Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ekdam Raamro

From Saturday September 14, 2013

Last night, my sister Rashmee asked me if I was interested in joining her for a hike with some of her friends. It sounded like a casual affair, and I was honored to be invited, so I said sure. The next morning my host dad raised some concerns about whether or not I would be able to make it.

"It's very steep. The trail is like this..." (puts hand almost vertical) "...and it will be hard."

I swallowed a little stiffer, threw some motrin in my backpack, and walked out the door with my sister.

(Side note: overnight there was a HUGE rainstorm. The drain on the roof became clogged. The roof flooded. The roof door opened. Water poured down all three flights of stairs. It was a huge mess... think buckets everywhere, bailing water, squeegeeing carpets, wringing out giant towels. My hiking boots, which I keep under the stairs, ended up with two inches of water inside them. I didn't realize this until the next morning so they had approximately one hour in the sun (and some newspaper jammed into the toes) to dry out. I was actually pretty impressed because I didn't have any problems with them being wet.)

Anyway, the hike was amazing. Ekdam Raamro means very good, very lovely. I'm not a super outdoorsy person, but the views were breathtaking and I even appreciated the sensation of having accomplished the climb. We walked about ten kilometers, and with the verticality it took us from 9am until 3pm (with some breaks).

I came home with a full memory card. Here are some of the highlights.

Looking back down to Godavari towards the beginning of the hike.

 The group on a flat section of the trail.
 A buffalo! I was pretty excited, and my host sister laughed at my excitement.
We passed by a school (the little building) at the very to top of the ridge. Glad this hike isn't my daily commute!
 R to L: me, Rashmee, and two of her friends at an overlook.
And finally one of my favorite pictures ever...
(be sure you click on it so that you can see it larger)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Little Things

When I am teaching five classes a day
When I am subbing for second grade math or first grade social studies
When I agree to start a poetry club for middle schoolers
When teachers plead with me to teach them how to draw
When I'm not sure I know how to draw

When festivals make it seem like we never have school
When I become frustrated by another broken education system
When I crave Mexican food

When the kids are out of control
When a little boy is sobbing and I don't understand his Nepali explanation
When another teacher relies on yelling or hitting to maintain a semblance of order
When I just don't feel one hundred percent

When the power is on and off like a toddler is playing with the switch
When I've eaten enough rice for all of China
When six o'clock feel especially early

It's the little things I wrap my fingers around.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


*Full disclosure: this is a long post and it doesn’t have pictures. Sorry! But if you’re willing to brave the long stretch of text I think it will be entertaining and you’ll find out how I broke my cardinal rule: don’t ever let a six year old tell you what is supposed to happen.

Today was my first experience with a Nepali bandh. The word is pronounced kind of like “bond” but with a stronger “aw” sound in the middle and a slight inhale/gasp at the end: b-AW-ndh. Literally bandh means closure. In practice, it is a fairly successful form of protest where an unhappy group of people decides to close down a certain portion of road. With the road closed to all vehicular transport, people do not go to work and most places are closed. This could mean all of Kathmandu, just a small section of the city, or any other place in the country. The bandh is “announced” which really means that it effectively travels through the grape vine, and then it may or may not happen.

Like many things in Nepal, bandhs come with a high degree of uncertainty. After hearing about the potential closure I asked many questions, to which I found very few answers.

-          Who is sponsoring the bandh?
-          Will police, ambulance, government, or tourists vehicles be allowed to travel?
-          Will our school be closed?

I really should have just conserved my oxygen because I still can’t answer any of those questions with complete certainty. Let me just tell you about the school aspect.

By American standards, today was a failure. At least 50% of the students were absent and for nursery-grade 10 there were only eight teachers, myself included! (By the way, starting in class 6 there are two or three sections for each grade so if you thought we were close to having someone to supervise each class, think again.)

When I arrived at 9:40, I was the only adult. I went to the teacher’s lounge and waited; hoping that another adult, preferably one who spoke the same language as all the students, might show up. At 10:00, the school peon rang the bell calling all the students to morning assembly. At this point I was nervous that he might ask me what to do with the two hundred children milling about, but then I decided that if no one else showed up I would either teach them all how to play the quiet game or do nothing and see how long before they just left on their own.

At 10:10, two other teachers and the principal appeared and we went outside for morning assembly. A few more adults straggled in during the meeting. The principal gave a lot of instructions in Nepali, the kids sang the national anthem, and then they filed off to their classrooms like any other day. I wandered from teacher to teacher asking “ke bhayo?” (what happened?) until I found someone who said that it had been decided that classes would run.

 If I had been principal, I would have immediately sat down and mapped out a plan for combining classes and assigning teachers. But that’s not quite how it went. Basically, each teacher grabbed an attendance book and headed to the corresponding classroom. I picked grade two because that’s normally where I start my day and I already knew that their regular teacher was not present. Since there were lots of unclaimed classrooms – meaning unsupervised children – the headsir called some of the smartest grade 10 boys and they divided up the rest. Perhaps this strategy could be employed in American schools when there aren’t enough subs, just pick your favorite student and let them teach. I don’t really know what happened in those classrooms because I had my own kiddos to worry about.

Oh, and by the way, since when I left for school that morning it had seemed pretty likely that classes would not actually run and everyone would be sent home, I had decided not to bring all of the supplies (textbooks, games, crayons, etc.) that I normally bring. Remember that book Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire? That’s about the only thing that could have made this day more ridiculous.

First period with grade two actually went pretty well. This was my second time teaching them by myself because my co-teacher was absent a few weeks ago. Plus there were only 16 kids today. We reviewed the adjectives that we have been talking about lately (fat, thin, tall, short, near, far, etc.) and then I made up a game that filled the rest of the time. When the bell rang I saw lots of teachers changing classes so I decided I should too. I created a writing and drawing assignment for the grade two students, wrote it on the board, tried to emphasize that I would be back later to make sure they did it, crossed my fingers, and left.

I spent second period with grade four. When I walked in there was an older boy standing at the front of the room, and the kids seemed under control. I asked what he was teaching and he said “nothing.” So I told him I would take this class and he could go to another room. Whether he went somewhere else or just walked home I have no idea.

This group of students is very eager (read get easily out of control with excitement) but I like them. Their regular English teacher is fantastic so they’re used to following directions and doing activities besides reading aloud in unison from the textbook. They told me the teacher had given them homework the day before so I checked it. Only two kids didn’t do it so I made them move to the back to finish the assignment; I let it slide but what really happened is that they moved to the back and copied someone else’s work so that they could join the rest of us in playing a game. But remember, there were tenth grade teachers today so standards were a little lower than usual.

We played run to the board with vocabulary words from the story they are reading, “The Very Bad Landlord.” Most of the kids really loved it, but there was one girl who was really shy and didn’t want to come when it was her turn. I was trying really hard to get her to play, and I had every intention of cheating a bit to help build her confidence, but then class ended. There is a little break between second and third period so I made all the other kids leave and kept her behind. I brought her up to the board and we practiced one-on-one the words that were up there. She actually knew a lot of them. I tried to convey that she could trust me to help and not to embarrass. I made a big deal out of shooing all the kids away from the window so that she could practice without an audience. I think she smiled at the end, either because she understood that I don’t hit kids who don’t know the answer or because I was letting her go join her friends outside.

One nice thing about teaching on my own is that I have full control over the feedback that students get when they struggle. The kids here are caught totally off guard when they don’t know how to respond to the question and I just whisper the answer so that they get to look successful in front of their peers. It’s so important for students to know what it feels like to get it right, especially the ones who are openly referred to as “very weak” or just ignored by most teachers.

Normally I don’t teach during third period, but not today. I headed back to the corridor with classes one and two. Since no one else came that way I took both classes. I quick scribbled the names of some colors on sheets of scrap paper I had grabbed during the break and motioned for all of the kids to follow me out to the courtyard.

After quickly reading over all the colors, I picked five of my most confused students. Their only job was to hold one of the papers high over their heads and I spread them out around the area. For the next 30 minutes I called out colors (or pointed to things of different colors) and the other kids ran to the corresponding sign. The whole activity attracted a lot of attention. At one point the principal, three other teachers, and some people who work at the food stand nearby were all spectating. (Remember, there were only eight teachers present so draw whatever conclusions you want about the fact that three of them decided the best use of their time was watching me try to corral the 40 students who speak the least amount of English in the entire school.)

There was only one casualty: a kid who was running with his pencil and fell so that the point stabbed into his palm. I felt really bad, but I have an especially hard time understanding crying children who are speaking Nepali so I sent him to one of the spectating adults. I think said teacher basically hit him on the back and told him stop crying. I went over and let him hold a color sign for the rest of the game.

Eventually the game lost its novelty and I ran out of creative ways to practice five colors so I lined the kids up ready to walk them back to class. They all ran, but whatever.

I decided I should spend a little more time with class one since they are small and they hadn’t had a teacher all day. Thank goodness I did have my run to the end cards (half pictures, half words). I had them work with a partner to match the words and pictures. I tried to teach two of my naughtiest boys how to share, but there is only so much you can do in one day of impromptu teaching with a language barrier.

I was just arranging the students to play a new game with the cards when two students, maybe seventh graders, came to the door. “Class one is going to…[lots of fast Nepali/English that I did not understand]” they said. I looked quite lost, but my students were all packing up their things and heading for the door. “Where are you going?” I asked. “Oh, we have to go practice running for children’s day tomorrow.”

Normally, I do not take seventh grade boys or first graders at their word. But given that tenth graders were teaching, and that yesterday (when the full staff was present) all classes had ended after third period so that the kids could practice for the Nepali equivalent of field day, it didn’t seem out of the question that another teacher would have sent the two boys to fetch the grade ones since the American teacher had clearly missed the memo on running practice.

I looked very seriously into the eyes of the smartest, most proficient English speaking girl in grade one and asked if this was true. She gave me a genuine smile and said “yes, we must go.”  And as soon as I said okay, the herd of first graders were screaming and running down the hall, across the courtyard, and out the school gate. Yes, out the school gate.

Honestly, I sort of thought I was done for the day; that the teacher who had sent the boys had organized large group games practice for the students since there weren’t enough teachers for actual instruction to take place. But I was quickly corrected when one of my co-teachers emerged from another classroom and asked something equal to “what the h*** is going on here?!?”

So there I was. Standing outside the door of a grade one class in a Nepali school, having just watched at least half of my students (and definitely all the boys) escape out the front gate with my permission. Did I know where the location for running practice was? No. Did I have any idea if my students were actually going to that mysterious location or if they were all halfway home? No. Did I know how many of the kids were gone or any of their names? No. Was I suddenly granted the ability to speak Nepali so as to explain the situation to the other teacher? No. Were the seventh grade boys who had started the whole mess anywhere to be found? Of course not.

Was any of this a problem? No.

The other teacher just told me that there was no practice today and shooed the students who hadn’t run fast enough to get away back into the classroom. I tried to ask about all the kids who were gone, but she told me just to teach the five who were left. Eventually the others came back, I don’t know who arranged that or how it happened, but whatever.

Approximately five minutes after I had a full class again more students, older girls this time, showed up at the door and said that school was closing and everyone could go home. While my students yelped with joy and grabbed their backpacks, I firmly planted myself in the doorway. No way was I going to fall for this again! But this time when I leaned out into the hallway the same teacher appeared and confirmed that yes, school would be closing. The principal had decided that we could not continue with so few teachers. Why this occurred to him hours after morning assembly I have no idea. 

So at 1:05, school ended. I went upstairs to get my umbrella and found the rest of the teachers already in the lounge waiting for tea to be delivered. We sat in the room together, one of the teachers offered to find me a good Nepali husband (he even asked if I had any specific criteria), we drank tea, and then we left.

When I was in Cameroon, our group used to say “if you’re not having a good day, you’re in the middle of a great story.” While today was not good in the way I might I have designed it, it was spontaneous and joyful in a lot of other ways. And it is most definitely an incredible story.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Holidays: Part Two (Teej)

Teej (pronounced TEA-juh)
Teej is a festival for women. And it’s a big deal. The holiday itself is on Sunday, but the celebrations span many days on either side. The weekend before, my family went to see relatives in Kalanki (part of Kathmandu) for a pre-Teej meal. On the Friday before, all of the female teachers at my school headed into the city for some kind of program/event/party. I went with Sydney, another ETA in Lalitpur, to the Teej Celebration with the ACCESS students. (ACCESS is a U.S. Embassy program providing extra English classes to academically talented but financially disadvantaged students in Nepal’s government schools.) I don’t know what I was expecting the program to be like, but it was pretty much all dancing. Oh, except the part where Sydney and I were asked to “say a few words” with less than 30 seconds warning. At least we were able to leave before they asked us to dance in front of everyone!

The group photo, sorry for the quality it wasn't my camera.
One of the dances performed by the access students.

During Teej, women fast to improve their chances of getting a good husband and/or to improve their husband’s chances of living a long and prosperous life. Just another example of women doing all the work! Although men may be at the motivation of the holiday, the festival really is for the women. Everyone dresses up and spends the whole day at the temple singing and dancing. How strict you choose to fast is kind of an individual decision, with more and more women becoming pretty relaxed, although some still commit to abstaining from even water between dawn and dusk. Of course, Nepali stomachs are used to giant platters of rice so in preparation for a single day of fasting you eat like there will be an eternal famine. Fortunately, my family is now accustomed to the fact that I am a dinner time annomally, and they just laugh when I thrust my left hand (unclean) over my plate and yell pugyo! as my aama comes toward me with a second person’s worth of rice.

This was my first opportunity to experience many of the festival sweets, including one called barfi which is actually pretty tasty once you can get the unpleasant vomit image out of your mind. 

 lalmon and yogurt: a ball of fried dough soaked overnight in a sugar syrup
 barfi and pehda: both are sweets made from concentrated milk
(Milk can be turned into a lot of things here with varying consistencies, I don't ask too many questions.)
Japanese Pears and Gudhpak: the second thing is a mix of dried fruits and some other stuff that I'm not certain how to identify. It kind of reminds me of apple crisp topping in terms of sweetness and the combination of sticky/crumbly.

Jeri: fried concentric circles which are also soaked in a sugar syrup.
Because fried foods aren't unhealthy enough!

 Here's what the actual day of Teej looked like at my house.
1. Had my toes/feet painted red by a woman who travels around stopping at every house to give married women a full pedicure. (Technically, this happened the day before, but close enough.) Having very red feet from a water soluble dye also meant I had to be very careful about wearing shoes anytime I was on the carpet.

Me and my two sisters. I asked for just the tips of my toes, but something got lost in translation.
2. Wore my first sari! If you haven't had the opportunity to sport this traditional wraplike outfit here is the gist. First you put on a "blouse" which is a mix between a bra and a very short cut-off tee shirt. If you wore this "blouse" as a regular blouse anywhere in the United States it would be strongly frowned upon. Then there is a petticoat, which is basically just  cotton skirt, in the same color as the sari, with a drawstring waist. The key to the whole outfit is making sure that waist is tied very tight because that is what all the yardage of the sari is supported by. Over the blouse and petticoat goes an long length of colorful fabric, the sari itself. I would try to describe how to wrap the sari, but I know I couldn't do it justice. There is a lot of tucking, pleating, more tucking, and since I'm new to the whole business also some pinning!
Me and my Aama.
3. Girls with long hair often put red or black fabric into their braids. The dhago strands also have ornaments at the bottom for extra sparkle. My hair is a little short so I opted out of this aspect.
4. Added 12 additional bangles to my existing dozen; red ones this time even though I'm not married. I also wore pote, a beaded necklace, which is normally only for married women. My host family decided I should get the full experience, and this way none of the Nepali men bothered me. In fact, a lot of people who saw me just assumed I was married to a Nepali already.

5. Affixed a bindi and a tika to my forehead. The bindi is the decorative circle between my eyebrows and the tika is the red smudge closer to my hairline.

After getting dressed, I went to the temple with my two host sisters and my Nepali aama. There was a long line of women, all glowing in vibrant red cloth, waiting to do puja, worship. The scene was visually exciting, but actually quite calm within the temple. I did not partake in the actual worship of the various deities, but I still felt very honored to be welcomed into a sacred space.
The final event was a dance party. There were lots of these little gatherings going on in the area, and we had passed at least three during the walk to the temple. At first the plan was to return to a celebration closer to the house, but then my host mom spotted a friend under an awning just around the corner from the temple. We joined a group of women chatting and dancing to pass the time during the fast. We were in a large cement pavilion with speakers set-up for music, but I'm not sure who (if anyone) was really hosting the party. It wasn't long before my host sister became the official DJ, playing music off of her phone. I'm not much of a dancer, and even less so when everyone around is taking my picture on their cell phone camera, but I enjoyed the afternoon letting all sorts of women - old and young - try to teach me how to dance.


For me, Teej can be summed up in the word saturated. It is a traditional holiday deeply rooted in practices and rituals from an earlier time, and there is a richness that comes with that history. At the same time, the tone of the day is changing as modern western influences seep further into Nepal. I had a long conversation with my host sister about Teej as it relates to gender equality; ultimately she concluded that Teej is about women displaying their bond with their husbands rather than their servitude. I am quite happy to accept her positive perspective.  The colors are bright and the foods are sweet. For me, Teej was lovely (ramilo chha).
A proper family photo: me, Rakshya, Baa, Aama, Raman, and Rashmee.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Holidays: Part One

It’s festival season in Nepal. Kind of like the frenzy between Thanksgiving and New Year’s but on steroids. I have been in Godavari for three weeks which technically should amount to 18 days of school, but the actual number is only 12. So literally one out of every three days is a vacation day, not including the Saturdays that are always off. Here’s a quick review of the festivals that have happened so far:

 As you read, please keep in mind that I am experiencing each of these things within the context of one year and one particular family in one particular region of Nepal. The same way that one family’s Christmas traditions do not reflect all families, my experience may not generalize to other people, places, and times. Try your best not to reduce an entire country’s spiritual and cultural identity to the size of my meager understanding.

Rakshya Bandhan (pronounced RAWK-shah BAHN-dah)
Also known as Janai Purnima (pronounced juh-nai purr-nee-mah), this is the festival of the sacred thread. In some places, a priest ties the thread as a symbol of protection and prosperity. In others, sisters tie the thread onto their brothers’ wrists. In my host family, it was the maternal grandfather (maamaa) who tied the thread onto the wrists of the younger generation. He also gave everyone a tika, which is a clump of red rice paste on the forehead as a sign of blessing.

If you are paying close attention, you may have noticed that my host sister’s name is Rakshya just like this holiday. Which is simply because she was born on Rakshya Bandhan! But being born on a holiday that is determined by the full moon, means that this year was the first time that her calendar birthday has fallen on the actual Rakshya Bandhan day, since the original occurrence of course. To celebrate we enjoyed a Nepali birthday cake complete with those obnoxious candles that keep relighting themselves after you blow them out. I also learned that smearing cake, the way Americans sometimes do at weddings, is an appropriate gesture during a birthday celebration in my Nepali family. I didn’t start it, but after my host sister got me with a big smear of frosting I did not hesitate to return her kindness!

Gaijatra (pronounced GUY-jah-trah)
This is a very popular Newari festival that literally means “the procession of cows.” Supposedly, this began after a prince died and the king wanted desperately to cheer up his grief-stricken queen so he called all the people and offered to reward anyone who could make her laugh. The holiday includes lots of dancing, singing, and satirical jokes about society, life, and death. It is a very light-hearted festival and I really enjoyed observing the traditional celebrations.

In the picture above, all of the dancers are dressed completely different than anything you would see regularly. Some of the men are meant to look like cows, some are hunters, and some are women. They performed a dance throughout their small town at the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. I was only there with two other ETA’s so I don’t know the full story of everything that was happening, but I really enjoyed just being part of the crowd.

Shree Krishna Janmastami
Everyone gets a day off of school to celebrate Lord Krishna’s Birthday. When I first heard this I thought, “Wow! That’s really cool that a whole country gets the day to celebrate the birth of a god from one particular religion!” And then I remembered Christmas.

Unlike Christmas, this was a pretty uneventful holiday in my family. We mostly just enjoyed the day off school to get work done around the house.

Father’s Day
Very similar to the American Father’s Day, this was just a day an auspicious day to recognize all of the work that dad’s do to raise a family. Since it was on a Thursday this year, it of course meant another day without school for me. The way this holiday is celebrated really depends on the size of the extended family, and the age of the children. My host parents went to my host mom’s house for a small family gathering. My host siblings said that when they were younger there used to be a big celebration on their dad’s side of the family as well but that has changed as grandkids have grown up and the western idea of a nuclear family, combined with throngs of young people leaving home to find work, has made its way into popular culture.
In my family, it was basically a day to give my host dad special foods. My mom made a particular kind of rice (which you eat with a spoon, as opposed to the rice that you eat with your hands. I’m still pretty boggled about why people who can devour a foothill sized pile of rice covered in lentil sauce in ten milliseconds find eating this particular rice dish, which does not include a liquid component, better to eat with a spoon. But whatever.) We also enjoyed greenish ice cream with chocolate chips in it. I thought it was mint chocolate chip but my family claims it was pistachio. Since I don’t have any other experience with pistachio ice cream I can’t say for certain, and the flavor wasn’t terribly strong, but it was great to eat something cold and familiar.

The next big holiday is a women's festival called Teej, but there is so much to share that it deserves its own post. So consider this part one in a many part series...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's Elementary My Dear

So the whole point of being in Nepal was to teach English, and I guess I should talk a little bit about that once in awhile.

My school is Kitini Higher Secondary School. The school has over 700 students in grades K-10 and about 20 teachers on staff. For the most part, the school operates on a subject teaching system which means that students stay in their classroom but the teachers move to different grade levels each period.

The primary building at the school. There are two other buildings for the other grades.
 Every day starts with a morning assembly for the whole school. Essentially the kids form lines by grade level, follow some simple commands like “hands up, clap twice, hands down, etc.” and then sing the Nepali national anthem. It’s kind of fun to see them all looking sharp in their uniforms, and it will be a long time before I stop being amazed by kindergarteners who can tie a tie.
Students lined up for morning assembly. I took this picture from the second story window of the primary building, so you can see the courtyard and the other buildings from this view.

There are eight 40 minute periods in a day; school goes from 10:00am until 4:00pm. I co-teach in five classes every day which is a typical course load for a teacher at Kitini.
1st Period: Grade 2
This class has up to 26 students; due to regular absences the actual number is usually closer to 20-23. Because parents can choose at what age to start their children in school, the age range in each grade can be quite large. My grade 2 students span from 7 to 13 years old. (Many parents keep older students out of school until the youngest is ready to join and then send them all at once.) In this class, we have been working on prepositions. Yesterday we played hide the teacher’s notebook which is really not a game since everyone sees me put the notebook somewhere and then they have to give me the sentence saying where it is: “The notebook is under the bench. The notebook is in the bag.” But they loved it, and when I started letting students hide the notebook… it was better than candy, unicorns, rainbows, and leprechauns all put together. 

2nd Period: Grade 4
I love this class. The kids are exceptionally well-behaved and the teacher is wonderful. My co-teacher in second period always has a specific plan for the day so I typically sit-back and then toss out ideas when appropriate. Today the kids had a spelling test of vocabulary words from a story called “A Cruel Landlord.” Some did very well, some did not write a single English word on the whole test. The teacher and I graded the tests right there, and then the students were told to practice writing the words they got wrong. I introduced them to spelling sailboats, which my American fifth graders dreaded during student teaching, and the Nepali students loved them. Later in the day, I saw a class four student teaching some friends from another class how to make the special boat.

One student proudly displays his first spelling sailboat.
3rd Period: Leisure (Well, it’s called leisure because I’m not teaching a class, but I actually use this time for lesson planning and material preparation.)

Blogger is giving me so much trouble right now, I don't have the energy to fight with it to get this picture to rotate. Anyway it's a song I will be teaching the students very soon. All of the teachers in the lounge who saw me making it were rather intrigued and I will have the song stuck in my head for months to come.

4th Period: Grade 5
This is the class that I co-teach with my host mom. These are the kids working on countables and uncountables. We’ve been doing lots of work with a chant about how much and how many. One of my first days in class, I used my cards to introduce myself and my host mom gave the students a homework assignment to write a paragraph about me and draw my picture. It was a pretty precious homework check the next day! 

5th Period: Grade 1
These are some of my most precious children. They are small and adorable. There is one little girl who sits at the back table and I’m lucky if she pays attention for more than 2% of the class, but she has the most darling little smirk whenever she is being naughty and I just love her. These kiddos are learning about the letter T (check the facebook post from a few days ago about “half-shirts.”) On Sunday, my co-teacher basically turned the class over to me so I decided I would teach them to sing I’m A Little Teapot. Holy moly adorable like nobody’s business! The kids definitely struggled with the whole singing in unison bit, and they can’t really read so I ended up turning it into an echoing song. But still. So. Precious. The video below shows us singing as a whole class and in small groups; you have to mix it up if you are going to fill 40 minutes with a five line song!

6th Period: Leisure

7th Period: Grade 3
This is my wildest class by a landslide. I don’t know if it’s the end of the day or if they all eat pure sugar at lunch or if the moon suddenly swings closer to the earth at 2:40, but I will never be afraid of falling asleep with this bunch! We’ve been reading a poem about a little boy who is making lunch for a dinosaur; today I used the word extinct and was met by blank stares from all of the students and the teacher. Upon further reflection it is kind of an obscure word, but it really does fit in when discussing whether or not the dinosaur will ever come to the boy’s house for lunch. Anyway, I tried to boil it down to simple English like “all gone,” “all dead,” “no more ever again.” I’m not sure they got the idea that this only applies when an entire species has been eliminated from the planet. So if you happen to encounter three dozen Nepali third graders misusing the word extinct, I apologize.

8th Period: Leisure
After seventh period, I return to the staff room and finish any prep work for the next day. Then I pack up my things and head home. All of the students from grade three and younger are dismissed after 7th period so when I leave part way through 8th period my walk home is usually sprinkled with “Good Afternoon Miss!” and a flurry of Nepali that I catch approximately 0% of; just smile and wave.

So that's my day at school. Please post questions about Nepali schools in the comments box and I will try to answer them in upcoming blogs.  

Do You Know the Mutton Man?

I sincerely hope that everyone gets the opportunity to experience what happened to me today, because it was AWESOME.

I was walking home from school. Normal.
A moto with lots of arm and legs sticking off whizzed past me. Normal.
The moto bleeted. Normal.

Wait. Not Normal.

As the motorcycle went past me, I heard the craziest noise kind of like a person recovering from laryngitis screaming on a roller coaster. Of course this made me look up and at first I just saw two people. But as I continued to stare I realized that between the two people was a goat lying on its stomach with its two front legs hanging off one side and its back legs hanging off the other. It was kind of ridiculous.

But what made it even better is that just as I was coming to comprehend the situation - and really wishing that I had my camera out - another motorcycle with a goat in the same position went by and the second goat made the same hilarious noise! Not only that, but I swear it looked right at me a crazy-eyed look. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. (I did eventually feel a little sad because I don't think that goats being transported away from town have very many more days left to live... but the situation was too humorous to be dampened but such serious thought.)

Plenty of other people were on the road with me, but no one seemed to even notice. Thinking about it makes me wonder how much more laughter I might find in my day if I could slow down, listen, and pay attention. And so, I hope that the next time a motorcycle bleets at you, that you will stop and savor the moment.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mero Pariwaar

I have been so fortunate to have had such a wonderful family taking care of me this past week. Perhaps as a lingering consequence of dehydration, I have decided the best way to summarize my family is within the context of being stranded on a deserted island.

Ba / Buwaa (my host dad): you want him there for two reasons. First, he plays serious badminton every morning so he will be good at waving down rescue helicopters. Secondly, he is facebook friends with everyone so when he doesn’t post anything for a few days all of Lalitpur will be out looking for you.
Aama (my host mom): she is a great cook, and while everyone else will probably feel severely rationed, deserted island size portions would probably be perfect for me. Besides being a wonderful chef, Aama is very in-tune with how to handle gossip and petty politics so she wouldn’t allow the group to become divided or chaotic.
Rashmee (my older sister): she studied pharmacology and can tell you the scientific name of anything. She is your key to wilderness survival and healthcare.
Rakshya (my 19 year old younger sister): she just started college and is majoring in social work, which is perfect because she is very patient and caring in nature. I predict that she would emerge as the island peacemaker, ensuring that everyone contributed to building a shelter, gathering firewood, etc.
Raman (my 17 year old younger brother): he just got new glasses, which will come in handy for magnifying the sunlight to make a signal fire. Additionally, he loves scary movies and could probably retell them as entertainment around the aforementioned fire.

L to R: Rakshya, my 8 year old cousin, Rashmee, another cousin, and Raman.
(I PROMISE that I will post a photo of the whole family as soon as I have one! The occasion for a family pic simply hasn’t arisen yet, and everybody puts on house clothes – basically pajamas – when they come home from work/school so a spontaneous evening pic is not on anyone’s agenda.)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grab the Go Barrel!

(From August 31, 2013)

Today was a fairly typical Nepali day... given that everyday in Nepal is filled with things I don't quite understand or anticipate.

I woke up at 6am, had my first cup of black tea, and did some morning yoga. Then I took a shower in cold, cold water. (I'm not sure what I will do in December!) at 8:30am I ate breakfast and then left for school. It is approximately one kilometer from my house to school so my day begins with a pleasant walk.

It was not a regular school day (I'm beginning to wonder if a regular school day even exists), but it was the day when students come to receive the results of their first term exams. So there weren't any classes. I spent my morning preparing some introduction cards about myself to use with students when I start teaching next week. I also spent time getting to know some of the other primary school teachers.

After school, I came back to the house, took a nap, read, studied some Nepali letters, and worked on creating a rubric to measure English language proficiency. Then of course there was evening rice and time with the whole family; in the evening they often band together in a concerted effort to improve my Nepali. Some of the sounds in this language just don't seem possible for me!

At 10:00 I headed to bed, and by 10:30 I was fast asleep.

At approximately 11:30pm I slept through my first Nepali earthquake. The shaking we felt in Kathmandu (and by we I mean everyone else who woke up) was a result of a 5.1 magnitude quake with its epicenter in Xinjiang, China. My family described it as "such a big one!" and "it just kept shaking and I was like 'let it stop!'" There was the initial quake and one aftershock; I slept through both of them.

At 11:32pm, my family came and woke me up and we all headed outside. It seemed like everyone in the area was awake. Dogs were barking and lights were on in lots of houses. We waited outside for awhile, but the excitement seemed to die down so we moved back inside out of the cold night air. We spent another 20 minutes or so waiting in the living room to see if there would be more aftershocks, but didn't feel anything. The whole time, my family made light-hearted jokes about being hungry and wanting to pull out the "go barrel." The giant blue bucket is still humorous, but it does take on a more serious note when you are pulled out of bed in the middle of the night. It was nice to know that if I needed it, I had everything important all in one place, ready go... even if "go" means me rolling the barrel on the ground in front of me!

So now it's 12:26am. Everyone is back in their own beds and I assume everyone else is sleeping. I'm pretty unaccustomed to earthquakes and even though I didn't feel it, the whole event was a lot of sudden excitement, so I'm not sure how quickly I'll fall asleep after I finish writing this.

But all is well. I am safe. The house is still standing. The go barrel is still locked and in its place. The next time I'll try to be awake so that I can give a better account :)