Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Bhalebas, Dumre and Pipal Danda (with a helicopter ride in the middle!)

Hi everyone,
We have now completed all of our school visits – it has been a busy six months and in particular the last 6 weeks have been very hectic and it has all gone so quickly.
Saran's wife, Santi, with their son Sohan.
Having finally sorted out his visa and paid the fine for not getting it renewed on time (in some part due to it being a public holiday!), Andy made his way back to Bhalebas and was met by Saran on his bike, who rode him, heavily laden up to the village where he met up with Rob again who had been teaching that day in the school.
We spent the evening down at BJ’s small bar / cafĂ© opposite the school and had a couple of drinks and snacks before returning home to Saran’s home for an enormous Dahl Baht!
Andy's leaf art!
We had a good day the next day making boxes, doing our leaf art, some PE and various other lessons with the children before a leaving ceremony was held for us and the teachers presented us with some very smart looking waistcoats made out of the traditional Palpa Dhaka material. The schools have all been so generous with the gifts they have given us and Bhalebas, particularly was very hard to say goodbye to. The teachers also put some food on for us and it was a really nice send off.
With our new waistcoats, a gift from Bhalebas school.
We only had one night in Tansen though before making the short journey on the bus to Dumre.
Boys at Dumre enjoying their art lesson
This was also the time of the annual fair in Tansen and there was a lot of excitement around this. The whole of Tundikhel, the big flat sports ground that perches on the edge of the hill, was covered with marquees, various stalls selling anything and everything and lots of different fair ground rides. The most exciting part of the fair was the arrival of a helicopter from Pokhara. This helicopter is usually used for tourist flights to see the Himalayas but it was down in Tansen for a couple of days. We decided that it would be a nice idea to treat our homestay family to a flight in the helicopter. We got confirmation that the flight was on that morning on the bus down and phoned up and told Dhani who broke the news to Abhi and Deepa. They phoned back a few minutes later screaming with excitement. It was a really lovely moment!
A nice bit of colour to add to the classroom.
We taught for the day at Dumre but actually returned that evening to Tansen as we had more materials to bring the next day. We again did lots of exciting activities with them; the boxes, handpainting, leaf art, measurement of different jumps and lots of PE lessons too. It was a really great visit to the school and the teachers took a real interest in what we were doing.
Experimenting with phones!
The Year 8 class at Dumre were busy preparing for their important upcoming exams and were doing extra classes in the mornings and the evenings – working right up till 10pm at night and with a 6am start too. They did have some short breaks during their day but not many but the teachers wanted them to be as prepared as children from private schools and so the extra classes were needed.

On our final night we stayed in the school and there was a short break for the children as they threw a rather impromptu and quite strange dance party in one of the classrooms. It did feel rather odd to be dancing around in a classroom at that time of night.

We slept in the library along with two other teachers. It was not the most comfortable of nights but we only had a short morning (as it was Friday) to teach the next morning before saying our final goodbyes and heading back to Tansen.

In the afternoon we went down to the fair with Abhi and Deepa and had a go on some of the rides. It has to be said that the rides are a lot scarier when you have very real concerns about health and safety standards. On the Pirate ship there were people clinging onto the back railing not in a seat at all and no-one seemed to bat an eyelid!
In the nursery at Dumre.

PE lesson.

With their posters after learning about the colours of the rainbow.

With the family before our helicopter ride.
A perfect day with clear views of the Himalayas.
The next morning we were up early and we headed down to Tundikhel where the helicopter was taking off from, with the Bashayal family. Janaki, Abhi and Deepa had never been up in the air before. Dhani had initially said there was no need to get him a ticket but eventually we had persuaded him to go too. He had been on a plane before but perhaps looked more nervous than anyone else. Abhi, in particular was very excited by it all. In typical Nepali style we had a long wait but eventually it came round to our turn. It was only a four seater helicopter (including the pilot) and so we split it so that Andy, Abhi and Janaki went up on the first flight and Rob was joined by Deepa and Dhani on the second flight.
Abhi shouted out that it was the best moment of his life! Amazing!

Despite being short the flight was simply awesome! It took us right over Tansen and down towards Rani Mahal where we had trekked previously. It was the perfect day for it with clear blue skies. The scenery, with the hills and the Himalaya’s off in the distance, crisp and white, was stunning. As we were coming into land Abhi shouted out “This is the best part of my life!” which was fantastic to hear and we both felt more excited for the others taking the flight than we did ourselves. For the next few days it was a big topic of conversation – it really was a memorable experience for all.
In the afternoon we went back to the fair, with Abhi and Deepa, and went on some of the rides. One attraction in particular caught our eye. There was a huge round bowl and stuntmen and women were riding motorbikes and cars round the edge with no hands and doing all kinds of tricks. It was amazing to see and probably not something you’d ever see in England given our more stringent health and safety regulations.
The following day we returned, this time with Biju, Kamala and Sushmi, our friends from Tansen. We had another good day just wandering around. We even had the dubious honour of seeing the ‘Indian Idol’ perform, though we didn’t stick around too long for that!

Finally doing some teaching at Pipal Danda.

Happily we did get one day at Pipal Danda school and it was really great to visit for teaching rather than to discuss building work. It was however great to see that they had made some kind of a start to the toilet block so hopefully they shouldn’t all have to share for too much longer! We had a really good day at Pipal Danda and after all of the tough times there it was great to end things on a positive note. We have now finished our teaching programme now as we are next heading out to Bardia National Park out in the far West. The time has gone so quickly but we do feel we have made a positive impact in the schools and they are all looking forward to the next Manisha UK volunteers coming out next Autumn. It is sad knowing time is now running out and we won’t be working in the schools again as they are now preparing for their important exams.
We'll leave you for now with a few more pictures from the fair and our days teaching at Pipal Danda.
Best wishes. 
Andy & Rob.
The fair attracted big crowds and there was a lot of excitement in Tansen.

The Pirate Ship - the boys you can see aren't actually sat down. They are stood at the back with nothing keeping them in.

The lady was doing this with no hands and taking money off the people above. Cars also went round!

Rob and Deepa on one of the more vomit inducing rides!!

Hokey Cokey at Pipal Danda

Focussed on her cutting!

Waving goodbye to our last set of pupils - very sad.  

With the teachers at Pipal Danda and hopefully a fresh start.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Trip to Gorkha and visa problems in Pokhara!

 Our next school visit, was out to our furthest afield school, Shree Bhagawati School, out in Gorkha district. We set out in the morning, as ever, heavily laden with resources and materials to donate to the school. We planned this trip at this point because Andy’s visa was due to expire shortly and so the plan was that on the way back we would go via Pokhara and spend the weekend there before resuming our teaching the following week in some of our more local schools. This plan fell through slightly as Andy realised three hours into the bus journey that he didn’t have his passport which he needed for the visa extension.
We were committed to going however and there was no turning back so Andy looked at ways that he could try and get someone to get his passport to Pokhara to avoid a further 10-12 hours on a bus going back to retrieve it.
The seat Andy was sat on felt a little loose but on arrival in Mugling about five hours on from Tansen, it completely collapsed from under him as he stood up! The last hour of the journey had been a bit of a balancing act to keep it intact. It wasn’t the first one to go either – during the journey we had stopped, just outside of Butwal and a guy had come on with a welding kit and fixed one of the seats at the front of the bus which had suffered the same fate. Nepali buses really need to be seen to be believed!!
The guys riding us weren't phased by the huge bags we had!
In the afternoon we went up in the cable car to Manakamana where we stayed for the night before being picked up the next morning by the head teacher, his brother and another of the teachers on their motorbikes. We were rather heavily laden on the bikes but somehow managed to balance ourselves for the hour long journey over to the school. Despite the discomfort it really was an amazing way to get to the school – the scenery around this area is absolutely stunning.

Shree Bhagawati School, Gorkha

Having fun with a phonics puzzle.
After a short meeting with the teachers we got straight to work visiting the kindergarten classes and year 1 and 2. As I had done at Bagnas we took a box to the lesson with a big selection of books, games and other resources for the children to explore and gave them time to have a look and a play with them. The musical instruments proved especially popular and it was quite a noisy classroom! The children also loved the books and jigsaw puzzles and we also took bright colourful paper and pencil crayons for them to do some drawing. We once again tried to get the message across to the teachers that these resources must be used as often as possible. Hopefully by showing the resources to the children, so they know they are there, will help with this.
The English teacher, Radhika, with some of the children and their artwork behind.

Being saluted!

The children like to be in photo's!

Making cubes with a huge class and not many rulers!!
We won’t describe every lesson again as largely they were the same as other lessons we have described earlier, though obviously new to this school. We did have a slight problem when we went to make the cubes as we realised that we had forgotten the rulers which we had been taking to every school. We had a class of at least 40 for this lesson and the school managed to find about 8 in the whole school for us to use (bearing in mind this is a big school!). Luckily we were able to go and buy some from the local shops though the children did end up having to share them around.

This is just half the class!

Taking them outside to try out the 'phones'.

The little girl who's home we were staying in - she was shy at first but a cheeky little thing!

Leaf art!

More art work to go on the walls.

Science: alien soup experiment.

We even got Radhika, the English teacher, involved in the over and under game in PE.
We stayed at the same house Andy had stayed in the previous time and were well looked after by our lovely host family. On our final day of teaching a random man came into the class and gave us a nut each. It was rather bizarre but we later found out this is a kind of invitation to a party! It seemed to be a bit of a combination of a leaving party for us and someone’s wedding – not something we wanted to intrude on but no-one seemed to mind – sometimes in Nepal you just have to go with it. There was a nice leaving ceremony for us and we were, as ever, invited to say a few words. Afterwards we had a fun evening of dancing, with us getting pulled up to dance more than our fair share of times. When we were utterly exhausted we left the party, still in full swing, and made our way in the pitch black (with no torch!) up to the house, a mile or so away.

After the leaving assembly to say goodbye.


More tikka!

The children show us how it's done!

We're probably a bit old to be climbing trees but never mind!!

The next morning we were due to be taken back on the motorbikes to Manakamana. However during the night it had started to rain and it continued to pour down for the early part of the morning whilst we huddled on the porch surrounded by our bags and chickens also trying to take shelter. There was some spectacular thunder and lightening and we saw one fork of lightening hit a tree only about 50 metres or so away from us which was rather startling!

Once it had stopped we were still left hanging around for a good couple of hours until they assembled three motorbikes to get us on our way. It turned out one of the riders had continued celebrating in the morning with a few Roxies and was not in a particularly good state to ride so Saran rode his bike with him on the back. It was not easy going with the amount of rain that had fallen in such a short space of time but the guys riding us were brilliant and despite a few slips and slides we avoided any accidents.


We gave out some balloons before we left which proved very popular!
One funny incident on our way to Pokhara occurred just as we were about to get on the bus. A policeman stopped us and searched our bags, apparently looking for drugs. It was the most cursory of searches, he may as well not have bothered! It was actually a festival day and the one day of the year where the smoking of cannabis is actually permitted, however they had had a report of someone carrying around larger quantities so were searching people. Saran didn’t particularly like being searched, not because he had anything to hide, but just felt they shouldn’t be searching us with no reason to do so. He must have said something, though the first we knew of this was 5 minutes into our journey, in a jam packed minivan, when the police pulled us over. The funny part was when the policeman asked the driver to open the slidey door to let Saran out so they could speak to him but it wouldn’t open. We were sat in there for 5 minutes or so whilst the driver pulled and kicked the door in an effort to get the bashed in door open. Eventually he did and Saran was spoken to (why they hadn’t done that before is a mystery) and we were on our way again. Unfortunately every time the van stopped to let someone out the driver had to go through the same thing of trying to force the door open! It’s a good job there aren’t any MOT tests in Nepal or no-one would have a vehicle left to drive!

Saran headed back to his home the next morning and we stayed on as it was the weekend and Rob had not seen Pokhara. We did all of our shopping for presents and clothes in Pokhara (there is a massive selection of excellent quality, fake North Face gear for a fraction of the usual prices. In the afternoon Andy took a taxi up to someone’s house who had his passport which Sagar had given him to bring from Tansen. This was done by giving a taxi driver his phone so the man could explain what was going on. It felt a bit scary having a passport with some random guy but in typical Nepali fashion it worked and he wouldn’t take any money for bringing it.

View of Machupuchare from Pokhara.
The next morning we hired mopeds and rode up to Sanrngkot, a big hill overlooking Pokhara which gives magnificent views of the Himalaya’s…usually. Unfortunately after we had made our way up the steep climb on the bikes, of which one had to be pushed several times, the mountains were covered in cloud. We did get a bit of a look at the mountains but it was not anything near what we had hoped for. Rob left early the next morning, whilst Andy had to stay an extra day to wait for the Visa office to open up as there had been yet another public holiday!
It was a bit unfair on Rob as Andy was able to go up Sarangkot the next morning before leaving and saw the views at their best!
We are not far from the end of our visits to schools now with just Bagnas and Dumre (and perhaps Mahachaap if there is time before the exams / holidays).
Best wishes
Andy and Rob.

Andy got lucky with some amazing views from Sarangkot. The previous day it was covered in cloud.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Nepali wedding

Luckily Rob is now feeling much better and we have just spent two long but enjoyable days at our first Nepali wedding. We were invited along as guests of our homestay family and were made to feel very welcome. Nepali weddings are big celebrations! The money spent on them in comparison to what they have is crazy (though I guess it is back home too!) but it is a big part of their culture. We were aware before we went that we would have to 'dress up' as best we could but were rather limited in what we could do, particularly in the case of Andy's rather tatty old shoes which he has worn most days for teaching, in dusty classrooms and along rocky paths. We did have a look around Tansen the day before but not didn't find a single shop that sold shoes big enough! They are only size 10's but Nepali people apparently don't have big feet!!!
The wedding was between one of the Dhani's relatives (the groom) and a girl from Butwal, about an hour and a half South from Tansen. It is difficult to work out exactly how arranged the marriage was but we knew there had been discussions between the families, though we were assured that the couple were happy, despite having only briefly met each other (that's just the way it is out here).
The whole thing was rather bizarre and we took a bit of a back seat as the Bashayal (homestay) family were quite important and close guests (Deepa was some sort of bridesmaid) and Dhani was the grooms uncle. We won't go into too much detail as frankly a lot of the time we didn't really know what was going on!!
We started off initially going to Dhani's village where the grooms family lived. Everyone gathered there and there was a small gathering where the bride came out and they put both their heads under a blanket. The bride didn't seem to us to look too happy but apparently that is a lot down to the nerves and there were also a lot of tears from the groom - it was really a rather a rather solemn occasion but full of colour.

After an hour or so we all headed in cars (except some of the women, Janake included who stayed behind and didn't attend the brides home (we're not quite sure why!). At the brides home there was a big marquee where dinner was served, an enormous buffet. Following that we were dragged up to dance in front of quite a crowd of amused onlookers and then tried our best to keep a low profile!! There was quite a lot of hanging around and various ceremonies going on.

We left the wedding in the early evening and travelled separately to the Bashayal's who were going to continue the celebrations back in Dhani's village and stay overnight there. We travelled on a privately hired bus back to Tansen, which is not to say it wasn't as cramped as usual and we were stood up for the whole way back. It was a good fun journey back though with everyone in good spirits (though not drunk - being a Brahman caste wedding alcohol was not permitted). When we arrived back we met up with Sonja and Budhi, who had come to visit from Bardia. We had a really fun evening with them sat out on the balcony with a few beers.

The following day the four of us, along with half of Tansen it seemed, crammed into a jeep (it had only supposed to have been 7 of us in total but seemingly word had got around!) and headed back to the wedding party in Dhani's village, a little over an hours drive away. It was nice having Budhi and Sonja there, as again there was quite a lot of hanging around! They made food in a huge cauldron stirred by a stick and there was more games and dancing. We tried where we could to play with the children there - it is easier to communicate with children by playing with them than adults who you have to try and make a conversation with, with limited language! One game which was very popular was where they covered coins and other objects in a bowl of rice and there was a competition to see who could pull the rice out quickest. This largely seemed to be a competition between the bride and her new mother in law.

We felt rather uncomfortable when the bride was pretty much forced to go up and dance and seemed to be really quite upset. It really was quite bizarre, the whole thing, partly we felt it was because she was so shy in having all that attention but it may also be down to the fact that when she leaves the wedding after the ceremony she is effectively leaving her home for good and going to live where her new husband lives. That is not to say she will never visit again but she certainly wouldn't live elsewhere before the day of her wedding. It must be a hugely emotional time with all of that going on.

We headed back to the homestay with Sonja and Budhi, whilst the Bashayal's stayed for another night. We went out for some mo-mo's in the evening and again sat out and enjoyed a few beers with them. It is not too long until Sonja leaves to go back to Netherlands for another six months. It must be very hard for her to leave though she plans to be back in October or November. We're hoping that we will meet up with them again in Pokhara as they are heading there in a couple of days and we will be there after our visit to our school out in Gorkha.

The next morning we had a bit of a plumbing nightmare when we ran out of water. Rob and I managed to get some from the street down below us - the shop at the bottom of our hill has a tap. Water is always a major problem in Tansen and we hadn't really known what they do each morning for pumping it up. Thankfully though the Bashayal family were back shortly after to restore order!!!