Sunday, September 28, 2014

Twenty-Two in Kathmandu

So, as some of you may know, I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Nepal last week. It was my first birthday celebrated outside the U.S., so I was not quite sure what to expect. The morning was a mixed bag: I saw parts of the mountains, which was nice, but I also found out that Caitlin would be leaving Nepal due to the severity of her illness. My classes were well-behaved…because the other teachers hit them before class. I got home and rewarded myself with a book, half a Snickers bar, and a shower (soon to be a luxury as winter approaches). 

My family surprised me with a cake, upon which someone had spelled “Alanna” correctly. They can’t do it in America, but for some reason, in Nepal, where Roman script is not even the main alphabet, they spelled my name right. We also had pasta (shells, my second favorite shape next to bowties) in honor of my Italian tastes—although it still tasted like a curry. They also sang for me, with my bai accompanying on electric keyboard. 

Fast forward to this weekend: I came into Kathmandu to meet up with the other girls—Ellen, Emily, and Lisa all came in from Gorkha, while Caitlin and Elsie were already there. They had me pick out a restaurant for lunch. I selected one with a view overlooking Patan’s Durbar Square. At the end of the meal, Lisa asked me to call Elsie to find out where she was, and when I looked back at the table, there was a chocolate cake, candles and all. Since time is so fluid in Nepal, they apologized for forgetting my birthday. I didn’t mind; I would have forgotten it too if not for my host family. It was just such a wonderful surprise to celebrate with five of the six of us. 

Eventually Elsie called back, after some misadventures in the city. Ellen happened to spot her from the roof as we were talking—she had been right across the street from us, which was a great coincidence. We went down to meet her and her boyfriend, who graciously took a final shot of the “Super 6.” All in all, there was a definite hint of bittersweetness, but I could not ask for a more thoughtful and wonderful group of girls to help make my Nepali birthday special. 
My cake from my host family.

My surprise cake from the other ETAs.

Patan's Durbar Square

It's hard to see, but in the lower right section of this photo, there's a man in an orange shirt (the same color as the flower above). It ended up being Elsie's boyfriend, which is how we were able to take the next picture...

Our last photo of the six of us for a while.

Never Too Cool for School

I’ve held off on writing about my school because it’s pretty difficult to write about. What can I say? I would like to provide an honest view of the school, but I can’t be too critical—I’m Facebook friends with my coworkers (hi if you’re reading!). Not everything is peaches & cream, obviously, or else they wouldn’t need me here. 

*Also, for the sake of privacy and safety, I will not be saying the name of my school or my village until the end of my time in Nepal.

Who I am teaching: I am currently teaching classes 1, 2, and 3 by myself. I have also become the “English Encyclopedia” to classes 9 and 10, which is lots of fun.

What classes are like: All of my primary classes start out with a chant (“Clap, clap, clap your hands; click, click, click your fingers; etc.). If I forget to start it, they remind me. Then we move into some sort of lesson. All of the classes are working on slightly different things, but there is still occasional overlap. Class 1 has a lot of phonics and penmanship. Class 2 has a lot of basic opposites, prepositions, and actions. Class 3 is a mixed bag, but we’ve spent a fair amount of time learning weather and directions. After the lesson, there may be a time of writing practice, followed by “fun time.” For class 1, fun time consists of songs and dances. Class 2 loves a game called “Run to the Board”—it’s exactly what it sounds like. Class 3 really enjoys drawing exercises. And all of the classes love doing the “Hokey-okey” (as they call it), or the “Hockey-Cockey” (as the British call it), or the “Hokey-Pokey” (as Americans call it). 

Available resources: Well, I have a whiteboard. And a floor. Can’t teach without that. The students sometimes have their own pencils and copies (notebooks). My principal gave me a box of pencils to distribute and collect, which helps a lot. But everything else—dry-erase markers, erasers, sharpeners, books, any teaching aids—come from me and my imagination. 

Problems: I’ll try to get this section with over quickly. Most of my problems stem from a larger one: I do not have any co-teachers in my primary classes. This in itself is okay, because it grants me the power to teach however I please. But it leads to some pretty hefty discipline issues. The kids run across the tops of the desks. They hit and punch and kick each other. On my first day, one boy tried to spit water on my back. I told him I’d stick his head in the rubbish bin if he tried it, which he then went and did voluntarily. Those problems are slowly dissipating as I gain their respect, but it will take a while. There are many communication snafus as well, because I’m struggling to learn Nepali. But worse, to me, is the beating stick. Or, should I say sticks: both because there are many, and because I break them in two whenever they come my way. I can’t stop the other teachers from using them, but I refuse to use them myself. 

*There was also a small incident involving a permanent marker and the white board, but  it’s amazing what rubbing alcohol can fix.

Students: How can I not love them? They’re kids. They crave attention and affirmation and love. They are so neat and seemingly pristine in their uniforms, until you look closely—holes, rags, dirt, caked-on snot, eye infections, rotting teeth, lice—but they’re beautiful, and full of vibrancy and potential. And they all have great hair. I’ve seen a few outside of school, and they wear filthy, ragged clothes as they play. I realized that their school uniforms are symbolic. They trade individuality and fun for sameness and the chance to escape from lives of poverty.
Teaching is difficult. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and the only thing better than a perfect lesson is one where they don’t want me to leave, and they’re all smiling. 

One Last Thing: If I accomplish nothing else, at least I have taught all students between Nursery level and class 3 the fine arts of high-fiving, pinky-swearing, and fist-bumping.
*I use a lot of hand sanitizer.

We were missing kids, so I gave class 1 some dry erase markers.

They did pretty well, considering the fact they're all too short to really reach the board.

The principal is the man wearing the topi (hat) on the right.

They wanted high-fives, not photos.

On the left, one of my Kindergarten followers; on the right, one of my class 2 students.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For those of you waiting...

I will have more blog posts very, very soon. But until then, enjoy this short video of the view from my house!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Life in the Future, Part II

Living in a Nepali village has its ups and downs. Going with the tradition of the ages, I'll start with the downs:

-the inescapable loneliness when you crave conversation with someone who speaks English as their first language, or who at least knows what Star Wars is
-pollution throat
-the mosquito swarm outside of my bathroom
-my dear friend and fellow ETA Caitlin being horrendously ill (although she is starting the slow road to recovery)
-having no toilet access between the hours of 9:30 pm and 6:30 am
-stepping in at least five different types of excrement on the way to school, all while trying not to wipe out on slick red bricks or trip on stray dogs
-realizing there's half a year between now and seeing my family and friends again
-making my aamaa cry when trying to explain what the "Pentagon Tower attacks" were (9/11)

But there are many more moments of fun and joy:

-anything involving my students (but more on that in a later post)
-receiving personal emails are often the highlight of my day
-trying to teach my Nepali family English, Spanish, and ancient Greek--and learning awkwardly that "padre" sounds a lot like padnu (to fart)
-this gem from my aamaa: "I'm going to bathe, and then dye." (say it out loud)
-also, hearing the story about how she hated the train food in India so much, she tossed it out the window. Haven't we all wanted to do that at one point or another?
-not fussing about appearance
-the fact my diet consists of veggies, rice, tea, and biscuits (cookies)

-forming an alliance with spiders
-having time to read books that have been on my list for a long time (currently on book 4 of 25 Tarzan books)

And for the first time in a long time, not worrying about much of anything: the future, what to wear, not "being productive" in my leisure time. Instead, I sit on the roof with a cup of tea and contemplate this:

The transition to living in Nepal was much less jarring than you'd expect.

It simply became my life.

Life in the Future, Part I

Did you know that not only am I living 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of most of you, but I am also living 57 years in the future? Yes, in Nepal, it is currently the year 2071. So here is my report from the future.

It makes me very happy how quickly my host family became comfortable around me, and vice versa. I've already fallen into their schedule and habits. I crave milk tea at 5 every day (but only one cup--it's fresh, unpasteurized, whole milk from our neighbor's cow). I eat more veggies in a day than I used to in a week. I can read the breeze and humidity to predict storms perfectly (okay, maybe some of that skill comes from my pilot father). We laugh together at Nepali serials, even though I have no idea what is being said. We laugh a lot--at potty humor, school tales, and our own language issues.

Many habits of Western culture have gone out the window. Trash gets tossed in the garden to be burned. Teeth are brushed under the stars, and we spit on the ground. My aim is improving. Eating and drinking tea in bed are encouraged. Every morning, I wake to the melody of my neighbor hacking up a bucketful of phlegm, and every night I fall asleep to the harmony of fighting dogs.

School is no exception. Men and women belch and pick their nose, and no one bats an eye (I don't succumb to that particular peer pressure, though). They sneeze, and no one says or expects a "God bless you!" And don't get me started on when they have to blow their noses. Just don't linger under any balconies or windows.

And never have I felt more healthy or more filthy.

I promise I shower at least twice a week.

Teej; Or, the Women's Men's Festival

Teej is also known as the women's festival: a day where, after gorging themselves on delicious food the night before, women fast and pray for the health and well-being of their husbands (or future husbands). It's an interesting day.

A few days into my time at my placement, my aamaa brought me to get fitted for a sari. I was shown many fabrics, but it was eventually decided (not by me) that I should get a fancy one. It was fairly expensive by Nepali terms, but still half the cost of a low-end prom dress. But after that, I still needed bangles--I had to settle for plastic, because my huge hands would shatter the traditional glass churra. And then shoes... After 8 pairs, we finally found a style in "massive American" size. I put my foot down on gaudy hairclips or beaded necklaces, but did purchase a bedazzled bindi (the dot that Hindu women wear between their eyebrows). 

I apologize to my male readers. There is a point to all this, I swear.

On Thursday morning, August 28, my aamaa requested that I get all dolled up, which meant putting on make-up for the first time in a month. Then, she locked me into my sari. A sari has three pieces: a boring petticoat, a more exciting belly-baring blouse, and about 5 or 6 meters of embroidered, heavy fabric. That is not an elaboration. 

It was a day of many firsts. My first rides in Nepali buses, minibuses, and electric tuk-tuks, for example. And my first chance to flash my embassy badge to gain free access for my first visit to Patan's Durbar Square.

My aamaa and her sister took me to a Nepali film starring Shree Krishna Shrestha, who tragically passed away around the time of the film's release. The movie was 3 hours long, and had an honest-to-God intermission. It was entirely in Nepali, but I appreciated the song/dance breaks. I also appreciated the fact that we got three large popcorns, sodas, and a water bottle for less than the cost of one American film ticket.

The day was not without its oddities. My sari had to be readjusted every hour. And I was stared at by almost every single person I passed--especially by men, who shouted comments that my bai (little brother) refused to translate. For a large part of the day, I ignored then. 

But then I realized staring them down was much more fun.

At the end of the day, I had lost most of the sequins from my shoes, but I gained two things: a pote (glass bead) necklace from my aamaa, meant to be worn by married women, and a lovely set of blisters.

That's what I get for walking through Kathmandu in 600 rupee shoes.

My aamaa and I in Patan's Durbar Square.

Some elephant statues that are really, really old.

Everyone in their Teej finery.

People gathered for a dance performance.

My glamour shot.

Notice the significant height difference? There's a reason I can't find shoes in my size.