Sam & Chez: Two Intrepid Volunteers in a New Village Placement

At Volunteer Nepal we are always searching for new placements in communities that will benefit from the time, energy, and skills our volunteers bring to Nepal. Here is the story of two recent Australian volunteers who set out to be the first Westerners to visit a tiny village in the mountainous district of Myagdi:

" To get to the village you first take a tourist bus from Kathmandu at about 7am that will take you all the way to Pokhara. The buses are comfortable enough but if you’re somewhat taller than average they can be a little tight. It’s a long trip, about 6-8 hours depending on the traffic and efficiency of the staff. I’d probably suggest bringing a book or tunes, as although the scenery is nice as you meander throughout hillsides and across rives it does get quite repetitive. Once you get in to Pokhara it is another 5-hour bus ride in a smaller bus up to Beni. This is also mostly comfortable but it can be very dusty along some of the smaller roads. Once in Beni there is an option to hike 5 hours up to the placement or to catch another bus that takes two hours, which drops you off at the Myagdi River. From the river it is a 1.5-2 hour hike up the mountain to the village. It’s a pretty steep climb, especially if you take the ‘short-cut’. Pack lightly.

Housing

We were lodged in one of the teacher’s sister’s houses, we called her ‘mum’. It’s only a small house that has a kitchen, with cooking fire, and a few small rooms for sleeping. Sam and I shared a room up stairs with two beds similar to the ones in the volunteer house. The house is perfect when you’re sleepy and just want to have a kip. A word of warning; the house is by no means sealed and a lot of insects and spiders to enjoy cruising around the rooms. So if bugs are not your thing then keep an eye open perhaps when laying down to sleep. You don’t really spend too much time in the house anyway so I found it great just for a roof over your head. A fly net was supplied by Volunteer Nepal, which was very handy as the mosquitoes like to come for a nighttime snack as soon as you go to bed. Village life Most of the villagers have never seen ‘Westerners’ before so we were quite the novelty for them. This is pretty fantastic when the little ones try out there English on you and get very excited when you reply. This fascination certainly did continue the whole time we were there. We became the star attraction of the village with young and old coming to watch us in every daily activity. As soon as we woke up and wandered into the kitchen we had audience outside staring at us. This will continue on any walk you do or activity outside the house including bathing and walking to the toilet. This reminds me; there is no toilet paper in the village, it’s a hand and water job so be prepared for that and ensure you wash well afterwards as eating with your hands is expected. While on the topic of hygiene the water is not safe for visitors to drink so water purification tablets are a handy thing to bring. The village is mostly self reliant, with every spare piece of land used for crops of corn, fields of beans and chillies, grazing goats, buffalo and chickens and there are also the occasional orange or apple tree. We were helping out a little with the farm work. It’s nothing too serious or strenuous. Mainly a bit of digging in the cornfields or staking out bean plots. Showering does not occur very often in the village but a simple bathing method using a hose attached to a tree or a bucket works just fine. I only washed once in 2 weeks and Sam washed twice but I think the villagers bathe about once per week. This is usually on Saturday and included washing their clothes.

This village had no electricity at the time we visited. It didn’t really affect us as we had dinner just as it was getting dark and bed followed soon after. The glow of the fire was enough for the small room but not much happens at night anyway.

Teaching

The school is a short walk from the house and classes for us started at 11am. We started teaching our first day with two 2-hour classes each with a 1-hour break for lunch in between. The school is quite small with only 24 students during our placement so classes contained combined grades. The combination made is quite difficult at first as you were trying to give instruction that one class could follow and then give a completely new set to the other grade. Originally Sam and I were in separate classes but we changed this so we taught differing grades in the same classroom. It works much better this way and if you go with a friend of partner I would suggest this technique. I am not a teacher so my lesson plans were mainly non-existent especially as we only had one resource to refer to. English was the only subject we taught as it is a Nepali medium school but the textbook is very inadequate so any other learning resources that can be provided would be excellent. The children’s grasp of English is quite poor, with them mostly about to write words but not quite know what they mean. Knowing some Nepali phrases helps significantly but because it is an English class I tried to use as much English as possible. Naturally the children are young and quite cheeky at that. Originally they were very well behaved but once they realised that you were not going to punish them as they would by a Nepali teacher they will begin to test the boundaries, however most of them are quite eager to learn and are attentive for at least the first hour. I liked to give them a break after an hour as the children of all ages clearly became very restless. The discipline is very different to what usually occurs in schools these days, with the children getting slightly manhandled and occasionally struck for incorrect answers or bad behaviour.

Food

Expect to eat lots of daal bhat or daal roti [rice or flatbread with lentils]. This is the staple Nepali meal and they seem to be happy eating it for breakfast and dinner. There will be the occasional twist on these meals with a few different styles of roti or occasional rice pudding, which I think buffalo milk was used for this. Usually some potato and bean curry is served with the dish but sometimes it is just potatoes. The food tastes excellent, the best I have had in Nepal, but the frequency with which it is served can be a bit much. Cucumber, or at least something that taste like cucumber, may be offered but I guess it depends on the season. This also goes for some fruits like apples and peaches. Lunch is much smaller, so eat a big breaky, mainly consisting of beaten rice or puffed rice, or perhaps some more roti. I found the meals large but very spaced out so during the day I became very hungry which made teaching difficult. Bringing some snacks or bars with you would help and there is also a little shop attached to the house that sells biscuits and lollies if you need a sugar hit. Most of the food was all vegetarian but the occasional chicken may get thrown into the meal along with some goat. It’s mainly a lot of bones and skin with a bit of meat floating around there somewhere. We got goat twice and chicken once so it is clearly not very common to eat meat.

Communication

So ‘mum’ speaks a little English but it is not very good and you have to speak very slowly and repeat yourself many times but with some wild waving hand gestures and a touch of patience we eventually got there. The shopkeeper, Dependra, spoke English quite well and he was there to help us translate during the afternoon playing around that we had sometimes with the students. Overall though there is not a lot of English speaking villagers. It’s a great way to shape up on your Nepali, as ‘mum’ is quite helpful with that especially if you show her a written word to translate for you.

Essentials: Hand sanitizer; Water purification tablets; Insect repellent; Books, writing equipment, and learning resources you can carry; A torch (No electricity); Snacks or something to mix up the food a little; If you remember perhaps a ball for the school children