Monday, November 24, 2014

This Post is Being Composed from my Hospital Bed

I don't have too much to say. Honestly, I just wanted a reason to use that title.

Anyway, for those of you who know and those who don't, I am about to spend my third night in a clinic in Kathmandu. On Thursday, I got pretty sick. On Friday, I got sicker. And on Saturday, I showed up here, expecting to maybe spend a night hooked up to an IV line. But the world doesn't always work in expected ways, and I haven't left this room since I entered it.

I was lucky to have a roommate for the first few hours: a 57 year-old Alaskan woman who got airlifted off of Everest. No big deal. When she was discharged, Elsie visited me from across the hall, dragging her IV rack behind her. We Fulbrighters are a hearty sort.

Between that, a visit from the Fulbright director, and many Skype calls, I have not been at a lack for love. Still, one cannot help but get a wee bit lonely while bedbound in a country 7500 miles away from almost everyone you love. I'm on the mend though, and compared tmany, I could have been much, much sicker. It is hard that this came exactly at the halfway point of my time here, during the holiday season when I want nothing more than to be home with my family and friends and poodles and Christmas tree.

But when I think about my students, and how distressed they are when I miss even a single day of school, I know I could never leave unless dire necessity - or the end of my grant - pulls me back to America.

So yeah. Here's hoping I get to go home tomorrow. And maybe even bathe, before I turn as grey as the Game of Thrones cast (the only proper way to be entertained in the hospital).

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Big Photo Post - Expect Few Words

Fuzzy AND pretty.
For reasons unknown, my neighbors use a statue of Ganesh to hold down their roof.

Some poor child lost their cow balloon.
My bai, posing against the beautiful sky.
Ellen's classroom.
Wearing the flower necklaces Ellen's students gave us.
See that spider? Size of your palm.
They call it "air-conditioning of the gods."

So it goes when you try to photograph a baby goat.

Pretty cool tree.
A walk in Gorkha.
Emily's favorite curtains.
Emily's classroom.

Lisa pushing Sachina in the ping; bauju looks on.

Holy crap! A dung beetle!
Lisa's classroom.

The bridge.
Bauju wanted this picture to look artsy, I guess.
It posed for me. So cute.

Alanna: "I've always wanted to hold a chick."       Lisa: "Okay!" (grabs chick off ground)
It looks like an alien, but I swear it's delicious.

Those colors.

Lisa prepares to lift 50 kilos of rice with her head.
Don't read Devanagari? Don't worry. It says, phonetically, "ticket counter."
I don't know what they are, but I have a feeling they taste like food coloring.
A footpath for Laxmi, goddess of prosperity.

Tihar festival lights at Lisa's house.

All the shades of tika.
Sachina reigns victorious!
Sachina imitates her pregnant mother.
I'm getting better at henna tattoos.
A chicken. In the luggage rack.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gorkha: End of a Saga

This post is being typed on my tablet, so I apologize if the formatting does not match the others. I also apologize that you have two and a half more weeks to wait before you see any pictures.

Day 6 - Emily's to Lisa's

To get to Lisa's house, I experienced yet another uncomfortable bus ride (but the worst was yet to come). I won't bore you with the details, but I will say I was surprised I wasn't bent into a " w" shape by the end. But I arrived safely, and met a crap ton of people: host dad, host mom, host sister-in-law (bauju), host niece, host uncle, and host grandma. Lisa told them a little lie that saved me a lot of grief by saying that I was a sworn vegetarian AND anti-lactose advocate.

No goat meat, and no buffalo milk. I have a guardian angel, and her name is Lisa.

Day 7 - Lisa's House

Lisa was supposed to have school, but that was canceled when one of the teacher's nephews died in a motorcycle accident. At a loss for something to do, we took a walk with her bauju and her daughter Sachina.

First we visited the Italian/German ex-pat goatb farmers. No luck. Their dice of destiny has told them to go to Pokhara. Alrighty then, what now? Lisa suggested a walk down to the river. The only crossing was a two-and-a-half-Alanna-wide suspension bridge, and you all know how much I looooooove those.

But when we reached the other side, we noticed how calm and shallow the water was. So we decided to dip our feet in. And then, what the heck, we decided, no one cares about our "natural" legs if we roll up our suruwals, let's wade in.

As you can imagine, we ended up completely submerged. It was glorious. The water was refreshing, and we were surrounded by laughing young boys and washer women. Bauju, who is 8 months pregnant, and Sachina,who is four, stayed on the bank. When we returned, we find that rather than building a sand castle, they had constructed a sand lingam. Don't look that up. I'll just tell you now. It's a phallic sculpture sacred to Shiva.

Lisa didn't know what it was, so she didn't understand why I found it so funny.

Later, we made samosas. They were deep fried, and therefore delicious.

Day 8 - Lisa's House

The next day, we had school. Sort of. We were skeptical when 200 out of 800 (you read that right) showed up, and when half of them gathered in and around our classroom to hear her and a student play the guitar, we realized school would be ending early. And it did, after only two periods that none of the other teachers attended.

The rest of the day was relaxing. We made pancakes minus the baking powder, and topped them with granulated sugar, allowing it to melt into syrup under each hot new flapjack. Without the baking powder they were more like thick pan-crepes, but hey, when there aren't any ovens, you take what you can get.

That evening, Lisa and I went on a walk, hunting for a ping. We passed one of her teacher's house, and we got to see her enormous, jungled garden. She sent us on our way with raw soybean and green beans to snack on. We encountered some of her students, who live in a one-room house with their extraordinarily friendly mother. They brought us to the ping.

You know those swing sets you sit on, and they moan and creak and bend, and you're terrified it's going to collapse on your head? It was like that. Made out of bamboo.

Day 9 - Lisa's House

See, I warned you that this would be the longest one. A day and a half more. Stay with me.

On Thursday, we went holiday shopping. Not American style holiday shopping - Nepal keeps it old-school. We needed to buy tikka (a colored powder used in various ceremonies), candles, nuts, coconuts, candy, boy clothes, and many other things that I lost track of.

First we went to Gorkha bazaar, where we met up with Emily at, guess where? The Gurkha Inn. A place I had kind of hoped to never see again. However, it was very pretty when viewed through healthy eyes, with a view that can't be beat.

Then we went to another bazaar, halted with vendors on the street, and ended our day with momos at the sketchiest possible place. And after that was the bus ride. It was a micro, normally comfortable, but this time overstuffed. They made room for pregnant Bauju and sleeping Sachina, but I was left hanging. Literally. When the bus started moving, my foot was stuck outside the door. I pulled it in before they severed, but since people were sitting on the floor, it was either step on someone or go the whole way on one foot. Because the sole of the foot is considered so filthy and insulting, I chose the latter option.

When we returned, we celebrated Tihar, but I'm going to write a separate post on that.

Day 10 - Lisa's to Kathmandu

On Friday, we got on a bus at 11, and arrived in KTM around 4. Nothing exciting happened.

We went to Fulbright, though, and I finally retrieved the package my mother sent me. But since that didn't happen in Gorkha, I won't tell that story in this post.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Jumping Ahead a Little

I am sitting at school between classes, hoping that the Wi-Fi holds up long enough for me to post this – and maybe some pictures. This is not my final report on Gorkha. For that I need my journal, and I never bring my journal to school. The last time I did was the first time I discovered the differences in privacy between Nepalis and Americans.
This is instead a report on the two weeks that I have been back at school. They have been fairly eventful, with Halloween and several school programs. Also, I have started to institute a new discipline system into my classes, which has been delightfully effective. 

The Health Program
     I am still unsure as to what this program was actually about. It had something to do with hygiene, I believe, like washing hands and stuff like that. It took up the first two periods of last Wednesday’s school day, and included, among other activities, the awesomely named game “Musical Toilets” (musical chairs with pictures of latrines taped on top of the stools). There was also a variation on the piƱata game, where students—and teachers—were blindfolded and sent to smash a clay pot with a large stick. Why? Who knows. But I was the only person who managed to hit the pot and NOT destroy it, which was a tad disappointing. 

     Nobody in my village really has any idea of what Halloween is, but how was I going to turn down the chance to give my students candy? My different classes had different activities. Class 3 got to do a guided drawing of Frankenstein in a graveyard (nobody knows what graveyards are, either). Class 2 played a game. And Class 1 made their own paper jack-o-lanterns.
     That night, my host family celebrated by eating candy and popcorn, and watching Star Wars—their first ever viewing! It was great. During the final battle, my aamaa kept inching closer and closer to the screen in her suspense. And she said that my host dad must have liked it, because he didn’t fall asleep. 

The “One-Hour” Hike
     You can probably guess from the quotation marks that this hike was anything but an hour. It was five, if you were wondering. Five hours and twelve kilometers straight up, around, and down a hill that would put Mt. Beacon to shame. It started out fine, with an autumnal stroll through the recently-harvested rice paddies. Then we started up a gradual incline. And then somebody decided, oh, let’s take this goat patch for a short cut!
Fact: Goats are much better at walking at 35 degree angles on slippery moss and clay than I will ever be.
     It took two male teachers to keep me from wiping out on that natural slip-n-slide. There were times that my feet went out from under me. It must have looked pretty cartoonish, because the students laughed. This is what I get for buying “dry terrain” trekking boots.
     We eventually reached a temple at the top of the hill, because it was some sort of local holiday. All we did up there was eat roasted peanuts—with no salt, mind you, because it was a fasting day. Hindu fasting rules apparently mean no rice, salt, or meat—only fruit and nuts. Or at least that’s how I understood it.
     I think we got lost trying to find the way back down, but eventually, we ended up right back at school at 3:20 exactly, which is the time we leave during the winter. The timing was impeccable, in more ways than one. You see, when I was walking home, I saw a puppy in the middle of the road. Puppies are a rare sight, so I was pretty excited. Until I realized that the puppy wasn’t moving out of the way of motorcyclists, like all the other street dogs do. At least the motorbikes could go around its fluffy little form. The school bus couldn’t.
     Yes, a school bus came to a full stop before the puppy, and honked at it. Still, it didn’t move, and nobody else did either. So I did what any dog-loving, fear-of-rabies-eschewing American would do. I marched in front of that bus, and picked up that puppy. It was so surprised that I don’t think the thought of biting me crossed its mind. Gosh, it was the cutest darn thing: black and white and chubby, with stumpy little legs and floppy ears.
     I miss my dogs. 

Discipline System
     My discipline system is not a system of punishment, but one of rewards. I was inspired by Ellen, who has star charts in all of her classes. When students attend school, they get a star. Ten stars earns them a prize. I modified it a little, making it so that my students have to show up with completed homework to earn a star. I went from having three or four students in Class 3 doing their homework to the entire class. For Class 2, I have a slightly different system. They love playing games, but we obviously can’t do that every day. So now, Tuesday and Friday are “game” days. Sunday and Monday, and Wednesday and Thursday are the days that determine whether or not the game will happen. I write “GAME” on the side of the board. Every time they are bodamas (naughty), they lose a letter. It’s better than hitting them with a stick, which I refuse to do (although I’ve found that if I teach with the stick under my arm, they are much better behaved).

I will upload photos next time. My laptop is about to die. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gorkha, Continued

My first sentence is an apology: I am typing this on my tablet, so there will be many typos and no pictures. I am inexcusably behind in my blogging, so forgive me for that too.

A recap: on Friday afternoon, Ellen and I walked to the Bazaar so that we could take a bus to Emily's house.

The evening was relaxing. Lisa showed up with playing cards and biscuits, and we had our best impersonation of an American sleepover - four ETAs, and three of Emily's host sisters. And then (no offense Emily, if you're reading this) I slept on the worst bed I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Nepali beds are different than those in America: instead of a mattress, there is a thin pad over wooden boards. And with this one, the floor would have been more comfortable.

And the pillow? The pillow was thin to the point of inexistence. I dumped my laundry on the bed and slept on that instead.

Day 4 - Emily's House

The next day was Emily's birthday! We woke up early, and tried to watch her didi's (older sister) wedding video (looooooong slide show), but then the power went out. I was so disappointed.

The 4 ETAs took a very pleasant walk to an army pension camp, where we got a spectacular view of the valley. Also, they had shi-tzu curtains - Emily's favorite dog. Back at her house, we made momos with her family. The sauce was so spicy it made one of us cry (not me for once). The only food that made me cry was the goat meat I tried and failed to eat.

There was a bit of a time crunch around cake cutting time, which was accentuated by Emily's sister trying to cut the square cake like it was round. Ellen and I scarfed down our portions and ran to catch a bus to the Bazaar. We waited for so long that Emily and Lisa, who stayed to celebrate some more, caught the same bus we did.

In the Bazaar we parted ways: Ellen to get village, and us three to Emily's co teacher's house, where I was served the first cup of sugarless tea I have had in Nepal. But Emily needed to Skype her parents, and the house had no Wi-Fi! We agreed to an epic quest, and took an arduous journey...across the street. We ended up in the house that ETA Kelly lived in last year, and boy, did that roof have the best view of the sunset.

Day 5 - Emily's House

After Lisa left in the morning (which I don't remember, because I was blissfully asleep in a new bed), I headed to school with Emily. She teaches at a tiny primary school with maybe 60 students, and give teachers. The kids were adorable, but boy, do Emily and her co-teacher have their work cut out for them. Most of the kids had nothing to eat for lunch, so Emily and I gave them ours. The highlight of the day was when I spontaneously tried to reach class 5 when I realized, during a trip to the loo, that they had no teacher.

Luckily, Emily rescued me with her guitar, and we sang Coldplay with them.

And when we got home, we spent 4 and a half hours working on trimming Emily's résumé from two pages to one. She has a lot of admirable achievements, so it wasn't easy.

Day 6 - End of Stay at Emily's

The next day at school, we did not share our lunch, because Emily's aamaa made us the puffed-rice equivalent of kettle corn. It was delicious.

The school day had highs and lows. The worst low was watching a boy get beat up by other students, and hearing one of the teachers justify it by saying he's an orphan. I can't remember the last time someone made me so angry.

The highs included things like dedicating my day to try and make one beautiful blue-eyed child smile, and teaching the honorable game of capture the flag.  Emily let me play. I showed no mercy. Then we all danced to "Gangnam Style," which is still relevant over here.

Stay tuned next time for my story of my stay at Lisa's, which was the longest of all.