Volunteering report #4
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
The leader of the Maoist Party is making his first legitimate public speech today. After years of underground 'activism' in the jungles, the Maoists have now fought their way into mainstream politics, gaining a foothold in the current interim government. This summer's election will give a proper indication of their strength but they seem to have a sizeable groundswell of popular support, if the posters, flags and other communist paraphernalia are any guide. We have come to Nepal in historic times.
Today our mission is on a much more modest scale. We have come to look at Serene Valley School, in the Baneshwor section on Kathmandu city, as a possible venue for volunteering. Our premature exit from Shanti Sewa Griha (see previous entry) has left some bitter tastes in our mouth, but we are excited about starting with a clean slate.
The name Serene Valley conjures up idyllic countryside images of the type of place we just came from - Shanti Sewa Griha. Instead, it is a small three-building school within a stone's throw of a busy, honking, bustling main street. Many of the schools here have glamorous names, designed to lure parents in this competitive market. Names like Gloryland Primary, Einstein Institute and, my favourite, The Brainy Genius Academy, pop up around every corner.
There is no school today because of the big demonstration but the Principal, Vice-Principal and Academic Director are all hanging around. We are impressed by their organisation and liberal attitude to new teaching methods and they are clearly interested in having us there. Without visiting the other school on today's schedule, we agree to move in here the next day.
The heavens open above Kathmandu overnight. The locals are happy with the downpour, as it symbolises the end of winter for them, but it turns the dirt roads into mud. The principal of the school, a gentleman by the name of Subas, and his driver, pick us up from Rajesh's house and drive us to the school. Our room is within the school grounds, on the same floor as the boarders. It is very simple but more than suitable for us. Already we feel much more comfortable than we did at Shanti Sewa Griha. We feel as though the school wants our help and has plans for us. They have plenty of extra-curricular activities available, including cricket, which I happily volunteer to help out with.
We arrange to observe some classes tomorrow and start teaching on our own on Sunday (as Friday is a national holiday, commemorating the birthday of the god Siva). The other good thing is they provide all our meals, as if we were boarders, in the mess hall.
Bright and early Thursday morning we jog downstairs, ready for our first day on the job. Not many students are around, just a few playing table tennis, so I join them for a hit-about. Nine-fifteen, the scheduled assembly time, comes and goes with no activity, so we keep playing. I figure this is just the notorious 'Nepali time' casualness that we are growing used to. At about 10am, I ask one boy what time school starts. "Oh, no school today". Turns out there is some big strike today that has caused most of the schools to close. Just as well probably because Jane is experiencing a recurrence of her diarrhoea issues.
Friday is also a holiday that celebrates the birthday of Siva, one of the most important gods in Hinduism. On the recommendation of some of our colleagues at the school, we decide to visit Nagarkot, a small town about 60 kilometres north of Kathmandu. Nagarkot is famous because it has great views of the Himalayas - on a clear day. Today at least this morning, is not especially clear. In fact, it is downright foggy. Even the closest mountains are hidden in the soupy clouds.
The evening becomes a little depressing, with the thick fog blocking views of anything at all, let alone the bloody Himalayas. Our hotel is quite cozy, in a mountain cabin kind of way, but all the restaurants are terribly overpriced. We are starting to think we may have come all this way for nothing.
Then, no sooner had we reluctantly turned our backs on this beautiful sight, then it was blocked again by the inconsiderate clouds, like someone who walks in front of you when you are taking a photograph.