Monday, October 11, 2010


I moved out of the giant house in Kathmandu last week. Two nights before I left, I met the American girl whose presence had caused the family to hide me away. The meeting was actually pretty anticlimactic. I had expected a scene. I was just talking with the family in a room at night and she came down because she heard English. They said that I was a friend of one of their cousins and that I was visiting and staying the night (which was all technically true). We talked a little bit, but then the next day everything went back to the way it had been. I never saw her again.

I moved back into the Lazimpat apartment for a few days. We had some training. Both of our Nepali teachers had been simultaneously hit by motorcycles while walking back from the Fulbright Commission. One was injured so badly that she couldn't move from her house and we had to visit her for Nepali class. She is having her leg x-rayed today. It was a bad deal - people need to build some sidewalks around here.

And then the day came that we moved into our villages. I knew where I was going to be placed before anyone else did because I had said that I wanted to teach in a school with a population of nonnative Nepali speakers - I wanted to experience a school dynamic where English is a second language for some and a third language for others. I was told that Chapagaon has a large Newari population, so I said that I wanted to go there. Also, it is near where my friend from Pitzer Nepal is living, and I heard that there is a German NGO nearby.

Chapagaon may be the most remote location and it is the furthest from the other ETAs, in the foothills at the edge of the valley. After dropping off two other ETAs, the bus drove me past Newari storefronts, a bus park and some temples of Bhairab, and then we turned out of the village and down a steep hill into the jungle. Apparently I will actually be teaching in a tiny, tiny village called Bistagaon about 20 minutes walk from Chapagaon. My house is in a nearby village called Boharatar, and it looks like this:

It is a traditional house with mud floors and tiny doorways that I hit my head on and a tiny wooden staircase to my small room with no shelves or cupboards. I love it. There's no indoor plumbing but interestingly they do have a dial-up internet connection through a phone line (the internet is fast enough to read mail but not usually fast enough to write it). The family, which consists of a grandfather, grandmother, son and wife, two grandsons and a granddaughter, buys none of their vegetables. They grow rice, corn, chili peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, bitter gourd, wildflowers, and probably some other things I don't know about. They only have to buy some of their rice and things like spices and condiments. There are two cows and a goat, but I believe the goat is not long for this world. The great festival Dashain is coming up and something's gotta get sacrificed. There is also a lazy and friendly dog whose front tooth is broken so that it always looks like he is showing his fangs while he is whining happily and wagging his tail.

My host father is also the Head Teacher (principal) of the school where I am teaching. I have to admit this worries me a little, but he seems like a jovial sort. I was completely overwhelmed by my reception at the school. The entire school lined up at the entrance and cheered as the principal placed tikka on my forehead and placed an honorary topi on my head (they never make them quite large enough for me). I walked between two lines of clapping high schoolers as they gave me flowers and well wishes, and then we went to the teacher's lounge where everyone went around and made speeches about how great this opportunity is for all of us. It was humbling and terrifying.

The tall one in the middle: Me.
To my left is the school's Head Teacher and my very gracious host.
To my right is my NELTA contact person.

I spent the next week observing classes. Several times I was asked to give lessons or to teach but I insisted on getting to know how things are done at the school. So this is the school:

Shree Udaya Kharka Madhyamik Vidyalaya: Rising Field Secondary School of Bistagaon, Chapagaon VDC, Lalitpur. Established in BS 2017 (AD 1960). Approximately 400 students from Nursery up to 10th grade. From a week of observation it appears that there are about as many male students as female students. There are many students whose first language is Nepali, many whose first language is Newari, many whose first language is Tamang, and a few who grow up speaking Nagarkoti. English is taught from the Nursery level, although many teachers have told me that English fluency among students is one of the biggest challenges they face.

The school seems to enjoy an unusual amount of support from outside the country. In addition to my presence as a Fulbrighter, they have a computer lab donated by an American organization, some construction has come from German funding, and the Japanese have had a hand in cultural programs.

So the current plan is that I will have a schedule teaching different classes with my counterpart teacher at different times during the week, focusing on grades 5,6,7,8, and 9. At grade 10 there is a nationwide standardized test called the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) without which a student cannot go on to higher study. The test carries questions lifted directly from the texts, so it is more important at grade 10 to learn from somebody who knows the textbook well.

My counterpart teacher is a very good teacher, which is a little intimidating. All the training I have had has been about providing context to the textbooks, including games and real world experiences and realia and that sort of thing. The training came from people who had a hand in creating the textbooks, but in my observations and in theirs the teachers often do not have the resources to provide that sort of context. My counterpart teacher is very resourceful, though, and already uses a lot of these techniques. I hope that I will be able to contribute to his resourcefulness when I start teaching...

Which unfortunately won't be for a couple weeks. Friday was the first day of Dashain, the biggest holiday in Nepal. The school is closed for fifteen days. At least I will have a few days to celebrate Dashain in this new village. Right now I'm in Kathmandu for a little more training and reflection on our observations.

Oh, one more thing:

Hey James, are you jealous?

When I mentioned that I played the piano, they told me that the school had a collection of "mouth pianos." Apparently the Japanese had donated ten melodicas to their music department but not many people know how to play one. I'm thinking of starting a Melodica Club or a Traveling Nepali High School Melodica Orchestra & Revue or something...

Well, congratulations on making it to the end of this post. Happy Vijaya Dashami!


  1. That's a whole lotta melodicas. I most definitely am jealous.
    It's a joy to read about your experiences.

  2. I start teaching... Which unfortunately won't be teaching in a traditional house and a school with mud floors and terrifying. The school lined up speaking Nagarkoti. English is that I start teaching... Which unfortunately won't be the textbooks, including games and wagging his fangs while he is living, and down because I will have a tiny village called Bistagaon about as many people know how to the village and a schedule teaching in the school's Head Teacher and I hit by an honorary topi on my friend from Chapagaon. My host father is that I hit by motorcycles.