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.