This post will be a short one (ironic coming from me). I want to share a special moment that occurred today. Now, it seems almost easy to be moved by innocent, open, and malleable children, but when a moment is shared with a fully grown stranger it is truly special. To my surprise public buses really do not bother me that much. They’re terrifying and I have no idea which lane we are in, or what side of the road we are actually supposed to be driving on, but I never feel scared. The excitement of seeing the city and the people overcomes any other emotion. I climb in and add to the collection of packed Nepali’s like sardines in a can. Although I stand out like a pale ghostly saltine. The man next to me is quite large and tries to shrink himself into his seat, it doesn’t work but I don’t mind, all that matters is that I can see the beautiful dusty roads, zooming motorbikes, and colorful people outside. He begins with small questions, “Which country?”, “Are you alone?”. I hear an obvious change in his tone when he learns that I am from America. He is clearly excited, telling me about his fellow engineering friends who work in the capital of America. “Washington D.C.” he repeats, in the same mysterious yearning way that I used to, and even still say, “Asia”. Of course we talk about America and his friends for a few minutes. He tells me that once they brought back an American coin to his village. “It was the first time anyone had ever seen one”. All of the children were so intrigued by the coin. Everyone wanted to see it. “I had one too, once he gave to me, I think it was 10, but it is no longer. Kept it for so many years”. I’m almost positive that I have one american coin left in my wallet. I’m not even sure how it’s made the journey amongst my, what feels like millions, of Nepali rupees. I excuse myself, as I have to untuck my baby arm from his much larger arm to reach into my bag. I slowly pull out a perfectly shiny Virginia quarter. There were no words exchanged. In an instant his eyes held more light than the sun and his smile was the epitome of sheer joy. He musters a “Wow” and holds the quarter preciously as if it is his very own new born child. I see the driver looking over at us as if we have just produced an alien (he’s not watching the road, who needs to anyways). The man, who’s “good name” is Sandesh, quickly overcomes his awe and then floods me with excited questions about American currency, and specifically his new coin. 25 cents for one of the most beautiful exchanges of emotion. It was as if in that moment only happiness had a true value. The coin had no monetary worth, but was rather a much more powerful token of kindness from one stranger to another. A priceless memory, a snapshot in time, and a facial expression that I will cherish and remember forever.
This weekend has been an exciting one. To celebrate the end of the extremely stressful exams week and to do something special with the kids, as sadly time is running out, Jesse and I planned the ultimate 3D movie, arcade games, and amusement park fun-packed day. Unfortunately due to some political issues occurring near Kathmandu Fun Park we had to cut the amusement park idea. Though I think that the children quickly forgot all about Fun Park while watching violent yet exciting English speaking 3D apes in The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The five tubs of popcorn and five jumbo Pepsis probably also served as an excellent distraction. The 3D movie theatre was in an upscale mall, one that the kids have never been to before and were quite excited to explore. Afterwards we headed up to the arcade where 20-cent games created hours of fun and happiness. I have to admit that I think I was starting to forget what their smiles look like and how their laughs sound. Playtime was nearly nonsexist this past week as the Nepalese are very serious about academia and are highly competitive. It was really nice to watch the kids unwind and to also provide them some autonomy with their tokens.
I know the kids had a fun day because they surely worked up an appetite! Two family packs (an order of 100) chicken momos, a large chicken pizza, chicken drumsticks, chicken meatballs, fanta coke sprite galore, and french fries later I saw some happy faces and full tummies. I guess the kids really wanted to reach outside their mainly veg diet? It surely was a great opportunity to have some chicken! After our chicken dinner we had to take 3 cabs home, as we are a pretty big group. With Bihkram in the front seat, the backseat was just the girls and I. In my last post I mentioned some of the sweet things about the boys, but of course, I love these ladies with all of my heart as well. Soma, Kopila, Srijana, and Pramila, the most caring, modest, and compassionate girls, giggled and lovingly held each other the whole way home. I asked them if they enjoyed their day and Pramila replied with “Sister how can I even express to you”. I told them that they have no idea how much I will miss them and then we laughed together discussing the different ways I could fit them into my suitcase, smuggle them into America, as they are precious cargo, and where exactly to poke the holes for air.
Volunteering with these beautiful and open children has really made me recollect my own childhood, and reflect on what it was like to be young and to not know “what to do” or “how to play, so bored”. While brainstorming some more activities to get the kids excited, the lovely Floridian memory of water balloons and shaving cream fights finally dawned on me, and what do you know water balloons are quite the Nepali treat! Water balloons happen to be used only during the festival Holi to throw colored dyes on others. The balloons are called “lola” (how fun!) and the children were quite convinced that it is illegal to participate in playing with lola outside of Holi… they were positive the police would come and arrest us all. Needless to say I convinced them otherwise and we had a lovely wet playful fight in the privacy of our front yard. (Shhh no one tell the police!) I also picked up a pack of rainbow colored jump ropes. They have been a big hit thus far with getting the kids outside and playing with each other, even tying two jump ropes together and daring two or three brothers or sisters to jump at a time. I am so happy to see the kids playing outside again, and to see their bright little faces looking up at me from somewhere other than a textbook.
To be fair to my blog I am having a hard time right now from a volunteer standpoint. To be sensitive to my NGO I do not want to go into too much detail here, but needless to say between the difficulties in communication, differences in upbringing, and opinions, the boundaries between culture, fairness, and opportunities are often blurred. To be brief, I mean that I want to help and provide experiences these children may have never had, but sometimes ideas or feelings are miscommunicated and others feel threatened by change.
I think I will end my night in reflection and with yoga. Love you all, and Namaste.
((For now here is a video I made of the beautiful Bouddhanath. I’m thinking maybe some kind of editing like this for the creative aspect of my capstone, showing Nepal’s culture and spirituality, and using voice over instead of music to talk about some societal issues (maybe). If you watch it I hope you watch it in HD and enjoy it!))
The strange smells, barking dogs, honking horns, ringing bells, and distant spiritual songs are beginning to become all too familiar. Due to my recent illness I’m looking forward to returning back home in some regards. Despite being extremely cautious I’ve managed to maintain sickness for about 3 weeks. The children are extremely sweet, always asking how I’m feeling and if I’m OK. They also like to joke about my weak American stomach and it’s inability to handle Nepalese food; “Sister cannot eat”. That being said, despite my illness I am still in love with Nepal. I am terrified of how much I am going to miss this wonderful diverse place.
This week the children have back to back exams. I was very excited to have more opportunities to travel but it’s also extremely hard to watch the kids study day after day all night long. There is no playing and very little conversing. As my time here slowly dwindles I am starting to feel much more connected to the children. Suttam is like my older and younger brother, at the same time. I love watching his facial expressions from afar, I have no idea what is being said but just watching him interpret the conversation brings me happiness. Suttam is 100% boy. His favorite things to talk about are how strong he is, what he likes to eat, including any bug that would cross his path (supposedly), and of course, soccer. Today I showed him a frog punch, (or a knuckle punch where you stick out the knuckle of your middle finger. Ow) after a few punches he became wide eyed when I said “Ow!”. “Bring pain sister?!” he asks with the most innocent expression, “Yes, you’re too strong!” I tell him, which he then follows with a sheer devilish grin. Sudasam and I have also grown close. Sudasam struggles with his English, but has the kindest most telling eyes. They carry so much emotion. Despite our language barrier, a smile is worth a thousand words with Sudasam. I like to stare at him and wait for him to look up and our eyes to meet, the smile then shared between the two of us lasts for at least 30 seconds. He has so much love to give.
It’s hard to watch them stress over their schoolwork. I want to play with them and give them study breaks, but at the same time in their culture study time is extremely important and to be taken seriously. Even if you are 11 years old during exam week you can go without play time. All Nepalese parents may not be this strict but I do not want to challenge their caretaker on this subject, so for now there is very little play time. I try to incorporate some activities when I can. I suppose this week has been harder for me for that reason, as it feels as though I’m already losing them. I also feel as if I’m hardly helping at all, without teaching during the day and no playtime at night it’s as if I’m slowly leaving them… and in truth I am.
This past week we have travelled to Bouddhanath, Buddhist Stupa and Chitwan National Conservation Park. Bouddhanath was beyond peaceful. I have dreamt of experiencing this site of pilgrimage for months. The prayer flags extending in all directions and wavering in the wind, sending the many prayers to the Gods are truly spiritual. Buddha’s all seeing eyes (Nepal’s symbol of unity) are painted on every side of the temple. The eyes radiate truth, honesty, nirvana, and justice. I am also extremely glad that we were able to travel to Chitwan. We were fortunate enough to manage clear weather in just enough time to witness a second himalayan range. The Ganesh Himal range was just as beautiful as the Annapurna range. Experiencing the Asian jungle and clay houses were also very important to me, in demographically understanding Nepal. This region was completely different from the mountains and the city. The people were so in tune with nature. The elephants are more than sacred, but a way of life, a necessity. The bus driver stopped the bus and got out to personally escort the goats safely across the road. Jesse and I were also able to witness a cultural program with singing and dancing.
Riding an elephant through the jungle was more beautiful than words can describe, thanking the elephant after and being able to touch her was extremely transcendent.
The principal at the school tells us “You are our dictionary” in that exposing the children to our presence and native English is enough in it’s own right. Though that hardly seems like enough, I’m not sure how much good I am doing, besides taking the children out and being a new sister for them to play with. Maybe it’s just that the more I grow to love them the more I wish I could offer them the whole world and everything I have. That being said, I feel the strongest gratitude towards everyone who has helped me accomplish this journey. Thank you to my parents, family, friends, professors, the office of Undergraduate Research, and FSU. 20 years of life spent dreaming about this beautiful continent and now I am truly living Asia. It’s no longer the mysterious East, but my home for the summer.
That’s enough for now. Trying to keep these a little more short and sweet! Namaste, and with all of my love, a Sudasam selfie, and spying on Suttam.
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!
Hi! I have been anxiously awaiting for a peaceful moment to write my blog (even though this is the country of peace I am quite busy!). Although now I am writing, my laptop is dying and I am in a garden at the Funky Buddha with no outlets… oops. This post may be short but I know that you all will still enjoy it! It has been just over a week since I have arrived in the mysterious and wonderful Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon arrival, even in the complete darkness, I was absolutely mystified. Experiencing the city, the atmosphere and the mix of cultures within an Asian country for the first time was everything I had imagined it would be and so very much more. Before my trip I was reading a book in Barnes and Noble that assigned colors to days of the year. So it would say “If you were born on this day, etc. etc.”. My color was Nile Green, and if you happened to be born on this Nile Green day you have a passion for travel, a love for writing, and are very verbal. The thrill of arriving in a foreign country all alone, to become a part of a culture in which I have never experienced is just as exciting every day that I wake up in this strange place as it was that very first moment my little American feet reached the Nepali soil. That being said, teaching in this peaceful and humble country is more rewarding than the beautifully strange views. Of course it has its challenges. Teaching at the extremely strict public school is daunting and terrifying. In my first week I have also unfortunately witnessed my first “Nepali punishment”. The education inequality between genders is severe. It appears to be more appropriate for boys to speak up and act out rather than for the respectable young ladies. Though this reserved personality seems to hinder their learning abilities, as more time is spent trying to satisfy the rowdy young men. I try to give extra attention to the more shy and distant girls. It is also very difficult to teach the younger children as when Jesse (my roommate at SDCN) and I teach it becomes difficult to assert authority, as I would never strike a child. The children have become aware of our more lax (compared to Nepali) teaching style. Though the power of communication and human understanding shines through as the children are beginning to listen and appreciate our American ways of teaching, praise, and proper English. Though there is the occasional mocking of my lovely foreign “shhh” or “sit down” (they really enjoy standing and learning?). The children are as innocent and adorable as ever. As an only child I revel in the fact that they refer to me as “sister”. The kids in the school resort to “ma’am” but have picked up on the SDCN kids (who are sprinkled throughout the school, as I teach English to whatever grade the principal instructs at random times) yelling “Sister! Sister!”. There is so much pressure placed upon these children, even at the age of 6 up to age 16. As soon as I correct one child I will turn to catch another child erasing his (also correct) answer to write down what I have just instructed the other student. Even if it is a free response question I will often find the exact same sentences. The children work very hard and I am so proud of their improvement. There is so much more to write but such little time. With the daily and long power outages, either there is no wifi or my electronics are dead. I could never get tired of exploring these streets. Every day becomes easier and I become more familiar with the landscape, yet even on these same streets I notice new invigorating things. The stares are never menacing but rather sheer curiosity, and as soon as I smile a smile is ALWAYS returned. We live in a beautiful world. I am too blessed to be able to experience this small culturally diverse piece of it. Namaste friends.
At this point excited is an understatement. I truly cannot believe how quickly my departure is approaching. Soon enough I will be posting from Kathmandu, Nepal. It feels as though I still have many things to do before my trip (probably because of the immense amount of studying I still need to complete) but I know that I have prepared myself well and I have done all of the necessary things I need to do. My friends and family repeatedly say, “You must be so nervous!” but I don’t think I’m nervous at all. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this experience and it’s finally here. I am so grateful, ready to learn, and ready to cherish every second of the Nepali culture and my trip to Kathmandu. Namaste USA.