Here is a summary of our time in Chaturali with the Panday family. Chaturali is absolutely beautiful, and staying with a family gave us a unique look at what daily life is like in the hills of Nepal. We would highly recommend this placement, but we also have a few suggestions and a couple warnings for future volunteers.
The Host Family Experience
Our stay with the Panday family was overall a wonderful experience; they were very kind and treated us quite well. The family spoke virtually no English, so attempting to communicate was at times frustrating, and we wished we were able to get to know them better.
The family treated us as guests — which meant that they preferred to see us sit down and drink tea than to help with household chores or go with them to their fields. This was especially difficult for Taryn’s attempted purely homestay placement which ended up not happening because she couldn’t get enough work to do. Though we were occasionally invited to wash dishes or cut rice (we were there for rice harvesting time), we would have liked to participate more in the work that characterizes the family’s daily life. (Granted, part of the problem could have been my own ineptitude when it came to chores…efficient cow milking apparently takes some practice…and I did almost cut my finger off while chopping spinach for the morning’s tarkari.)
Food was plentiful and delicious, assuming you are a fan of daal bhat. Every morning we had tea and biscuits around 7:00 and then daal bhat tarkari a little after 9:00. When we returned to the house from our volunteer placement, the family made tea and tiffin (roti, popcorn, fried rice, or something of the sort), and then we ate daal bhat again around 6:30. The family has a milk cow, so we had lots of fresh milk tea and often enjoyed a dessert of milk, rice, and sugar. Tropical fruits such as oranges, bananas, and papaya grow abundantly in Chaturali and were sometimes available around the house. Still, we found it nice to have our own stash of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, peanut butter, etc. as snacks. There are also some shops in the village where you can buy biscuits, chocolate wafers, chips and drinks.
The one mild (okay, sometimes more than mild) annoyance was the lack of personal space and privacy. The three of us stayed in two of the family’s bedrooms (so basically they gave us half of their house). One of the rooms had a door that always remained half-open, and it doubled as the TV room as well as the storage area for the entire family’s wardrobe. This meant that people were always walking in without knocking, either to get something they needed or, more frequently, just to stare at us. This is NOT a complaint about the family — the staring and lack of personal space is something we have experienced throughout Nepal. It was, however, heightened during a homestay and is something volunteers, especially those new to Nepal, should be aware of.
The family got up very early, around 5:00, and went to bed around 9:00, but it wasn’t uncommon to have people come into our room before 5 a.m. to get clothes or comb their hair. Sleeping in a bit later was not a problem, however, for those of us who are not early-morning people and can sleep through a little noise.
When we left, the grandmother was crying and had completely hidden her face in her shawl. We took this as a sign that at least some members of the family had enjoyed our visit as much as we did!
The Health Clinic
The clinic runs from 10:00 to 2:00 Sunday through Thursday and from 10:00 to 1:00 on Friday (it’s closed on Saturday). Most days there was a steady stream of patients, but we recommend bringing reading material, journals, etc. for slow times. The clinic is about 10 minutes up the hill from the host family’s home. It’s run by the government and provides free services and medicine to patients, though it is of course quite limited in resources and the type of care it can provide.
Volunteering at the health post is a wonderful way to learn about health care in Nepal. We had no medical training and were thus not able to be truly useful at the clinic. However, Jeevan Bhattarai, the health worker, and Gyani Patsak (spelling?), the nurse, were eager to have us participate as much as possible in everything going on at the clinic and took the time to explain the case of each and every patient that came in. On the first day, Jeevan asked if I wanted to stick an IV in the arm of a very sick-looking woman. I had to politely decline the offer. However, we did learn how to take blood pressure, ask patients for their personal information and medical histories, and even give injections. If nothing else, we were able to entertain the patients with our dreadful Nepali! Jeevan even took us on an overnight trip (we stayed with his family) to deliver vitamin A to children in the various wards of Chaturali and to make some house calls.
The public school runs from 10:00 to 4:30 (11th and 12th’s classes starting earlier in the morning) and is about 15 minutes down the hill from the house. It’s possible to go to the health clinic until it closes at 2:00 and still teach up to three periods at the school in the afternoon.
The principal really wants long-term volunteers (a year is his preference, though we told him that would be very difficult), and he is looking for volunteers to teach computer skills. The school apparently has about 10 computers sitting idle because there is no one to teach the kids how to use them.
We were only teaching for about a week, so we rotated around different classes, playing it by ear each day as to which classes we would teach. We didn’t teach from the books, but just came up with what we hoped were class-appropriate lessons for each day. The kids seemed to enjoy us being there and teaching some fun lessons (i.e. making lots of animal noises and singing Old McDonald), but to be really useful at the school a longer-term placement would be better.
If a volunteer has never taught in a school before, they may want to teach with a fellow volunteer at first. The classes are large (40 to 70 kids) and are held in small rooms with only chalk and a blackboard for teaching materials. The kids can be rowdy at times but if you provide a lesson that is easy enough and interesting enough, they are excited to learn.
The kids LOVE any sorts of prizes, toys or stickers. Be careful with them. If you start giving stickers for homework the kids may copy homework they already did and show it to you again to get another sticker.
Things to Bring and Other Useful Info
Bottled water is available for 25 rupees per liter at a shop about 5-10 minutes down the hill from the house. You can get it for 20 rupees if you bargain. Water purification tablets are recommended, however, as the shop can run out of water and there were some pretty serious diseases going around (we saw many cases of typhoid, for example, and one of cholera). The family would likely be willing to boil water, though it would take time and fuel.
There is a truck that goes up the hill to Ranipawa each morning which can save you from carrying your pack up on the way back and save you time (it’s only about 30 min or less). It’s sometimes very crowded and rather uncomfortable, unless you’re lucky enough to get a seat in the middle, though, so the 3 hour walk may or may not be preferable.
There is a continuously-running tap just down the street. Bring a lungi if you want to thoroughly wash! (We just washed our hair, and then used wet wipes for our bodies…okay for 2 weeks but maybe not for a longer stay.) We also heard there was a shower at the clinic but did not get around to investigating it.
Bring sandals that are easy to take on and off in the house, but also bring a pair of good walking shoes. Some of the paths can get pretty treacherous.
The weather was very nice while we were there, though a good jacket for mornings and evenings is recommended.
There are some very nice day walks around the village…there are a couple Buddhist monuments on a hill past the clinic that provide a nice place to read. Half an hour or so down a fork in the road on the way to the school is a beautiful river straight out of a scene from The Hobbit with rocks and slow moving water to wade in if you want to brave the cold
Bring toilet paper! (And be warned, the toilet at the house is…not very nice.) Finding hidden spots outside is recommended. Also plastic bags are useful to collect rubbish while you are staying.
If you bring toys for the family’s three children (two boys and girl all around 13-15), which is recommended, give them out on the last day and don’t let the kids see them beforehand.
Bring plenty of reading material or other activities to occupy free time, as there will probably be lots!