Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nepal Log #2

Dear Friends and Family,

We are now in Kathmandu and enjoying the luxury of hot water showers and the opportunity to eat a salad - once in a while. We will be here until Wed. or Thursday (March 2) trying to find sources of support for the school. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The Minister of Education was just kicked out of office for accepting bribes and general incompetence. So there is no use trying to get help there. We are trying to contact Save the Children, Room to Read, UNICEF, World Vision etc. So far the Rotary here has been very helpful and will work with us. We wrote a proposal for a Media Center. We will see what happens next.

Lessons about life here and life in general keep coming - so I'll share a few insights with you.

New Lesson 1.
We can thank our lucky stars that school is mandatory in the ol USA. This came to light when John and I were visiting the public secondary school in our town last week. First we addressed the whole student body of about 1500 - Grades 5-10. I stood on top of a stool outside in a field and used my best cafeteria voice. Hardly a student moved while I spoke. Then we visited each class to answer questions. Class size ranged from about 50-100 kids packed in rooms with primitive benches and tables. Again, though shy, the questions were good and the students entranced. Many wanted to know about my white skin - thinking all Americans looked like us. They were curious about my short hair. They wanted to know the difference between American schools and Nepali schools. It was hard to know where to diplomatically begin. One thing that the children and teachers (and the principal) found interesting was that school was mandatory for boys and GIRLS. Here no one does anything without their parents sanctioning it. Many children do not attend school or have frequent absences because parents have the children work at home or in the fields instead of attending school. (Matt photographed kids harvesting marijuana instead of attending school.) It is a sad but true situation. Some of the older children at the Mikey School (ages 10-11) are no longer attending because they are working. One child is the local barber. John got a shave from him on our second day in town.

New Lesson 2.
The "empty nest" is not a parent's dream in Nepal--at least rural Nepal. I have been pitied several times because my sons do not live at home with their wives. I have tried to explain that in America, a mark of success is when your children finish school, they move out and get a job - preferably with health insurance. This doesn't compute here where families are very close knit and the new wives become part of the work force of their husband's family. Children do not leave home without their parent's blessings. Interesting perspective.

New Lesson 3.
As I have mentioned before, clean drinking water, basic sanitation and 24/7 electricity are not the norm - especially in Kathmandu. We have photos of women and children waiting patiently in line to fill jugs with water - not necessarily potable water. Today we saw the jugs lined up - no one around and no water from the spicket. Guess your jug holds your space.
Electricity in the capital is off for 10-16 hours a day. Hence getting to read and write long emails is a treat. ( I wrote a long one to you from an Internet cafe earlier and lost it when the power surged -eeekkkk) In our small town of Bauniyan the electricity is off for 3-4 hours each evening - just as the women are preparing dinner or we are trying to eat. It is unpredictable. Our head lamps have been a blessing and we are buying them for our hostesses, who end up cooking by flash light on the floor of their kitchens using small campfires.

New Lesson 4
There are advantages of not being able to speak the language. It is amazing how unstressful I have found it not to eavesdrop, be part of disagreements, or carry on a banter. Ujjwal has been wonderful at keeping us in the loop on important stuff - and otherwise I feel quite safe and content. This has allowed me to relax and to be very observant. A real treat.

New Lesson 5
If you are out in the jungle searching for a rhino or wild boar, it is best to be riding an elephant. We boarded our very own elephant last week in Chitawan National Park at 6:45 AM and headed into the jungle. We sat on top in a wooden "playpen" thing with our legs dangling over the sides of the elephant. When an elephant senses a big critter nearby HE sorta of quivers. This is very noticeable from the top vantage point. Sure enough, shortly we encountered our first rhino. The rhino is scared of the elephant - thank goodness - so it stands very still and looks at us (silly people on top). Great for photos. We did this several times on our morning ride. Meanwhile the jungle was beautiful in the morning light - when you were not dodging monkeys or vines.

New Lesson 6
Human beings, and particularly Nepalese, are remarkably resilient. Despite the hardships of life here, they are a consistently upbeat and patient people. They are predictably friendly, helpful and curious. It is easy to want to help them help themselves. The many NGO volunteers that we have met confirm these observations. They also confirm that improvements in life here needs to come from the Nepali grassroots level - in order to be sustaining. This is why we are proud of the efforts of Ujjwal and his brother Bal who had a vision and worked, personally, to make it happen. The support of our many friends in the Annapolis area is making a difference and we are very proud to represent you to the people of Nepal.

Please continue to check out the blog. We met the Mikey Medium English School Steering Committee (which I am proud to say included a woman and a father of 4 girls at our school) and formulated a Mission Statement, Code of Conduct and proposal for a Media Center which will be posted on the blog. So stay tuned. I'll try to send some more pictures of the kids etc soon.

Thanks for your many kind and supportive thoughts - and your prayers. Hugs and love to you all, Barbara

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