I’ve been woken up by roosters, barking dogs, construction workers drilling into the ground, loud prayer chants, and howling monkeys over the years in previous accommodations all over the world, but none of them can hold the slightest candle to the ear piercing, glass shattering voice of little Aakash.
Tim warned us the night before our first sleep that hearing Aakash so early every morning will make you want to bash your head into the floor. How bad could it be? Those roosters in Tanzania were the absolute worst. Or so I thought. Right at 6:30am, I could easily hear Aakash singing, shouting, and running around as if he was just 3 feet away from me. How can so much noise come out of a munchkin five year old? Aakash is pretty small for his age, weighing about the size of my head alone. You could pick him up with the slightest lift of a pinky finger. Even with all the clamoring and ruckus he singlehandedly causes every waking morning, it’s impossible to be mad at the little guy. With his big, round eyes he reminds me of Gizmo from the Gremlin movies. And no matter how much trouble Gizmo causes, you just can’t be angry at him because he’s just too freakin’ cute. That’s Aakash.
After our early morning human alarm, the family served us tea around 7:30am. The tea tasted more like coffee to me but whatever, it was hot and sweet with milk. School didn’t begin until 10:00am, so we had a couple more hours to
sleep play with the kids until breakfast at 9am. What was for breakfast? Dal Bhat again! Remember, Dal Bhat is on the menu everyday here and thankfully I don’t think I’ll be getting sick of it for a while. At least the portion size is big enough, that’s what matters to me most.
Right after breakfast, Amisha, Amish, and Aakash changed into their school uniforms and together we all took a 5-7 minute trail to the Bal Prativa Boarding School, a school that has students ranging from baby classes to grade nine.
This school is unique because most classes are taught in English with only one or two classes taught in Nepali. I had high hopes!
Upon entering, there were dozens and dozens of students who greeted us at the rocky institute, as giddy as typical school children usually are. The school consists of about maybe 14 classrooms, all made of porous concrete walls, about the height of the tallest NBA basketball player. Big heavy looking rocks were on top of the tin sheet roofs to hold them into place. I’ve seen walk-in closets bigger than some of these classrooms. Some were about half the size of your typical bedroom back in America, but somehow they could fit up to 25 students in one small space. The students didn’t seem to mind, and as long as they didn’t mind then I didn’t mind.
At about 10:00am, one of the teachers repeatedly banged, what looked like a flattened cow bell, to summon the students to the field nearby. A boy with a big drum came walking out of the principals office banging away leading the way for students to follow him to the field. What’s going on? I’m assuming some kind of morning routine ritual. Emre, Tim, and I followed the students to the field nearby as they all lined up like military men ready for march.
Principal Aatma and all the other teachers came out, including his wife Mina who is also a teacher, and kept the students in line. Aatma’s son, Amish and another student stood in front of the lines, facing them, and started to chant a song in which the other students repeated in sync. The whole routine lasted about seven minutes before each line of students walked in form to their respective classrooms. We followed along, but straight to Principal Aatma’s office to get our schedule. His office had the basics, a few chairs, a desk, and a filing cabinet. The biggest glaring omission was a computer. Since there is no Wi-Fi here, everything was produced by hand, save for the textbooks that came from other outlets. Each day, I would get about seven classes to teach. Today I had about four math classes, a couple of science classes, and one English grammar class. Math was my worst subject in school. But how tough could the math here be?
I assisted a grade 7 class with the math teacher there. When I entered the room, the students instinctively rose up to greet me and sat back down afterwards to the teachers command. Since it was my first day, I would be doing a lot of observing to see how things are structured here. But to my surprise, the teacher wanted me to teach a lesson out of the book to the class, right off the bat.
“Okay,” I said without complete confidence.
As I stood up in front of the eager class, I looked into the book and saw that the lesson was a combo of percentages, formulas, fractions, and all sorts of x,y, and z variables . This wasn’t the “simple” math I thought it was going to be, but still I quickly glanced over the chapter and slowly proceeded to the white board. Normally, teachers have ample time to prepare and go over a lesson before they teach it, but not here. Us volunteer teachers were thrown into a battlefield without any knowledge as to who we were up against. I began the lesson and about ten minutes in, I told the main teacher he should take over because I was unprepared. I needed to observe how things operate around here. He said I was doing a good job. Personally, I wasn’t totally comfortable because some of this stuff I haven’t done in years. I needed to refresh myself. The next few classes was more of the same; I was a vegetable not quite ready for picking, plucked from the ground, about to be eaten. It was mainly the math classes that I wasn’t confident in. When it came to the science class, today’s lesson was a really easy subect: matter. But still I wasn’t really sure what level these students were at. I was flattered the teachers trusted my teaching capabilities, barely knowing me yet and I was happy to see that the class was responsive towards me.
During break, I rejoined Tim and Emre. It seemed Emre had a tough time too, except most of his classes were English classes.
“We should swap classes,” he said.
Even though Emre speaks great English, it isn’t his first language and he has a really thick Turkish/British accent from studying abroad in the U.K. Sometimes I have difficulty understanding him myself. He’s good at math and I’m great with English so we decided to switch schedules beginning the next day. But for the remainder of the day, we kept our schedules. Aatma informed me that one of the teachers was absent and he needed me to teach a class by myself. The subject was social studies.
“Yeah sure!” I said. Any subject that’s not math is fine with me, and plus I like having classes all to myself.
Since this was my first day and I didn’t know the students well, I wanted to warm up to them by having a social spelling bee. I heard that the students in Nepal love to spell words. Emre joined me and we split the class into two teams, boys vs girls, and chose random phrases out of their workbook; phrases that had a relation to the subject matter. The students were game and I had their full attention for the entire 45 minute session. I was fairly impressed with how well these students could spell, especially the girls. The girls won the bout and celebrated with each other. The class was a success!
After school was over, I introduced myself to more of the students as they asked questions about where I was from and how long I was staying here. The students here are really responsive and open towards the volunteers. Plus their English is pretty good. I shook some of their hands, teaching them to shake strong and firm. I even taught some handshakes I would do with friends back at home, which the kids really got a kick out of. As the they began to walk back to their homes on the mountain, most of them would wave goodbye and shout “See you tomorrow Don!” They pronounce Dan as Don .
“See you later!” I would say while waving back.
We walked with Amish and Aakash back home, as random students would smile and wave. My first day was incredibly welcoming and engaging. The students were here for the right reasons. They wanted to learn, I could tell. Well, at least most of them anyway.
I think I’m gonna like it here.