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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”