Friday, 30 September 2016

A birthday, a new school, and a lot of head teachers

We celebrated Barbara’s birthday last weekend! The Bashyals surprised her with a cake and I bought her the most ridiculous party hat I could find, and we had an evening of take away food and local beer, shared with a very well dressed Swiss couple. Me and Barbara had spent the Saturday morning working and planning the head teacher’s session, before going out to stretch our legs around Tansen.
While Barbara knows Tansen like the back of her hand, I am quite sure I’ll be losing my way around its winding streets for some time. 

We walked up to Srinegar Hill and though it has rained quite heavily since we arrived, (Dhani had already rescued me from falling flat on my face on the steep and very slippery slope up to the homestay that morning) the sun beat down on us and we were quite hot by the time we reached the top (i.e. I was a sweating mess). As we watched, gaps in the clouds revealed the pink and yellow shapes of mountains, though I could never be sure if I was looking at shifting clouds or solid rock. I’m promised that you can see nearly the entire Annapurna range on a clear day, so I’m sure I’ll be back up there for another gawk before long.

We made our way back through the town, and it was almost eerie seeing everything shut up and closed except for a few food stalls. Saturdays are rest days, so the children are home from school and most of the shops are shut tight. Children raced down the steep streets, pausing in their games only to shout: ‘Where are you from?’ I feel like I am asked this question a hundred times a day, I might start fibbing and telling people somewhere exotic like Hawaii or the Seychelles.

On Sunday we visited the Devbari school in Tansen, just down the hill from our office at the Red Cross building. We met the head and his deputy who were fantastic, so forward thinking and grateful that we were there. They were arguing for more continuous assessment instead of the painful exams the children have to endure each term (Abhi, the Bashyal’s son, is currently doing an exam a day for seven days – and he does this four times a year, a whole month of exams in the school year that might be better used for teaching and revising methods perhaps?). They were also eager to create a science laboratory in the school, and said that a teachers training is never done, and every single member of staff at the school, both government and private, could benefit from extra training. Barbara and I left quite pleased and hopeful.

On Tuesday we held a head teachers meeting at Rock Regency, a hotel in town. Eighteen head teachers and deputies came to see us, and Barbara asked them to organise their priorities for the children (things like success, exam results, happiness, safety) and discuss what had gone well in their schools over the last year, and touched on early years practices. I stood up and spoke about utilising the libraries more successfully, making sure that the teachers are sharing books with the children, and most importantly, are listening to the children read and checking their reading ability and engagement with the stories. We want to ensure that teachers are not just sat passively in the corner of the room while the children read silently on the floor. I was so hot as I spoke, not nervous so much as just very aware that everybody was looking at me, I was astounded to see that some people were even taking notes! After this little rush, I had to go and turn the fan on to calm down, and everyone laughed at me.

It was agreed that Barbara, myself, Saran and Sagar - our champion translators and the core of Manisha Nepal Palpa - deserved a slap up lunch to celebrate. We might have had to wait over an hour for our food, but to pass the time Sagar was telling us about Russia in the early nineties (all vodka coupons and swimming in frozen lakes) so I decided to have another crack at War and Peace that night. I think I made it through about five pages on the kindle before falling asleep. Sorry Tolstoy.

And one from last week with Ann!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Greetings from Tansen!

And so, we are here. After a journey of quite unbelievable stress, we managed to get to Tansen last Saturday. First, our plane to Kathmandu spent a long time circling a delta somewhere in northern India, before announcing that he was not allowed to use the runway because ‘it is being fixed’ (despite our friend Ann having landed there as he was speaking) .The pilot also said, ‘we are about to run out of fuel’ before promptly making a diversion to Kolkata (Calcutta to you and me) where we spent a long time lounging around on the floor of the airport whilst several hysterical Brits hurled abuse at the equally hysterical airport workers, who didn’t know what to do with the 61 people suddenly stuck in their airport. Eventually we were bustled to a very swanky five star hotel an hour away, before having to return to the airport at the crack of dawn the next day.

After eventually making it to Kathmandu in one piece, we rushed to the guest house – the outside of which had become a building site, great fun navigating with our heavy bags – and met Ann there after some frantic resources shopping.

Ann was in Nepal to meet Barbara and I from the Steve Sinnott Foundation, with the aim to setting up a resource centre in Tansen for the nine Manisha schools to use, to have ICT facilities, training and resources. So the three of us (hardy travellers by now) made the eleven hour bus journey to Tansen – at times stunningly beautiful, at times incredibly painful, as massive swathes of the road were being resurfaced, meaning that we were diving in and out of pot holes at sickening speeds (no chance of sleep if your head keeps cracking against the window). Still, the drive up the mountain to Tansen from Bhutwal is beautiful, winding along lush roads, the hills smothered with vegetation and so completely unchanged for thousands of years. I half expected prehistoric creatures to start lumbering down the path towards us. Tansen itself, a cluster of buildings high on the hill, appeared around a bend in the road and I could have cried with relief that we were nearly here.

Tansen is, in my opinion, the nicest part of Nepal I have seen, not so dusty and crowded as Kathmandu, not as hot as the southern regions, not as touristy as Pokhara. It is a small bustling town high in the hills, but overlooks mountain ranges and green valleys, and the bucket of the valley is always full of clouds, so that local people call it the white lake. Everyone seems very friendly, the children greet you in the street with a curious ‘Namaste!’ and the Bashyal family we are living with couldn’t be kinder or more welcoming.

Our days have been spent going to meetings around town with various people, the District Education Officer, Sangeeta Regmi, the education resource manager at Sen Secondary School in Tansen, Khadga Kunwar from Room to Read, and we have also squeezed in a visit to Shree Bhagwati School in the hill village of Bhalebas. It shocks me, having taught in Britain for the last year, the conditions the children are learning in, mud walls and cracked concrete floors, and in the nursery and Class One (Year One) the children lie on the floor and copy from textbooks – which means that can copy brilliantly, but they do not actually understand what they are copying. However, the work Manisha has been doing in Nepal for the past few years is really taking hold here, there is children’s work stuck to the walls, the older children are sitting around tables and not in rows, children are standing at the front of the class to share their work and ideas. These are brilliant, positive changes coming about from the hard work of previous NQTs.

Our evenings have been spent sat around the table in Janaki’s green kitchen, laughing and sharing stories, or on the balcony as the sun sets behind us, drinking tea. We sadly had to say goodbye to Ann yesterday as she headed back to the UK, but on our last afternoon together on Wednesday we walked down to Tundi Khel, a large flat expanse on the side of the mountain, as big as a football pitch and lit with floodlights at night. There was a festival there, and we managed to catch the last day of viewing a colossal statue of Ganesh. We were covered in tikka (the red or yellow paint on our foreheads) and ushered in, and noticed an unusual amount of interest in our presence. There was a lot of singing and chanting and we were given bits of unidentified food and covered in yet more tikka, and the statue seemed half alive in the light. We were then asked to pose for seemingly hundreds of photos, and the reason we were so well received is because it is assumed that all white people are Christian, and it is encouraging to see us at Hindu festivals. It’s very embarrassing however to loom over absolutely everyone in photos, even the men. Ann treated me and Barbara to a copper pot each full of holy water, which were so heavy on the way back to the homestay that we had to pour the water out surreptitiously so that we didn’t offend anyone!


Apologies for my long, long entry, and the long wait, I’ve been having some teething troubles with the blog! Missing home, hoping that everyone is alright. Somebody please let me know what’s happening in Cold Feet?

H x