Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Festivals, Blessings and Tikka

The last two weeks have been a blur of festivals and blessings and so much tikka I’m afraid to report that my forehead is stained red. We went to Pokhara, we attended a wedding, we have visited friends, but it wasn’t all play I promise! We also squeezed in a training session for early years teachers at Rock Regency which was really well received.

Pokhara was hot, hot, hot. We arrived after a frightful journey that took over eight hours and many breakdowns to a huge thunderstorm. The following morning the town was scrubbed clean and the sun beat down on us as we explored the lake and the town. We later went to Begnas Lake, about half an hour away from the tourist strip of Pokhara. It is very very beautiful, a bit like a cross between places I have seen in England and Italy, but of course, very Nepalese with rice fields cutting own to the lake, and not fields of sheep like at home. We walked down to the lake and Janaki and I put our tired feet in it. Eagles swooped low over the water as we made our way slowly back up the hill. Just as we reached our homestay, suddenly the huge peaks of the Annapurna range appeared over the clouds, unbelievably big and white, like jagged teeth.

After driving back to Pokhara and doing some resources shopping and (very important) present buying for people back home, we returned to Tansen in the comfort of a little car in four hours flat.
The training was building on the early years work we had done with the teachers at Devwari school, but on a bigger scale and with more time for us to explain ourselves. Saran did an excellent job of translating, and when he had to pop out to the bank our wonderful friend Sama from Devwari kindly stepped in to help us!

So, we were feeling quite pleased and accomplished last Saturday, when suddenly Dhani and Janaki’s brother appear from the village – Hari had gone to meet a lady there, they had promptly become engaged, and the wedding was in two days. Thinking about the extravagant affairs I’ve been to in the UK, there’s no way they could have been pulled together in just two days, but Dhani and Janaki managed it, buying saris and clothes and jewels and makeup and scarves for the bride. Ever on the lookout for excuses to buy clothes, I happily went off and ordered myself some traditional clothes, careful not to choose any red. Only married ladies are supposed to wear red, and I didn’t want to be the Western girl making a big social faux pas at the wedding.

We ate a traditional Newari meal with Sagar’s family on Sunday night, and it was fascinated to see the men all lined up in age order eating from banana leaves, and I sat next to the youngest grandson, who spoke flawless English. We went downstairs and sat on the balcony while the men drank and smoked, discussing politics and how Nepal was 250 years behind the rest of the world, and how much they honoured their culture and traditions. Somebody produced an enormous tortoise that had once famously been mauled by a jungle leopard, Sagar set the floor on fire with some home brewed wine, and we decided it was time to go home.

Monday came, and we were late for the wedding while we waited anxiously for the groom’s suit to be finished at the tailors and sent over to us – only very slightly cutting it fine! The wedding was beautiful, the bride looked gorgeous, draped in yards of red fabric and adorned with thousands of sequins, beads, and gold jewellery. I didn’t follow much of the religious parts, but as far as I could see there was a lot of blessing going on, and praying together, and promising to look after each other. She was only a year older than me, and though here it is completely normal, I wondered how I would feel if my parents had chosen a husband for me. It made me laugh to see large groups of men sitting around chatting while the blessings were taking place, and if we had been in England I’m sure every one of them would have had a pint in his hand.

We spent the day after Desain at our friend Sama’s house with her lovely family. We were blessed and given fruit and fed, twice! We watched family videos on the tv and her young brother, the same age as my own, had performed an incredibly complicated dance to Justin Bieber at his school performance. George, if you’re reading this, I love you to pieces but it must be said your dancing skills are not quite so accomplished…

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Some balloons, and a performance of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

As anyone who has ever heard me talk about teaching would know, I love the babies and the littles. So to my delight last Wednesday I got to spend the morning in the nursery at Debvari school, not so much teaching the children (as my Nepali is currently limited to ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘honeybee’) but playing with them. This was to hopefully give their teacher some ideas about teaching engaging lessons such as using cards to get the children talking, using construction cubes to identify colours and strengthen fine motor skills, teaching them a song, and pretending to be different animals. We finally unleashed all mayhem on the class when Saran whipped out some balloons. In all honesty we lost them at that point, so we let them run riot and trample us chasing balloons around the tiny classroom.

After this, I asked via Saran if she could teach so I could get a feel for how the nursery is run. After a few fast words in Nepali, the children all cracked out their copy books and started furiously writing down the English alphabet, some from memory, most peering at the paintings on the wall to help them. There was some definite resentment about putting the balloons away. Needless to say the teaching methods here are very different to those in British nurseries.

We went to visit Papaldanda the next day with armfuls of books to work with the children in the nursery. Barbara and I aped around making fools of ourselves to the hysteria of the children, and showing the teachers how to use resources to count, talk about colour, and doing lots of work with an alphabet foam mat. We watched some lessons in the afternoon, and I was fascinated to see the teacher’s toddler following her around the class. At one point he climbed on top of a desk and other than scooping him back onto the floor, both she and the students completely ignored him. Barbara tells me that it’s very common to take your children to school with you, especially in the village schools.

More teacher training on Friday, we went back to Debvari to work with the nursery, class one and class two teachers. I talked about using lots of different activities to break up the day, and we gave them a table of ideas to use. The three teachers were brilliant, taking on our ideas, and then we went down to a classroom show them what we were talking about, playing with balloons, alphabet shapes, and jigsaws. I gave the performance of my life when I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a large crowd of children and teachers with as much gusto as I could muster. I’ll be expecting that Oscar any day now. The schools have now broken up for Deshain, the Hindu equivalent of Christmas, some for as long as a month, some for a couple of weeks.

Barbara, Janaki and I have big plans for a trip to Pokhara, and I must confess I’m looking forward for a few days of downtime. We’ve had such an intense few weeks with school visits, training, not to mention settling into a new country, and I’m feeling particularly sluggish because I’m definitely not drinking enough. I can practically hear my mother recoiling in horror at that last sentence. I keep being woken up in the night by the sounds of bugs hurling themselves at my window, and the spiders here are bigger than my hand – I physically shudder each time I see one hanging in the middle of its enormous web.

Oh, and this week, after giving a lot of big talk at dinner one night that I ‘never get bitten,’ I have been chewed to death by some particularly mean spirited mosquitoes. That’ll serve me right. It’s like that time at Delhi airport when I blithely said, ‘Oh we’ve had such an easy journey so far!’ Only to be sent packing to Kolkata on our doomed flight to Kathmandu.

H x