Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Was Nepal?

From March 10, 2014

How was Nepal?
And how were the last eight months of your life?

I don’t mean to be rude, but if you ask me this question I probably won’t answer. It’s just too hard. It’s too much information, too much complexity, too much everything to consistently and repeatedly verbalize. Plus it’s not all the happy, rosy, wonderfulness that is expected in those two second conversations as you pass someone in the parking lot.

But I understand that the question comes from a genuine place and today, sitting back at home after my last day of school, I’m in the mood to try and speak the past eight months of my life.

How was Nepal? Nepal was this…

Nepal was disorganized and lopsided.
Nepal was vibrant and fragrant and beautiful.
Nepal was handpicked for me by a group of children whose faces in my eyes are chased by tears because today I said goodbye and I don’t know if I’ll see them again.
Nepal was precious and delicate. Probably not how I would have designed it, but infinitely more meaningful because of that.
Nepal was a lot of weeds.
Nepal was overwhelming and too much to take in all at once. But I desperately want my memories to maintain their truth, even as the experience itself wilts and this season closes.
Nepal was Dipika, Sunita, Sajan, Asmita, Karan, Postraj, Bijay, Niran, Sarmila, Parbati, Dipa, Numa, Sunder, Roshni, Sapana, Sabina, Sangita, Rashmee, Sumanta, Namrata, Arjun, Suraj, Dipesh, Saswot, Hira, Shila, Sushma, Laxmi, Bimala, Dipraj, and Pawan.
Nepal was singing with class one, doing puzzles with class two, learning to whisper in class three, practicing the months of the year rapid-fire with class four, and wishing class five would stop yelling.

Nepal was walking to school and covering my face with a scarf
when a truck left me inside a tunnel of thick, cancerous, smoke.
Nepal was being caught by surprise when the mountain peaks were suddenly whiter and brighter after new snow.
Nepal was milk tea.
Nepal was me giving handshakes and high-fives and hugs at the gate. Nepal was my students going round and round in the line instead of leaving after the first goodbye. Nepal was me not even caring and perhaps even wishing they would never stop.
Nepal was biting my tongue and smiling through a salty, facial monsoon while my students told me not to cry or be so “sadly.” Nepal was me not even being able to correct their English, but only standing there sniffling.
Nepal was me walking home with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers
I will ever receive and realizing I have to come back.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Coming Home

From February 24, 2014

My grant officially ends in 22 days. Although I won’t be immediately returning to the United States, it is getting close enough that I am allowing myself to think about the transition. I have loved my time in Nepal. I love my students. I love my host family. People often ask “which is better – Nepal or America?” and I can’t really answer that question. But here are a few comparisons I do feel comfortable making.

I love the word prefer. I love that in America when someone asks me a question there is a way to express my opinion without giving the impression that I absolutely hate one thing and enthusiastically adore the other. Maybe there is a word for this in Nepali, if so someone should have told me about it a long time ago because I’ve spent the past eight months feeling like my preferences are getting lost in translation.

I am excited to return to a land of options. There are so many wonderful things to do, to eat, to talk about, to enjoy. Here, someone might ask me if I like a particular food item and if I say yes I will get it at every meal from now on. If I say no, I’ll never see it again. It’s so permanent and unchanging. In the U.S., it is perfectly acceptable to like something but not feel like it on a particular occasion. Maybe I’m just wishy-washy, but I’ll accept that and enjoy returning to a society where wishy-washy is normal.

I can’t wait to cook for myself. I really miss getting home from school and thinking “hmmm…what do I want to eat?” Will I continue to enjoy daal bhat? Absolutely. Will I enjoy not eating it every day? You bet. But more than what I eat, I am looking forward to controlling how much I eat. The combination of American body image issues and the communication of Nepali love by heaps and heaps of food, just makes meal time uncomfortable. My host family has learned to accommodate my small stomach but I am quite certain Dr. Oz would not approve of the typical portion size in this country. And one more thing, I definitely prefer eating lunch around noon and dinner earlier in the evening. I am confident I will adjust back to the American breakfast-lunch-dinner time table very quickly.

Maybe my opinion will change when I start paying my own utilities, but I’m also looking forward to consistently hot showers with good water pressure. The thought of being clean on a regular basis is pretty appealing. So are washing machines. Can I live without these types of luxuries? Yes. But if I’m going to shower with cold water I’ll be moving to a warmer climate.

A mattress that is thick enough that my hip bones don’t touch the wood underneath. Cars with shock absorbers. Consistent internet access. Celery. A Christian church. Central heat. Strawberries. News in English. Going barefoot.

Nevertheless (just for you Rashmee!), there are of course things that I will be sad to leave behind.

The Himalayas. I wouldn’t consider myself a very nature-y person. But I have come to love looking out my classroom window to admire the bright white peaks sawing into the sky.

The ease of going slow. There is so much pressure in the U.S. to be going, doing, working… and that pressure doesn’t really exist here. It drives me nuts when I see teachers sitting in the sun instead of teaching their classes, but it has also been nice not to spend hours afterschool trying to keep up. I know that my early bedtime, relaxed morning time, and shortened school day will seem very faraway when I return to teaching in the U.S. Why can’t there be a happy middle ground?

Public transportation just outside my door. Because American buses have actual stops and don’t just pull over when anyone wants to get on or off.

In Nepal, I never feel pressured to put fashion before warmth. It is perfectly acceptable to wear two shirts, a sweater, a scarf, leggings, pants, a coat, gloves, socks, and sandals all at once. In the U.S. I have definitely endured goosebumps in the name of looking put together.

In a strange sense, I will actually miss loadshedding. It is kind of nice to have a certain number of hours every day where I am forced to disconnect and only interact with the people in front of me. It has also made me realize just how severe my need to be digitally connected really is; I occasionally find myself checking my email at 3am when I roll over and see that the light has come.

When I lived in Cameroon, I came back very cynical about technology and modern conveniences. Probably because things like washing machines and dishwashers and freezers were extremely rare. In Nepal, there are lots of people who live without these things but there are also lots of people who have them. It’s definitely harder to appreciate a simple life when the person next door has their own generator. I think my time in Nepal has helped me reflect on my life in America in a more balanced way. It would be hard to come home and live like I had never been to Nepal, but I also recognize how silly it would be to ignore the culture around me in the U.S. I will continue to reflect on this for a long, long time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No More Monkey Business

**Disclaimer: due to technical issues I have been unable to post for several weeks. The next few posts are severely back dated. In real time, my grant in Nepal is finished and I am travelling before returning to the US. If you were thinking about sending me something, just send it to my US address and I'll get it when I come home.**

From February 20, 2014
Friends, I am very happy to announce that Kitini school no longer has a resident monkey! He was picked up by employees from the zoo in Patan. I hope that he lives a long and healthy life under their care.

He is gone now, but in the three days between the first terrorizing event (see here) and his departure the monkey did manage to create havoc in my classroom.

The monkey was consistently entering classrooms, going through kids’ backpacks, jumping on desks, etc. which is disruptive, but I had little sympathy for teachers who this happened to because they left their doors wide open. I worked very hard to make sure that my door and windows were always securely shut.

Well, except the one day when I didn’t notice that the last window was only closed, but not locked.

Naturally, the monkey sensed this opportunity to pry the window open and come in. He sat directly on top of the bench where I lay out all of my materials. On top of the materials. He dumped out the entire contents of the trash can and spread them all over the front of the room. He flipped through my flashcard box and moved all of the g’s to the front. (Monkeys really are quite clever with those opposable thumbs.) He chewed on my colorful pen and every single one of my board markers. Then he walked over to the only student who didn’t hurriedly leave the classroom, climbed onto the desk next to him, bent over, and stared at said student from between its legs. I wish I had been faster with my camera.


Needless to say, I was quite pleased to see him go. But just because my classroom is all one species again doesn’t mean they always act like it.