Hatfield Nepal Project is now officially underway! Both teams have gone their separate ways, a couple of the Cambridge volunteers have now arrived and have settled in, and today we had our first taste of teaching.
On Sunday we had the day to ourselves to explore what Kathmandu had to offer apart from its excessively touristy centre, and on the recommendation of some of the teachers we decided to check out a couple of temples that were nearby. Unfortunately our understanding of where we were actually being told to go was very limited, and we felt that we asking them to repeat it for the seventh time would be a bit much, so we used a combination of guesswork and luck to get to where we were going. Even Kate’s careful transcription of what had been spelt out to her proved hilariously incorrect, but she definitely got points for trying.
It was some festival day or other (we’ve been here 4 days and there have already been two festivals) so the first temple we went to was pretty crowded, and we also weren’t allowed in because we weren’t Hindu (though I’m not sure how they would know that if we assured them that we were). So that temple was less interesting, though it is quite an important one for Hindus, apparently the holiest site in Nepal. After that we walked (pretty much the first time we have attempted walking anywhere!) to Bodha Nath, a Buddhist temple about half an hour away from Pashupati Nath. This was definitely more my kind of thing, all tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels (and lots of stalls crowded around the outside selling touristy junk). We wandered around there for a while, and I got slightly separated from the group as I got distracted by every 40 seconds, before deciding that we were too hungry to function and trying to find a place to lunch. We were tempted in by a rooftop terraced restaurant that offered oven-fired pizza, and thoroughly disappointed when they told us that actually they didn’t have any pizza, but we luckily then found an incredible Spanish rooftop restaurant where everybody except me got burgers and chips. Soon after we finished eating the monsoon erupted and so we were forced to cower in our incredibly comfortable rooftop tent, which was really not that much of a hardship. We sheltered there for a good two hours in total, by the end of which time the temple was like an island in the middle of a lake. We figured that we might as well run for it, and once we got outside realised that it wasn’t as bad as we had thought: there was a giant plughole which the water was filtering rapidly down, so Kate didn’t even have to get her princess shoes wet. We decided that we couldn’t cope with negotiating Nepali buses when we were tired and damp, so got into an overpriced taxi and headed back to the school.
The rest of the Hatfield team arrived on Sunday evening, whilst we were in the middle of our dal bhaat and fried rice, and there was lots of greeting and hugging before they sat down to eat with us. Cat and Matt will be teaching in HVP Central (the Kathmandu school) with me and Dan, and Hannah is going to be in Dang with the others. We spent that evening doing little more than just catching up on what everyone had been up to over the summer, boasting about our adventures in India, and trying to get to grips with the idea that a group of people who we were so used to seeing in the setting of Hatfield College grounds were suddenly being reunited in a small country thousands of miles distant from the spires of Durham’s cathedral. What absolute madness.
Once the others had had enough of “this one time, when we were in Delhi…” we went to bed, the others still pretty disorientated from their long journey to get here.
The next day was our last designated free time day, what with it still being holiday time for the children (you guessed it, another festival), so we were again told where to go by some teachers and sent off in the general direction of entertainment and left to fend for ourselves. This time we were not quite as successful at first, with none of us even vaguely catching the name of the place we were supposed to be going. I think different people had had different places in mind as to where the best location was to watch Gaijatra (the festival), and that translated into all of us having different names in our mind and none of us really having a clue. When the bus conductor told us to get off we sort of headed off in vague search of some kind of square, but ended up instead taking the advice of nearly everyone we asked directions of and heading to Bhaktapur. This involved dealing with another bus, but we managed it very successfully, and a nice Nepali boy we met on the bus ended up showing us where to go, which was very good of him. It was a great first introduction to Nepali travelling, and the perfect opportunity for Tyler, expert travel guru, to dish out his best hints and tips as to how things are done in India and Nepal. Very amusing.
Gaijatra is actually an awesome festival, as we discovered. It’s a day where they celebrate the lives of family members who have died in the past year, but it’s such a happy and fun day, filled with people dancing and playing instruments and generally having a good time. Emma and I had a great time right in the middle of it, dancing with the smiley old men that wanted us to join in. We also made a small Nepali friend (whose parents were nowhere to be seen), who somehow tagged onto our little group for the whole duration of the trip, enticed in by his fascination with Kate’s fan.
Though it was an expensive entrance fee ($15!!!), it was definitely worth seeing Bhaktapur, especially in the middle of a festival.
When we got back we waited for what felt like forever to dinner (Kate was close to going on strike), but it was so worth it because they made us chips! It was such a nice treat (although I still say that the rice-and-chips combo is the weirdest thing ever), and we were then treated to an after dinner chat with Chintamani Yogi, who it turns out is basically the most inspirational dude ever. He’s a genuinely fascinating guy, with such a brilliant life philosophy – “giving is living”. He doesn’t take any salary from the school, and seemingly is also kind of a big deal in Nepal, disappearing regularly to make TV and radio appearances and give lectures. We all agreed that we could have sat there all night just listening to him.
In fact, all the teachers here that we’ve met so far have been absolutely brilliant. Suman sir (the vice principal) is lovely, though constantly self-deprecating about his English levels, but Sumitra miss is my absolute favourite: she speaks English in quite a confusing way but laughs herself into absolute hysterics at the end of every story she tells, and her happiness is so contagious.
We headed back to the room with our heads full of questions, and with big plans of how we could do more to help HVP once we’re back in Durham. Hopefully some really good things will come out of us being such a motivated group doing this project, and we have the potential to do some really good things for the charity.
We stayed up really late that night chatting about anything and everything, and all of us slightly dreading the morning when four of us would be leaving for Dang. It would be especially hard for those of us who had been in India together, spending almost the entirety of every day with each other, to have to separate. It was genuinely quite sad when we awoke at half 5 the next morning to finally say goodbye (though admittedly conjuring up images of Tyler’s reaction to another sweaty 10-hour bus journey was quite amusing).
They’ve made it to Dang now, and we’ve gained two Cambridge volunteers, and it’s started to get real. I can’t wait to get stuck in and be busy all day… it’ll be an adventure!