Tag Archives: PCTs

A collection of Nepal PCV blogs

I hear the N/199 group is doing well at the PST in Chautara, Sindhupalchok district. Very exciting. I am following a few of the PCV blogs with what I will admit is mix of admiration and envy. I said never again, but ah, to do it all over again—wait! no, I wouldn’t. I mean, I would, but I don’t have to. Never mind, doesn’t matter. Now I armchair quarterback.

I wish them well in their service and experiences. I hope I get to read some crazy shit, like about drinking jar for breakfast during training. Nonsense!—and I loved every minute of it.

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.

First impressions

Due to a glitch in the Peace Corps mechanism, I have been asked to come to the Peace Corps PST site and teach in a model class for the new folks, the PCTs, to learn from. I could fly, but I’ve decided to take a bus to Bhairahawa, where the PST is being held.

I have a plan of gradually traveling the length of the East-West Highway. On March 26, 2003, I’m going to Biratnagar for security meeting. That’ll leave just about 100 km from Biratnagar to the border, Karkharvitta, as well as a longer leg of 300 km from Nepalgunj to Mahendrenagar, which I’m considering optional.

When I get to Bhairahawa I’m going to walk into two different classes in two different schools. No, you’re right, it doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does. It’s all about expectations. And right now, mine are just to arrive in one piece.

Unanswered prayers

I finished my last week at school with giving an exam. Something like a pop quiz, except it involved excessive and indiscreet cheating by the students. What do you do when you’re in a classroom the size of a bedroom with 60 students sitting at benches that even the strictest Puritan would deem exceedingly humble?

Testing evaluates, but when that means of evaluation is ineffective then the answer is to find some other means, which as of time of print I haven’t figured out exactly. It’s coming, though.

Just as few days ago I found myself being on the other side of an exam for the first time in Nepal. I signed up for the Foreign Service written exam, which was given Saturday, September 21, 2002.

More than anything else, the test was an excuse to take a break from my school situation (recently improved thanks to a visit by my PO from Kathmandu) and see some friends.

At the Vishuwa Mandir in Birganj, kids light candles on the occasion of Buddha Poorima, Buddha's birthday.

At the Vishuwa Mandir in Birganj, kids light candles on the occasion of Buddha Poorima, Buddha's birthday.

I had gone to the Birganj bus park on Thursday, September 19, 2002, to get on a bus to Narayanghat where I’d stay just one night to break up the long bus ride to Kathmandu. I hadn’t taken a bus all the way from Birganj to Kathmandu yet, but I have been told that it is long (8–12 hours). I thought a trip to Narayanghat (only 3 hours) would help break up the travels.

I taught my classes and then rushed to my deraa to get my bags. I told my family that I’d be back in a few days and boarded a rickshaw for the bus park. However, when I finally got to the bus park by 4:00 p.m., I found that all the buses for Narayanghat had left.

Very danger, I was told by a man in the ticket office.

Because Narayanghat is in one of the regions heavily affected by the Maoists, the buses don’t run at night for fear of being attacked by the Maoists or the police. People see both as equally dangerous in affected areas.

So I bought a ticket for Kathmandu for early the next morning and left my bags in the bus agency’s office and went home, dreading explaining to the family why I wasn’t leaving until the next morning. Their questions would be fired at me much like an automatic submachine gun.

The next day’s travels seemed to last forever. Unlike the Air Bus’ air conditioning, traffic was thick and constant the entire way to Kathmandu. And by the time we got to the final ridge just outside the valley, a landslide had reduced the main pass to one lane, holding us in backed-up traffic for nearly three hours.

You know what I suggest you bring to Nepal? Bring endless and enduring patience to sit in a crowded bus with no moving air, so you can watch for hours a trail of buses and trucks crisscrossing the mountainside and not feel complete desperation.

By the time I finally got to the Spice Deraa (the name of the apartment in Kathmandu I share with a number of other volunteers, pronounced “e-spice”) it was half past 7 o’clock, the time I had arranged to meet friends in Thamel.

I showered and took to the streets, hoping that I’d just run into folks in Thamel, which is exactly what happened.

I finally found people at Pub Maya. I hadn’t time to finish my first beer before Zach left the pub and returned with five new N/195 PCTs who’d just arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday, September 17, 2002.

The next day they were due to leave for their host families near Butwol. They seemed nice enough, and I found their complete disinterest in my advice outstanding indicators of better sense than what I had exhibited. I know there’s some cliché I can use for such courage, like “The dead have no fear,” or some such nonsense.

Anyhow, the next day I took the exam and ate nachos at Phora Dubar, the American Club where the test was administered. We met a guy named Richard who was passing through Kathmandu on his way back to America after finishing two years as a JET volunteer in Japan.

That Saturday was a full moon and several of us had made plans to visit Bouddanath, a Buddhist temple in the valley that has a huge candle lighting ceremony. It’s quite a peaceful place. Andrew, Richard, and I got there somewhat before the ceremony began and did a bit of wandering around the temple.

The one thing that was disappointing about this temple was the lack of monkeys. Some things you just come to expect of holy places in Nepal. One of those things is monkeys—lots of monkeys.

When it came time to light candles, Andrew and I entered one of the rooms where candles were kept. It was not much larger than a walk-in closet (here I am explaining the size of a holy place in relation to a closet) and quite hot, since the room held nothing more than a full sized table covered in oil lamps, most the size of tea light candles.

At the Bal Mandir school during Laxmi Puja, one of the younger students prays (until disturbed).

At the Bal Mandir school during Laxmi Puja, one of the younger students prays (until disturbed).

In the center of the table elevated on small stands were several very large oil lanterns. Being in that room crammed with smal fires was not unlike being in Birganj.

When our turn came around to light some candles (sort of for prayer, sort of for vigil) Andrew looked at me solemnly and said, I’m going to light one for Thumba. Thumba is a Doberman pincher that Andrew bought for a friend from Kolkata. Thumba is not well. Actually, Thumba is long of this world.

As the English dailies in Nepal would report, it was an auspicious occasion. Heartiest felicitations. Et cetera. Shortly thereafter, we met up with several other PCVs, namely two PCVs who were being sent home for stealthing.

Stealthing is the Peace Corps term for being away from post without informing anyone officially. Most every PCV does this at some point, except these two were caught and paid a hefty price that most would say was excessive.

Anyhow, these two knew of a hidden Italian restaurant near Bouddanath. It’s one of those places you have to know someone in order to find. Getting to the dining area including knocking on someone’s front door, walking through a family’s kitchen, and finally sitting in the dining area, which was clearly the family’s living space.

Oddly enough this wasn’t your normal family in Nepal. The woman who answered the door, a small, stout, and cheery woman who seemed to heave with excitement when she spoke, was something of a surprise. I came in first and began speaking to her in Nepali, asking her about where we’d sit and other questions that she answered in Nepali.

I asked her, quite stupidly, where she’d learned to cook Italian food.

In Italy, she answered in Nepali.

I then asked where she was from.

From Italy, she answered again. Here I was speaking Nepali to an Italian woman who’d been living in Nepal for some time.

The dinner, my friends, was splendid. What she made for us was nothing more than home-cooked Italian food. I’ve never had an experience like that before.

There we were: eight or so volunteers, sitting in an Italian expat’s living room, drinking wine that had already been opened (no doubt they’d been drinking from it earlier), over-looking the still glowing candles of Bouddanath, and I couldn’t help but think, What a strange, strange life I’ve gotten myself into.