Sunday, July 20, 2003

I'm now at Bangkok airport waiting for my connecting flight to Australia... so the travels are finished and the travel log is also - but just wait until the next adventure!

As for farewells, they were very nice. The formal one in assembly with all the children was a little funny actually - but the good-byes to the families that I have become close to were very very sad.

I will miss Nepal too much (As they say over there).... I think a large piece of me will remain there forever.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Kathmandu Appreciation Day

Thank you Hetauda for giving me added appreciation for my own city. I shall spend this week tottering around it, taking all the photos I haven't taken yet because I'm not a tourist and just appreciating my city. There are only 3 days left, and the time is feeling tight. I know I will never forget this place, but I need to just soak it all up before I go.

Thank you, Kathmandu, for 50 of the reasons I love it here:
1. It's foreign
2. It's Nepalese
3. People sometimes undertstand me when I speak
4. I sometimes understand others when they do
2. I live here
3. For free
4. I teach here
5. I've gotten to know all these lovely Nepalese children
6. I love them
7. They love me
8. It's beautiful here
9. There are no tourists
10. It's a real monsoon - like the documentaries!
11. And there's floods on the roads
12. And we can have mud fights in the streets
13. And we've all been permanently wet for a month
14. And it's too much fun! :-)
15. The city is over 10 times older than my country
16. And historically significant
17. And beautiful (again)
18. The mountains are beautiful
19. The water pots are beautiful beautiful
20. The temples are beautiful
21. The houses are beautiful
22. The river's beautiful
23. And we have a pet snake in it - tommy
24. And people roast corn on the banks of the river
25. And make string
26. And they are all very friendly
27. AndRandom strangers give me tea, sweets and love to chat
28. And return my clothes when they fly off the roof in the wind
29. And give me directions or cardboard boxes or any crazy art supplies when need be
30. And people also ask me directions
31. And I know the answers
32. And I have a favourite restuarant
33. And it's very cheap
34. And I know all the shop keepers along the entire street
35. And they know me, and the names of all my family members and even what I ate for breakfast each morning!
36. And the school is great
37. The kids are fabulous
38. And well behaved
39. And the other teachers are absolute dears
40. And I have made the most amazing friends I'll ever have
41. Who are really inspirational
42. And there is a jungle only 15 minutes walk away
43. And I can go there everyday with my friends
44. And the snow line and the Himalayas really aren't very far away
45. Even on the muddy roads - thanks to the crazy bus drivers
46. And I can catch a bus or a tempo or a taxi on my own (quite an achievement you'll realise if you ever come here)
47. And it really is like a roller coaster every time you travel on public transport
48. And I especially love all the little differences that make it so special here
49. And the experience of living over here
50. And most of all, this is home!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Dear loyal readers,

Well, The last week has arrived - in a flash... and it seems to be disappearing from underneath me as quickly as it has come. I don't want to leave at all.

Right now I am in Hetauda - I've been staying in a local village and have only just managed to escape to the 'city' for a while to keep you all updated... The village life here isn't so strange. We still have bucket baths (except now they're outside in the middle of the street and done while wearing a sarong type piece of cloth), there are still cow worships, but they happen every morning in the front yard, there are still goats, except they sleep in the same room as us!, and there's still too much dhal bhat!

Anyway, I'm having lots of fun taking photographs, visiting temples (although I have seen enough headless chickens running around to last a life time!), stalking wild elephants and attempting to communicate in Nepali.

Just wanted to let you know that I'm fine, and everything is great! Hope you are all having a nice time there!

lots of love

Sunday, June 22, 2003

There is less than one month left - it's gone by far too quickly. But, I've finally found the time to load a few pictures to the travel log - hope you enjoy! :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Just a quick note to let you all know that I'm planning to go to Pokhara on the 5th July.. and I'm finishing up teaching this week! :-)

SLC results are out - and I'm completely in shock. For those of you I haven't mentioned this to - SLC is like the 'big' school leaving examinations (except that they happen in year 10 rather than year 12). The girl who is working for my host family, Niru, was sitting these exams as well as some of the Nava Jeewan students that I tutored last year. Now for the results - out of the 1.7 lahk students who sat the exam (170 000), only 32% passed. Have you ever heard of such a miserable result in your entire life? Apparently the same thing happened last year! Ahh!!! 10 out of the 18 students at Nava Jeewan failed, as did Niru. Luckily everyone did very nicely in the subjects I was helping them with (in fact Niru topped english for her entire school- which is a large improvement from failing last year!). But the effects in the community have been somewhat disasterous. There has been a spattering of suicide reports in the papers everyday since the results came out...

So what happens to these students now? Well, for the students who failed only 1 or 2 subjects, they have the chance to sit an easier make up exam in a month and then continue on to college. For people who failed more than that, it's back to year 10. So this is going to be a difficult month of study for thousands of students in Nepal.

I have found here that problems are easily identified, but people seem to forget about the problems until they return year after year... another good example is the monsoon preparation - there is only one main road that leads to the business section of the city from the north of Kathmandu. Next to this road is a large hill. Every year at monsoon time landslides occur and the road is blocked for days... then the problem is forgotten about until the next year. Now 5 days before the official beginning of the monsoon, the papers are just beginning to mention doing something about it... but of course it's far too late now, so we're looking forward to another year of road blockages. Incredible.

So what else has been happening? Well, I went to a pretty amazing picnic in the mountains on Sunday. It was a celebration for Sky airways 5th year in business - and it was right up on the hill, looking over the valley. Members of the royal family turned up in helicopters... and we sang on stage along with famous pop singers and tv personalities (who we were sitting with on the bus and who officially 'adopted' me for the day). It was hilarious actually. Talk about posh! And we actually got to ride in the royal helicopter! :-) I suppose the advantage of being such a small capital city is that govenors and ministers live in the local area, and because everyone knows each other, you end up doing amazing things like this! Talk about the high life. We were actually served our food from golden platters!

Okay, well, i'ts time for me to wrap this up now - I have another birthday party to go to (it's difficult being a popular teacher!!) and the British film festival starts tonight - so we're going to take in some english culture... so I hope all is well in Australia - and you must send requests for things now because in exactly 1 month I will be heading to the airport to hop on a plane!

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The paradise that was destroyed in the movie 'the beach' has been rediscovered in the Kathmandu Valley by me! Okay, perhaps I didn't discover it, yesterday a friend of mine took me to visit his family 'at the bottom of the hill'. We walked for about an hour from the school, dirt roads and smiling school children the entire way (as well as some 'naturally' growing marijuana fields) and as we slowly left the valley, the architecture changed, everything changed - we went from 4 story, rough exposed brick houses, to small two story mudbrick houses that looked like they were stolen from Spain 300 years ago and planted in a field. Admist the green crops, there were these bright orange cottages, all sitting at the base of a jungle, and perched at the top was a Buddhist temple under construction.

The locals (and there were very few of them - but they were so friendly), were making handmade paper and still celebrating the new year (which happened last month). Then the entire family, grandparents and all (with bangles, koutas and scarves) marched into the jungle to collect firewood for the house. I laughed so much - there was such a sense of community - and it was even more hysterical (but very encouraging) to see the grandparents volt over fences which all the 'nanus and babus' had trouble getting over...

The entire place was so peaceful - seriously there were butterflies and dragonflies fluttering about, no pollution or cars and I really can't describe it. It was just so perfect.This small piece of paradise is called Ranibaan. It will be the first place we go if any of you every decide to come and visit me!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

The private boarding schools seem to all be trying to outdo each other in the fanciest and biggest
English words they know or to imply that their school s absolutely life-changing. So here's my personal
best list for the ...

Top Ten Private School Names in Nepal - all over Nepal

10. Crystal Knowledge English Boarding School (Is that clear? Crystal...)

9. Sun Rise English School (Is that correct English for an English School?)

8. Future Brighter English Boarding School

7. Galaxy Boarding School (out of this world)

6. Little Step Higher English Boarding School (we wouldn't dare suggest anything more...)

5. Rib English Boarding School (mmm mmm, tasty rib...)

4. Highway Garden Secondary School (isn't that an oxymoron)

3. Fluorescent English Boarding School (we need a real big fancy English word for our school)

2. Ozone English Boarding School (this one I really don't get)

1. New Life Boarding High School (Just because it's mine!)

Runners Up: Heavenly Garden Boarding School, National Inventive English School, Motherland English School, Dewy Dawn Boarding School (I hear a song coming on...)

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Guess what?

I am sitting in an internet cafe around the corner from the school and riots have started again. So, the metal door has been pulled down, the lights have been turned off and I suppose we're stuck here for the duration. I wish I could honestly tell you what was happening, why people were rioting and what was going on - but no one seems to really know. Usually it's something to do with police violence and student protests.

Everyone seems quite calm actually. They're making Steve Waugh jokes admist comments that 'yes, there's a few problems with this country'. They seem to so calmly accept the fact that there is a problem as if it doesn't phase them, yet everyone here seems to want to move to another country. 'Can you help me' is the phrase I most often here, after 'have you taken your food?'! :-) And what should I do? Help the entire population of Nepal immigrate to Australia? Or let their requests fall off me like so many others? I suppose again, it's a matter of level. Surely the starving people in India are in more urgent need of attention... but then again, I know these people individually and I know what can and can not be done for them here. Once you've made the decision to do something - it's very difficult deciding exactly what to do.

Right now there are two very interesting boys sitting next to me... Who seem strangely intrigued by the climate in Australia. Dipendra and Ankit - now famous in the land of people who read this web log. Dipendra plans to come to Australia to study his MEng - like so many others - everyone is leaving this country! Another perfect example of what it's like to speak to strangers here. Of course, everyone is friendly, although I did feel my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach when I went to retrieve washing that had fallen off the roof into someone's vegetable garden - and a woman with a baby took one look at me and said 'tourist' - it wasn't what she said - it was how she said it - with such malice and hate, that I instantly felt like I didn't belong. It's strange - because I feel so much a part of the culture everywhere else, that I forget that I look so different.

Anyway, I am still working on a plan to stay here a little longer - which will mean not doing some of the other great things I had planned to (including young achievers australia - which I was accepted into!) - but it will mean that this experience is all the richer.

Once again, I'm missing you all heaps! Write often (I'm sorry for not writing more often).

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I am living in a country that seems to be perfectly suited to my personality. Where the national stone is my birth stone, where emerging from a classroom covered from head to toe in chalk dust makes me an 'ideal' teacher rather than a grub, where my simple western upbringing makes me an artist and innovator, where I am considered the expert in every subject and situation, where it's simple to strike up conversation with anyone in the streets, where I am invited into homes and showered with gifts just for being me (and white) and where it's an honour to go on an outing with me.

On the flip side, there are some negative aspects to my popularity here. Under the surface of the Nepali culture are some evils that are commonly accepted, but which I can't stand by. Involving people who are considered 'lower', family networks, and caste. I simply can't stay silent about some of these issues, and occasionally it's taken out on the people around me. Certainly, my influence has been put to good use on some occasion, but one certain person is now using my departure as an imminent threat for the end of the 'good life' for the people I've been speaking up for. Evidently I've been doing more harm than good... short term gains and long term detriment. I'm now at the point where I must decide how to act and how to fix this mess I've created.

In other news, it was my host sister, Anusma's, 7th birthday on tuesday. The celebrations that are had here still suprise me a little, and it was no exception. The birthday involved inviting the other teachers and their families over to the house... we sacrificed an apple to the gods, mashed red rice into Anusma's head, and gave her very tacky snow domes with taj mahals inside as birthday presents. Apart from her brother, I think I was the youngest guest! (And a few stray hostel students who came in for a free feed)... yes, the Nepali sit, eat and leave parties are still thriving, although wedding season is now over (it's 18 days into 2060 and two zeros are bad luck, so I think I've been to my last wedding!).

I'm afraid I will have to end this spiel here, as visa extension officers at the immigration office are waiting for me. But I hope you are all well, SARS free and enjoying the benefits of Australian culture that I know I will appreciate all the more when I get back. Thinking of you, but still not ready to come home! love Lauren

Sunday, April 20, 2003

For a brief moment I am forced to push my previous statement to the background... Right now I'm simply too happy :-) I don't know why, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I'm now considered to be turning in to a 'real' Nepali by the people I'm living with. Apparently my hair is turning black, I look beautiful in a sari, I understand Nepali and other people now understand me. Often I get told things like 'You may speak English, but you laugh in Nepali'. Funnily enough with all this there has been a large increase in marriage proposals... :-) Apparently I'm perfect marriage material and just coming in to the right age to be married (for Kathmandu that is, the villagers get married very early, at 10 or 12) - now even the other teachers are asking me! :-)

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there are so many strikes and riots at the moment that I have no work at school (apart from copious amounts of colouring that the teachers do to decorate the walls - they seem to uncomfortable with the idea that the students should actually do the work). Maybe it's because (apart from my host mother and father), I'm like family to so many people here. I can drop in anytime, I call them mother, father, brother, sister, they call me sister, and we're all happy to just hang out together. There are so many beautiful and friendly families - I love them all! I love the way just walking anf talking to people is enough entertainment for a day.

So while it's important to remember always the serious issues that face this country, it isn't all bad. There is still hope for everything.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Evil prevails when good men do nothing.

Is poverty an evil? What about disease? And torture?
What should you do when faced with absolute poverty at every corner. Can you look into the eyes of a hungry man and not give him 1 rupee? What about a mother with a baby? Or the children who sleep at the station night after night with nothing to cuddle except the policeman’s baton at 5am? What about a man who’s so badly burnt that he can’t move his arms, who’s raw wounds gape at you while you watch the flies begin to plant his demise? Or people who are missing both arms and legs? Can you walk past these people and do nothing? Can you ignore the statistics that are printed in the paper, with 1000’s dying daily of easily curable diseases? Can you look at people in the streets who have been beaten and battered and walk straight past? Can you justify eating food at all, let alone buying ‘souvenirs’, when others have so little? Can you take in all of this and still return home and do nothing? Of course not, your mind might say. Yet thousands, or even millions, do so everyday.

You have to admire a country full of people who believe so intensely that the next life will be better, that they suffer through all this and worse, just for the chance to be born in a country like Australia. To listen to people in Nepal talking of the struggle simply to visit their family overseas, or to watch the Tibetan refugees who have suffered frost bite, amputations and worse to escape to India or Nepal, only to find themselves searched by police at every opportunity, multiple times on a single bus trip, to be forced to pay extra ‘visa’ charges by police whenever they feel the need.

Is there a solution? Maybe there is, but we’re too busy thinking of excuses as to why we can’t help, to do anything constructive. Maybe we need to see it to understand it. When I first read the quote ‘evil prevails when good men do nothing’, I was filled with hope… hope that we could stop evil. Now I see the other side… evil is here, so good men are doing nothing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

50 Things I love about India (or things that just make me laugh):

1. Dharamsala
2. Himalayas
3. Tibetans
4. Monks
5. Taking rolls and rolls of 'mountain' shots from very slightly different angles
6. Meeting Sheman priests from Germany at the Dalai Lama's Tibetan temple in India
7. Having everything related back to 'signs'
8. Completely fatalistic attitudes - if you die, you die
9. Tying luggage on to the roof of the bus with wire
10. Dharamsala (again)
11. Watching luggage fall off other buses
12. Buses that can't make it around corners
13. Signs that say 'blow your horn' to prevent accidents
14. Railway signs that say 'the railway vs dirt, who's side are you on?'
15. Monks plaing soccer with rocks
16. Might takes right road rules
17. Hand painted signs
18. Inspirational messages on the side of the road
19. Wrong spellings
20. Dharamsala (again again)
21. People speaking Hindi to you after you've made it quite clear you don't understand
22. People speaking German to you when you've made it quite clear you don't understand.
23. Street ear cleaners
24. Momos
25. Indian gurus
26. Signs that warn you to check petrol, brakes, lights, horn and weapons
27. Dogs which sleep anywhere and everywhere and never wake up
28. Cows
29. Monkeys
30. Monks with cricket hats
31. People leaping on and off trains everywhere, just because all the doors are always left open
32. Red teeth from too much betel nut
33. Traditional dress
34. Rickshaw drivers claiming to be 'Indian helicopters'
35. Rickshaw drivers following you miles out of their way in the hope to convince you to take a 'free' ride
36. Millions of monks bathing in a waterfall (it was an amazing scene - red and yellow cloth flowing along with the stream)... Incredible
37. Buses which take off without passengers
38. Old tinny buses which look like they will fall apart at any moment
39. Floral hand painted petrol trucks
40. Always being 'A special price for you madam'
41. The illegal pencil ring
42. The thousands of travel agents claiming to be 'THE Official Indian tourist office'
43. Chai tea on trains
44. Sleeper class on trains
45. Only being able to leave McLeod via a train that left about 5kms from both Jammu and the Pakistan border
46. Having the ticket officer claim it was 500kms from the border
47. Ticket officer and monks fighting about distance from border
48. Facing a road sign that had Pakistan to the left, Jammu and Kashmir to the right and having to choose
49. Monks adopting us and escorting us to Delhi
50. Dharamsala

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Well, I've finally found a solution to all my problems. For 5 months of the year I will live in Nepal, for 6 months of the year I will live in McLeod Ganj in India, and during December I will come back to Australia!

This place is absolutely incredible. The Dalai Lama obviously would choose the most beautiful place on the planet to live in. I just don't understand why I didn't think to come here sooner. McLeod Ganj is set in the foothills of the Himalayas. It's like an alpine village actually, with the snow capped peaks on one side, the slowly descending foothills on the other, and the township right on the river.

I feel alive simply walking down the street here. The people are mostly monks and students (here for the teachings), with a few locals spread further down in the villages. There is also a large (and very bold) monkey population which is thriving on stealing people's oranges. But the air is crystal clear and breathing it in is like cleansing your soul.

Occasionally I have to laugh though, to see the monks bargaining for runners, or playing cards in the 'beer garden' (which is actually a vegetarian cafe).

Because of the proximity to the Himalayas, we've decided to do an overnight trek up to the snowline... which should be amazing (tomorrow), and then head back down to noise and pollution of Delhi (sadly) to see the Taj Mahal, and organise the trip back.

Well, the Dalai Lama is giving a teaching soon, so I'd better go and grab a good cushion before the monks steal them all!

Still missing you, but finding myself rather adjusted to life in the moutains.


Sunday, March 23, 2003

Namaskar from Varanasi, India!

Yes, that's right! I've arrived :-) At 5am yesterday morning we crossed the Indian border on a rickshaw. The journey so far has been more exciting than India itself, but I'm sure that will change soon. Only 5 minutes ago an enormous World Cup Cricket Gang flew down the street on their motor bikes with painted faces and flags...

Honestly, India seems very similar to Nepal, but with more pollution, more people and much smarter con men. That's right, you simply can not get where you want to go in a rickshaw, taxi or auto. You tell them where, they say yes, they take you to some 100% commission hotel and dump you. Luckily we've been able to get a good sense of where we are, however, walking around with a pack in this heat is like trekking!

The main difference I suppose it that in India, the men all seem to be in traditional dress too. I suppose because Varanasi is home to the most famous silk silk sari makers in the world it might have something to do with it.

As for the plan - I don't think I will spend as much time as I originally thought in India. We'll head to Delhi, and close by the Dalai Lama is giving a talk which we will try and get to. See the Taj Mahal, maybe go for a few day hikes and then back to Kathmandu. Some of the other volunteers want to get a trek together for the beginning of the Nepali new year, so I'd like to be back for that.

The lonely planet guide to India has dealt a severe blow to Indian tourism, but now that I'm here, I can see what it means. It's just like Kathmandu without the charm. Here every person is in on the scams, even the children! Whereas in Kathmandu it's mainly the taxi drivers, and children actually want to say hello to you! The weather here is also terrible - I think it's about 40 today and it's not even summer yet.

Okay, well I'm going to try and find somewhere with air conditioning (Although the city is at a standstill for the World Cup) - hope to hear from you soon.


Saturday, March 15, 2003

To those who were concerned - I'm sorry! But slowly I have moved onto Nepal time, which is an entirely different concept to any that you might stumble across in Australia. I am sincerely sorry, I'm not lost, I'm not dead, and I'm not in India (yet), and I'm having a great time!!! :-) You see it was the last week of school this week, and I have accumulated many responsibilities - like typing exams, taking class, tutoring maths and physics to class 10's (like year 12's), taking photographs of everything in the school (it's suprising what a snazzy camera can do for your photography skills and reputation!), and generally having a good time - attending weddings, coming of age ceremonies and other events every night, and helping some of the other teachers with their computer skills... In return they're helping me to read Nepali. Yes, that's right - in the past week I have not only learned all 432 different letters in the Nepali alphabet, but I can (very) slowly read the words. Now I just need to learn enough Nepali to be able to understand what I am reading!

We've had some great festivals too - I think I already mentioned Shiva day and sacrificing popcorn to the Gods - and on Tuesday it's Holi - which means for 15 days before everyone throughs water bombs and coloured paint at you from rooftops or anywhere... And EVERYONE wants to get me! All my clothes are covered in red tikka paint and I can't go outside without getting soaked. Luckily I stocked up on water bombs last week- because you can't buy them any more! But, they're terrible - in a packet of 30 only 7 will be any use. Of course they're only 3 rupees for the pack, so I'm not complaining!

I have also cooked 'Australian' food for my host family, which was a compelte success (suprisingly) - we had cheesy spaghetti, tomato/veg sauce and mashed potatoes with butter and milk! I thought they wouldn't eat any of it, but they wolfed it down and asked for more. I have also mastered the art of the vegetable curry, rice and dhal and speaking of skills - I have learnt to juggle! In the mornings some the students and I play with bean bags, and they love to watch me juggle them every morning! Then we play hot potato :-)

As for India - yes I'm going next week - on condition that I can get a visa... The embassy is closed for holi and has been for ages. Anyway, I just wanted to reassure you all that I was fine and alive - although I'm sure mum has told you all by now. Please don't send interpol to look for me if I don't write for 7 days - things simply getso busy over here!

Anyway, I'm missing you all heaps, I'lltry to write more frequently, but it might not be until after holi!


Monday, March 03, 2003

Hello from the land of blu-tak theives!

That's right - the blu-tak that was holding up many of the classroom pictures has been STOLEN by students who are completely in love with it... I have been running around classrooms all day repairing the damage with sticky tape (which they do have here, so hopefully it won't be stolen as well). It makes me so sad to see how much the children thrive on praise - it's even better than stickers! And how they want a piece of blu-tak to take home, or even a piece of sticky tape - but when they steal... I no longer feel sorry for them. They're ruining their own classrooms that way. No more blu-tak. It's a shame, because I've just found a place that sells it here too - and it's SO useful! In school news, my fast typing secret is out, and I have been recruited to type up the exams... (I figure, at least my students will get good grades on the english sections if I am finally able to get some direction about what I should be teaching them). I'm still arriving in class to a standing ovation and cheers - which invariably means I'm a softie and sometimes we get to play cricket instead of write poetry... Of course the cricket bat has no handle and you can't buy them in Nepal (only rounders bats) despite the incredible popularity of the game.

Adventures are continuing. On Friday night I was taken to Dhulikel by the neighbours to see the mountains - after expressing so much enthusiasm for a glimpse of single snow capped peak on our one clear day! The drive was eventful to say the least - this is a wealthy family and we were still pushing their car a lot of the way.... It was fun though! (And they'd never heard of eye spy or car cricket). It was cloudy when we arrived, but we explored for a little bit. It's a real village, I loved it! And my lungs felt so light, like a vacuum cleaner had sucked out every speck of dust (ironnic really, considering dhuli means dust in Nepali!). I was banned from telling ghost stories - no-one does it in Nepal - and no-one understood my jokes (apprently they're not so funny when english isn't your first language) - I didn't understand theirs either - but we still had a blast, playing cards and having pillow fights all night. At 5am we woke up for the sunrise (but due to high clouds, it didn't actually rise until 6:30am) and it wa spectacular. It rose SO fast as well. The peaks were highlighted in different colours, but there was an enormous cloud covering most of it... I loved it, but they all thought it was disappointing. After a lot of pushing, stopping, cooling down and re-starting of the car we arrived back in Samakhushi in time for an outing to the forest with San Thapa and her family. Very nice - and on Saturday it was the festival of Shiva, so we lit a huge fire, sacrificed popcorn to the gods, and played games on the roof well into the night.

The other Australian volunteer came back on Sunday from her trek (which was a complete white out - ending with their guide compeltely lost and praying in the snow)... So we went out to meet some of her trekking partners on Sunday night, ate WAY to much chow mein and got home at 9:30pm (VERY LATE)... The school gate was locked too, so I had to jump over the fence, and the gatekeeper who was sleeping (who I couldn't see in the dark) thought I was a burglar and chased me around the playground.

Apart from the fun I am having, I feel as thought I'm not acheiving as much as I would like school wise. The school is very strange. It has the longest hours and the most days of every school in Nepal. Often it's a 7 days a week venture. Most of the teachers are single, and on their day off (Saturday), they all come to the school and play volleyball with the hostel boys. All the teachers seem to be always at the school - except for the principal, who I can never reach to discuss important things! For spending so much time their, you would expect some level of commitment - but not a single teacher takes responsibility for ANYTHING. Not even the volleyball net. I really can't understand it. They love to play badminton and volleyball or anything physical, but you can't seem to have a serious discussion about anything with anyone. And when I try to talk about what I can do for the school, they want to buy playground equipment, which invariably gets lost or stolen after 2 days.

I am not complaining - and I'm not depressed or sad - I'm having a great holiday, but that's really not what I'm supposed to be doing here, and it's not why I came...

Well, I hope you all are having a great time in Australia, and having as many adventures as I am! As usual, it is time for me to go. It's Tibetan New Year tonight... :-)

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Dear loyal readers,
Monkey temple represents the path to enlightenment... right now I feel as though I've stepped up from the viewing tower to the first levelk. I'm finally beginning to understand this culture. For 3 weeks I've been absorbing but not making sense of things. Yesterday, one particular event stands out. The female teachers had organised all the younger students to put on a little production and have a quiz contest in the afternoon. Once all the children were lined up and seated (including 3 year olds) one of the male teachers decided to being his senior class out to play volleyball. He refused to leave. So the female teachers sent all the little kids back to class. Finally the principal arrived and said the production could continue, so all the little kids back outside - volleyballers back inside. So stupid!

Apparently the male teachers refuse to co-operate all the time!

What other observations have I made? Did you know the students have 2 different coloured shirts for each half of the week so that their clothes can be cleaned occasionally? It's actually quite refreshing to see students with patches, and repairs - nothing ever gets thrown out here!

Hmm... last night my favourite litle boy next door asked me to be his sister (he wanted to make it legal and everything)... I have seem to have accumulated many brothers and sisters during my stay. I love the way all the kids (babus and nanus) run up and give me a hug when they see me!

I organised a big volleyball game after school yesterday (girls as well) - breakthrough! Classes are also going well... I'm transforming the classrooms from blank to clo9lourful - although I've almost run out of blu-tak (which is a never ending wonder - they all think that it's chewing gum!!!).

My family and I are getting on a lot better now - although I still get in a bit of trouble for staying out late and having a messy room (I thought it was clean!).. And yesterday I slept 'til 7:30am and they thought I was dying... practically busted down the door! We had a dancing marathon in the ktichen while cooking dinner last night.... but there are still a few oddities - like the 3 year old still gets breast fed, and the 6 yeard old still uses a potty.

Another thing I've noticed is that all the teachers bring their little kids to school each day, and they just wander around from class to class. Even on sundays (when we have school and a lot of others have aholiday, the older children come in and help teach!). Actually our school appears to be quite strict, the other volunteers have had 3 public holidays already and our school hasn't even celebrated a single one! I think our teachers are getting worried about exams - a couple of nights ago we had 2 parents in complaining about their children failing.

Learning Nepali has reached a standstill... everyone speaks english to me and their english is quite good! So one of the teachers has volunteered to tutor me for a while until I can speak a little better...

What else???? Television is HUGE here - a lot of family's do nothing but watch tv after school... mine included - and everyone has cable (from India) - so it's all in Hindi - Nepal only has one station - we have cartoon network and all the cable shows form Australia in Hindi - it's hilarious. The Indian soapies are also hysterical - sooooooo over dramatised - and they're always referring to bad 'Australian' companies. In fact, Australia is pretty big over here - with the cricket and all. All the Indian cricket ads feature Australia - I'm not sure if you have the lays one over there, but it's really funny!

Well, that's all for now folks... I hope Lachlan is feeling better - I miss you all very much!

Sunday, February 23, 2003

As usual, too many things have happened since last time I wrote. Even if I wrote everyday, I wouldn't be able to even begin to describe everything that is going on here. Yesterday I went to a family picnic. It was at the edge of the Kathmandu Valley and it was SO SO SO SO beautiful. The village is realtively new, and was sort of creeping up the foothills of the mountains. Behind, you could actually see the snow covered peaks. We took a bus and a micro-bus there - complete with goats, and chickens, and looked around the temples (one I wasn't allowed to go into because I'm not Hindi), as well as an enormous British school (a bit like Howqua by the looks of it) and played many games - like badminton and bingo!

Earlier that day I had also been to visit the cooks house (for the school) - they were SO friendly. When I came by, I hadn't even spoken to the cook that often, only smiles and tickles (speaking of which, without tickling I would have no friends at the moment!!! - it really is genius), the entire family, (2 boys, dad, grandpa, and mum) all took me on a walk out to the forest near their house. The air was so pure and fresh, and they filled me in on all the history... and invited me to come over anytime I had a holiday and they would take me out. The boys were actually the same age and class as Andrew and Lachlan, and I had taught the year 7 boy science - so it was fun to hang around them, tickle them and squeeze their noses (which everyone here seems to like!) - reminded me of home. Their Dad also talked to me about working in the peacecorps all around the world. So many people here live exciting lives :-)

I can't remember what I have and haven't told you and I can't access the web-site at the moment (there's been a takeover and the server re-loading is taking longer than expected) - but I feel like there's so much to say and not enough words!

Aayushree and I are sitting in the internet cafe at the moment - she wants me to remind everyone about the monkey man!!! (A man who chased us down the street making noises like a monkey). Well, we have to go and pick up some photos of class 4 now - we're doing descriptive essays in english at the moment. So I'll write again soon.


Monday, February 17, 2003

Hello from a world where I am a beautiful giant.

To really understand what life is like in Nepal, you need to take everything you know and turn it upside down. Still, you might not be able to imagine the men with their formal suits riding motor bikes, the litter on the street corners, the majestic mountains in the background peeping thorugh cloud, people holding one nostril and snotting on the ground, the dust, the crumbling roads dissolving into shop fronts, the people, motorbikes and cars existing in the same small space without rules and without accident, the stares everywhere you go, the conversations that go 'blah blah blah Lauren, blah blah blah Australia, blah blah blah volunteer', the ceremonies with fake heads on rooftops, people lying on mats anywhere and sleeping, school children following you down the street, dhal, dhal and more dhal...

The weekend has been and gone. On Saturday morning, I went with my host sister, Anushma, to her admissions exam at St Mary's school. Afterwards we visited the zoo in Patan. It hard to believe the difference in tourist areas to living areas. I can't believe I didn't notice it before, but going to Patan (a huge tourist destination) really showed it up for me. The zoo was better than expected - condition wise for the animals, apart from my host father Hari throwing dried peas at the animal and us having a fight because I said the animals would die, and he claimed to be trying to make them move to show me. We saw the largest hippopotasmuses in existence. Then, at the peacock cage, Hari once again extolled his thoeries about beauty, stating that men are beautiful for much longer, so they can marry when they want, whereas women in Nepal need to be married before 30, otherwise they look too old! Met many of Hari's extended family living near by, then came back for the afternoon - and snuck out to visit Niru's (the servant girl's) friends a few minutes away.

I think by now I have met more people in Nepal than I know in Australia! My host mother's brothers came to visit, - they're software engineers in the US and invited me to visit them after I go to Nepal. Was also invited to Chitwan by three different people!, and to a picnic on Saturday! It's great how friendly people are. In Nepal they really mean it as well. If they invite you, they expect you to come, and are very upset if you don't show.

Sunday was school, and I played volleyball with the teachers. Once again, a huge commotion, as girls just don't play volleyball over here. Also, everyone here now knows my height, and all the children come up and ask me if I'm really that tall... My host father is upset and keeps measuring himself because he thinks he should be taller than me! Also, everyone keeps coming up and telling me I am beautiful. I suppose because they have never seen white people before or something - maybe it's just a nice way of settling me in to the country - ego stroking!

Well, time to go now, I have lots more to say - but no time as usual... I've already been here way too long! So good-bye for now.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

What can I say? The past few days have been a whilr wind of activity. I started teaching on my second day at the school (a teacher was absent and I was filling in for her classes). Let me just say, I am SO glad I asked for older children. The first few classes were upper kindergarteners (about 6 years old) and with a lot of effort I managed to keep them in control - I even had the last class marching out into the playground in single file with the fingers over their mouths being VERY quiet! Unforutnately it all started to go wrong when I was given the lower kindergarteners (about 4). Not one of them understood a single word I said - in fact it was a complete disaster. A bit like that high school high movie where children were jumping on tables, dragging each other around by ties, throwing chalk, pulling the classroom to bits... a complete disaster zone. During that class I was pretty much looking at my watch and waiting for the minutes to tick by. I have also changed my watch from wearing it 5 minutes fast to on time. You have no idea how long 5 minutes can be when you are supposed to be controlling a classroom of hyperactive hyenas who can't understand a word you say. Even if you attempt to speak their language.

I spent the afternoon at my first host family's house, then came back (quite late actually) to my host family - despite having told them where I was and how long I would be there, I was in trouble for staying out late - as they had unexpected visitors from Australia! (Cousins of my host father who had recently migrated to Sydney). I saw the true meaning of erat and run once again. In Nepal, as soon as you've eaten, everyone just bolts out the door!

I also made chips for my family one night. It was an enormous success - so much so that the next morning at 6am I was put in front of an enormous bowl of potatoes and asked to peel them (with a blunt knife) and make more! :-)

I had the same classes yesterday - the younger children because the teacher was still absent - but was able to keep control with the aid of stickers - although I've gone through too many packs already! I also joined in the dancing lesson after school and all the parents of the children, all the children who weren't in the dance class, all the teachers and all the neighbours (standing on their rooves) came to watch. It was a lot of fun - although my first host sister later told me that when she walked over she couldn't see anyone but me. Not her mother, not anyone... Probably because I was about 6 feet taller than everyone else and had blonde hair amongst all this black! Other embarassments suffered include being asked to sing the Australian anthem at assembly. Luckily for me no one else knows how it goes!

Today I had the older children - grade 3 - 6 and what a fantastic change! My absolute favourite class is the grade 6 class - the are so friendly and it's such a small class. I will have to discuss with the principal taking their english conversation or something!

Unfortunately today I also saw a beating. The child had left the school grounds and the principal made him sit on his knees, hold his ears and apologise. Then stand up and get whacked with a stick across both his legs. World Youth made us sign a document at the beginning of the program stating that we would not speak out against their teaching methods... I wonder if trying to show them that there are other ways to discipline is going against that??? I found it quite hard to bite my tongue.

Slavery is also an enormous problem here. My host family, it turns out, is quite snobby - they're from a high caste and have just inherited a lot of money - so they are building an enormous 4 story house about 10 minutes away from where I am, on the edge of a forest. I went to their building site with my host mother yesterday and was shocked to see this family of 5 people building their house by hand, living in a cubic meter pile of bricks (literally)... the spare bricks from the building had been constructed into a small room - without any reinforcement - it looked like a small gust of wind wuold crush them all.

Also, my host family has a slave girl who does all the work basically - except I make breakfast now. Anyway, she is scared of my host mother, but said she really liked me and we have decided to have english tutoring sessions very early int he morning so she can pass her year 11 admissions test and go to school - instead of being a slave all her life. My only concern is that she might not pass and she will be so disappointed... Of course, that and my host mother finding out... then I'd be in enormous trouble.

My host mother is one of the reasons I have not been able to use the internet much. Yesterday, for example, I told her I was going and she insisted on coming - dragging me to her sister in laws placee with the slowest connection in the entire world, and then sitting behind me reading everything I wrote. I'm not sure she would udnerstand though - her english is very poor - in fact her first language is Hindi, so her Nepali might not even be that good for all I know!

I had my first shower this morning too... In Nepal people bathe very rarely and I can see why. You stand in a shower cubicle that's also a toilet - about 1 meter squared floor space, all tiled, with a large bucket of icey water and a jug. Unless you have had self inflicted hypothermia - you can not possibly understand what it is like to poor ice over yourself.

I'm starting to settle in here. There are so many things I like about Nepal - the children following you down the street and asking you questions... the teaching and the majority of people here. Of course, anywhere you go there is also a negative side. It's difficult trying to adjust though.

I have to go now - it gets dark very early here - 6pm - school finished at 4:30pm and it's a half hour walk each way to the fast internet!

Oh, by the way - something that might interest you is that Shane Warne made front page news here!

Missing you all heaps!

Monday, February 10, 2003

The past 2 days really have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I was picked up by my host family yesterday morning (on time!), and taken to the Navajeewan (New life) boarding school, where their house is. I was thrilled when I stepped inside, it was so clean and friendly, and the two girls were so much fun! I was told my room wasn't ready, so the girls and I got to know each other pretty well. We spent the whole day playing cards (I taught them blackjack amongst other things, and some magic tricks!), playing with bears, eating enormous amounts of dhal bhat, playing with haristyle barbie and donig each other's hair. I earnt the nickname 'beautician' and 'maya' (which means love), and 'goldilocks' (for obvious reasons - my ability to tell the story not being one of them!)... Apparently I am the best hairstylist they have ever seen, which comes as a complete suprise to me - but I have mum to thank for all the styles she taught me over the years which I probably haven't put to good use until now! I was also asked many questions - mostly about dad... then at 8pm that night, after playing all day, I was told that I wasn't actually staying with the beautiful, friendly and english speaking (at least a bit!) family, but I was staying next door... so I grabbed my bags and headed over. The difference a single concrete elevated walkway can make. The house next door was dark, damp and smelt of urine. I was given a nice room, by a family who spoke no english at all (I found out later that the mother is the english teacher at the school)... and two very young children jumped on me and wouldn't get off for the next few hours. I suppose it's good that I'm able to see the poorer, realer Nepali lifestyle, but ti was a shock after spending all day with my original host family. It turns out that during the day, my Nepali was assessed and found to be much better than another volunteers (Amelia) who is on a completely different program and will only be staying with a family for 3 days. So I was moved because my Nepali was better than hers - even though it really is almost non-existant.

I woke up at 5am this morning to the sound of an explosion right outside my window. I jumped straight out of bed because I thought it was a bomb, but it was just a street light. I'm not sure what they're made of to explode like that! I had a breakfast of dhal bhat (which I helped to make) and then went to the school. The first day I was asked by the principal to go around and assess the teacher's teaching styles, and whether or not they could speak english properly. I got some very dirty looks from some of the teachers when that was said, so I told the principal it wasn't really appropriate and instead I just helped with the english classes.

In the afternoon, I was taken to buy a kouta with the original host family, who all stood around and watched while I was fitted for my school kouta. Then we went back to their house for a while, before I went into Thamel (the touristy district), where I met up with Andrew and another Lauren. I was followed the entire way be children from my school wanting to know all about me.... :-)

So, I have learnt a lot already! Well, that's all for now folks, until next time, adios amigos!

Saturday, February 08, 2003

publish away.
More temples and hsitoric sites today. I'm a bit anxious to just go and live with my family now, despite all the amazing historical sites we are seeing. Today we visisted a temple which is considered the greatest Shiva temple in Asia - people from all over Tibet and India come just to pray here. There were three cremations (open air) occuring while we were there... one was mostly ashes, one had been burning for about 3 hours and we saw one body being cleansed in holy water (the most disgusting and polluted stream), then prepared for cremation and lit. The ceremonies and rules are incredible. There are thousands of rules about who can touch the body depending on your caste and role in society. There was also an enormous temple there dedicated entirely to sex. The monkeys were really funny... quite cultured really, eating grapes out of plastic bags.

The most interesting person there was the milk babba. He's a man who lives in a single room as part of the temple structure, and has drunk nothing but milk for the last 22 years. His hair is all curled up around his head like an enormous motor cycle helmet and he does appear to be a bit milky himself. Great teeth though!

I've also had some photos developed already... Nepali size of course and while the colour is a little disappointing (due to the haze in the sky rather than anything else) I think I will be able to scan them into the computers here and send them off to you.

The taxi drivers here are really icnerdible. I feel like we're about to have an accident every second. They drive at hurtling speeds about an inch from each other, horns blaring, leaping over pot holes. swerving all over the road, turning in front of oncoming traffic with complete disregard for other vehicles and slamming on the breaks if there is ever a need to stop. I think they must have amazing reflexes, or there would definately be more accidents. O fcourse, taxi drivers are the same everywhere and trying to convince them to not over charge or to use the meter is always interesting in stilted Nepali.

Well, phone calls are wrapping up here and people are beginning to get a little hungry, so it's off to Pilgrims to get some (clean and iodined) fruit and vegies, and possibly some vegetable momos. Speak to you all soon! Love Lauren (P.S. Use the commenting system - that took ages to code! j/k)
Unbelieveable! I've met my host family and they are soooo nice. Two teachers from the school and the principal came to greet me tonight and as soon as I saw them, I thought, wow! whoever has them is lucky! (And it was me!) They had the most enormous smiles, all three of them... and they all live in a compound together. I am going to have lots of little brothers and sisters by the sounds of things. Anyway, I absolutely can not wait until I begin on Sunday (although that happens to be a holiday - I will be moving in with my family!). As a side note, after you've been living with them for a while they give you a name - and so far they've hosted on eother person, Amelia, (not as a teacher, just as a guest) and the name they gave her means 'looks like an egg'. That could be the one part I'm not looking forward to.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Monkey temple, and the living goddess!
I can't believe how much has happened since last time I wrote. Not only were we blessed by the living goddess (the kumari - a young girl who is chosen by 32 particular signs - a bit like the dalai lama, and lives in absolute luxury in a temple in the middle of Durbar square, before being thrown back to the streets when reaching puberty) - but it was the only time in the entire year when she looks out her window. Wow!

We also passed by freak street - where all the hippies used to smoke marijuana at pot cafes in the 70s, and then we picked up our sarees! We ended yesterday with a visit to the Australian embassy. It really is incredible. It's like an artifical little paradise. Palm trees, everything is clean and looks brand new, swimming pools, the 'Kathmandu surf life saving club', a bar and a very warm fire. We had a great chat with the ambassador (Keith) who seemed a lot less pompous than I would have expected - although I guess it's his job to get on with people. Anyway, he recommended a trip north to the edge of the Kathmandu valley to see the mountains. His assistant was also there, Lyle, an aging communist with a long beard. He was really funny - I imagine Lenin would have been just like him. We stayed at the embassy until very late - and were checked numerous times by the military on our way back ot the hotel. No problems though.

This morning we've just had a nice long walk up to monkey temple, which really is covered in monkeys .We lit a few prayer candles, and took thousands of photos of the most amazing architecture - however, the city is still covered in a brown haze, so I didn't get any landscape shots.

The weather really is funny here. It's freezing all night and until about 10am, then it gets really hot during the day, and starts to cool down again at night.

Tonight we're having dinner with the principals of our schools and possibly our host families (if we have them) and we're getting dressed up in our sarees and scarves as a mark of respect. I've picked up a little Nepali already so I should be able to introduce myself properly.

Well, I'm going to try and develop my photos now, so until I write again, Namaste!

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Just as a quick amendment - in excellent news, the maoists and the government are currently having peace talks and the strike has been lifted as a gesture of goodwill! :-)

Well.... I made it. There's too much to say really. Formalities out of the way, I am alive (obviously) and well, my baggage arrived at the right time, and I was met at the airport. No problems. It was all very smooth, although 2 other people's luggage didn't make it! They will have to spend tomorrow at the airport looking for it.

Now to Nepal. Nothing can describe it. There really is too much to take in. We ended our Kathmandu flight with a view of Everest peaking through the clouds (and I had a window seat!), the airline (Thai) was really friendly. They gave us flowers, and many meals (including snacks of crispy dried green soybeans - you should have been there mum!). We disembarked at the airport down some stairs, collected the luggage and were met with headbands made of real flowers! We were ambushed with offers of assistance, and finally made it into a taxi... which was to be the ride of a lifetime. There appears to be no traffic laws in Nepal, and honking of horns every 10 seconds is a must, even if no one else is on the road (though this would be extemely rare). Our taxi driver was particularly good at weaving his way through the thousands of motorcycles on the road. When we weren't hangingon for life, the view out the window was equally incredible. Kathmandu is quite a dirty place, but it seems to have a charm that comes with it. I felt like I was back in Jamieson (tidy town 30 years running), winding over dirt roads - of course it's nothing like it. Shops are crammed in next to each other, with tiny decorative doors side by side. Enormous dirt nature strips are covered in market items, and women are washing their hair in the street.

Arriving at the hotel, we dumped our luggage and went for a quick walk up to Thamel (the tourist district) to attempt phone calls, get a feel for it all and change our money. Then back to the hotel to meet Sarayu, our Nepalese co-ordinator, who took us to be fitted for our saris. An adventure in itself and the first time in my life I've ever had clothes especially made for me! (I even got to choose the fabric! - It was about $30 all up). Someone was even pick pocketed while we were there. The drive back went almost past my school, which is about 10 minutes out of the tourist district and right near the Royal Palace. We're meeting with the principal's on Friday, and beginning work on Sunday. Until then, we're at the hotel.

We've just been for a drink at the local pub in the tourist district. The bad news is that every single other person in the program has taken up smoking, partly because in Kathmandu it doesn't make much difference. The only downside is the pollution. It really is quite terrible. Any suggestions would be welcome - there are a few people wandering around with face masks.

Another unusual sight which I didn't expect to see was the military. They're everywhere, marching down the street, hurtling along the road in big tanks and standing around huge brick walls. No-one really seems to pay much attention to them though.

All in all I'm feeling fantastic. As soon as Dad left me at the airport I felt like the adventure was beginning - and it really is! I wasn't homesick (although I'm sure I will be), and the nerves had gone. And it was comforting to learn that everyone else on my plane had been crying for 3 days straight, so nerves are natural.

Anyway, I hope all is well in Melbourne and that you're all settling in to 2003 as planned. I will keep you posted as internet has dropped in price since the last volunteers were here. 40 cents an hour! Unfortunately there are other things to do and see, so I'll have to leave this here. Bye everyone!

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Just doing a little testing...
"A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere." Joyce A.Myers

Welcome one and all! The adventure is about to begin... and yes, I know the first rule of writing is to throw people into the action - preferably beginning with horror stories about 5 inch long leeches up people's noses (it really happened!), filling it up with various bull chasings and finishing off with 'attack by the old lady at the sacred temple-101', but I'd like to let you know that the anticipation, nerves and excitement, to me, are providing the same internal rush as any of the things listed above! I'd just like to say thank-you to my family, for being so supportive, despite the fact that I haven't spent much time with them through sheer volume of good-byes (and the *cringe* maths cd)... I will miss everyone in Australia very much, but I hope you will all keep in contact through e-mail - and no excuses, I know you can all get to a computer at least once in the next 5 months! So good-bye Australia, family and friends, as I leave with my #2 pencil, a couple of dreams, and a crate load of Santa books that I 'borrowed' from Myer during my photography/elf stint.