Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Because I have some time...

...I will give you all a quick walkthrough of my typical school day in Nepal.

7:30 - oops, I slept in late!

8:45 - a hearty breakfast of dhaal bhaat (much more filling than cereal)

9:30 - leave the house for school

9:45 - after an easy walk, arrive at school

10:05 - start teaching the angelic Class 1

12:15 - struggle to survive Class 2; have to exit via window because students block door

12:55 - breath of fresh air with the very promising Class 3

1:35 - tiffin, or lunch, break with faculty; sometimes churra with channa (beaten rice - a bit like dry oats - with chickpeas), sometimes tea and biscuits, sometimes white bread with rather suspect hot, sweet milk

2:00 - writing/planning time in faculty office; hope to fill time with one or two more classes soon

4:00 - head home from school

5:00 - milk chiya on the terrace with my host parents, where we watch the sunset over the valley edge until mosquitoes eat us alive

8:00 - dinner, often followed by conversation or a smattering of Nepali television programs

9:00 - quiet reading and lesson planning time, sometimes with chocolate biscuits or odd-flavored Oreos (orange Oreos taste like toothpaste mixed with children's Motrin on a delicious cookie)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Just so you all know, I'm still alive...

Allow me to apologize for my most grievous sin: I have failed to update my blog for over a week. While I would prefer to use a laptop to write this important post, I am stuck with my tablet in the WiFi-equipped faculty room at my school, so please excuse any typos.

I arrived at my placement in Lalitpur, a little over an hour from KTM, last Monday. My new house is a concrete structure in the midst of many rice paddies. I say structure because it is under construction, as my host family is attempting to add two more floors to their home. Most of it is there. It is just missing a few key features, like railings on the staircases, or indoor toilets.

Other than the brick and concrete dust raining down every day, it is a very nice abode. Every evening, we take chiya, or tea, in the third floor terrace - and is the monsoon is kind, we can watch the sun set over the far western hills of the valley. My bedroom is also the temporary sitting room, but it is cozy, with bright blue walls and a very welcome mosquito net.

My family is lovely: I have an aamaa (mother), buwaa (father), and bai (younger brother). They all speak English to some degree, and are determined to learn more from my presence. While technically of the Brahmin, or highest, caste, my aamaa is a Christian, and she teaches Nepali at a local Catholic private school. My buwaa is Hindu, and also the primary cook, which is rare in Nepal. While watching my host parents share housekeeping duties is nothing new to me, my aamaa has assured me it is uncommon, and their neighbors find it odd.

It speaks greatly to the kindness of my host parents that on the first night, I woke them up around 12 as I tried to break out of the house to use the bathroom, and they did not seem to mind in the slightest.

My school placement is an easy fifteen minute walk from my house that takes me through the heart of Lubhu (loo-voo) bazaar. The student ages range from nursery to class 10, and there is an average of 15 to 20 students per grade. Communication has been a tad difficult, both with students and faculty, because of my limited Nepali, but there are a few teachers that speak English well. I am currently teaching classes 1, 2, and 3, but I may add more in the coming weeks. Today was my first day teaching, because last week was filled with exams. I did, however, help to run the English listening and speaking exams.

I think the students were terrified of me.

I shall end on the topic of food. There is always a morning and evening meal, and each almost always consists of rice, lentils, and curried/pickled vegetables. I say almost because my aamaa has kindly acknowledged my love of noodles. "Pickled" has a different connotation in Nepal, and normally refers to a salsa-like condiment made from salt, lemon, and fresh vegetables. There is normally a light lunch in the middle if the afternoon, and after that, milk tea and biscuits. Thank goodness I enjoy tea!

Well, that's about all I can type right now. I apologize if my English seems a bit stilted; I've been reading too many pre-20th century novels of late.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Swayambhunath the Incredible (and Unpronounceable, apparently) - Photo Post #3

If you look closely, you can get an idea of the height and steep grade of the "pilgrim's staircase."

Our first view of the Swayambhunath Stupa after a grueling climb. It is one of the most sacred sites in the practice of Buddhism, similar to the Bhoda Stupa, which can be viewed in a previous post.

On a related note, if you would like a humorous story of one of our many adventures, check out my other blog here. I hope it makes you laugh!

We visited at sunset, and were treated to an amazing sky.

The Stupa sits on a hill in the western part of Kathmandu Valley, which is constantly filled with thunder clouds.

Easily one of the most stunning places I have ever visited.

Many of the monkeys sustain themselves on offerings--and trash--left by pilgrims.

I contemplate.

A close-up of the mantra-inscribed prayer wheels.

A butter candle I lit for my family back home. The whole place smells a bit like a seafood restaurant, because at night, hundreds of these candles are set alight.

A sampling of the dozens of sacred monkeys that populate the grounds. Fuzzy and adorable, yes, but they often attack visitors for food and fun...and they are carriers of rabies.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

After Three Weeks in Kathmandu...

...this city still makes very little sense. But here are some pictures!

I'm pretty sure that's Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison...
I remember Frank Sinatra looking slightly less...alien.
The decision-making table.
Kathmandu's hidden pleasure garden: the Garden of Dreams
A dreamy flower.
And finally...
Nepali advertising at its best.

Oh, How Time Flies...

Whoa, this week few right on by! On Monday, we visited the schools and homestays in Lalitpur, and by lunchtime on Wednesday we had decided amongst ourselves who would be at what school. Ellen, Emily, and Lisa will be going off to Gorkha, while I will be going to Lalitpur with Caitlin and Elsie. It is such a relief to finally know where we will all be living for the next seven months. 

The best part of the week, however, came on Thursday afternoon. Due to exam schedules, Christine had to move our teaching practice from next week to this Thursday and Friday. The ETAs paired up: experienced teachers with the less experienced. I was paralyzed with stage fright on the drive over, even though Caitlin and I had prepared a solid lesson on counting and number sense. 

We strolled through the gateway of the school at the Tibetan refugee camp, and my nervousness dissipated. Smiling, tiny, adorable children will do that to you. Our grade class was a bit of a discipline nightmare, and kids who should have been in other classes kept shoving open the doors and window shutters to stare at us. We had to lock all of them (and barricade one of the doors with a bench), and the room turned into a bit of a sauna. The kids—all 24 of them—were worth the heat and noise. They were overjoyed when we pulled out a book we had written/illustrated just for them, when we announced that we had games for them to play, and especially when, after being told to teach another period, we took them outside to play Hokey-Pokey.

None of them knew right from left.

I think what might have made them most excited of all was when I told them, “Alanna-Miss and Caitlin-Miss brought a special friend along,” and withdrew my Indiana Jones Mickey Mouse doll from my bag. They might not have known their directions, but oh boy, did they recognize the world’s most famous mouse. One girl with a Mickey Mouse backpack was particularly overwhelmed. 

Caitlin and I barely escaped the classroom as a mob of children attacked us with hugs and kisses on the hands and cheeks (Mickey got his fair share as well). When we came back the next morning, our 2nd graders poured out of their classroom and surrounded us, much to the amusement of Robin, Christine, and the other ETAs. After another successful lesson—which included a reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar—we had to leave for good. We taught them a farewell song (from Bear in the Big Blue House, I think), and as we departed, they covered us in kisses, flowers, and petals, and gave us a beautifully chromatic crayon drawing of a mango.
The lovely Caitlin with our hero, Indiana Mouse.
Leaving was heartbreaking, because I realized that we will most likely never see these kids again. We can only hope that the short time we spent with them will have some influence on their lives. Teaching practice was a wonderful exercise, though. I learned so much from watching Caitlin interact with the kids, as she used many of the techniques she picked up while student teaching. 

I still have a small amount of trepidation with regards to leaving the “comfort” of Kathmandu, but I feel most of it has been alleviated between actually standing in the front of a classroom and also, by meeting the woman who will become my aama, or (host) mother. She’s like an Italian mama in the body of a Nepalese woman—so basically, the most hospitable and friendly woman imaginable. I’m excited.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Good Weekend (Photo Post #2)

It has been an excellent weekend--the perfect ending to a long week. I cannot describe it in words, so here are some pictures.
Home base
Monsoon brings out beautiful colors.
The proper way to use KTM public transportation.
It says, "Nepal and It's Slendour" [sic]

Friday night pizza? I think yes.
A trip to Pilgrims Book House had very satisfying results. The copy of The Hobbit is especially exciting: it was printed in 1968, right around the time the hippies invaded Kathmandu--and brought Tolkien the reader numbers he deserves.
A drink at Himalayan Java, the "Starbucks" of Kathmandu.
Cinnamon-sugar crepes for 100 rupees.
Fulbright arranged for us to have a tour of historic Patan. The design around this door is traditional Newari, painted around a home entrance for exciting events, like births and weddings.
A new Buddha statue.
The group.
Intricate Tibetan designs carved on a door.
A poster for the recently-passed Naga holiday. Families post these outside their doors to appease the snake gods.

Inside the central square of a traditional Nepali home.

Offering dishes dedicated to deceased family members.

Sculpture depicting the mount of one of the gods.
Shrine covered in typical puja offerings of flowers, rice, and tika.

The temple's sacred turtle. He seemed quite keen on escaping.

Apparently Nepal had pagodas before China did.

The other ETAs in the window of a home-turned-hotel--on the floor I couldn't reach because of the ladder-like staircase.
When in Rome...oh, wait...

Bizarre Trip to Gorkha Bazaar

(Originally written on July 31)

We have returned safely from our trip to Gorkha district, which is quite a feat in itself. On the way back, our teacher, Christine Stone, told us that the road between Gorkha and Kathmandu sees an average of one accident per day. And just after that, we passed a spot where a vehicle had flipped over the guardrail into the swollen river below (although it appeared that the passengers made it out before it went over). Cliffside driving is especially nerve-wracking here because no one stays in their own lanes—and in many spots, there are no guardrails. Just a sheer drop. 

Anyway, Gorkha was an experience. We were there to visit three of our possible school assignments and to meet their respective host families. On the drive—one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced—we even caught a brief glimpse of a snowcapped peak through heavy cloud cover. We stopped for lunch at a dhaal bhaat place with a great view of the Manakamana cable car. And that is where things started to go wrong. 

At first, I thought it was a spot of indigestion, so after we arrived at our charming hotel, I went down to Nepali class, where a general feeling of “unwellness” gradually descended. Within an hour and a half, I was too sick to do anything except lay on my bed, and sleep did not grace me with its presence until 4:30 am.

In the morning, I was deemed too weary and dehydrated to visit the schools, so I slept, and I slept hard. Within a few more hours, my illness had passed, and rehydration began. My gratitude goes out to the other ETAs, especially Lisa, my roommate for the trip. They took care of me, and after a dinner of rice (which is luckily plentiful in Nepal), they gave me a photo-assisted presentation on the schools. 

The next day I made the foolish to climb with the others to Gorkha Durbar (Palace). Christine quoted the number of stairs at around 700, but it felt never-ending. I reached the top a full 20 minutes behind Christine (who is exceedingly athletic for being over 80), and my clothes were disgustingly saturated with sweat. So it goes when climbing after being ill. 

It was worth it. I caught one perfect glimpse of one perfect Himalayan peak, and I am not at all embarrassed that a few tears sprang to my eyes. Robin, our boss of sorts, said that it is better to be teased by the mountains now, so that we will appreciate the full view even more when it finally appears around November. 

Interesting Sightings:

-black rubber pipes stretched across the river, used by kids either scootching along on their behinds or crawling on their bellies

-young boys offering baskets of pickles, popcorn, and papads to passengers on tourist buses, hoping for a few rupees

-sacred cows in carts, apparently with a few extra legs

-Coca-Cola truly is everywhere

Manakamana Cable Car - leads to a temple once only accessible by a day-long, grueling hike

The monsoon paints the countryside green.

It's common to see signs like this near temples. Often with similar adorable typos.

Look in the middle, at the glowing white that isn't a cloud.

Apparently, the flag of Nepal is the only national flag that is not a rectangle.

The ever-present "om."

Where are these "perfect feet"?