I arrive in Rampur Chitwan, by bus, leaving Rosslyn who is going back to Kathmandu. I will be going to live with a host family for a week in a village just outside of the Rampur. I arrive and the family is there waiting. They serve tea and get me settled. There is the father, Bahnu, mother, Bisnamoya, daughter-in-law, Radha, and her son, Prithak. Her husband, their son, is working in Qatar for 6 months but will be coming home soon, probably end of November. While they introduce themselves by their names, for the rest of my stay, they will refer to me and each other by their relationships: sister, mother, father, brother. I will continually be called, sister by both the daughter-in-law and the mother.
They live in a nice farmhouse with the bathrrom/shower, three bedrooms on the first floor and the “family room” ‘they all gather to watch TV for about an hour and drink warm (fresh from their cow) milk before bed. There is a loft where the son appears to sleep and they store rice and other things. The kitchen is a separate room accessible only from the outside porch. There is a cow shed which
houses the cow and it’s calf. The cow is pregnant (ensuring it will keep producing milk). Once born, the current calf will be sold and the new calf housed with the mother. In the shed is also the open fireplace where all large quantities are heated…like water, rice and cornmeal (for the cows). In the back of the house is the water pump where all washing occurs (dishes and clothing), as well as a separate bathroom/outhouse.
The baby is adorable and I play with him while we get acquainted. Rhada is the only one who speaks any English it seems, though the father also seems to understand some English. Later, they are off in the fields working and leave me with Prithak and the mother. They are quite trusting and happy to let me take care of him while they do various chores. And I notice how they each seem to take turns minding the baby without ever formally handing over responsibility. One person leaves and the other stays to look out for Prithak, or “Babu” meaning little one.
The following day I explore the town a bit, walking to nearby villages where I meet a few men
who are curious about me, though they don’t speak much English. I ask to take a picture and one of the men rushes into the house and comes back with his formal Topi hat on for the photograph.
I spend the week going to the orphanage in the morning with three other volunteers, Ben, Oliver, and Phillipe. They are young and really energetic with the kids. When the kids are done eating their breakfast, the guys spy for the ones who do not properly wash their plates. When they catch a culprit, they run down the steps to tackle the child and ask repeatedly, “Are you going to clean your plate?” while they rev the water pump threatening to douse the child with water…It is hysterical and has the kids all giggling!
Next I go home for my morning dal baat before I go to the school to teach. Dal baat is the staple of Indians but even more so, Nepali. It is what they have every morning and evening, with rice or chipati bread. It’s spicy, curried lentils, served with a potato and vegetable curry mixture. It is delicious, but it is essentially ALL they eat, 365
days a year (except maybe on special holidays).
Then I’m back to the school where I follow the other volunteer, Marcos while he teaches. He is from Finland and has been teaching for 2 months already and will be there for another 8 months. He will be going to Pokhara for a few days so I will be teaching on my on the following 3 days. The kids are great, but I notice Marcos does a lot of explaining in Nepali…that will be a problem once he leaves since I do not speak any Nepali. But when I am on my own, I find the kids are really responsive. I focus on pronunciation, since that is probably what I can best help them with, so we read and I have them repeat certain words that are problematic for them.
Once school lets out at 3:30, I’m back at the orphanage to help the kids with their homework. It is amazing the schedule the orphanage kids keep: 6:00 wake, 7-9 study (with volunteers), 9-10 breakfast, 10-3 school, 3-4 free snack, 4-6 study (with volunteers), 7-8 dinner, 8-9 television, 9:30 bed. It is actually a very good schedule, since most other
kids outside of the orphanage spend a good portion of their time helping the family with chores and working in the fields. There are several names on the attendance chart where the children have never attended school because their families cannot afford to loose the labor. It is very sad to see that many of the children are not given the chance to get an education. The method of teaching in Nepal, at least English teaching, appears to be by rote copying and memorization. Some children can speak fairly well, while most have only basic English language skills or don’t understand at all. Yet English is seen as the ticket for the children to be able to get better paying jobs in the city where tourism is the main source of income.
Back at the host family, I try to see what their day is like. There is a slow but constant rhythm to their day. They begin by milking the cow, before tea and chipati, then work in the fields until 10:00 dal baat, they seem to each have their jobs and know what they should be doing. Father does most of the work and doesn’t really stop
much from morning until evening. Everything is about little Babu and they spend their free time playing and caring for him. Since there are no diapers, they simply change his pants everytime he pees in his pants, then they place them in the sun to dry. I guess it's just a little baby pee so no need to wash everytime!!
The question of my age and marital status is freely asked by the people I meet. My response of 43 is usually accompanied by gasps (even by one of the volunteers, funny enough). And my marital status (single) by a disapproving nod. I’ve gone from saying “single”, to “have a boyfriend”, to engaged…and the last one seems to get the best response so I will continue to use that. In fact, when a neighbor asked me whether I was married, Radha chimed in, “soon, she will marry.”
I love the kids at the school and orphanage, but I’m ready for a little more independence. It is very trying for me to rely on the family for everything, from water, to meals and constantly having to figure out where I should be and what I should be doing. If
I were here longer, I know I would establish this very quickly.
The one good thing is that I adore their baby, Prithak, and they love that. Part of me wishes I had come here first, when I had more energy for this trip. But I find myself wishing for some familiar surroundings, a nice hot bath, and a soft bed, and a western toilet and clean bathroom. But if I had done Nepal first, I don’t think I would have had the energy to endure India which is 10 times more taxing in some respects.
I leave for Pokhara tomorrow morning. The children at the orphanage gave me a lovely send-off on the start of Tihar, their holy festival, by giving me a tika blessing and gifts of flowers and drawings. I loved it.
When I got home, Rhada was with the baby. I sat with her and she left to go do something or other, leaving me with Babu (baby boy) for a while, which she often does seeing me as a bit of a baby-minder so she can get other things done. When father, mother and brother get home from working several hours in
the fields, father and Rhada seem to have quite a few words and Radha is clearly upset. The mother is shrugging her shoulders a bit, almost apologetically to me. I am guessing he is unhappy that many chores have not been done. The front yard is unswept, the table is full of dishes. I am guessing he thinks she is forgetting her duties and is reprimanding her. She goes to her room and shuts the door loudly to put baby to sleep. Father is off to nap, and after reading my LP guide about Pokhara for awhile, I soon go to my room to do the same. Part of me is now thrilled I will be leaving tomorrow, I'm not sure if this spat is atypical or something more common. It could be cultural, It could be similar for all volunteers. But I’m ready to be on my own again, be able to get my own water, make tea when my throat hurts (which it has been since the little petri dishes at the school and orphanage so graciously passed on their colds to me), and sleep on a softer bed that doesn’t make my back scream in pain in
the middle of the night.
I do wonder how Radha feels about her family. Hers was an arranged marriage like most Nepalese (Hindus I think). She seems to be in charge of cooking and cleaning, though mother also does her fair share AND works in the fields. I almost wonder if they expect me to join them. I might have offered if I didn’t feel so stricken with this cold, but then I think my time here is so short I don’t want to run myself ragged with school and orphanage and home chores.
Oliver, another volunteer, stopped by to say goodbye. He is really sweet. A voice and accent like Gromit of Wallace and Gromit, and good sense of humor. He is trying to get his visa to Pakistan but will go to Sri Lanka if that fails. He is quite the adventurous traveler as far as the locations go…Liberia, Venezuela, Columbia etc.
I can still hear his voice and the Aussie, Ben, as they chased down one of the orphanage children who failed to clean their plate. They threatened water torture and finally turned the tap yelling “are you going to wash your plate? Are
you going to wash your plate?” before the boy, Aryn conceded and washed his plate.
It is the day before I leave for Pokhara and it is the start of the second biggest holiday for Hindus, Tihar. The local children and an older boy have just stopped at the house and sang rather loudly a tortuously long Tihar song. The father paid 20 rps which the elder boy refused. Father assumed they were looking for more money, which he seemed to pay just to shut them up (a little extortion). Finally, they stopped singing and seemed to want more money, but ended up taking the 40 rps that father left. This continued for the next three hours at no less than four similar caroling groups stopped by waiting for money. I finally went to bed when I heard yet another such group with the unmistakable Aussie accent of one of the members…”Ben, is that you?!?” I yelled out. And sure enough, I find him in the middle of the group of carolers looking for a cut of the dough…or at least a bit of fun as always!
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