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My temporary life in rural Nepal

Walking around the village

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After a week or so of overloading on carbs (see previous post), and not much exercise other than the walk to and from school – 15 minutes downhill to get there, and 20 minutes uphill to get back – something had to be done. Gently floating the idea of after-school walks around the village and surrounding hills, and including Dipak and Samir in the plans, seemed to sufficiently reassure everyone that I couldn’t come to much harm. So far we’ve managed every second day, due to the unseasonal stormy weather in the area this week.

The main objective has been to explore around the ‘top of the hill’, with its views of the Annapurna range, Phewa lake and Pokhara. The first time, our walk had to be cut short because the thunder came rolling in and the sky went black in a matter of minutes. But along the way we had a lovely walk through the Brahmin neighbourhood where Dipak lives, past Samir’s grandfather’s house, and up to the tidy little tourist camping ground. Samir’s dog, Tiger, joined us for a short time, but I suspect he already knew about the weather and took the option to return home quite hastily. We took the quick/easy way back and beat the downpour just in time.

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Our second attempt at the same route, two days later, was much more successful. It had been a relatively clear day, and the weather was holding. Although I try not to let the power of dismissing class go to my head, on this particular day there had been a legit reason (can’t remember…), so we were able to set out on our walk a little earlier.

Samir’s a funny little guide – he can’t quite strike the right balance between showing the way, and using his manners to invite me to walk ahead of him. But by this time I already knew the way to Dipak’s house, so I was at least able to take the lead until we arrived there to collect him. This time when our strange little rambling club arrived at the camping ground, we were able to keep going, up to the top of the hill.

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Such a reward – the views were breathtaking! You’re not really meant to be able to see the snow-capped mountains at that time of day, so I was really surprised to see them poking through the late afternoon clouds. While the boys horsed around I took it all in, and tried not to have a heart attack watching them play so close to the edge. My other surprise was to realise how far along Phewa lake the village is. I had thought we were just over the hill from Pokhara, but you can see in the photos that the city is at a distance.

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After we’d had our fill at the main vantage point, we walked across the ridge to the picnic ground for a different perspective, and to watch the sun begin to sink in the west. Every so often the boys would disappear into the bush and return with handfuls of tiny little wild raspberries - orange/yellow in colour, sweet and delicious.

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On the way home we stopped at Samir’s house to play with all the baby goats (kids, I guess) born in the past week or so. Cuteness overload – both the human kids and the goat kids.

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The most recent walk was of a different kind. Not so great for the exercise, but invaluable for the cultural insight. Prakash decided to come with us, and he took us further around the valley to see the different styles of houses and living conditions of the different castes, and to meet some new faces. I couldn’t help but feel that I had been given a glimpse of Nepali life that most western visitors would never see.

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Posted by Andrea R 05:41 Archived in Nepal Tagged animals walking village houses nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

Cottage industry

sunny 24 °C

I’m fascinated by the amount of DIY that goes on in the village. When life is already so busy, people choose to add more work to their daily schedules, to either earn a little extra money for themselves, or to make life a bit easier or more comfortable for others.

One thing I’ve been going to write about for a while is the millet wine produced right here at my homestay. Every day – two batches each morning – more wine is made. It can be consumed immediately (no cellaring required for this vintage!). I’ve mentioned before that the by-product is a necessity, as the molasses is a key component of the sheep feed. But the family would argue that the wine itself is also a necessity.

We have a small group of regulars who are here at the start and end of each working day, drinking the wine. Sometimes they are already here when my early morning black tea is delivered, and occasionally they will still be here when I leave for school a few hours later. Some of these people are workers in Prakash’s fields, and he claims that they might not come to work if he didn’t supply the wine, or they might get it from someone else who brews it with a higher alcohol content. It’s a dilemma.

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Then there are others who don’t drink at the house, but send their young children – students at our school – with a handful of rupees and an empty bottle to be filled. It’s so sad. Prakash has told me some of their stories; tales of disappointment and loneliness, that in essence sound very familiar. I guess alcoholism is similar everywhere.

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I’ve only tasted the ‘guest quality’ millet wine, not the one the regulars are drinking, so I can only really comment on that. It’s actually more like a white spirit than a wine. It reminds me of a plain, neat vodka, but not as strong. Not really knowing what to expect, my first ever sip was a shock to the system, and that first glass did give me a small but noticeable alcohol buzz, but since then I can’t say I’ve really noticed it again. Don’t worry – no danger of me becoming one of the regulars – I’d still prefer a glass of Cointreau on ice any day.

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Posted by Andrea R 17:43 Archived in Nepal Tagged village industry nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

Visitors to the school

sunny 23 °C

Since my arrival there have been a few times when we’ve hosted special guests at the school. After the overwhelming reception that my trekking group received when we passed through the village on the way to Pokhara all those weeks ago, it’s been interesting to see it from the other side.

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First up was a former pupil of the school who now resides in the UK and heads up a large organisation of ex-Kalabang residents in Kent. He also happens to be the brother-in-law of the Headmistress, and is one of Prakash’s nephews. Small village, small world.

This was still during the exam period, so to burn off some excess energy in between finishing their exam and politely greeting our special guest, the students were made to stage an impromptu concert in the playground. I say 'made', but they looked to be enjoying it as much as I did, as a spectator. Class 7 did 3-4 songs, then Class 6, and so on. The songs were all in English, and mostly with actions – apparently the legacy of former volunteer teachers. It made me realise I might have to think of something* to pass on, too.

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By the time the guest arrived, the children were able to greet him sweetly and sit quietly listening while he spoke with the school reps in the library.

The next visitor was an early-morning one, arriving a good 30 minutes or so before school started. Not only that, but it was after exams, so school attendance was voluntary. Because of this, his reception was a bit more low-key, and the focus was more on speaking with the adults. This visitor was an Adjunct Professor from a Seoul university, in charge of an overseas volunteer program. His interest was in Kalabang village more generally – a broader exchange of culture and ideas – but he was interested to know what contribution his Korean students could make at the school, too.

Just a small group of us gathered in the library for this visit, but there was still the welcome garlands, floral decorations on the table, guest book and so on. He was very interested to know what I thought could be improved about the school. I was put on the spot, but I didn’t hesitate to nominate the rickety classroom furniture as being most urgently in need of upgrade.

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Although the professor had a Korean/English/Nepali translator with him (from one of the govt offices in Kathmandu), he spoke for himself most of the time. When he threw into the conversation that he was an Anglican minister, I quickly looked at the translator, whose eyebrows had shot through the roof just like mine! It turns out I had not mis-heard. Christianity is surprisingly big in South Korea; something I would never have guessed.

Our most recent visitors were members of another Explore tour group. Unfortunately they turned up about 2 hours after we’d been told to expect them – almost 3 hours after school had finished, which meant the children were very deep into the playtime zone. But they were still able to be coaxed into a nice little welcome committee. The travellers received a lovely greeting, a tour of the coffee garden, a reception in the library, songs in the classroom, and finally an invitation to write in the guest book (and make a donation to the school…entirely optional). A nice welcome although maybe a bit formulaic, now that I know, but if I was to compare I would say ours was better.

  • Any ideas for a song will be gratefully received.

Posted by Andrea R 18:19 Archived in Nepal Tagged village school nepal Comments (1)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

Getting away from my getaway

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There was no forward plan, but as it turns out, I’ve been going to Pokhara each weekend while I’ve been living in Kalabang, and each of those times, it has been a welcome break from the intensity of village life.

School hours are 10-4, six days per week, but often I spend an hour or two with students before school, another hour or two with them after school, and another couple of hours with the adults over dinner in the evening, exchanging culture and ideas and helping to improve vocabulary, grammar etc. Some days it seems the only time I have to myself is the time I sleep! So this is why Pokhara has become such an important part of my weekly routine. And it’s a nice place to visit, regardless.

On Friday morning I pack what I need for 2 nights, and have it ready to go straight after school when I catch the 4:30pm Bhumdi-Pokhara bus. The bus is always an adventure in itself, seeing what people are transporting (gas cylinders, milk churns, bundles of wood, enormous bags of rice – it all goes on the bus, either in the aisle, in the luggage hold, or on top) how the driver is driving, and how much the bus attendant is charging. The fare has never been the same twice. To get to Lakeside, the tourist precinct of Pokhara, I have to change buses. While the first stage of the journey takes about 30-40 minutes, the second part is rarely more than about 5. I have to pay attention or I would miss my stop.

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Once at Lakeside, it’s a quick shower then down to the lake for sunset and a glass or two of wine at Bamboo Bar. The waiters know me by now, and although they still ask, they already know what I’m going to order. If I’m lucky the resident cat lets me give her a pat, although she tends to prefer to impose herself upon the non-cat-lovers.

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In Pokhara I have a no-rice rule, so choosing somewhere to eat is always fun, and diners are spoiled for choice there. The other day I even noticed a Vietnamese restaurant on the main road, and although I probably wouldn’t try it (I’m from Melbourne, where every other restaurant is Vietnamese), it’s a good indication that all tastes are catered for.

Saturday is usually a nice mix of shopping, eating, occasionally a massage and lots of time relaxing at the hotel. I have my Saturdays in Pokhara to thank for many of these blog posts! Above all, Pokhara has been about laying back and having time to chill. Like the buffalos on the streets of Lakeside…

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Then on Sunday morning it’s one last hot shower, then either back onto the bus or sometimes a taxi to Kalabang in time for school at 10am.

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Posted by Andrea R 16:22 Archived in Nepal Tagged city nepal pokhara treats Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

An unexpected celebration

sunny 30 °C

When I say unexpected, I only mean for me. I daresay the families had been planning the celebration for months or longer, once the auspicious date had been identified. The celebration in question was a Bratabandha ceremony for three related boys - Brahmin Hindus. It is one of 16 rituals performed throughout a lifetime, and it marks the boys’ transition to manhood.

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I wasn’t there for the actual ceremony part of the day, where the priests passed on the relevant teachings, and where the boys’ heads were shaved, leaving just a small tail of hair on top, but I arrived in time for lunch. That’s why I’m making the distinction between ceremony and celebration.

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Each of the boys had a staff, a small bow to protect himself from the wild animals and other bits and pieces for his journey through the forest. It’s just a symbolic journey, walking around the ritual offerings laid out in front of them. The most important symbol though, is the 9-strand sacred thread which is meant to be worn for the rest of their lives, and is the sign of manhood.

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Relatives, friends and neighbours had gathered up in the Brahmin neighbourhood of the village, where the celebration was taking place across a few different houses. It was a really hot day, and very crowded, so after we had mingled a bit and paid our respects to the priests and the boys, we escaped down to Suraksha’s house (one of my lovely Class 7 students) where members of the extended family showered us with hospitality.

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Later that night we returned to the celebration to listen to the traditional music, and watch all the dancers, young and old. By this time the boys had changed out of their ceremonial yellow, and were joining in the festivities.

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As this all took place on my second last day in the village, I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of it.

Posted by Andrea R 17:40 Archived in Nepal Tagged religion village dancing nepal celebration Comments (0)

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