Samuel Osborn
Samuel Osborn
Nepal 2018
Through creative-thinking and entrepreneurial-mindedness, my aim is to serve others in everything I do and wherever I go. The cultures of South Asia, including Nepal and India, are a curious interest of mine, and I plan on establishing a life-long friendship with those cultures.

Week Five | हप्ता पाँच

The women of the family.

The women of the family.

 

It was now almost March. The weather began to improve, in that during the daytime it leveled out and during the night I was not forced to wear three layers underneath my sleeping bag. Since Week Five marked a new month, I will take this time to put some names to faces of my host family, although it can be tricky to capture portraits since Nepali people can be a bit camera-shy.

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This is Anshu. You have already met her in my earlier chapters and must already know that she is fun-loving and loves to play. What you don’t know yet, however, is that she is highly dedicated to her schoolwork and making sure things are done on time. She is also a great help around the house with chores, and although she may grumble sometimes like any 10-year old might, she is hardy of spirit and full of energy when helping her family. We often fetch water together from the local tap, which sits right the foot of the house. Hundreds of people gather there daily to fill up their random assortments of water jugs. Anshu’s name means “sun ray”.

 

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This is Sarita, my host-aunt. She is hilarious. My Nepali names, Sambabu (Sam-boy or Sam-baby), Shantaram (Man of God’s peace), and Bok lagyo babu (hungry baby) were all accorded to me by her. She can bring laughter to even the most uncomfortable subjects, like my vomiting and diarrhea affliction. Sarita’s name means “river”.

 

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Meet Kanchan. She is a cousin of the family that visits frequently. She does not speak much English but definitely understood my facial expressions, as those have become my primary means of eliminating language barriers in Nepal. She joined for card games and loves to shop. There are many jokes made within the Shrestha household and Kanchan is more often than not the instigator of these. Kanchan’s name means “gold”. Fun fact: the third-highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, situated in Nepal, has a similar name. Kanchen or Kanchan means “gold”, and Junga means mustache. Gold Mustache Mountain.

 

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Abibsha. She is my 16-year old host-sister and has also become like family to me. On my first full day in Nepal, she showed me the way from the host home to the school, the supermarket, and the ATM. If Anshu, her little sister, is committed to schoolwork, Abibsha is even more so. I am continually fascinated by the work ethic that Nepali people exemplify. During my stay at the host home, Abibsha was often my translator for times when no one else knew how to say a phrase or question in English. As for the meaning of her name, I do not know.

I have not yet captured any pictures of my host father, mother, or host-grandparents, but when I do I will accompany them with short backgrounds.

Week Four | हप्ता चार

The Placement

Kristina in the Kindergarten class.

Kristina in the Kindergarten class.

Week number four at Sunrise English Boarding School began to feel like another home in itself. There are certain love-hate psychological see-saws that come with being a teacher of small children. For example, I began to love the smiles, waves, and sheer joy they expressed to me each morning as I walked onto the school grounds. A high-five here, a fist bump there, and a “good morning, sir!” everywhere. I began to dislike the way the Nepal sun seems to be piercing through every possible crevasse or opening, like in that brief moment when a car pulls into the driveway of a home and its headlights cast stark shadows on even the most obscure objects in the house. When you are not standing in the Nepal sun, you begin to freeze. I began to love the teachers and principals as I learned all their names, what kind of food they ate at lunch every day, and how long each of them had been at Sunrise. I began to dislike the food given me, but after a single incident only: all in one school night a violent fit of vomiting and diarrhea overtook me and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor, at hearing my symptoms, told me I probably had an infection of Giardia, a single-celled parasite in combination with some sort of food-borne infection. Overnight, I was given 5 liters of fluids and restored back to health, and took with me a prescription for Giardia, which worked wonderfully.

 

The Host Home

Bungie, the family dog.

Bungie, the family dog.

In week three at the host home, before my sudden illness, I asked my host mother, Usha, to teach me how to make their traditional Nepali hot sauce called Achaar. I cannot dispel the secret, but I can say that it is made with a mortar and pestle and takes some time to prepare, even for small amounts. It is a very concentrated, tangy mixture that has the consistency of guacamole and salsa mixed, and adds the perfect amount of spice to the traditional lentils and rice meal. One night that evening, Anshu and I played cards. When Anshu got tired of winning every game, we decided to come up with a new card game. I grabbed the badminton racquet and we took turns pitching and batting all 52 cards all around the room, some of which took all evening to find after they went flying. We then took some selfies and Anshu was chewing some pretty obnoxious candy with her mouth open. Over the next month my goal was to teach her how to chew with her mouth closed.

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Week Three | हप्ता तीन

The Placement

By week three, I had finally been placed in some different grade levels instead of teaching the upper kindergarten level after lunch. This change, along with a few festivities that were to happen at the school, excited me and felt like a fresh shower of my brain. Surendra and Anita, the principal and vice principal, respectively, had been getting me hyped about an upcoming tradition they held in which the students, instead of the staff, prepared lunch for everyone on the grounds. A little nervous laugh from Surendra made me think his opinion of the students’ cooking skills was not very high, but knowing the love kids have for food, I had hope.

The event was incredible in every way. The level 6-8 classes dug holes in the ground as placeholders for bricks. These bricks, in formations, became potholders over 4 different campfires, which were constructed, kindled, and ignited by the students themselves. 4 group each had their own dish to cook, 3 out of the 4 containing some form of potatoes.

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The smoke drifted directly into the classrooms as class took place and the windows had to be shut, but the smells were promising.

Luckily, I had a few small bills on me, because I was asked to pay if I wanted a third helping. My three helpings of fried slices of potatoes, sweet curd with strawberries and oranges, and a patty made from crushed lentils called ‘bara’ were more than enough, and the quality of the food did not surprise me at all; clearly these students had just made their favorite foods.

The next day, the tradition continued and the teachers made an even tastier lunch of their own for everyone. On that day I was invited to sit at the teacher table and I was given a cup of homemade masala milk tea from a thermos, a small bonding moment.

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Taller and more cunning versions of the monsters of upper kindergarten, level 1 was going to be a new challenge, but the teacher in that class was helpful and encouraging to me. And in my original lower kindergarten class, we (I) made 13 paper airplanes and wrote each student’s name on them. We had a contest to see whose flew farther. At the end of week three came the dreaded exams. As I have mentioned, the older students use their cunning to communicate questions and answers to each other in Nepali, their very own morse code when a white man is their captain.

 

The Host Home

In week three, I spent less time at the host home. I made friends with some of the other volunteers with Projects Abroad, and we planned a mountain biking day trip. Stated as a 30km round trip, I had soon to discover that this was trickery, as it really meant 30km as the crow flies, not as the bike climbs. The trip took us due North of Kathmandu, quickly leaving the hustle and bustle behind. The one thing that remained was the dust. Like the famous last lines of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness when he puts words to his madness, I found myself screaming, “The Dust! The Dust!”, unable to turn my eyes away.

Me and the guide.

Me and the guide.

The crew.

The crew.

We passed through the northern hills of the Kathmandu valley and through rice villages. Over the course of the entire ride, Myles, one of the volunteers, had three bike breakdowns, forcing the guide to break out his chain repair kit each time.

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I later painted a watercolor version of one of the homes.

I later painted a watercolor version of one of the homes.

On his second breakdown, we happened to be sitting in front of the most peculiar thing: a lime green house. Two ladies peered over the roof and invited us up while the guide repaired Myles’ bike. When we reached the rooftop, it seemed there was nothing expected of us except company. The two ladies stared at us from a distance as we sat in their chairs and snacked on trail mix.

The second breakdown.

The second breakdown.

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The ride was exhausting but not altogether debilitating, and I recovered quickly enough to enjoy the rest of the week at home, teaching Anshu the basics of watercolor painting and playing more card games — until — there was a complaint of a rat in one of the volunteer’s rooms. My host father walked into the hallway, eyes wide but with an expression of calmness that only comes with many years of witnessing shenanigans. “Rat?”, he asked. “I guess so”, I said. “Okay”. When he did not, in fact, find the purported rat, the other volunteer still did not seem at ease, so my host father brought down the vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies to clean the entire downstairs floor. When I started helping him by cleaning the sink and mirror, he asked “What is wrong? What are you doing?” to which I responded “You don’t have to do all of this yourself, I can help”.

And then he looked me in the eyes and said, “No. It is our duty. In Nepal, guest are gods.”

Topic: Himalayan Grace Coffee Shop | हिमालयन ग्रेस कफी

“O come, all ye faithful, come let us adore him…silver bells, silver bells…O, holy night…”

Every time I sit down to write a new blog post, this is my background music. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tunes in and out of season, but this playlist is not emanating from my headphones, but the speakers at the coffee shop at a corner of the main road, 200 paces from KK Supermarket and juxtaposed to a dusty side road that leads down through a random cluster of towering pines.IMG_2995

This uncharacteristically American coffee shop in the middle of a suburban Nepalese neighborhood—nowhere close to the tourist traps of the city center—has been my home base for writing, calling family, and sipping Americanos for the past month.

Ketchup red and mustard yellow metal chairs contrast against the white tile floor. A large blackboard lines the left wall, filled with cookie-cutter sayings and words like “Family, Love, Peace, Laughs and Kisses, Home Together Forever”, etc. Baskets of bakery items brought in from other local shops sit just to the left of the glass counter full of cakes and cookies. It smells and feels like the U.S.A., not just a carbon copy or vague cousin. But the two employees (always the same two Nepalese dudes) greet me with a courteous “Namaste” and slight bow before they start up the espresso machine and ask me “Americano?” since I’ve had it more than a dozen times. The immense hospitality the Nepalese people display toward guests always takes me aback.

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At 120 Rupees ($1.20) it is one of the tastiest and strongest Americanos I have ever had. I keep coming back. After my second time, they gave me a special stamp card that allows me to get a free cup of coffee after every 9th cup. I’ve already had three free cups, you do the math. Grace Coffee’s primary music playlist is a collection of instrumental renditions of classic Christian Christmas music like “Gloria”, “O Holy Night”, O Come, Emmanuel”, and many more hits.

For my free cup, I always choose a french press.

For my free cup, I always choose a french press.

I support this little business just as fervently as any little mom and pop or husband/wife shop back home; it has become my primary operating base for internet-heavy responsibilities, as the wifi at my host home would take about 4 full days to download a single podcast. Grace Coffee is a stark contrast to 99% of shops and cafes in Nepal that can be labeled literally as holes in a wall, but there are gems to be found in every tiny nook of this busy city, and absolutely nothing can be judged by its cover.



 

Speaking of busy, here’s a preview of my story of week 3 in Nepal:

“...and then he looked me in the eyes and told me, “No. It is our duty. In Nepal, guests are gods...”

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Week Two | दुई हप्ता

The Placement

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During week two of my stay, along came picture day at Sunrise. All buttoned up and ready to smile, the little miniature people were rounded up by the teachers and set atop a chair to match the height of the camera. Afterwards a group picture was taken, but the kids didn’t shy away from a few selfies I wanted to take in the in the meantime.

 

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Week two proved to be substantially difficult, as my U.K.G. (upper kindergarten) class not only seemed increasingly hard to control, but the Nepalese teacher in charge of this class insisted on stepping out and leaving me for extended periods of time with the children. I don’t have kids. I don’t have the raw experience to know how to handle a room of untamed little beasts. Much like American children, these cannot understand most of what you are saying unless you repeat it multiple times and use hand motions. However, these Nepalese children have an extra weapon in their arsenal: they can speak a language that I can’t understand. If ever they deem that trouble must occur, they can have a wide-open little conference meeting right in front of me and I have no clue what they are muttering. As you will learn later, this is how the older students cheat on tests when I’m proctoring.

Lower Kindergarten Class

Lower Kindergarten Class

The teacher kept stepping out. She would also choose to ignore the progress of certain children because they were falling behind. Thus, they had become a lost cause to her. I intentionally spent time with these slower-learning students to learn what helped them learn, to learn what they lacked. But I made a direct request to the principal of the school to help out with a different class instead, beginning the following week. I didn’t feel welcome in that class. I still wanted to teach the lower kindergarten class, however. I was gaining substantial ground and respect with them. The principal accepted the request gladly.

 

The Family

Week two at the host home is where I began to really bond with the family.

Anshu.

Anshu.

 

Anshu is my new 10-year old sister. She is the sharpest, fastest-learning, and funniest 5th grader I have ever known. She wants to be an “American rockstar”, “owner of a computer company”, and a “dancer” , “two of those three” she says. On week two after school each day, Anshu and I played games after dinner. Card games (matching, slaps, Uno), hidden object games, indoor improvised badminton using one racquet and a pair of shoes, arcade games on my computer, etc. On the weekend, we walked to the grocery store to buy chocolates. Cheap chocolates, expensive chocolates, and bottles of Coca-Cola. We made popsicles by putting the Coke in the freezer. Anshu’s older sister Abibsha, her aunt, and her cousin Kanchen joined us in a game of telephone pictionary, in which each person draws something, passes it, and the next person has to translate what they think it is (and so on).

Each meal always consists of rice. Breakfast might contain a donut or some bread and apples plus an egg. Lunch is dhal bat, dinner is dhal bat. Remember, dhal means lentil and bat means rice. The rice is always served with curried veggies of some sort. Lunch on Saturdays is always chow chow and tea. Sometimes milk tea.

By week two, I had figured that Sundays were the best day to do my laundry. This is done by hand in large metal bowls, and very slowly. The clothes are hung on the roof to dry for the next day. This process will be covered in detail in a topical post.

You will see soon that week three was when I began to feel more comfortable in this crazy country, and began to learn new things at a quicker rate. Here is a preview of some adventuring I made in week three...

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Topic: Kathmandu Traffic | यातायात

This is what it sounds like. Feel free to listen as you read this short description of—you guessed it—Kathmandu traffic.

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About 10% of the time, traffic in the heart of Kathmandu is parked. Taxis, buses, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks alike are sitting still with engines off. The dust from all other traffic is the only thing moving, it seems, for just moments. Then there’s a jolt. Some grinding…

1st Gear

In first gear, the views of Kathmandu aren’t much different. If you’re familiar with putting a manual vehicle in first gear, however, you can imagine the grind and resistance the clutch gives every other second. This is the moment when you peer out the window and meet eyes with a stranger on a small 150cc bike. This stranger is accompanied by his wife, his daughter, and his infant son, who grasps the handle bars with his tiny Nepalese hands. Magically, the bike remains intact, like the refurbished cop car used by Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers.

2nd gear

In 2nd gear, you have reached the average speed of traffic—about 15mph. Everything seems normal. This is when you start to see blinkers. Wow! You came all the way from your country where blinkers are installed in vain because they are never used properly, and here the Nepalese seem to be using them. However, this is an illusion. A blinking blinker here is a signal to the car behind to pass. They are never used as indicators of turning. There are no stop signs. There are no lights.

3rd Gear

Hope rises in your heart as you climb speed, as if something miraculous has happened and all traffic has cleared ahead of you, like a sinus cavity surgery that has removed all debris. 30mph, 40mph, this must be good news. A smile comes across your face. Then, as you approach true traffic-happiness, something is moving into the street from the corner of your eye.

Pedestrian.

A no-cares, no-worries, no-caution, and no-remorse pedestrian. And just when you thought nothing could stop you, you’re back at 1st gear. See ‘1st Gear’ to repeat the cycle.IMG_3030

If you ever reach 4th or 5th gear in the heart of Kathmandu, you have witnessed something truly special.

My next post will be an update on my progress as a volunteer. Topical posts like this one will be titled as such.

Week One || पहिलो हप्ता

Arrival.

Airport. Visa. Baggage claim. Sim card booth. Someone waving a sign with my name on it. A dusty dark midnight Thursday ride through decrepit streets made of rocks and sand. Hotel. Shower. A few “new phone, it’s me—I’m here...goodnight” texts. Bed.

My sketch of the view from Hotel Prince Kathmandu.

My sketch of the view from Hotel Prince Kathmandu.

I woke up the next morning in what I now know as a quite nice hotel called Hotel prince Kathmandu in the central part of the tourist area known as Thamel (Tom-El), more specifically Chhetrapati (Chet-tra-pot-tee). After a quick breakfast of rice, I was briefed by my supervisor about the do’s, don’ts and tips for my stay in Nepal, then sent on my way to the host family some 30 minutes away in Lalitpur (Lol-eet-poor). I didn’t meet all the family all at once, but was greeted by the mother and the older sister. They showed me my new room. Quaint, minimal. Breakfast at 8, lunch at 1, dinner at 6, they said.

“When do you go to placement?” the sister asked. Placement means my volunteer placement, as in an English boarding school called Sunrise.

“Monday, think”, I said.

“Okay, good. You let us know if you need anything, we will get for you”, she said, “so see you at 6 for dinner?”

“Okay, thank you! Yes, see you then.”

I napped hard.

Dal Bhat (Doll-Bot) for dinner. Dal means lentils, bhat means rice. Lentils and rice. This would become a trend. It turns out that families in Nepal do not traditionally eat dinner together. Elderly people eat first, other men eat second, women eat last. I was eating alone because my host father, Kedar, had not yet come home that evening.

Later that evening, I met the aunt and the host father. They must have understood that I was unbelievably tired because I was encouraged to get some rest. The work week in Nepal is Sunday through Friday, 10am-5pm. In a very generous offer, the host family and the volunteer organization, Projects Abroad, allowed me to observe Saturdays and Sundays as I would in the States.

View from the top floor of my host home in Lalitpur.

View from the top floor of my host home in quaint Lalitpur.

Sunday. I needed to get back to the only place available to exchange U.S. cash for Nepalese Rupees, Thamel (remember, tourist area). This proved to be much more of an adventure than expected. If you look at a map of Kathmandu Valley, you’ll see that there are about 5 main cities, Kathmandu and Lalitpur just two of them. Although practically within arms reach only a few miles away, it took 1 hour to find a bus that connected to a station near Thamel and 1 hour for the bus to actually get there. Inside the bus I was bone-to-bone with 30 other locals. I couldn’t turn my head or adjust my feet—bodies were hanging out the side of the bus and heads were sticking out the window just to make room. 15 rupees (15 cents). Worth it.

The Placement.

Sunrise English Boarding School.

Sunrise English Boarding School.

One of the Projects Abroad staff members, Rose, a Nepalese woman, met me outside my host home at 9:30 and walked me to the boarding school for my first day of work as the new American volunteer teacher. Sunrise comprises about 200 Nepalese children, ranging from 2-17 years of age. When I arrived, the principal was outside the school in a suit. We shook hands, then I was taken inside the school grounds. Inside, a sunny stone courtyard separated the classrooms, each designated for different grade levels. What I first witnessed when I walked in made me nervous.

All 200 little Nepalese dark eyes darted toward me as my American presence became bluntly obvious.

A morning routine of stretches, pledges, and the group singing of the Nepali anthem was in process. Reminiscent of my grade school days, I was led to the principal’s office immediately following. A quick debrief from the principal and vice principal was finalized by a ceremonious and very personal welcome to the community: a scarf hung around my neck and -red dot smeared on my forehead-, and a miniature arrangement of wildflowers .

“Welcome to Sunrise, Sam.”

The first week at Sunrise was not too overwhelming and definitely humbling.

The toilet

The toilet at Sunrise.

I began by observing some of the younger classes—1st grade level and below, even the nursery. The school is surely understaffed for what they want to accomplish. These kids are charged with learning Nepali, a complex and difficult language in its own right, and English...simultaneously. There’s no doubt they can handle it, but it’s nice for the teachers to have an American boy showing up to demonstrate proper grammar and phonetics of English. Later in the week, I decided to take a few matters into my owns hands; I waited outside the toilets and made sure every child washed their hands properly. I brought some English children’s books and read one to the 1st grade class. On Friday, I brought in lots of paper and colored pencils. To motivate them, I told them whoever finished their classwork first would get to draw and color with me. This was a success.

The Friday coloring project.

The Friday coloring project.

 

The school courtyard.

The school courtyard.

Recess, however, will always be my favorite part of school. I pegged a kid in the face with a rubber-band version of a dodgeball, played tag with some 5th grade boys, and owned a bunch of older students in a match of badminton. I’m looking forward to 2 more months at this school, as I’m sure my roles will change and I will learn more about Nepal than from anywhere else. (I will be posting separately for updates on my progress as a volunteer and for topics like weather, traffic, tourist adventures, and the host family. The main updates will always be titled with a week number). 

Nepal: Preparations

It’s the 5th day of the new year and 12 days until I step on the plane to Kathmandu. I’m taking some time to look back on some of the preparations I’ve made for the trip—what I have done so far and what’s next.

The Lumos Application

When I first heard about the Lumos Award in the Fall of 2016, it filtered through my mind as one of those unattainable achievements that would be nice if I had the opportunity, but “how could I focus on that and simultaneously finish up my last year of classes,  and where would I travel anyway?”, were my questions.

India, of course. This had been a two-year running thought in my head. Let me go to India to get involved with the poverty and poor living conditions of the slums. When this thought actually came to my mind, I’m not sure. Through a few books and articles about India I had read, I had formed a desire to go do these things.

But when this thought re-occured it was just two months until the next application deadline for Lumos. “Great”, I said.

So naturally, I decided to start an application.

Learning quickly that it was expected to take up to a year to secure a Visa to India—I didn’t let that spur the desire to go work volunteer somewhere, so I looked at a world map and picked a small little Arkansas-sized country sandwiched between India and Tibet, called Nepal. I knew, of course, that this was the home of the infamous Mount Everest and legends of monks and sherpas living in the thin air well above sea level. And after a few more Google searches and chats with friends who had been there, I learned that Nepal, like its southern cousin India, has been experiencing severe child poverty, unsanitary water, and slavery for just as many years. Somethign else I noted: in 2015 a massive earthquake shook Nepal, killing over 9,000 and injuring over 22,000. Families and school children were displaced from their homes and schools, and in Kathmandu, the capital, much of the infrastructure had been compromised.

“I have to go there”, I said.

Funding

After an insane month of crunching my time between classwork and researching everything for the Lumos application, I submitted an essay and a budget for my proposed trip to Nepal, set to take place from January-June of 2018, I submitted the application and hoped I would be selected for an interview in front of the Lumos board.

This was nerve-racking.

One week later I was notified about getting an interview. I had 8 big binders full of my project information ready to put in front of each board member, ready to answer most questions thrown my way. This was it! When I exited the room on the day of the interview I was sure I did not get funded for this trip. My nerves, or ignorance, or something got the best of me and they’d decline my request.

But the next week I received an email with the subject line: “Congratulations!”. All of my friends and family knew the verdict within the next hour.  I would be going to Nepal in January.

 

Vaccines, Planes, and Paperwork

Shortly after my graduation in May, I began the preparations for my trip. Vaccines, additional paperwork, traveler’s insurance, payments to Projects Abroad for my accommodation and meals, a week’s worth of cold weather clothing and a high-tech water filtration system and some new tennis shoes.

Of course, I strung these checklist items over the course of 6 months. But now I’m less than two weeks from departure, and I couldn’t be more pumped.