Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm Leaving on a Jetplane, Don't know When I'll be Back Again...

In 6 hrs I will be on my way to the airport - my stay in Nepal for this time is coming to an end. It's been such a wonderful, exciting and beautiful visit - and I'm sure I will be back again. I just don't know when... (I have already been invited to all my host siblings weddings - 4 in total! :)
I spent one more night with the host family and returned yesterday. It was awful to say goodbye; it really hurts. And this sad feeling of parting with my Nepali family made me all the more determined to come back as soon as time and money will allow it. I don't know how they do this emotionally - letting volunteers into their lives only to say goodbye again after a relatively short term, but hopefully they don't get equally attached to everyone who stays with them. That would just be too much in the long run.
Despite feeling sad to leave, I also do look forward to going home. I can't wait to see my husband tomorrow - It will be so amazing to be united again - Yes, baby, I'm coming home!!
And there are other things to look forward to; I'm going to enjoy a loooong, steaming, HOT shower and it will be so nice that I don't have to go outside to use the bathroom or when I brush my teeth. But I know these are all luxury things that I will get used to very fast and take for granted...

Goodbye Nepal, take good care of yourself till we meet again. 
All my love,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A comparison

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest country in Asia. 80% live for under $2 a day and 40% live below the poverty line. In July this year it was estimated that there are about 29 mio. inhabitants in Nepal , and about 17 mio. In the Netherlands.
The median age in NP is 21 years, in NL 41 years.
And some more numbers:
Urban population: NP 17%; NL 82%

GDP per capita: NP $1,200; NL $39,400
Mobile phones: NP 4.2 mio; NL 19.9 mio
Internet hosts: NP 43,900; NL 12.6 mio

The literacy in NL is 99% for both men and women. The national literacy rate in Nepal is 49%, but only 35% for women.
And speaking about women; they have a hard time in Nepal. They usually work harder and longer than men and for less reward. They only truly gain status in traditional society when they give birth to a son. (Apparently a man can legally take a second wife if the first has not had a child after 10 years of marriage.) However, I have met many women whose husband has taken a second wife even though the first wife has given birth to children – even sons. I guess one of the reasons for this could be that the first is an arranged marriage whereas the second is a so-called ‘love-marriage’.
Arranged marriages is still the norm, but now and again you do hear about a love-marriage. I heard that a young couple from one of the villages - who are in love with each other and are seeing each other without their parents' knowing are trying to trick their parents into setting them up together in an arranged marriage. I hope they succeed.

6 seconds of free falling...

of my own free will... I even paid for it!

Saturday morning very early we were a couple of volunteers who jumped on a bus to go near the Tibetan border to do bungy jumping and canyon swinging. The latter is similar to bungy jumping except the cord is attached to your waist - not your ankles, and after taking the step into the 160 metres of air below you when the cord tightens, you will be swinging back and forth a couple of times instead of up and down.
Yes, it is damn scary! And yes they must earn loads and loads on the DVD you can buy afterwards...But once I was back with ground under my feet I was very tempted to sign up for a second swing (which is a third of the price of the first swing, and so is the third; the fourth is FREE!), but didn't. However, having thought about it again, I will HAVE to come back to do a second swing but jumping with my back facing the river. A Finnish girl swore it was so much better than facing the river since you don't have to worry about the cord in front of you and your hands are free...I definitely want to try that! WOOHOO!!!

"Bye, bye, Miss"

Here the female teachers are called 'Miss' and their male counterpart is'sir'. I left school on Thursday afternoon and the teachers had managed to gather some of the children who were done with their exams for the day. The teachers thanked me with a little speech, a thika and a little gift - the Pashupatinath temple made out of carton and displayed in a plastic box. Very kitsch...but the gesture is very endearing.

The kids are doing well; they have almost all mastered simple additions up to 10 and a few have advanced to additions up to 20. They all know the alphabet by heart and they can count to 100. However, it’s so automatic that they have to think hard if you write random numbers on the whiteboard. They know the body parts and they are able to illustrate the verbs: sitting, standing, jumping, running, dancing, laughing, listening and clapping. We have learned the days of the week and played bingo numerous times. They know many animals and how to spell them, but they cannot read yet. We have sung and danced – Hokey Pokey, If you’re Happy and You Know it and The Wheels on the bus Go Round and Round to mention a few classics. It’s been both fun and frustrating at the same time. And though I might not really miss them, they will have a special place in my heart. 

Saying goodbye to the kids was not as hard as expected - which was a relief to be honest. Miss Sarita did explain to them that this was my last day and they nodded their little heads very seriously and started saying "bye, bye, miss" - and that just made me smile. Samundra shouted "I'm fine, miss. How are you?" - one of the only English sentences he know...also very endearing. And I will definitely remember Anil who made sure that I now have a connection to Justin Bieber...Anil always sang "Baby, baby, baby ohh" repeatedly. I think it was the only lyrics he knew of the song. And I could go one; there are so many other sweet memories...But you will have to hear those another time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Candlelight Dinners

I’ve had a few candlelight dinners with the family in the village, but unlike Amsterdam it wasn’t for a romantic reason; it was a practical one as Nepal is under load shedding – a nicer way to say electricity cuts. Around 90% of Nepal’s power comes from hydroelectricity. Much, however, is exported to India and China. Electricity is rationed across Kathmandu, shifting from district to district every eight hours or so. But it is an amazing sky at night when there’s no light. You can see thousands of stars dotted on the black night sky – something that we’re not used to in Amsterdam.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Man With a Big Heart

Mark and I met a travel guide when we were trekking; Michael Tamang. A couple of days ago he invited me to his house to have dinner and meet his family; his wife Sabina, his 3 months old son Milson (whom I was about to kidnap because he was the cutest baby ever) and his 2 adopted children; an 8-yr old girl, Santhi, from the Terai and a 14-yr old girl, Rita, from the eastern part of Nepal. He came across these when he was traveling as a guide.
He went back to the Terai to spend 3 days with Santhi's family consisting of 9 children and their parents who didn't have enough food to eat every day. Apart from being poor and malnourished, Michael said that they were very dirty, the clothes were dirty and the children didn't speak any language other than their own tribal language. And it almost goes without saying that they were all illiterate, too. He proposed to the parents the adoption of one of the children and when I asked how he made the choice among 9 children, he said that during his stay the girl with whom he made a connection, was Santhi. She is now a happy little girl, goes to Grade 1 and has learned to write both Nepali and English letters - even small sentences as well as writing the numbers from 1-100 in both languages as well. She hasn't been back to her village yet, but Michael has been back to show her parents pictures of her and to let them know that she is doing well. He said that the whole village cried of happiness for Santhi; to see that she was doing so well.

It was more or less the same story with Rita. She came from an equally poor family but with "only" 3 children. The whole family were working next to the road, cutting granite stones - a tough job for anyone, and especially for children who do not have the means to eat every day. Again, he spent time with the family and made a connection with Rita whom he adopted. She is now in her first year of high school.

Michael, himself, comes from a poor family who suffered particularly after his father left the family (when Michael was 8) to marry another woman. His mother struggled to feed him and his sister, but they both were able to attend school. I felt really bad when we were discussing Santhi and Rita's distance to school, 15 and 30 min. respectively and I said that I had had to take a bus 45 min each way the first year of my schooling and that my parents had contacted the municipality to move me to the school much closer to us (5 min by car). Michael said: "Yes, I had to walk 2 hrs to school each way..." He paid for his college degree by earning money as a porter and he then learned English so that he could become a guide. A trekking guide earns approx. 40% more than the porters.

He lives south-east of Kathmandu center in a lovely house. It's big and spacious and very clean, neat and tidy. There are 2 other families in the building and they all share the big room at the top that can be used for any of their guests visiting. There's a separate very clean bathroom next to it and a big rooftop terrace. He lives on the ground floor and has a little garden where he grows potatoes, onion, garlic, ginger and there's an orange tree as well. He also has a little compost area where he dumps all biodegradables and there's a separate bin for plastic and other garbage. It's a very progressive behavior in a country that doesn't even have an organized garbage disposal system.
Everywhere there's litter - plastic wrappers, broken glass, plastic bags, newspapers, etc. And it is a big problem especially in the villages where there's no collection system let alone bins. VIN has set up about 30 bins in the Jitpurphedi area but people don't really use them consistently. Often the trash is lying scattered AROUND the bin instead of inside it. The next challenge occurs if the bin would ever be full - nobody takes responsibility to burn it so it will eventually overflow and end up around the bin and in the village. We saw the same problem in the Everest region.                      

Next year it is Nepal Tourism year and Michael hopes to get some good trekking business which will allow him to slowly retire and to start doing what his heart really wants to do; set up a home for adopted children / an orphanage. The reason is that he doesn't trust orphanage managers in general so he wants to set up his own so that he knows that the support will go to the children and not anyone else. His house is big enough that he can house another couple of children, but then he will need a bigger location.
He has made a 'deal' with the children that after they finish their college degree they "owe" him 2 years - either helping out at the orphanage or by monetary contributions if they find a job. In this way, they will be paying it forward to the other children.
I was very touched by this man - he has an enormous heart for the suffering people of his country. He is by no means rich but probably richer than the average Nepalese. However, he doesn't want this wealth for himself. He wants Nepal to develop, to crawl away from the position of being one of the poorest countries in the world and a damn good place to start is to make sure that the basic needs of children will be met, that they will get an education and, thus, have chance to change things in Nepal for the better. A truly inspiring man...A man with a big heart beating for Nepal...

Oh I promised to tell you...

about the end of the bedbug/flea story: It's no longer a problem - after the 2nd round of agricultural pesticide spraying whatever bugged me at night - no pun intended - was gone! So I have slept peacefully ever since.

Leading by example...

One other challenge at school is that the teachers don't lead by example; e.g when the bell rings (or when the woman (who makes lunch and tea for the teachers and who unlocks the doors to the classrooms in the morning) sounds the gong, the kids are expected to go to the classrooms - and of course, so are the teachers. They, however, will often sit for another 10 min.talking and laughing, and then lazily wander to their respective classrooms. It sends the message that the teachers do not really value punctuality - but they still expect it from the students.
The other day, a little boy entered the classroom crying and said something in Nepali. I didn't understand what he was saying, but his earlobe was swollen and bleeding and I immediately took him to the health post - which, unfortunately was closed. Then I went back to the school to fetch one of the other teachers and within minutes there were 3 teachers and the lunch woman around me and the boy. The lunch woman bent down, took a scrap of dirty dusty newspaper - blew the dust away and started to remove the blood from the boy's ear. "No, no, no", I shouted, " - we need iodine or some other disinfectant". Luckily, they had iodine at the school, but no plaster, so I ran home as quickly as I could and got my little first aid kit.
When I went to dress the ear, 2 teachers were hunched over me and the boy as well as 20 curious kids. The teachers waved the kids away to give me more space - however, THEY kept standing there IN MY WAY, so I had to ask them to move as well. I guess it also has to do with the authority they seem to claim over the kids - I don't even want to go into them hitting the children and pinching the kids' ears really hard.

And the other day, it was apparently time to burn some trash - at least they sort of collect garbage in a big metal bin at the school and to get rid of the trash, they burn it. I looked out of the window to see if I could see where the smell came from and saw ALL of the teachers looking at the burning trash...amazing...For about 15-20 min, I think, there were NO teachers in the classrooms...