Tag Archives: shree bal prativa

Angering the God of Education

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Living in Nepal…With 18 Teenage Students That I Thought I Hated

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.