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!