I am now halfway through my assignment in Nepal. It has been a fortnight of ”love it, hate it’, with ”What the….am I doing here in another third world country, to OMG I can’t believe I’m here, doing this, being with these people, surrounded by these beautiful mountains on the lake”. The weather has been almost perfect with temperatures around the mid-20’s during the day, falling to about 10 at night with beautiful balmy evenings.
Now, how to describe Pokhara…..squalor amid beauty? The people so poor, the surrounds so beautiful; the people so beautiful, the surrounds breathtaking.
I have been going on the Little Daffodils English Boarding School’s bus every day to Pame (pron. par-may). It’s about a 40 minute drive over rocks and in potholes basically, with a few teachers, 2 volunteers and 70-100 children. It’s actually quite good fun. We go around the beautiful Phewa Lake’s edge, with forested mountains around it, rice paddies on the lake side, and rice and wheat on the land side going up the mountains. There are beautiful lotus plants on the edge of the lake and some fishing ‘farms’. As we pass through each little ‘hamlet’ we pick up beautifully turned out children who come out of very poor shacks….”good morning miss”, ”good morning, sir” as they get on the bus. Some are so little they have to be lifted up the big step from the road…..they’re sooooo cute. And now they are used to us, they quite like to sit next to us. One fell asleep on my lap last week……sooooo gorgeous. I carried him right into the classroom, and he still didn’t wake up when I put him in a chair. We even pick up some children who have crossed the lake in the school’s rowboat.
The work through GVI at the school only started the week before I arrived, so I’m in at the ground level, and we’re still sorting out how we can best help. Unfortunately, they go on two weeks holiday tomorrow for the Dashain Festival when they venerate the goddess Durga, and sacrifice lots of goats and some bullocks at the temples, or just in their yards, or on the streets, then eat them. It is primarily a family celebration.
Apart from teaching I also help with the ‘Street Kids’. There are ten children cared for by their beautiful Amar in a house on the outskirts of town. Her 12yo daughter also lives with them. We spend the mornings with them doing homework and/or other fun activities. On Fridays we also take them for a ‘jungle shower’ which sounds far more exotic than it is, but we do walk them to a place in the jungle where there are two pipes from which clean water flows. They have a good time getting their weekly shampoo and rubbing themselves clean – and of course we get wet too.
My third task is Conversation Club every day from 430 for an hour in a local restaurant. We have had from 2 – 12 kids turn up. It’s still in its infancy too, so GVI are hoping it will grow. Other volunteers also work in two Childcare centers.
On arrival, for our first three days the volunteers are taken for a walk around Pokhara, and have several orientation and initiation sessions, including two 1.5 hour Nepali language lessons, which have come in very handy….I didn’t think we’d really use it. A cooking class is also included. A magic day with another Amar who must think we all need fattening up….the serves are huge. Great fun trying to reproduce her delicious Momos which are similar to curry puffs, but twisted in a circle and steamed.
Pokhara loses power indiscriminately for several hours a day. In fact, I’m presently in a restaurant/bar and the peace has been shattered about ten minutes ago with the generator going! I’m having a mojito. It’s soooo cheap here (abt $4), they may be my downfall. At night in our room, which I share with three gorgeous young German-speaking women, I sometimes feel as though we’re down a mine, with all of us wearing out little headlamps!! But the room looks better in the dark. As there is no storage or shelving at all in the room, it usually looks like a teenage boys’.
I’ve spent today with our Nepali teacher Chet and 4 volunteers. We went by taxi to ‘old town’ where he met us and we then walked to his house where he gave us lunch (at 10.45 – fortunately I suspected this might happen, so only had a coffee for breakfast). It was a simple lunch of the traditional Nepali dish, Dal Bhat which consists of boiled white rice, lentil dhal and biled vegetables such as beans and carrots. We managed to convince him that there was ‘no way’ we could eat the huge amount he had dished up for us, and scraped it off our plates before we started. After this we went for a walk, up the side of the mountain on rocky steps, in the midday heat!! We stopped at two houses on the way. The first was with an old widow and her bulllock, and his stink. She asked if we would like a suspicious-looking, curdled white drink, to which we said ”no thank you so much, but we’ve just finished a huge delicious meal”…..it was bullock’s yoghurt. More steep rock steps in the midday sun, then we visited another family. The view from their very large house and grounds was gorgeous, overlooking Pokhara. We were then shown their three adult and one baby goat, which were to sacrificed on Wednesday for Dashain!!…..nice…..
We headed off again to a Buddhist monastery. The path to get to this included a three metre vertical mud slip. You had to hang on to plant roots and branches to pull yourself up, with Cher’s help. I declined and said ”I wouldn’t do it thanks very much” (and surely everyone who goes to the monastery doesn’t have to do it this way, I muttered under my breath) “I’ll meet you when you come out/down somewhere’.” We had a young assistant with us, so he walked ahead with me. About 40 metres further, he found some good steps and joined the others easily. We walked around spinning the prayer cylinders in the gardens before heading up more steps (of course) to the beautifully, and elabourately decorated, clean and peaceful monastery set in the lovely jungle, with lots of prayer books, beads, ribbons, robes, cushions, etc placed throughout, as though the monks had just disappeared in the middle of praying. The monks here wear dark burgundy robes.
On our way home we stopped in Old Town to buy some good quality but very cheap fabrics. It costs less than $5 to have something beautifully made here. I wish I’d brought some clothes with me to have copied.
Yesterday I paraglided from Mt Sarangkot, but that’s another story for another day, as is the experience of Kathmandu airport! And I haven’t mentioned the cold showers!
Written by Christine Fitzpatrick