family back in America. Depending on his ability to throw in a little bit of English occasionally, I can also competently respond to other random queries, no one says questions here, or ask about his life/family. I am slowly mastering the many consonants, half consonants, vowels, and symbolic vowels of Devanagari. Unfortunately I read so slowly that I can only decipher signs when I am stuck in dense traffic; simply called a jam. 

Some of the ETAs during language class in the Fulbright office.

My wardrobe has expanded significantly, and I’m growing concerned that I won’t be able to fit everything into my suitcase when I move to my host family’s house (gaur) in ten days. I may have to resort to my airplane strategy of wearing everything I own rather than packing it. Oh well, the kurta suruwals and other items are well worth it.
My wonderful tailor, Shanti.

Bangles are another customary fashion statement for women in Nepal, especially as we approach the festival of tij at the end of August. Unfortunately, Americans have thulo thulo haat (really really big hands) and getting the tiny plastic bracelets over so many giant knuckles can be a challenge. Some quick tips if you ever encounter this problem:

1.       Whatever you do, do NOT try to use the hand you are putting the bracelets on to help the process. Keep this hand/arm as relaxed as possible.

2.       Consider holding the arm awaiting bangles straight up in the air in order to drain the blood out of it prior to attempting to put them on.

3.       Lotion and/or soap will make the impossible suddenly seem possible.

4.       If all else fails, surrender your arm to two kind and determined saleswomen so that one can use both hands to squish your fingers together while the other expertly guides the bangles over your extraordinarily fat American hands.

In the end the bangles look lovely, and the green and yellow colors are supposed to help me attract a suitable husband and a prosperous life!
Sparkly and glamorous.
I actually happened upon this particular bangle shop completely by accident. I had started out on a mission to explore the rest of the neighborhood, beyond the road where we turn to reach the apartment. Rumor has it there is a large community forest over there where “everyone” goes to walk in the morning that we had no idea even existed. Upon rounding the corner I did discover an elegant stone stairway leading up to a large gate. I assumed that I would not be able to enter, but had hoped to climb the staircase and find a nice spot near the top to sit, journal, and study Nepali. When I suddenly found myself trapped in a memory from Cameroon… alone, on the street, being aggressively pursued by street dogs.

I clearly just emanate fear of dogs so strongly that they can’t help but come running (although this is the first time I have had any real trouble and there have been LOTS of dogs around.) Anyways, I was standing in the middle of the street trying to shoo them away, yelling no, and using my shopping bag as a kind of shield. The dogs were alarmingly persistent twice they jumped up and snapped at my arms. Fortunately none of these dogs were clever enough to take a hunk out of my leg like their Cameroonian cousin. I stared hopelessly at a nearby group of people, whose eyes seemed to express sympathy, but they took no action. I ended up walking over and positioning myself between two of the men; naturally my canine groupies followed, but now that the dogs had infringed upon their personal space the bystanders were more motivated to get involved. After a good kick, some thrown water, and two guys aggressively running towards the dogs waving their arms like they were going to throw rocks… the dogs slunk away.

I stalled by having a pleasant conversation with the man next to me about the temple at the top of the stairs across the road while I waited to make sure the dogs were really gone. Then I continued walking and hoped that by the time I turned around to go home the dogs would have escaped to India or been sat on by a cow roaming the streets nearby.

Thankfully, I am writing this from the safety of my own dog-free apartment not from an emergency room waiting to explain to the doctors that I have already had the full series of rabies shots in another country. Then again, collecting a scar from a street dog in every country I visit would make for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Since it's the monsoon season there has been some precipitation; hopefully my bottled water was still safe!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


We saw an elephant on the way out of Kathmandu.

One of many breathtaking views on the way.

Lunch at a restaurant about halfway between Kathmandu and Gorkha.

Bettlenuts and fennel, to clean your teeth after a meal. The fennel is great, but the nuts mostly remind me of pebbles. I chewed/sucked on mine for at least 35 minutes, and it still wasn't soft enough to swallow.

A panoramic view from our hotel in Gorkha.

A poster depicting the ethnic diversity across Nepal, found in one of our school visits.

Me and the Nepali flag outside one of the possible school placements.

The view on the way up to the old palace in Gorkha.

The old palace.

Rice fields coming down the other side of the "hill."

Himalayas, no big deal.

Kids waving to us as we visited homestays in Gorkha.

I could get used to this view.

Gorka bazaar, kind of like the city center.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sunday, Busy Sunday

(From 28 July 2013)
Today was a whirlwind of a day. After a memorable dinner last night at the Pretty Family Restaurant in Patan, the five of us staying in Lazimpat spent the night with the other four ETAs who are living in Dhobighat during our orientation month. A fun, but late, night combined with all of today’s activities has left me totally wiped. Here’s a minute-by-minute replay of my ninth day in Nepal.

5:15am  -- Wake up.
5:30am  -- Leave the house in Dhobighat for a morning hike up  nearby “hill.” The view from the lookout point part way up was spectacular; I could have stayed there all day just staring out and marveling at the sprawl of the Kathmandu Valley gently cloaked in fog.
7:00am  -- Arrive at the temple at the top of the hill. More marveling. The stupa mixed both Hindu and Buddhist symbols and traditions. I won’t try to describe anything because I don’t have the words to appropriately convey the experience. (I did get permission from someone at the stupa to take a few pictures, but sometimes they’re crooked because I was mainly shooting from the hip.)


7:35am  -- Just before leaving the stupa my camera battery died. I do have pictures, thanks to the generosity of other wonderful ETAs who let me mooch off their digital power all day long. Unfortunately, I don't have any of those pictures yet. So....sorry.
8:30am  -- Happen upon a great little café and enjoy some warm banana bread for breakfast.
10:00am  -- Look like fools standing on the side of the road waiting for our tour bus. Look like even bigger fools when attempting to convince the wrong bus driver that he was looking for us, when he was there for another group. We’re not the only tourists in Nepal?!?

10:12am  -- Get picked up by the right van and head to Patan Durbar Square. There are three Durbar (palace) squares in the Kathmandu Valley, one in each of the three original kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapour. I was amazed by all of the intricate carvings on the various palace buildings. Every single window has delicate patterns surrounding it, and the support beams along the roof depict various scenes of gods and goddesses. Thinking about how long it takes me to write a devanagari character with a modern ball point pen…it’s astounding to imagine people etching the same delicate curves into wood or limestone.

11:43am  -- Arrive at the base of Swayambhunath. This large stupa is high up on a hill to the west of Kathmandu. From the top you can look out over the entire city. This location is also known as “monkey temple” because of all the little monkeys that can be seen all around the stupa. I wish I could have adopted a baby monkey, but they are kind of aggressive.

1:35pm  --  After Swayambhu, we drove to the northeast side of Kathmandu to visit Boudannath. If you have been paying attention you might be able to predict that this is a temple dedicated to Buddha. The entire stupa is surrounded by little souvenir shops, clothing stores, art schools where you can purchase mandalas, and restaurants. We had lunch at a rooftop café overlooking Boudannath. My ratatouille was beyond delicious.

2:30pm  -- It’s a Buddhist tradition to circumambulate the stupa, always keeping it to the right side of your body. After lunch we walked around two levels of the stupa. One of my favorite parts of this location was walking beneath a massive canopy of prayer flags. Red, green, yellow, and blue, they were draped all the way to the top of the stupa.

4:45pm  --  After the tour, several of us went into the tourist area of Kathmandu called Thamel (tah-mel). We visited Revolution Café and sat on pillows at a low table on a raised platform. You often see this kind of seating alongside tables and chairs. Rather than dinner we enjoyed dessert; I had a crepe with chocolate ice cream. Well worth it.

5:30pm  -- Post dessert, we headed to Pilgrims Book Store looking for a child’s workbook for devanagari. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful, but I did find some Nepali folktale collections.

8:00pm  -- By evening it was time to go home and pack for Monday’s trip to Gorkha. It was loadshedding until 9:30 so I showered and packed by headlamp.

I went to bed at 9:45pm after drafting the first bit of this entry. Now it’s Monday morning and the bus is coming in a few minutes. More to come later!