So what else is new?
As I said before, we have no spare time here – in a good way – so all the blogging I’ve done recently has been playing catch up. True to form, I’ve not written anything for a good week, so here I go again.
When we got back from our wild (not) weekend in Thamel, we were refreshed and ready to face another week of playing teacher. It being our second week, we were gradually drifting from the shore of ‘today let’s spend the lesson making name cards and colouring them in’, and towards the open ocean of verb tables, punctuation and grammar. Scary stuff for the uninitiated. If there’s one thing that teaching English does to you, it is that it makes you really how little you really know about your own language. I am clueless about auxiliary verbs, flummoxed by demonstrative pronouns, and baffled by progressive tenses. (‘What on earth are they?’ I hear you ask. Well exactly.)
We are having an absolute ball, though, regardless of how much our lessons make us question everything we ever thought we knew. The kids are great (even if we do want to throttle them sometimes), and mostly are only annoying because they are too keen to please and want validation for their efforts the whole time. This can be grating when there are twenty children all thrusting their exercise books under your nose, desperate for their fix of a red biro tick and a smiley face sticker. I now teach classes 1, 3, 4 and 6, so get quite a wide range of abilities and a whole host of different problems associated with each age group. Class 1 are probably the most hilarious and most difficult to deal with: they managed to learn my name instantly and so now every time one of them spots me across the corridor I’m greeted with a chorus of “Ellie Miss! Ellie Miss!”. This would be fine, except that when they do it just before Cat and I are about to teach them, it is accompanied with clinging on to any body part within reach. They are only little, but when you have eight six year olds attached to you, it is actually very difficult to walk. It generally takes me at least ten minutes to complete the short walk from the hall up the stairs to their classroom, because for every step there is a genuine danger of my overbalancing and crushing several small children. Once we’re in the classroom, the situation doesn’t much improve. They are all adorable, but they have barely any understanding of what we are saying to them, so once we have finished explaining what we want them to do on the board (met with the usual ambiguous head-bobble), we then have to go round and explain individually what the task at hand is, which generally produces a greater rate of success.
Class 3 are fairly mental as well; you never quite know where the lesson will end up with them. We finally decided to split the class in two yesterday, because we realised we couldn’t quite handle the level of rowdiness that was being produced every lesson. Sumitra miss decided on how the class should be split, and divided them based predominantly on gender, but purportedly on behaviour (i.e. the good kids – the girls – went upstairs with Cat, and the bad kids – the boys – stayed downstairs with me and Sumitra). The lessons seem to be going more smoothly now, by which I mean they’ve stopped rummaging through my bag mid-lesson, and now they only occasionally stand on top of their desks in the middle of class.
Class 4 are possibly my favourite class: some of them are still clueless as to what’s going on around them, but others are way ahead. The majority of them are keen and willing to try their best at whatever I throw at them (even when I slightly forget that they are only about 10 years old and learning in their second language), which is great.
Class 6 are lovely, but my god they love to chat. I turn around for one second and the whole group erupts into heated discussion over whether Messi or Ronaldo is the best footballer (Messi, obviously). They are also the class in which I have managed to learn the greatest proportion of names, through a combination of telling off the chatty ones and praising the most hardworking. The problem with splitting the classes is that I get saddled with the second half of the alphabet name-wise, and there seems to be a distinct tendency amongst Nepalese parents to name their child beginning with the letter s, which leads to a cruel test of memory for poor British volunteer teachers who have an at best limited grasp of the Nepali language. But we struggle on.
There’s been a lot of coming and going of volunteers since last week: we’ve gained Clare from Clare college Cambridge, and Ben from Robinson who has returned again after teaching here last year. He’s not teaching, but is doing his dissertation on something related to the management of volunteers in schools in Kathmandu (which is actually more interesting than it sounds). It was encouraging that on his arrival here he was met with joyful choruses of “Ben Sir! Ben Sir!”, because it means that there is at least a slim chance that we will still be remembered if we decide to come back (which I would very much like to). We also briefly met Helena, a PhD student who left at the crack of dawn today to make the trip over to Dang. As well as that, the volunteers from the first half who have been travelling for the past few weeks have now come back to stay at Central for the few days before they head home. This evening there are likely to be 13 total volunteers staying at this school. It’s getting quite out of hand. But it’s all good fun.
Last week we went for a rogue trip to Thamel to meet up with some friends that Dan and I had met in Delhi a couple of weeks before. It was nice to get out of the school for a little while, and though our hopes of hot showers at Alobar1000 were bitterly disappointed, it was really good to have a night off, and great to see Grant and Gary again. We got there at about 7, by which time they had already consumed multiple beers, went out for expensive but delicious pizza at the place across the road, and then passed an enjoyable evening sitting on the rooftop of the hostel, drinking beer and chatting and listening to Nathan tell stories about history (more fun than it sounds). That evening the topic was Russian history from about 1730. It’s the way he tells it, with lots of asides like ‘he started a war for a giggle’ and ‘then for thirty years, nothing happened’ and ‘and then Hitler was like, “you what mate?”‘, and using fish fingers as a metaphor for capitalism. We know how to have fun.
The next day we had a luxurious breakfast at the hostel before getting a taxi back to school, very much surprising the people we were sat chatting to when we answered their questions as to what our plans were for that day with ‘teaching a load of Nepali children English’. We made it back in time for some tea before first lesson, and were generally very happy to have had a pre-weekend break to split up the week a bit.
Once the teaching day was over, we were just starting to get geared up for our exciting prospective day trip with the hostel kids, when we were delivered the very disappointing news that the school bus was broken, so the trip was a no-go. By now I think we’ve all learnt that when you’re in Nepal you just have to be flexible and roll with whatever this mad country throws at you. So instead of going to a beautiful mountain village for a picnic with the children, we decided to get a sweaty bus filled with what felt like several hundred Nepali women to go and visit Ella and Ellen in Thali. Bibek showed us where to get the bus from, helpfully informed the bus conductor where we wanted to get off, and off we went.
Naturally we got dropped off on the side of the road somewhere, and were left to fend for ourselves in the wilds of the Nepali countryside. We quickly discovered that we were actually only about 2 minutes walk from the centre of Thali, and managed to meet the girls without too much trouble (albeit 45 minutes after the time we had actually planned to arrive). We were shown to the house of the principal of HVP Thali, where the girls are staying, and were treated to an incredible and enormous lunch. Once we were so full that we could only waddle back down the stairs, we decided to walk up a large hill to see the nearest temple.
This proved to be almost more than some of us could handle, as up until this point the most exercise we had really had to do was walking up and down the stairs at the school several times of day. Nonetheless, we all made it up to the temple just about alive, Clare made friends with some goats and an old Nepali man, and we had a nice conversation with an old American woman who was wandering round in her pyjamas (or at least that’s what she called the traditional Nepali dress she was wearing).
I absolutely loved the walk; everything was so green and fresh and you could feel actual oxygen going into your lungs, rather than road dust and car exhaust fumes, which made such a refreshing change. The way down was a tad on the stressful side, as it started raining just when we got to the top (bloody monsoon season), so there were several near-accidents on the descent. There was also the added time pressure of the fact that nobody really knew when the last bus back to Kathmandu was, except for the fact that it was rumoured to be at some time between 4.30 and 5.30. We were nearing that sort of time even before we set off down. Luckily once we got back into the town, it was a mere 15 or so minutes (and about 8 buses sailing past) before we found a bus that was going towards Balkumari, and home.
That journey was not one of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced. Even as the seven of us piled on there were people shaking their heads on board, dubious as to whether there was space. And as we got closer to home more and more people clambered onboard, there was less and less space in which to manoeuvre, the bar on the roof bent lower and lower under the sheer weight of people holding onto it, and we became more and more grumpy at the fact that Georgina and Clare had managed to get seats. In a space measuring around 3×5 metres, there were at the highest count 48 people crammed in. This is local bus travel in Nepal. I found it completely hilarious, but at the same time when you are rammed up against a metal bar every time the vehicle jerkily changes gear, it becomes more difficult to see the funny side.
Again, though, we managed it back in one piece, though slightly soggy. As we approached our stop the heavens had opened and the rain had decided that it would be much better if the road were a swimming pool.As we got off the bus I discovered, not for the first time in my life, that my waterproof jacket was not particularly waterproof, so I sprinted for the school. We dripped all the way up the stairs to the kitchen, and begged the lovely ladies who work there to make us some tea, and they did so with great amusement at our sodden state.
It was an eventful but very enjoyable day, and it was great to get back and feel so much like we’d arrived home. My favourite time of day at HVP is when school ends, and we just get to play some sport with the kids, or sit in the prayer room, helping them with their homework or chatting. I’m still rubbish with their names, but I think I at least know them all by sight now. Teaching may be stressful at times, but the kids who live here are genuinely so awesome, and we get on so well with Bibek, Yuvraj (the yoga teacher), and a lot of the older kids as well that it just feels like we belong here.
So we’ve just finished another teaching week now, a few days early because of Teej festival, and are all eagerly anticipating our forthcoming weekend at Pokhara which will hopefully be filled with swimming, relaxing, and (if I get any say in the matter) extreme sports. Teej is a festival day during which women fast for their husbands (or in anticipation of their husbands if they don’t yet have one), and as far as I can see the main advantage of it is that you are practically obliged to stuff your face with yummy food the day before. It remains to be seen whether any of us actually partake in the fasting part of it, particularly as that day we will be sat on a sweaty and very long bus to Pokhara and no doubt tempted by the promise of excellent restaurant food at the other end. Either way, we will definitely be participating in the ‘eat lots of delicious food the day before’ part of the festival. That’s the spirit.
So today has been filled with dancing and celebrating (seriously, the little girls are very forceful when it comes to encouraging their teachers to dance), and tonight most of the volunteers are going out for a meal together somewhere near Patan Durbar square. It should be a good laugh.
Hopefully next time you hear from me I will be boasting about paragliding and hiking and all sorts. Hopefully I will still be alive after this weekend. I have high expectations.