Tag Archives: Kathmandu

Peace Corps Nepal, officially online

Peace Corps Nepal has launched its own Web site, nepal.peacecorps.gov.

There are currently 38 Volunteers in Nepal working in agriculture. During their service in Nepal, Volunteers learn to speak the local language of Nepalese. More than 3,675 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Nepal since the program was established in 1962.

It’s pretty good, and it has information for future volunteers (on expectations and more, including packing suggestions). I really like the FAQ, which includes this sound advice—for those of you reading this right now:

What to Expect
Each volunteer’s experience is different. Invitees can read volunteer blogs, listen to RPCV stories and search the internet about Peace Corps and Nepal; however, they should not expect to know many things until arriving in country. […]

You can connect with the program on its official Peace Corps/Nepal Facebook page.

Peace Corps volunteers are returning to Nepal

Well, it’s official: Peace Corps is returning to Nepal. Here’s the official press release from Peace Corps, published January 10, 2012. There was also a nice article by VOA about Peace Corps returning to Nepal, Return of Peace Corps to Nepal.

I’m excited. Every time I’ve been back to Nepal since I completed my service in 2004, I’ve wondered, “How fun would it be if I could run in to a group of PCVs?” And I’ve never had that opportunity. And now it looks like I will.

In January 2012, I did a short interview with Dinesh Wagle of Kantipur about my Peace Corps experience—one personal experience in particular, actually. The article is in Nepali. If you can’t read Nepali, then enjoy the photographs. (I’m in the red shirt with the bald head.) Enjoy: Peace Corps returns to Nepal.

Peace Corps/Nepal suspended

After two bombs exploded at the American Center in Kathmandu, throwing shrapnel here and there, Peace Corps decided to suspend its program in Nepal.

This is the first time that Peace Corps has suspended its program in Nepal, which had run continuously for 42 years. That’s thousands of PCVs having served in Nepal and returned home to tell others of their experiences.

But, more importantly, what does this mean for our well loved staff of Peace Corps/Nepal? Much uncertainty, I’m sure. Very sad news indeed.

Peace Corps Suspends Program in Nepal

Washington, DC, September 13, 2004 — Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez today announced the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Nepal effective immediately.

The Peace Corps has had a successful 42-year program in Nepal, making great strides in the areas of small business development, education, environment, youth development and working on health and HIV/AIDS education and awareness. The safety and security of the volunteer is the number one priority of the Peace Corps and in light of the current conditions in Nepal, suspension of the program is a necessary action, said Peace Corps Director Vasquez.

Currently, Peace Corps volunteers are being consolidated.

The Peace Corps program in Nepal began in 1962. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in the East Asian country.

My group, Nepal 194, will become the last PCVs to COS in country. I hope that not too much times passes before another group of PCVs is able to have the Peace Corps experience in Nepal.

Looking back on my service, I realize how damn lucky I was. Everything finished according to plan. Fast forward to five months later, and PCVs are waiting around a five-star hotel in Kathmandu for boarding passes for flights to Thailand, where they will spend a week or so on their COS and debriefing, i.e., ending their service.

Well, maybe I wasn’t totally lucky. That is one adventure I never experienced.

Closing ceremonies

I was in Birtamod just after the Thanksgiving trip to Kolkata. I was having lunch with two guys from the Peace Corps office in Washington, DC. They were security.

On guy told me that he had been doing, well, military intelligence in Somalia for a several years before retiring and coming to work for the Peace Corps. He told me that when Peace Corps has had to evacuate its volunteers from a country, it’s usually because of families calling the office. Or a senator.

The other guy had done similar work for the armed forces, but some time ago and in Vietnam. We asked him to talk more about what he did.

Counter intelligence, he said as if that was a complete explanation.

I wondered if he was joking, So you spent a lot of time behind a counter, eh?

No laugh.

It was convenient that they had come, because after their night in Birtamod, they were heading west and north to Dharan, where I was to give a teacher training to a government school faculty.

Jen talks with Sunil, her counterpart at the Dharan nagar palika.

Jen talks with Sunil, her counterpart at the Dharan nagar palika.

I was helping out another volunteer from my group, Jen, who was working in youth development but found time to teach English classes at this school and who wanted some help developing the skills of its teachers.

(The teachers in Birganj had clearly expressed their disinterest in what I had to offer, or at least doing those things, so I thought a change of venue might be good; though I was worried.)

I thought, If this training sucks and if the teachers fall asleep of if another student vomits while I’m teaching, then I have to start being critical—maybe it’s me.

I was going to use this training to evaluate myself for better or worse. It was the placebo.

When the Washington folks dropped me in Dharan, I quickly found out that the lovely ANNISU-R had called a bandha for three days—exactly when I had scheduled my training.

A view from the north hills across Dharan.

A view from the north hills across Dharan.

When I met with Jen later that day, we immediately walked over to the school to see what we could do. The headsir told us that he was planning on asking students to come to class on Saturday so they could finish their exams, and meant there wouldn’t be time left for the training.

So we rescheduled. I left the day before the bandha and got to Birganj safely. I sat around my flat for those three days with not much to do, wondering exactly when I’d be working again.

Fast forward a month later. Our yearly All-Vol conference had just finished in the middle of January, and I’d been asked by my program officer to go up to the N/196 group PST to help facilitate sessions with the teacher trainers in Godavari, just outside of Kathmandu. I looked at a calendar and noticed something that didn’t make me happy

Date Agenda
Jan 22, 2004 Fly to Biratnagar; catch bus to Dharan
Jan 23, 2004 First day of training
Jan 28, 2004 Last day of training

This was troubling. I realized that the materials and the curriculum that I had prepared for the first and later rescheduled training were in Birganj. And I realized this on January 21, 2004.

I was up in Godavari and wouldn’t be getting back to Kathmandu until the night of January 22, 2004.

What in the hell was I thinking? I was going to have to conjure up a curriculum as well as the necessary materials in the few free hours I wasn’t traveling in the few days left before the training.

As soon as I got into Kathmandu, I went straight to the office, printed the curriculum I had written in Godavari and ran back to drop off my stuff.

I ate, packed my bags, and passed out. The next morning was January 22, 2004, and I had a early flight to the airport. When I finally opened the door, I was somewhat pleased that it was foggy.

If I’m late and it’s beyond my control, then I’m safe.

My flight left moments after reaching the airport.

Scott, your author, and Tony (left to right) giving instruction to the faculty.

Scott, your author, and Tony (left to right) giving instruction to the faculty.

Once we reached Dharan, I bought the supplies I’d need for the training and then tried to call Tony, who had been planning on helping me facilitate the training.

I got a hold of him and we made plans to meet the next day. The first two days were for all the school’s teachers and would have to be done in Nepali. The other days were for the English teachers in the area cluster.

I had to get in touch with the resource person. I had to find a pocket chart. I had to make flash cards. I had to revise the curriculum. I had to make a games/songs packet to distribute. I had to figure out how to speak Nepali. I had a few hours.

The next two days went well. I worked with the faculty to create rules and consequences to use school-wide as a method of classroom management and positive reinforcement, but it was tough.

I was trying to explain why each rule needs a logical consequence. I asked, What’s a logical consequence if a student is late?

Renu Miss, a bombastic Newari woman who had hugged me when I asked her in Newari, Bala du?, had answered the original question, Beat the student?

Students assemble at school on the day of Saraswati Puja in Dharan.

Students assemble at school on the day of Saraswati Puja in Dharan.

I tried to work through her answer, trying to illustrate through other examples of a rule with a logical consequence (several of the teachers were right on, coming up with some great stuff).

Then asked her if she thought a beating was a logical consequence or if it positively reinforced the rule

Well then, utpas, someone offered.

Utpas are up-and-down exercises that kids do while holding their ears.

So I didn’t quite reach everyone, but school and class rules were made and the faculty eagerly discussed making banners and posting signs in each classrooms.

One teacher, also a little hesitant in being so explicit with the students queried the other teachers, asked How about we give them the rules, but keep the consequences secret?

Once again, I realized hadn’t explained it as well as I should have. The language was an obstacle.

A student gives another tikka during Saraswati Puja in Dharan.

A student gives another tikka during Saraswati Puja in Dharan.

In the end, the rules were made and the teachers as a whole were excited. After the final (second) day of the training, everyone was complementary on the evaluation.

I felt like I had done something good. That the students were suddenly going to understand exactly what teachers were expecting from them and vice versa. That made me feel good.

When the English training sessions started, I felt relived, since Tony knows English education backwards and forwards, and I would be able to relax for a while.

Tony really commanded the majority of the English training, and I just popped up between segments to provide an activity that the teachers could use in class. My favorite was something that Trey and Tony had developed called ‘paragraph sandwich.’

It was basically a formulaic approach of brainstorming vocabulary and then fitting it into a modeled descriptive paragraph.

Jen was made an official assistant teacher to Tony and I during the training.

Jen was made an official assistant teacher to Tony and I during the training.

I thought the teachers could use it for their 4th and 5th grade classes, but after running through the demo and writing a paragraph as a group, most thought it would work well for higher secondary level.

They offered their concerns, which I thought I addressed well—but still, I couldn’t sure.

On the last day of the training, two teachers, Krishna and Hari Sir, approached me just before we started the last session. Krishna had actually been a student of Hari Sir’s years ago at that very school in Dharan.

They told me that they had tried the sandwich paragraph in a 9th grade class, and it had been a success.

The idea of collaborating, together, a teacher and his former student, trying an activity that I had modeled for them, just blew my mind. Usually the stigma between teacher and student is . . . well, prohibitive of such activities.

Imagining those two teaching a class together, trying new techniques and basically working to become better teachers—together—just overwhelmed me.

At the end of the training, when the teachers presented Tony and I with ties (quite nice, actually) as tokens of their appreciation, I felt like I had somehow found the right people, done the right things, and had actually made a difference.

And it was the first time in two years.

Burning candles, Tihar

I remember where I was last Tihar, a year ago. A year ago? A year ago I’d gone to Kathmandu to hang out at the Spice deraa, my old co-owned flat in Kathmandu, with some of the folks there.

Pardon me while I wax nostalgic, but a year ago I was living in a different house in Birganj and I had another flat in Kathmandu. Now I’m squatting with an Australian working with a Birganj NGO and Peace Corps kicked us out of our places in Kathmandu.

I’ve since become a fixture at the Hotel Ambassador and Kate’s kitchen.

Tihar candles on my balcony at the flat in Raniganj.

Tihar candles on my balcony at the flat in Raniganj.

This year I was staying in Birganj. All the other PCVs had left during the holiday, just as I had done a year ago, and I was half looking forward to settling back into a rut in Birganj after not having been here continually for very long.

Since returning from the US I’d only manage to spend around 10 days, maybe two weeks, continually in town before leaving. Since getting back from the States I’d been to Kathmandu (of course), Pokhara, Hile, Ilam, Karkarbhitta, and Rajbiraj. And then back to Kathmandu.

I had been feeling somewhat lost of late. Like not sure where I was going with work or whether or not I was actually welcome in Nepal. Just before Tihar the Maoists had sent a notice to the newspapers and government that it was making steps to change its policies.

No longer would they be targeting infrastructure or low-level personnel of the army and police. Instead, they’d be targeting US imperialists. Or those associated and funded by US imperialists. Or who knows what this means.

Even during training when we could hear the crackle of gunfire in the distance as we ate daal bhaat we knew that we were safe. Really.

And even when the police (or was it the Maoists?) came and kidnapped a trainee’s host-brother, tied him to the back of motorcycle and drove off into the Chitwan jungle, we felt safe.

Even when the Maoists (apparently, it might have as easily of been the police) came and burned down a trainee’s neighbor’s house by cover of darkness, we felt safe. But this is different. This could be personal.

Mira knits at her tea stand in Murli Gardens, Birganj.

Mira knits at her tea stand in Murli Gardens, Birganj.

Sadly, the only way to gauge to what extent of danger there is we must wait and see. It’s a gamble. It’s (pardon the metaphor) like playing Russian roulette. In Birganj I’ll be fine. I’ve got bigger considerations, like my new landlord.

He’s a weaselly man that I don’t trust farther than I can throw him. One morning the family came knocking on my door to ask if I’d left my phone off the hook. While I don’t usually use it at all, the miserly bastard decided to disconnect my phone and then lie to me to my face about it.

He said he had three phone lines in his house and mine was ‘disturbed.’ It was such an out-and-out lie that I couldn’t even call him on it. It wouldn’t have mattered.

And the same morning I’d received a phone call on the disturbed phone line (in his house), did I get a visit from my old landlord, an equally niggardly man.

He’d been sitting in my living room telling my friend how I owed him money for a phone bill I’d forgotten to pay before I left.

While true enough, it was a minor amount of money and our understanding that such outstanding bills would be considered paid in full as I’d given him my old bed and another previous PCV‘s bed, both worth far more than the phone bill.

I’d also agreed to leave him my gas cylinder as well as a fan, a bookshelf, a couple chairs, et cetera. And here he was, sitting in my living room, moaning about money and complaining about my tea.

For some reason, I wasn’t feeling terribly welcome in Birganj—or even Nepal.

When Tihar began, though, things took a turn for the better. My bastard of a landlord’s younger brother asked me over to his place for dinner. My first landlord, perhaps the only honest man in this town, also asked me over. And so did Mira, my local tea stand operator.

I decided to go to Mira’s and then finish off the evening at my neighbor’s (the nice one, the younger brother) in a hope create some ties with the better half of the family. In the manner of Tihar we’d lit some candles and decorated the front door with a malla.

At Mira’s we ate and talked, but we couldn’t stay long because we had to run back to my place. We had some puri sabji and ate some sweets, looked at photos, and were the first people that Mira’s younger sister, Asha, and friends played their dialo for.

Soon, though, we left in a hurry to get back to my place. As we were ascending the stairway the Indian family living below me quickly came out to ask if I’d take some photos for them of their children.

I complied and soon I was burning nearly an entire roll of film of kids touching this idol, that idol, in this room, in that room. The film wasn’t a problem, but I was late.

The family asked if I’d go to the roof with them and set off some firecrackers, also a Tihar tradition. I was beaten and said, Sure.

On the roof the father began lighting off some sparklers and what not.

Fireworks on the roof of the apartment with the downstairs neighbors.

Fireworks on the roof of the apartment with the downstairs neighbors.

Soon, though, he had a sparkler in each hand and was lighting roman candles that he’d propped up on the side of the house. I felt like I was in Baghdad. I ducked under a fountain sprayer sparks across the roof and bid my farewell, promising prints in the future.

When I finally got to my neighbor’s house the food was on the table and they were waiting for me. I was more than daunted when I saw the family was expecting me to eat an small mountain of daal bhaat. They were smiling and asking me to sit, eat.

So I did. I guess I should say I tried since there was no way I could eat all of the food without vomiting and even thought I might do that halfway through the plate.

Finally I apologized and said I couldn’t eat any more. We chatted for a while, but soon it was the family’s bedtime and I thanked them again and left.

As I walked around the balcony back to my place I noticed that the candles I’d put out had gone out. Even though it was still a bit windy I went ahead and lit the candles again. The bad man’s daughter came by and said I should position my candles closer together.

I told her I had about thirty left in my room and would do so the next night, the second night of Tihar. In my room I sat on my bed and listened to my stomach complain about the food to me. After a moment I decided to turn off the light and sleep off my stomach cramps.

A moment later I heard the stingy man’s wife and daughter talking outside of my window.

The candles have all gone out, the mother said.

The American inside, the girl replied, He says he has many more.

I hope I do. I hope I can make these days last longer.