I would like to say that our exhaustion caused us to sleep well the first night, but unfortunately this was not true for all of us. Like always, when travelling, it takes a while to acclimatize. Since there is no heat in the home, we bundled up in layers. As a result I kept waking up sweating like crazy and having to remove layers. The blankets we had been given were thick and warm. Our beds are wooden, with some padding. They are fairly hard, but Surya has provided us with more padding, if we feel we need it. It is amazing how quickly you get used to something new. I am sure that when we return home our beds will seem way too soft! We also discovered that the roosters start to cock-a-doodle-do way before sunrise. They start at about 4:30 am and continue off and on all day. The sun is also rising by about 5:30 am and activity in the village starts immediately. All of these factors have caused us to become early risers. I can honestly say that I have never seen so many sunrises and I am actually enjoying it. But, with all of the fresh, mountain air and sunshine, combined with our early wake ups, we are barely able to stay awake until dinner, which is at 7pm.
The first morning we got dressed and had rice, boiled eggs and instant oatmeal (from home). Jeff brewed us coffee with the camping coffee pot we brought with us. We also managed to sneak some Baileys Irish Cream in our suitcases. It was very comforting to have a little normalcy. We always have Baileys when camping, so…why not!?
After breakfast we headed out, on foot, to the centre of the village and the school. We are not here at a “normal” time, as the election is in progress and there are often strikes called. Strikes restrict the travel (or as they say ‘movement’) of the people. You are not allowed to use trucks, buses, cars and taxis and occasionally not even the motorbikes. The walk should take about 1 hour, but as dear Surya discovered, we Canadians are a little slow hiking uphill for over an hour. We were hot and winded, some of us more than others of course. I think he was worried I wasn’t going to make it as my face was so red! We did take a ‘short cut’ up some steep, stone steps up the side of the mountain. There are no sidewalks, so you must pay attention to possible motorbikes coming up behind you. They will honk if you are in the way and will allow you to move. As I mentioned in part 1, the roads are fairly uneven, so you also want to watch your step carefully, and of course you must also watch for the presents left behind by the buffalos and goats. In the middle of the village, the market area, there are many more people and many places to eat and stores to buy things. You will see tailors working away and butchers chopping up buffalo meat, as the store fronts are all open. There are children walking to school and playing outside. The Nepali people are outside more than they are inside. We attracted a lot of attention, but when we would greet people with our hands together like we are praying, a nod of our head and “Namaste”, everyone would smile, drop what they are doing and immediately greet us with the Nepali greeting back! A few of the teachers walked to meet up with us and finish the journey to the school with us.
Arriving at the school we were greeted by all of the teachers. There was no school for the children on our first day, due to the strike. They had prepared black, sweet tea for us and welcomed us with garlands of yellow and orange, very fragrant flowers. We felt very special and appreciated. There were also a lot of photos taken of us and the teachers and also individual photos with the kids. They thought it was neat that Grace was so tall, Ella had cool braids and Luke was so blonde. The school consists of 4 classrooms that are made of tin and wood located on the flat area of the playground. They have wooden windows, with no glass, and have benches, with desks attached inside. The other classrooms are located in an apartment style building with cement stairs. They also have wooden window panes, with wire and no glass. The walls and floors are cement. There is electricity in this building, but the rear classrooms are more dim as they do not receive as much sunlight. There are also two Nepali style bathrooms inside for teachers and us and about 6 different outhouse style Nepali toilets for the children around the playground area. There is also a small covered sun shelter with a table and benches and metal playground equipment for the students to play on. The school would not pass the strict safety standards in place in Canada, but it is not unsafe.
After visiting with the teachers and touring the school, we headed to a teacher’s home in the village for tea and cookies. She lives in a series of rooms at the top of one of the apartment style buildings. We sat on a rooftop terrace that looked down onto the main market area. It was a beautiful view and we all enjoyed meeting her daughter, who is so sweet, with the most beautiful smile. We had another Nepali dinner, but with an American twist, Surya made us “french fries – yummy! We all went straight to bed and to sleep, around 8:00 pm.
Ingle, a teacher from school and her daughter Serina, at their home.
The next morning, Tuesday, I think it all hit me and hit me hard. I was very emotional. I woke up to Ella saying I love you and giving me a big hug and then all of a sudden I broke into tears. The kids and Jeff were so concerned, as I wasn’t stopping. I didn’t really have a reason, just that I was so proud of all of them. We had only been in Nepal for 2 days and they all had already showed such compassion and kindness towards everyone they had met. It had originally been my idea to do a volunteer trip, but they have all embraced it and were adjusting so well to all of the sudden changes in their lives. Also, I must admit, I was feeling like such a wimp. Many of the people we had encountered have so much less than us, they work daily to provide food and shelter for their families, but they are so happy. I was feeling a little spoiled and ashamed of myself. I eventually managed to get ahold of myself and off we headed to school to meet the students.
With the strike still on, Surya decided to taxi us to school one at a time on his motorbike. The kids were ecstatic! They know Jeff and I would never allow them to ride on the back of a motorcycle at home. We completely trust Surya, as he is always putting our safety and happiness first. Surprisingly I was even able to relinquish control and calmly rode on the back of the bike. I had no reason to backseat drive or to scream! The roads are so rough that you never go very fast and he took such care with us. Upon arrival at the school, the students just stopped and starred. They have never met Canadian – white kids – their same age before. The older kids were excited to see us, but the little ones seemed a little unsure of us. This soon wore off as we all began to interact with them. The kids taught them games from Canada, played with them at outdoor time and we all spent time teaching class 7, since they are the oldest and have the best English. For lunch we were all served noodles and soup and black tea with sugar, of course. By the end of the day even the little ones had accepted us all and said good-bye with smiles and Namaste. After school we walked to have tea at the home of two sisters, who are both teachers at the school. We walked and were shuttled by Surya on the bike again. I even got daring and went on with both Ella and Surya. Yes, you can laugh at me, I know I am wimpy.
Wednesday morning we rose bright and early, like always – thank-you Mr. Rooster! No tears this morning, thank goodness. The strike was still on so Surya arranged for his friend to drive us to school in the ambulance, since it was permitted and also so we could bring the teaching materials we had brought with us to the school. This morning we arrived on time to see the morning drum ceremony that the students start their school day with. It is really neat and we will post a video when we have stronger internet. I spent the morning with the English teacher going through all of the teaching supplies and lessons. She is very bright and immediately caught on to everything and added ideas of her own. I really enjoyed working with her. While I was busy, the kids and Jeff were with the students. After this I went into some more classes, as apparently the students were all asking when I would come to their class to play the new games. They were all learning, but didn’t even know it as they were having such fun! I then spent the afternoon with class 7. With the strike many of the students were not able to attend, since they live so far away and there are no buses running. So the class sizes are much smaller right now, making it much easier for us to interact more individually with the students.
On this day we left school early and headed to a small village, lower down on the mountain. Surya was able to use the truck again, as it was past the restricted time. In the back were 4 of the teachers from the school. We loved hearing them squeal and laugh as we drove over the extremely rough roads. Along the way we had to stop as a small girl, around 2 was in the middle of the road and frozen in fear. She had looked to the left, then the right, then froze and started to cry. The driver, who was riding in the back with the teachers, jumped out and spoke to her and scooped her up gently and returned her to the elderly woman. She had no pants on, as I believe she is probably toilet training. He was so sweet with her and she immediately stopped crying, even though she didn’t know him. We soon came to a dead end and then walked down the rest of the way. We wove around gardens, animal pens and homes and then came to a clay clearing between two homes, where the celebration was taking place. Most of the people in the village were there and within minutes we were included in the ceremony. We were given red rice on our foreheads and money. The celebration was in honour of the one year anniversary of one of the teachers’ friend’s grandfather’s death. (Did I get all of those apostrophes correct?) They were all so welcoming. The kids and, surprisingly, the elder women, loved to have their photos taken and then to see them. The boys immediately gravitated towards Luke and included him in all their games. We were then led towards the rooftop of one of the homes, and given a wonderful Nepali meal. The kids all followed us up there, as they were so interested in us. After eating we returned to the clearing and there was music and dancing. The young girls are such beautiful dancers and they loved to perform for the girls and I. The boys had Luke up and dancing and soon we were all dancing, Nepali style – yep, even Jeff! The power was out, which happens fairly often here, but the music was live and there were flashlights, fires and a fairly full moon to keep the fun going. After, we made our way, by foot, up the mountain to our vehicle. A few of the young boys were so considerate and led me with their flashlight. We then headed home. Once again, despite the bumps and jolts, the kids dozed. This was definitely a once in a lifetime, incredible experience. We we all so happy and grateful to be included in such a special occasion.
Thursday morning we were taken to school again by ambulance. This morning we brought the dress-up bins, which were a huge hit with both the teachers and the students. The girls and I then spent the morning with class 7. Last year I had my grade 4 students write letters to the students in Nepal. The kids were so happy to receive them. They then set to work writing back to my students in Canada. I know that they will be so thrilled to receive their letters when I return. They took such care to write their best and some even took them home so they could decorate them and put them in envelopes. They also included Nepali writing, with translations, which I know will be a big hit! After lunch we started reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which they are really enjoying. Then my 3 took them outside to play all kinds of new games. They all had so much fun together. It is so wonderful to see them all laughing and holding hands. Language does not get in the way of friendship. After school our new friends took us to get the fabric to have school uniforms made for our 3 kids. They want to look just like the Nepali kids at the school. There are two uniforms the students wear; one is white and one is grey. Our kids were ordering the grey ones. We then went to another store front where there were fabrics so we could all choose fabrics for the Nepali clothing we are having made to wear. We then headed to the tailer for our measurements to be taken. The kids are so excited and can hardly wait until Monday to get their new uniforms.