Last Days in Nepal!

December 7, 2009

 It’s Sunday evening and we can’t believe that it has all come to an end – bar the reckoning! We’ve had a very quiet weekend – we were all so tired that we decided to just take things easy and do a bit of what we fancied, think about packing, last minute bits of shopping etc etc.

A spice seller at the market.

Saturday was probably the warmest day we’ve had – round about 25 degrees over mid to late morning until mid afternoon so it was wonderful to have time to sit by the pool and read for a couple of hours before lunch, having had a late and leisurely breakfast. We all decided that we did want to visit Swayambhu temple – the monkey temple – which is the second most famous and revered Buddhist temple – after Boudha Stupa, ( which is almost next to Samata) in Asia. Chris and Anne decided to walk – it was nearly five km – and we chickened out and decided to get a taxi, knowing how difficult walking on Kathmandu streets is at the best of times as they are rarely paved, have no pavements, and the traffic is a nightmare. We agreed to meet up at the top in time for sunset, which can be spectacular up there we were told. What a wise decision we made.

One of the hundreds of monkeys!

The winding road up and up to the foot of the final hill was full of potholes and milling crowds – the Buddhists tend to go to their local temple and walk around clockwise, sometimes leaving offerings and prayer flags on a Saturday. Secondly, we knew there were steps – known as the pilgrims’ steps – up to the top, but had no idea there were about 800 of them, very steep and often without handrails. That on top of the walk would have done for me and I don’t think I would have made the top. As it was we had to take it very steadily and keep stopping – pretending to be admiring the view!! It is aptly named the monkey temple as there are hundreds of them and you have to watch your bag and be sure you aren’t carrying anything that looks like food or they will have it immediately.

Just a few of the Pilgrims' steps.

There was a fascinating local market on a patch of rough ground where were dropped off so we spent a while there haggling for some spices – for Nick – and got a huge piece of root ginger for 50 rupees as well as some curry spices etc. Needless to say there are endless beggars and street hawkers on the way up but we managed to navigate past most of the rogues and gave our rupees to the deserving. We saw several lepers, as we have in one particular spot in the city centre – something you don’t imagine seeing these days. The monkeys are delightful in a way, as their antics are very amusing, but they are all rabid so need to be kept well away from and not annoyed or encouraged. As we toiled up the steps the views across Kathmandu were wonderful and there were numberless small eagles (we were reliably informed) wheeling around. Once we collapsed on to a seat at the top we realised that

Eagles whirling around the top of the hill

the temple is the centre of what is almost a self contained village where the Buddhist monks and various craftsmen and artisans ply their trade. There were groups of people dancing spontaneously to the tunes of some local musicians, people were eating ‘picnics’, preparing food over little calor gas heaters and generally enjoying a lovely winter afternoon. As always happens, at around 5pm the temperature dropped dramatically and darkness fell within twenty minutes. There was too much haze for the sunset to be very impressive, but we had enjoyed being there so much that it didn’t matter and we got safely down to the bottom before darkness fell.

Local Buddhists enjoting the music around the Stupa.

Today, a general strike was called – Sunday is a working day here – and it was as if the whole of London had ground to a total halt. It is all to do with the fact that some protestors who dislike the government killed five Moaists and a policemen the other day, so the government have called a general strike, as they do quite frequently. The last one was the day we arrived. No cars, motorbikes, ‘buses’ – nothing but bikes. Not a single shop open other than the pharmacies, the hotel gates shut and armed guards outside. We were allowed out on foot but told to keep well away from any large groups of people and ot to take photos. It was like a ghost town! This is the power that the Moaist government has over the people. Although the strike was pretty peaceful – we didn’t see any violence or disturbance, though we heard lots of shouting and drum banging in the distance from 7am onwards – the processions of protestors are quite intimidating, and woe betide anyone who strike breaks. We went out to try to buy water and found a shop in a side street that had one shutter open and was about to serve us when the processions could be heard approaching. We were told to move well away and come back when they’d gone. The place was shut up within seconds and you would have thought there was no-one there at all. When we eventually got the water we were asked to say we couldn’t remember where we had bought it, if asked!! So after our short sortie we returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day sitting in the sun – at least the others did and I spent a couple of hours getting the final proof for the book ready for my meeting with the publishers in the morning. A last dinner together this evening –Mary not feeling too well now which is a great shame at this late stage, and up for an early night after final bits of packing and paying various bills etc. The hotel almost seems like home now, and they keep referring to us as their English family! We will miss the way they have looked after our every need. We just hope that the strike is not called again tomorrow as that could seriously disrupt our travel to the airport.


Final Day at Samata

December 5, 2009

I can’t quite believe that we have had our final day at Samata. Yesterday was totally frenetic from start to finish with the beginning of the day being hi-jacked by Taiwan TV

Taiwan TV in full swing with speeches and presentations to Uttam

who had arrived with various important personages to honour Uttam with an award for his humanitarian work with children and young people. Apparently Prince Charles was given the same award some years ago.. The TV crew stayed most of the morning, occupying the volunteers room and the library which totally messed up what I had planned to do with 8a. So, swift change of plan and a re-think as to what I could do without the resources –  now inaccessible behind cameras, booms, lighting equipment etc etc. It was a very frustrating day in many ways as Basu wasn’t well and the Class 9 students are aware that we are leaving and were wanting to resolve all sorts of issues around the book and the competition. Sadly I didn’t have any concrete answers as I was meeting with the printers that evening. The good news is that I now know it is all going to go ahead. It will cost about £150 to have 500 copies printed, which by our standards is pe

Mary and Janice receiving their gifts from Binod

anuts. I just have to have it all sorted and ready to go through at a final proof reading meeting on Monday morning – so no pressure!

 Today was equally frenetic in a different way. Last lessons with each class – every child given a pencil and rubber and all their written work returned marked. They have worked so hard and improved greatly in their written English. I’m very proud of them. There was supposed to be a final ‘assembly’ and presentation this afternoon with Suchil’s dancers and musicians giving us a short programme of what they did in the competition last week. In return our little ones were to perform their action songs with the puppets etc for them. Sadly the whole sound system packed up nd so there was no musical accompaniment for the dancers and musicians and the little ones couldn’t be heard beyond the first few rows of children. We were very disappointed but they were very philosophical – it happens all the time! So very sad farewells at the end of the day. I felt very tearful. We had asked Binod for feedback from the staff about how useful they felt we had been and we were surprised at what they felt they had picked up. I was much more aware from Basu and Gopi as they have been giving me feedback all along but Janice and Mary, whose teachers have so little English felt much less sure, and were delighted to have such positive feedback of what they have been doing. We each had to make a short speech on stage and were presented with another white scarf and mall gifts – see picture – to say thank you for our time at the school.  Very touching – they will be treasured.

We are all absolutely bushed tonight and plan to have a very quiet weekend doing final shopping and seeing bits of Kathmandu, including the monkey temple, which have eluded us so far. And so to bed – and hopefully a good night’s sleep!

December 2nd – Playing Father Christmas!

December 2, 2009

What a fascinating day today has been! There has been no school as it is a public holiday – a Buddhist one we discovered this morning. In Nepal it is the 17th day of the 11th month and the year is something like 2037! There have been big processions through the streets today with singing and banging of drums etc – a cacophony of noise from dawn to dusk. If you are a Buddist, today is the most auspicious day of the year on which to get married, so there have been wedding ceremonies galore. Unfortunately they all seem to take place behind closed doors so we didn’t really see any of what was happening, we just endured the noise. Sushil arrived at the hotel at 10.00 on his ancient motorbike and have offered to take me on his pillion, which I politely declined, we set off in search of the best deals we could find for musical

one of three sets of tabalas we bought today.

 instruments. It seemed to take for ever as we haggled over prices and qualities, with young men rushing off on bikes to find better instruments to meet Sushil’s exacting standards. In the end we got a good deal with about twenty five percent off for quantity and Sushil was like a child at his first Christmas when he is old enough to understand about presents! Hopefully we will take some pictures tomorrow of the students playing them. We also found the DVD player, music system etc etc which was needed to link up the mixer board and various bits of kit that he has in his ‘music room’ (thank you so much Nick for your contribution. It is a Sony system, so should be really good) and ordered a taxi to get it all back to the hotel. We then set off in search of CDs and DVDs which will show the students what it can sound like and came back by Rickshaw as Sushil told me he had never been in one! He eventually went back to Samata beaming in all directions, leaving me just time to sort out all the parcels in my room before Basu and Gopi arrived for lunch and shopping expedition number two! They, like Sushil were totally overwhelmed by the hotel. I don’t think they had ever been in one like this before. They wanted to eat what we were eating – steak and chips as it happened – but when it came I suddenly realised that they were picking at their food because they didn’t know how to use a knife and fork! They eat with their fingers of course. So steak cutting lessons followed and they thoroughly enjoyed their western food.

These madalas will be used by the Class 10 band at a special assembly tomorrow

We then set off for the first of about six book shops specialising in reference books for teachers and senior students. Having tactfully enquired about what they earn a month – Basu about £50 and Gopi £40 ish – I realised that the text books they need for their teaching (such as a good Oxford reference dictionary, a thesaurus etc, represent more than a month’s wages! They spent a couple of hours ‘in heaven’ trying to decide what they needed most for their work and also what we could buy for the older students that would not be locked away in the library, and therefore inaccessible, when the volunteers are not there. This is a problem we HAVE to resolve if we can before we leave as it seems to what happens much of the time. I found proper picture books for the nursery class which will go into the cupboard that is going into the nursery classroom tomorrow so that they are accessible at all times to the little ones. Back to the hotel for a cup of Marsala tea before Basu rushed off to a cousin’s wedding and Gopi to is studies. It was wonderful to see three people so delighted and overwhelmed by being given the materials/resources they need to do their jobs properly, and made me realise yet again just how fortunate we are. The ‘book’ is coming together. In between shopping sessions today I have managed to type out another five essays and Janice has also done a couple for me. I have a meeting with the publishers tomorrow evening, so I just hope we can agree a price I can afford and the go ahead with the printing.

December 1st – this time next week!

December 1, 2009

This time next week we’ll be home! It doesn’t seem possible that a month has gone by – well almost – since we left England and that it is now December. Yet in other ways it feels as though we’ve been here for ever. The class 9 (15/16 year olds) – who have been frantically trying to finish their essays for the competition today, as the deadline was 3pm – have all been saying “ do you have to go home ma’am?

The competitors - all hoping to be 'published' + Basu, their teacher.

Can’t you stay a bit longer? It’s been fun and we’ve still learnt a lot.” (They don’t do fun in school normally!) What more can you ask for from a bunch of teenagers? I shall miss them tremendously. They’ve all been giving me their email addresses today; none of them have computers of course, but they all have email addresses which they use at the very grotty so called cyber cafes that are in shacks on almost every street corner. I can see I shall be kept very busy an answering them. I also have invitations in principle from three secondary high schools to go back and do some teacher training in October next year, which is when they have their long holiday. I would love to do it in many ways and it is what they desperately need. We’ll see. I shall need quite a bit of work from EMLC to pay for it. We have an interesting situation in the hotel at present. Yesterday there were big union meetings of hotel and restaurant staff across Kathmandu and the threat of a major strike of hotels and restaurants. When we went down to dinner last night there were hardly any staff on duty at all; breakfast this morning was also sparsely staffed and the food was not as varied as usual and dinner tonight was served by one person, and there were almost no other people eating. No-one will say what is going on but we think they may be working to rule and were it not for us and a very few other long term ‘regulars’ the hotel would be closed. It’s like a ghost town up here now; beds have not been turned down tonight and the cleaning today seems to have been minimal. We’re not complaining as the staff here have been wonderful, but it would be good to know just what is going on! The idea for the bookof children’s writing to be published out here and sold in the UK seems to be taking shape and I have a meeting with the publishing company on Thursday. The biggest problem is getting all these essays typed out and into a format that will work before we leave next Monday. I was up till 1 am this morning typing away, and another twenty or so have been handed in today.

The redoubtable five - Janice, Mary, Ann,Chris - and me!

They won’t all go in, but a fair proportion will, and they need quite savage editing in some instances, as Nepalis do tend to be quite long winded, telling you things several times just in case you didn’t get it the first time! Even more boring in writing than speech. It will be worth it though, if I can pull it off. The children are so excited at the thought of seeing their names in print, and their teacher is also delighted that it is his children that have been chosen, and that he is mentioned in the foreword. On that note I shall stop rambling and go back to typing out their stories. Tomorrow is a public holiday so we can have breakfast somewhat later and then I have my three teachers coming for their shopping expedition.

Weekend in Pokhara

November 30, 2009

Our hotel room on the right at topo of stairs!

If you’ve been wondering where I have been for the last three days …. The answer is that on Thursday night the server was down so no-one could get on line, and I very stupidly left my laptop at the school on Friday, so have been without it all weekend. Nothing very new to report from Friday except that at our weekly meeting with Social ours on Friday evening we did establish that the three of us are going to use our (having taken with me percussion etc for SAGA contributions to pay for a proper floor in the staff room – instead of the broken bricks that are currently there – and also to purchase a bank of lockable lockers for the staff. In addition I will use the money given to me by the schools and others to buy musical instruments for the senior students, and will take the two English staff with me to Pilgrim’s bookshop on Wednesday to purchase English text and teaching books for classes 7,8 and 9. Early on Saturday morning

Devi's Fall in Pokhara

we left for Pokhara by plane. As happened the previous Saturday there was a two hour delay at the airport which was very annoying because we only had Saturday and half of Sunday anyway. We eventually arrived just before lunch and were taken straight to our hotel – the Kantipur – which was lovely in many ways and situated not far from the lake and with a wonderful view of the mountains – when they were visible. We were shown the spiral wrought iron staircase up to the highest point of the hotel from which we should see the sunrise on Sunday morning at 6.00am!! We climbed all the way up – a very scary experience as it didn’t feel all that safe and you can see through every stair to the ground – and sure enough the views from the top were very good indeed, so we decided that it would be worth the effort if we could get ourselves up. Saturday afternoon was spent going to the same the famous Devi’s Fall – an incredible waterfall come series of seething whirlpools of water where the sheer force has created deep scooped out bowls in the rocks where the water is hurled around before pounding into the next one. It reminded me of the ’Strid’ at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, but on a far larger scale. It would seem that some Austrian called Devi fell to his death here over a century ago and took his girlfriend with him. From there we visited the underground caves that are fed by the river and climbed down hundreds of rather wet and slippery steps untio we were at the level of the base of the falls. There was a Hindu temple there and various rather strange symbolic figures. Finally we spent a couple of hours at the Himalayan Mountain Museum which was fascinating. There were accounts of various expeditions to the Anapurna ranges, the

Anapura 1 - photo in the museum

 Everest expeditions etc, together with all the bgear that climbers have to wear, scenes from the lives of the Sherpas and Lamas and the various Tibetan groups who inhabit the foothills of the Himalayas and many of whom provide shelter and assistance to both Trekkers and climbing expeditions. There was quite a lot of information about Tensing Sherpa – as he should be known, Sherpa being his family name – and the other Sherpas who supported Edmund Hilary in 1953.

'Fishtail' mountain in the Anapurna 1 range at sunrise

We enjoyed having some time to shop by the lakeside on Saturday evening before a wonderful meal at a local restaurant – the best and hottest meal since we arrived in Nepol! Four of us made it up onto the roof at 6.00am this morning and it was well worth the effort. Watching the sun come up over the Anapurnas and the mountain tips turning from misty blue through pink to gold over the space of an hour was an almost spiritual experience. Wafting through the stillness came the sounds of the Buddhist call to prayer and slightly later Reveille being played at the local army barracks! Plus cocks crowing, goat bells tinkling and parrakeets squawking in the trees beneath us. This was something we shall never forget. After breakfast we set off for the Peace Pagoda half way up a mountainside overlooking Pokhara. For those who have heard of/experienced the Ralph family holiday in Andalusia about ten years ago I can tell you that the hair raising drive we had up the mountain tracks to our little cottage was a picnic compared with the drive we had in an old minibus up to the start of the walk/climb to the pagoda. The views were stunning – the track impassable at certain times of the year and only possible with a very experienced and confident driver.

The Peace Pagoda

 We wouldn’t have missed it for anything and again the views at the top over the mountains and lake were fantastic – but we were very glad to be safely down again on terra firma! An interesting stroll through a local indoor market and a drive through old Pokhara was followed by lunch beside the lake which was a lovely end to a great weekend. Our flight back was mid afternoon as the little planes won’t fly once it is getting dark, which is after four ish. So ….. Back to the Malla and our comfortable rooms there and just the final week to go. Where has the time gone?

A relaxing Sunday – 22nd November

November 23, 2009

Assembly at 'Ideal School' - singing the national anthemn

It has been great to have a day in which to relax and catch up with all the marking! Three classes of fifty plus, all writing essays is not so good, especially when you are trying to correct their English so that it is ‘modern English parlance’  and not ‘colonial speak’, which is what their texts books are full of! 

This morning we had the opportunity to visit another school – the one that Nima, of Social Tours son attends. Mary and I felt that we needed something to compare Samata with as, until today it is our only experience of Nepalese schooling.  The Ideal Secondary High School (which takes children from 3- 18) is a private fee-paying school, for which read high achieving state school, as all children pay, but som

'Ideal School' - classes are half the size of Samata

e much more than others.  It was absolutely fascinating for us, and the Head – who is inspirational –  allowed us to visit all the classes and talk to children and some of the staff as well as himself.  I could – and maybe I will – write a book!  In many ways the schools are very similar.  The layout of the buildings around a square is similar and the size of the classrooms is as well.  However, there are roughly 30 – 35 in a class, rather than 50 to 60; they have desks not unlike the double wooden desks that we had when I was at school and in the younger children’s classrooms there are pictures and posters on the wall and they do have toys in the classroom that they can play with at certain times.  The playground is concreted and there is a swimming pool (very basic, but functional and in the summer they have a lesson once a week there.)  There is also a horse on which they ride and it lives in a shed next to the kitchen!!

The biggest difference however – for me  – was that the head teacher is an educationalist who knows what he wants his children to achieve, has a staff around him who are qualified, keen and committed and who tend to stay.  I imagine they are paid much better

The kindergarten class at Ideal school (3/4 year olds)

 than the Samata staff because the children pay far higher fees to go there.  In my opinion, the thing that would most surely enable Samata to change and develop would be to appoint a head teacher/principal with an education background, plus one or two senior staff who are paid more and who would commit to the school for three – five years.  If the funding could be found to enable this – and it would be relative peanuts in our terms  – I believe it would make a huge difference.  Something to think about …..

This afternoon I decided that I needed peaceful surroundings in which to mark the essays and so i took myself to The Garden of Dreams, which previous volunteers has told us was well worth visiting.  They were right.  It was a warm and sunny afternoon and I really enjoyed sitting in the sun and quietly getting on with it.  I rewarded myself with a walk around the gardens and a piece of cake and a latte in the Kaiser restaurant afterwards.  All very civilised and a lovely way to spend a Sundat afternoon.  I now feel well prepared for next week – in so far as it is possible to be prepared for whatever Samata throws at you – and Mary and I are talking about doing a small concert on the last day with the little ones.

Saturday November 21st – Everest Mountain Flight!

November 21, 2009

Sagamartha - Everest from the plane.Well, we all managed to be up and assembled in the lobby by 5.30 this morning, but sadly there was no bus, which was very unusual as every other day they have been sitting waiting for us. Quarter of anhouir ticked by and we were getting very edgy as the flight was at 6.30. Maybe the driver knew something we didn’t because when we got to the domestic airport at about 6.15 it was total chaos! Hundreds of people all wanting internal flights and there was only one xray machine which broke down within minutes of us joining the queue. People were jostling and complaining right left and centre and we could see the flight going without us. We should have known better. When we eventually got through it was only to join another melee of people some of whom said that there was a delay as a flight had had to be sent up to see what the weather conditions over the Himalayas were like! There was a lot of ground mist at the airport, but we all thought that the control tower would have had continual input from somewhere or other about weather conditions, but obviously not. We watched the sun rise over the waiting planes and it was actually 8.40 by the time we took off, by which time everyone was very fed up. Once we got going all that was forgotten and we had a wonderful flight which lasted an hour and forty minutes instead of an hour, as the delays meant that all the landing slots – shared with the international airport as there is only one runway – had been messed up and we had to wait for clearance. The views across the range of mountains got better and better as time went by and the haze disappeared. I had not realised just how vast the foothills of the Himalayas are, or the distance that must be travelled on foot even to get to base camp. Sagamartha (Everest ) itself was just so impressive and stunningly beautiful, as were the lesser mountains on either side. Photography doesn’t begin to do justice to them really – you need a very powerful camera, and a tripod to overcome the shake and turbulence of the small planes. All in all a memorable experience which was worth every penny. In fact it was about £90 which is pretty good for the time it took and the commentary which told us exactly which peaks we were looking at, at any one moment. We all had a snooze after a late breakfast and then this afternoon

Durbar Square - one of the temples

Mary and I took a rickshaw into Durbar Square and spent a fascinating couple of hours looking around the old palaces and standing in the celestial palace to see the Kumari Devi, or the celestial goddess as she is known. She is a young girl from the Newari caste who is chosen by priests for her beauty and purity at about the age of four. She remains the goddess and lives in the Kumari Palace until she reaches puberty when a new goddess is chosen. She lives a very secluded life and only appears in public once a day at and about six times a year at ceremonial occasions. Photographing her is absolutely forbidden and they went to great lengths to ensure that no-one had a camera in evidence. All very strange, and there are many weird legends about how there came to be a living goddess in the first place. We saw some really old buildings which are in a dreadful state of repair and which still house shops and businesses. You wonder how they manage to stay up.

Durbar Square

It was great to have a really relaxing day, as tomorrow we are visiting another school early in the morning – Sunday is a working day in Nepal – and then Mary and I have a lot of preparation to do for next week’s lessons, not to mention my 90+ essays to mark!!

Friday November 20th – the end of our first full week.

November 20, 2009

The two 2 year olds who are children of the cook and cleaners at samata - they're gorgeous!

Friday evening and the end of our first full week’s work here. We have all got sore throats and thick catarrh – not colds, but reaction to the pollution we think. A trip to the local pharmacy was fascinating.  Bipin – from Social Tours – took me this evening and I was so grateful as I’m not sure i would have found it easily as it was tucked away down a side alley between other shops.  No proper sign – just a small notice

Almost anything can be sold from a Bicycle!

 if you knew where to look.  However, although the pharmacy was little more than a table, with some very rickety cupboards full of small drawers behind it, the pharmacisit clearly knew his stuff and was able to provide me with strepsils and paracetamol and would have given me antibiotics with names that I recognised had I needed them.  The names of two doctors were hanging above the cupboard and I think there  was a surgery of some sort going on behind there.  I can remember when our rural practice had a dispensary attached, so maybe it is the same idea.

On our way back from school today we saw armed guards wearing body armour out on the streets.  Our driver said that there was a big Maoist protest the Health Minister was holding an important meeting about future policy which they disagree with, and they were expecting trouble.  However, we saw no disturbances and returned to the hotel with

One of many groups of armed guards lining the streets today.

out incident.  Mary and I went ‘shopping’ for things like wool for art activities and waste paper bins/brushes to encourage them to keep their rooms tidy,in the local Jorpati district shops close to the school today.  When you are actually out on the streets amongst the local people you really realise how desperate the poverty is in this  and many other areas of Kathmandu.  People are living a totally hand to mouth existence and many are sleeping in the open under a bit of corrugated iron, or in appalling apartment blocks where several families will share a flat, having perhaps one room for the whole family, with no furniture as we would understand it and just hessian mats on the floor to sleep on. They live on rice and vegetables with the occasional bit of meat – if they are Hindu or Christian – thrown in when they can afford it.  Interestingly, I would say that about a third of the children at Samata are nominally Christian.  Some of the staff are, too, and were telling us today about the very evangelical sounding ‘home church’ they attend.  They sang us one of their ‘hymns’ which seemed to be about a telephone call to Jesus!  We couldn’t quite make head or tail of it.

By huge contrast we were not able to eat in our usual restaurant tonight as there was a big reception

J ust one of the hundreds of impoverished Nealis trying to eke out a living.

and dinner for the most senior professor at the university, who is entertaining guests from abroad. There were arriving whilst we had our weekly debriefing with Social Tours in the lobby and we could see the most stunning bejewelled saris etc going up to the cocktail lounge.  How the other half live!  They are very much the minority.

The children at Samata do not have lunch provided–  the hundred rupees a month that they pay (about £1.20) for schooling would not run to that.  They bring something with them, if they are lucky, or they go without. Many of them will have a small bag of popcorn (the salted variety) which they buy from a cart at the gate for 2 rupees .  Even the staff seem to survive on packets of instant noodles which they eat dry, like crisps. No wonder they fall on our lunch leftovers like vultures!

This is a short blog today as we are all so tired, but have to up at 5.00am as we leave at 5.30am for the airport, ready for our flight over Everest at 6.30am – in time to see the sun rise.  So …. fingers crossed for fine weather and visibility. It should be stunning.

Thursday 19th November

November 19, 2009
Late afternoon Thursday – another shattering but very rewarding day.  We had an interesting session with the young staff today.  Having prised some information about themselves from them for the profiles we want to set up so that future volunteers will be able to quickly identify who is who and which class they teach (there are more than 50 teachers), we asked them for some more detail today.

Heads and shoulders with the kindergarten

We now know that most of them are actually at college studying for basic degrees – more like our foundation degree courses from what I can gather, so some more detail would be useful.  Because it can be quite hard to follow them, especially when they get excited, they offered to write it down for us. Once they started writing all sorts of very touching comments about their hopes and dreams and their family circumstances came out , which we will have to edit when we write the profiles, but were very moving to read and show how much they are trusting us.

We have been having long debates about what to do with all the extra lunch we are given – we get a packed lunch every day from the hotel. It is far too much and no matter what we say it never gets any less.  We’ve been giving the surplus to some street kids on our way home once or twice, but the older ones always take it all and beat up the younger ones if they try to get any.  Yesterday we took some cakes in for the staff,  and from the way they fell on them it became apparent that they too are very hungry. So today we took in a plate from the hotel – no plates at the school, they use tin bowls which they bring in themselves –  loaded it up with all the things we couldn’t eat and took it in to them.  You would have thought we’d given them a banquet!  They were so thrilled and invited us to join them with our lunches, which we did.  They told us that this has never happened before and that many of the volunteers have not been so friendly.  I imagine many may feel quite intimidated by the strangeness of it all, but for me in many ways it is like Romania all over again, only more so in terms of the poverty, and Mary would not be intimidated or put off by anything, so we make a good pair!  We took the little ones outside with the parachute today  and they had a whale of a time playing with it and learning the Hokey Cokey.  The two 2 year olds who hang around much of time because their parents work here were joining in.  They are gorgeous – and very bright!

It was lovely to pick up messages from various people today.  It is so good to hear from you because it does feel a very long way away at times.

Wednesday November 17th

November 18, 2009

Teachers from Y1 - Y5

I thought I was tired yesterday, but today I am twice as tired and my voice is disappearing fast! This is partly that I am out of practice (not that I was ever in practice) with dealing with nearly sixty 15/16 year olds and also the huge pollution here – dusty streets, heavy traffic that is anything but eco-friendly and smoking – not me, everyone else!! I have taught five periods today and in period six was interviewing staff for the staff profile that we are trying to put together. Much to my amazement I am getting a huge buzz out of teaching Y9 and Y10. They are so keen to learn and soak up everything you say to them. The creative writing they did this morning was just astounding considering their backgrounds and that they are writing in a foreign language. Our Y9/10’s from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds cannot write nearly as well in English, let alone a foreign language. So where are we going wrong? Earlier in the day I took a Y1 class (though it has children from 5 – 10 in it!) – 59 of them and we did music! The teacher there has no English and so all communication is through mime. If anyone had video-ed my performance, because that was what it had to be – I’m sure it would make for hysterical viewing. We did lots of action songs using the puppets, heads and shoulders, knees and toes, some rhythm work etc etc. Great fun and we ended up outside doing the hokey cokey – unheard of in that setting! I’ve had a long discussion today with the senior English teacher about the possibilities of these students getting to university because a good few have the ability. However, if they can’t pay then that’s it, they can’t go and all for the sake of about £400 admission fee and then £200 a year for tuition. Peanuts really. Something else to think about….. The Nepalese ambassador to Russia visited the school today and spent some time in my English lesson with Y10, which was interesting. He was very impressed with the standard of their writing. Now I just have about 150 pieces of work to mark – many of them at least one side of A4, so must stop and get down to it!