The India and Nepal Diaries Part 9
Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
We spent the day settling into the school routine. Again, two meals of dal bhat, interspersed with tea and biscuits. Even though the meals were massive we found ourselves feeling strangely hungry and ended up going for a walk just to buy a packet of biscuits that we binged on for the rest of the day.
Very little was achieved other than chatting to people and relaxing. Again, we were waiting for a meeting about transferring the raised money. A lot of time was spent in our room, slowly working through the weariness of the previous week. Leon has two main playlists on his phone and we have listened to both so many times now, there are a few songs that are practically becoming anthems for our trip. (Imagine Dragons – Believer, Luis Fonsi – Despacito, Chinese Man – Washington Square, amongst many others).
The days have been sunny and the nights hot and humid. There’s a lot of insects, particularly at night. We both got heavily bitten by mosquitos and resorted to spraying some chemically anti-insect stuff that had been given to us for our stay. It was disturbingly satisfying watching the little buzzing shites fall out of the air. Sorry atmosphere.
The school has Wi-Fi, but we keep on having power cuts. Most of them for only a couple of minutes, but some are a fear while longer. When the Wi-Fi is working it is slow and our room is quite a way away. Me and Leon have to take it in turns getting onto the internet and making staggered contact with family and loved ones to let them know we are still alive and that the past seven days of communicative silence was not because we had disappeared off the face of the earth.
It felt like going back to school. Again, we were being passed through the same regime. Feeling a bit ‘dal dhaded out’, we hoped to avoid the morning meal and we instead had some food that we had bought the day before, only to then be invited to dine with Ganga, the chairperson of the school and out host, which we could not easily refuse. The dal dhad breakfasts were big and it being our second meal in the space of about twenty minutes, we were feeling ridiculously stuffed by the end.
We taught some more lessons, now beginning to get a repertoire together. As you would expect, different age groups of children behave very differently. The younger ones are intensively loud, ask continuous questions and think everything is very funny (most of the jokes must be pretty esoteric because we certainly don’t know what they are laughing at…), but naturally they are also incredibly sweet and have adorably cheeky personalities. So many Nepalese kids that we have come across have a cheeky persona. The older ones are studious and listen intently, but when cajoled to start asking numerous questions as well. They're great to teach!
Some point in the afternoon we went out and bought some more samosas and other food we could find. We got back, after eating, to find Ganga again asking us to come and dine in the main school canteen. And so, we had a second lunch to boot!
I needed to do some internet banking so as to be able to work out how to transfer funds. The rest of the day was spent waiting around for the school computer room to be free. Then once they finally were, waiting for power cuts to stop. We needed long enough to get onto the bank site, log in and read their policy and instruction documents. Every time the power went off, the computers would die with an electrical fizzle and we would have to start again. After about three hours we gave up entirely and went down for a supper we didn’t feel empty enough to consume.
Routine, routine, routine.
Cold showers and squat loos,
Hot sun and Nepalese news.
Leon is in search of a Paper to read, For any entertaining information on which he can feed.
There doesn’t seem to be any anywhere,
If only we could speak the language here.
We are now getting good at rising early and going to bed early (ish… well, late.)
The morning was spent wandering around looking for Leon’s newspaper. After much walking back and forth and asking directions we found the front desk of the local news press building. They didn’t print anything in English. We got back to only to bump into Ganga and be told that they get a newspaper in English everyday which he could pass onto us.
Again lessons: we sat in on a Maths and a Social Studies class and also taught a few ourselves. Students really like to know our names and our parents’ names, as well as our favourite songs, musicians, football clubs and players. Now, neither Leon nor I are really that clued up on any of this. Neither of us follow football and we both have limited tastes in modern pop. However, this wasn’t too much of a problem as the students themselves only seemed to know people like Justin Bieber, some different rappers, Chainsmokers, and then Messi and Ronaldo etc. There’s an evident real fandom of famous people. We’ve been ‘requested’ to sing several times, mainly Justin Bieber or just the song ‘Shape of you’ by Ed Sheeran. I’ve been singing them sea shanties instead as an educational way to explain a bit of British history and culture, though in reality it’s because I don’t know the lyrics to any of the songs they’ve asked for. (N.B. They pronounce Bieber, B-I-ber).
The things which get a lot of interest are when we talk about British culture and religion. Interactive pronunciation exercises seem to be a hit as well and we found that tongue twisters work really well. As part of culture and their interest in our families, we quite often draw a map of the UK on the board and explain where we live, the different countries that form the UK, the different languages that go with them, plus all the bizarre accents (our impressions were appalling). Or similarly, continents of the world, national symbols and flags.
We arranged to stay until Sunday as we were asked to present the money at the school assembly and so they could arrange with parents a time to come in.
After the school day was over we were invited back to one of the teachers houses. We sat on a bench in front of the house and drank Mountain Dew together. We talked politics and he told us about not earning enough to live on and so having to teach extra classes after school. He had a son our age. Apparently, there was a lot of unrest and anger at the government due to their fraternising with India and China amongst other things. There’s quite a lot of fear that Nepal might get absorbed into one of the countries either side of it. The Government is really in an impossible position where they are surrounded by these two super powers, India on one side and China on the other (who both have very different politics and don’t really get on), they need the help of both and of course they have to trade with both while also retaining their sovereignty and appease the needs and want of the Nepalese people. Sounds like a sad situation, particularly as many Nepalese people are traveling abroad to Qatar, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the like to find work which is often poorly paid and in terrible conditions where many people die.
Our friend had to go and teach one of his extra classes. We took our leave, reflecting sadly on what he had said. He had had a dark cynical outlook on the situation even though he kept on laughing.
Ganga arranged for us to go and see a Bonist and Buddhist funeral ceremony with the local Gurung people. There’s two things to note here: first that [Bonism] is an ancient religion or way of life in Tibet, similar in a way to Paganism in the west. It was absorbed into Buddhism when that came along. And secondly, apparently in Nepal there is still a prevalent caste system. A person will often introduce themselves with their name and caste, as opposed to their name and surname (though regularly their surname is their caste). The surnames apparently quite often reflect what region or valley a person’s family originate from. The Gurung name is from a well-established and respected populace that covers a wide area cross Nepal. There is quite a lot local to Besisahar so we were told, many of whom have now come down to live in the city.
We were taken along by the school janitor; a short smiling man who had been looking after us and everything else wonderfully. We wished we could speak some Nepali so that we could thank him. Halfway there we met a school teacher who acted as our translator and guide for the evening.
The actual ceremony was at a Buddhist community shelter that was split into two sections: one was the Buddhist Lama temple space and the other a space for the spirit of the deceased to enter. The temple was brightly coloured with cloth, had suspended drums hanging round the front and had a central column and shrine. The spirit space was under a makeshift shelter towards the gate and was darker with a semicircle of people around three cross-legged monks sat in the centre. One had an amazing elaborate feathered hat. Between them and the gate was a chicken suspended upside down from a frame. Everyone watched it intently.
The ceremony consisted of the monks chanting quietly and a man occasionally letting go of the chicken. The bird was expected to cluck and flap its wings in some specific way, signifying that the sole had entered through the gate and passed into the space. They threw an egg at the chicken to test this arrival. If the egg broke then the spirit had not arrived, if the egg remained intact then it had. (Or at least this was what we understood from our conversations with the school teacher, though he said he wasn’t sure himself). The egg must have stayed whole for the monks now started whistling and banging drums and chanting. Then suddenly, as the noise grew, a man stepped forth with a large sickle and cut the head off the chicken and then the head off a goat they had to sacrifice as well. This was a way of expelling any evil demons that might be stuck to the sole of the person. The guy who had died had been a teenager. Apparently, at times of death, all the locals come together to support and chip in some money for the ceremony. The monks charge.
After the sacrificing the celebrations then move into the Buddhist lama temple and the whole thing goes on for three days, the last day apparently being the day of feasting and joy to celebrate the life of the deceased. All really interesting. We left to go back leaving the carcasses of one goat and one chicken lying stiff just outside the orb of light cast from the festivities going on in the tent.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 10