Published: July 1st 2009June 20th 2009
I was fortunate to find an affordable volunteer program in Nepal which I participated in for one month as an English teacher. I say "affordable" because in today's 'Brave New World' it's all business, and most programs' weekly prices are equivalent to an all-inclusive week vacation in the Caribbean. So much for "volunteering" in the traditional sense of the word.
Even though they had medical assignments, I decided to play teacher. Since I never did it before, it sounded like an interesting challenge. So, for four weeks I divided my time between a rural farming village lost to the recesses of time situated deep within the Himalayan Mts and a majestic monastery deep within the heart of the capital city of Kathmandu.
A 12 hour bus ride, which gave me the most adrenaline packed day of my life (see pics below), transported me back in time a thousand years to this simple mountain village along the border of Tibet. Here the Tamang, the indigenous people of the region, grow corn, potatoes, berries, and varied grains. The nearest village is a 90 minute walk away, yes, there was electricity but only for a couple of hours
Singi and Jenma.
My host mother and father standing in the 'kitchen', a separate building from the main house where all the cooking and socializing was done.
a day, everything was cooked over an open fire, their drafty houses are build out of stone and wood, and during the snows of winter their only reliable source of heat is body heat.
Observing the Tamang in their day-to-day lives was a lot like watching master's of a survival school at work. Their days were filled with activities such as gathering/chopping wood, collecting water, gathering/storing food, planting crops, weaving baskets to store the food in, as well as, needed clothing and blankets and so on. That was their business, their profession... anticipating and surviving the harsh elements.
I was fortunate to have another volunteer participating during the same two weeks as myself, John, a genetic research scientist from NYC. We struggled well together through the challenges set before us. Between the hours of 7-9am and 4-6pm we ran the 'library', our program funded building set up to teach and entertain the kids before and after school. Also, from the hours of 10-130pm we both taught classes in the local school where, incidentally, the school's two English teachers barely spoke English themselves!
We lived with a host family who took good care of us and addressed any
The 12 Hour Bus Ride.
A view from the roof, where I sat for 9 of those 12 hours experiencing 'God's Air-Con'. Here you can see a good example of the pristine all-natural Nepali roadways.
concerns we had, that is, when there wasn't a language barrier issue... which there was... constantly. You see, even though John and I had a three day Nepali language and culture course, the Tamang don't speak it. It's rare for any rural community to speak Nepali, if at all, which, surprisingly, accounts for half the country's population, but TIN -- "This is Nepal." -- as many a Nepali would respond in explaining 'the way it is'.
There are more photos below