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Liz in Nepal: The On-going story of a Peace Corps Volunteer
Liz in Nepal: The On-going story of a Peace Corps Volunteer
Monday, September 08, 2003
Liz was having trouble posting so she emailed me to ask me to post this:
June, July, August Entry:
Just about another month has gone by since my last entry. It seems I've only been successful in completing one entry per month, I'll do my best to keep the site updated more often. Let's see where to begin. First off the elephant project is really making progress. This past week was the seven day beekeeping training for 30 local Bhoundangi villagers. Andrew and I went to the first training on Sunday, May 18th for the introduction and opening, Andrew did a speech which was inspiring, creative, and entertaining. They all loved it. We also went to the closing ceremony this past Sunday, May 25th. It also went very well, it still amazes me the success of the training, it was like it was meant to be. The interest and unity of the community people was impressive. And to have the community people requesting another training for more of the locals was a pleasant surprise.
This past week my campus was closed due to burning of chairs and rock throwing by the agricultural students during a program my school had on Saturday, May 17th. The program was for the birthday of Madan (the United Marxist Leader my school is named in honor of - Madan Memorial Academy). So anyways, I had no school last week so I decided to go to Bhoundangi on Thursday and Friday to catch some elephant action, but I was unsucessful. Melanie (PCV) and Louise (Australian Youth Ambassador Volunteer) also went on Thursday, and we actually walked out to the corn fields and supposively two elephants were out there, but we could not see over the corn and there was no way we were walking through the fields, I have to admit I was a little freaked out. My heart was definitely racing, before we went out there they made sure our shoes were adequately strapped/buckled, just in case we had to do some sprinting! Anyways, we ended up going back in and heading to bed and before we knew it it was 5am, the radio was playing, the family was awake doing their morning chores, and needless to say we were up too. Melanie and Louise headed back to Kakarbhitta after morning chiyaa and I stayed around to check out the elephant destruction from the prior night. Sonat, Gobinda, and I walked through the fields for an hour, we mainly saw meter long elephant footprints, but some smaller footprints as well, indicating the herds elephants travel in. Many of the corn and rice plantations were destroyed and bamboo trees bent in half. We walked along the flat fields and continued up the hill to more fields that experienced elephant destruction. During this time it was raining, so my clothes were covered in mud and the umbrella was not helping much, but what to do, monsoon season has arrived early this year! After our walk I did the farewell of Namaste and Dhanyabad (basically thank you) and I biked back to Kakarbhitta, in the pouring rain. I walked into the hotel in Kakarbhitta to check email and the owner directed me straight to the back to clean up, I was covered in mud and completely drenched! Luckily I had some dry clothes I left at Melanie's place in Kakarbhitta. Then I biked to Birtamod to pass a note off to Drew regarding the outcome of the Bhoundangi stay. After that I biked to Bhadrapur to change and pack again for another night in Bhoundangi. Before I knew it I was back on the road again to Bhoundangi (two hour bike ride from Bhadrapur, about 30 km) to meet up with Andrew and Kendra to hopefully see some elephants this time. Andrew, Kendra, and I arrived in Bhoundangi around 4:30pm, met up with the committee members, had some chiyaa and vegetable momos and headed out to the fields, but this time to the towers, which are situated along the border. The towers are about 20 feet high and you get a decent view from the top. Straight out east is Assam, India, and to the right, left and behind are corn fields. We sat in the tower for an hour or so, not too much was going on, they say the elephants usually come around sunset or later in the night around midnight. Unfortunately we did not see any elephants so we headed back into the village for some khaana (rice, lentils, and vegetables); however, the walk back was quite a task in the dark. Of course, I end up falling on my face, bruising my thigh and getting a charlie horse. It was kind of embarassing, but all I could do was laugh, luckily Kendra was there to laugh with me and once the locals saw I was laughing we ALL started laughing. Kendra said I looked like spider woman just blastered to the rocks. It was hilarious, but I have to say the charlie horse took a while to subside. When we got back to the village we ate at the local pasal, great khanna too. Then we headed back to Sonat's house (where we stayed the night), relaxed and talked with the committee members and Amar Bista (beekeeping trainer). Then we headed out to a local's house to watch for some elephants, but still no luck. We were exhausted so we headed back around 11pm and went straight to bed.
Let's see, now it is Tuesday, May 27th. School has started up again. Today the new group of community students were introduced to their new community village. We arrived around 10am and walked around wards 8 and 9 with the head of the village development committee. The students will start this week with their health surveys.
In the mean time I'm keeping busy with applying for grants for secondary projects and preparing for the human elephant presentation to the local INGOs, which will be Thursday, June 5th. I took a trip to Ithari for a fellow volunteer's birthday and Ilam this weekend, June 6th, for another volunteer's birthday and then it's off to Kathmandu for my annual medical physical exam on June 12th. I can not wait for that! The heat is getting out of control down here. Seriously I forgot how hot it gets. It's just insane, you are literally dripping sweat 24 hours a day and when the electricty goes out you seriously can not move. Heat rashes, constantly drenched in sweat, and not being able to sleep due to the prickly feeling every move you make, it's no fu (thank God for the Prickly Heat Powder, my room is covered in it, I go a little NUTS)! But, only one more monsoon and hot season to get through.
Alrighty, it is now June 24th, I finally returned from Kathmandu, it took a while but I'm back in Bhadrapur. It has been raining and storming here for the past few days, so my flight yesterday was canceled. It was actually the scariest flight I've ever been on. I really thought this was it, my time was done, I have to say has fellow PCV, Andrew Westbury quoted in the NY Times, "I was afraid to die." We took off and it was cloudy but not signs of rain. About 10 minutes into the flight the sky was full of clouds you couldn't see ANYTHING, just thick clouds everywhere and at this point it started to rain. The plane is quite small, only 15-20 seats, so you can see the pilot and co-pilot and out of the front window you could not see anything, just wipers racing back and forth at top speed. The stewardist informed everyone that we would land in Biratnagar because Bhadrapur airport was closed. At this point the pilot lowered the plane a significant amount, I'm assuming because of the thick clouds and lack of visibility, but it was not long before we were practically vertical going straight back up. Next thing you know the stewardist is informing everyone that we will return to Kathmandu due to the weather and difficulty to land. I was relieved that they did not take a chance, it was reassuring. We landed in Kathmandu safely and it felt good to be on land again, everyone could breath again. I ended up waiting in the airport till 3pm and at that point they said they would fly to Biratnagar and wait till the weather cleared, to fly to Bhadrapur, but I decided to change my ticket for the next day as I was at the airport since 7am that morning and I just wanted to get out of there. So I headed back to the hotel, dropped off my bags, headed to Peace Corps Office, met wtih my program officer, worked on the computer, and met some PCVs for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Overall it was a good night, I was grateful things worked out The next morning I woke early, took advantage of the gym one last day, went to Peace Corps to finish some last minute errands (such as reimbursements for my stay), and ate a tasty breakfast for my last meal in K'du. It was raining since early in the morning and continued into the afternoon. I was concerned about the flight, but I called prior to leaving, and they were on time, so I was off to the airport. We took off around 1:50pm and I arrived in Bhadrapur by 2:45. The skies were clear in Bhadrapur, actually quite pleasant, the humidity was high, but not too bad overall.
So its back to life in Bhadrapur. No electricity supposively for the past 2 days. It actually just came on an hour or so ago (around 8pm). I guess I was fortunate to be in K'du (Kathmandu) while that was going on. Today I returned to school, after cashing my Peace Corps check, which was in great need. I always find at the end of our pay period I'm low on rupees, as are most volunteers in the terai region. I don't know where it goes, I'm not a spender, but somehow Im always short at the end. So yeah, it was great to see the staff and students, it had been two weeks so it was good just to get back into the swing of school and going to campus. Tomorrow I'll observe community teachings starting at 9am in the village. I'll meet Kasue Miss and we will both observe the students. I talked with Amar Bista (beekeeping expert) this morning and I plan to meet with him and Somraj Dhakal (local NGO worker) along with fellow PCV, Andrew Westbury, this weekend for an update on the beekeeping/elephant project. Amar informed me that there was an article about our project in the local eastern Nepal paper, BLAST, which was quite exciting to hear about.
This has officially been the longest I have gone without updating my website. I am real sorry, I've been slacking quite a bit these days. Basically I have not had an entry since the end of June, so lets see what has happened since then. My school had off the first two weeks in July, which was great, I concentrated on the elephant deterrent project at that time - visiting local INGOs for donations, dealing with the formation of NGOs wihtin Bhoundhagi, which caused problems. Andrew and I found the community members were not working together and they were hungry for money, which was frustrating. The villagers were not getting along, they formed two separate NGOs for the elephant deterrent project. It was perfect timing, as soon as money starts coming, they decide to form NGOs. As a result, a mass meeting with all the community members was held. Fortunately with the help of our Nepali friend, Somraj, one NGO was formed among the villagers, laws were set and positions were elected for office.
I ended up going home to the states for two weeks, while I was gone Andrew kept busy with the project working with the Bhoundhagi community. As for me I was enjoying my time in the states. Before leaving it was quite stressful, running around Jhapa trying to get last minute work done, ended up postponing my flight twice. It all worked out. I flew from Kathmandu to Abu Dubi via Gulf Air. It was awesome. I really enjoyed the flight, the food was amazing, it was Indian food, but still great, and ice cream, free drinks, movies, really quite relaxing. The 5 hour lay over in Abu Dubi went alright. Luckily I met up with others also heading to London on my flight, so we kept each other awake, since our lay over was about 10pm to 2am. Entering Abu Dubi airport was my first "culture shock." It was just so modern, clean, people sitting around drinking coffee, shops with numerous items to purchase, from exotic candy, cd/mp3/minidisc players/dvds, cosmetics, books/magazines, jewelry, alcohol/cigarettes/cigars, it was quite overwhelming. But I was just intrigued with it all, and really excited to just be going home. The airport was extremely diverse, full of people from all over the globe, it was a great place for people watching, that's for sure. We boarded the London flight around 2am. At that point I was literally going to pass out, just completely exhausted. We took a bus from the terminal to the plane. It was a huge one, 776, and it was pretty much packed. I slept most of the plane ride, although I was awake for all meals, but pretty much slept for the most part. Met a Pakistani heading to Washington state to continue stuyding for his PhD in Physics, really interesting guy. We arrived in London and this was my first time I felt I was back in the western world. I have to say, it was great, just going/ looking at all the great shops/eateries and what not, but overall, I noticed more attitudes with people. While I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, there was a foreign woman really trying to clear her throat and you should have seen all the weatern women staring at this women with the nasty looks on their faces. I just laughed, considering that is pretty much my alarm clock every morning back in Nepal. It just brought a smile to my face. It was also strange to be the majority again, surrounded by all these caucasions, it was a strange feeling, but it was convient to speak English and be understood by the majority of people. The London lay over was only two hours, before I knew it I was on my last flight to Newark, NJ, USA. I was excited, it was difficult to sleep, I was just running on adrenaline, excited to see my family and be back in the USA. This flight was completely full of westerners. Once again the food was tasty. I could not get over how much food planes serve, it's awesome. I sat next to my Pakistani friend and a young girl visiting London for the summer. Overall it was an uneventful plane ride. When we were about to land the pilot announced our arrival in the USA to Newark, NJ and a chill ran down my spine, it was great to be back again. I got off the plane smiling and anxious to meet my Mom, Aunt Terry, and sister Kristen. I went through customs with no problem and headed toward the exit to meet my family. As I strolled down the ramp, there my Mom, Aunt Terry, and sister Kristen were waiting with balloons and smiles. I hugged my Mom first, tears of happiness rolled down my face as I glanced around at all the people waiting for their loved ones, it was a great feeling. I hugged my sister and Aunt as well. It was great to be home and wonderful to see my family. We headed out of the airport and took my Aunt Terry's car to her house, where we switched to my sisters' car and headed to the new house. Riding in the car and on the highway was not a huge deal, it pretty much felt I had never left. When my Mom's cell phone rang in the car, that was kind of strange. It was my Dad welcoming me home. It was great to hear his voice. We finally arrived home and there was a welcome home sign on the front lawn and on the walls in the house upstairs where they are doing the addition. The house was great, I really enjoyed it. I thought I would miss the old house, since I lived their my whole life, but the new house was perfect, and even passing the old house did not trigger any sad feelings, it just felt right. My sister Amy arrived home a couple of hours later with my niece, Fiona. It was strange to see her walking and talking. She is a little girl now, it was amazing, that's when I realized I definitely was gone for a while. I mean when I left she was crawling and not talking. While I was visiting home I stayed with my parents, Amy, Mike, Fiona on the first floor of the house, all one big happy family :-) I guess I should be use to the joint family living situatoin, yeah use to it enough that I know I do not think I could do it for an extended period of time.
Anyways home was great. I really enjoyed seeing family and friends. I was able to attend a good friends' wedding, went white water rafting, saw Bruce Springsteen...AWESOME, went to central park, Metropolitian Museum of Art, shopped, relaxed, ate tasty food and loved every moment. I have to say I didn't experience any great deal of culture shock, it was more like I never left, of course there are some things, but difficult to pinpoint, but overall being home for only two weeks leaves you little time to take it all in and plus you know you'll be gone in two weeks, so you're pretty much concentrating on seeing family/friends and just enjoying your time home. It was awesome, I really missed everyone and it was great to be able to see them and just experience there everyday routine back home and pretty much realize that things have not changed much.
I've been back from the states for about two weeks now. I just returned from the Eastern Peer Support Regional Conference in Hile, Dhankuta, which is about five hours from Jhapa. It is about 2 hours west and another 3 hours north. It was great up there, nice and chilly, long sleeves required, it was awesome. It was a three day conference, really relaxed and chill, it was nice to see other volunteers and just relax in the hills of Hile. Although it rained most of the time we still made the most of it, playing board games, ultimate frisbee or should I say ultimate mud sliding frisbee, took some tumba (the local warm alcholic drink Hile is know for), watched movies, read, ate tasty daal bhaat twice a day with the midday chiyaa break. Overall a good time. It's good to be back in Bhadrapur, although, not so much to this weather, but what to do, only a month and a half left of this heat and then it's no more Nepal hot/monsoon seasons!
So it's back to school, the students are already getting excited for their Dashain/Tihar holiday break, which starts the end of September and goes to the end of October. It is equilvalent to our Christmas/New Years celebration. It's a great time in Nepal, the weather is starting to cool off, everyone is excited for the festivals and just overall a great atmosphere. It is still unconfirmed as to what i'm doing during the festivals, most likely trekking or rafting, but who knows, I will probably not confirm my plans until the last minute.
The elephant project is doing well. Sunday, August 9th, PHASE II of the project started with the plantation of 200-500 agave americana (locally known as "hotibaar"). In regards to the beekeeping, we are waiting for after monsoon to hold another beekeeping training , which we are currently in the process of applying for a grant. In addition, our beekeeper is currently building beehives for the village. When the beekeeping training is completed the testing of bees as deterrant agents against elephants can begin because elephants will come again with rice season in full swing after monsoon.
Time is really flying. As of September 7th, only 7 more months till my early close of service date (april 7th). It is weird to think I can say "last year at this time in Nepal...." and to think after October us 194 volunteers will be the oldest in country and the next ones out. The 197 group comes mid September and they have training till early December, when they report to their posts to start their 24 month tour.
Anyways, I'm doing my best to really enjoy my time here, although, it is still frustrating dealing with the annoyances of being a volunteer in a developing country, but I guess I would not be here if those annoyances did not outweigh the positive experiences.