Day 81 – Location: Karmidanda Village, Langtang Region; Nepal
At 5am I woke to the sounds of people walking and talking on the path outside. I was very cold, I hadn’t wrapped up properly in my drug-fuelled condition – my bedroom had a gap between the wall and the roof which let the cold mountain air in. I could still feel the effects of the weed overdose a little bit. I managed to get some restless sleep whilst the rest of the village woke up.
I emerged at 8am feeling tired but otherwise ok and I vowed not to underestimate ganja again! Jhabraj greeted me and told me his drunk colleague from last night had stayed for a while until he eventually made it to a house nearby where he crashed for the night. Jhabraj had already spoken with him and he was in pretty amazing condition considering his state last night! We had tea, fresh curd from the cows and beaten rice for breakfast.
At 10am we set off to the village school, where Jhabraj works as an English teacher. Jhabraj was kitted out in a very sharp pinstripe suit, the teacher uniform for his school. It was Sophie’s first day as a volunteer there. We walked down the hill through the village for about twenty minutes. The mountain villages here are very spread out, clusters of houses and individual buildings speckled over the hillside. We passed kids on their way to school in unforms of varying degrees of decay, most of them said “Namaskar” (a respectful greeting) to Jhabraj. They didn’t seem too interested in me and Sophie – Jhabraj often has foreigners visiting so it’s not a new sight for them here. We crossed the main “road” (dirt track) where there was a van full of small chicken cages. We soon saw the school from above, three or four large white rectangular buildings on a big flat patch of land, flat dusty spaces inbetween. The view over the valley from here was awesome. This school had mainly been built with funds raised from an Italian guy who had stayed for a long time with Jhabraj in the village and with Jhabraj’s persuasion decided to help the community. He had fundraised for years in Italy in local communities and churches and raised a lot of money over the years. The school had started with one classroom and eventually expanded to a full school employing teachers of all subjects. Although compared to western schools it is very basic, and still lacks equipment and funds by Nepali standards it’s good. Quite an achievement by the volunteers and the teachers involved! If you are interested in helping out the students and teachers of Karmidanda’s school with donations or volunteering, please contact me and I can put you in touch with Jhabraj – they are always in need of equipment, staff and funding! (see bottom of post)
We arrived early and met some of the other teachers in the staff room. Their pinstripe suits made it look like we’d accidently walked into a mob meeting! Amusingly, the drunken teacher from last night was there, and just as Jhabraj said, in sobriety he was very quiet and serious looking!
Class started and we went to observe Jhabraj teaching a class of 12 year olds. This school teaches kids aged 6 to 16 – classes are seperated by age. The classroom was like the ones I’d seen with Anja in Besisahar, bare walls with the only furnishings being a whiteboard, wooden bench-desks and open, barred windows. The class wasn’t very full as this was the first day of school after the Tihar festival. The kids all wore uniform although some were dirty or had holes in them. All the kids had exercise books. We sat at the back and watched the 45 minute English lesson. It was a fairly standard lesson, the kids were quite well behaved and Jhabraj didn’t take any crap from them. They learned about tag questions – for example “Rita is a nice girl, isn’t she?” I was impressed with their level of English at this age.
During class me and Sophie got plenty of attention through the back windows from curious kids. Unfortunately because there is no real playground, and no glass in the windows, it’s quite noisy and distracting for kids trying to study in classes. Other kids can peer through the windows and disturb the students – for us this included a very funny buck-toothed 5 year old girl who lives near to Jhabraj. She is too young for school but her family works so she gets sent with her older sister. Whilst her sister is in class, she wanders around and plays. Jhabraj said that it’s quite common for parents to leave their underage kids at the school, so sometimes there are 3 year olds wandering around, pooing everywhere and crying. As Jhabraj explained, it’s hard work and unfair for the teachers to take care of these young kids when they are already working so hard!
After class we had a free period so me and Sophie sat in the sun whilst groups of kids hung around us with great interest. The younger kids were fascinated by a German/English picture book which Sophie brought, left at Jhabraj’s by a previous volunteer. Jhabraj took us to a little store below the school where we drank tea and told us about the latest village drama.
The school caretaker; a widow from the village with three children, had been beaten up last night by a group of men and women. They even beat up her children! She’d called Jhabraj (as he is a community advisor) and he told her to speak to the police as it was a complicated matter outside of his hands. He’d talked with her eldest daughter who is a student at the school; she had written a detailed report of what happened which they could give to the police. Apparently the reason for the assault was because the mother was having relations with a married man (she is windowed) – to cut a long story short the man’s wife found out and it was a revenge attack – even though her husband was the instigator of the affair! Jhabraj said they would have to see how the situation developed, it was certainly causing a stir in the community.
After break, Sophie went to her first class as a teacher unsupervised. She started well and I took a few photos before I left her to it. I sat in on another of Jhabraj’s lessons, where he went over verbs. During the next break he told us he was disappointed that over 45 days of holiday the class had forgotten a lot of what he’d taught them, and most hadn’t done the homework he’d set them. He gave them a week deadline said there’d be a big punishment if they didn’t do it. Although many teachers physically punish the children (which is pretty normal in Nepal), Jhabraj doesn’t believe in it –when he was a younger teacher he used to, but now realizes the error of his ways. He encourages the other teachers to use non-violent punishments and tries to provide a supportive atmosphere for the students so they aren’t afraid and can trust teachers with their problems.
Mid-way through the class one of the girls was pulled out, the daughter who had been attacked who I mentioned earlier. She was off to the police station to make her report. Jhabraj had to leave the class early to check on another class, so I was in charge. I went through some more verbs with the students until the end of the period; I have some teaching experience myself.
For the next period I waited in the staff room as Jhabraj’s next class would be in Nepali. Then we were served some instant noodles and tea, and we met Sophie who had got on alright with her two classes – her year 6’s were good students and understood English quite well, but her class 3’s (only 8 years old) were difficult to keep motivated, they were easily distracted and didn’t understand much of what she was saying.
Me and Sophie walked back home. She only has two classes every day so it was only 1pm. The sun was shining brightly as usual. At the house we chilled out, I had a “shower” (brisk!) and we were visited by local kids, of both the goat and human variety! Januka was around doing various chores. Jhabraj arrived back at 4pm. He told me that yesterday he’d spoken privately to the son who wasn’t feeding his old father, and the son had agreed to take better care of him. Jhabraj had checked up on the old man to find his son was indeed keeping to his word, and so thankfully he wouldn’t have to round up a committee to resolve the problem.
Awijit, Jhabraj’s son came back from school and Ama (the grandmother) came back and forth with backloads of grass for the animals. After chicken curry with rice we spent the evening in the kitchen by the open fire, chatting, drinking rakshi. Various locals visted to chat with the family. Jhabraj’s brother lives very close and he dropped by. An older man who speaks a bit of English also came round and some mothers came to chat to Januka. Some older visitors came by too. Of course the cheeky boy Jeneet from next door made an appearance as well! It’s a very social community and reminds me a lot of soap operas in our country. Everyone pops around to each other’s house all the time, they share commodities with each other, and they help each other. Jhabraj reminds me of Helen Daniels, an old character from Aussie soap “Neighbours” – solving all the social problems of the village!
I tried to check my internet on Jhabraj’s computer, which has dial-up internet. I haven’t heard the screeches of an old phone modem for many years! Unfortunately it was very slow and couldn’t load Yahoo Mail. It really didn’t like Facebook either. Other pages loaded but very slowly. Still, to get internet at all out here was a surprise! We went to bed pretty early.
Would you like to stay in Karmidanda village with the Neupane family? Read on…
If you are thinking of viisting Nepal and would like to do a homestay with Jhabraj’s family and see his village, or you need an experienced trekking or private tour guide, Jhabraj is very happy to accommodate you. He can do tours anywhere around Nepal and for trekking, he is very experienced and a safe, responsible guide, having guided on all the major Nepali treks multiple times as a guide (including the popular Everest, Annapurna and Langtang treks). It is also possible to do some spectacular trekking in the Langtang area from his village area so you could always combine a homestay with a trek. Jabraj charges very reasonable prices, he speaks good English, and you couldn’t meet a friendlier, more interesting and hospitable guy! Your enjoyment, satisfaction and safety are his primary concerns. Money that Jhabraj earns from visitors and clients goes towards the higher education of his children, which is extremely expensive for a village family. If you want to hear more, please contact me via this website and I will put you in touch with him. Highly recommended!
Would you like to help Jabraj’s village community of Karmidanda? Read on…
Like many outlying villages in Nepal, the village Karmidanda is extremely poor and the community has many serious problems as a result. Almost all the families here are in a lot of debt, living on the breadline on the meagre earnings they can eke out – most are farmers. Other avenues of work are simply not available up here and most families cannot afford to put their children into higher education to improve the cycle. Public welfare does not really exist in Nepal and the area only has one health clinic staffed by volunteers and supplied by charity. If a villager requires hospitisation the villagers have to pool together to get enough money to pay for an ambulance to take the patient 5 hours to Kathmandu and also pay the expensive hospital treatment fees, if they can afford it. The village school was built thanks to charitable efforts but staff wages are low, equipment and resources are always scarce and there are not enough teachers for the number of students. These are just some of the problems that the community has – yet despite the difficulties the community spirit is amazing here, people help each other, they have a smile on their face and they are welcoming and friendly. If you think that you can help with donations, volunteering (incuding English teaching at the school) or charitable projects, please get in touch. Jhabraj has many contacts and can direct you to the right people so you know your money or resources are going directly to the local community and no share is going into anyone elses’ pocket. Some charitable efforts have also been started by foreign visitors who have visited Jhabraj and decided to help the community of Karmidanda – please check out the following websites: (links coming soon!)