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Annie in Wonderland - Kathmandu, Nepal

So I've fallen down the rabbit hole and landed on the other side of the world, about as far away as you could possibly be from Chicago. Ke garne? (nepali for 'what to do?')

I finally know a little bit more about what I've gotten myself into here. I finishing up my orientation week in Kathmandu and leave on Saturday to go to my placement in the village of Aaboo Kheireini in central Nepal. On a map, look for Gorkha off the main (and only) highway in Nepal between Kathmandu and Pokhara and I'm very close. Gorkha is famous for being the home of the legendary Gurkha soldiers/mercenaries hired by the Indian and British army, as well as the Singapore Police and Suktan of Brunei's army. So I will have to check it out. For now, Aaboo Kheireini is not famous at all, but it's the home of the Nawa Jyoti Secondary English Boarding School, home to 325 pupils and 25 boarders who I will share my days and nights with.

During the orientation, I stay with a local family to learn about traditions and etiquette so i don't accidently offend people when I get to a more conservative village. I'm staying with an absolutely lovely Nepali family. There is the father and mother, four daughters and one son. I am seeing this pattern repeated quite often. With all the importance on boys, many families keep trying until they get one.  

Puja, Aama, Mumta and Benita making  alu paratha

Mumta, the oldest girl is stunning. She was in a Nepali pop video (100% cheese) as the main love interest of the guys in the band. Of course, the family was more than pleased to show us the video. It was full of those slow-motion shots of Mumta throwing her hair around and walking down the street, but the best FX was the guys gathering around the ground and her face appearing in a heart shape, but then it disappeared and the guys where throwing the dirt around looking for her. Mumta is a modern women. She works at one of the domestic airlines in marketing and each day she sets out to work in her power pants suits and then she returns around 4:00 and immediately begins work in the house, starting to prepare dinner etc. After her is Benita, and she is mildly retarded but has still managed to pick up English as a foriegn language. We talk alot about her dog. There's Puja, she's 19 and about to start university. She's also an artist and she told me that she doesn't ever want to get married because she doesn't want to belong to another person (nepali women rights is a whole other subject) Finally the youngest girl I didn't meet, she's off at boarding school. Then there's Ovey, the lone boy in a house full of estrogen. Loves to talk your ear off and not do his homework. He loved and he knows it. The women in the house dote on him and he's spoiled rotten.  

They have fed me so well too. As a guest in their home, they have been preparing all the best Nepali dishes every night. Unbelievable how long it takes to make dinner. Mumta and Puja spend about two to three hours making dinner. No wonder women are in the dark ages, they are practically chained to the kitchen. A staple of the Nepali cuisine is the roti, or chapati as you may know from Indian restaurants. It's very similar to the Mexican tortilla and they eat all their meals with it, at least in this family, so every night the girls must make about eighty of them from scratch to feed the family for a day. And that is after work and and school. Really amazing girls. I wish I could just run down to the store and pick up a pack of fresh rotis and save them the trouble. Now that's an idea for a business...  

Ian, Claudia, Tom, Ruth, Steve, Francis and myself and guide

Our orientation group this month is made of six people. Myself, Tom, a gap year from England, Catherine, a Brit who teaches English around the world, Claudia from Germany, and a young couple from England, Steve and Ruth. There were also some volunteers, Francis and Ian who were currently teaching in Kathmandu and we visited with them. All the girls in our program stayed with the same family and there was alot of estrogen in that house. No wonder Ovey was the way he was. Throughout out time teaching, we made it a point to go and visit each other often to learn about the different places we were stationed. Ruth and Steve headed far east out to Hile near Dhankuta and close to Everest. Cath headed to Baglung, Tom to Pokhara and Claudia stayed in Bhaktapur.

Puja, Claudia, Mumta, Francis, Ruth, Ann & Catherine

So my days have been filled with Nepali language to set foot in a Brahim kitchen or I will contaminate it and they will have to call in a holy

We had afternoon outings during the week. We went to Swayambunath and Boudanath, the two largest Buddhist Stupas in Nepal. It was Losar and both places were in a celebratory mood. The other trip was to Pashupatinath. Good for the newcomers to Nepal. They give quite alot of good information about the history and culture of the Kathmandu Valley.

On our one free day, we headed out to Boudanath to visit Ian who placed there, and we decided to take a walk over to Kopan Monastery. Located on a hill towering over the valley, Kopan is isolated and beautiful. And very tranquil. Perfect setting for the meditation and buddhist philosophy classes they offer to foreigners.

One afternoon, a women came in to talk about women's rights and gender equality. Talk about preaching to the choir. She spoke about the backward state of women's rights in Nepal. Often, girls do not attend school, that right reserved for the boys of the family. Girls help take care of the home instead and work in the fields with their mother. More conservatives family are loathe to spend any money on a girl's education when she will just marry and go to her husbands family anyway. Girls who do start school, often drop out and as grade levels increase, the number of girls decrease. It will be important to encourage them to stay in school and set goals.

And then there's the teaching itself. I haven't fixed my schedule yet, but I will probably teach five classes a day. The students are divided into ten grades and stay in the same room, while teachers go from room to room teaching the different subjects. In Nepal, there are government and private schools. The government schools teach in Nepali medium and do not begin instruction in English until class four. From then on, English is taught as s econd language. Private schools take a different appoach. Assuming that children will be fluent in Nepali, no matter what, they instead teach in English medium to immerse children in the language. Nepali is reduced to a single class a day, to ensire they can read and write the script, as well as study literature in the later years.

Unfortunately, the teachers themselves are not actually fluent in english, so it's the actual knowledge that falls by the wayside. What sounds good in theory comes close to disaster in reality. We observed classes all day today to get a feel for the teaching and it was appalling! I watched a 6th grade science class and the teacher read from the text. Then he asked the class to repeat what he had read. The emphasis was all wrong and there wasn't an ounce of comprehension. I got the distinct feeling that the teacher couldn't have explained it in his own words if I'd asked him. Then, as if to explain, he drew the same picture from the book on the blackboard and then explained it using the exact same verbage under the picture. They have no idea what the importance issues are, and often focus on an entirely irrelevant aspect of the definition. There is no creativity, no individuality, and no real learning.

In art class, one student can be beaten for drawing his house differently than the way the teacher drew it on the board. The teachers seem demoralized and bored. They teach with no enthusiasm and the students get by with rote memorization and following directions exactly. The whole point of the program that I'm in, is to introduce new methods of teaching to both the students and other teachers in the schools. I've decided to ban textbooks from my class. With nothing to depend on, I am hoping to get them to actually think...

well...down the rabbit hole I go. remember...when two paths open before you, take the harder one...

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