Hi! I’m pushed a bit behind with the power outages though I will have access to wifi more frequently now! This past week the children were on “Summer Vacation” which was exactly a week and a few days. As we had some time off from teaching Jesse and I decided that this would be the prime opportunity for some travelling! We settled on a 5 day trek with two days of travel through the lower Himalayas to Poon Hill, our viewing point of the Annapurna Himalayan Range, and then back down. The trip was absolutely amazing. Aside from the beautiful view, experiencing the villages along the way and the different culture of the mountain people was extremely interesting. Life in the mountains is much different from that of the Kathmandu valley, although Nepal as a whole is dependent upon the tourism industry. It was an experience within itself to be known as a “trekker”, I have to admit that I felt quite adventurous. Amongst meeting other trekkers from all over the world, trying yak cheese via “cheese fries”, meeting traditional people who live organically, dressing in the sacred marriage garments of a Ghandruk woman, and witnessing the rice plantation process first hand, it was an educational and gratifying journey. I also have to admit that it was not an easy journey traveling a total altitude of 2,100 meters UP, but it was a very liberating and empowering process. Our guide Shankar, who works closely with SDC and whom has been helping us since our first arrival here in Kathmandu, has completed over 150 treks, including parts of Mt Everest. We are so fortunate to have had such a seasoned and personable guide. For my millions and hours of questions, “Which mountain is that one again?!” “Wait where is the river?!” “What is potato rosty, tell me one more time please?!” Shankar always has a patient answer. Aside from that incredible and once in a lifetime experience many other exciting things have happened since (of course, after all this is Asia)! I recently attended my first Nepalese festival in Patan, a large neighboring city very similar to Kathmandu. The festival, Bhoto Jatra, was much more spiritual, traditional, and exciting than I could have even imagined. People gathered anxiously to see two extremely large vine covered chariot styled moving temples. The people then pulled these large swaying temples on wheels by hand using long wet ropes. To my understanding the temples were to worship and pray to the Buddhist and Hindu gods of harvest and rain, the festival was to end the month long celebration of rice planting and to begin the monsoon season in hopes for profitable rains for the rice crops. Additionally the living virgin goddess, Kumari, who only leaves her palace for special occasions, attended the festival to bless the public. The president of Nepal also attends the festival and grants his blessing upon the public and shows the golden vest (Bhoto) it’s tale and tradition going back centuries. Though I did not see Kumari, the president, or the vest the festival was an exciting cultural event that I will definitely remember forever. I hardly even realized what I had missed; I was so excited to be surrounded by the Nepalese culture and within their excitement during this time of celebration and religiosity. The festival is specifically celebrated by the Newari caste and afterward we ate traditional Newari curried potatoes, beaten rice, and lentil pancakes at a tiny local restaurant in Patan Durbar square. The restaurant is over 100 years old and was filled with hungry local men, solidifying the restaurant’s legitimacy. Afterward, the knowledgeable and seasoned, Shankar led us into the back entrance of The Golden Temple, as it was closed for the public holiday and festival. Out of the many Buddhist and Hindu temples their uniqueness and individual sense of spirituality never ceases to amaze me. Each time entering a new or previously visited temple I am awestruck by the religiosity and sacred grounds. At the same time I also love that there are always local teenagers quietly chatting, singing, or laughing. It just reminds me that this beautiful big world that we live in is also small in some ways, which we are all the same. Everyone was a kid once.
Even half way across the world from my home I can still share the things that I loved from my childhood with the children here. My favorite bunch of kids recently watched E.T. for the first time. While shopping for some movies for a rainy day I was absolutely elated to find E.T. at the pirated DVD corner stone. My hopes that the kids would also enjoy the 35-year-old American classic were not disappointed. The message of a boy’s friendship with a sentimental and loving alien came across very clearly, and I watched their facial expressions more than the movie, even though it is also one of my favorites. It was a very special treat for them as well as for me, as I felt very close to them and in that moment of universal emotion of love and understanding we were all exactly the same.
Although I enjoy writing about the amazing moments most, I must be true to my travel blog and discuss the challenges as well. Understanding education inequality has been much harder than I expected. The caste system is still extremely prevalent in culture and possibly the way others treat each other, BUT is illegal and therefore not present in the school systems as far as I can tell. I am sure discrimination occurs here in Nepal as it occurs everywhere despite the legal system, though it is much harder to pick up on when you do not speak Nepalese. As far as gender inequality, the girls definitely act much differently than the boys in a classroom setting. Surprisingly enough the girls are very quiet and shy but when called upon (which is my idea of sheer encouragement and classroom interaction) some of the girls, especially the older girls, become quite sassy and rebellious. Sometimes they refuse to read, which I find extremely disheartening, as I fear that because of their shyness they do not get as much one on one interaction and personal attention for their education. With that being said I also understand that my viewpoint is not that of a Nepalese teacher and that these young ladies also understand that I am not a Nepalese teacher and that I really do look 16, so why not sass me around a little (In retrospect I am laughing because if I were them I would probably sass the small American girl as well). Therefore I am still trying to get a handle on education inequality for my research purposes. Though the most important angle, in my opinion, would be the requirement that the children become extremely fluent in English before continuing secondary education, traveling abroad for study/work purposes, obtaining a visa even for travel, and essentially any other thing they may want to do with their lives. I just find it extremely difficult to expect these children to learn every subject (besides Nepalese reading/grammar) in English, and then to be expected to speak English fluently when they have no one to speak it with. Most Nepalese speak some English, but do these children really go home and converse with their parents in this strange second language that is necessary for travel and the tourism industry? Just imagine your school years grade 1-10 beginning science, math, social studies etc. for the first time, in a language unknown to you, a language that you rarely speak outside of school, not the language you were raised to speak, but one that you see only on paper. A language that you only anticipate using in the future, if you are fluent enough to pass the important tests or wealthy enough to reach the places that speak this language.
I plan to talk to the older children more about how they feel about this limitation. Until then I will be exploring, listening, teaching and learning. Namaste ♥.
P.S. – Dear Joe Oshea, you said to try new things while abroad and to put personal beliefs aside. I agree with you and I have, I just wanted to update you on my recent digestion of traditional Newari buffalo meat. The first and last time, that is. Please pray to the buff Gods for me.
P.S.S. Dear everyone, I recently learned that the meaning of Namaste is “I bow my head to you as you are like a God” (Thank you Shankar)
P.S.S.S. Below are pictures of the Poon Hill view from the trek, one of the swaying temples from Bhoto Jatra, and the wonderful delighted, in love with E.T. faces. I’ve also linked Shankar’s website in case anyone plans to trek Nepal soon/explore what exactly I endured!