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Propaganda and roti

NEPAL | Wednesday, 24 February 2010 | Views [480]

The rain from the day before had cleared out and left a fine morning. We took the opportunity after the morning session at the library to hike further up on the mountain to get better views of Macchupuchhre and the Annapurnas. I love the contrast of the white peaks against the blue sky. I just wished that my camera could pick up the colors better. With the slightest amount of haze, however, the Himalayan giants fade into the background. I wish that I could take a picture of the classrooms. They have stone walls, stone floors, a slate roof, a chalk board, wooden benches and long narrow tables for writing on. That’s it…very few resources.

Today Kathryn joins me in going to the school to teach and I am grateful that now the English teacher has someone other than myself to practice with. When we arrive all of the teachers are out on the grassy knoll warming themselves in the midday sun. We stroll into class late and the students haven’t arrived yet. “They must have gone to have their daal bhat,” he says. Now wait a minute. He criticizes me because I have the audacity to be on a first-name basis with the students, but he lets them decide what time class starts. Hmmmmmm. The grade eight students finally show and Kathryn reads a selection chosen from their English books about how great hydroelectric power is for Nepal. After a few readings it starts to sound like propaganda to me. There is one section in particular that reads something like, “the damming of streams will help grow more crops so that they can be sold to pay for electicity.” The students were given the assignment of coming up with two different advantages of having electricity. I knew that they would just copy what was given in the book. It’s what they have been trained to do.

This time it’s Kathryn’s turn in the English language hot seat, only their conversation turns more personal as they talk about marital status and supporting families. Apparently, Damdame is not his home village. He stays in the village for the week and then walks three hours to get home on Friday. He talks about how hard he works to support his family, and how his daughter wants to go to medical school but they can’t come up with the money. I have heard enough about his economical woes at this point to wonder if he is looking for a handout. As far as the hard work is concerned, he must have some other job in the evenings or on weekends, because all I have seen him do here is give fly-by-night English lessons and sun himself on the grassy knoll. Kathryn doesn’t give him any pity. She tells him that she raised two kids as a single mom and got herself a university degree while doing it. She added that if his daughter really wanted to go to med school then she could find a way to do it and we left it at that.

I tried to do an organized activity at the library that afternoon. It crashes and burns because I can’t explain the game to all of the children. Some of the kids who have played before try to cheat, and I have no help whatsoever. I handed everything over to Kathryn and went outside with the Frisbee. To hell with it, she can have her chaos, but I’ll be outside.

When we go back to the house the water is still off, but Bhai’s wife has returned after spending a few days with her family in Pokhara. She is such a doll, and everything there seems to run more smoothly when she is around. We are getting a special treat tonight. Instead of lentils with rice, we are getting lentils with homemade flatbread called roti. Kathryn and I are invited into the kitchen to watch the process and I understand why they don’t prepare it very often because it is so labor-intensive. After the dough is prepared you have one person roll it into a ball. A second person rolls it out flat and then the third cooks it in a pan over the fire. When it has been cooked on both sides, it is put into the coals and the warmth inflates the roti like a little balloon. That was my favorite part. It was so fresh and a welcome departure from rice. I loved it, but Kathryn, who actually asked them to make roti, didn’t. “I just don’t like white bread.”

Tags: homestay, nepal, village, volunteering

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