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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).