Tag Archives: nepali culture

Angering the God of Education

img_0749

I’ve spent the past eleven months, hopping all over the world. I’ve been having fun, but…

I hit a wall right around Ukraine and haven’t fully recovered to form. I’m mentally exhausted. You would think, walking across an entire country (Spain) would give me time to return back to my adventurous flair, but it wasn’t enough. If anything, it made me antsy to return home. But not home home, but rather to Pokhara, Nepal. I can’t say it enough—Nepal has occupied a giant chunk of my heart. That’s why I felt the desire to go back there for a while, before I continue on this quest to the seven continents.

Once I arrived in Kathmandu, my people in Sarangkot were messaging me like crazy! I swear I only told a couple of individuals that I was coming back, but it just goes to show how fast word spreads in the villages of Sarangkot Hill. I took a bus the next day to Pokhara where I was greeted by my “son” Samir and his fellow classmate Bishal. They came all the way down the mountain just to welcome me. I’ve trained them well.

img_0720.jpg

To celebrate, I took them out for milkshakes and then to my local favorite reggae restaurant, Buzz Cafe. Later on, one of my Nepali brothers, UK, came down to welcome me. It’s only been three months since I last saw them, but as soon as I did, I knew I made the right decision in returning. I felt at home.

img_8883

img_8873

I taxi’d up the always-horrible roads up to Pandeli, one of the many villages in Sarangkot. It was now the rainy season and the roads were more beat up and muddier than before. Nearly impossible to drive through. My driver had to drop me off about half a kilometer early, because it was impossible to drive any further. As I walked down with my bags in tow, a little boy shouted out from a distance, “Give me sweet!”. I cringed. I recognized the boy from the school in Pandeli I taught at before. He’s the same kid who always and only asks me for sweets and nothing else. Not even a single polite ‘namaste’. I take a little blame for that. I may have bribed the younger classes a little too much with sweets in order to get them to calm the heck down. But I swear that one day, I will give him that “sweet” he consistently demands from me, except I’ll wrap a piece of cow poop in a candy wrapper and give it to him. If that doesn’t stop him from asking me, then I don’t know what will.

I walked down the muddy paths into Pandeli, with kids and random villagers saying hello and wishing me welcome upon my return. I walked half of the way basically in a small stream. This exact path was completely dry just three months ago! Not only that, this mountain was a lot more jungly. So wet. So humid. So muddy. Everything, taken over by green. Below, Phewa Lake was larger and darker than before. This version of Sarangkot felt more alive. It was a welcoming sight.

img_9173-1

img_9275

I normally stay with Aatma and his family, but this time I opted to stay with his brother Yam and his family; just for a little change, even though they are just a seven-minute walk from each other. Bindu, Yam’s wife, came to welcome me along with my other Nepali brother, DJ. Yam came a little later and helped settle me in. I then explained my prospects to them.

IMG_1281

Yam and his wife, Bindu.

I usually come to Nepal with an agenda. The first time, almost three years ago, I came as a naive volunteer to help teach English at a primary school. The second time, in January 2017, I came back to fulfill a promise I made to the older classes. That promise was to take them on a field trip that they wouldn’t have to pay for. We did that and we had a lot of fun. This time however, I came with the purpose of just absorbing the culture even more and of course helping out at the school. Only I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore field trips. I took the students on a boatload of big and little trips last time, which my bank account showed for. Not this time.

Soon after settling in, I went down to Aatma’s to visit and noticed he expanded his place even more! He’s now built another kitchen and he made my old room even bigger! Where is he getting the funds to do all of this? The whole family was there: Aatma, Mina, Amish, and little Aakash. All except for Aatma’s teenage daughter, Amisha. “Where’s Amisha?” I asked. “She’s staying down with our uncle because she’s menstruating,” said Amish.

Oh, let me explain this.

So, if you’re a female on your period in Nepal, you are considered “unclean” and must be away from the rest of your family members. You can’t touch them, can’t even be more than a few meters away at all times. It’s especially worse when it’s their first time on their period. They are cast aside, essentially locked inside another room, far away from where the family resides. Like in a shed or something. They can’t even read or study while menstruating or otherwise they will upset the god of education among their many, many other gods. It’s totally superstitious, just like many other zany Nepali superstitions I’ve encountered here over the years. I’ve heard about this the very first time I came to Nepal, but I’ve never witness it happen, until now.

I visited Aatma’s neighbor, the home of Abishek, one of the class ten boys who lives just a couple minutes away.

img_9279

Abishek and his classmate, Bhuvan.

As usual, I was greeted warmly and with black tea by his family. Normally Abishek’s mother or sister are the ones who serve me tea, but since they were on their menstrual cycle, they weren’t allowed to be anywhere near the kitchen. I found it amusing and rolled with it as Abishek did all the kitchen handling while the females kept their distance. Amused by what was happening, I casually began to whistle random tunes without thinking, and as I did, the two women of the household began speaking to him in Nepalese. I could tell they were speaking something about me.

“Dan, they are saying not to whistle,” Abishek told me.

“Why?”

He just smiled and it seemed like he couldn’t explain. That’s when I remembered someone telling me that whistling attracts ghosts or something like that.

“Oh, the ghosts,” I said, with a slight hint of mockery.

I began to whistle even more, just to see how they would react. All they did was attack me with smiles and laughs whenever I did.

Abishek lived just below my good friend, and fellow teacher, Shree Krishna (Caesar). I wanted to pay him a visit. As a matter of fact I would have seen him by now, but he’s been MIA. According to some of the talk of the villagers, the reason I haven’t seen Caesar yet is because of a plague of bad fortunes, accidentally committed by his mother and sister-in-law.

img_0750

Shree Krishna (Caesar) and me during my birthday celebration last February.

“Did you hear, [Caesar’s] mother and sister crashed their car into a cow some days ago?” they would tell me.

“Ummm no?” I said

“It’s very bad.”

Very bad indeed. A cow is considered their sacred god…and they rammed into one that was standing on the road (which is actually pretty normal in this country)! From what I gathered, a string of bad luck was on its way to the family of those involved…which meant Caesar himself. Caesar’s brother, Arjun, took a motorbike to Kathmandu to follow respected Hindu figures…or something like that, to relieve their family of guilt, perhaps? Since then, Caesar’s mother has been suffering greatly from a serious lung cancer and since he is the only available one in the family, he has been escorting her back and forth to the most capable doctors all around the central lands of Nepal. After a couple weeks, I finally met up with Caesar at his home, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from Yam’s. But unfortunately, it was brief. While I was there, he received a phone call from Kathmandu telling him that his brother Arjun and his wife were involved in a near-fatal motorbike crash. Caesar, who JUST got back home to settle, had to rush all the way back to Kathmandu, to tend to his brother and his wife. While at the same time, Caesar’s mother still had pending operations where she needed Caesar to escort her. She was too old and fragile of doing it on her own.

img_0751.jpg

Caesar constantly traveled back and forth about six hours each time between Pokhara and Kathmandu to tend to his brother and mother. Photo courtesy of Caesar.

I’m not superstitious in the slightest, but it is all a bit strange how all of these unfortunate events are happening right after they hit that cow in the street. By the way, Caesar’s family extends into Yam’s. Bindu is Caesar’s and Arjun’s sister, which means my brothers, UK and DJ, are their nephews. I don’t expect anyone reading this to actually follow the family trees of this village. It’s mostly for my own admission. Poor Caesar couldn’t catch a break. He had to leave his position at Bal Prativa Boarding School in order to support his ailing family.

Caesar was the maths and science teacher at the school. He also spoke English the best out of all the teachers. Sarmila, the usual English teacher I followed, was on maternity leave. It seems I came at a time where there were many gaps to fill at the school until Aatma could replace their two most qualified teachers.

IMG_3923

A photo of most of the staff at Bal Prativa Boarding School, the school I help out at, taken last February. Three of the teachers have left, leaving a major hole in the student’s education.

I always enjoy having my own classes, but sometimes it can be a bit overbearing with the language barrier. The students generally understand me when I speak slowly enough, but then there was always a handful of students, forever lost in the cosmos. Also, I’m calling them out right now, Bal Prativa is full of sneaky little cheaters! It’s examination time (again) and it’s my role to act as a class officer to make sure everyone keeps quiet and doesn’t cheat. It’s way more difficult than it sounds. I had to pretend to record them on my phone and show it to principal Aatma if they continued talking.

img_8914

I came to the conclusion that the majority of these students cheat, some more than others, and there was very little I could do to stop it. The other teachers weren’t too persistent about it. Once I came to that realization, I just let them be. It’s Nepal.

I didn’t realize how daunting the school situation was going to be this time around. Class ten will be studying for their major exams soon and they were without three of their teachers. The third one took up a job in South Korea doing God knows what. Aatma and Ashok (another teacher) relied heavily on me to continue where they left off from their books, not just with class ten but also with class nine, eight, seven, six, and sometimes five, four, and three, teaching English and Social Studies mostly. Then sometimes they’ll have me dabble in Science and Accounting. What the heck would they have done if I decided not to come back to Nepal so soon?! I gave it my all.

At this point, I still have not seen Amisha nor Caesar, though I have been in contact with Caesar at least. He has been busy, staying bedside at the hospital in Kathmandu, taking care of his brother and sister-in-law, because they were unable to do so themselves. They couldn’t even walk! That’s how bad it was, but Caesar remained diligent in handling the tasks between them and his ailing mother.

Whoever this “god of education” was, he or she put a massive workload on me, which I wasn’t expecting. Now, I don’t believe in any of this stuff but while in Nepal, I roll with it out of respect to everyone there. When I brought it up in class, one student told me that maybe the god of education sent me to Nepal to help while there are no other teachers.

“Maybe…”, I began. “But I think it’s just pure luck.” 

She along with others began to snicker and say things to each other I couldn’t comprehend. It’s no secret to them that I don’t practice Hinduism, like most foreigners who visit this country, but it’s important for me to remain respectful and go along with it.

If anything, the god of education and all the lore that goes with it certainly does make life in Nepal interesting for me. Even the cattle have gone mad.

For better or for worse…

Advertisements

How I Gained Three New Brothers…and a Son in Nepal

World.

Let me introduce to you my three new brothers: Yubraj, Dhiraj, and Bipin.

How did that happen? I’m not exactly sure.

My Australian friends have left Nepal, including Hamish who left a couple weeks back. Now that I was on my own, I made more of an effort to get to know the village and the surrounding villages on the mountain that I lived on. Since class ten, whom I lived with, were contantly studying, I found myself bored at times. So I frequently visited the neighbors homes, specifically Aatma’s older brother Yam Thapa, who lived closer to the private school I taught at. Yam has two sons: Yubraj (UK) and Dhiraj (DJ), who honestly, make for better conversation than Amish and Aakash who are a lot younger.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Yubraj, 18, but more commonly referred to as UK.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Dhiraj, 16, but I call him DJ because I couldn’t remember how to pronounce his actual name for a solid month!

Overtime, I became pretty tight with them. Even staying the night at their home on several occasions by request from them and their gracious mother. Yam liked having me over because I was a valuable asset as far as having a proficient English speaker around to help UK and DJ hone their English-speaking skills.

Over time, I’m not sure how, but the two boys started referring to me as “dai” which means “big brother” and they told me to refer to them as “vai” which means “little brother”. Even their parents and the village began to recognize our newfound brotherhood.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Back home, in America, it’s not uncommon for friends to sometimes refer to each other as a “bro” or “sister from another mister”, kinda thing. But here in Nepal, I found that when you call someone who is not biologically related a brother or sister, it holds more credence.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

IMG_0630.JPG

In Nepal, whenever I ask students how many brothers or sisters they have, their answer would always include their close friends or non-immediate relatives that they personally consider a brother or sister, in addition to their actual biological siblings. And it’s not just a thing the kids do, the adults do this as well. Some of the teachers consider some of the students as siblings too. At first this confused the heck out of me when I began to think that the whole village was somehow legitimately related to each other, but turns out that is not the case. Still, if you are considered a brother or sister to someone in the village, its taken seriously–for life. I was now UK and DJ’s brother, which I will take solemnly.

I messaged my mother and informed her she had two new sons. She didn’t question it, instead she wished to send them a gift (which is difficult because as far as I know, I don’t think mail or postal service is a thing here in this village).

Over time, I gained yet another brother by the name of Bipin. He was a former student of mine, two years ago but since then he has switched to a more prestigious school in Pokhara in order to challenge his studies. He was an academically bright student and Bal Prativa was a cake walk for him. But of course, the more prestigious school costs a heck of a lot more money, and the people in these villages aren’t exactly making it rain with cash. Bipin needed help.

Me spraying Bipin with snow spray, more than two years ago in December 2014.

Back in November (2016), while I was backpacking in Australia, Bipin sent me a message on FB messenger telling me his predicament and that if I could send him $50 to help him with his tuition. I’m always weary of people I don’t know that well asking me for money (I didn’t know Bipin too well at the time), especially over the internet, and more so from a developing country. As much as I wanted to help him, I wasn’t sure how to send the money to him. They don’t have PayPal and I doubted a Western Union-type service. I never met his parents either so I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I told him I would have to think about it and eventually he stopped asking. So that was that.

Fast forward to now, four months later, I went to visit Bipin and his family about thirty minutes walk from Padeli. I reunited with him and met his mother who playfully only knew how to say “I am Nepali. No English”, whenever she spoke to me.


“Where’s your father?” I asked Bipin.

“He’s working in Malaysia.”

Bipin hasn’t seen his father for two and a half years, which means its only him and his mother working alone on their farm. The moment I arrived, Bipin’s mother made me lunch and continued working nonstop–sweeping, washing clothes, tending to the goats and buffalo, picking vegetables, and even found time to make me tea much to her insistence.


Both invited me to stay the night, which I agreed. Their home was a lot more primitive than Aatma’s and Yam’s. Bipin and his mother shared one giant room which served as their bedroom, their living area, and their storage. I didn’t mind it. Bipin was humble about it all and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and constantly apologized for the lack of Western luxury available. I told him not to worry. I was just fine. Still, Bipin didn’t mention anything about the money he asked of me four months ago. So I brought it up before we went to bed.

“Hey Bipin?” I asked.

“Yes, Dan?” (They always same my name in every other sentence.)

“Were you ever able to pay for your tuition? Remember when you asked me in November?”

“The principal agreed to let me pay the months tuition later in a couple months,” he began to say. “It gives us more time to come up with the money.”

I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him at the time. But now that I was here in person, I could lend a hand. I took out my wallet and handed him Rs 7000, translating to roughly $65, which was enough to pay for about five months worth of tuition fees.

“Here,” I said as I handed him the money. “Use this towards your education.”

He was speechless and appeared genuinely appreciative but didn’t quite know what to say.

“Make sure you tell your mom later,” I told him.

“I will Dan.”

The next morning, Bipin and his mother insisted that I stay with them for another night. I couldn’t help but to oblige.


He and I became brothers before I eventually left his home. He then asked if it was okay to add my actual brothers back home in Michigan, Steve and Matt, as friends on Facebook. I said sure but I had to inform them prior, so they didn’t think it was some random stranger requesting their friendship. They both gladly accepted him.

Now let me explain the whole “son” thing…

I’ve grown pretty tight with the class ten boys who lived with me at Aatma’s place. I made an effort to usually spend time with them before bed time and speak with them, casually in English. Of the five boys, Samir’s English was not up to par with the rest. In fact, his was a bit behind for his class level. I concentrated on speaking to him a bit more.

Samir, 16, the most innocent, yet most oblivious to the world compared to the rest of the class ten boys.

Samir is the most naive and juvenile of the boys. He also is around me more than his other classmates and usually wants to play with my phone, hence why I’ll find selfies on it later on, like these:

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

I barely remember Samir from my previous visit in Nepal two years ago, because he never said a word to me (also because I usually avoided their class). This time, I can’t keep him away from me 😂. Nowadays, I have grown fond of Samir because he’s actually a really good kid. As in he is very protective of his friends, he’s family oriented, and he just means well overall. It’s just that his English kinda sucks. I’d teach him new words and constantly correct his sentences and if he didn’t know a word, then I pushed him to try his best to explain what he meant. I also made him practice English before I gave him my phone to play with. The other boys began to notice how “fatherly” my actions were towards him and jokingly began to tell Samir to “listen to your father”. It wasn’t long before Samir began to call me “father” all the time and I eventually would jokingly call him “chhora” which means son in Nepalese (I think). It stuck with us for the rest of my time there.

 

Once he even asked me, “How do you kiss a girl with your tongue?”

I almost died from laughter!

I told him, “You’ll just naturally learn on your own soon enough.

Samir’s father is also working internationally, and won’t see each other for a very long time.

Overtime, others in the village began calling me ‘brother’ besides UK, DJ, and Bipin. I’m sure it may just be a thing to call one another that here or if these people are considering me family. Whichever the case, I am completely happy with both possibilities.