After a crawling, seven hour public bus ride through the Himalayas from Besisahar, I’m back in Kathmandu again. Nothing seems to have changed in the last six weeks. There’s the same dust, the same noise, the same bustle. But this post isn’t about Kathmandu – I think I’ve covered this city well enough already. I’ll be writing about my time in Besi to make up for whilst I was there (because of the extremely variable availability of wifi). It’ll be a sort of retrospective.
So. For the last nine days, I’ve been teaching/volunteering/living at two secondary schools in a small town called Besisahar, close to the start of the Annapurna circuit. Both are linked to my old school in the U.K. (RGS, Guildford) in connection with the Alexander Ewert Memorial Fund. The Fund was set up in 2004 after an RGS student named Alex Ewert died in a rafting accident whilst volunteering at the schools on his gap year. The ensuing relationship between the schools has lead to numerous visits by teachers from Nepal to the UK and vice versa, plus several ex-RGS students who have come out to volunteer (I think I was the 8th). Though most volunteers come out here for extended periods – at least over a month – I was only supposed to be in the town for a flying, five day visit. Luckily, I’d been put in contact with two other volunteers (Michael and Ben, both ex-RGS) who were there at the same time as me.
The Fund itself (http://opencharities.org/charities/1102551) seems to have had a profound affect on the two schools: when I was at Bhupu Sainik Higher Secondary Boarding School, I stayed in the “Alex Memorial” boarding house, taught in lessons in one building paid for by the fund and ate my meals in another. The same seemed to be true when I visited Janabikas Secondary on the Sunday. In fact, the number of photos, paintings of and memorials for Alex Ewert at the schools (including one garlanded bust) was almost unnerving. He was a gap year student just like me – younger, in fact – and here was his name written everywhere I saw.
When I arrived on the Saturday morning, I uncurled myself from the over-booked tourist bus and tried to call Purna (a teacher who I had arranged to stay with). No response. Cue five more calls, each a little more frantic than the last. Still nothing. “This is Nepal”, I told myself, “you’re used to this. Relax.” So I sat down in a cafe with wifi to see what would happen. As it turned out, that day had been declared an impromptu public holiday, and Purna’s brother (?) had decided to have an impromptu wedding meaning she couldn’t host me. Instead, I called Chandra – my contact from Bhupu Sainik – to see if I could meet her, though I was prepared to just stay in one of the many guest houses that cater to the hikers passing through. She said wait a couple of hours. I did. Chandra didn’t appear. But, after three hours, I suddenly heard two very recognisable English voices. Michael and Ben stepped into the restaurant, fresh off the bus from Kathmandu. It turned out that Chandra thought I had booked into the guesthouse attached to the restaurant and had sent them to find me when they arrived – at the time, thought it was pure luck. We decided to share a room for the night.
The next day, we all went down to Bhupu Sainik to meet Chandra and talk about plans for teaching. Michael and Ben are in Besisahar for five weeks, part of their five-months travelling post-uni. At the school, we met the headmaster (Binod, lovely man) and were given a room. We expected to be teaching the next day, but when we got up we found the school deserted. After asking around, we learnt why: it was another public holiday. Teaching would begin “tomorrow”(the Monday).
I lived Bhupu for six days and taught for five (from Monday to Friday). Staying there felt like a strange repeat of my time in Matepani Gumba. Sharing a rooftop room with a leaky toilet. Cold showers. Getting up early for breakfast. Rice for every meal. Dal Bhat every day. Teaching 10-14 year old kids. No wifi. We even had a hill to climb to reach the town if we wanted a little bit of access to the outside world. Everywhere, you could find traces of the previous two volunteers – Dan and Will, from my year at RGS – who had been there from January to March. All of the students talked about them. Their smart teaching clothes were left in the room (which I promptly started to use them – why buy when you can borrow?). The teaching was very different, however. Bhupu Sainik is a private school, and all the lessons (aside from Nepali) are taught in English. That meant we could begin to teach students immediately without any of the language-barrier problems I had had in Pokhara. They had textbooks which we could use to plan our lessons. Everything felt so much easier. My job was really just to help Michael and Ben for their time here with what little experience I had. By the end of Friday, though, I just wanted to move on. I’d had enough of teaching.
On Saturday, I moved in with Purna. We’d met in Guildford, when she came out to visit RGS as part of the school link. It was so interesting living with her for those two nights – listening to her talk about Nepal, about politics here, about difficulties teaching, her time in England, her husband (who teaches at a US university), how traditions and women’s roles are slowly changing here. I wish I could have stayed far far longer, but I’m meeting a friend from England today in Kathmandu. On the Sunday, I visited Jana Bikas school with Michael and Ben, before saying goodbye at Bhupu. Purna had organised my bus from Besi to Kathmandu for yesterday morning. – a public bus which seemed to stop everywhere on the way, winding and occasionally racing across the hills. There was a lot of traffic coming in to Kathmandu – a journey that could have been four hours became seven. I think patience takes on a whole new meaning here.