A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

My temporary life in rural Nepal

My Homestay

sunny 23 °C

In keeping with my temporary new, simple life, I've decided to just continue with this same blog rather than start a new one. To set the scene, here's a bit about where I'm staying.

The wider Pumdibhumdi area is just beginning to get into the homestay scene, with a few local families in various stages of preparedness for western guests. I’m lucky to be staying with Prakash Gurung and his family (his wife and his unmarried sister) at House #3 in Kalabang village, in between Bhumdi and Pumdi.

large_DSC02950.jpg

Prakash is the only one who speaks English in this household, but his English is generally excellent, and he is quite particular about being corrected, whether it be his pronunciation or choice of word. He’s a 61yo retired gent who seems to have a finger in just about every village pie. Apart from being the Chairman of the School Committee for Shree Bhagawati Primary School (my school), he is also a member or adviser on a number of other committees that are so important for the day-to-day functioning and future improvement of the Pumdibhumdi community, spread out over the hills behind Pokhara. I’ll write more about that separately.

My room is comfortable. It is a separate building (perhaps a converted stable or storeroom?) to the side of the main house. I have a warm, snuggly bed, a low table and a chair, a flyscreen door to keep the insects out, and both the floor and ceiling are lined. At night, if the electricity is available, there is a light and a socket so that I can recharge my bits and pieces, and at other times I can use the other, solar-powered light. It’s dimmer than the electric one, but bright enough for anything I need to do. At night I wear earplugs to sleep, because the goats are next door, and between them and the nearby sheep, the bleating would keep me awake. Also, when I can’t hear the mice running across the roof, they don’t bother me! So far I’ve only seen one murine visitor inside my room and that was on the first night – it didn’t stay long once it realised that I move around.

DSC02853.jpg

This house has a fairly reasonable bathroom. There is a spotlessly clean squat toilet – to be replaced by the commode temporarily stored in my room, as soon as they can entice a plumber from Pokhara – a full-sized handbasin, a cold-water shower and a solar light. Each morning I’m invited to take a bath, which involves heating water over the open fire (I mean my hosts do this for me – I’m not expected to do it myself), and filling two large buckets. These are placed in the bathroom for me, with a large plastic tub to stand in, and a jug to scoop the water and pour it over myself. It doesn’t beat a real shower, but it’s surprisingly satisfying.

The meals I take at the house are eaten on the verandah, giving me a good view of the village comings and goings, as well as the women of the house going industriously about their chores. Directly in front of where I sit is the main outdoor ‘workstation’ on the forecourt – the cold water supply diverted from the village tap nearby, and the outdoor open fire. It seems that the water is in use almost constantly, whether for washing dishes, washing clothes, preparing food for the animals, heating water for my bath etc. From early in the morning until bedtime, you can hear the trickle and slosh of water. Luckily I seem to have become mostly immune to the sound.

DSC02930.jpgDSC02945.jpg

Off the verandah are the huge earth-floored kitchen, a storeroom where there is a fridge, and the family’s bedrooms. The bathroom is located between the fridge room and the sheep pens, accessed from the forecourt.

Apart from the flock of sheep and the goats, there are also a couple of buffalo down on the next terrace, a few tiny little chickens (mature, but a small breed) and a dog. It’s not clear to me whether the dog has a name, but I think of him as Jekyll&Hyde because he’s fiercely protective when people and other animals approach the house outside of daylight hours, but the rest of the time he’s happy and practically silent. He seems to have accepted me as part of the household right from my first appearance, because he has never once barked at me. Sometimes he guards the door of my room when I am not inside.

DSC02922.jpgDSC02920.jpgDSC02927.jpg

Intricate narrow footpaths connect all the houses in the village. People either walk past below the terraced fields in front of the house, or if they actually want to stop and say Namaste, they climb the short stairway and walk across the forecourt.

large_DSC02951.jpg

Posted by Andrea R 23:31 Archived in Nepal Tagged animals village nepal Comments (2)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

Shree Bhagawati Primary School

sunny 23 °C

The school currently has a little more than 100 students, having been built up under Prakash’s guidance from about 42 students in 2010. At that time it had been in danger of closing or being merged with another school. Now we have students coming from quite a distance (almost from Pokhara city itself) to take advantage of this special school that is well-respected throughout the Kaski region. What sets the school apart is its strong focus on developing English language skills. All subjects are taught in English, other than the Nepali class of course. At least this is the theory.

DSC02597.jpgDSC02874.jpg

Another distinction is that the school is not the traditional Class 1-6 structure of other Nepali primary schools. There is a nursery class, a lower kindergarten class, an upper kindergarten class and (from this year) a Class 7 to keep its students close for an extra year before they have to start going to the big high school further down the valley. The school is also working towards having a Class 8 in the future.

large_DSC02598.jpg

Favourite subjects among the Class 6 and 7 students (the ones I interact with the most) are English and Science, which are universally popular, as well as Health, Maths and Nepali.

IMAG0954.jpgIMAG0955.jpg

The school building has been expanded over the years through the support of generous donors. Along the lower level are the classrooms for the younger kids, a kitchen of sorts and the school office. The top level has the classrooms for the older students and a rooftop space that can be used for tasks associated with the school’s coffee plantation. Around the back are two toilet blocks, the old one and a much newer one, and a new double-tap for the children to wash their hands.

large_DSC02935.jpg

We've had builders from Pokhara on-site, adding a new staffroom to the ground level, and they’ve unfortunately had the water diverted so the children haven't been able to access it on demand. This causes two problems; they can’t wash their hands after the bathroom (I use my antiseptic gel, so I’m ok) but they also have to bring drinking water from home. I’m not sure what happens if they forget, or can’t bring any.

The other major construction-type work happening over the next couple of months will be the sealing of the dusty playground. This will help to keep everything a bit more clean and will be better for everyone's health.

Everywhere you look, the school is adorned with plaques and posters acknowledging its donors and other supporters.

DSC02942.jpg

Posted by Andrea R 09:38 Archived in Nepal Tagged village school nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

Holi at Shree Bhagawati Primary School

sunny 24 °C

The universe must be smiling upon my little adventure, because this year Holi fell on just my 3rd day at the school (March 22). For the first two days I was there, the children spoke about it often – it is clearly a favourite celebration for them. Although technically a public holiday, students and teachers were encouraged to come to school to celebrate together. No school uniforms, of course!

On the day, two sisters, Sarmila (Class 4) and Argita (younger) came to walk me to school at 10am. Little Argita was sent off to the shop along the way to buy some balloons and colour for them to play with once we arrived at school.

The boys were already well into the fun as I walked across the playground to the school office. Lots of colour on their faces and some on their clothes. Whooping and laughing.

DSC02893.jpg
DSC02897.jpg
DSC02864.jpg
90_DSC02861.jpg
DSC02863.jpg

The girls seemed a bit more restrained, but even they had already received some colourful ‘blessings’. Throughout the morning they continually washed the colour from their faces, but really, this just encouraged the application of more! I tried to delay the inevitable by saying I needed to leave my things in the school office first.

90_DSC02870.jpg
DSC02883.jpg
90_DSC02854.jpg
IMAG0957.jpg

Shortly after, I went back out into the playground to see what was happening. At first I used my camera as a shield, but the children didn’t accept that for long and I was soon receiving blessings in hot pink, purple, red and yellow. Some kids also had green and blue.

DSC02868.jpg
90_DSC02865.jpg
90_DSC02880.jpg
DSC02902.jpg
90_DSC02903.jpg

For a while there was more activity going on just outside the school gate, where what I thought were some older kids were mixing with the students. When these older kids entered the school I was a little concerned – not that they were doing anything to be concerned about, just from a gatecrashing point of view – but I soon discovered these older ‘kids’ were actually parents of the students! They stayed with us and joined in the celebrations for most of the day.

DSC02877.jpg
DSC02879.jpg

Around 11am, JP, one of the Assistant Headmasters, formally opened the celebration by blessing everyone with a lighter shade of red. Then he threw the colour into the air and it was on for young and old. Quite a few children offered me some of their balloons so I could get the full experience.

DSC02905.jpg
DSC02901.jpg
90_DSC02918.jpg
DSC02882.jpg
DSC02892.jpg

Afterwards, the music system was wheeled out and turned up loud, the dusty playground was sprinkled with water, and we danced.

DSC02913.jpg

A group of boys was acting as DJ, and like deejays anywhere, they couldn’t agree on what they wanted to play, so there was a lot of skipping tracks and so on. Samir, one of my regular child-guardians, was very keen to get me dancing, although a little shy at first to join me, but it turned out that he was the best and most dedicated dancer in the school! We danced in the full sun for ages, then I escaped to the office for a while to get some shade. There I chatted with Prakash, who said he had told the kids to go easy on me. I hate to think what might have happened otherwise!

DSC02915.jpg
DSC02916.jpg

While I had my lunch in the library as usual, the children were also given a hot meal as part of their Holi celebration. This took quite some time and was done in shifts, as the school isn’t really geared up for mass catering.

Before the post-lunch, post-sun stupor could set in, we went back for more dancing. The smaller girls, in particular, were keen to hold my hands and dance with me – I wished I had more than 2 hands to share around, as they became quite possessive. Finally, after at least 3 ‘last dances’, it was time to go home.

The walk home was busier and more jolly than usual, with a large entourage of students taking the opportunity to hold my hands, carry my things and generally enjoy the novelty of being with me. By this time, we adults were practically the only ones with colour still on our faces. Arriving at home, Mrs Gurung shrieked with laughter when she saw my face. Being objective, I realise I did look like I was suffering from a skin condition… But the colour actually came off more easily than I expected.

270_DSC02906.jpg

Later that night, going through my photos on the laptop, the family sat and gazed at one of me for a while. Eventually Prakash remarked that with the colour on my face, I almost look Nepali.

Posted by Andrea R 05:36 Archived in Nepal Tagged village school nepal holi celebration Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

My morning routine

sunny 23 °C

Even after only one week, my mornings are beginning to follow a routine of sorts. I always wake quite a bit earlier, but my day begins at about 6:15am, to the sound of Prakash knocking on my door, crying “Good morning Andy! Black tea!” It took me only a day or two to learn to be ready for this, except for the day when there was a lot of extra chores to be done, and my tea came at 5:45.

The tea has a dual purpose. Of course, it’s a nice wakeup ritual, but it also serves to keep me out of everyone’s hair for at least half an hour, sometimes a bit longer, while they go about their work.

One of the biggest morning chores is feeding the sheep. At this time of year there isn’t a lot of vegetation for them to eat, so they are given a mixture of molasses (a by-product of the millet wine-making process; more on that another time) and rice bran. They are brought out of their pens in two sittings and gather around one of three enormous tubs of this homemade feed. They make fairly short work of their breakfast, then go back into their pens to await the arrival of their shepherdess.

large_DSC02926.jpglarge_DSC02928.jpg

Some of the morning chores I’ve witnessed are not part of the everyday routine. For example, one morning the entire garlic crop – enough to last the family a whole year – had been harvested before I finished my black tea. Another morning I emerged from my room to find someone already at work splicing bamboo to build a fence around the field where the corn is about to be planted. This field is on the sheep’s route, so the fence is needed to protect the young plants from trampling and worse. Anyway, the fence was basically completed while I was sitting there eating my breakfast that day.

large_DSC02947.jpg

And another time I was invited into the kitchen to see how the buffalo milk is churned. The buffalo doesn’t give a lot of milk at the moment, so it takes 3-4 days to collect enough to bother churning.

large_DSC02931.jpglarge_DSC02932.jpg

Breakfast is between 7-8am, then I have my bath/shower by about 8:30. Often by this time there might be a student or two dropping by for an early morning chat, so I either do that or read my book in the sunshine for a while before getting ready for school. By 9:30 I know to peek outside to see whether my escorts have arrived, and we head off to school around 9:40.

The walk to school is one of my favourite parts of the day. After setting out from home, we collect more people along the way, a bit like the Pied Piper. The more confident English speakers will happily chat with me about school, life, whatever, while the shy ones prefer to listen. Either way, they seem to be taking it all in.

large_DSC02963.jpg

Posted by Andrea R 11:27 Archived in Nepal Tagged animals village work school nepal Comments (0)

My temporary life in rural Nepal

sunny 24 °C

I have been eating well – too well – in the village. Rural Nepalis generally only have two proper meals each day; lunch between 9-10am and dinner around 7-8pm. Both of these meals will invariably be dal bhat. During the day they might also eat some snacks to keep the energy levels up.

By contrast, my hosts make sure I get the three meals each day that I would have at home.

Breakfast anywhere between 7-8am is either a plain omelette with a mountain of pale, white, sweet toast, or a pancake the size of a football field. Whether it’s the toast or pancake, this is served with a packet of cow-milk butter from India and a jar of mixed fruit jam – possible because of the fridge I mentioned in another post.

IMAG0978.jpgIMAG0987.jpg

My lunch is taken at school, some time between 1-2pm. This is prepared by JP, one of the Assistant Headmasters, who studied cooking in his younger days. He does an amazing job in his makeshift kitchen, which is an otherwise empty classroom.

large_IMAG0981.jpg

There is usually piping-hot soup; vegetable, chicken, mushroom or lentil. Then the main part of the meal might be noodles with vegetables, or fried rice with vegetables, or plain rice with vegetables and a meat curry. And chips or crisps… or both. The cooked vegetables are what you would expect to be coming out of a late winter / early spring garden – cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, green beans. One time there was even a little vegetable sculpture to decorate the meal; a carrot butterfly. There is also a plate of cucumber and carrot slices, and some fruit (apple or mandarin). All served with a mug of black tea.

IMAG0986.jpgIMAG0991.jpg

The lunch served immediately before my first weekend visit to Pokhara was a full dal bhat meal. I wondered if JP was concerned that I wouldn’t get my dal bhat for the 2 nights I would be away!

My evening meal is prepared at home by Prakash, with help from the ladies. We have dal bhat every night. That might sound monotonous, but let me assure you that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Served on a big brass tray, the basis of the dal bhat is a mountain of plain rice (bhat). Surrounding the tray are three brass goblet-shaped bowls containing the lentil soup (dal), a vegetable curry and a chicken curry. If there is no chicken, there will be two vegetable curries instead. Then on a shallow dish there is some kind of pickle. If we are having spinach, this will be in addition to everything I’ve already mentioned. Finally, there is usually a dish of sliced raw carrot. All the side dishes contain about 3-4 generous spoonfuls.

large_DSC03052.jpg

For those who don’t know, the idea with dal bhat is that although these dishes are all served separately, you pile everything onto the rice and mix it all together. The curries are dry, because you don’t need any extra sauce with the lentil soup.

It sounds like a lot of food, and it is, so don’t be too shocked to find out that the hospitality custom in Nepal is to offer (and take) additional servings of everything. I have struggled with this from the start, and knowing that the dog eats well from all the leftovers (he adores chicken bones and picks them out of his bowl to crunch on first!) I have refused. But I’ve come to realise that my hosts have outsmarted me by making my initial serve gradually bigger each day that I am here.

The other thing I’ve noticed changing each day is the heat – the chilli heat. Very slowly they are testing my tolerance to the local chillies. So far, so good. The chilli usually goes into the chicken curry or the pickle, or both.

One of my evening pleasures is to see what kind of pickle will be served with the dal bhat, as this is different every night. I’ve had coriander, mint, mint and tomato; and one time there was this amazing pickle of soybeans with tiny little dried fish. The fish was courtesy of a relative living in Brunei.

Now I have a confession to make – there’s more! Thus my opening remark at the top of the post. What I expected to be a one-off ‘tasting’ of the family’s millet wine has turned into an almost-every-night tradition. I’m often met at the dining table with a glass of the wine, accompanied by a preview of the night’s chicken curry and a little dish of hot chips to snack on while I drink it. So much hospitality! I won’t comment on the wine here because I want to write about that separately, but suffice to say it goes down very smoothly.

large_DSC03050.jpg

Posted by Andrea R 17:34 Archived in Nepal Tagged food village nepal Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 29) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 »