Getting to my old village in Nepal was a pain in the beeehind!
First, we had to endure a six-hour bus journey through twisty mountains from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The trip actually took ten hours because of ridiculous road conditions. I also vomited while on the bus from a combination of motion sickness and probable food poisoning. Those chicken momos I had the day before did not settle well.
Once we finally arrived in Pokhara, we stayed the night at Simrik Hotel and hired a taxi in the afternoon to take us up another giant hill to a village called Padeli. The roads on this particular mountain will instantly turn from reasonable to downright ridiculous. So much that cab drivers refuse to drive on them, and thus we have to get out of the taxi and hike the rest of the way.
After a twenty minute jaunt, I spotted my old school, Shree Bal Prativa Boarding School, with the intention on surprising everyone there, former students and teachers alike. A handful of them knew I was arriving today.
We walked through the school grounds with teachers popping their heads out of classes, welcoming me with warm returns and students who remembered me from two years ago, shouting my name. It was a humbling feeling, because I couldn’t remember most of their names, although their faces struck me with familiarity.
I was finally welcomed by Aatma, the principal of the school and the head of the home-stay I would be living in. Also by his wife Mina, the vice principal of the school. They haven’t aged one bit.
On the way to my old home-stay, I reunited with Aatma and Mina’s three children: Amisha, Amish, and little Aakash who was still a runt even though it’s been two years since I last saw him. Seeing them all again was like seeing distant relatives I haven’t seen in some time. Except, these were the kind of relatives that you wanted to see.
Upon arrival to my old digs, I expected to settle back into my old room that Tim, Emre, and I used to occupy. But not this time. Instead, Hamish and I were put into another newly-built room on the opposite side of the home, equipped with our own toilet. Aatma has made some additions to his once simpler abode and added two new toilets, a “shower” room, and three new rooms including a full sized classroom.
“Why is there a classroom here now?” I asked Amish.
“Because class ten is staying here now”, he replied.
I was taken back.
“What do you mean they are staying here now?”
“Class ten is studying here for four months and it’s required for them to stay here at the hostel.”
So they are calling this a hostel now? And all of class ten lives here now?!
Back in the day, class ten, who I knew quite well as class eight…well, they weren’t exactly my favorite class.
It was no secret to anyone. I always avoided them and spent my time mostly with class seven and nine. Class eight was a group of 18 students who looked at me with blank stares whenever I spoke to them and some would even snap back and curse at me in Nepalese. When I say some, I mean primarily a boy named Milan. He was the absolute worst and one of the sole reasons I wasn’t fond of the class. He was loud, obnoxious, a bit of a bully to his classmates, and for some reason, he was the outspoken leader of his peers. The rest of those students were silent and barely spoke to me, unlike the students in class seven and nine who always responded to me respectfully.
When I found out that I would be living 24/7 with class ten, formerly class eight…my excitement for being here went from a raging high to an “aw sh*t” low.
What are they even doing here anyways? Aatma’s school only goes up to class nine! Aatma building another classroom to his school to extend to a class ten was another change that I was unaware of until I arrived.
As I settled in, little by little, students from class 10 began to arrive. Although I wasn’t the fondest of them, I was still a bit eager to see them again. They’ve grown taller, their voices deeper, their English a little better, and their demeanor a tad calmer. Even Milan matured from a rotten brat to a seemingly well-mannered young adult. All of them remembered me and were happy that I was back. I remembered all of their faces as well, but not their names so I took it upon myself to relearn.
I asked them what the deal was with this whole living-in-a-hostel-thing and they said that it’s mandatory for them to stay here to study for their board exams at the end of March. Everyday they will take exams given to them by the school in preparation.
“Everyday?” I asked.
“Yes,” they replied. “More than 150 exams until the board exams.”
My jaw about hit the floor.
“150 exams?!” I said in somewhat disbelief.
“Yes!” they said in laughter in response to my reaction.
Holy sh***t! I think I may have cursed in front of them but it was appropriate for emphasis.
“Well, I’m here to help whenever you need it,” I said to them. “Especially with English since I am the most fluent English speaker on this mountain now and you live with me. Don’t bother me with your math though. I stink at that.”
I began to realize how different these students were in comparison to two years ago. They have definitely matured and their demeanor is a lot more relaxed. I can actually hold a conversation with them now, mostly with the boys. The girls were still somewhat shy around me but made more of an effort this time around to speak to me in English.
Out of the five boys in class ten, Samir had the most trouble with his English. Though he was the most curious about me upon my return and spoke to me asking me loads of questions, broken English and all. Two years ago, he barely said a word to me.
Over the course of the next few days, I tried to find the time to implement educational activities to the students but finding the time was difficult. Aatma made them study constantly. They would wake up at 4:30am to study, go to school at 10am, return back to the hostel at 4pm, study more, have a class around 8pm, and then study until 10:30pm. Jeez! I don’t know anyone who studied like that! Other than the extra classroom sessions that Aatma would ask me to teach, like Environment and Accounting (I haven’t taken an accounting course in years!), I would take the students out to the field for team building exercises that implemented snippets from lessons they were learning at the time. Group projects don’t exist at the boarding school, and as much as I disliked them growing up, I felt that it was important to acknowledge the teamwork aspect.
As far as English is concerned, the best thing I can do for the students is to speak to them as much as I can, in the most natural conversational tone. Except I would speak just a bit slower, pronounce my letters a bit more, and use less complex words. Hand gesturing is also key. I would correct their English when they spoke or wrote something, as well as the teachers. Their English wasn’t exactly the best. It’s good, but not great. Especially, Aatma’s. You would think being the principal of a school and having loads of western travelers stay at your home would develop your English. But for his case, it’s still as wonky as it was two years ago. And out of all the staff, I have the most trouble understanding him. As for Mina, she gets a pass because I missed her delicious dal bhat.
Samir enjoying his daily double dose of dal bhat. A signature dish here in Nepal.
Everyday we get served dal bhat for breakfast and dinner and Mina’s dal bhat is certainly the best in the village. It’s basically a load of white rice with steamed vegetable curry and a broth made with lentils. Mina remembers exactly how I liked it; no added eggs, no added buffalo milk, but with lots of veggies grown right from their garden. The only difference this time around was that I ate with all of class ten. Many of them ate with their hands, which is normal here. I was battling a stomach bug so I wasn’t ready to be utensil-less quite yet.
I was starting to grow fond of class 10, who I couldn’t care less about two years ago. They have certainly grown up and now actually respond to me a lot more than the used to.
One thing for sure was that they studied WAY too much. I was on their side and expressed my opinion on the matter to them. Yes, it’s great that they are in an immersive learning environment but still their brains needs to rest and let live from time to time. I hammered the teachers about giving them just an hour or two out of the days to do anything but not study but I was hard pressed with hardly any notion of “leisure” time. Aatma was here to prove to Pokhara that his school is the best of the best and can produce high ranking students, even if it means they must study 18 hours out of the day. I couldn’t really argue against it.
It was a frustrating situation for me. These students I once disregarded, I now found myself defending. But I could only hope Aatma gets the result he is looking for and that it is worth the price for cramming these kids heads in books for four months straight.
We shall see.