BARBARA’S VISIT – SEPTEMBER 2017
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.)