Monday, January 26, 2015

Talking about Money on Monday: Money for Travel

It's the biggest constrant for me (and many as travelers). Money. Money money money....
And the ironic part is I am extremely nonmaterialistic. But as the saying goes, traveling is the only thing you can buy that actually makes you richer.

People don't usually like to talk about money. But I AM going to talk about it. Because it constitutes a lot of what I think about and plan about as I travel. So I am going to share the money I am making, my budgets, my past budgets, and all other things money related on here every monday as I prepare for my upcoming trip with no end point.

I have spent 3 summers traveling Europe, and 4 months living in France. Those are not inexpensive trips in any manner- and yet I was able to do all of them. How you may wonder? Well when I started out traveling I had tons of savings from my childhood, so that funding a few trips (we are talking around $10,000 made from my babysitting empire in highschool). And then after 7 months in Europe that money ran out completely. So the next spring while in school I made $4,000. I know- that's a lot of money to make in four months while a student. And no I didn't use some get rick quick scheme or have some trick. I just worked. A LOT. Curious about how much I actually worked? Check out this post.  This semester I hope to make $7,000 in savings.

Why is this possible? Well thankfully because of my parents, and the financial aid program at my school, I will graduate without students loans and have all my expenses covered as I am at school. That means that money I make goes straight in my pocket.

This semester, I am working for 4 different families as a Nanny/babysitter and I am only in 2 classes, so I am making a considerable amount of money per week ($600-700 tax free). I spent a lot of time searching down these families and finding people that would be suitable for my schedule but I have figured out how to work in all my clients on my schedule:

9:00-12:00 Babysit Fam1
12:45- class
2:00-6:00- Fam2

8:00-6pm- Fam3

9:00-12:00- Fam4
12:45- class
2:30-5:30- Fam1

8:00-12:00- teach children's classes (my other part-time job)
12:30-3:30- Fam1
4:00- class

9:00-1:00- Fam4
2:00-6:00- Fam2

8:00-1:30- teach children's classes

2:00-6:00- run children's birthday parties

I don't take days off. I dont take free time, and I don't say no. And THAT is how I am saving all my money.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rural Nepal: What is my obligation here?

I feel at such a lost here. Every school I visit, every English speaking person I pass, every expectant eye. “after your research you will come back and help at the schools?  Bring us materials? Bring us supplies? Bring us help?” I can see how desperately they need it. And I know that I am knowledgeable about education, about improvement, motivation, and more. But I don’t know what to do. This whole thing is so much bigger than me. It’s so much bigger than just what I could do but I feel so compelled to be able to do something. And there again I am, at a complete loss. They think because I am American, well educated, and interested in schooling I will be able to make a big change.
            I don’t have money. Actually, that’s not true. I currently have $3,421 in my savings account. Which is more money than any of them will most likely see in their entire lifetime. But throwing that money at them isn’t going to make something happen. Neither is donating $500 of my Christmas money. And yet I’m still compelled to do it.
            Seeing what they live with versus what we live with almost makes me sick. I know I need to do something, to come and give something to these hardworking children and families. However, I am at a loss of what to bring, of what to give. They all seem to think I could donate large amounts of money, but I don’t want to just dump money into this place. I want to do something more impactful, more in depth, and yet what that could be eludes me. However, I still sit in the classrooms of the dirt floored schools, dreaming of proper desks, of non-ripped notebooks, of posters on the walls, of teachers who interact with the students, of music and art classes, of a playground instead of a dusty courtyard, of doors to the buildings, students bright faces light with understanding and joy in learning, and water for the students to drink. I dream of the things they don’t have, and yet it pains me inside to think about the reality that I can never bring all of that to them.

            Today there was a wedding ceremony in the street. They were picking up the groom to be taken to his wife. There were drums, dancing, tikka, and excitement for hours. I watched from the perch of our second story porch. As the ceremony was ending a man came over to talk to me. He is a student in Kathmandu and a great English speaker. He had heard about me so we began talking.  He asked me what I thought about this place, this ceremony I was seeing, these people. I expressed to him again my continually unraveling love of Nepal, of the people, of everything. He told me how lucky I was to see this ceremony, to experience this true show of culture, and I smiled largely feeling like quiet possibly the luckiest person in the world.
            But that turned around quickly. We came to talking about my research and what I was doing here. And then he began to tell me how grateful he was, how happy he was that someone was here caring about their education. And that someone from America where the schools are amazing, and the teaching is great, is taking the time to help the people out here. Most of the people are on the border of poverty, he said, and they need education now more than anything. But there are just no materials, no training, and no money to fix it. He kept happily saying that he was excited for me to come back and implement some programs here in Nepal, to work with the children, and help with the schools. 

            Suddenly I felt like my whole trip here has been laid on some false pretenses. The guilt was unbearable. To them, it’s like I came here to research for future programs I am going to bring to fix their education. It’s like the woman in the street who heard I was doing educational research and all she could say was thank you, thank you for helping. Or the principle at the last school who shook my hand firmly and said he was excited to see me return with help. Or the science teacher at the primary school down the hill who looked me in the eye and asked so genuinely it cut to my core, if I could please ask American schools to spare some materials so that he could teach beyond the chalkboard. Looking into the eyes of these people I have to make the promise, to make the promise to help in every way I can. But the burden of that, the harsh crushing realization that I have no way of doing all that, pulls at my heart inside, and rips me to pieces.  

After speaking to the young man I just went to my room and cried. Feeling the pull to help, the need to help, the accountability to help, and none of the mobility. And that is how I am conflicted now, caught in this beautiful country, making promises I want to follow through on more than anything. And staring myself in the face hoping with all my strength that I can.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rural Nepal: Story of a soccer ball

So I brought a soccer ball with me, but a currently deflated soccer ball. I sort of forgot about it sitting next to my bag is all of the flurry of everything new. However, one night my little brother came in my room and saw the ball. He was ecstatic so I mimed how we needed a pump to make it work. Well the next day I came home from school he was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face. He showed me the pump and the pin. Excited we blew up the ball together and before it was even  ready we already had a crowd gathered in the street. They were thrilled to start playing. I threw the ball down onto the street and a flurry began. I kicked the ball around with them on the street for an hour or more. It started as a group of five boys and grew to at least twenty within minutes. All the parents came out to the road to watch and the laughter was deafening. The kids always passed to me, begging me to kick it hard and fast right over their heads, which somehow I am completely capable of. Minutes turned into an hour that I was out there on the street playing and watching, knowing that as the sun set over this small grouping of houses on a hillside, I would not soon forget this moment. If I wasn’t a local celebrity with these kids yet, I had just become the definitive hero of all the village children.


 I am coming back to Nepal. I have already sworn to so many people that I would be back. To kids, to parents, to friends, to school teachers. And if the genuine excitement in their faces wasn’t enough, I honestly cannot stop thinking about returning back here. My thoughts of my future begin and end at how soon I can return to this country. I can see myself living here, working on education projects, speaking Nepali, doing something worthwhile, and right now in this little hillside village it’s the only thing I see in my future.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rural Nepal: More schools

The second day I showed up to the school and was a little bit worried. I knew today was the day they wanted me to teach English but I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to teach. And in typical Nepali fashion they had no idea. But they brought me to the grade two classroom, handed me a marker, and then left, with me alone in charge. I figured that would happy, so I launched into teacher mode. Somehow I am used to this and knew what to do. I picked a song, wrote out the words on the board, we spelled them out and then sang and danced. We did everything, and even ended with learning all kids of verbs like sit, stand, play, jump, and clap. I would yell out the word and kids would do the action in English. It was nothing but easy since the children clearly have learned no English yet. However, they were so excited to see me there in their school that they hung off every word I said, and repeated every single action I did.  I ended with high-fives from the whole group, which I had to teach them to do since its not a Nepali concept. I left the class to applause and cries of “pheri aaunus pheri aanus”. Yes of course I would be back as soon as I could.


 The rest of the day was instructed at school as typical. After my interviews during break, I noticed that basically all the teachers were in the office, and none of them where in the classrooms. So I stood up and walked into the grade 1 class. These were the first kids I met and they were so happy to have me in their room.  I decided to take control of the classroom, and lead them from an hour and 15 minute long hodge podge of activities and songs. I sang and danced every children’s song I could think of, usually multiple times. Moving from sitting and  doing isty bitsy spider to standing and jumping up and down to the hokey pokey. I even added Gymboree songs and the longer this went on the more it seemed like a Gymboree class where all the students didn’t speak English. When I ran out of songs, the kids were still standing there, at attention, ready to copy any movement I made. I pulled some English books of the shelf, and some nepali books, and before I knew it I was reading to some kids, and the other kids were looking through books on their own.    The strangest part was, not a single Nepali teacher came back to take over the class. I didn’t want them to miss out on learning, so I was going to stay there with them as long as I could, give them my attention, make them smile, and hopefully teach them something. When the books were becoming boring I led them through the songs one more time, a couple of round of ring-around- the rosey, which want they figured it out became the funniest thing every, and somehow timed “gymbo waves bye bye bye” for exactly when the bell was ringing. I came out of the school compound and started high fiving my students as they left. Within seconds I had a crowd of sweet beautiful faced Nepali children, in worn down and dusty blue school uniforms with loving eyes and dirty hands swarming me for hi fives. “Miss Miss Miss” they screamed as they held out their right hand. I got most of the group, and yelled my salutes of goodbye as they went up the hill. I walked up the hill with others and the whole way they were asking for high-fives, holding my hands, and waving to me. It was finally happening, they were accepting me.  I want to be like them, treated equal and them to see that I am not here to judge them, to act better than them, but simply to live alongside them.

            Within one day I went from a spectacle to a local celebrity. Today I really got into my job of teaching in the schools, and suddenly, I was known by everyone. On my evening walk today every kid I passed from school ran up and smiled- ready to give me a massive high-five. Parents no longer stared but waggled their heads in approval at the gaggle of kids who are thrilled to follow me around. I even got followed back up to my room by 4 kids demanding “bholi bholi hamro class pheri aunuhunchha?” Can you come back to our class tomorrow? I said of course I would be back soon, and they all high-fived me in return.

Day 3 at schools was also fun. We went to another primary school about an hour away on foot. Once we arrived we had to go through the whole process of introducing be again which is rather long. They always want to know my introduction as they say. I sat with the teachers and explained were I was from, we looked at the globe, and talked about America. Its so interesting to me that when I come to the schools they don’t care that I am their to ask them questions. They will give me whatever answers I want as long as they can ask me questions. How is this different than schools in America? Are schools in America very good? Why are they good? Is our teaching here good? What can we do better?

It’s like I’m the definitive answer to all their problems. And I answer as diplomatically as possible. After questions and interviews, I went into the classrooms of all 6 grades and did my 15-minute singing dancing program that has now become routine. It starts with head shoulders knees and toes tand ends with if you’re happy and you know with isty bisty spider, Gymboree songs, and the hokey pokey in between.


 One of my favorite moments of that day might have been the moment when two tiny little three-year-old girls stood up from their preschool classroom, and began to dance a Nepali dance for me. It was so well done for someone so young, so beautiful, and so gosh darn adorable that I was diminished to laughter and tears of joy within seconds.


  My forth day brought me to my forth school. After wandering in and out of classes I found myself in the grade one class.  Typical of me: always drawn to the littlest kids. The sweet little ones stared at me.  There was one little girl in the back of the class near my chair who had adorableness that could kill: plump cheeks and her hair in pigtails spouting out of her head.  I would look at her and smile, and she would burst into giggles and turn away to bury he head in her friends lap. Finally I moved to the floor next to here. The children’s reaction was hilarious. They were so curious about me but didn’t want to get to close. They would look at me, but if I looked back too long they would laugh, scoot back and turn away, never wanting to get to close. This little cat and mouse game continued on for most of the class period, and I just couldn’t help scooting closer and closer, allowed for more giggles, more scurrying, and the hilarity of their fear of getting too close to a white person.  

Every day brings a new day at school, and a new incredible happy adventure. Every school brings teachers’ curious questions, and children’s’ delighted faces as I do my little English song and dance routine I know have perfectly down. I taught in every classroom of all 8 schools I went to. That totaled up to about 51 English lessons. And so the days passed, with school and play, singing, interviews, afternoon walks, and evenings over a fire in the kitchen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Home is away

Recently, I got my second tattoo. It was at the end of the summer and it was slightly on a whim. And yet, I have quite literally no regrets.

“Home is away”. It probably doesn’t mean much to most of you. Except maybe to remind you of the Aussie television show Home and Away (believe me many from down under have told me).

The reason I stumbled across this line for my tattoo was because of a poem one of my favorite people in the world wrote. It is a poem about travel, about life away from the strict box society wants to put us in, about using time to it’s best ability, about not dwindling away at jobs we are supposed to have and schedules we are supposed to keep but getting away, slipping away, moving from dreamers to doers into the streets of other cities across the globe, doing that which we want. I cannot say it as elegantly as he did. However another close friend turned this poem into a song- converting the offbeat lines and exceptionally profound words into flowing beautiful lyrics. The way she tied the song together, like any good song, was with a refrain, and that refrain she choose was Home is Away.

 That poem and that song got me through months of time back in the states, just wishing for my next adventure. I would listen to it on repeat, agreeing with the lyrics that yes there is so much more out there that what society attempts to have us conform too.

Last spring I met an amazing guy “on the road”. I went for a weekend away in North Carolina, staying at my first hostel in the US. That is where I met Dylan.  As we do in society, I attempted to place him. I asked him where he lived, and what he did. That’s how we identify people. By how far along they are on societies journey towards “success”. Once those questions came out of my mouth he looked at me completely puzzled.

He was from Kentucky, 20 years old, and he was on the road.

He told of a whole group of them, of young people across the country, dirty kids he called them, who are mobile, seekers, infinity chasers, without jobs, without restraints, and without specific ties. With no money currently in his pockets, Dylan works whatever jobs he wants, and moves, wistfully, whatever way the world might take him.

So I asked him, confused still, but trying to quantify his lifestyle
“So you don’t have a home…?”
He looked at me with his sharp blue eyes and responded – “I’m house-less not homeless”.

It was one of the most amazing statements I’ve ever heard.

When I first got my tattoo I sent out photos to friends and family- so enamored with my new ink. They were mostly less than pleased. To them it looked like I was dissing where I came from, I was hating on that place I had been raised, on the place where it all began, on the place that most people think the word “home” describes. They are wrong, I mean no discredit to the place I was born.

As a self-proclaimed wanderer, I’m away from where I grew up a lot, but that does not mean I don’t love it. This is meant in no way to hate on my family, or my hometown. It will always be incredible to go back there, to visit, to the house I grew up in, to the town I was raised in, to the place my parents and many friends still live.

But home, home is something entirely different for me. My hometown, that is a physical space that means, of course, a lot to me, but my home isn’t a physical space. Home is a feeling. Home is where your heart feels comfortable, where you can laugh to no end, where you can speak your mind, where your soul feels free, feels at ease. Where everything inside of you falls into place.

Away is where I feel at home. That’s where my self really comes through. Countries across the world sing to my heart, being out there in a new place, on the open road with no expectations, no preconceived notions holding me back, that is where I am the most comfortable. The whole wide world out there suits me more than the hometown I grew up in ever will. That is where I am the most myself, and that is home. It’s away, out there, always waiting for me, the next block in a foreign city, the next mountain, the next village, the next smile or cup of coffee with a stranger. Away is everywhere, and everywhere is my home. It’s not confined to one physical space. I can feel home anywhere.

I’ll always love coming back to the house I was raised and my parents and family. But that’s doesn’t mean it’s where I belong. So many people think that they will only feel at home in that space, in that so-called comfort zone. They haven’t realized how wrong that is. We are told that our home is our home, and it’s the place you should feel most at ease. Meaning anything else will be scary, uneasy, hard.
But by dismissing that preconceived notion of a comfort zone, it is clear that the comfort zone in not fixed- but it travels with you. That out here, that away from where you came from, from societies preconceived notions of what you should do and be, you can easily be more comfortable that the space you have so long considering “home”.

For none of us our ever homeless, with just choose to actually seize the freedom we have to live the life we want.

If you give it a chance you might find yourself like me, more comfortable out there than you will ever be waiting here.

The last line of that poem is “so all that’s left to do is take their hand and run”.

My one is extended to you, but I’m not slowing down so you’re going to have  to move fast to catch up.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rural Nepal: how they live

One day, I finally made it into the inter sacdum of Nepali culture. I was invited in a dirty little fly covered chiyaa shop to eat instant noodles and chat about life. These are the shops were men spend their time, where real nepali is lived, the equivalent to being invited to cook with the aamaas. In this shop there was the man there with his little son, sort of a right of passive, eating chow-chow, the elder man in the corner whispering nonsense to anyone who will listen, and the 6 of us, 5 male teachers and me perched on stools in the dimly lit room. It’s the first time I was allowed in one of these chiyaa shops reserved typically strictly for males. However, being a foreigner somehow raises your status even higher and they gladly accepted me inside. I slurped instant noodles, and tried to follow the conversation about politics, the neighborhood gossip, and the latest marriages. Only catching one in ten words but still relishing in the fact that I was there, amongst those welcoming people, breathing and eating in the Nepali hillside lifestyle.

            When Saturday came it was break day, which meant washing day down in the river. They asked all week long if I could wash in the river or if I wanted to wash alone up here at the house and they could heat water over the wood fire. But I protested. I would absolutely was in the river like everyone else! So I loaded up my clean clothes and set out to walk. It’s a 20 minute walk down to the stream. When we arrived my didi told me to undress. Then she dumped cool water over my head and I laughed through chattering teeth. Then I dressed myself in a second set of clothes while my did washed the ones I was wearing. Here you only need 2 sets of clothes. One to wear while the other is being washed and dried, alternated between the weeks. Simple as that.
            On the way back from the river my didi stopped another woman and asked for her help. The two of them walked up to a tall skinny nearby tree, The younger woman, took off her sandals and began to climb the tree. I let out a gasp. My didi laughed and said “sakdina?” You cant do that? No I can I replied. But with simply agility she climbed to the top of the tree, maybe 20 feet high, and stripped the tree of its leaves as she went. On the ground, my didi laid out the scarf from around her neck and gathering the leaves falling around her. I came over to help and we piled leaves onto the scarf. As the pile grew bigger and bigger it didn’t seem like the scarf could contain it. So she took the worn out sweater from her back and tied it to the scarf, making a longer strap and tying up the leaves into a bundle. Then she hung the bundle off her forehead and continued the march to the house with a load of leaves twice the size of her body hanging off her back.



I am coming back to Nepal. I have already sworn to so many people that I would be back. To kids, to parents, to friends, to school teachers. And if the genuine excitement in their faces wasn’t enough, I honestly cannot stop thinking about returning back here. My thoughts of my future begin and end at how soon I can return to this country. I can see myself living here, working on education projects, speaking Nepali, doing something worthwhile, and right now in this little hillside village it’s the only thing I see in my future.

Rural nepal: Strength and struggles

In Nepal, the women carry the heavy loads. I mean that in 2 ways, the first being that yes they literally carry everything heavy. Loads of oil, massive piles of grass, bags of corn and flour carried over the heads near and far. Never have I seen a man carry these tings. These loads are made for the women only.  The men drink tea and discuss while the women carry. They cook every mean, sometimes we babies tied to their backs and toddlers at their feet. They clean the dishes and start the fires. They pick the corn and peel the husks. They climb trees to collect leaves and Sheppard the goats. They wash the clothes and the floors. They wake first and sleep last. The women in Nepal carry the load. The load of life.  I have never seen such incredible women. Nor have I ever been as proud to be a woman myself, even if I’m not nearly as strong as them.

            I have come to the conclusion that children in developed countries are entitled brats. Years of studying child development and one-month in Nepal gave me this realization. I’m not blaming the children, or the parents really. It’s a product of the type of life you’re allowed to live. But I know if my parents asked of me, or expected of me what these parents expect, I would have thrown a massive fit about it.  On my busride out to Nepal, there was a child about 2 or 3 who boarded the bus with us. The little child was getting onto a 12 hour busride. His mother didn’t carry toys for him, or a diaper bag of snacks and distractions. She simply carried her child. And for that entire bus ride he as quiet. There was no crying, no protests no fussing in his seat. At one point he stood up in the aisle and have an adorable performance dancing to hindi music. Then went back to his seat. I was sitting on the bus nearly bored to tears after 9 hours, and there he was happy and content. In my home here there are two young boys in the family. 11 and 13. Last time I checked boys this age arent’ the best at listening to their parents. But here, without ever whining, complaining or protesting, these boys do whatever is asked of them. They cut beans for dinner, fetch water, buy apples down the road, watch out for neighbors children, wash their clothes in the river, clean their places after dinner, and climb into bed at 8pm sharing one small twin bed. There aren’t children’s toys here. Babies don’t play on fisher price mats or bounce saucers. They explore the dirt floors of kitchens while their mom’s cook. They ride on their mother’s backs through chores, They sit on straw mats in the sun and chew on random leaves or grass. Bigger kids don’t have toys either. They play and run in the streets behind houses, using sticks as bats and old abandoned soda bottles as balls. They kick up dirt and rocks. They chase goats. They help with chores. But they never complain or pout. The words Im bored don’t exist for them. Its all a product of how you live I guess. You don’t have much, then you’re happy and content without much. It’s a lesson I think we all can take something from.


 The longer I live here in Nepal, the harder it is for me to describe any of it to others who haven’t been here, to this village, to this town, to the heart of this beautiful nation. I want to take photos of everything, but they wouldn’t even begin to show what I see. I wish you could see. I wish you could see the little 7 year old girl, with her baby sibling strapped to her back, standing on a dusty front porch, gazing at me with big beautiful piercing dark eyes. I wish you could see my mami and her friends, dressed in saris, some with babies on their backs, others with toddlers at their feet, squatting in the fields for hours chatting and picking saag for supper. I wish you could see the two sisters walking hand in hand down the road, with loads of flour strapped to their heads bigger than their small bodies. I wish you could see a classroom full of faces hearing an English song for the first time, their eyes lighting with pride as they learn the moves and the words. I wish you could see a little boy watching his baby brother out on the terrace fields, while the baby crawls and giggles in the grass, the end of the terrace looking like the end of the world, just dropping off into the vast infinity of the beautiful hillside backdrop. I wish you could see the little barefoot baby boy who lives next door, and runs up and down the street, no shoes, coating himself in dust while he plays with sticks and rocks. I wish you could see my new little brothers, and their pride when they get to walk with me down the street.  I wish you could see the old woman who sits across the street every day, her face lined with deep wrinkles, and back hunched from years of life and hard work, shelling corn on the ground, and caring for great grandchildren. I wish you could see the six school children on the hill, who when they saw me coming, burst into choruses of songs they learned from my 10 minutes in their classroom. I wish you could see the determination in these peoples eyes, their strength, their power, and also their vast and endless love. I wish you could see the things here that have made me understand, even so slightly more, about the value of a life.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rural Nepal:First impressions of the schools

My first day at the school could probably be considered my favorite day in Nepal so far. The teacher was trying to show off with the little kids for me in their classroom. Listening to them say the days of the week can easily be the cutest thing to have ever graced my ears. Those little ones were absolutely darling. As the classroom descended into the chaos of 5 year olds I stood up and ordered them all to do the same. I started doing Head Shoulders knees and toes, and with much coercing I finally got them all to participate. It was a hit, and Bhuendra was very happy with me saying that he loved the song and he recorded it so that he could teach it to other children at another time. Suddenly I knew that my being there was not going to be just for my benefit, but those people could benefit as well.  And so I began to teach English and light up their faces.


Next I went to class 3. I let out a ridiculous moo-ing sound. That’s the best part about kids- you can be completely weird and they will think its just plain fun. So I made some epic noises from my mouth, and we enjoyed a few verses of old McDonald. Then I burst into a slew of other songs from the time I used to teach at that school in France. We did if you’re happy and you know it, the hokey pokey, and more to keep them excited. The asked again and again for songs, and then insisted that they dance and sing in Nepali for me afterwards

            After some impromptu English classes it was time for some interviews. So I started my first interview. And sitting there in that interview, getting none of the answers I hoped to get, I was suddenly becoming completely discouraged. It was in Nepali and I caught maybe every 3rd or 5th word.  This research was going to be a lot more work than I ever imagined. I was so run down and felt like I didn’t even know what I was doing there. And then I stopped and thought a second. I had just had an incredible day in Nepal. I had played with children, sang songs in the classroom, held their hands, and talked to their teachers about how to make their learning better. And honestly, I could not care less about how that interview was going. My research might not turn out perfect, or close to perfect, but here I was enjoying a part of Nepal that most foreigners will never get the chance to see. Great research or not, I am happy to stand in front of a class singing head, shoulders, knees, toes, all day long with a smile on my face.


After my 2 hours of interviews, Bhuendra asked me if I was ready to go. Sure, I said, but I want to come back tomorrow and observe and do more interviews. He was confused as to why I said that. Then he asked, could you maybe help in the English classes. The school was missing good English teachers. That I knew. He was the best English speaker in town and couldn’t even translate much of an interview for me. Of course I could help a little. What parts of the classwork do you need help with? I can come in when you have English class. He explained that they don’t really have English class or a teacher but that I should come in tomorrow and they will give me some materials and put me in a classroom. The teachers looked absolutely thrilled at the prospect, so I waggled my head side-to-side in the nepali symbol of agreement, and before I knew it I realized I had signed myself up as the volunteer English teacher of this tiny village for the next few days, or probably as long as they can get me to come in. I’m sure I’ll get my research done at some point. In the mean time, this help to them feels important, and I am happy to do any and everything I can. I am the first white person to visit this village, so why would I demand information and not offer anything in return. This whole trip seems to suit me perfectly.

The journey to rural nepal

The next day I left for my research about education in a far of region of western Nepal, two days by bus, and in no way a tourist destination. The first bus ride was a bus ride and an abs workout rolled into one. I had my bag tied around my foot so that it wouldn’t slip away, which was a very real reality with the way the bus jostled like it did. I had sore abs afterwards from using my core strength to hold myself up in my seat every time we came to rough halts that lurched me forward.
            There was a young girl sitting next to me on the bus. When I first got on I didn’t feel like talking, since it was 4:30AM. But later in the afternoon I came around, and began a conversation. She smiled like no one I had ever seen, a beautiful young and joyful smile. Every time I spoke to her she giggled. “Mero namm Antika ho!” she exclaimed proudly. I repeated her name a few times “antika, antika, antika” and she burst into giggles. This women was incredible, full of fortitude, happiness, and greatness.  I asked her why she was going there. “Ma baboo ra naani chha”. She was going to visit her little baby girl and boy. He smile explained just how excited she was. Her face looked young, and for good reason. She was only 24, married, and working in KTM but her family and babies still living out in the village. With the ability only a loving aamma can have, she feed me fruits. I resisted at first but she insisted and handed me two small bananas and two oranges. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I finished the bananas first and she handed me another within seconds. Kanus kanus kanus she repeated, a cheerful smile on her face. Just as any typical nepali she felt the need to make sure I ate and would obviously share anything she had with me. When I put the banana in my bag for later, she pulled out another orange, peeled it, and insisted on me sharing half of it with her, smiling and laughing all the while. Her face alone, and cheerful outlook had me fall in love with Nepal all over again. Sometimes in the city you get blinded from it, but nepali people are without a doubt the kindest people on earth.

            On the second day, I was the only female on the buses ( I was really in the middle of  no where) so they put me in the front cabin with the driver. The driver’s cabin looks as if it was decorated by a cross between a bob marley lover and a pre-teen who went shopping at dry ice.  When we stopped at lunch time to change buses, the bus driver took charge of me. He walked me to his friends shop, and then told me he was buying lunch because I was “his guest”. We ate daal bhaat and chatted and all he wanted to know was how I was finding “haamro nepal”. (our Nepal). Its amazing I assured him and he smiled widely.
            On the bus ride I was clearly the first foreigner most people had seen. It’s almost like being famous. It became so funny for the last three or so hours that I just started waving out the window at passers by who saw that I was a white person. It was completely absurd and new to them. They smiled, waved back, and made such a commotion that it was hilarious. People were stunned to see me riding around a local bus.

            The man who was meeting me, Bhuendra, pulled up on his motorbike and I had no choice but to break the rules and ride with him. It was 3-5 hours by walking and it was already 5:30 by the time I got to him so I agreed to ride the motorbike. I told him before leaving that we needed to be slow and careful since I was nervous and this was technically not allowed. He said okay okay and started off riding. About 5 minutes later he turns off the paved road onto a bumpy dirt road, looks at me and says “can you take some risks? Because this road it pretty rough”
“ummm. Okay” I responded because im pretty sure there was no other option for an answer to that question. And so one of the most terrifying hours of my life began. Just to preface, Bhuendra was actually a great bike driver, but the road really was terrible, the weight distribution with me and my pack was tough, and it was completely dark. We road for awhile, with me getting off ever so often so he could ride the rough parts alone and I would walk along side of him. It was a slow but steady system. While on the bike I was so nervous about where we were going that I didn’t look up at all. I figured there was not much to see since we were on a road in the middle of nowhere. However at one point about 30 minutes into the ride I took a second to look up and caught a view of the most amazing stars I have ever seen. I was blown away completely! What beauties they were. There was absolutely no air pollution in that area. We continued through the jungle.

            Do you feel safe. He asked me. I told him I did as long as we stayed away from the edge. This was referring to the fact that the road was along a massive cliff face which obviously I would prefer not to fall off of. But we made it okay. And a mere 40 hours later and I have arrived at my new rural village home.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rural Nepal: Questions

The questions I get asked are interesting and varied. How did you fly here? Are there hills like this in your country? Do people ride motorbikes in America? Do you know how to swim? Do you speak hindu? Are you married? Why not? Do you have any babies? (one woman actually scoffed that I was 21 with no husband or kids, and just shook her head saying lazy lazy girl) Can you help me get an American visa? Can you take my baby to America? Are you very rich? Do you like Nepali boys? What do you eat? Do you know how to eat with your hands? The list goes on. But one of the more interesting ones that stood out to me was “were you scared to come all the way out here?”

            I was at a lower secondary school and this was a higher-grade teacher who asked me- a very good English speaker. Was I scared to come to Dailekh? I understood where his question was coming from. Were you scared to come out here to a place so different, with no running water, no cars, to internet, small schools, dirt floors, and different people. But I couldn’t help but find the question absurd. Of course I wasn’t scared to come out here, I explained. I was excited.  I was excited to live among the friendly Nepalis, to enjoy life, to be away from the tourists. I was excited to really learn about Nepal. These villages, this hillside: this is how over 80% of Nepal’s population lives. I wasn’t scared to come out into something I didn’t know, I was thrilled to come learn about something new. And I had no fear of integrating myself into the new lifestyle here. I don’t fear what I don’t know, I embrace the chance to learn about it, in ways that other people without openness may never be able to.

Rural nepal: the life

Once again the villages of Nepal have stolen my heart. I told everyone that for my ISP I wanted to go rural, to have an authentic rural Nepal experience, and that is exactly what I have found here.

The first few hours in the village were tough. I was not given much freedom. I was treated like someone who needed very special care. Bhuendra kept apologizing for things they didn’t have- like a shower, or a place to wash my clothes, or real floors and a gas stove. I didn’t come to this village to judge his way of life, I am just happy to be here. I am working hard to move away from being a tourist to being allowed to be part of this community. So I made an effort to speak a lot of Nepali and just try and not let them put me on some higher level because of my skin color. My first night of dinner was a treat. Living in this humble home as been amazing. I was ushered upstairs and sat with Bhuendra and his family in the small dirt floor kitchen. Over a small wood fire stove his wife had cooked. They were very happy that I could eat with my hands, and when I told them how much I loved Nepali food, my new didi was extremely happy! I went to bed so very happy. Well if you can really say went to bed. Here a bed it a piece of plywood with a blanket on top- no padding. But it does not bother me in the least.

            I don’t know how to describe how living here suits me. I love this lifestyle.
Some people say you wouldn’t want to live in the rural village because it is so hard, but I say you should live here because it is so easy. Okay so there aren’t showers or warm water, you have to cook over wood fire, the floors are dirt, there isn’t internet or TV, there aren’t shop with tons of things or cars to take you elsewhere, no movie theatres, or supermarkets.


But that what makes it so easy. Showering often isn’t expected, there are more important things than looking your best. You spend time with people over a wood fire preparing a meal that will be delicious. Food is simple, and food is to nourish you. There are simpler sweeter ways to spend your time without the distraction of TV or Internet. You don’t need the supermarket and the items- you just need the simple necessities of the space around you. You sit in the street and chat you’re your friends over tea, while kids entertain themselves simply with sticks, old soda, bottles, and their minds. Having very little in a lot of ways makes life just that much easier. And this is a lifestyle I love.

That night I went to the kitchen to watch my didi cook. The kitchen is nestled in the little space in the attic, on dirt floors with a slopped roof and a small area for a wood fire. There are a few tin plates, a couple tin bowsl, 2 big pots, and a jug. There’s no fridge or storage place for extra foods. Things to be eaten in the next 2-3 days were laid on woven mats in the corner. Spices were stored in a container by the wood fire. Someone had carried up a pitcher of water from the spiket. That was all they needed. I sat down next to my mami to cook with her. I sat up there with her, even after my eyes watered and stung from the smoke, and I was covered in dirt from the floor. I sat there and watched her cook and talked and learned. And her face showed just how happy she was to have someone interested, to have someone who wanted to talk, who wanted to learn, who wanted to be in her company. She’s beautiful- my new didi. She has been wearing a stunning red sari, even in her dirt floor kitchen, barefoot over a fire cooking daal, she looks more beautiful that most people I have ever met.
“Dehrai aamaa chaa- kathmanduko aamaa, amerikako aammaa, ani ahile naayaa aamaa chha!” – she pointed to her chest and smiled widely. I did have a lot of moms, she was right, and of course I would now consider her one of them. My newest aammaa on the list.

            I knew I was something of interest in this small village. Everyone starred on the way to school but I didn’t realize how widespread this newness was. I went on a walk by myself today and that was my first experience. Just a short walk, about 30 minutes one way and then turned around. But as I walked down the road the reality of my uniqueness in this village really struck me. People didn’t know what to say. They just stopped and starred, mouths agape and eyes wide as I walked by. Their faces were skeptical and confused. What the heck was I doing here? Some people broke out into fits of uncontrollable laughter. They didn’t quite know what else to do/ Like the idea of a white person walking through their village was purely hilarious.  I decided might as well play my part so I waves at them, and their laughter rang louder. Every time I lifted my hand to wave, the laughs escalated. I did this all the way down the street and the roaring laughter followed me around the corner. I couldn’t decide if it was like being a princess or a circus animal. When I got home I confirmed that I was the first white person to ever come here.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Life in a rural village in Mustang

I met my family and instantly fell in love. I had my daai, the father of the family with a sweet and loving face, as ex-cook and an incredible man. My mami was a school teacher, determined and tough, but gentle on the inside. My bahini was complete innocent sweetest at 15, so very thrilled to have a white person staying in her home. And my baboo a little 2 year old boy right in the throws of terrible twos with ear splitting temper tantrums, and heart splitting laughs and hugs. The time I spent with them was not nearly enough.


Our days were full. Life in the village moves slow, as there is not much entertainment, but there is so much to do to keep life running. Our mornings were filled with Nepali language class outside, as we tried to stuff the last useful bits of language into our brains. And our afternoons were filled with other assignments, such as maps, interviews, and family trees. However, I spent a lot of my time just exploring. It started with the apple orchards behind my house, where I would run around, picking fresh crisp apples from the trees and eating until my stomach hurt, walking down by the river, and reading against little stone walls. And then it moved on to the other side of the river, where the fields lay. Everyone worked in the early afternoon so I would adventure over, and watch as people did the only work there was in this purely agricultural village. I watched woman with babies on their backs picking beans, and even little ones following their mothers, digging into the ground and pulling out potatoes. And every time I looked up, there staring me in the face again where endless beautiful white peaks.

            At night we huddled inside. It was extremely cold up there. I would put on my hat and sit in the kitchen around their little wood stove. They had a nice house, showers, a full kitchen with 2 gas burners, wooden stove, a water spout in the courtyard. They had clean clothes, and enough to eat, and cooked me some of the most delicious food of their distinctive mountain flare.  And yet this was the first time I really saw what life was like, in the village.
            All day long woman were washing clothes in the public water wells. Babies were sleeping in doorways on blankets while parents chatted in the streets. Men were husking corn, and shelling beans on the street corner, young girls and boys had babies strapped to their backs as they were out to play.  It took the people there awhile to accept us. Being on a big trekking circuit they have a lot of people coming through, but we worked hard to distinguish ourselves. Not before long they realized we were something different. Styaing for a week was unheard of and we had to be more than just another set of tourists. And then the began to obsess with us, and flocks on children would follow us as we worked, asking us questions, giving us apples, and loving to hear us speak.


On Saturday, the bidaa day for Nepalis, my family and I decided to make momos which are the delicious little dumplings stuffed with veggies here in Nepal. They are without a doubt my all time favorite Nepali food. And they are not easy to make. I watched my family make a few rounds of momos, attempting myself to copy their movements as they pinched the dough around the veggies. But after two attempts where the momos completely fell apart, my mami just looked at me, told me to sit down, and said that she would take care of it from here.  So I did, and then I stuffed myself with momos for dinner. When I couldn’t eat another bite my mami just looked at me and said don’t worry we can eat more tomorrow morning. And sure enough I woke up to a plate of steaming hot deep fried momos. Nothing like curry in the morning.

            One day I went to work on the farm with my family. After we harvest 8 massive bags of beans, we were ready to head home. They started to lift the woven baskets so they could slip the strap over their forehead, that holding up the load dangling on their backs. I asked if I could try one. They laughed and said why not, and then laid the basket on my head. I said it felt just fine, and they broke out into more fits of laughter, but then insisted on taking my picture. I told them I was confident I could walk all the way home with the basket on my head. So I did, and all along the way I got chants of “nepali keta justai, nepali keta justai” from my family. I did look just like a Nepali girl.


  We left the village with much sadness. I did not want to leave the place where the view from my bedroom was 3 of the top ten tallest mountains in the world. Where I played with apple trees, where I wandered the streets, where life was simple, where babies were silly, and where the people were so kind and so rich which culture. But we had to, and so we said our bittersweet farewells, our families presenting us with traditional Buddhist scarves to say farewell, and begging for us to come again, and soon. I waved my goodbyes from the bus and fought back the urge to cry.