Tuesday, 17 October 2017


SCHOOL VISITS RESUME 

 

Planning the teacher training is becoming urgent as Saran and I will resume school visits soon but there are always catching up jobs and resources to make and tidying the office.

On Tuesday evening we had three Australian guests who arrived very tired from India. They are all roughly my age and had been ‘on the road’ for two days. A combination if heat, dust, traffic and landslide hold-ups didn’t help – Tansen is a great relief and a lovely place to ‘layup’. They are such lovely people and it’s good to speak ‘normal English again. Yes, I should learn to speak Nepali better.

Typical of many guest, the Aussies are fundraisers providing for a family of eight in Kathmandu and for the extended family in the village that was badly affected by the earthquakes of 2015. The help ensures all six children go to school and are well dressed in uniform. Johnny, the seasoned traveller who first visited Nepal 40 years ago and who had fond memories of Freak Street in Kathmandu, was accompanied by his sister, Helen, and friend Michael from Perth and close to.
Ikue's birthday - in the morning

Wednesday was Ikue’s birthday and in the way to the office we went to the new museum in Tansen Palace. During the Maoist rebellion the palace was destroyed using explosives. It had been rebuilt and you can get a sense of its former glory as it has 63 rooms, with the exception of about 6 rooms devoted to the museum so far, the rest are empty. The museum could be greatly expanded and some of the rooms used for a much needed library. Of course, it all comes down to money and there are patently other much more important projects for the town. But with the development of Bharirawa airport, three hours to the south, becoming an international airport in 2 (?) years, Tansen will have to step up to be a worthwhile tourist centre. It doesn’t help that the municipality allow the demolition of traditional houses in town to be replaced by ugly concrete structures. They could buy up an old house and, with some sensitive renovation, open it to the public.










 

Ikue and I had a long talk about the mentality and challenges in Nepal. For someone like her on a two year placement, it can be so frustrating. Working towards women’s development and empowerment, she is working on a project with village women to make candles out if bees wax that is normally thrown away after the barrel hives are harvested for lovely honey. After lunch at our usual haunt, I work in the office doing a lot of laminated Maths and Science sheets.

In the evening I’m surprised and delighted by the arrival of a lovely Dutchman, Hub; he and his wife Tini stayed at the homestay for two separate visits last year. Tini has stayed at home as 69 year old Hup is planning to di a 15 day trek in the Annapurna region. He has a great sense of humour and is incredibly laid back – a sharp contrast to many guests who are ‘doing’ Nepal in a very short time. We celebrated Ikue’s birthday with a cake and some beers, refreshing Gorkha beers on a warm Nepali evening.

Birthday celebration
 

Woke to the news that Kashuo Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize for literature. I had been telling Ikue about him and have just read ‘When We Were Orphans’. After an impromptu lunch with the Aussies, I returned to the office. In the evening we were entertained by the three year old daughter of Dhani’s niece Kamela who was helping Janiki out as she has to rest her arm for another two weeks.

Saturday was a big tidying up and washing day, it’s amazing how my small room can get so messy but I do keep a lot of things in there. I began to feel quite sad that I only have two weeks before I leave and so many things I want to do but I have to be pragmatic. Anyway feel good that I have ‘purged’ and think of home, Geoff and everybody else.
Early start for the bus for Bhalebas where Saran will meet me on his motor bike at the bottom of the Chaap track. Not five minutes later, people called me as there was a jeep going up the track and they said to get in. I was joined by two teachers on our way up and a child from the school, a tiny cute four year old who normally walks up the track on his own for 20 minutes! They start them young here.


It was a good day in the school working with older children at first. As their teacher was absent, we had a great lesson with them giving ideas if what they would do if they were head teacher. Great ideas including having electric light, a proper football field and wanting the school to go beyond class 9 to class 12 so they wouldn’t have to walk for an hour / hour and a half to the nearest higher secondary school. Another class we worked with told us of their ambitions; so many want to be teachers which is very noble but probably gives an idea of the so much easier life it is for teachers here.

We joined the nursery class and class one for story time and were joined by some of the mothers of the nursery class. Saran id a great simultaneous translation of ‘Bat Mouse’ and ‘Cammy Chameleon’ followed by Laxmi, a teacher, giving a hugely engaging reading and question time as she read from one of the big books we had donated. It is so wonderful to see the children’s entranced faces and enthusiastic responses.

After school I walked to Saran’s house with his wife, Santi, enjoying the cooling afternoon and a lovely cup of black tea (Nepali style) at the house with Astibi and Sohan providing the entertainment. For dinner, we started with roasted chick pea beans, another delicious first, with a small glass of rocksi which ensured I would sleep well.

We headed off to Kolankee Primary School in the beautiful but poor village of Kokal and met with two very stubborn cows on the track, their owner oblivious to us as he chatted as a ‘shop’. The children were delighted to see us, especially Saran who they know often brings them new things for school and he loves joking with them. He so loves children and is a devoted father and husband.

I was looking forward to seeing the multigrade teaching the government has introduced to the school as it only has classes from nursery to class 3. But first we played ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ which was great fun. The multigrade teaching means the three staff, Laxman, the head teacher, Radha and Bimu are all in the same room with the entire school population. At the moment this is 20 children, the number has dropped by 10 as parents are sending them to fee paying (not much) schools. This is so short sighted as the multigrade teaching really focuses on effective learning and is some of the best we have seen. I recommended to Laxman that he calls all the parents in the village to show the levels of achievement and enthusiasm amongst the pupils.

Binod, the near blind pupil, has been moved groups but he seems to go to whichever group he fancies but he achieving far more through the new teaching methodology. The teachers are also using some of the strategies we recommended to them after I had seen an experienced teacher for the visually impaired in the UK. It is such a pity that appropriate learning resources are not available in Nepal. He may go to the school for the visually impaired in the nearby Mahdi Valley when he is older, he is about 8 now but small for his age.

As the school are desperately short of exercise books, pencils and sports equipment, we left a bit early to order these and have them sent the next day. We also had some urgent work to do in the office.

Early the next day, we had breakfast at Saran’s parents ‘canteen’ before heading off on the motorbike to Pipaldanda School. It’s about a 30 kilometre drive in the direction of the sacred area of Ramdi, before we go off road on a very muddy track, at first bordered by rice paddy fields which are not the usual type in Palpa district. It’s a rough ride and full marks to Saran for his determination. The school looks good when we see it with the addition of a covered area on a part of the first storey. The money was provided by a local politician just before the recent election. Yes – probably a bribe but …   After a very disappointing visit last year, when one of  the teachers was pretty dire, we are pleased to see that she has left and been replaced by a new enthusiastic male teacher. They also have a class 6 this year, with permission for classes 7 and 8 in the following years so the previously empty new classrooms will be occupied. Amongst other things, the head teacher would like railings for the school compound to keep out cows and their owners as well as drunken men. Right on cue one of the latter appeared!

As the previous day’s ride had been so tough, we decided to use a jeep to go on our last school visit – to Amrit School in Angakhola. Khola means river in Nepali and the school is near the top of a beautiful valley filled with terraced rice fields surrounded by densely wooded hills and houses dotted in unimaginable places. The school previously had very poor accommodation for many of the classes so Manisha UK donated funds to build 2 new classrooms and the government provided funding for four more rooms.

The new buildings are bright and airy with good shutters but I was surprised to see that ‘our’ new classrooms, despite being finished, were not in use. The head teacher, in his big new office that he shares with the school accountant, told us that he is waiting for funds for new furniture for the children. I made it very clear that we did not provide classrooms to have then standing empty whilst children were still being taught in dark, dingy, dusty places. I don’t think he appreciated my alliteration (in English) or my comments but I reiterated my points and will have Saran check after the Tihar (Diwali).

To make matters worse, we saw that of the four new government rooms, only one is being used as a classroom – there’s a big computer room which doesn’t look well used, a staffroom with the poshest chairs I’ve seen  in Nepal and the head teacher has the cheek to say they need new library books! Saran and I were furious but couldn’t say much as this was government money they were wasting but I will find somebody of importance to tell them about this. We muttered darkly and then headed to the nursery class where we were pleased to say the teacher working far more effectively with the children than last year.
 
Excuse the pun but the bitter taste was 'sweetened' by the delicious taste of the potato pakora we had at the local canteen before we got back in the jeep. At 10 rupees for one piece (7p), it was a bargain and very welcome too.
 
Back to Tansen to continue the planning for teacher training on Friday and Saran is taking a boy and his father to Bhairahawa hospital for a possible eye operation. Another situation were being in a developing country is so heart-breaking when it comes to health.
 
Exhausting day on Thursday getting everything organised for Friday's training but more of that later.


Apologies having problems adding more photos.
Will try to do them in a separate blog

 

 

WEEK 2
 
Saturday morning brought bright sunshine but it was a noisy start. The ladies, including my host Janaki, gather to clean and sweep the path leading up to our group of houses. They do a great job as well as chatting very loudly at 6 a.m.! I admire the community spirit but wish it wasn’t so loud and so early.
I spent the day working at home and in the office with a lunch time visit to Nanglo West, a restaurant which is the haunt of the few foreigners in Tansen, and better off Nepali families. Guilty pleasure of French fries, pizza and a great lassi (not all together) – a welcome break from dhal baht.
Visited Janaki’s brother, Hari, in the early evening, he’s a Maths teacher and was involved in a motor bike accident. It’s a common occurrence here but fortunately he wasn’t seriously injured. I was at his wedding last year and now he and his wife are expecting a baby, she’s also finishing her Master’s degree.
My birthday (24th), can’t believe I’m in Nepal aged 63! Opened the cards I brought from the UK and celebrated with a gin and lots of tonic at lunchtime. Decided on the imported variety as I’ve had Nepali gin before and it was little better tasting than the local rocksi. Sunday is a working day here so had to go easy especially as Saran and I had a lot to prepare for the head teachers’ meeting the following day.
Great surprise in the evening when I was called up to the balcony for a birthday surprise – a great cake, presents and red wine (Spanish). I had a lovely evening with the family and the young Japanese volunteer who stays in the attached flat. Ikue volunteers with the Japanese organisation JAICA, it’s like the American Peace Corps, and she has been here for over a year working on rural and women’s development. She speaks very good Nepali as she had intensive lessons in Japan and in Kathmandu. Thanks to whats app, I had lots of chats and messages later. But missed being with my husband, Geoff, a sacrifice for us both.
We had a very successful head teachers’ meeting in the Red Cross building, lively discussion and good ideas but a ‘nag’ about doing more library activities. Good to hear of progress e.g. improved exam results in in one school, permission to have more classes in one school which will lead to lower secondary status in the future. Have promised to visit all – hope I’ll have time.
Returned to the homestay to find Janaki with her arm in a sling and a lot of medication. She had damaged a muscle over-zealously washing blankets and clothes. As her son Abhi says “She treats clothes like the enemy!”  She’s in a lot of pain and upset so I have her sniff the lavender oil I always have with me. Despite the effort of having to hand wash everything, I don’t think I’ll ever hurt myself, a quick dunk to freshen things up and that’s me. Washing machines are such a luxury here and despite lots of rain at times, the water supply is very poor.
In our coordinator Saran’s village, his wife and twenty others have signed up to ask for the government to help with funding for a reserve tank. With the extra water that they could grow a variety of vegetables, currently they are restricted to maize and mustard seed that don’t require a great deal of water. With more water, they could grow potatoes, carrots etc.
Tuesday was a catch up on paper work and social day. I went to see Dan’s wife and had a long chat about her visit to the UK which she really enjoyed. I also met several old friends and acquaintances as I went around town.
After working in the morning, Ikue and I set off for Saran’s village for a wedding taking the local bud to the bottom of the track to Chaap then going on the back of a motorbike, far more comfortable than in the crammed jeeps we usually have to take.  We didn’t know the couple but many people were invited. Lots of food, rocksi and dancing, the latter mainly involving the younger generation but I joined in a few times – not easy on a rocky surface and to Nepali pop. Also there was Eric (Nepali name – Prem), the US Peace Corps volunteer, who was having a great time. It was extremely hot so we left with Saran’s wife, Santi, at 8.30 leaving Saran to the rocky dancefloor.
The bride was from Chaap village, she only seemed about 20, and the groom …
7 a. m. wake up and after a lovely breakfast, Ikue and I took a walk around the village bumping into people I know and visiting the Singh family in their ‘new’ home. Mr Singh retired as head teacher from the village school (Shree Bhagwati) and his home was seriously damaged in the earthquake. The government provided only one third of the cost and the family had to provide the rest. They have a kitchen / living area and three bedrooms to accommodate 6 adults and 4 children, the eldest of whom is 18. Not easy.
Whilst we were around the village, Saran was doing his community duty – helping to slaughter 3 pigs for the festival – and his family weren’t even going to eat any! They were going to eat barbecued goat.
 Back in Tansen, struggling with IT again, I finally managed to finish the blog for week one and do some other paperwork.
  Dasain is the main Nepali festival, tens of thousands go back to their family homes in the village – special tikka is put on foreheads and children are given new bank notes (the queues at the bank seem endless) and eat special food. Saran and his family aren’t really celebrating Dasain this year as a relative recently died, aged 56, leaving his second wife a widow with a one year old son.
   Saran’s parents are going to the village for the holiday so I go with them. The back of the jeep is loaded with potato seed, bags of beaten rice, empty plastic bottles to fill with locally made rocksi to be sold in Tansen and lots more. We are in a jeep and at first I think it’s just us but a young Indian man gets in with a very young car mechanic. His car, with his family, has broken down about 6 miles out of Tansen, so we drop them off. Just as we are going off the ‘black’ road (tarmac), the driver shouts Chaap and a swarm of people appear loaded with bags. Yes … they all pile in. I count 15 in the small jeep with 4 on the top and the driver’s assistant hanging off the side. Just the usual.
  We spend a pleasant time with repeated thunder in the night but little rain. Everybody but me is up at 6 next day, I prefer reading my book in bed but feel guilty so get up at 7. But they won’t let me help so I do some Manisha work then play with Sohan and his friend, Astibi,
 
 
          
 
 

BARBARA’S VISIT – SEPTEMBER 2017

WEEK ONE

 

Well what a week it’s been!

I arrived safely in Kathmandu at 8 a. m. and was impressed by how calm the city seemed, amazingly the authorities have banned people using their car, motorbike etc. horns. What a difference it makes and good that some other Nepali cities are thinking of introducing the same. There is also a big project to clean up one of the main rivers.

I checked into our old favourite ‘Stupa House’ and was as usual met by the friendly staff. After a much needed 3 hour sleep, I shopped for some necessities and went to eat at a Tibetan restaurant – not very imaginatively named ‘Yak Restaurant’. I had the Tibetan equivalent of momos, Nepali’s favourite snack, and decided to try the alcoholic drink ‘tumba’ which is a wooden pot full of millet and a millet spirit. You have to top it up with hot water, it’s very strong but tastes very nice.

 

 

As our usual bus route was in a shocking state, I took the bus to Pokhara and even then it was a terrible 10 hour journey. There was so much passenger traffic with people heading to their home villages for the festival of Dasain. Also there were hundreds of lorries as the Mugling – Naraynghat road was closed to commercial traffic. Delighted to arrive in Pokhara where I met our schools coordinator, Saran. We had a comfortable journey to Tansen the next day, pleased to see the Bashyal family all well at the homestay. After Monday in the office catching up with paper work and planning, on Sunday we visited Mahachaap School in a jeep which got stuck and had to be dug out (!), then we had to continue on foot, uphill and in the heat as the jeep would have got stuck again.

We were greeted with beautiful garlands and had a look at the building work which should be completed in about 3 months. (The previous re-build was destroyed by a landslide). The sight of the old classrooms is still shocking to see – tiny, dark, horrible walls and children crammed behind old benches. Resolve to have decent classrooms for these children.

Back to Tansen and a surprise at the homestay, Dhanni and Abhi found 3 kittens in a potato box on the roof (sorry cat lovers – pics locked in camera). So tiny and cute, no sign of ‘mum’ but we heard her in the middle of the night when she came looking for her kittens and knocked over a metal pot in the ‘shrine’ making a huge crashing sound. Another kitten was found later and put with the others. No sign of any felines since so presume mum found them.

On Tuesday Saran and I went to see the possible site for the potential ‘Learning Resource Centre’ in Tansen. It’s in the grounds of a temple in a central part of town and it looks as if it could be a very good place – with a lot of work!             

Had lovely lunch at Saran’s parents little canteen, his mum had remembered my favourite paneer dish and then I had a huge portion of sweet rice pudding. It’s the best rice pudding ever. Saran’s son was there and he kept us entertained.

                          

 

We worked off the pudding going up the street we call the ‘steepy steepy’ – yes not very sophisticated. We also worked in the office, sorting out folders and resources.

Early on Wednesday morning I caught the local bus to Dumre where I met Saran and we walked up the track to Jandeep School closely followed by a group of girls. We heard a loud sound and realised it was a big rock which had come down the hillside on to the path! Apparently a JCB was working above. Fortunately nobody was hit.

We were impressed to see the new building which should be completed in 3 months just when the head teacher is about to retire. There are ten new classrooms funded by Manisha UK, the Nepali government and a Japanese philanthropist who goes by the name of OK Baji. One of the rooms is already set up with carpet and furniture and it is used for the year 10 classes (16 years old) to watch live broadcasts of 35 minute lessons from Kathmandu covering 6 subjects including English, Maths and Science. It’s a pilot project operating in two schools in Palpa district. Won’t go into my thoughts about it now but as someone said “old wine in a new bottle”.

        

 

                                     

You might spot me in the nursery class.

We spoke to the head teacher about the school and had an interesting discussion with Hum, a young teacher whom previous volunteers will fondly remember. Good news that he is now married and is on a full salary, previously - probably because of his Dalit status (lowest caste) - he had been had only been paid a small amount by the community. He speaks perfect English and has completed his Master’s degree!

Back down the hill and up again to Bhalebas in a delivery jeep. As usual I was warmly met with tikka and garlands. The cricket bat donated by ‘Birmingham Bears’ was immediately put to use and I had the nursery group and class 1 together (mad I know!). Stories, songs, funny anecdotes and a chaotic attempt at Twister.

     

 

                          

 

In a discussion with Prakash, the head teacher, we heard about a boy with a serious eye problem affecting one eye. He had been referred to a local hospital but they couldn’t help so he has been referred to Bhairawa hospital which is about 3 hours away. The family are extremely poor and cannot afford travel or accommodation. After consulting with trustees, it has been agreed that we can help the family. He will go to the hospital after the festival, probably accompanied by Saran, our coordinator, and a member of his family.

 

On the way to Saran’s house, we saw the long retired Gorkha soldier, 95 years old, with his fourth wife aged 48. He’s outlived the previous three! I, of course, mistook her for his granddaughter but he forgave me especially when he was reminiscing about his time as a piper in Scotland and I sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

 

 

Later Santi cooked us a lovely meal, I read and played with Sohan and had my first rocksi of the trip.  Not too strong! 

Before heading back to Tansen, Saran asked me if I would like to go to the community hall where he and a volunteer community worker were delivering special food packs for babies older than 6 months. It’s a very nutritious supplement additional to mothers’ milk. It was the first distribution which they hope to sustain.

 

Returning to Saran’s house torrential rain came down and it continued for several hours, we couldn’t get a jeep to come up to the village until 1 p.m.                                 Made myself useful by helping to strip the maize crop, there was a mountain of it on Saran and Santi’s veranda. I wish I’d stayed as when the jeep finally arrived it was a crappy old thing and the driver drove like a ‘bat out of hell’ when he got on the pitch road and didn’t stop his break neck speed until he sharply braked outside of Saran’s parents shop to literally drop an empty gas bottle. Ah Nepal!

Friday brought seven hours of torrential rain with the streets like flowing torrents. By the afternoon I was able to get to the office with a quiet evening ahead.

(This is my first ever blog post and boy have I sweated over it. A steep learning curve importing photographs from my camera and two mobiles. Apologies for any mistakes and hope it’s not been a boring read. Namaste.)