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My temporary life in rural Nepal

Leaving the village

sunny 26 °C

To allow myself enough time for things to go wrong on my journey home, I decided to leave Kalabang after 3.5 weeks (out of the 4 weeks I’d originally scheduled), which meant that Tuesday was my last day at school and my last day in the village. Coincidentally, it also meant I was leaving on the last day of Nepali year 2072 – New Years Eve – the day the students were receiving their report cards.

After an improvised final class of reading fairy tales on the Kindle with Classes 6 and 7 (they looooove getting their hands on the eBook), we all gathered in the library for the end-of-year school assembly. Parents/guardians had been invited as well, so we had a full house. There were a couple of speeches, then starting with the little ones, results were read out in order of ranking, and the children were handed their final report with a blessing.

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It took a while to get through all the students, and when we arrived at Class 5, I was whisked away for my school lunch. Most of the students I’ve worked with are in Classes 5-7, so I was a bit disappointed to miss the opportunity to applaud them as their achievements were recognised, but I managed to find out the highlights later in the day.

Unbeknownst to me, while I was having lunch, there was a change of scenery in the library. When I returned I discovered that we were having a Farewell Program for me! I still can’t believe all those children sat there, so well-behaved, the whole time. There were speeches, then I was garlanded and khata-d by the teachers, the students and the school management committee. Apart from a lovely letter of appreciation, I was also presented with a packet of freshly roasted coffee from the school’s coffee garden (no mistaking the delight on my face in that photo) and a little wooden plaque – a Token of Love from the school.

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We all gathered outside for a big group photo, then the children and parents formed two lines leading to the school gate so that I could say goodbye to each person. I was given so many flowers I had to empty my hands a couple of times along the way.

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Back at my homestay there was a smaller, private farewell from my extended Kalabang family. More khatas, some tears (not just mine) and a gift from my Nepali mum and aunt. Then Prakash and Samir joined me in the taxi to accompany me all the way to Pokhara. As we drove past the school, many of the teachers were still there at the gate waving a final goodbye.

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Having so many villagers wishing me well and being so clearly grateful for what I’ve given over these past weeks, makes me think when they say they hope to see me again one day, that I seriously will think about it. I really can’t imagine never seeing these wonderful people again.

Posted by Andrea R 17:00 Archived in Nepal Tagged village school nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in urban Nepal

On the buses

sunny 27 °C

Back in Nepal to spend more time at the village school, I’ve decided to base myself in Pokhara and commute each day. There were many different considerations, and it’s a decision not taken lightly, least of all because of the logistics of transportation. Upon arrival in Pokhara towards the end of the Dashain festival, a high priority was to come to grips with the local bus system before I was due at school.

Of course, I had done the trip a few times in both directions on my last visit to the area, but never unescorted. So I knew I had to take a short ride around the lake to the Siddhartha Highway and change over to the Bhumdi bus; but where and at what time? The plan for Day 1 was to simply arrive at the bus-stop in good time and ask the ‘conductor’ on every likely bus, if they were going to Bhumdi. It worked! I had to wait a long time, but eventually the question was answered with a nod rather than a shake, and I was on my way.

Now it’s been a week and a half and the bus journey has become almost second nature. It’s far from comfortable, but I still look forward to it every day – all part of the adventure.

The first leg around the lake to Birauta is so brief it’s barely worth mentioning. But Birauta itself is full of noise and colour. It’s a major intersection controlled by a roundabout, and there’s a large tree at the bus-stop throwing shade for waiting passengers, fruit vendors, shoe repairers and the odd calf that might be hanging around. Nobody but the pedestrians takes notice of the pedestrian crossing.

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While I wait I am startled almost every time by the arrival of an aeroplane flying very low over the surrounding buildings as it comes in to land at the nearby airport. Meanwhile at road-level, the buses come careening around the roundabout and screech to a stop, with the conductors hanging out the door, shouting the destination like rapid-fire. You have to be quick to step up to the door, or else they are already pulling away from the kerb.

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Since that first day I’ve come to recognise some basic characteristics of the Bhumdi bus, and have even guessed accurately a couple of times. It’s pretty much always green, quite high off the ground, medium-sized and, most telling of all, it’s the party bus! The blaring music and over-the-top decorations are a dead giveaway.

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For about 20 minutes we climb out of the Pokhara valley, heading south on the more-or-less sealed highway. People get on and off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. At times it seems as though they step over the side of the hill into thin air, but I can only assume there is a steep path that I can’t see from the bus.

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Then we hit the Pumdi-Bhumdi Road and everything changes. With steep, bumpy hairpin bends all the way up the mountain, it’s a slow, bone-and-bladder-rattling ride. But with any luck it only takes another 15-20 minutes to get to the school, and the upside is the stunning rural scenery along the way. The longest journey so far has taken a little over an hour, due to not just one but two roadblocks on this last stretch of road. Guess who was late for class?

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Posted by Andrea R 21:22 Archived in Nepal Tagged bus village school transport nepal pokhara Comments (0)

My temporary life in urban Nepal

Bhai Tika with the Gurung family

sunny 29 °C

This trip to Nepal has coincided with festival season. I arrived towards the end of Dashain, and within a couple of weeks – just time to settle in – Tihar was upon us. Tihar/Diwali/Deepavali is the festival of light and flowers, lasting for five days. The final day, Bhai Tika, is the most important, and I was honoured to be invited to celebrate in Kalabang with my Nepali family. Bhai Tika is all about sisters worshipping their brothers for the love and protection they provide, by praying for their long life and prosperity.

With everyone gathered at the home of Prakash (eldest brother), the festivities began with all the preparations necessary for the actual ritual, which would take place at the auspicious time a little later in the day. The sisters cooked mountains of sell roti, a fried circular bread made with rice batter, for eating and to be used as offerings, while sister-in-law made a start on the marigold garlands. The nephews were in charge of erecting some shade over the forecourt, not just for comfort, but also to designate the space for the ritual to take place. Once the bread was made, eldest sister pounded some bot doob grass into a paste, and youngest sister sorted out the rest of the colours for the tika.

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After placing protections over the doorways, the sisters began bringing the offerings and other ritual paraphernalia out to the shaded area.

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As the auspicious time drew closer, the brothers and nephews gathered. Once they were seated, the sisters marked three boundaries around the ritual place with oil and flower petals, symbolic of a protection for those seated within. Finally, the sisters gave each other tika, and then they were ready to begin the ritual.

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To start with, all the brothers and nephews were strewn with flower petals, then one by one – from oldest to youngest – each was blessed by the eldest sister. There was the ritual washing with wet bot doob grass, wiping mustard oil on the forehead and hair, then the giving of the tika, a garland and a new topi. After each man was blessed, he gave the sisters a gift.

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At the end of the ritual, all were offered a sweet for good luck and a piece of walnut to symbolise the ending of troubles (because the walnuts are hard to crack). After the tika, the next most important part of Bhai Tika is the delicious meal that the sisters prepare for the brothers. The meal we enjoyed that day was spectacular, but when I think about it, the food that comes out of the Gurung kitchen is always amazing!!

If you go to my photo gallery, all of these pics are captioned to give a better idea of what's happening. Plus there are a few extras.

Posted by Andrea R 15:07 Archived in Nepal Tagged village family festival nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in urban Nepal

Deusi Bhailo

sunny 31 °C

On the final day of Tihar, immediately after the Bhai Tika rituals, I joined a group of students, teachers and other supporters of Bhagawati School, for an afternoon of Deusi Bhailo in Kalabang. The homes we visited had been carefully chosen in advance and forewarned that we were coming to collect donations for the school stationery fund.

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Going from door-to-door in Kalabang means lots of steps, either up or down from the main road, and as it was a fairly warm day, I think our enthusiastic dancing and singing was well appreciated.

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The Deusi song was led by the local Hindu priest, requiring mainly just our rhythmic clapping and a response of ‘Deusi Re’ after each line. I couldn’t understand the lyrics, of course, but after a few houses I worked out that the song finished when the priest either ran out of steam or fluffed a line. Then we just danced to our portable music until the householder rewarded us with a donation; cash, fruit and flowers. Being an official school activity, Vice Principal J.P. ensured everything was properly accounted for, and that receipts were handed over before we moved on to the next house.

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Throughout the afternoon we visited six houses, raising just over Rs50,000 for the stationery fund.

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If you go to my photo gallery, all of these pics are captioned to give a better idea of what's happening. Plus there are a few extras.

Posted by Andrea R 17:07 Archived in Nepal Tagged village school festival nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in urban Nepal

Around my neighbourhood

sunny 25 °C

It has turned out to be a happy accident that I’ve found myself living in Gaurighat, Lakeside, on this visit to Nepal. I really like my street, and I love the neighbourhood.

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On my street there are several larger hotels, a handful of small ones, and a few guesthouses, as well as loads of family-run small restaurants and convenience stores. Many of the convenience stores operate laundry services, so although the gutters flow with dirty, sudsy water, there is a wonderful clean smell that permeates the air. I have two different ladies who do my laundry – I go to Laxmi if I want my things tumble-dried, but to Mrs Gautam if the items need to be dried on a clothesline. But it’s not all business/commerce – at the top of the street there are some substantial residential buildings and a couple of children’s homes, so you can often hear the sounds of children playing and there are friendly, clean pet dogs out on the street.

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At the bottom of the street is the main Lakeside road. It’s always busy, but on the upside, there’s always something to see. You don’t have to go far to find a mobile juice vendor or, early in the morning, someone selling fresh, hot bread and pastries from the enormous baskets they balance on their heads. And crossing over the main road is Phewa Lake, the home of the Fewa Boat Association, with boats to rent by the hour or by the day, with or without a competent driver!

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This main road around the lake and the nearby sidestreets are where I run most mornings. I take some of the sidestreets so I can pretend I am running on an incline… One of my favourite streets is the next one over, where there are enough people around at first light to feel safe, but there’s rarely any vehicular traffic. I suppose I have become a familiar (albeit unusual) sight over the weeks, as I have a number of people that I see regularly, who always give me a Namaste and a wave as I go past. It makes me feel as though I belong, even if only temporarily.

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And there in the background, watching over my little neighbourhood, are the majestic mountains of the Annapurna range. It doesn’t matter whether your home is fancy or modest, everyone shares the million dollar views around here.

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Posted by Andrea R 17:59 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal annapurna neighbourhood pokhara citylife Comments (0)

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