Sunday, 27 November 2016

One friend leaves, one trustee arrives...

It’s been a frantic few weeks since I last wrote. My friend Amelia came all the way from Australia to see me, and became a Manisha volunteer for two weeks, coming on school visits with me, and even loyally helping to clear out the office! She had the Bashyals in hysterics with her impressions of people selling water in India and we had some really lovely guests at the homestay that week too. We even squeezed in a couple of days in Pokhara, eating our way steadily around town. She’s now currently somewhere in the Annapurna mountain range, scaling great heights. We miss you!

What else is new in Tansen? Daniel Wichmann (or Dan the man, as Saran affectionately calls him) has arrived! He’s thrown himself straight into school visits and is measuring up the schools that need libraries, contacting publishers regarding large scale book orders and conducting basic reading tests for Class 1, 2 and 3 to determine how many words the children can read across the schools. So, onto the schools. Amelia and I visited Dumre, Amrit, Rakama Devi and I went on a solo visit to Devwari, taking Janaki with me as honorary translator for the day. The most memorable moment from these visits was when at Amrit Amelia read to the whole junior part of the school, all sat outside under a great big tree. Saran translated and I capered about pretending to be a mouse, much to the amusement (or perhaps confusion?) of the children. Sadly, all photos from these visits are on Amelia’s camera, which is currently making steady progress around Annapurna.

This week with Dan it’s been back to business, he has been to nearly every Manisha school (sometimes alone, and as brilliant a driver as Saran is I think it would be a tight squeeze to get all three of us on his bike) and I have been to five schools with him – we even did three in one day, Pipaldanda, Amrit and Rakama Devi. I was walking very gingerly after that day on the back of the bike. The visits have been very focused on reading tests and library measurements, but we did get a good day of teaching in at Dumre (Dan letting me tag along to his lessons to see how he does things) and the most wonderful morning at Kolkal on Friday.

As it was a half day, there were only thirteen children in school that day, so Laxman and the other two teachers had taken the children outdoors and were sitting on rugs on the grass in the sun. They are working their way through a new government scheme, where lessons are planned out on flashcards instead of the children focusing wholly on textbooks. After watching the English and Nepali lessons, Laxman pulled out his phone and started playing music, and three of the more confident boys started dancing and singing for us and the younger students clapped along. I felt very lucky to be there, watching these children dancing away, the great jagged shapes of the Himalayas over their shoulders. Their playground is set in the middle of quite a busy path leading to other villages along the hills, so every so often a herd of goats would be ushered through, or cows would amble past. One even came and put his great big head in my lap at one point. I laughed thinking about the uproar it would cause in an English school if a cow suddenly wandered past, but the Nepali children don’t even blink.

We also went to a meeting at the university this week, with regards to potentially linking their faculties with universities in the UK, and possible future Manisha involvement in the education department. We sat in an office high in the building (which looks a bit like an English manor house, painted yellow) and the various heads of departments talked to us and afterwards showed us the library. The library looks exactly like libraries at home, and to my glee was stacked full of the classics, Maugham, Austen, Dickens, Fleming, and Eliot to name a few, books I was so shocked to see in Tansen. They politely offered that I could take some away with me, but I figured that if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop, and I’d be leaving with armfuls of books.

So to conclude: Tansen is getting cooler, and a heavy haze has hung over the hills for past couple of weeks, so thick the hills are just blue shapes, the Madi Valley below is white with cloud, and the Himalayas are lost from view, hidden in the mists stretching across Nepal. I’ve been eating pomegranates all week and ploughing through as many books as I can get my hands on. I just reread To Kill A Mockingbird and I can report that I liked it much better than I did at school. Any recommendations welcome! 

Friday, 4 November 2016

New Occupation: Rice Cutter

I realise I am waaaaay overdue a blog post and so here it is: a long month of school visits and another festival in Nepal.

Barbara and I were very busy in her last few weeks here, squeezing in visits to (and here I must apologise if I am spelling these incorrectly) Amrit, where we were given so many flowers we needed a bag to carry them home with, Rakama Devi, where we were pleased to see displays on the walls and a fantastic library, Okhuldunga, Bhalebas, who gave Barbara a royal send off, Kokal, where we made shape mobiles out of lollipop sticks, and Shree Kalika, a prospective new school. In Shree Kalika we gave the children in the nursery a book each to have a look at, and the children reacted as though they’d never seen books before, much less touched them, squeaking in delight and showing each other the pictures in the books they held. It was a sobering moment for me, thinking of the thousands of books I must have carelessly come across in my many schooldays.

Barbara said goodbye to us on the 26th October, and left everyone in sad spirits. It was strange to have spent all my days for the past six weeks with someone and then suddenly being left to roam the streets of Tansen alone. With the festival on the way however, we couldn’t be complacent for too long. I’ve been making Nepali resources for the schools and reading up on government policies. The whole house was repainted, inside and out, and Abhi draped the house in hundreds of lights for Tihar (or Diwali, for those like me who didn’t know what Tihar was). At night, you could look out across the town and it was lit up, every street filled with lights and candles, the ground outside the houses painted with rangoli patterns.

This week has been for me the most humbling since I have arrived here in Nepal. I have been lucky enough to go to three different villages, Saran’s, Dhani’s and Janaki’s, and have been able to see a part of Nepal that I don’t think I ever would have seen if I was just a tourist, travelling through.
We spent Tihar at Dhani’s mother’s house, and it was odd seeing how the traditional is being pushed back relentlessly by modern technology. Dhani’s 88 year old mother watched, bemused, as her children and their offspring posed for hundreds of photos and selfies on their state of the art smartphones, the men talking into handsfree devices tucked into their ears. Then everyone sat down to bless each other and eat course after course of traditional Nepali food served up on banana leaves. I was very aware that this was happening in every village across Nepal, it wasn’t for the benefit of me or the Dutch couple Dhani had invited along too. It was all for them, we were just lucky enough to be a fly on the wall.

This feeling was repeated in Janaki’s village – I sat for much of the day quite passively unaware of what was being said around me, sitting on the floor in Janaki’s sister’s kitchen watching the young boys eat, wearing their Adidas t-shirts and checking their iPhones. There seems to be a gap widening between the young and old generations of Nepal, the internet is now in every village, on every phone. Teenage boys dance to rnb and look like they’re straight out of music videos from LA or New York. Then they walk down to their mother’s rice field and cut rice in traditional methods, i.e, a scythe. I was very pleased to be invited to go and have a look at such a rice field, and spent half an hour cutting rice with them, until I became too hot and feebly cried off to go and have a drink back at the house. The others didn’t return until much later, when they had cut every last plant in the field. Puts all my ideas about gardening into perspective.

So, highlights of the week: watching Dhani and his sisters bless a cow (which included collecting cow pats for luck), reading on the porch in Janaki’s village, and a small boy picking four enormous avocados out of the tree for us. Oh, and I attended a bike rally with Saran and Sagar, and after we had driven all around the town honking and hooting in a huge procession of bikes, we played bingo in the street, a huge group of men all shouting out as Sagar pulled out the numbers. Honestly, you just couldn’t make it up.