Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Playing Hostess

This past week was the Fulbright ETA Enrichment Seminar, from December 10th to the 14th. Every year, it alternates between Sri Lanka and Nepal. Since the Nepal ETAs never made it to Sri Lanka last year (not for lack of trying), we were happy to host it.


Elsie came over to my house early on Wednesday morning so that we could finish working on our presentation about Lalitpur. We had to hurry, because there was no power, and my battery only holds about forty-five minutes worth of charge, but the presentation ended up looking very nice and professional. After that, we made our way into Patan, where we shopped for sweaters and books, and ate a fancy lunch at a fancy hotel. 

And speaking of fancy hotels, boy, was the hotel for the conference swanky. Called Hotel Manaslu (after the mountain), it sported beautiful Newari wood carving, a mini bird menagerie, and a pool. ETAs from India, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan appeared over the course of the evening as they got in from various flights. 

When you struggle to fall asleep because your hotel bed is softer than a table. #onlyinNepal


This was the first “official” day of the conference. After Western breakfast (bacon!) and a HOT SHOWER, we headed to a welcome session, followed by a workshop led by none other than Christine Stone, our English-teaching-teacher from the August orientation. 

After lunch, groups presented on their different placements. Elsie and I went second, which was good, because I’ve become nervous about public speaking that isn’t in front of primary school students. It went well. People laughed with us. The crowd was full of good audience members and good presenters. The ETAs from Calcutta (which they spell with a “K” in a way that Microsoft Word won’t accept) had a very fun film instead of a traditional powerpoint, and the teachers from Sri Lanka, who have only been there for three weeks, had a hilarious skit about taxi drivers that involved at least one man in a manly sarong.  

Dinner was preceded by a traditional Nepali dance program, and the Nepal girls were the MCs. This was followed by a glass of wine and cheese balls (heaven for a girl in a cheese-free, alcohol-free household), and a very tasty Indian dinner. However, the toxically-green ice cream was disappointing—it definitely tasted more like children’s cough syrup than pistachio nut. 

When you realize you would totally knock someone out for a mozzarella stick. #onlyinNepal


Friday was “adventure day.” We left the hotel at some ungodly hour (like 7 am or something), and took a trio of vans to Nagarkot. It’s a place just over the top of the hills that rim the north of Kathmandu Valley, and boy, is it something. From the hotel we stopped at we had unobstructed views of a good stretch of the Himalaya and, because the day was clear, we could just see the tippity-top of Sagarmatha (that’s Mt. Everest). The only clouds were the ones that filled the valleys below us. 

Before lunch, about half a dozen Fulbrighters gave presentations on teaching tips and the like. Lisa opened with one about teaching large class sizes; Emily closed with one about “multiple-intelligence theory” (it sounds really intimidating, but it’s just the theory that all children learn in a different way, through different stimuli). At lunch, the Nepal ETAs ate with Brooke, the program officer for South and Central Asia. She might be one of the coolest people ever. 

The afternoon was filled by a hike to a beautiful Hindu shrine. Robin-ji promised that the hike would be a gentle, downhill hour-and-a-half walk. Apparently “downhill” is now a synonym for “uphill”—but I’ve found, in Nepal, always substitute “difficult” for “gentle” and multiply all estimated walking times by 2. Other than the unexpected calf workout, the hike was a nice opportunity to bond with other ETAs, and to avoid poking their eyes out with my sun-brella. 

The bus-ride back was, despite good conversation, probably my third worst in the last five months. Normally bus rides in Nepal are not very nauseating: while there’s a lot of weaving and swaying, there’s not a lot of starting and stopping—but this time we hit a traffic jam, which is made exponentially worse by the lack of lanes. (The second worst bus ride involved inappropriate grabbing and very appropriate slapping, and the first was when I had to stand on one foot the whole time, supported only by a crush of people, because there was no room to put my other foot down.)

When you get more excited by a litter of chubby puppies than by a thousand year-old temple. #onlyinNepal


The event of most note on Saturday was a trip to Pashupatinath, the most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal. Since there were two other options for tours, only seven ETAs ended up at the temple. Five of us were from Nepal, one had a broken ankle, and only one was a guy. The guy, being Hindu, was allowed to visit the main body of the complex, while we had to entertain ourselves on the other side of the river. “Entertainment” would be a horrendously wrong word for what we observed. One of Pashupatinath’s functions is as a final destination of sorts—the river is lined by funeral ghats, the platforms on which Hindu families burn their beloved dead. 

We watched the funeral proceedings of an old woman. Her family members circled the body to say farewell, and then some of the men carried it to the river to splash water on the feet. After that, the body of disrobed of all regular garments, wrapped in a white sheet, and covered with marigolds. Then the corpse was carried to a wooden pyre, where family members anointed the old woman’s head with oil, kissed her feet (as feet are considered the most filthy part of the body, that’s a big deal), and then set the whole thing alight. 

It was very surreal, very sad, and something I am glad we witnessed. I don’t have any photographs, because taking pictures of the ghats is considered highly disrespectful—but since that doesn’t stop some people, you can find images online. 

That night was our farewell ceremony. We had a scarf-giving ceremony, which is a tradition of respect in Nepal. After dinner, Emily decided she wanted to go to karaoke. With her and Brooke in the lead, we traipsed around Kathmandu after the sun had set. We never did find karaoke, but at one spot, Emily got up to sing with the band, which I thought was much more fun. After that, she convinced one of them to lend her a guitar, and we all sang Coldplay. 

Always an adventure.

A note on the photos: there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the order these photos appeared in, and I am too impatient with the internet to rearrange them. I'll add captions eventually. For now, just imagine my snarky voice in your heads.

The view from Nagarkot.

Detail of the carvings at the Hindu shrine.

Perfect timing.
Some sort of griffin-guardian statue.
Lisa's presentation.
You can't take a bad picture here.
Our hotel room.
Such an appropriate piece of children's literature...
My main question is: why is he wearing Dorothy's ruby slippers?
Can't beat this lunchtime view.
Falafel with "chickpea sauce."

Quite a fancy pool.

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