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 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.

Parked

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.