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 Fourteen Through Sixteen | हफ्ते चौधौं सोह्रौं

Halfway through my fourteenth week in Nepal, we finished our work tying together the sidewalks, topping off the brick walls of the classrooms, and clearing out all debris, unused bricks, piles of aggregate gravel and sand. The school was finished, and would soon be full of students.

The sidewalk.

The sidewalk.

 

One of the completed walls.

One of the completed walls.

 

After the rubble had been cleared.

After the rubble had been cleared.

Back at the host home, things were transitioning too. A handful of volunteers left the country one after the other, volunteers with whom I’d established friendships, explored, and laughed. In the last few days before Adiel and Marcos left, all three of us rented scooters from a small shop in downtown Kathmandu. For a mere 500 Rupees per day (less than $5) we became a three-man scooter gang. I learned to navigate the intense traffic like a hot knife through butter, and a few times we took the whole crew out for adventures or to go shopping downtown. These vespa-like scooters were not top of the line, however. Mine was the color of a banana and had a habit of stalling out if I stopped for even a moment. Luckily, it couldn’t perform well enough to handle an extra passenger, so when a large picnic was planned a few days afterward, I didn’t have to carry anyone on my scooter and risk crashing.

 

Back at the job site, we were virtually finished. The local Nepali engineer on our site, Asis, had acquired a new nickname from me. Every time a new task was given to us he took responsibility for teaching all of us the proper way to do it to make sure we were efficient. However, he always made it look easier than it was. So I called him As-easy. When we finished clearing the debris and organizing the piles of gravel and sand so that the mason could later finish out the brick flooring of the courtyard, we were treated to a traditional Newari plate of food. Newari people are the true historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley, and the Newari language, culture, and food are often seen just as much as the Nepali culture. These plates of food almost always consist of dried rice (chura), grilled buffalo (buff chola), peanuts, bean curry, and spicy red sauce (achar). We were to wash this down with green Mountain Dew. It was amazing after one of the hardest work days we had seen—yet. At the very close of our time at this school, each of us were presented with a ceremonial scarf and a tikka (a good luck swipe of red power on the forehead). Pictures were taken with the whole group and we said our goodbyes to the staff of the school and the local mason, who was still hard at work on brickwork when we left.

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Our host mother, Susmita, was beginning to seem more comfortable as a host during this time, since several groups of volunteers had come and gone already. It was, after all, her very first time acting as a host mother to a group of volunteers. It can’t be easy to prepare rooms and clean and cook for people who wake up not feeling well, disappear to work all day, then come back starving and dragging their muddy shoes across the floors. On top of this, Susmita had to take care of her six year old son, Soham, and her 13 year-old daughter Susita. Every morning she would cook them a separate breakfast and make sure they were in their school uniforms and ready to catch the bus at 9am. Crazy job, being a mother. Even crazier job to be Susmita. I’m thankful for the incredible hospitality every Nepali person showed me despite some of their own living conditions and responsibilities.

Week fifteen and sixteen not only flew by, they seemed to bump into my lower spine on the way. We were brought to the new building project. Located not far from our host home this time, this school had a similar layout as the one before but our new job was to redo some shoddy work that had recently been done by another group of volunteers. Our main objectives on this one were to reinforce the foundation with concrete ties, build new barrier walls, new classroom walls, and begin the outline of a sidewalk.

Our very first task: Dig ditches.

 

The base layer of the wall after the ditch was dug.

The base layer of the wall after the ditch was dug.

It had rained that day and water was pooled up in shallow ditches of hard clay. This was where we were to dig, and we had to dig fast to avoid more rain collecting in our holes before the next day. Otherwise we couldn’t build up a brick wall until we dipped the water out with buckets. And of course, this is exactly what happened, and on our second day, we spent most of the day dipping buckets into the muddy water to make room for the new brick walls. This was back-breaking, slippery work and when we finally got the last drop out, we began to dig more. Pickaxes didn’t do much to the dense clay and shovels would stick and break from the pressure.

By the end of the first week at the new site, we had finished one long brick wall and worked our way over to the foundation, which was under the metal roofing and safe from the rain. We began by learning how to bend rebar squares and wire them to long straight pieces of rebar to create a rectangular tube of metal that served as heavy reinforcement for the concrete ties we poured over them. These ties, perfectly named, tie the whole structure together in such a way that if another 7.0 earthquake hits Kathmandu, the whole structure of the school will sway together, as opposed to separate sections of foundations that might grind or slip against each other.

One of the concrete ties.

One of the concrete ties.

In my last week as a construction team member, we saw so much progress on the new building. Much of that original team of volunteers had left by that point, which was sad, but there were already new volunteers almost each day that came in and joined the project. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and work ethic of all the people I met. I rarely saw anyone slacking or complaining about the work. It was nice be a part of team that really cared about the work they were doing and even despite all the cultural, political, and personality differences—at the end of the day we all felt part of an honest mission and loved serving the Nepali communities. This school was nowhere near complete when I left, and I only hope that more volunteers will continue to come work on it over the next year.

Getting my tikka.

Getting my tikka.

"Ciao Sam 2018 Nepal", written by one of the volunteers in the fresh concrete.

“Ciao Sam 2018 Nepal”, written by one of the volunteers in the fresh concrete.

At the host home, saying goodbye was a little easier because now I was only one of 3 volunteers at the house, instead of 10. I knew I’d be back in just a few weeks when my girlfriend Marissa came to visit, so it wasn’t sad yet.

Week Twelve and Thirteen | हप्ता बाह्र र तेरह

Week twelve marked the normalizing of a refreshing new routine of waking up at 5:30 or 6:00am, making a few cups of coffee (purchased from Himalayan Grace Coffee, where I used to spend my time) on the stove, reading a little bit, writing a few notes down about the week, and watching some YouTube videos to pass the mornings. Around 6:30am the host mother, Susmita, would come downstairs into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. She became accustomed to my morning coffee habit, but at first said, “why do you drink this? It is a drug”.

Around 8:00 or 8:15am, everyone else would wake up, climb up to the dining table on the second floor, and silently chew their pancakes and slurp their tea until someone said “good morning”. Breakfast at this host home was either pancakes and mixed bean curry (my favorite), two scrambled eggs on bread, or puri (think of a thin shell in the shape of a bowl) and bean curry. Always served with Nepali black tea. At 9:15am all of the volunteers would make the 5 minute walk to the main road where our work van picked us up every morning. There at the van we would see our Nepali crew waiting for us.

Our new task at the school, since the classroom floors had been leveled, was to begin digging ditches along the classrooms for small brick rows. These rows would serve as the outside edge of a concrete sidewalk to be placed along the classrooms. Ditch digging, thankfully, was relatively easy in the Nepal soil because it was dry and it lacked roots and boulders to impede the shovels. The only difficult part was getting to the red clay underneath the top soil. This had to be rigorously loosened with a pickaxe before it could be unearthed. I enjoyed pickaxe duties. One of the newer volunteers, Adiel, and I became friends and motivated each other to work harder than the other so the work would get done faster. We became fairly competent in out brick-laying skills and the ability to build them extremely quick. But when we looked over at the brick walls the girls were laying, they always looked so much nicer.

The next week, once the ditches had been dug and the small barrier walls were in place, we filled the sidewalk area with concrete and smoothed it out. The only way we could make this process easy was to form a relay line. One pan of concrete at a time had to be passed from person to person until it reached the end, where it was dumped into place and the Nepali mason used a 2×4 and a trowel to smooth it evenly. We learned that this was the final week of our work on this school, and everything was coming to a close. My time in Nepal was really coming to an end, and I had not prepared for it to come so quickly.

Week Ten and Eleven | हप्ता दस र ग्यारह | (Hapta dasa ra gyaraha)

Then passed the first two weeks of my construction project in a blink of an eye. The next 9 weeks proved to be much more about the people and the stories of people as opposed to the work itself. When I arrived to my new host home about 20 minutes away from my previous home with the Shresthas, I was greeted by Ram, the host father, and his wife. Most other volunteers were on a flight to view Everest from the clouds. That weekend, Ram and his family had to move out because of some family emergencies, and on Monday they were placed by a distant relative, Susmita, and her two children.

My first day of work on the school, Friday March 23rd. It took one hour to commute by van to the job site. On the way, another volunteer was picked up. Sabrina, from Austria. That day it was just her and I on the job site, along with the local engineer named Asis, an old mason named Nandai, and the organization coordinator. We worked on the top of a brick wall of a classroom and I learned the proper way to mix mortar and build up the layers.

The completed classroom wall.

The completed classroom wall.

That Monday I met the rest of the crew: Marco from Greece (who worked on a different project), James from England, Marilyn from France, and Harpreet from England. I had finally met my match in terms of sarcasm, lame jokes, and telling good stories, as my first dinner with everyone was hilarious and promising. The next morning we went straight to work. If you haven’t learned by now, however, Nepal’s work culture is much different. Businesses do not open until 10am, and the commute does not begin until 8am, as opposed to those 6-8am traffic jams where the scent of Starbucks wafts from every car window——you might be familiar with this. Instead, the commute is a much more gradual and consistent flow of millions on bikes and cars and buses. There are no traffic rules, no crazy maneuver is out of the question. And I would soon learn, even quadrupedal vehicles might be seen in traffic, and I’m not talking about bikes with four pedals.

 

The work on this more official-feeling first day with the whole crew was much more satisfying. I was put on the duty of finishing the top layers of that brick wall with Sabrina, and I started to find a groove, literally. Mixing mortar and concrete can be back-breaking when you’re doing it in large amounts, because in Nepal it’s all mixed directly on the ground by hand. In the case of mortar for bricklaying, about 3 wheelbarrows of sand is sifted through a sieve, and combined with a half bag of PPC cement. Then a small volcano caldera is shaped out of the pile and water is poured into the hole. The sides of the caldera are then built up until all the water is covered and soaked into the mix. It’s entirely different than throwing the ingredients into a gas-powered cement mixer, and much more rewarding.

The cement pile.

The cement pile.

By the end of week eleven, that brick wall was finished and we were instructed by Asis to start leveling out one of the classroom floors by compaction, after which we’d be filling it in with concrete. This new project was going to be hard work, but I was more than ready for the change of scenery from teaching children to building children’s floors.

Week Nine | हप्ता नौ | (Hapta Nau)

Twelve hundred rupees handed over to the bus employee secured my turbulent 6 hour ride to Pokhara. The 200 kilometers, or about 120 miles (which would only take a family of four in a van to cross about 2 hours) was to take at least 6 hours because of the primitive highways and multitude of hills, valleys, cliffs and narrow bridges the bus had to cross. Making a few stops in a few small villages, the effect of tourism on these once-remote places was very evident.

Arriving to the outskirts of Pokhara, some new sight came into view. Hills I had seen, yes. Great river chasms wedged into the hills, also I had seen. But this new view began as what seemed to be a collection of triangular clouds pointing upward together in unison. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized these were actually the Himalayas. What baffled me, however, was the funny way in which the hills in my foreground were looking up to these behemoth mountains in the distance, and some of them took on the unique shapes that only mountains can truly assume, in a way of honoring them. The hills acted as waves splashing upward and upward until the entire landscape became a foundation for the mountain range’s deep roots. Something had to support these stone structures rising over eight-thousand meters. These are the tallest mountains in the world.

After arriving to the massive bus station and grabbing an expensive 1 mile taxi ride, I instantly got a feel for the layout of the city. Every street is just another layer running parallel to the shores of Phewa Lake, the iconic postcard lake that reflects the distant peaks. I arrived to my hostel, checked in, and ran to the lake where I rented a boat for myself. That night, after my 2 hour paddle across the lake, I visited a pizza shop and a coffee shop and by 9pm I was ready to fall into a heavy sleep.

The next day, I woke up early and rented a bicycle for the day. 1,000 Rupees. The shop owner told me it would be a difficult ride up the side of the hills leading to the World Peace Pagoda and then back down and around the lake. In total, including climbs and descents, it would be about 50 kilometers, or 31 miles. I decided to do it anyway. Within 30 minutes I was walking my bike uphill.

The trail up to the Peace Pagoda.

The trail up to the Peace Pagoda.

When I reached the entrance to the World Peace Pagoda, it was only stairs. But the sign also said, “Downhill Bike Trail This Way”. I decided to lock up the bike, visit the Pagoda, then come back to walk it up the steps.

The World Peace Pagoda.

The World Peace Pagoda.

The Peace Pagoda, locally known as Shanti Stupa, was an incredible white wonder on the top of the hill. It is one of over 70 stupas built around the world since 1947 by the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Order. Directly North of it, overlooking the lake and hills in the distance, a panorama of the Annapurna mountain range filled my view. These looked like massive clouds at first; I really didn’t believe my eyes.

Those aren't clouds, my friend.

Those aren’t clouds, my friend.

I retrieved my bike. The downhill descent was much, much harder than I had expected. Although there was a path, it was not smooth in the slightest.

The downhill trail.

The downhill trail.

Just when I thought I was almost to the bottom of the hill, a new hill had to be climbed first. It took over 2 hours to reach the lake again, and several times the path was blocked by cows or buffalo.

I finally reached lake level and came upon a hidden flood plain. Cattle were grazing in the sun and the wind blew softly. My palms were ripped from clutching the handle bars. At the very corner of the deep valley now shaded by the hills, I rode in silence through a small neighborhood of farms.

The flood plain.

The flood plain.

In the corner of my eye, I saw a man coming to greet me. I slowed. We said “namaste” and he invited me in for tea at his family’s home. He was about 28 years old, and he called himself “Kumar”. Inside their small little hut, his mother and him made me a cup of fresh milk tea. Kumar and I briefly discussed school, life in Nepal, and his farm. He is studying mechanical engineering. We finished our tea and I asked if I was going in the right direction back to Pokhara. He said yes, just follow this road for another 45 minutes and you will be there. I thanked him for the tea and hopped on my bike to leave.

Kumar's hut.

Kumar’s hut.

Crossing through a small town called Pame (Pom-Eh), some school children stopped me and asked to ride the bike for a second. They smiled and waved at me until they couldn’t see me anymore when I rode away. To my right the lake came back into view. Paragliders were landing onto little islands of grass. People boated. The sun was going down. Within 30 minutes I was back at the bike shop.

After the first day full of adventures and some real workouts, the rest of the week was spent eating, shopping and sleeping. I found a group of people from Holland the third day, and we all explored new restaurants and spent time playing cards on the edge of the lake, telling each other stories of our Nepal experiences, and making fun of accents.

Phewa Lake at dusk.

Phewa Lake at dusk.

On the morning of the 5th day, I hopped onto my bus and rode 8 hours back to the Kathmandu Valley, well rested and ready to start building schools.

Week Seven and Eight | हप्ता सात र आठ

 

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Sometimes, when you fail to look behind you and fix your eyes on where your feet are stepping, weeks, months, or even years can sift by as if condensed into a short synopsis in which you cannot match events with places or times. In these instances, it’s probably wise to take an hour or so to think about these events and unfold them from the the drawers. They need to be unpacked and decoded. In a foreign country as a foreign volunteer, this can occur very easily and without warning. I have learned to see journaling as a preventative medicine for this forgetfulness, and so far it has served me well. Some of the smallest happenings have been put on paper and when I read them, those memories become timeless. And since the best stories ever told are the ones that have not left out the small details and minor characters, I take this as sound advice. However…

Week seven and eight as a volunteer English teacher at Sunrise melted together because I had gotten into a groove. Each day’s schedule became the same: breakfast at 8, coffee shop at 8:30, walk to school at 9:45, class begins at 10:10, kindergarten 1st period, 1st grade for 2nd and 3rd period, lunch at 1:10, 1st grade for 4th period, and either 2nd or 3rd grade for the last period as I typically wound down and observed another Nepali teacher teaching Nepali grammar or math. These were my last two weeks as a teacher at Sunrise English Boarding School. For the students, exams were nearing which meant the close of the school year for them (in Nepal, the new year begins on April 15th and schools usually take a one month break at that time).

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I was just beginning to understand the basics of how to control a classroom. The only teacher in the 1st grade level during the first half of the day, I was forced to learn quickly. Methods that may work in other settings do not work in a classroom setting, especially when a certain trust and respect level has been established. I came up with my own methods of improving productivity. After writing the lesson on the board and making sure everyone was quiet as I explained it slowly to the eager little eyes, I made them get out their journals. They had one journal notebook for each subject. Most of these were so worn, used and re-used that pages were falling out, homework was written on back covers, and sometimes multiple subjects were mixed together by accident. In all grade levels up to level 3 I found this to be true. My method of making sure they copied down everything on the board in a timely manner was to slowly start erasing from top to bottom. Of course they would fuss at this instantly. Some of them were slackers and some just slow writers. But when everyone had finished a certain line, I would erase it and encourage them to write quickly and neatly. Each period was only forty minutes; subtracting the five minutes at the beginning and end of the period for shenanigans, that gave me only thirty minutes to accomplish a full lesson in that subject.

As the end of these last two weeks closed like a big steel door that had been closing since it opened, I came to terms with its finality. Soon I would be transitioned into a new role——a construction role at another school.

Week Six | हप्ता छ

 

A family prepares to burn one of their dead at the river bank in Pashupatinath.

A family prepares to burn one of their dead at the river bank in Pashupatinath.

The sixth sense. I saw dead people. No, really. Lining the banks of the river that flows through the acres of Pashupatinath, the world’s oldest and primary Hindu temple, family members embalm and burn their dead. The smell is unmistakable. According to the Hindu religion, cremation of the dead brings about a swifter, more complete transfer of the soul from the earthly plane to the astral plane, preserving the psychic connection. They believe that the soul is indestructible, and death but marks the beginning of a new adventure for the soul. I stood and watched this process from a distance, along with the principal and vice principal of Sunrise, who took the entire day off to take me and a few other volunteers on a more authentic tour of the city’s ancient religious history, all expenses paid. Pashupatinath overflows with monkeys, and if you are not careful, they will rob you of your possessions or if they are mad, deglove you in some manner.

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Boudanath Stupa was the next destination. It towered over my expectations of “huge” and blew me away with its unique construction. Like most temples and historical sites in Nepal, it carries with it a very singular countenance that seems to betray its entire story in just one glance.

Boudanath Stupa.

Boudanath Stupa.

The last destination of the day was a town on the north side of Kathmandu called Buddhanilkantha, where a large floating statue of a sleeping god can be seen. The god, Vishnu, is sleeping on a gigantic snake, as snakes are also represented as gods themselves. This sculpture is impressively carved out of a single stone, and is well over 1400 years old. The water upon which it sits represents the cosmic sea.

Sleeping Vishnu.

Sleeping Vishnu.

Walking back to catch the bus back home, I talked with Anita about my home and that one day I’d like to build one of my own with my future wife. She told me it can be very expensive to do so in Nepal and that the cost of land is immense. Only wealthier families can afford to build homes, and even then, it can take up to a whole year or two to complete it. At this comment, I looked around again at my surroundings and I was reminded of the unique menagerie of colorful and dusty structures that spreads across Kathmandu Valley like a thick, uneven layer of butter. This was going to be my home for another 2 and a half months.

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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