Friday, December 4, 2009

Korea, Home, Surprise

Well I lived to make it home safe and sound. I just finished a really amazing race (it went by so quickly) through Korea with my Brother. Korea was an industrial shock, to say the least, after living in Nepal for two months, so it took me awhile to adjust to the bright lights and massive department stores. We spent most of our time exploring Busan (where Doug has lived on and off for a year now), and it was nice to have my own personal tour guide who was equipped with more information and opinions about Korea than I could get my brain around. We ate some interesting traditional dishes, some of which lit my mouth on fire with spice.

My favorite day of all was our last day in Seoul when we went to a place most children go called Lotte World. This place is the largest indoor amusement park in the world. It had everything from roller coasters, to safari rides, they even had fake hot air balloons which floated above the vast space. Needless to say Doug and I fulfilled our shared childhood fantasy of the most amazing and spectacular amusement park a child could dream of. In our excitement we even bought ears to wear, mine were pink and looked like they had been taken off a carebear's head, and Doug's were antlers, in honor of Christmas. It was such a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon away from reality, it was a welcomed reality from the one I faced everyday in Nepal.

Seeing the way in which Korea has so quickly developed was an interesting contrast to seeing Nepal struggle to stay alive under the influence of developed countries such as China and India. I could not imagine a better way to "complete" my trip to Nepal than to visit a country which (as Doug has told me) looked similar to Nepal less than 60 years ago. However the difference is evident in the culture and traditions of both countries, which is why Korea has managed to develop and Nepal has not. With this in mind I came to appreciate the simple tendencies of Nepal and the people who live in it, and to be honest, I would rather live in Nepal over Korea any day!
After what seemed like only a short amount of time I was back on the plane again, this time heading home. This arrival was particularly special because back in October I decided to be sneaky and change my flight to 6 days earlier than originally booked. This was all very sneaky because I neglected to tell my Boyfriend who was expecting me a week from now. I really did want to give him the best surprise and what better way than to arrive a week before the person is expecting you to? He nearly feel over when he saw me, it was a great reaction after such a long time apart. I am very glad to be home and I am excited that Christmas is around the corner, what a nice time to arrive home, it seems like everybody is in a better mood at Christmas, or maybe that is the Jet Lag talking... who knows.
In the next couple days I hope to put more photos of Nepal (my favorites) up on the Blog. After that maybe I will have to change the name of my blog to fit my life, we will see.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Namaste Nepal.....

So the final days of my time in Nepal came and went. Before I knew it I was attending my "Farewell Ceremony" at the school dressed in Traditional Newari clothing and literally covered in flowers.

Let me back up a little bit, back to the beginning of my last day at school (Thursday). Jodi (the new Volunteer at the school) and I arrived at the school slightly late due to traffic. I had been told the day before that I should bring my Sari to school because they wanted to see me in it. I had my bag packed full of Sari, and gifts for the children, as well as two cameras to capture my last time with the kids. The painting, I am happy to say, was finished just in time, and the kids and I started the day by putting the school back together and putting desks back in each classroom. It was a BIG job since there were many dirty benches which I encouraged the kids to wash before putting them back. Everyone helped out, from the youngest student bringing water to each class, to the Teachers putting together their new and clean office. There was an energy in the air of excitement and happiness. I could tell by the rush of students racing between rooms that they were excited to see their beautiful new blue and white walled classrooms. I got many "Thank Yous", mostly from the older students because they noticed and appreciated the change the most. Little did I know that the greatest Thank You of all was yet to come.

After much work of cleaning and arranging, I was herded into Class One by a local Newari woman and was told, basically, to take off my clothes. My friend Emily (another Volunteer) had told me of her experience with a similar situation, and she basically passed on the knowledge that Nepali people enjoy dressing Western people up in Traditional costumes. So with this in mind I did as I was told and let them dress me in a Newari Sari. It was very beautiful with many layers of fabric wound around me. When I was finished being dressed the children flooded into the classroom to see what I looked like. Most of them, especially the little ones, looked at me as though they didn't recognize me, and many of them clapped their hands and laughed at what they saw. At this point the women started doing my make-up, which made me look somewhat like a clown.

Jodi, who was my Hero that day for taking video and pictures, took many of my outfit before I was placed on a "stage" in front of all the students. There were 3 men I had never met before who were also on the "stage" sitting with me. They were members of the organization SEFU which runs the school, as well as the Chairman of the school and some other man. We were all sitting there with the children sitting on benches in front of us watching in awe of what was going to happen. Since I looked like a clown I am sure they expected me to start performing some strange act or something, instead I sat quietly as they began speaking in Nepali. One of the male teachers was the MC of sorts, who introduced each of the men sitting to my right and asked them to speak. All of them spoke in Nepali so naturally I did not understand the majority of it (I learned some Nepali while I was there but not lots), luckily Bibek (Nepali orientation leader) was there to translate. All of them thanked me very much for the time that I had dedicated to the school and the work that I had done while I was here. Once they had all spoken, one of the Class 5 students got up and spoke on behalf of the students, saying Thank you and telling me that they learned lots of English while I was there. Then there came flowers. The headmaster beckoned the students to present me with the garlands of marigolds that they had made at home. I kept back tears as almost each student lined up in front of me to present me with a garland by placing it around my neck. From the oldest student to my 5 year old students, each one had a garland to give me. I was astounded by all of these flowers that now sat like a mane around my neck. Then I was asked to give a speech, so I stood in front of my students and held strong while telling all of them that I would miss them with all of my heart and that I wanted them to remember that their education was the most important thing in their lives. I thanked them for welcoming me into their school and community and making me feel at home.

As is tradition in Nepali culture, whenever there is a celebration there is a meal, so all of the Teachers and guests went to Class One to eat. I lingered outside the class to spend some more time saying goodbye to some of the students. I could hardly eat while being so emotionally wound up, but I managed to eat my last traditional Nepali meal of beaten rice, cauliflower with curry, and beans. It was delicious.

I was hoping that when the eating was over I would be able to see the kids one last time, and I got worried when I could barely hear screaming or playing outside. We went to the yard to finish the meal with Tea and then came the tears. Surprisingly they were not from me, yet, but from a girl named Kalpana from Class Four. She was bawling to say the least and she ran from the field when she saw me and gave me a huge hug. I couldn't hold in my tears any longer once I saw her, and apparently 4 others were crying because I was leaving as well. I think this moment (excuse me while I be cheesy) is the moment I realized what a whirlwind this trip has been for me, and my students. During my time at the school, getting the painting ready and teaching everyday, I never really realized that it would end. And at that moment I realized that I would not be going back to school the next day, or the day after that, or ever again, and I started to cry harder because I didn't want to leave my students, who I had built such a relationship with. Nepali people do not tend to hug each other, but I could not resist hugging each student again as well as the Teachers. Even some of the older Teachers were crying a little, to my surprise.
I said goodbye one last time and waved to the kids and I walked away from the school. Bibek took me home on his motorcycle even though I was still wearing my full costume. I spent the rest of the ride home crying knowing that I would likely never see my students or Teachers again. And then I pulled myself together and went home showing everyone all the gifts I had received and the ceremony they threw in my honor.

I am currently in Seoul, Korea at a hostel awaiting Doug's arrival. I arrived yesterday night and spent the night in a very futuristic and cool Korean hotel. Today was exciting and fun as I learned how to ride the Metro by myself, and took the whole day exploring the city. I am spending about a week and a half with Doug in Busan before I head home. This place is so different from Nepal it is hard to get my mind around everything. I will really miss Nepal, there is no place like it and, I didn't think it would happen, but in two months it became like a home for me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Week To Go...

I am very sad to say that I will be leaving Nepal in exactly one week. I wanted to post some more pictures of my kids because I will miss them very much. I hope everyone has a great weekend! Enjoy the pictures, they make me happy, and I hope they make you happy too.

Class 1 Reading "Hattie the Hippo"
Fun with Bubbles
Me with my Kids

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Painting in Progress

I have exciting news! I had a meeting this morning with SEFU (Skill and Education for the Underprivileged) who help fund and support my school. I was meeting with the President and Headmaster of the school to give them feedback on my work and to talk to them about a project that the McMaster Family has decided to undertake, of funding the painting of the interior of the school. Both the President and Headmaster were very happy and pleased that we wanted to help the school in this way and they told me they would assist in getting things started. After the meeting, the Headmaster and I rode back to the school for the afternoon classes. In Nepal 'getting things started' usually means they will not happen for months on end. To my surprise while I was having lunch in the office of the school, the Headmaster returned to the school with a small man, a painter. They had devised a list of things that needed to be purchased and brought along many colour swatches. We all agreed that there should be about 5 feet of dark colour from the floor up, and then white on the ceiling and top walls. We choose a very nice dark blue, and I told the painting man I wanted an off white for the top half of each room. Since I only have two weeks left the man said he would begin painting the rooms tomorrow, and it will likely take about one week for everything to be finished. I cannot describe my excitement with this project.
I explained to the people at the meeting this morning that I felt the rooms of the school needed light. I told them that my purpose for wanting to paint the school was to instill a sense of pride and importance in the students for their school. At the moment the school looks like a prison, and to be honest, many of the students run around as though they are in prison. To me school should represent an appreciation for knowledge which comes from education. If I cannot continue teaching at this school, and if I have to leave, even though it will be hard, I want to leave knowing that I left behind a lesson. I want the children to look at their clean, bright walls and understand the their school is an important place that needs to be taken care of, just like their education.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Nepali Family

(Mother and Brother)
Last night I was invited to dinner by one of the Teacher's at my school. When one of the Teacher's asked me to come over for dinner, all of the others insisted that I come to their houses as well, so this will be one of many Nepali Family dinners that I will join.
After school the Teacher and I were picked up by her husband in their new car! Now this caused great excitement for me because I haven't heard of any Nepali family owning a car, let alone a new one! Immediately I knew that this would not be an ordinary Nepali family dinner, but a look into the lives of a rich Nepali family. When we arrived at their home, not too far from the school, they asked me into their living room, which unlike most Nepali homes, had big couches and chairs. They even had a big screen TV and a fish tank with goldfish. I felt as though I had stepped into a parallel universe and that I was not in Nepal anymore. The family consists of 7 people living in one house. Although it is 5 levels and very big, there is a Mother, Father, Older sister, Brother, Little sister, and Grandmother, as well as their dog Nemo. After talking about Canada, Nepali politics, and traveling, they asked me to join them upstairs to see the view from their top deck. Although it was cloudy that day the view of mountains and the local neighborhood was great. Their house towers over most others in their neighborhood so we could see into everyone else's homes. I chatted with the eldest sister for awhile about Western cultures, and how it is customary for young girls to have Boyfriends. She was very interested about this aspect of our culture. She didn't really understand the concept of a boyfriend because, like many Nepali girls, she will have an arranged marriage. I told her that I thought Western people had boyfriends and girlfriends because we did not have arranged marriages, so we need to find our own life partners. She seemed completely content in knowing that soon (she was 23) she would be married to a complete stranger.
After our short chat, we were invited into the dining room (with a table and chairs) for dinner. Everyone was there, but not everyone ate dinner, because normally a Nepali family eats dinner at 9 pm. They wanted to feed me dinner early because they heard we eat dinner at around 6 in Canada. The Mother had prepared a large meal with both Western and Nepali foods. She made rice, chicken, curries, and vegetables, as well as bread and peanut butter for me. It was a very good dinner and I was glad not to have the traditional Dal Bhaat (lentil soup and rice) again, because we eat it VERY frequently here at Basecamp. Dinner was finished and we headed back down to the living room to chat and watch some Nepali TV. It was really interesting to watch Nepali TV and I thought it was very amusing to see what kind of TV they watch. There were many Hindi (Indian) Dramas, similar to Soup Operas back home. They also had MTV India where we saw the latest popular Hindi hits and music videos. After sitting around with the family for awhile, and taking pictures and swapping emails they drove me home.
Like many Nepali families that I have met, this family was very hospitable and kind to me and treated me very well. I think it is considered a great honor to have someone from the Western world come to your house and eat with your family, I felt very lucky that they chose me to bestow their kindness on.

(Father and Grandmother)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

And then there was a Computer...

On Friday I was at the school, thinking that it would be a normal day, when I was told by one of the other teacher's that Conserve Nepal, a group who helps children in Nepal, was coming today with a new Computer. After I had taught four of my usual five classes I went out to the school yard and saw a large group of children gathered around one of the small tables from Class 1. I was busy taking photos of different kids, most of them would come up to me and say "Miss, one photo, one photo", when the Headmaster called me over to take some pictures of the Ceremonial passing of the computer mouse and keyboard. I took many pictures of the man from Conserve Nepal shaking hands with the Headmaster and giving a short speech about how useful the computer will be to the development of the children's technical skills. After all of the speeches had been made we all piled into the Library to watch the men plug in the computer and set it up. The main issue with this seemingly simple task was that the school, which looks similar to a prison, did not have power that day.

I should describe the school to give a good idea of why this computer is probably one of the few things that the school does not need. Each of the five classrooms does not have proper windows, there are shutters and metal panes to keep the children from falling out of them. All of the classrooms are grey walled and concrete floor to ceiling. I have one blackboard and a piece of chalk in each room, and that is just about it. The Library however, is a different story. The Library is mostly locked up and the children are allowed into it once a week, and for how long I am not sure. There was a project to build and make the Library by some foundation in 2006, and there are many books, for all levels of readers, there are four coloured walls, and nice mats for the children to sit on. Walking into this Library is like walking into a different school altogether. You would never imagine that this school would have such a place, and I think it is amazing that is does.

My problem, or not problem but thing, with the computer is that I think the money that was spent purchasing the computer could have been put toward many other needed things. My students often, at least 5 children in each class, do not have pencils, or paper. They sit at the back of the class, usually, and do not say a word, they just sit and watch as the other children are writing and forming sentences and getting check marks. Often I will come to class with extra paper and pencils or make sure that the students are at least watching the board to see what to learn. It is so frustrating at times because it is such a simple thing to have pencils and paper to provide to the underprivileged children, and yet it is such a luxury that is not provided.
I spoke for awhile with the man from Conserve Nepal and he said that there were three schools which they felt needed the computer the most, ours was one of them. I told him how grateful everyone was that they received the computer, but I wish I could have asked him how many crayons, coloured paper or paint for the school walls this computer could have bought instead. I held my tongue, because it is not my place to dictate what the donations should be. I think while they were giving the speeches to introduce the new computer, the man spoke in English to me at one point to say that "the children will benefit so much from using this computer, it will enhance their English IT skills". I thought to myself that these children need to learn how to form proper sentences and be able to hold a conversation before their IT skills are honed.
I hope that in the coming weeks, while I am still here, I can help introduce more time with the books in the Library, and more time with the computer. I would love to start teaching the children how to use the computer to the best of my ability, and I think that is a positive way I can turn this situation around. On another note, I will also be taking steps (financial) to hire people to paint the walls of our school white, because at the very least the children deserve a space where they can imagine their bright futures and appreciate the education they receive within those walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Greatest Picnic of All

On Sunday I was invited (begged) to attend an annual Picnic that the teachers put on for the students. This was an all day event, beginning at 10am, where the children pitch in as much money as they can, rent a bus and choose a local camp ground to have their picnic. I really had no expectations as to what would happen, because I have learned not to expect that a Nepali picnic will be anything like a North American picnic. As it turns out they are similar, except for the Hot Dog part!
I am so glad I went to this event because the children were beyond excited that a. I was attending with a camera, and b. they had a day off school and a school bus to pick them up and drop them off. Imadol (where the children and school are located) is in the country part of Kathmandu where there are fields and farms. I know that all of the children live within walking distance of the school and that they, for the most part, live on farms. The excitement that was caused by a bus just for them is indescribable. Actually the best way to describe it is to say that they had a mini dance party while screaming and singing the entire way to our destination.
Once we arrived at the picnic site, the teachers unpacked the cooking supplies, of which there were many, with food and snacks. The children unpacked themselves and as quickly as possible began running free of the bus and teachers to surrounding area. I wandered around, with a couple of cute friends, and watched as the children explored. The way I felt that day, seeing them galavanting around the picnic site, laughing, singing and being generally happy made me excessively happy. After having spent a couple weeks with the children I have come to know their daily difficulties, lack of food, lack of clean clothes, and lack of school supplies. Lets just say that these kids do not have the easy life. However, once a year the kids gear up and prepare themselves for utter excitement and joy, it is something they look forward to year round, and to us it is so simple. I can't even think of how many times I took Cam, Ben or Griff (Hanson Bros) to the park to have a mini picnic, and yes they were happy, but I am sure they didn't think about it for a year in advance. I am not suggesting that children in Canada are ungrateful of a visit to the park, but I am suggesting, as a comparison, that the children in Nepal were so happy and excited to do something we think of as normal.
After what seemed like forever, we all sat down to a traditional Nepali meal, of rice, chicken curry, potatoes, and a green stew. It was all delicious and the teachers had spent many hours preparing for this grand meal. The children were quieter than I had ever seen them eating contently, something which would not occur very frequently for them. After the meal I brought out a huge bag of candies and handed one to each, their eyes lit up at the sight of this huge bag, and, since it was recently Halloween, I tried to explain our tradition of going trick-or-treating, the concept was slightly beyond them (understandably). Another hour or two went by as we were singing and dancing in a circle, they all laughed when I started to dance like I was Nepali.
I feel as though, going to the picnic and experiencing their excitement and joy has made me want to spend more time in their world to bring me closer to my students.
(Pictures: Three of the Teachers making the feast, a little girl (about 6) on the bus, and two boys at the school, first boy and little girl are siblings)