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Batuli's last day of teaching

NEPAL | Thursday, 25 February 2010 | Views [817]

There is a sobering silence over the village this morning as the water still hasn’t returned. The villagers start to feel the pinch as they have to haul buckets up from the well to water their livestock. I stop asking when the water will be back on. I try to use less water for flushing. I put off my laundry and bathing for another day. Not that in times of plenty these people are wasteful. Quite the opposite. At my host family’s house the area where the water is piped in to do laundry and dishes drains off to a little reservoir near the garden. The gray water is then used to water the plants. Corn cobs are not tossed when the corn is removed. They are used in fires and if you set three of them side-by-side, they make a handy trivet. Waste is something these people can’t afford.

I got the special task today of teaching the grade eight students about looking up information in the encyclopedia. None of them have ever seen an encyclopedia. None of them have ever been in a real library before, and I had to explain alphabetical order to them….in English. I started out drawing a picture of a library with stacks of books and to find information, one can look at an encyclopedia. Completely over their heads. I started describing alphabetical order and why you could find Canada in volume I and Cuba in volume II. Nothing. Nada. I could see that the English teacher was enjoying my frustration, but it was really a sign of his deficiency, not mine. I finally got through to them, but it involved singing the alphabet song a few times. I didn’t care. They told me in which volume I could read about Xi’an, lasers, and x-rays. They were a bit tripped up by Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare. I asked them if they knew who either of these two people were. No clue. I acted all shocked and shaken that they didn’t know. I wasn’t in any way critical, but I was flaunting my western education to a bunch of thirteen-year-old Nepali village kids, so I wasn’t surprised when Kathryn gently scolded me afterwards.

In between classes, the English teacher started to ask about encyclopedias. How much did they cost? Were used encyclopedias as expensive? I wonder if he realized how transparent he was. After scolding me for my cultural insensitivities, she gave him a brief lesson on how people who come from a wealthy country are not wealthy themselves. I didn’t add anything. I was still out of wind from trying to teach alphabetical order to the Nepali kids. Instead, I studied the material from the grade nine lesson, my attention being occasionally diverted to the two teachers trying to fix the handle on a broken tea kettle and the hissing pressure cooker outside on an open fire.

After several reads of the lesson in the book, I asked the kids if they understood and they said, “no”. I got the chalk and proceeded to draw the story out as I read so that the students could put it into proper context. That’s what was missing. The story described two actions happening in the past that took place at the same time, and I had to do several drawings to illustrate it. Finally, I saw the “ah-hah” look come to their young faces. They got it. Class dismissed. The students applauded. I tried not to bow.

When I left the class the English said that he would have told the students that the story was being told in the past perfect tense. I told him that he couldn’t be so technical, even native English speakers have a difficult time labeling verb tenses……..I wasn’t invited to have beans today.

The evening before, I had tried to show Aamaa pictures of my family and country. The presentation was cut short by the whole “roti” experience, but she was ready to see them this afternoon. I got my computer and went through the pictures of my family trying to remember the Nepali names for “older sister” and “little brother”. I showed pictures of my grandparents’ farm in Missouri and of the leaves when they change colors in the Fall. My photos were not the best, but she sat praising them like a mother would. She has had enough practice with seven children. Afterward, she gave Kathryn and myself a gift of a plastic bangle. Actually, Kathryn got two, but that is only because my hands are so large there was only one bracelet that could fit me.

The grade seven English students were curious about the western English teachers and we had not been able to make an appearance because their class time ran into library time. Today, Kathryn told me that she could handle the first 20 minutes if I wanted to go. I returned to the school and made a stunning first impression on the students when I hit my head on the top of he entryway. To my credit. I did not swear. I introduced myself as “Ms. Kaspshak” and asked the students if they had any questions about myself or the U.S. before we started. Ah, another reading, how refreshing! This time the students were able to answer all the questions and I praised them for it. The English teacher then told me that it was a repeat lesson for them. I don’t know why he chose to do this, but I didn’t like it. At the end of the lesson there were a list of adjectives that the students had to use in sentences. Not surprisingly, they offered sentences straight from the text. I challenged them to come up with original sentences. These were not difficult words, and I was asking for anything, even a phrase. I gave examples hoping that they would kick in a few themselves. Nothing. The bell rang. The teacher came to the front of the class, took the book and dismissed me.


Tags: homestay, nepal, village, volunteering

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