Asia | Nepal | Kathmandu Valley | Kathmandu – Continuing adventures
Education, food and a festival have been the main players on my stage over the past week and a half. I have been alternately busy, bored, grouchy and jubilant. I believe my shifting moods reflect the essence of Nepal its self. It is a country of extremes in all realms, social, political and economic.
I have been in my position as a volunteer teacher for one month now. The experience, thus far, has been both rewarding and frustrating. My grade 5 kids have proven themselves to be the most diligent of students. They are to eager to learn and work hard to understand their mistakes in order to better grasp the English language. They have more than once been my main reason for wanting to continue my work at this school.
My main trouble comes from the children of grade 6. This class is my largest with about 25 students, only 2 of which are girls. Except for the 2 girls, these students rarely do their work and when they do, I receive no less than 10 identical compositions with the exact wording and mistakes. Of course they staunchly deny copying, yet during a spelling test they blatantly looked to each others papers.
I was amazed at this behaviour and was later told by an American professor, teaching at university here, that the practice continues and is accepted all the way through the university levels!!! My other classes, 7, 8 and 9 fall somewhere between the previous 2 extremes, though copying remains prevalent.
I have also encountered 2 very disturbing problems in the education system as a whole. The first involved my grade 8 class, which consisted of only 4 students. One girl was clearly behind the rest as she could not understand my English nor could she read any words consisting of more than 4 letters. I asked to be excused from this class stating that a Nepali teacher would be better able to bring the girl up to speed. I was told to just ignore the girl and to focus on the other 3.
I was appalled at this suggested solution. After much thought, I decided I would have to meet with the girl’s parents and obtain permission to work with her individually after school. When I returned for the next class, the girl was gone. I was told that she was moved to another school. I felt a deep sense of loss for the girl. I know she will never receive an adequate education as long as these attitudes prevail.
The second fundamental problem I have encountered is with the government testing methods. My grade 9 students have been taking government board exams to officially be acknowledged as 9th graders. I obtained a copy of the English language section of the exam. I could in no way see how anyone, myself included, could possibly pass this exam. Over half of the multiple choice questions made no sense at all. The students are given a sentence and are instructed to choose the 1 correct answer to complete the sentence. There is no mention as to whether this is to be past, present or future tense.
Here is an example taken directly from the exam:
My friend_______ a car. a)has b)had c)have d)will have
Since 3 of the 4 are adequate depending on the tense, I have no idea what the expected answer would be. I am trying to get a copy of the answer key in an attempt to grasp even a little understanding of what the Ministry of Education was thinking when they wrote this test. My students have not yet received their results and I am extremely curious as to the outcome.
My frustrations over Nepali academia and the pain of my foot from being run over by a motorcycle left me in a very low mood. I am not supposed to be walking and have been told it would take 6-8 weeks for my foot to heal. It turns out that one of my bones has 2 small cracks in it. I spent a couple of days in my hotel obeying the doctors orders, but soon began to feel like a stir crazy prisoner.
I decided I deserved a treat. I had grown quite tired of bland curries and dal bhat (rice with lentil soup) so I hobbled up the road to La Dolce Vita. I had heard that this Italian restaurant was of top quality and very expensive. I decided to go for it. I ordered the most expensive dish on the menu. For 275 rupees ($3.75 US) I received a plate of pan fried jumbo prawns with a creamy tomato sauce, pesto pasta and 4 types of veg on the side. I was in heaven. I had 2 colas and a delicious caramel flan for dessert. My total bill came to 480 rupees and I added a tip bringing it to 520. The whole experience of this gastronomic ecstasy cost me exactly $7 US.
My mood was needless to say shifted back to jubilant. This had been my first full meal in a months time. I have begun to frequent the establishment, but mostly for the more modest pizza and a coke lunch special costing 125 rupees. That’s about $1.70 US.
As I must teach and I must eat, I have not been following my doctors orders. They had wanted me to use a set of crutches to keep the weight off of the offending foot. As it is hard enough to walk these streets with 2 feet on the ground, I laughed at the thought of trying it with 1 foot and 2 sticks. I fear more harm than good would come from the attempt. I have tried to be good and only walk to school and to lunch, but yesterday I attended Buddha Jayanti at Swayanbunath and am now paying a high price in pain.
Buddha Jayanti is the celebration of the birth and enlightenment of Lord Buddha. As a firm believer in the basic Buddhist philosophies, I felt a duty to attend, though I put it off until the afternoon as morning reports said there were so many people that some had to wait to get into the huge stupa area. When I arrived little past 3 pm, it was still crowded but not so intensely. I took a rickshaw to the entrance. At this point I was met with the daunting sight of a very steep set of stairs leading to the stupa. I am told there are 360 steps to the top, but it felt more like 3,060. As I had come this far, I was determined to make my small pilgrimage and honour Buddha on his birthday.
I slowly made my way, step by tedious step to the top. I made 5 rounds of the stupa spinning the prayer wheels and reciting my own prayers as I went. At one point in the journey around the stupa, pilgrims stop to give offerings and receive blessings. I did this along with the others. I was shocked at the strength and pushiness of elderly ladies who pushed through to receive their blessings. At least 8 of them stomped on my bandaged and throbbing foot. After making my offerings and paying my respects, I rested a while and took many photos. Some monks approached me and asked me to use their camera to take some photos of them together. I obliged and then gathered my strength to once again face those daunting steps making my way back down to hail a taxi home.
The experience was both painful and fulfilling. I felt very good spiritually, but my foot is now 3 times its normal size. I think I must now give up my stubborn streak and acquiesce to my doctors wishes. Well, not completely as I still need to teach and to eat. I will, however, make no more unnecessary journeys until my foot has healed more sufficiently.