Saturday, 20 December 2014

Poinsettias for Christmas


I know that Christmas is fast approaching and so much at home in the UK will be happening in preparation for this festival.  It does seem strange to be warm still, sitting on my balcony in a T-shirt in December and not rushing out for panic shopping sessions. Somehow I find myself missing it!

I am sure that every supermarket and florist in Britain will be selling poinsettia plants to decorate homes at this time of year.  In Nepal at this time, these plants are growing everywhere, but they don’t look like the ones I used to buy.  Here they often grow as big as trees and grow mostly in gardens!  However they are all in flower now in December, looking blowsy and brightly coloured, much better than the ones I used to buy in Britain.

The flowers are stunning, adding a punch of colour all around the houses.  In Nepal they are to be found in both scarlet red and yellow, with huge dinner-plate sized flowers surrounding a yellow centre. 

There are even plants with double flowers, pom-poms of petals decorating the whole tree.  The one behind my flat is like that and makes me smile as I pass by.

This year, while so far from home, these beautiful poinsettias will be my reminder of Christmas celebrations.  
Happy Christmas to all my family, friends and acquaintances who read my blog.

Friday, 5 December 2014

A day in the life of ...


Although each working day for me is different I have tried in this post to give a flavour of a fairly typical one. (I have added photos from several different schools, so as not to show favouritism!) 

My alarm goes off at 6am, but normally I’m already awake because all the neighbours get up before this time.  That includes the cockerels, which begin their morning chorus well before 5am!  Many Nepali people go to bed early and get up early – and once they are up, it is ok to make a noise so that everyone else wakes and gets up.
Early morning bus
The bus leaves at 7am.  The bus journey takes about an hour and half, which is followed by about 2 hours walk; across the river on a suspension bridge, through the rice terraces and then up the path by the stream, to reach the school.

Across the river on the suspension bridge

The walk today is relatively flat, so I don’t arrive at school feeling really hot and sweaty, as I do after a steep uphill walk.  As I pass, people stop their work to watch curiously, and some will say “Namaste”.  The more inquisitive will ask where I’m going, normally in Nepali, although if they can speak some English they may want to show this off.  A foreigner in these rural areas is an interesting event!

Haystack of rice stalks

Rice laid flat to dry after cutting

Two 'Little Sisters' on their way to school ahead of me.

The entrance to the school is unlike those found in the UK.  Many of the rural schools do not have vehicle access, or even a road to them, just steps or a gate.  This school has around 250 pupils, ranging in age from 5 to 16.  There is one class for each year group. The lower classes are smaller because, often, younger children attend small primary schools nearer to their homes.  

Exercises before school

School starts at 10 am and the pupils line up in front of the classrooms, do some simple exercises to the beat of a drum, sing the National Anthem and then march into their classroom. In each class the timetable for each day is the same, so if you have an English lesson first, every day starts with English. 

Having greeted the Headteacher, I go to a class to watch a maths lesson.  The pupils are sitting quietly on wooden benches facing the board at the front, normally girls on one side of the classroom, boys on the other.  From experience I know that the benches are not comfortable and some may even be broken! The walls are dirty and need a coat of paint, and there are no pictures on the walls or books or learning resources in the classroom.  The floor is bare concrete and the windows have wooden shutters and bars but no glass.  
Girls on one side of the classroom.

During the cold months of December, January and February the pupils and teachers wear coats and hats to keep warm, as there is no heating in any of the classrooms.  In fact in many classrooms I visit there is no electricity, so it is dark if the shutters are closed.
Hats and coats in the classroom to keep warm!
Lesson in the sun
If it is a sunny day the class may go outside to work - it is much warmer than inside!

During the day I will also work with the primary level Nepali, maths and  English teachers, mainly suggesting ways that they can work to make their lessons more effective so that their pupils understand and learn better. In many lessons that I see the pupils spend at least some of the lesson chanting what they need to learn – over and over again, which must be very boring.  Ideas for change may be something as simple as asking individual pupils questions instead of asking the whole class, who then shout back the answer in chorus.  Other methods include playing simple games or providing homemade learning aids like charts or diagrams.  I may do some teaching to demonstrate a different method, although this is limited to English and some maths lessons, as my language is not nearly good enough to teach in a Nepali lesson!

In most of the schools that I visit the pupils are very curious about me, and if I sit outside during the break times, groups of them will come and ask me questions – “What is your country?” “Have you a family?”  “Where do you live?”  “How old are you?”  “Do you like Nepal?” are all regular questions.  All schools teach English – and some even teach most subjects in English, as well-spoken English is considered a good route to employment.  Often students like to practise what they have learnt.  If English is taught well, by the time a pupil is in the oldest classes, they can hold a conversation with me.

School finishes at 4pm and everyone, including teachers, leaves quickly. Many, both students and teachers, have a long walk home, sometimes up to 2 hours, and work or chores to do when they get there.  I retrace my morning journey, arriving back at my flat as it gets dark.  

Fortunately the local shops around my home are open until late so I’m able to buy fresh milk and any vegetables I need for my supper.  

Having written up my visit notes from the day and answered emails from home if I have any Internet, I will usually curl up with a book and turn in early for bed, tired after a busy day and mindful of an early start in the morning again.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Creepy crawlies!


Foreign places often have very interesting looking mini-beast populations and Nepal is no different. Many of the insects I have encountered have been similar to, but often bigger and more colourful, than the same species I have found in the UK.

Here is a selection!
large red beetle.

This black and white moth was feeding on
fruit from a wild tree in the forest

Not quite sure what this creature is, beetle maybe?

Millipede - about 30 cm long
Large praying mantis on the window frame in my flat
and another on my grandsons arm
Large speckled spider on a piece of bamboo.

Dragon fly - during the monsoon time there
were swarms of them in the sky above Besisahar.

However the cockroaches, which seem to plague me in my flat, are so horrible that I have not photographed them!!  Also very common are ants and the mosquitos during the monsoon time make it worth sleeping under a mosquito net.
All in all the small creatures are not too daunting or scary - except cockroaches!!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Trek up the Langtang Valley

The bus ride from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi and the start of the trek was  “the worst ever experienced!” according to my son.  A single track road with hairpin bends and switchback corners, huge ruts and muddy uneven surface, yawning drops down the mountainside with no safety barriers and half cleared landslides was extremely scary – it took the bus about 9 hours to cover 120 Kilometres!

The trek, which takes about 6 days of hard walking, follows the river valley of the Langtang Khola steeply up into the mountains and close to the border with Tibet (China).  At times we could see the snow-capped mountains of Tibet.

We began by crossing a suspension bridge over the river and then walked through forest for the first day, hearing below us the rushing of the river at all times.

We passed fabulous waterfalls and enormous boulders, the size of houses, suspended on the hillside where they had been left many thousands of years ago by ice, water or landslide.
My grandson sitting on top of one of the enormous boulders near Langtang village.
Surprisingly, a tea-house we passed mid-morning had a bakery selling croissants and delicious homemade biscuits – which gave us fuel for the steep four-hour climb that followed. We were tired and relieved to reach Lama Hotel, our accommodation for the night. That day we climbed 1000 metres taking about 7 hours. Well done to Solli, my nine-year old grandson for that achievement!

Next morning we left the forest and steep path, continuing through upland grassland with grazing yak and gently ascending all day. We reached the village of Langtang, that day’s destination, by mid-afternoon. 

Yak grazing

Towering around the top of the valley were snow-capped mountains, peaks ranging from 5000 metres to the highest Langtang Lirung at 7246 metres.  Truly awesome, in the correct sense of the word!

The inhabitants of the upland valley are mostly Tibetan and Buddhist, so we passed many strings of prayer flags, prayer wheels, mani stones and stupas.  I particularly liked the mani stones – long lines of flat stones, many hundreds of years old, carved with symbols and prayers arranged into a wall along the side of the path.  We had to be careful to pass them in a clockwise direction as is expected in this religion.   

Also interesting were the prayer wheels powered by the mountain streams tumbling into the valley.  Each had a small house built around it to protect it and every time the wheel turns the prayer inscribed on it is sent.  

All along the valley, often at conspicuous places, were Buddhist stupas.  Many of these were painted with gold tops and colourful decoration on the lower parts. Some had the boulders around painted with Buddhist signs too. Streams of prayer flags surrounded each one.

We stayed overnight at the topmost settlement, Kyanjin Gompa, and visited the small monastery there.
Despite the stunning mountains all around us, we were saddened by this village, which seemed to cater only for tourist trekkers and not the local inhabitants.  

Next morning the sunrise was worthy of the early start - by 6.30 a.m. we were above the village and watching the first shafts of sunlight fall on the summit of Langtang Lirung. Magic!

On the last day of our return we took an alternative high path instead of the one we had come up, and were rewarded with a walk through alpine type pastures, with interesting flowers and butterflies, and of course fabulous views back up the valley. We stopped for lunch in a small lodge high in the hills, which, we decided, would be an ideal place to stay if you wanted to get away from the 21st Century for a few days.  

As we descended back into the valley, to Syabrubesi, at the end of our trek, it was interesting to see a road snaking up the hillside on the opposite side of the valley - so many hairpin bends!

How far we felt we had travelled during our week of walking, and what great memories we had to take away with us.
(Many thanks to my son, Chris, for the use of his photos. I carelessly lost my camera on the last day, containing about 500 photos of the trek!  I was not happy.) 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

'fants - big and small

My three year old granddaughter loves elephants ('fants) so this blog page is especially for her.
I recently went to Chitwan National Park with my son and grandson who have been visiting Nepal. Here there are lots of working elephants as they are used to patrol the park and also earn income by giving tourists rides.

We saw some being taken down to the river for a bath - which they obviously loved, rolling around and spraying water.  One mahout had to get cross, as his elephant didn't want to get out!

We visited the elephant breeding centre and saw
lots of young elephants, the youngest being only one month old. He was lovely - so small that he was able to walk under his mothers belly.  We saw him play with some of the slightly bigger elephants, but he didn't go far from his mother.
One of the slightly older elephants, about 3 years old, kept moving the barrier, climbing over and running off to try and find his mother.  She was working nearby carrying sacks of elephant food to the shed to be stored.
Another female elephant carrying sacks had her baby trotting along beside her as she walked back and forth.

The next day we had a ride on an elephant into the jungle, which was great as we were able to see wildlife that would have run away if we had been on foot.  There were steps for us to climb so we could just step onto the elephants back and sit down, but the mahouts were able to climb up the elephants trunks, holding on to their ears.  Then they sat just behind the elephant's head and steered by moving their knees and feet against its neck.  The ride was interesting with a swaying motion, but we felt quite safe.
After our ride we were able to feed bananas to the elephant. We noticed that she hid some of them in her trunk, rather than eat them all at once! What lovely creatures!
More bananas please!

This elephant liked her spotty trunk rubbed!