Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ghamrang visit

We went to visit a school situated high in the hills in a very remote location.  My colleague Anzu and I were pleased to arrive there after three bus rides, an overnight stay and then about three hours walk the following morning.  The headteacher had sent someone to lead us the last part of the walk, over the ridge to reach the school, set on the steep hillside above the village of Ghamrang. 

The plan was to bring a party of teachers, one from each of the schools in the Sisters for Sisters project in Lamjung, on a visit to the school a few days later.  We went early to see the situation at the school, and if the good work we had been told about had been sustained recently. The school had been part of a 'Global Action Nepal' project to improve the teaching of English a few years before, and the teachers had been given training and encouragement to teach lessons with active student participation.

Science lesson making circuits for Class 6

On arrival we were given a warm welcome and the staff were keen to know about our project and the purpose of the forthcoming visit by the teachers from our Sisters for Sisters schools.  Then, having watched some excellent lessons that afternoon, I was very happy to confirm the visit and draw up a timetable for the day. 

English lesson with class 4

Practical maths lesson in the outdoor classroom.
(Notice the mountains on the skyline behind)
Full attention for class 8 in their  lesson outside on the grass.
At this time of the year it is cold inside the classrooms;
so much warmer to sit in the sun!
PE at the end of the day, with girls and boys
all enjoying a chasing game.

After school we walked down the steep steps leading to the village, accompanied by many of the teachers and students.  They were all keen to talk to us and point things out; the health centre, tomatoes growing under frames, cardamom plants growing as a crop and the hostel for weekly boarding students whose homes are too far away.  The village, a collection of stone and wooden houses, many with corrugated iron roofs, seemed to cling to the steep hillside, with the path of stone steps running down through the centre. 

We were welcomed into the headteachers house and shown our room.  We later discovered that his wife’s teenage brother had to sleep on the floor by the fire, as we had stolen his bedroom!  We were treated as special guests, and many villagers popped in just to see us and say ‘hello’.

There was a welcome party for a returning family member taking place nearby, with music and dancing and we were invited to watch the dancing.  The village people belong to the Gurung ethnic group, and the dancing and singing was part of their tradition, along with the colourful clothes that the dancers were wearing. The drummers and singers, all men, were sitting behind the dancing women. Again we were honoured guests, given white rice tikka and silk scarves and later a plate of sel roti (a circle of bread deep fried and crisp) to eat.  What lovely people!

Sunrise the following morning was special, seeing light gradually show up the layers of hills stretching into the far distance to the south and watching the tips of the Annapurna peaks across the valley to the north suddenly catch the sun, turn golden and then sparkling white.
Looking south over ridges of hills getting fainter into
the distance


Sunrise lightening the snow covered tops

Looking north to the Annapurna peaks.

What a cheery sight our host's daughter was, as she ate her daal bhat before getting ready for school.

The visiting teachers were also served with daal bhat, all cooked over a single fire by the headteacher's wife.  I would have worried about cooking for 20 people on my hob at home, but she managed magnificently.  As so many people would not have fitted into their house, we sat on straw mats in the stone courtyard in front of the house to eat our breakfast.

That morning at the school the visiting teachers were very impressed by what they saw. They asked questions, made notes and diagrams and took many photos. How good it will be to see some of the things they liked implemented in their own schools when I next visit!
Sadly, we needed to leave just after midday for the long jeep ride back to Besisahar. However we couldn't leave before receiving beautiful flower garlands from the students, and then had to have our photos taken with them, of course.  It had been a memorable visit for everyone.
Thank you so much to the staff at Ghamrang School for making our visit such a success, and for the kind welcome we had from everyone in the village.  

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Daal bhat power

In Kathmandu you can buy a t-shirt emblazon with the slogan
"Daal Bhat power, twenty four hour!"

So what is it?  The translation says it is "lentils and rice". 
In fact daal bhat is the staple food of the Nepali people; most eat it twice a day.  Many Nepalis do not feel they have eaten unless they have had daal bhat. The first meal is in the morning before going to the office or to school, the second in the evening.

Daal bhat can be a variety of different concoctions all served together with rice and lentils or, in many households, simply rice and lentils.  The rice is just plain boiled rice. The lentils are cooked with spices in a watery sauce which is poured over the rice.  Often green, brown or black lentils are used, rather than the orange ones we generally use at home.  Rice and lentils are grown on terraces all over the country, and many people grow most of their own food near their home if possible.

In addition, daal bhat will usually be served with a portion of 'tarkari', vegetable curry made with whatever vegetables are in season.  A side dish of meat cooked in a spicy sauce may be added too, or a fried egg or bowl of yogurt for vegetarians.  Green vegetables such as spinach are cooked until soft, and often mustard oil or small seeds are mixed in. This 'saag' is served as a small portion on the side of the plate. 
A spoonful of 'Achaar', pickle, may also added to the plate.  Be careful, this can be very chili hot! (piro in Nepali) but can sometimes be like the lime or mango pickle we can buy in Indian shops in UK.

In restaurants and hotels other extras may be added to the plate; some tiny fried chips, a chapati, some sliced raw carrot and mouli radish or even a poppadom or prawn crackers on top.
A metal plate is often used, as in the photo, and the daal, meat and yogurt will be provided in small bowls for pouring over the rice as you wish.

When travelling long distances by bus there will normally be a stop at a roadside cafe/restaurant for daal bhat. A sort of Nepali motorway services, the food is all ready to serve in vast cauldrons and you move along the table adding portions of whichever dish you want.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Colour and decoration

When I first arrived in Nepal I was struck by the bright colours and decorations on so many things and wrote an early blog about it. I still love the way that Nepalis use colour and find myself taking many photographs showing this.  These do not fit into any particular topic, so this post is a selection of the photos that I like, each with a short explanation of its context.
The dish contains flowers and a rice mixture. We were given a rice tikka on the forehead, a flower in our hair and a glass of rackshi at a special Gurund evening of singing and dancing at which we were guests.

Colour is such an important part of the Hindu religion. The coloured powders, for sale in the centre of the main street in Besisahar before Tihir, are for people to create mandalas outside their homes, to attract the Goddess Laxmi to enter. Some mandalas are intricate and very beautiful.

The marigold garlands are given for welcome and at many important times. These were being sold for honouring animals and people at the festival of Tihir. The purple ones are made of everlasting flowers and are given by girls to their brothers to signify their love for them.

This statue/picture of a Hindu God looks very fierce to me.  He can be found on the wall at Kathmandu Durbar Square.

These wonderful face masks depicting the Hindu Gods are used at Dashain in an ancient village play at Kholcana near Kathmandu.  The play tells the story of one of the Hindu epics, and the masks and parts in the play are passed from one generation of men to the next.

This highly decorated door hides a huge prayer wheel, just visible, at Bouddha, the enormous stupa and Buddhist complex.
Recently dyed wool hung to dry beside one of the ponds at Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley.

Colourful rickshaws parked, waiting for passengers in Thamel, Kathmandu.
The kingfisher, who perches on a tree behind my flat, looking for food in the little stream which tumbles down the rice terraces.

And finally, VSO volunteers painting a mural on the wall of the office garden, as part of the official 50th Anniversary celebrations in April 2014.

Winter vegetables

January. Now that the rice has all been harvested, the terraces are bare and brown.  However, most will not be left for long in this state.  Already many terraces, near houses and settlements, have been planted out with vegetables which will grow during the winter months, the cold months; cabbage, cauliflower, onions and spinach/greens can be seen growing in any spare patch of land around the town and in quantity in the terraces outside the town.

In the town fresh vegetables, that have been brought down from the hills, are for sale at the vegetable stalls or from baskets besides the road.  The recognisable ones that grow well and are similar to those available in UK, include cabbage, potatoes, onions, cauliflower and broccoli, peas, green beans and tomatoes. Cauliflower in particular seems to grow very well, and there are some huge ones available - big enough to feed a football team, or play football with. There are many vegetables however that I don’t recognise and will need to get advice about what they are called and how they are cooked. 

In the photo the long white root vegetable is a type of radish, a mouli. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The vegetable that looks like a bumpy/prickly courgette is called a bitter gourd and is used in pickles and veg curries.  It is obviously an acquired taste – sour and very bitter – not to my liking but seems to be popular with Nepali people! 

One variety of green bean tastes similar to French beans – but is very long.  Each one is around 30 to 50 centimetres in length.  They are tender when boiled lightly for a short while. Other beans available at the moment have a red mottled case and only the bean inside, similar in size to a red kidney bean, but again mottled red, is used. 

Tomatoes are available here all year round.  I have seen them growing undercover in handmade shelters, not to protect from the cold, but to shade from the powerful sun and torrential rain, I think.  Green peppers and aubergines are also on sale in a few shops in town, but grow further south where it is hotter I have been told.

In the shops at the moment there are many types of potato.   Usually, mostly for sale are small ones, so fiddly to peel, they are deliciously creamy to taste, and are used often for ‘tarkari’ (vegetable curry).  However, the ‘potato’ I saw on a stall yesterday, (the stall holder told me it was potato), muddy and very large, shaped like a piece of tree root and with a raw texture rather like coconut, I will need to taste, as I’m not convinced it is from the potato family. These are used as special food for one of the festival during January. Apparently it should be grated or chopped finely before being cooked. 

A speciality of the region, ‘jimbo’, a cross between chives and spring onions, and only available in the Himalayan foothills is on sale from the baskets of street sellers at the moment.  This is another vegetable I must try – but first to find out how to cook it! 

There is no need to worry about 'food miles' here; only vegetables that grow in Nepal are available in Besisahar, and on most stalls there are only vegetables that can be carried into the town from the surrounding villages, normally in a basket on someone's back.