Category Archives: Teaching

My primary goal for my first year of service was teaching primary-level English teachers and learning the curriculum.

Epistle from Birganj

My job is far more complicated than it seems, more problematic that than a printed job description could describe. Basically I work for the Parsa DEO and have a counterpart based there.

Her name is Shova. She’s a nice woman. We don’t really work together much these days, mostly because when I’m in Birgnaj, she’s in Kathmandu. And when I’m in Kathmandu, she’s in Kathmandu, too, but doesn’t return my calls.

Is she trying to tell me something? Is she hinting at something yet unspoken? Is the fact that she left my first training after ten minutes because she’d forgotten to bring a pen and didn’t manage to make it back after three hours suggesting something that falls on (my) deaf ears?

I called her at home after she fled the training.

Me: Shova, you didn’t return to the training.

Her: I didn’t have a pen.

Me: . . . .

Her: Eee-Scott, I am going to Kathmandu tomorrow.

Me: Take your pen with you.

Her: Flaghuq rajfumch crack lyghar bye-bye!

Me: What!?

Phone: Click!

Me: Shova?! I am going to hunt you down . . . and . . . .

Or something like that. The point is that I’m frustrated.

Your satisfaction is worship. Indeed, Anil Lodge.

Your satisfaction is worship. Indeed, Anil Lodge.

Sure, there are the days that the guy squatting on the corner with a hammer, broken screwdriver, and a rock manages to fix the jammed shutter in my Pentax K1000 in a single hour, but there those other days when I wish I could climb on top of the clock tower with a deer rifle and . . . .

You get the point. I’ve just been having a hard time with work, which means I’ve had free time. More than I normally have. Work starting going down hill with that 4th grade class I taught at Shukra Raj.

I have trainings at a secondary school on Fridays, usually every two or three weeks. The rest of the time I spend going to schools where the teachers who attend my trainings teach. I do on-site stuff there with them, usually materials development.

I go, we make puppets, drink tea, maybe I teach, maybe they teach, maybe we use the materials, or maybe we just talk about the weather.

Actually, I find on-site visits productive and enjoyable as the teachers are always surprised when I actually visit their schools.

Especially at Shukra Raj. It may be the ‘worst’ school I’ve seen in Birganj. It’s a small primary school in Chhapkyia, the southern area of Birganj bordering with Raxual, India.

The school is tiny concrete building without shutters on the windows, doors dangling on hinges, and lacking fans in the classrooms. Ah, yes. Classrooms. There are two; this is unfortunate, because there are six separate classes: nursery and classes 1–5.

On the day I showed up for my visit, I saw kids running around manically while the teachers sat outside in the shade, idling.

I approached the faculty and chatted for a moment before I sat down with them.

Tea is coming, they told me, trying to put me at rest.

They flagged over the alpha-male student, who was busily chasing the other smaller children around the grounds while brandeshing a three-foot cane rod he was using to flog the other smaller children, who, apparently, were finding this great fun. Everyone was happy.

I said nothing to the teachers. The boy approached the headsir.

Tea, the headsir said, and then the boy disappeared.

I asked why the students were not in their classrooms, why classes weren’t being held today? Was it some secret holiday that required the kids to come to school but not to be taught? I earnestly asked them this.

We have not been paid in three years, the headsir told me.

They four teachers, the mess of kids, and school all looked gaunt.

Ahhh, I said, as if I had the slightest understanding their situation. So, your mother was gang raped while your children were forced to disembowel their father with a shovel? And you saw it all happen? Ahhh, I understand how you must feel.

They told me, as a form of protest, they had stopped teaching after this previous monsoon break. (I calculated this to be three weeks prior to this visit.)

While the nature of their protest was somewhat understandable, their means was a little strange. They told me that they had contacted the DEO.

I asked if they thought that was sufficient.

No, one teacher said, smiling as the tea arrived.

I began wondering what sort of on-site work we could do if they weren’t going to teach. Or if perhaps I could contact Shova and see if she could help and resolve the situation.

But I really just wanted to get the teachers back into the classrooms for the children. I discussed what I wanted to do with the faculty: make some materials, discuss lesson outlining (a small step towards actual lesson planning), and do some teaching and co-teaching.

They began talking with one another about my plans and told me they’d work with me while I was here, which made me happy. Some sort of progress, right? Right?

It was a terrible idea. I didn’t think things through. First, we made some materials without incident. Basically we got some string and made word cards like tents that can be used to form sentences in two different tenses. Brilliant, I know—but I’ll tell you what. It’s not my idea. Nope. Read it in a book somewhere.

Then we went through how the materials could be slightly altered to work with almost any lesson from the book, except none of them understand any English, which means they don’t themselves know the difference between, let’s say, a verb and a noun (in English). We strive. We hope.

So it was time for me to teach an example lesson with the kids using the materials. Usually this isn’t a big deal; however, I didn’t think about this well.

See, the kids had been coming to school every day much to the delight of their impoverished, migrant worker parents who are striving and hoping, and then they just played the game of ‘alpha student beats us with a three-foot piece of cane because our teachers are marginalized and won’t do it themselves.’

And I stop the game, throw them into a classroom, and expect them to sit quietly, listen, and learn.

I manage well enough at first. I have the kids singing, chanting, and writing things in their notebooks that we all know they don’t understand, but they’re doing it cheerfully and without incident.

There’s one entire row that parrot whatever I say as best they can while they—in unison—rock on their bench to and fro, clanking, clanking, clanking, and this other kid in the back who’s chewing on his hand like it’s candy and looking out of the window as if he’s bored with the magic that I’m creating right in front of everyone.

And then he does it. I’m doing something, but my eyes are glued to him as he sticks his hand just a little further down his throat making a slow, steady stream of ice-cream colored vomit come out of his mouth, pouring down his chin, over his shirt, and ending up who knows where.

This was a special moment for me. A child I was trying to affect had made himself vomit while I tried, really tried. He continued to look out of the window, making no effort to clean the vomit off of himself.

Sure, there are successes. There are teachers who’ve come to my trainings who are trying, getting their students to make dictionaries in their notebooks, using the sentence string, or just using hand puppets to model dialogue.

People greet me in the street. Teachers I happen upon in the bazaar ask when I’m coming to their schools. My neighbors smile and offer me yogurt. The guy at the daal bhat shop let’s me watch BBC for, oh, at least five minutes before changing it back to StarTV.

But this is all without incident.

None of this means anything if I know, out there, that there’s a kid who will vomit when I teach.

Tomorrow or the day after

Just like Birganj, my flight from Kathmandu to Birganj was packed with characters.

First of all, I had been away from the ‘Ganj for nearly six weeks. I remember when Rob had been gone from Birganj for nearly two months people starting appearing every where to ask me, Where is Rob? Where is Rob?

Kathmandu Domestic Airport

The mess that is the Kathmandu Domestic Airport.

Some suffered from Rob-withdrawal, as I had more than a couple people assume that I was Rob (as if in some magical way I had become him). I never understood that.

To my right on the plane sat a man who occasionally glanced over at me, giggling like an adolescent girl. I’d glance over my newspaper and catch him staring at me followed by, Hee hee hee hee haaawww, with a slight snort at the end. I didn’t understand that either.

As we began our ascent over the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, the sky turned dark and the ride got bumpy. Directly in front of me sat a woman, perhaps 35, who was clutching her husbands hand to her chest while she rocked back and forth in her seat in the cramped Twin Otter.

Her husband sat to her left across the isle and spoke on his cell phone for the duration of the flight. The flight attendant didn’t seem to mind and nor did anyone else notice. I read my paper.

As we climbed over the hills and into the dark clouds, the ride got bumpier. While flights in Nepal can be scary, this was not one of them. But the woman in front of me wasn’t in any mood for any of this until finally she began screaming.

She screamed the scream of someone who is about to die a painful death and is aware of it. I lifted my paper to protect myself from a sudden fit of vomiting, a reflex I developed riding the buses, but she was too busy screaming.

Finally the man next to me had something else to cackle about and he did so unabashedly. The man laughing next to me at the woman screaming at her imminent death while her daughter (an unexpected wild card) painted the row with vomit—I don’t understand any of these things.

The major surprise in Birganj was the return of the fair, the ramilo mela. Last year’s attraction was a Ferris wheel that Rob and I braved.

This year’s attraction was a giant inverted cone constructed out of cane and bamboo. A couple motorcycles and then a couple cars drove around in circles inside the cone, narrowly avoiding head-on collisions. Well, except for today.

Apparently, or so the witness told me, the professional drivers from Bihar had asked for a pay increase. The managers of the fair simply fired them and hired locals in Birganj to replace them.

The drivers were local bus drivers that the managers had hired the day before they were put on stage to perform. They were dead now, and the show had to go on. In fact, tomorrow’s is at 7 p.m.—if they can find some new drivers. I’m planning on going.

This is my first day in Birganj in six weeks. I’m home.

I guess what I want to say is that I decided some things while I was in the United States. I spent time with my family, which was great, and I got to see some friends. I had a cold beer in my old bar.

The waiting room at Simra Airport

The waiting room at Simra Airport, near Birganj, was pretty good, actually.

I ate Tex-Mex at every meal for a week. Most importantly, what I want to do after Peace Corps was revealed to me. I decided a few things, like that I want to teach at an inner-city school, maybe with Teach for America.

When I walked into the Loophole, the bar where I used to tend in college, I had no idea what I was going to do after Peace Corps in nine months. Before I’d gotten three feet into the bar I was cheered by friends who I had thought would have long forgotten me.

I sat down with Dylan and Chris, two previous employees at the Loophole who had given up the service industry to teach at inner-city schools in Dallas. I left the bar knowing exactly what I wanted to do.

I realized this, I realized that, and all of this could change. I’m not satisfied, because I’m envisioning my future, just because I have something to work towards.

It’s a great feeling knowing that tomorrow at the fair if the bamboo breaks and a Mahendra hatchback flies out of the arena and smears my brains across the dirty of streets of Birganj, I’ll die knowing that there would have been a lot more adventures to look forward to.

Well, maybe I’ll skip the show.

Retrained: Revisiting Pre-Service Training

As I mentioned before, I’d been invited to the current Pre-Service Training (PST) to teach a couple classes in government schools for the new group, N/196, to observe. But observe what? The new group has lots of energy and interest in their jobs.

This could go without saying, but some groups are more casual about work. Yes, we’re volunteers for Nepal. Yes, we’re here to make a difference. Yes, I’m often more interested in taking the tea than talking pedagogy. Perhaps that’s because I don’t know that much about pedagogy.

The fact is I’m no longer certified as a teacher in the United States. Though the US government says I’m no longer qualified to teach in a US classroom, I’ve come here with the Peace Corps to train teachers.

I know that I do have a lot to offer the teachers here, but the strange dichotomy of my situation has not gone unnoticed.

Anyhow, I’d come full circle from my training. There I was, a year in-country later, helping to facilitate the N/196 PST. I felt unready to be guiding the new folks in any way, let alone into professional roles as PCVs in Nepal, but I had learned a thing or two.

Most about Nepali tea.

Back in June 2002, I went to Nepalgunj to conduct some teacher trainings. I felt intimidated being an authority amongst people who had been teaching a lot longer than me. Again, I was uneasy about teaching for people with education degrees and EFL/ESL certification.

But what did I learn from those trainings in Nepalgunj? Just look like you know what you’re doing and people will believe.

Patricia, a N/191 RPCV, was the in-charge person who’d asked me to come to PST. She asked me to prepare a lesson plan from the 4th grade curriculum to teach in two different schools to two different 4th grade classes. Details on the schools were unavailable. She was asking me to walk in and teach cold. I said yes.

Mahatma Buddha, the primary school

The first school I was to teach at was a secondary school called Mahatma Buddha, aka the Enlightened Buddha. Patricia came by the hotel the night before my first day of teaching. She bought me a beer and said, You may have to teach outdoors to 70 students. Cheers.

The school situation was going to be iffy, which relaxed me since I would have much lower expectations of what I could accomplish within the constraints.

The next day we arrived at Mahatma Buddha just before my class. As we came into the school grounds kids stopped playing and began to form a crowd. There were eight of us: Patricia, six PCTs, and I.

We were a sight to behold. I remember how overwhelmed I was when this happened the first time I visited a school in Nepal. While the PCTs slowed to a halt, stunned by the crowd surging around us, I pushing through like Indiana Jones with a machete.

I began talking to the teacher before we went to her class. I told her that I was happy and thankful to teach her 4th grade class for my friends and tried to confirm that I would be teaching as I saw her taking her stick for whacking kids. She seemed aware, but nervous. Too nervous.

Soon the bell rang and we were off to class. I sighed in relief as we walked towards a classroom. No outdoor teaching today.

After the PCTs and Patricia settled in the back of the classroom, the teacher said a few threatening words to the students. The students straightened up and sat quietly. I hung a poster on the board and asked the kids to take out their books.

They began rummaging through their bags and I started to sense that something wasn’t right, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everyone was digging deep in their backpacks, slow to find their books.

I wandered back to the front of the class and asked a student who was making no effort to get his book, in Nepali, Where’s your book?

He looked at me blankly, This is 5th grade.

Fuck.

Nobody had the book because I was in the wrong class. I looked at the teacher who was still glaring menacingly at the students. Patricia just put up her arms and shrugged, clearly wondering what I was going to do.

Well, I said trying to keep up my pace, I can teach this, and dove in head-first with the materials I had. I couldn’t do the writing activity without the books. Suddenly, I had to adapt my lesson plan to a different grade.

The class went well enough but I had to ask myself if I could have written the lesson plan better so that it could have been more adaptable because you can’t always rely on the students having something, like a book or pen.

As we left someone said, considering I was in the wrong class, things had gone really well and asked what I thought.

Well, I said with a smirk, it was enlightening.

Bhairahawa Secondary, the high school

The next day I was to teach at the first government school established in Bhairahawa. Patricia had made more visits to this school and felt that things would go better than the day before, but since I had the time I thought I’d go over to the school a bit early and chat with the teachers so that everyone was a little more comfortable.

I sat in the teacher’s room and met with the teacher whose 4th grade English class I’d be taking for the day. She was a nice enough woman, Manju. When she asked the helper to bring tea for me in Hindi, I saw an opportunity to practice my Hindi before my upcoming trip to India.

I told the helper, Gaaram wallah dijieh, much to the delight of the other teachers.

The other group of PCTs came just as my conversational Hindi was peaking. Soon I found myself in front of the class teaching.

It’s remarkable how easily I transferred the energy I had gathered from chatting with the other teachers into my class. Manju came to class, but sat in the back amongst the PCTs and Patricia, which created a much more relaxed environment for the students.

The class went great. The kids went insane and sand and threw up their arms and legs and hands and feet in the air on command by the end of class. The class ended on a high note with some kids frothing at the mouth with excitement.

I left with a deep sense of accomplishment. The kids were waiving goodbye and asking if I’d come again the next day to teach again.

One out of two isn’t bad, I suppose.

Way back in July

Way back in July it was hot—really hot. The hot that you can’t escape, that makes you uncomfortable in your skin. Since it was July it was also the thick of the monsoon. Since it was July, I still wasn’t half sure why or what I was doing in Nepal—or if I’d even be here a week later.

And since it was July I didn’t have anything to do. School was closed and Birganj was an empty, freakish place, like a colonized spot of the sun, nothing less than a prison. A really hot prison.

Not that I want to sound negative, because back in July there was a lot to do yet. I was trying my hardest to do it. My two-month run at school ended on a Friday in the middle of June. The following Monday I was on a plane heading to Kathmandu.

My first two months in Birganj had seemed to last a long, long time. Since then I’ve hardly spent a solid month in Birganj without leaving for one reason or another. I don’t count day trips to Kalaiya or Narayanghat as getting away, since those are no longer than a night or two.

The fallen minaret of a mosque in the northern part of Nepalgunj.

The fallen minaret of a mosque in the northern part of Nepalgunj.

So I had arranged with Peace Corps to go to Nepalgunj to work with Alayne’s faculty and do some trainings there. What a farce, but it was a hell of a good time and I wish I could have been there longer, since I was having a great time and I wasn’t quite ready to be back in Birganj.

But soon my time was up, my plane was in, and I was leaving scenic Nepalgunj, the only place more unfavorable than Birganj.

Not that I didn’t like the place. The people and the place just seemed more, well, doomed. You’d buy some milk and have a feeling that everyone there was starving to death and buying milk for yourself was affront to humanity when others clearly needed it more.

But what do you do? Buy milk for the whole of Nepalgunj? Nepal? No. You buy the milk and then you look into the eyes of the gaunt clerk, soaked from the heat, and ask, How much for that ice cream bar?

After leaving Nepalgunj, I had a few days in Kathmandu before I my flight back to Birganj. I saw a few folks in Kathmandu I hadn’t seen in a while, namely Kara, Lindsay and Erica. Erica was heading back to Dhunche in a Peace Corps jeep on Wednesday, the same day I was supposed to go back to Birganj

My original plan was to Birganj and then take a bus the next day, July 3, 2002, to Janakpur, another Terai town to the east of Birganj and then due south of the East-West Highway, where the PCVs had planned a Fourth of July extravaganza.

That’s where Kara and Lindsay had also left Kathmandu for a day earlier, since they needed more time by taking a bus. I had something of dilemma.

Either I could try and sneak on the Peace Corps jeep headed to Dhunche, which would just be an overnight stay in an astonishingly beautiful place, or I could head back to Birganj and see some more of the horrors that the Terai had to offer.

What to do?

Well, of course I wanted to try and sneak on a jeep and get a free trip into Lang Tang National Park, of which Dhunche is the first city within and also the main city of Rasuwa district. I made my plans and discussed with Erica details of the trip.

The night before I went out with Kara and Lindsay to tell them the news about missing the Fourth of July in Janakpur. Tough news. I have my fans.

OK, whatever, Kara said, shrugging with hands in the air, We’ll just celebrate tonight.

The next day they began their 12-hour bus ride to Janakpur. They were planning on late night on the town to help them sleep as much as possible on the bus.

It was a late night and the next morning, before leaving I saw Lindsay and Kara, both looking haggard and reacting to the daylight as if they were vampires, heading to the Kathmandu bus park, hoping to sleep off one celebration before beginning another.

I was feeling tense about sneaking onto the jeep without telling the office, but I knew that they were expecting me to get on a plane that day and head back to DMZ, love it or leave it.

It’s sad that I just can’t get on to the part about firecrackers and the Fourth of July, that I have to ramble on like this.

Kids tending buffaloes enjoy themselves while watering the animals on a hot day in Janakpur.

Kids tending buffaloes enjoy themselves while watering the animals on a hot day in Janakpur.

Anyhow, as soon as I got to Peace Corps office I began thinking that this quick trip wasn’t really worth making a bad name for myself around the office, so I went in to talk with my program officer, a half professional adviser and a half baby sitter of PCVs.

He was cheery enough and listened to my experiences in Nepalgunj. I talked about having done this and that and all sorts of professional crap and then hey by the way could I go with the jeep up to Dhunche just for a night before heading back to Birganj would that be fine please?

No, and that was that.

A few hours later that day I was on one of the terrifying local airlines’ planes, flying back to Birganj, the Twin Otter banging and undulating as I was certain I could sense the hull twist and contort as we skimmed over the foothills of the Himalayas.

When the plane finally landed, I still was glad I hadn’t taken a bus, which is, in comparison, 100% more frightening. Birganj didn’t seem so bad when I returned, perhaps because I knew that the next day, July 3, 2002, I was getting on a bus and heading to Janakpur for the first major get-together of friends since we swore in as volunteers on May 8.

The next day I was on a bus heading due east for a few hours, then turned off the East-West Highway (also called the Mahendra Highway) and headed south on a narrow, local road for 20 km into Janakpur.

The local road was narrow and uneven, since on either side spanned endless rice fields, freshly flooded with monsoon rains and covered with Indian migrant workers, cutting grass and contracting malaria. It was spectacularly beautiful—an image of Nepal I won’t soon forget.

I was staring out of the windows when I the bus slowed and came to a halt. I only noticed because it wasn’t one of the quick, rapid stops the buses make when dropping off or picking up folks. This was gradual and tense. In Nepal, traffic moves to the left.

I was sitting on the left, admiring the beauty of the countryside, when the bus began to lurch rightwards. Women passed weeping. My stomach twisted. I’d seen rolled buses, old with rust and long absent of glass, and I’ve seen sections of guardrail missing along a cliff, with ominous dark skid marks leading to the edge, but I’d never see the human of it.

Scott, your author, and Lynn in Janakpur

Lynn and your author, Scott, in Janakpur on the Fourth of July 2002.

The women were grouped together, crying, spastically throwing about their arms. When the bus crossed to the other side of the road I could see ahead a crowd of people standing in the road.

The bus straightened and I lost my view until we passed the crowd. They were standing quietly—I don’t remember any yelling or commotion—and perhaps 20 feet away in the road was a man, dead, laying in more blood that I’d ever seen in one spot, his cycle nearby equally mangled and contorted.

But just as if it were on television, we moved on, passing to more pleasant scenery—other sights I won’t soon forget.

Janakpur looked a lot like Kalaiya in that it was busy and dusty. Janakpur, though, was more developed. The roads were dusty and wandered in ways that couldn’t have not been planned. I found the roadside pasals to be little more than temporary shanties.

I took a seat at one of these shanties and had a coke while I waited for Ken to meet me and take me to his place. He and Lynne, a married couple, lived with Chris, another volunteer from our group who was a science teacher. All three of them are individuals and rather gregarious, but Chris above all.

The town seemed a maze as Ken and I walked to his place. There was one landmark that we passed I thought was exceptional. I had been told before that Janakpur is the only city in Nepal that has a train.

It’s a small arrangement: a single steam engine pulling two cars with the majority of the passengers riding on the roof to escape the heat. I thought of Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days, seeing Michael peer out of trains racing across some desolate part of India with a city riding on top of the train.

At Ken’s I had a happy reunion with friends: Jeff, Yvette, Lynne, Jennifer, Lynne, Chris, Matt, and others I’m forgetting. Others were still coming in.

In fact, Lynne told us in the midst of the chit-chat, Lindsay and Kara are at the bus park waiting to get picked up.

Kara and Lindsay after arriving in Janakpur from a night bus from Kathmandu.

Kara and Lindsay after arriving in Janakpur from a night bus from Kathmandu.

I was excited that they weren’t at Ken’s when I came in, because I was hoping for a chance to surprise them since the day before they had seen me putting my bags in a Peace Corps jeep headed to the northern edge of Nepal

A day later, though, I’d beaten them to Janakpur and was, geographically and culturally, as far as I could ever be from the beauty of Dhunche.

Let me get them, I said, asking for directions and maybe a map, too, to the Janakpur bus park, I want to surprise them.

They were supposed to be waiting near the Janakpur dhoka, a ‘gate’ that was being built in the middle of an intersection just south of the house. It wasn’t hard to miss, though all Ken said was that it was a big concrete mess.

After seeing it I can’t think of a more articulate way to describe it, so maybe that’s what makes him Ken from Janakpur.

It is a winding of concrete snakes, making something of a shape; though Ken’s words are the best description, they don’t quite emphasize the immensity of it. It’s big. It’s lots of concrete. And it’s clearly a mess. Sort of like Janakpur.

As I walked to the table where Kara and Lindsey were sitting, snarling at their steaming cups of tea, I could see that they were still hung-over and clearly unhappy. It became that my surprise wouldn’t be met with smiles.

I readied my camera and walked near, framed my shot, and told the girls, Hi.

The girls squinted in the foul monsoon sunshine, Scott?

Slowly people arrived: Liz and Drew arrived from Jhapa; Tony, Laurel, and André from Rajbiraj; and Kira from Biratnagar. That night we were ready to celebrate the Fourth. We were happy, we felt patriotic, more American than perhaps ever before, and we had fireworks.

Just before Chris lit the first of the fireworks, we all had a worry that we’d probably never had before. These will sound like gunfire. The police will come. The Maoists will come. They will shoot. Is this is a good idea?

And I noticed that they were already lit. We stood back, anxious, and giddy with guilt, knowing that we were happily entertaining a bad idea. They were loud, they were bright, and they were getting everyone’s attention in the area.

Traditional but not a good idea, fireworks can give the impression of gun fire.

Traditional but not a good idea, fireworks can give the impression of gun fire.

Those fireworks, my friends, were American. But before another round the downstairs neighbor rushed upstairs, begging us to cease igniting more fireworks, clearly scared of being taken for a rebel and dying for some US holiday. He was calmed, the music was turned back up, and we were back to our merry-making sans faux gunfire.

Earlier that evening, in Ken’s living room, I had been sitting and talking with Lynne. She turned away for a moment to answer the phone, and I sat back in my chair, thinking about Dhunche, about places I could be where I wouldn’t be sweating at nine o’clock at night, quickly drinking my beer while it was still cold from the store where we’d bought them.

It’s for you, Lynne said, asking, as surprised as I was, It’s someone from America.

America indeed. Still it seems magical that someone on the other side of this planet, separated by an ocean and sea or two, depending on which way you go, can pick up a phone, dial a number, and my phone, or the Bests’ phone, will ring moments later. Whereas getting a package here is like reliving Christmas, getting a phone call is like Santa Claus himself calling you.

For ten minutes with rock music loud in my ears, friends calling my attention, I spoke with Nikkie back home, her hearing the background noises of my new life in Nepal, and me feeling a little less far from home.

Which is where home was, way back in July.

Moving along, moving ahead

If I’m tired of talking about one thing it’s my work. As soon as I see a friend, the first thing that is asked is, So, how’s your school?

I tell and retell stories about teachers interrupting my classes, the headsir walking out of the office while I’m talking to him, and just the generally unwelcoming tone that the school held towards me for the past six months. I stuck around, taught my classes, played some basketball, all until something finally gave—me.

But there was no traumatic conclusion at the school, just a final in a long series of deterrents by the faculty to my presence at the school. It was time to leave when the school informed me that I would not be allowed to be absent during a bandha, which is in direct violation of the school’s agreement with Peace Corps.

And to get Peace Corps/Nepal to do anything, all you have to add to any request is the word ‘security.’ After a series of days with nothing to do until I had talked with my Peace Corps office and finally the Country Director, David O’Conner, my transfer from the Kanya School to the Bal Mandir School was final.

The Kayna (girls') school's morning assemblies were my favorite part of teaching at this school.

The Kayna (girls') school's morning assemblies were my favorite part of teaching at this school.

I’m not sure what the full story of my experience at the Kanya School will be quite yet, but it’ll surely be augmented with my confusion to exactly why the faculty was so hostile to me there. Why I was never even partially accepted as a person, let alone an educator? I’ve been to lots of schools in Nepal.

When stepping in to meet the headsir or headmiss I’ve always been greeted with smiles and a pleasant tone, which I never received at the girls’ school. Quite opposite. The faculty often ignored me, perhaps following the example the headsir made by treating me highly visible and aggressive disrespect.

I met up with the school’s old headsir not long ago. He told me that he left the school because there were several faculty members coming to teach at the girls’ school that he felt he couldn’t work with and so he requested a transfer that was granted, transplanting the faculty and headsir of one school with those of another.

The Bal Mandir School is a government subsidized school for dalit children. The students are the opposite of privileged; many are domestic servants, children of rickshaw drivers, and dalit.

The caste system is essentially the same thing as the class system, except for it’s explicitly religious.

Caste dictates what opportunities are available. If you’re low caste, a dalit, then you’re future is probably in street sweeping, being a servant, driving a rickshaw, or as some other physical laborer. The Bal Mandir School is lower primary, first through fifth grade, and the students are unlikely to get further education.

During Laxmi Puja, the students were assembled for a school portrait.

During Laxmi Puja, the students were assembled for a school portrait.

After the transfer was finalized and Peace Corps made the appropriate phone calls, I was psyched to being teaching again. Having too much free time definitely wore on me after a while.

Ironically, my office phoned me to let me know that I’d be welcomed at my new school; however, in the coming week the school would be giving half-yearly exams, so I wouldn’t be able to begin teaching for another week. Still, I had something to prepare for and didn’t feel like I was wasting my time waiting on paperwork to be signed.

The next day I went to the school to visit with the headmiss and meet the teachers and students. While I had made several visits to the school when Robin was teaching there, this was the first time to come with professional responsibilities.

I couldn’t ignore the teachers to play with the students, but had to assume the role of politician, pandering to the teachers while relating with the students.

Nepali teachers are inherently insecure in front of students because they only way they feel they can control a class is by threatening physical violence. Probably the most effective way I influence teachers is by merely being friendly and comfortable with the students in and outside of the classroom.

Anyhow, so I showed up at the school. It’s such a dynamic change from the girls’ school, with its warm interior, tended garden, and classic façade. The Bal Mandir School hides a ways from the road behind a dilapidated gate and in the midst of rubble and overgrown shrubs.

The impression I got from every previous visit was, This place is poor.

The students react to me pretty much the same as at the girls’ school: they’re excited to meet me, but too shy to be direct, which results in students running up to me and surrounding me, but not being able to squeak out a single word.

The significant change is in the faculty. After coming into the office and sitting down, I knew immediately by something the headmiss did that this was the best move for me to make: she spoke to me. We talked about the classes I’d be teaching and what she could expect from me, what I expected from her blah, blah, and blah.

All the same stuff was said two or three times at my old school to little avail, so I thought that I should just save my energy for a later date and hope that she would—gulp—just accept my energy and presence at the school as a good thing.

Next week I’ll begin teaching. At my old school I was teaching 4th and 5th grade English, which I’ll be doing at this school as well. The major change is that I’ve decided to teach a 3rd grade English class as well. Hmm. It should be interesting, but I’m here to challenge myself, right? So let’s see what these 3rd graders are made of.

After transferring to the Bal Mandir school, I loved being able to interact with the small classes.

After transferring to the Bal Mandir school, I loved being able to interact with the small classes.

The first day I went to school with the intention of teaching, school was canceled because a teacher in the region had died. This is a common practice in schools in Nepal and happened a few times at the girls’ school. Usually a teacher goes to the classes and tells them they have chutti.

But instead the Bal Mandir teachers assembled the students in the large room which constitutes most of the school (I teach 5th grade on a stage and 4th grade in a common area where all the students pass through on their way to the toilet) and explained to the students that a teacher had passed away.

They teachers told the students of the great achievements of a person that none of us knew, outside of his employment as an educator.

The teacher then told the students the name of the teacher, Keeshab Thapa. The students repeated the name back.

The headmiss asked, What was his name? They replied, Keeshab Thapa!

She asked again, What was his name?

Keeshab Thapa, the students repeated a third time.

Then, a moment of silence was observed and the students were sent home.

Most stayed after and played in the neighboring field, since many were domestic servants who were given enough free time during the day to come to school, or just some of it.

Anyhow, school is more of refuge from the harsh reality of dalit life in Nepal for these kids, and even if classes weren’t to be held, they would stay into the afternoon when they were expected home.

As I left I stopped a played with the kids. The teachers passed smiling at me and understanding far better than I may ever the significance of idle moments like this in the lives of these children.

It may be said that my intentions in joining the Peace Corps were never altruistic; however, the circumstances of these days are causing an awful lot of my actions to be so.