Thursday, 3 March 2016

And then it was time to pack up and move on, to be returning in a couple of weeks. Goodbye Tansen.

On Saturday the 13th Dan and I were invited to the Montessori school that Sargar is heavily involved with. There was an open day to celebrate the god of education. So the school had put on a show for the parents to come in and watch. I can whole heartedly say that this was the closest thing to a school production that the parents would come into see in the UK that I have seen in Nepal. The main point being that this Montessori production was child orientated and it only lasted a couple of hours. Compared to the hours and hours that children and adults have to endure during some of the school anniversaries that I have witnessed in Nepal.

Sunday the 14th Saran and I then went to Pipaldanda to complete some more twinning activities. We were able to fit around half of the school in the carpeted room upstairs and Saran and I explained what the children were being asked to do. But to nor surprise of us the children’s drawings were very similar and they hadn’t thought very much for themselves. But, their drawings were very good and it was obvious that the children were very proud of what they had produced and they were keen to show their work off to me and to their teachers.

The following day the Monday the 15th Saran and I got back on the bike for my last bike ride and headed to Jheksang. Here we worked with classes 3 and 4 to do the twinning activity. The school has demolished 2 classrooms and the 2 new classrooms are government funded. This means that the schools doesn’t have enough rooms currently so classes 3 and 4 are together and nursery has also been moved. But this worked in our favour as we were able to do the twinning activity at the same time with all the children that were in the right classroom. The head teacher was away from school doing some business so we were able to complete the twinning activity and then head back to Tansen.

I spent Tuesday the 16th with Janaki shopping. I had seen a really lovely bed sheet hung on someone’s washing line and asked Janaki if we could find something like it in Tansen. Turns out we couldn’t but I was able to get some other bits before I left and I was able to write a spices list to make dhal bhat and masala tea. I’m sure though when I try to make it at home it won’t even be half as good as what Janaki makes.

I had a really exciting Wednesday. I spent the day doing the last bits of my washing. Before then going to Amrit for their school anniversary day on Thursday the 18th. We were told that the day we were going was the day of dancing so we were hoping that we would be able to watch lots of dancing. Saran got bored very quickly and my and Dan’s hopes of seeing lots of dancing were very quickly shattered as of the 3 hours that we were there we only saw about 5 minutes of dancing. The teachers were very keen that I stayed the night as it was my last visit but I had to explain that the next day was for me to pack up my room.

There was a family wedding coming up on Saturday and Dhanni was already there but Janaki left on Friday. Abhi was in Butwal for a school competition so another relative came to look after the house. I offered that we should get some momo for supper that evening but he was very keen to try and make dhal bhat. As it was his first attempt I was pretty impressed and he was very enthusiastic about learning how to cook, which was good to see that young men are keen to learn how to cook.

The last week of school visits, family visits and twinning activities.

Saran and Dan had planned to visit Gorkha from Monday the 8th to Wednesday the 10th to get the agreements signed for the new classrooms that Manisha are going to provide and to collect their bank details so that the Manisha could make the first bank transfer so the school could start work. During their time away I thought that I would make the most of it and do some washing. I was then planning on going to Bagnas to work with some of the children to complete some twinning activities for me to take back to the UK and send out to their twin school. My mission over the next couple of weeks was to complete this with most of the schools except a couple which Dan said that he would do with the school.

I was planning on going to Bagnas on the Day that Saran ad Dan arrived back in Palpa, but surprise, surprise there was a holiday so instead we went to Dhanni’s village as he wanted to see his mother and he had a trident that the family was going to donate to the local temple so that was also being delivered. Janaki, Dhani and I also were also accompanied by two other guests, which is always nice as visits to the village are normally quite busy for the family, but can be extremely slow for any visitors that are invited.

Saran and I then had a very busy Thursday as we visited both Bhalebas and Dumre to complete twinning activities. This was also the last time that I will be visiting these schools as I finish work on the 20th to go to Kathmandu to meet my friend Hollie who is flying out to meet me and to spend my last month travelling around the country seeing it from a tourists perspective. We went into two different classes in Bhalebas but in Dumre we multi-tasked and after explaining to the children what they were supposed to do we were then able to keep an eye on both classrooms and then collect their work. Some of which was really amazingly done, some of the children in Dumre really have a talent when it comes to art, although it is such a shame that this is not really recognised in the Nepali education system. 

I finally managed to get to Bagnas on the 12th and, as always, I was very surprised with the standard of drawing from the children at Bagnas. They were a little unsure of how to use the freedom we gave them to create an annotated drawing so out of the 30 children that we worked with we had about many replicas of the same 5 different designs. The children were very proud to show off their work to be and loved the high fives that were given for completed drawings. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

More School Visits, Science experiments and even more food!

After a short recovery from Okhaldunga we then set off for Bhalebas after making a short stop off at the office to pick up Dan and to get a bag of resources and the equipment that was needed for the science experiments that the teachers who attended the teacher training chose. After a bouncy jeep ride up to Saran’s house as we had a lot of things that he had ordered in Tansen, and I also had bought a couple steel shelves that I was giving him. Saran’s dad also came up with some bits for his new house, which was nice. Saran’s old house as I’ve mentioned before was sadly ruined in the earthquake last April, and he has only just finished his new house which is wonderful. Very different to the old traditional house that he lost but it is a wonderful building and is making a great home for his family.

Shortly after arriving at Saran’s house we had some tea and made the short walk down to the school where we were very warmly welcomed by the staff group with Tikka and flower garlands and after a short chat in the office it was time to go and observe some lessons. Rob and Sam went off to observe a science lesson and I was able to observe a few lessons and see how the library was used and all of the ways that the teachers had to record what they were using and lending out.

As always I was very impressed with the ways that the teachers made the lessons as interesting and interactive. One of the female teachers was acting out a passage from the book and the children were engaged and were clearly really enjoying the lesson. Although I do not speak Nepali it’s pretty easy to follow what’s going on when the lessons are animated. So after a morning of great lessons we walked back to Saran’s house for lunch. Santi, Saran’s wife, had cooked us a wonderful lunch that was really tastey. I haven’t found myself bored of curried vegetables and rice in the time that I’ve been here so far and I don’t think that time will ever come, the food here is just too good. After lunch we then walked back into school where one of the teachers had hurried back to school once he heard that Rob and Sam where in school eager to show them the experiment that he had chosen.

He was doing chromatography and after figuring out that that paper that he had brought to class was card and not blotting paper we were able to watch him do a demonstration for the children and then split the class into groups so they could do it themselves. Then what we all thought that was really great was that he then had a conversation with the class and was able to discuss why the normal card didn’t work and why the blotting paper did. He was able to extend the children’s learning through a small mistake that I was really impressed with.
That evening we then all bunched up in front of Saran’s TV and watched a film, which was really odd as his TV is the only one I’ve seen whilst being here and it must be said of all of the things that I miss from home, watching TV is definitely not one of them.

Wednesday the 27th we then had a 45 minute uphill climb to Kokal School. Although I’ve been here a while now this was my first visit and I can’t explain how wonderfully impressed I was when we arrived. Kokal only has 28 pupils now and is only from Nursery to class 3. I observed one lesson that the head teacher was teaching with class 2 and if I’m honest I don’t think that I would have taught it any differently. He made great use of the zone board, the pot of fairness and was getting the children out of their seats for conversations and was also making the conversations relevant to the children so it made more sense to them. One of the things that was most obvious to Dan and I was that the children were used to doing this so we could see that this wasn’t just a one off because we were there, which can sometimes be the case. Then after that the children were all outside focused on tasks sitting on mats with the guidance of their teachers.

We were then due to go on another school visit on Thursday 28th however Sam’s back was a bit sore as we’ve spent a lot of time in jeeps over the past few days and they’re by no means a comfortable mode of transport so Dan, Saran and I were planning to go. Dan then called on Wednesday evening to say that he was feeling under the weather so we had to give the visit a miss.

Rob and Sam went to visit Abhi’’s school for the morning to see the difference between a government state paid school and a private school. They then came to the conclusion, not unlike the UK, that there are many good government schools and apart from the facilities there wasn’t much difference in the teaching. Rob was unexpectedly asked to teach a couple of sessions before he made an escape and they met up with Saran and I so Saran could say his goodbyes. They then went shopping to get all of their bits to take home with them and I caught up on some paper work. That evening Sam, Rob, Dan, Bimila and I went out for supper which was lovely as always.

Rob and Sam then walked to Rani Ghat and back on the Friday. I had the intention of going and set my alarm, unfortunately I woke up with a horrible cold so spent the day pretty much in bed. Although, judging by how exhausted Rob and Sam were when they got back I don’t think I’d have made it home. 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The arrival of new volunteers and more teacher training; this time with some amazing experiments!

Rob and Sam arrived on the Sunday afternoon to a warm welcome from the Bashyl family. Dhanni is away in Kathmandu doing a course for the cooperative that he is involved with so Janaki is proving that she’s the backbone of the house and is working very hard looking after all her guests.

Rob and Sam spent the Monday exploring Tansen and we met up with Dan in the office on Tuesday the 19th to talk about what they had planned for a teacher training session. We decided that Rob would plan to deliver ten experiments that the teachers would then be able to do at school. Rob spent some of the day running through the experiments making sure that they worked on the other side of the world, thankfully they all did.
Then we spent the Wednesday getting all of the photocopying done for the teacher training as well as getting our equipment together for the experiments which unfortunately involved eating some pringles and drinking some sprite as we needed the containers for the experiments. I wanted to get the method sheets laminated so that they would last longer, but then the electricity decided to go off about 3pm until about 7pm I was beginning to worry that I would have to take all the sheets out of the laminating pouches which I had spent a couple of hours that day doing.

Thursday the 21st was the day for teacher training. I was so impressed with the experiments that Rob had planned it really took me back to my school days, which definitely wasn’t a bad thing. I think I paid a lot more attention this time round than when I did when I was in school. The ten experiments that Rob did (with the help of his wonderful assistant Sam) were; Using carbon dioxide, from the reaction of baking soda and vinegar, to extinguish a candle, chromatography, electrolysis of water, looking at plant cells under an electric microscope, using pomegranate as an indicator, making a pin hole camera, making a model lung, looking at oxygen in the air, measuring your pulse rate and making a rainbow with an old CD.

Not only did we show the teachers these experiments we also made method sheets for each experiment and also photocopied the pages from the text books that the experiments corresponded with so the teachers were able to see the relevance to their curriculum, which is very important. We then asked the teachers to decide what experiments they wanted to do in school, we would then bring the equipment for the experiments to schools and re stock them once we know that they have done them with the children.
Friday the 22nd was spent relaxing as we were all rather tired from the day before and then Saturday we were invited to Bimila and Dan’s house for the rice pudding, which I love. After eating way too much rice pudding, again, I managed it up the steep steps with Rob and Sam, they carried on for a walk and I retreated back to my laptop to try and get some of my blog done, which I had failed to post. After supper it was time to pack ready for Okhaldunga the next day.

Okhaldunga, what an experience. We arrived to Tikka and flower garlands, which were lovely as always. We then had a few minutes for me to ask some data collection questions for me to send the numbers of the school and staff team back to the UK. The first period I went into an English class I saw another English class that afternoon. That evening we were sitting around the fire having a chat with the teachers which was really nice and we were able to keep warm too which was obviously a big bonus. Then about 8pm we saw a very drunk man crawl down the steps next to the place we were and then stumble around for a bit before he attempted to climb up the stairs and ended up falling flat on his face. I’ve seen some pretty drunk people in my time and I must admit there have been times where I’ve had a few too many but I don’t think I’ve ever been that drunk, thankfully. I’m sure his head would have been very sore, not only from the fall!

We tried to make our leaving the next day a quiet affair but we ended up with a five piece band and teachers dancing before being given more tika, flower garlands and a traditional Nepali hat a Daka Tope. The band followed us up to the jeep and we made an escape. Now I have described what the school visit was like I can now describe the journey there and back. The journey there was okay until we reached the top of the hill on the other side of the valley. Now I must say that our jeep driver was divine and the best driver I have ever seen, sorry dad! There is no way I’d have got in a vehicle with anyone else going down a very narrow shingle track with very tight corners. On the way home we decided that going up that slope would be more dangerous than it was worth so we decided to pay the driver a little more and for him to take us the long way home.  This way home was okay, until we reached the slidey mud. It was a challenge that’s for sure but the driver was completely controlled, I’m pretty sure he’d win awards for such controlled driving in the west. But once we got home I was ready for bed and completely shattered. 
A School anniversary, progressive meetings and the potential of new office space.

Monday the 11th Dan, Bimila (Dan’s wife) and I got the bus down the valley to Dumre and marched up the hill to Dumre School. We had been invited to the schools 25th anniversary and the teachers were very keen that we attended so we made a promise to go and kept our word. The head teacher had told Saran that we needed to be there at 11am we managed to get there about 11.45 minutes knowing that they would be running behind schedule. I think the whole ceremony started at about 1.30. There were many guests; head teachers from other schools, local politicians, other highly thought of members of society and then the Manisha team. We were sat at the back of the guests enjoying our bag of peanuts whilst trying to look like we were interested. It is very difficult trying to look interested in something that you have no idea what is going on. Then there was some dancing from the children which was really lovely. They seemed to break off into their classes and it looked like the school and children had put a lot of effort into their dances. That was definitely the highlight for me.

The next day we rallied the Manisha crew again (Dan, Saran, Sargar and I) and went to see Room to Read. Room to Read is an INGO and are focused at improving reading and literacy skills in schools as well as providing libraries and books. As some of our schools have Room to Read libraries and some don’t we were looking at what Room to Reads’ next steps are and to see if we were able to work together in the future as they also run teacher training days so we were excited to see how we might be able to collaborate and work together. I felt that it was a really progressive meeting and it was really interesting to clarify how they operate and it definitely seems to be an efficient system.

On the Wednesday the 13th Dan and I went to see the Red Cross as Barbara and I had previously visited to see about renting an office on their first floor. Although the office we currently use at the back of Sargar’s office is great, it is pretty noisy and dusty and the Red Cross office is away from the bus park so the noise and dust is a lot less. In true Nepali fashion the two meetings we had over a couple of days at the Red Cross were focused on drinking tea and sitting in slightly awkward silences not really sure of what to say. We had taken some pictures and got them sent back to the UK for the approval of the trustees before we said that we would be interested in renting.

Rob, a retired chemistry teacher and an old friend of one of the trustees, and his wife Sam, a retired scientist at a university, were due to arrive on the Saturday but as the trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara was slightly longer than they anticipated so they spent an extra night in Pokhara and arrived on the Sunday. This then meant that I was able to have the day to myself reading and I went for a walk up Shrinigar hill, which is always lovely even if the weather isn’t clear.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Just a very quite New Year! Then Schools and signed agreements.

From the 28th was able to stay at the homestay and going down to the office to be able to start designing more resources. Saran and I had ordered lots of big white boards and 100 more mini white boards before Christmas and they were just about finished so Saran went down to Bartung to pick them up. The next day he called and said that they were all in the office. I was very excited to see them so I walked down so I could have a look at our carpenters work. I don’t think I’ve ever been excited to see so many whiteboards before. But it is just really satisfying knowing that we’re helping the learning of so many children across the Palpa district.

Many of my friends and family asked how I spent New Year’s Eve, they were all rather surprised when I said I was in bed by 9.30pm at the latest and was most definitely asleep by 12. So I saw the New Year in comfortably asleep and in bed knowing I’d be waking up the next day without a hangover!

On the 1st Dan, Saran and I were able to get a Jeep to Mahachap. The idea of this trip was to present to then an agreement that stated how much Manisha were going to contribute in the building of 4 new classrooms. The school and village committees wanted some time to think over the agreement, as it was a big commitment on their part. Thankfully though they came back on the 8th and were able to sign the agreement and met up with Dan and Saran in Tansen.

There’s a similar story for both Dumre and Amrit. Dan and I caught the bus down to Dumre and walked up to the school on the 3rd where we had a very positive meeting and the agreement was signed for the new classrooms there. Then we all went to Amrit on the 4th and again the agreement was signed the same day. There were a few questions asked but mainly it was just confusion with the figures but that was soon answered and everyone was at ease.

Tuesday the 5th I walked over to Bagnas, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that walk, the views are just amazing! I got there to a very empty school with only 3 children doing exams. I had a nice chat with some of the teachers about the children and their plans for the winter holiday. I had meant to bring a bag of resources but I forgot them and only remembered as I got to the school. Typical. So I promised I’d be back the next day with them.

So on the 6th I wandered back down to Bagnas and with the resources as well as a new school bag for one of the children. This young girl unfortunately doesn’t have any parents and lives with her aunt and until Barbara noticed that she didn’t have a school bag this wouldn’t have changed. She was so happy and grateful and it really humbled me and reminded me why I’m here. As the children were having a day of being set homework there wasn’t much going happening so I soon headed back into Tansen. Just in the nick of time really as my host father, Dhanni, had said that there was a parcel waiting for me in the post office and I had to get there before 1. So I got to the post office, to no parcel. After some rather frustrating sign language with the main woman who works there I called Dhanni who said to wait 10 minutes for it and 10 minutes later it arrived!

Now due to a huge change in my diet and a load of walking, I’ve managed to shift over 3 stone! Now as you can imagine that means very few of my clothes fit anymore, so my mum ever so kindly sent me a package with a few new bits of clothing and some PG tips as I’ve been craving a home brew. However, tea just doesn’t taste the same with buffalo milk which is a shame. I’ll just have to wait until I get home to curb that craving!

This afternoon I’m going to visit my host mother’s sisters house with Abhi as well as he finishes his exams today, which I’m looking forward to. We’re planning to come back on Sunday morning before school.

Monday, 28 December 2015


After a couple of days in Tansen after my trip to Okuldunga it was time for Dan’s and his friend Alex to arrive in Tansen on the 20th of December. The day after Dan, Alex, Bimila and I went to Saran’s parents’ house for lunch and a few hours later is was time for Dan and Bimila’s wedding party. This was very exciting for everyone. I had only met Dan in England and met Bimila in Nepal so it was lovely to finally see them both together. There were lots of people there from Bimila’s family and also Saran helped Bimila with the invitations and also a lot of teachers briefly passed through which was also nice. I love Nepali food but the curries at the wedding party were particularly delicious and I left feeling very full. I walked down to the party with the Bashyal Family after waiting for Abhi to come back from school. There was music, food, and some raksi (home brewed rice wine; a bit like paint stripper). A really lovely evening to be part of. As Saran and I were heading to Pokhara the next day I made sure I had an early night so headed to bed.

The next day I met Saran in Tansen at this parents’ were we had some tea and then got in a taxi down to Bartung where he had called ahead to a tourist bus and had reserved us some seats. Turns out that we didn’t need to book seats as the bus wasn’t even half full. A very strange and rare sight in Nepal, especially at the moment with there being a lot less buses on the roads.

For anyone that has travelled anywhere with me, I normally hear an engine and fall asleep. But, on this 6 hour bus ride I didn’t fall asleep once. A personal achievement that I felt particularly proud of! When we got to Pokhara Saran checked into his friends hotel, I checked into a hotel that Barbara and I stayed in before and then I went back out to do some personal shopping. My family had transferred me some Christmas money so I felt that I probably should go out and get myself a little bag and some books. Frustratingly, I had bought a load of books when I was in Pokhara last time and I had the intention of bringing them as the shops buy them back at a reduced price, but, I forgot them! We then went out for a meal to a Vietnamese restaurant Pho 99 which do really great food and the service is also good. Then it was to climb happily into bed with a new book and have an early night.

On the 23rd Saran came up to my hotel in the morning before he went to Batase school. Unfortunately the night before when I was in bed he’d gone for a walk he had his wallet pick pocketed. This was a real knock to us but thankfully he wasn’t hurt. Money can be replaced but people can’t. I then gave him my camera so he could take some photos of the school. Saran was going up to Batase on his own as we felt that the village was hit hard in the earthquake and me accompanying him would be more of a hindrance than a help so he went up on his own with a list of questions and a camera.

After saying goodbye to Saran I went to find some coffee and breakfast and had a really relaxed morning reading in the sun, as it was a few degrees warmer than Tansen it was bliss. Then later that afternoon Dan, Alex and Bimila arrived in Pokhara and after they were all checked into my hotel we went out to find some lunch. There looked like there was a really cool restaurant in an old plane. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster, after ordering and my salad (some squares of cucumber and carrot) and Bimilas soup arrived it turned out that they had forgotten about Dan and Alex’s food so we paid up and went on the hunt for some real food. We ended up eating at a pizza place where the food came out super quickly. For some reason my body’s decided to reject gluten but I decided I’d risk it and have a pizza anyway. I paid for it later. That night we then went out in hunt of more food and a place that wouldn’t forget half our orders. We did and the food was brilliant, we even had a couple cocktails.

The following day it was Christmas Eve and in true European style we celebrated then rather than on Christmas day. I went to extend my visa and it was surprisingly simple normally you’re bumped from one Nepali official to another, but there was none of that, just had to wait a few minutes for the boss to stamp my visa. We were expecting Saran back in Pokhara the following day, but being the wizard that he is, he had made it back to Pokhara by about 10.30am on the 24th. Then in the afternoon we rented out a boat and went and explored the lake for a couple of hours before the sun went and it got cold. We timed in perfectly and were back on land just as the temperature started to drop. That evening we went for a Nepali/ English Christmas dinner with roast chicken and gravy… but also with noodles and salad, which was an odd twist. We then headed out to a bar where things got a little hazy.

The idea was that we would all get up at 5.30 to go and watch the sunrise but as most people were feeling a bit worse for wear having celebrated a little too hard, we didn’t. I was feeling okay so I went to get some breakfast and read in the sun. I met a couple of people while having breakfast and an about 2 hours later Dan, Alex and Bimila came down for something to eat. Alex, very bravely, then went off to do some paragliding and Dan, Bimila and I went to do some resources shopping. After a while squatting in the corners of a book shop we had found a good selection of books to take out to the schools. Dan wanted to head back to the hotel for a nap and I went out to find some lunch and to call my family, who I knew would be up already. After some more reading in the sun on the balcony of our hotel it was time to eat again (I’ve definitely taken to the Nepali culture of eating a lot). As it was our last night together in Pokhara I was really glad that we came across a really nice place that looked Moroccan, was playing south American music with a Nepali menu. It also had two fires inside and had a really good atmosphere and the food was also pretty great. As we were all getting up early the next day we had an early night.

I spent most of the 26th on a bus. Dan, Alex and Bimila were going to Kathmandu as Alex was flying to the UK, and I headed back to Tansen. Unsurprisingly I slept a lot on this bus ride home. I then met a 4 people in Bartung. 2 people were from the American Peace Corps who were really interested in what I was doing. I gave the girls my number so they could call me and the other two were a couple who are living in Vietnam. I called ahead and got them a room at the homestay which they seemed happy about.

I was hoping to get back out to the schools on the 28th but it seems that they are doing end of term exams so I’m not sure when I’ll next be out. I’ll just have to transform my bedroom back into a factory and get on the resources making. As the schools break up for a 20 day holiday on the 6th of Jan and don’t go back until the 26th. I’ve never been to a country that has so many holidays, no wonder it takes forever for anything to get done. But it is super frustrating, although you know that there is nothing that you can do about it.