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Jill's Adventures in Nepal
Jill's Adventures in Nepal
Jill's Adventures in Nepal
The following is compiled from e-mail and air-mail sent by Jill during her Peace Corps service from August 1997 to September 1999. Final update: September 18, 1999 (newest addition: e-mail dated September 18, 1999).
NOTE: Items currently remain arranged in reverse chronological order (most recent entries at top, oldest at bottom). In future, now that this is a completed document, I will probably re-organize them into proper chronological order.
Have you seen the photos of Jill in Nepal?
September 18, 1999
(via e- mail)
I can't believe I'm boarding a jet tomorrow that will take me away from Nepal; the two years flashed by like a dream. The last two weeks have been a flurry of souvenier shopping, hanging out with Peace Corps friends, and wrapping up my affairs here in Nepal. I called my village twice from Kathmandu to say good-bye, what good people they are.
Nepal is truly an amazing place. Yesterday I went to a shop to get something and chatted with the shop owner for a bit. Turns out his son in studying in New Jersey, and his wife asked if I could bring something back to the USA for him. I was also interested in getting her son's address/email so I could meet someone Nepali after I return, especially to keep up with my language. So this morning I went to their house for breakfast and chatted for a few hours with them. They seem like lovely people and we all had fun. I can't picture the same thing happening in the States. Everyone here is so kind and friendly...
Well, there aren't words to describe the experience I've had here. The only thing I can say is if you have ever considered joining Peace Corps (or even if you haven't), GO FOR IT! It is truly an amazing opportunity for helping others while experiencing great personal growth and cultural understanding. My life has been touched by the people I've met here, and I hope that they feel the same way about me.
Thanks to all of you who have kept in touch with me over the last 2 years. It was a rare occurence when I didnt get any mail in a week. Knowing what was going on in your lives and sharing my experience with you all kept me going through the rough times.
Obviously, I can no longer be contacted in Nepal; however if you wish to get in touch with me back in the USA, you can use the following email address: email@example.com
Questions about Peace Corps, Nepal, etc. are always welcome...
September 9, 1999
(via e- mail)
On September 3, I left my village- this time not knowing when I may return, if ever. The week was full of invitations to people's houses, good-bye programs at school, and tears. It was difficult packing up and preparing to leave and even harder when the time came to go. Two years worth of good memories were at the forefront of my mind and I could clearly see the love that I have for my village, the folks who live there, and the love that they showered on me. My Nepali mother and some of my students walked the 3 hours with me to reach the bus and were there to say good-bye when the bus rolled away. It was heart-breaking.
The last two months went so quickly. Back in July I visited another one of my students- my sister/student Ishwara. It was a 6 hour hike to her house in Karule Tenupa (the village I hiked to last year for her brother's wedding), and it was worth the walk to spend some quality time with her. I also took several trips to Dharan to help at the training of new PCVs. I spent 2 weeks in the terai observing and supervising the teaching practice of 4 new PCVs. It was hot, but I enjoyed being helpful and seeing some of the terai culture, which varies greatly from the hills.
I am in denial that my service is coming to an end, but of course I am looking forward to continuing with my "real life" and returning to the land of handguns and 79 cent tacos.
July 22, 1999
(via air mail)
I returned to my village on June 25 after being away for 5 weeks. It felt good to see everyone again and sleep in my own bed. Things have been really quiet around here because school is on break and most of the teachers are in their home villages or working on their farms. And most kids are busy planting corn and rice.
I feared that time would slow down for me now that I've got a lot of free time, but that's not been the case. I've been reading, learning to knit a hat, and spending time with village friends. I also spent 5 days in the neighboring village of Bodhe at the home of one of my students. We hiked about two hours downhill to her house and spent time eating fresh, juicy mangoes from her trees. I've also gone to Dharan to help with the pre-service training of the new Peace Corps Trainees who arrived in June. I'll be spending two weeks in August with a few of the trainees during their practice teaching in a Nepali school.
Everyone keeps asking me when I'm returning to America, and it's hard to believe that the date is almost here. It's strange to be around the new trainees and see things with fresh eyes again. It's hard to remember when seeing a cow sitting in the middle of the street was strange, or the language sounded foreign and unfamiliar. I also have trouble recalling when Peace Corps felt difficult and stressful. The last year has been so nice without the stresses and frustrations of adjustment.
Yesterday morning I was surprised to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas, which are usually elusive during the monsoon season. No matter how many times I've seen them, I still stare at them with wonder whenever I see them.
I'm taking my last weeks to make sure I know how to cook various Nepali foods, capture certain people/places on video/photos, and spend time with my closest friends--that may include returning to Karule Terupa, a 6 hour hike away, to spend time with my closest "sister" and former student.
Six of my eighteen students in class 12 passed their national exam in English. I guess that's not bad, though 2 students who I thought could have passed did not. I did all that I could--the rest was up to them.
I'm trying to enjoy my last two months in Nepal because I know they'll be over before I know it. I'm telling myself that one day I'll be back for a visit--it's the only way I'll be able to say good-bye.
June 19, 1999
I just got back from my weeklong Tibet trip...here's the scoop. It's not possible to go to Tibet solo from Nepal, so I joined an organized tour through an agency called Greenhill Travels here in Kathmandu. I was put onto a group visa with 5 other people: 2 American guys, a Swedish couple, and one guy from Holland. All of us are around the same age and we got along well.
The trip was overland, which means that we took a bus up to the Nepal/Tibet border. It took about 5 hours to reach there from Kathmandu and the road was wet and scary! We filled out a bunch of immigration stuff at the border, met our Tibetan guide, and switched onto a new bus. After a few hours of driving on the Tibetan side, the weather and landscape changed drastically. The plush green mountains and fertile land became barren and desert like, and the rain stopped. Most of Tibet is desert-like with huge mountains, but is quite beautiful. It's how I picture mountainous Nevada or the American southwest.
The itinerary had us stopping overnight in Neylam, Lahtse, Shigatse, Gyantse and then onto Lhasa and in each town we visited Tibetan Monestaries and temples. We saw LOTS of different Buddha statues, monks, and smelled much incense. Tibet is very high in altitude, so I took a drug called diamox for the first 2 days which helped me to acclimitize and not feel the effects of altitude sickness. We drove over some mountain passes that were 5010 meters high!!
We saw lots of sheep, yaks, and mountains. Some days we spent 8 hours on the bus, but we nodded off between admiring the gorgeous scenery. We spent an hour one day driving around a turqouise colored lake that I couldnt keep my eyes off of because it was so beautiful. The road was not paved and therefore quite bumpy, but our driver was very good.
On the fifth day we reached Lhasa, which was very developed and much different than I'd pictured. It looked a lot like the other Chinese cities I saw on my trip to China last year. We spent the last few days there seeing the sights and roaming around the city. I managed to get my own hotel room and it had a bathtub!!!! So that was certainly a treat, especially because the accomodations in the smaller towns earlier in the trip had not been too comfortable (and the tibetan toilets were gross!). The accomodations improved each night as we stayed in larger towns and got closer to Lhasa.
I don't really want to comment on all of the "political" stuff surrounding Tibet. I went there to have a holiday and experience a new place. Of course one cannot ignore the influence of the Chinese there, or forget the fact that even pictuers of the Dali Lama are illegal there. We were greeted by Tibetans begging everywhere we went with the words "hello money" which became annoying after a while. I guess I can ignore the beggars more easily in Nepal, as I'm a PCV and am "helping Nepal" by being here. But I can't say the same for the Tibet....
Anyway, it was a good trip. The scenery was gorgeous, bits of the culture that I could pick up were pretty neat, and seeing all of the Buddhist temples and monesteries was quite interesting. It wasn't an easy trip, as the bussing became tiresome and the altitude screws with one's general health. But I am really glad I went and I've got 3 and a half rolls of film to share with you all at some point....
Best of all is that our trip went off without a hitch. We met a lot of travelers who experienced health problems with people in their groups, bus problems, road problems (landslides), or guides who didn't want to follow the prearranged itinerary...I feel REALLY fortunate that ours worked out exactly as planned...
Basically, Tibet is a cool place....
I'm heading off to my village in a few days to finish up my last 90 days as a PCV....thinking of you all!
June 6, 1999
I finished my last day of teaching in Nepal on May 20th. It felt really good to be done, but I've been missing the contact with my students. Following the end of school, I came into Kathmandu, where I've been for about two weeks. I was helping the rest of the Volunteer Action Committee prepare for our all-volunteer conference. About 110 PCVs came to Kathmandu to attend the conference, which turned out to be a great success. The highlight was a debate about whether or not Peace Corps should be in Nepal. It was a controlled debate with rules, and really generated a lot of good comments, ideas, discourse. I had been opposed to having the debate, as I thought it was going to turn into a big screaming match; it did not however, and it turned out to be really interesting. I even gave my own 3 minute opinion (for being in Nepal) as an audience member.
Following the conference was a BIG party at a nice bar that we had to ourselves- lots of drinking and dancing. And the following night was a talent show. There sure are a lot of talented PCVs! We had a gymnast, guitar players/singers (I even did one number), a skit, a fire dancer, and someone read a short story she'd written. Fun was had by all.
Whenever I'm out of the village for a while, I start missing the folks there. So I called today and talked to Mylie Didi, my Nepali mother. She was happy to hear from me and we talked for a minute or two. She hasn't talked on the telephone very much so I think she was a little nervous. It was really funny. I am looking forward to going back there and seeing her. I really miss her.
Upcoming events on my schedule include my group's Close of Service conference and a trip to Tibet. So I am looking foward to those and then heading back to my village to spend my last weeks here in Nepal. The reality that my service is coming to an end is starting to hit hard: it makes me both happy and sad.
I'll send another update following my Tibet trip...
April 11, 1999
April 26 will mark 1 1/2 years of living in Mauna Budhuk, my village. So I've decided to reflect on some of the changes I've been through over the past 18 months.
When I first arrived to Budhuk, I still clung to some of my American customs. So much here was new, that I needed to vigorously hold on to a few bits of my native culture and individuality. For example, I ate my dal bhat with a spoon for the first few weeks. Now, not only do I always eat with my hand, but I'm convinced that it's the secret to enjoying it. Somehow, the rice and lentils just tastes better when eaten by hand. Another example is Nepali clothing. I've always dressed for school in a Kurta surawal--the outfit worn by most unmarried women. But I'd often wear jeans on my day off. For the past year, however, my jeans have been in storage in Kathmandu for use when I'm there. Even on my days off, I wear a long skirt or Nepali lungi. I've even started wearing Nepali accessories--cheezy plastic bracelets and necklaces that I used to wear when I was about 8 years old.
I was once frightened by the cows, buffalo, and goats that routinely wander around the village. I'd cross to the other side of the road to avoid getting close to the "beasts." Now, I'm a semi-experienced herder. Cows and goats frequently sneak into my hostel's compound to feast on the leaves and fruit that have fallen from the surrounding trees. Though we've tried several different methods to secure the compound's front gate, the animals still seem to find their way in to knock our clothes off the line and create a path of destruction in their wake. So I've recently taken up herding and can be spotted wielding a stick and driving the trespassing livestock from the compounding while shouting the perfunctory herding call, "Oy, jah!"
I've finally adjusted to "Nepali time" by which everything seems to begin about two hours later than when planned. So when a school/village function is called for 12:00, I no longer drag my punctual self there at noon just to wait for everyone else to arrive; I show up at 2:00 pm right "on time" with my Nepalese friends. And the tea shop small talk that was once a futile attempt to grasp a bit of meaning is now a satisfying way to spend a few hours, shooting the breeze with the locals as an equal participant in the conversation. My language skills have gotten good enough that I've given several impromptu (but brief) speeches at recent village events.
By far, the most satisfying change is that my love for my Nepalese neighbors has continued to grow exponentially with time, and our relationships have been brought to a higher plane. I've watched many village infants learn to walk and talk before my eyes. My neighbor, Neesa, who was a toddlen when I arrived has blossomed into a precious little girl. The other evening I paced outside her mother's door like a nervous father while her mother gave birth to her second child. I've offered rice, peanuts, and flowers to the Hindu gods on festival days to celebrate with my neighbors. I put flowered wreaths around the necks of my 12th grade students, who I've taught for 2 years, and placed red powder on their foreheads at a ceremony to commemorate the end of their high school studies. I've become like a regular member of the community; I'm no longer a guest. I have a history here. I have a home.
The Nepali New Year will be here soon -- April 14th on our calendar, but the first day of the month of Baisak on the Nepali calendar. The new year will be 2056.
We had another nice program for International Women's Day this year, and again my female students spent a lot of time planning and preparing. It was a great success, and I enjoyed it because my role in organizing the whole affair was quite minimal this year.
Last week I spoke briefly (in Nepali) at a program sponsored by an organization of oppressed/low caste Nepalese who are working to eliminate discrimination against them in Nepali society. The caste system was legally abolished here over 25 years ago, but lower caste Nepalese still suffer from great discrimination on a personal level by many higher caste Nepalese, as the caste system is imbedded in their Hindu faith.
For example, I have a low caste student in each of my classes (one is by far the top student). Each has many friends in class and can be seen walking arm in arm with his buddies. However, neither is permitted to enter the homes of any of his classmates. Or if either touched food or drink of a higher caste Nepali, the higher caste person would not eat/drink it. When I've discussed these issues with some of my students outside of school, they express dislike for the system and would like to let their low caste friends into their homes, but their parents/grandparents won't permit it. One student of mine (whose best friend since childhood is of a low caste) said that her friend can enter her home but cannot go into the kitchen. She also said that she would eat food cooked by her low caste friend as long her grandmother wouldn't find out.
So it seems like the discrimination will be around for a long time, but the younger generation seems to carry less traditional beliefs. Maybe when they became grandparents, some change will be achieved. Anyway, I spoke briefly about my surprise and strange feelings when I learned about the caste system, and expressed my own belief that for me, all Nepalese people are equal. I was asked by my low caste student to speak at the program, so hopefully he was pleased with my remarks. His English ability is miles above his classmates', he is a sweet kid, and a talented, aspiring singer/songwriter. I really like him a lot.
Finally, my schedule for my remaining 6 months seems to be changing by the minute. I'd planned to be in K'du in April, but the conference I was to attend has been postponed to June. So chances are that I won't be back in the big city until late May. So hopefully I can catch up with some of you via e-mail then. Both my close of service conference and the conference of all Nepal's PCVs are now set for June.
A major cause of the schedule changes is Nepal's upcoming parliamentary elections. We're supposed to avoid traveling during that time and to stay put in our villages, as protests that may erupt in city areas could be potentially dangerous. But we're not expecting any trouble -- it's just a common-sense precaution. Elections will be held in 2 phases: May 3rd for western districts and the 16th for the east.
I'm finishing up in the classrooms and hope to be finished teaching around the Nepali New Year. I'll be happy to be done, but I've left the most difficult material for the end; so the next few weeks of class will be a struggle for both me and my poor students.
I feel so lucky to have friends/family like you, as my flow of mail keeps on coming in strongly. How I wish each of you could spend a day in my village!
February 25, 1999
I spent the last few weeks teaching in my village and arrived in Kathmandu today. I am on my way back from spending a week in Pokhara, the biggest tourist destination in Nepal after Kathmandu. It's got a big lake with boating, good views of the Himalayas, and lots of touristy bars and eateries. I attended two conferences: 6th International Conference of Nepal's English Language Teacher's Association and the other was a Peace Corps conference for all the PCVs who teach 11/12th grade as I do. Both conferences were interesting and made a great excuse for me to get to Pokhara on official business (ie. paid for by Peace Corps). I managed to take out a rowboat with a friend on the day that the mountains were the clearest (great views and hopefully great pictures), and Pokhara was in pre-tourist season and not too crowded.
The first motorized vehicle ever to "wheel" into my village arrived 2 weeks ago! It was a bulldozer that ploughed a truck road to my village. The bus will still be a 2 hour walk away, but jeeps and trucks will occasionally come into the village to bring supplies. The folks were thrilled to see the bulldozer, and the following day a jeep and a motorcycle arrived! I caught the bulldozer's arrival on my video camera!
Twelfth grade national final exams begin early April, so my days of teaching 12th grade are numbered; 11th grade will end about a month later. It looks like I'll be able to keep mildly busy until I get out of here (mid-Sept), but I wont mind spending some free time in my village with the folks during my last few months to do all of my goodbyes. I think I may spend some of my remaining 3 weeks of vacation time travelling within Nepal, but I am also thinking about trying to see Tibet.
All's well--I'm heading back to my village tomorrow to continue my teaching. Winter ended early which is nice, and now the weather in my village is great...sunny and slightly breezy. It's been great hearing from all of you!
January 18, 1999
Happy 1999! I can't believe how time is flying by. I spent the end of December in my village, teaching and giving mid-term exams to my students. As I expected, the good students did well, and the weak students did poorly.
I spent New Year's Eve in Dharan, a city four and half hours (two by foot, two and a half by bus) from my village. The party was hosted by Ken, a PCV who lives in Dharan, and there were a total of 9 PCVs, 2 British girls from another program, and 2 of Ken's Nepali friends. I had a really good time, especially because all of the PCVs (excluding myself and Ken) were from the newest group. They'd only been out of training and at their sites for 2 weeks, so they hadn't yet developed the somewhat "jaded" attitude that we more "seasoned" volunteers seem to adopt after about 6 months. Not that we don't like it here, but time does something to one...It was also nice to be the person at the party who'd been in country the longest, except for the Nepalis of course.
Following New Year's, I headed out west to the small city of Bhairawah. It's in the terai, or plains area, 300 km west of Kathmandu and about 4 km north of the Indian border. A British volunteer, myself, and a few other PCVs were giving a 20 day training to 75 Nepali teachers of English from the western regions of Nepal. I stuck around for the first 2 weeks and gave 3 sessions a day to groups of 25 teachers; each session lasted for an hour and 45 minutes. I was training them in methods of teaching literature, while teaching them the actual 11th grade literature curriculum to model the methods. It was stressful but mildly enjoyable.
The highlight of being in Bhairawah was taking a 3 day side trip to a beautiful town called Tansen. I stayed there for a month with a host family back in September 1997 during my own training and had wanted to return there to visit the family. Tansen is only a 3 hour busride north of Bhairawah, so I took advantage of the opportunity to visit them. I stayed at their house, they filled me up with good food, and we spoke no English this time. It was really a lot of fun.
Now, I am in Kathmandu for a few days, getting some schoolwork done. My school's winter break doesn't end for another 2 weeks, so I will slowly make my way back to the village for the start of classes. I am freezing here in Kathmandu, and none of the hotels, restaurants, offices, etc. have central heating. Occasionally, a nicer restaurant will have a small space heater. Unfortunately, Bhairawah, which is unbearably hot in the summer and usually warm in the winter, was having a cold spell when I was there. I think it was colder there than it is up here in Kathmandu. Oh well, it could be worse. I just got a letter from a PCV friend in Poland who reported that temperatures there are -20 degrees celsius!
I should have exactly 8 months of service left as of yesterday...I am trying to enjoy every minute while looking forward to finishing up and returning home.
December 15, 1998
I've just spent 6 weeks in my village and am in Kathmandu briefly to attend a meeting of the Volunteer Action Committee that I was elected to in July. We'll discuss PCV issues and begin plans for our all volunteer conference in May. It's nice to eat non-rice meals and get hot showers.
As for what's new, there's lots! I've got a small video camera with me in the village now that my dad won in a raffle. It can run on batteries, and so far I've taken about 45 minutes of footage, doing a walking tour of my village. I'm thrilled to know that my memories will be recorded for my future viewing pleasure and to be able to give you folks at home a better look at my life here.
In other exciting news, my room now boasts a fluorescent tube light! When I first arrived in the village, they told me that electricity was 10 years away. But a "wealthy" villager bought a dynamo that runs on diesel fuel. It can power about 100 outlets. The electricity only runs in the evening for a few hours, but I am not complaining. I can finally read and write at night! The first night that the electricity started, it was like a combination of Halloween and Xmas; everyone, including me, was going door to door to see everyone's glowing bulbs!
I've been keeping busy with my teaching and my girls club. Every week I have about 4-6 girls over to my room and we do crafts or a small activity. Because they are young, ages 10-13, I usually plan the activities myself. But they've seemed to enjoy all that we've done so far (make friendship bracelets, crayon leaf rubbings, etc.) and it's great fun for me, too.
In cultural news, I was recently kept up one night from 1:30 to 3:30 am by a man going door to door chanting and playing a horn. I couldn't figure out what was going on, and became increasingly uneasy as he played outside my window. I found out the next morning that his caste is "Jogi" and that twice a year he comes to people's homes to scare away ghosts and evil spirits. Wish someone would do the same for the mice! I also ate a new food: pigeon. I actually found it to be rather tasty (similar to duck) and its soup is especially good during the winter season.
My latest news is that I have been asked by Nepal's Higher Secondary Education Board to be a trainer at a teacher training to be held in January. As I will be on my winter vacation from school, I am planning to go for about 2 weeks and train some English teachers in the new 11th grade English curriculum. It will be similar to the training I worked on in July, but for teachers in Western Nepal this time. I'll be happy to spend the time in the terai, the flat and WARM part of Nepal; my village is especially cold in January! And finally, I'd been trying to figure out how when I'd get to Pokhara, the town considered to be the big resort town/tourist hot spot. I just found out that there's a conference there in February that I'll need to go to, so that takes care of that!
I'm feeling good both mentally and physically. I am looking forward to completing my service, but am trying to enjoy and make the most of the remaining nine months. The time really has flown right by. I'd like to wish everyone a happy and healthy 1999! Please keep your letters coming, they're invaluable to me!
November 7, 1998
(via air mail)
My vacation passed quickly, and I am back in my village once again. It was a little more than a year ago when I first moved out here, and I'm amazed at how quickly the time has passed by!
I received a warm welcome upon my arrival back in the village, and I'm busy teaching my 11th and 12th graders. I am not really looking forward to the cold season, which is quickly approaching, but some good things will result: tangerines and guavas will be in season, and I'll enjoy stunning views of Mt. Kacherjanga, 3rd highest in the world.
I inherited and bought some stuff from volunteers who were leaving Nepal. I was happy to get a kerosene lantern from one PCV--mine has been broken for 6 months and candles aren't too effective in the windy, cold season! Another gave me some long johns and warm pajamas, and I bought a nice REI fleece sleeping bag liner off of someone else. All items should leave me in good shape for winter.
This year, we've got winter break from school which I'll be looking forward to. It will last for a month. I'll spend a few days of it in Kathmandu and hope to maybe see a bit of Nepal that I've not yet seen. Or perhaps I'll go to the terai (southern plains area of Nepal) to thaw out for a few days.
Looks like I'll spend Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Xmas holidays in my village--which is fine I suppose. Maybe I can arrange for a good supper to be cooked here. I'll probably be here for New Year's Eve also. It's not really celebrated here because the Nepali calendar is different; New Year's here occurs in mid-April. I actually like being away during this time to avoid the commercialism and materialism that seems to plague the USA around Black Friday to Xmas.
Well, it's time to go eat dinner. I gave my didi (older sister) extra money to buy meat (chicken) today--so I'm looking forward to dinner tonight. Don't forget to write!
September 14, 1998
Please excuse me for such a long delay in writing my latest update. I'll try to fill you in on what's been going on here.
School ended in early May and somehow I managed to keep busy over the summer. I walked a total of 17 hours up and down mountains to attend the wedding of one of the teachers at my school. The walk was done in grueling summer heat, I fell 3 times, and water sources along the way were few and far between. It was an experience I hope never to repeat, but I enjoyed the wedding and my presence seemed to be appreciated. I also visited 2 villages and schools in my area (the closer is a 5 hour journey) to check them out as possible sites for future volunteers. Both were nice and each received a new PCV in August.
In late June I helped with the planning of a conference for all of Nepal's PCVs (about 120 total) which was held in Kathmandu on July 4th weekend. The conference went really well and we enjoyed a July 4th celebration with other Americans, ex-pats, and an elephant on loan from the Kathmandu Zoo. I must say that I felt much more patriotic this year than ever before. I also managed to get myself elected onto VAC, a committee of 12 PCVs who act like a student council. Basically we deal with issues important to PCVs and help to change policy, make improvements to things (our computer lab for example), and act as liaisons between the PC administration and PCVs.
Most of you have heard about my trip to China by now. In mid-July, I met my parents in Beijing and we toured there as well as Xi'an, Shanghai, Suzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong. It was a 2 week vacation and we found it to be absolutely wonderful. There is an abundance of pictures, slides, and home video for any of you silly enough to request seeing them.
Upon my return to Nepal, I caught the last week of a teacher-training that was given by some PCVs and VSOs (another volunteer organization). We trained 24 Nepali teachers of English on the new 11th grade curriculum and modeled teaching methods that they can use in their classrooms. It went quite well, and we're hoping to give a similar training later this year to another group of teachers.
Finally, I am back in my village, and although I swore I wouldn't teach again my second year, I am doing it. I warned the folks at school that I will be out of the village now and then to take care of other work, so that someone will need to teach my classes while I'm gone. But I felt loyal to my students, and the school is short one teacher, so I agreed to teach 2 classes. Though teaching can still seem futile at times, I found out that 40% of my students passed English this past year. So I suppose some learning did take place. The percentage might seem low by American standards, but I was quite pleased.
Everything seems less stressful now that I've got one year under my belt and I consider myself pretty well-adjusted to village life. I can even sit in my room and identify which village kid is crying by the sound of his/her sobs. And my Nepali language skills have sharpened considerably. I no longer speak the formal Nepali that we learned in training, but have finally picked up "village Nepali" complete with slang and unconjugated verbs.
Please know that your letters and kind words continue to be invaluable to me! Often PCVs seem to get less and less mail as time goes on, but I received 10 letters in one week this month--probably a record for me. I miss you all and think of you often.
June 25, 1998
[Jill wrote this in response to a Peace Corps solicitation for volunteer testimonials.]
The Pride in Their Eyes
Before joining Peace Corps, I recall hearing that successes experienced by Peace Corps Volunteers are often unquantifiable or immeasurable. Now, I fully understand what that means.
I had only been living in my village for a few months when I heard about International Women's Day. As the only female teacher in my secondary school, I figured that I should be the one to propose and organize a celebration for the girls at my school. I got my headmaster's approval for a program and began contemplating the possibilities. As Women's Day quickly approached, a revelation hit: I had absolutely no idea what would be fun and appropriate for my school's Women's Day program.
Somehow, my calendar suddenly showed that International Women's Day was three days away, but I had planned absolutely nothing. I think my procrastination can be attributed to a delusion that the elusive art of "planning" in Nepal would eventually be revealed to me. When no such enlightenment presented itself, I came upon an obvious and logical solution to my dilemma: because the program was for the girls at school, they should be the ones planning it.
The next day, I invited my class's eleven and twelve female students to attend an after-school committee meeting to plan the International Women's Day program. About ten students came, and we began discussing possible activities for the program. It became apparent that the girls were deferring to me to make the final decisions, but I refused. I offered a few suggestions when it seemed necessary, but tried to stick to the role of facilitator.
When the students finally realized that their meeting would last a week unless they began making decisions, they rose to the occasion and drafted a schedule of events for the day. We made a list of items to be bought or found and began work on the preparations. I delegated tasks to small groups of girls and they began inviting our guest speakers, buying prizes, and gathering spoons, marbles, rope and the other items needed for the games and races which had been planned.
On the morning of the program, the girls looked exhausted. They had been burning the midnight oil, literally. Along with some male students that they recruited, the girls had worked late into the night by their kerosene lanterns making badges for the program participants to wear.
All of our preparations seemed to be in place, but the proverbial Murphy and his law always seem to come around when least wanted. Large black clouds loomed ominously overhead, and a few teachers changed the start-time of the program without informing all of the staff members. Consequently, half of the students were outside on the school yard waiting for the program to start, while the other half were still in classes. As the wind picked up, so did some of the girls who had been waiting outside--they started off for their homes. I needed help coaxing the girls back to the school, but my committee members were all off fixing their hair and saris for the program.
After what seemed like an eternity, the rest of the students were finally let out of classes and gathered together on the school yard. We quickly got the program started before the wind could blow any more of the girls home, and finally, everything came together. One of the twelfth graders began leading the rest of the school girls on a march throughout the village. They carried placards and chanted slogans about the importance of educating girls. Women from the village joined in as the group went marching past, and by the time we all returned back to the school yard, there was an impressive number of girls, women, and spectators gathered to enjoy the program. Even the sun came out and joined us, peeking its head out from behind the clouds.
The rest of the program went off without a hitch and included speeches by our guest speakers (including one given by me in the best Nepali accent I could muster up), games and races, and an awards ceremony. The day's activities were enjoyed by all, but the greatest reward by far was the sense of accomplishment felt by my students who had organized and led the program; they were all beaming with pride. Few girls in Nepal--especially in rural villages--get the opportunity for leadership experiences, so I was pleased to have given them their first taste of it.
When the program ended I returned to the hostel where I reside to find one of my brightest students, Purna Maya, wearing the widest smile I had ever seen on her face. Glowing with pride, she grinned from ear to ear and said to me, "Miss, the program was even more successful than I ever could have dreamed." I quickly realized that I had underestimated both my own and my students' abilities, for I had just been thinking exactly the same thing.
May 16, 1998
Greetings from Kathmandu,
I really enjoyed my in-service training. The PCVs in my group and I stayed at a nice hotel in Dhulikel, 75 minutes east of K'du. We worked on our Nepali language skills, traded war stories and triumphs from our time at our posts, received more vaccinations, and enjoyed our first hot showers and pizza in 6 months.
Summer break from school has finally arrived, and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm out of the classroom until mid-August, so I'm working on some other pojects in the meantime. Another PCV and I are helping Nepal's Higher Secondary Education Board with a curricular survey project, and we're also visiting some villages/schools to check their suitability as posts for a new group of volunteers. I should also be helping with the technical training of the new 11/12th grade English PCVs. In addition, I'll attend a conference for all 150 of Nepal's PCVs and take a 1 1/2 - 2 week vacation with my parents somewhere outside of Nepal.
I'm still enjoying myself and seem to be keeping busy even though school is out. For my current work, I've been spending some time in Biratnagar. It's Nepal's 2nd largest city and is about 6 1/2 hours from my village (4 1/2 by bus and 2 by foot). While in Biratnagar, I stay with 2 PCVs in their apartment, which is dubbed "the villa" by other PCVs because of its luxurious facilities (electricity, telephone, gas stove, small refrigerator, indoor plumbing/bathroom, and phone). Although Biratnagar is extremely hot, the soda, chocolate, ice cream, french fries, yoghurt, etc. available there makes it liveable for short periods of time. Also, we are able to rent films and a TV/VCR; so when other PCVs are passing through Biratnagar (which is often because it has eastern Nepal's biggest airport) we pool our extra money and have movie marathons.
I've been working off of a letter writing system where I reply to every letter I receive. So if you've written to me but haven't received a response, it means that a) I never received your letter or b) you never received my reply. Depending on where I am in Nepal at the time and where you are in the world, letters take a minimum of 10 days to arrive--though often the average is more like 2-4 weeks. Occasionally, letters drift in 3 months late. I've heard that the record at the Peace Corps mailroom for a late delivery is 3 years! So if you've written to me and not heard back--you may want to try again.
My duties for my second year are still up in the air, but I hope to remain in my village, as I enjoy the people and environment despite a lack of facilities. I feasted on lychees today and am helping my 11th grade students cram for their English final tomorrow (it's a standardized test for every 11th grader in Nepal). Of my 25 students, I'll be overjoyed if 6 pass.
Well, thanks again for all of your support. I usually receive 4-6 letters per week and love hearing all news from your lives.
Peace and Love, Jill
Greetings to all of my webpage readers, especially those of you who are enjoying your Peace Corps experience the sane way: vicariously through your insane friend/neighbor/sister (insert appropriate relationship here).
I want to share with you two recent discoveries that have significantly improved my quality of life here in the village: 1) one of the vendors at our weekly market now sells Wrigley's Doublemint gum (any food items resembling those available in America are great comforts for me); 2) my underwear supply will last twice as long if I wear each pair for two days instead of just one.
I'm also pleased to report that the winter season has finally ended and my fingers and toes are completely thawed. There is no rest for the weary, however, and the windy season has arrived in full force to blow all of my freshly handwashed laundry off the clothesline and into the dirt. I haven't time to complain, however; I'm too busy contemplating what havoc the upcoming monsoon season will wreak on my life.
Teaching school remains a challenge, especially because a severe eraser shortage is currently plaguing our school. It's not that we can't afford them, because we can. We just haven't bought new ones for some reason. I don't try to think logically about the situation because there isn't any logic to be found. Anyway, each morning before school is a 15 minute scavenger hunt to locate an eraser--a most coveted item considering that the blackboard is our only available teaching aid.
I've realized that I have read more in the last 8 months than I did in four years as an undergraduate English major plus my two years in graduate school. I just completed reading my 20th book (for my own enjoyment), I read Newsweek cover to cover on a weekly basis, and I've had to read almost the entire 11th and 12th grade English curriculum, including Animal Farm, 25 poems, 6 one-act plays, 18 short stories, and 25 essays. I skipped reading Romeo and Juliet though, having determined that my 2 previous readings (in high school and college) plus a viewing of Franco Zeferelli's film have left me in good stead should "The Montagues and Capulets" ever appear as a category on Jeopardy!, the TV quiz show.
Not only have I read the ludicrous curriculum, but I've also created Cliffs Notes-like summaries in "simple English" for most of it. My reading and summarizing have led me to a few noteworthy conclusions:
1) The computer is a god. After endless typing on a non-electric, old-fashioned typewriter (sans correction ribbon, of course), I've come to admire and appreciate Bill Gates and his vast computing empire.
2) If I were to retake the GREs now, my previously dismal verbal score would probably shoot up a good 300 points.
3) It is humanly impossible to summarize essays by Aldous Huxley using "simple English."
4) If I have to read some literary works in the curriculum six or seven times before I (a native English speaker with a Masters degree) can fully comprehend them, it's unlikely that they are on an appropriate reading level for my students.
But my students seem to understand and appreciate the summaries, and all the reading and typing make me look like I'm working hard, so I guess it has been worthwhile.
Finally, thanks so much to all of you who have been faithfully corresponding with me. Your letters are an invaluable part of my ability to stay sane. And for those of you (you know who you are) who would rather spend your free time at movies, cutting your toenails, or doing something totally useless like studying for exams, don't expect any letters from me when you're isolated in a rural Nepali village without e-mail, Seinfeld reruns, or Taco Bell!
I decided to make a list of some interesting observations I've made while living in Nepal:
# One of my students walks 2 hours to and from school every day (4 hours round trip).
# A goat recently wandered into my doorway.
# Our post office is only open from 12:00 - 2:00 p.m., but shops are open 6:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
# There is absolutely no correlation between how many seats and standing room are available on the buses and how many people actually ride on them.
# I hve not had a hot shower since October 23, 1997.
# "Are you married?" is one of the first questions someone will ask after being introduced to you.
# Teachers at school frequently go into class 10 minutes late and stop teaching 10 minutes early.
# Of the Nepalese who are familiar with American music, their favourite songs seem to be The Eagles' "Hotel California" and Lionel Richie's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
# A common snack is "jamir and corsani": a fruit that is more sour than a lemon is cut into pieces and served smothered in hot chili peppers.
# The first class of the day for 12th graders begins at 6:30 a.m. (Unfortunately, it's an English class, and I'm the teacher.)
# All candy, no matter what type, is called chocolate.
# It would be absolutely scandalous for a girl and boy to be seen holding hands or walking with their arms around each other. It's very common, though, to see guys holding hands with each other or girls walking arm in arm.
# Teachers show up early to school and stay late to teach extra classes for their students. These classes aren't free, though--the teachers charge tuition.
# The Nepali language has a word to describe almost any familial relationship imaginable. There's even a word to describe the relationship between a bride's and groom's mothers.
# Nepalese are amazingly efficient at conserving water when washing clothes/dishes (you would be too if you had to carry it from a tap to your house!).
# When I receive letters from my grandmothers, people here are often surprised to find out that they can read and write. Most older Nepalese women here are illiterate.
# Concepts such as the Internet, answering machines, beepers, American bathrooms, covering one's mouth when coughing, pizza, and privacy are unknown concepts among most people in my village.
January 6, 1998
Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy 1998. I spent the weekend before New Year's at the home of my nearest PCV neighbor. This is always relaxing because he's got a nice guest room, eletricity, an indoor shower (with freezing cold water) and he's quite a chef. Although the Nepali new year isn't until April, we had January 1 off from school to kick off "Visit Nepal '98," Nepal's new tourism campaign. VOA contributed to my New Year's cheer by reporting a story about the Mummers Parade. Although my father's dislike of the Mummers was transferred to me at an early age, I enjoyed hearing the South Philly accents of those interviewed. VOA was also quick to report all the scores of the College Bowl games, but I certainly could have done without hearing about OSU's loss, especially because they lost to Miami's biggest rival--FSU.
I moved into a new room--I've got one of five rooms in our school's hostel. Teachers live in two room, and five female students live in the other two. It's a really nice room, and I feel like I'm back in one of my dorms--except that I've no heat, a/c, carpet, bathroom, or electricity. But there is plenty of room for my things, the walls are painted white, and there are several windows which provide ample daylight.
By the time you read this, a new group of volunteers will have arrived in Nepal. It will be nice not to be the "new group" anymore! My group is called 184, as we're the 184th group to have arrived in Nepal. Over 4,000 volunteers have served in Nepal since Peace Corps began here in 1963.
I finally began a new book--John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. I've quickly devoured 350 pages and though I've not finished it yet, I highly recommend it. It's most enjoyable! I'll also recommend The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was my last good read.
Time is passing relatively quickly for me. I've got a few things to look forward to: my PC supervisor's visit, an abundance of school holidays in the next two months, and a conference in early march for PCVs living in eastern Nepal. We're going to stay in a hotel, and I'm hoping to have a hot shower there--I've not had one since October 24th!
I've been eating a new food called "gundrug"--it's one month old, fermented spinach. I also had a month old fermented lemon. Believe it or not, both were quite tasty--or maybe I've just been in Nepal for too long. When I board the bus in the city 4 1/2 hours away to return to my village, the people usually know where I'm headed--I guess I'm like a "regular" now. And goats, cows, and chickens have become as commonplace of a sign for me as cars were in America. January 28th will mark my 6 month anniversary of living in Nepal.
As always, thank you for your letters and news from your lives and parts of the world. I miss everyone dearly, but I'm also enjoying my crazy life halfway around the globe (usually)! Love,