GREETINGS AND GRADUATION
For one of our days off we were invited to go for a visit to the school where I would be volunteering. Leading up to going to the school we were held in a bit of mystery as the doctor taking us there didn't seem to give much information about what was going on. He met us outside the hospital and started walking us down the street. Before this moment, I was under the impression that the school was somewhere in the hospital and that we would just be taking a short walk there but we were heading toward the bus stop.
My only experience seeing busses like these was from watching the first couple episodes of the Netflix show "Sense8" where two African men have a business running a bus from one bus station to another while competing against other bus businesses. The busses are short, more like vans, and they play music to try to advertise the buses like a dance party. The person who takes the fares hangs out the door as it's driving and yells out the door as the bus pulls up to stops to yell out to the people waiting letting them know where the bus is going. Much of the time, the fare taker is very energetic, yelling out to women on the side of the road, laughing and smiling as they hang out of the door of the bus.
Fortunately, it was not a very crowded bus. This was a "weekend" day and just after the time of day when people travel to work or shop by bus. I say weekend because it seems that Wednesdays and Saturdays are the days that people take off as holy days. It did seem that some people were traveling at the same time and the main ring road that connects the city and the highway's traffic was extremely backed up. This road is dirt and exhaust and dust were kicked up in the air. My fiance was very astute by noticing the thick clouds of pollution obscuring our views and tried to make sure both of us would breath through our shirts. Many of the locals also travel with masks over their noses and mouths, and all of the traffic police follow this precaution as well. I was also overwhelmed by the smell of the multiple dumping areas along the street where stray dogs would sift through garbage in search of food.
On the bus, we were very uncertain about what we were going to be doing with the students at the school on that day. The doctor said we could just talk to the children and get them to practice their english. This was when we learned the school was an English school, that all of the children could learn to read, write and speak english in the working world through emersion. He said the ages fo the students range from three years old to tenth grade.
We all agreed that it would be most interesting for me to teach the older grades because they might have more questions about things that I have expertise in and it might be easier for them to understand me. My fiance had some very perceptive ideas of how I could expand beyond conversations with the children to teaching them skills for writing. She said I should teach them essay writing which they can use for university application and classes. This idea made me realize that perhaps after speaking to the children about essays, I could speak to them about how to write stories creatively or even songwriting. I think her suggestions will be more useful and easier to administer, but perhaps the creative side will be a treat for them afterwards as well.
I tried to keep track in my mind the direction the bus was traveling and where we got off of the bus. I was lucky there were a few fairly noticeable landmarks, however there were also some landmarks that were uniform to other bus stops. I found on later trips to the school that these landmarks as well as written instructions of what to say to the fare takers put me in a pretty good position for navigating my way. I was pretty amazed by this considering the hour long length of the bus ride. During this long bus trip we were filled with the sense of "what is happening?" "what are were going to do?" "what can we expect from this school?" "what are they expecting from me?" We have found in Nepal people tend to not explain things and expect you have learned it somewhere else. They truly are a mysterious people, but they are understanding and gracious.
When we did come to the school we were warmly received by the principal and escorted to classrooms to converse with the children. My fiance started in a classroom of 6 year olds and I was dropped off in a classroom of 9th graders. There were only ten children in the classroom I was in and the gist of our conversation was of me talking about myself. I then decided I would ask the students questions. I used my law school experience and picked a student at random to asked her a question. Clearly I was not used to dealing with people younger than law students in their 20's and my question was greeted with a look of sheer terror. It was a humorous look of sheer terror, but the humor was not known to this poor little girl. I think I responded to that by saying to the girl "Oh no, I'm so sorry, it's okay!"
The questions asked from the students were fairly informative for them, for the most part. They were interested in asking what the US is like. Many times I would have to ask them to repeat themselves because they had a tendency to speak very softly. When I couldn't understand them everyone around them would chuckle a little and I would try to get them to repeat themselves. I'm assuming they had apprehension because I started off by scaring the hell out of one of the girls.
They did gain more confidence as they warmed up to me and asked some more interesting questions. "Do you have any childrens?" made me chuckle. "Is Titanic animated or a real movie?" was a very interesting question. It was especially interesting because we had not talked about movies or had questions in that vein. Luckily for that boy, I did have a piece of trivia about how they had a very small number of extras in the whole movie and superimposed them all over the footage of the model sized ship.
After class we met with the principal in his office and had lunch. They brought us some very good Nepali food and tea. The tea is always way too hot, but I prefer it having been closer to boiling for safety sake. Tap water in Nepal is not safe for consumption. We chatted a bit and met a few of the administrators at the school before heading back to the bus stop. The ride back into town was pretty easy but once we got back near the hospital it started to rain and we went to the local restaurant (that we trust) with the doctor to get some coffee and tea. He seemed to really enjoy us and talked to us about his time living in Michigan for training.
We had umbrellas while walking back to the Hospital after coffee, and the doctor tried very hard to get under my umbrella as I am much taller than everyone else. Near the entrance of the hospital was almost completely flooded and we had no choice but to walk through the ankle deep water. We picked up a dufflebag that we had dropped off previously at the hospital, took it back to our apartment and cleaned ourselves off from air pollution and drenched clothing.
We had some extra time to go for a walk and explore the morning of the graduation. The weather was very nice for once, we seemed to be in the middle of a couple straight days without rain. We walked along a different street than we usually take to get to the hospital or to the taxis or busses. This other street is quieter and better paved. It almost has an unsettling quietness and the residents walking on the street don't seem very accustomed to foreigners walking down their street, we seemed to get a higher frequency of looks than normal.
Along this street we saw a badminton court that seemed like a very popular place for the local men on their days off. The court looked like it was very very old, and may have had some other communal capacity for hundreds of years before being used for badminton. It was a space that was very old red brick surrounded by shrubberies and was one of the tidiest outdoor spaces we have seen in Nepal. There is usually a lot of litter on the streets and open spaces in Nepal but this was an area that was kept clean. We continued through the streets, passing by a farmers markets and busy streets. Many of the local restaurants had not yet opened.
As we were heading back we passed by Bakery Cafe, a restaurant on the corner of a roundabout. When we first came to Nepal we were shown around by foot to see the different places we could go to eat in the area and Bakery Cafe was one of the places pointed out to us. I saw two people walk out one of the doors so we figured it was open. We walked in and it seemed empty and dark, but they assured us they were open. We ordered the indian breakfast which was like a potato hash inside a large fried shell which was slightly spicy and delicious as well as what was listed on the menu as "lemon and honey water." We weren't sure what we were going to be getting with this drink but we had previously been told it was a local drink.
In fact, the waiter did not tell us anything at all as all of the waitstaff in Bakery Cafe were deaf and mute. There were signs on the wall encouraging the customers to use sign language and pointing with the staff. Our ordering seemed to work out pretty well, even though they did not have one of the things we were asking for available. I wanted to know if I could get a coke with my breakfast and asked by pointing to an advertisement on the wall. The server shook his head and made an X with his arms to very quickly convey the status of their coke. As we sat in the restaurant, more and more westerners came in to eat, and it may have been one of the more tourist populated places we had been to.
My landmark for getting off the bus
Later that day, we had been invited to the graduation for the oldest grade in the school we had visited. I was getting a little worried that it would be a awkward for us to go and we had not had many days off that we had free to sightsee. I had a little plan for us to fake a sickness and do some sightseeing on our own but I didn't quite have it in me to express this plan very outwardly so there we were getting on the bus to the graduation. We had not been to the place where the graduation was being held but we did have a very simple diagram on an envelope and a vague instruction about going one or two bus stops past the school's bus stop.
We were in a little bit of a time crunch to get out of the apartment because I was feeling nervous about going. We eventually got to the bus around the time we had hoped we would. The initial problem was that we weren't 100% certain the fare taker on the bus understood the place we were going and that we really were on the right bus. So we waited to see if we were going in the right direction but the bus just sat and more and more people got on board. We waited and waited and the seats around us filled up and the standing area around us filled up and it started to feel hotter and hotter. It was completely packed around us and the bus left about fifteen minutes later than we had hoped. As the bus made it to the ring road, somehow, more people came on the bus and squeezed in. One woman even came on the bus with a 30 pound bag of something, feed or fertilizer, that the fare taker kept by the door.
As we got to the main highway, the new road, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that we were turning in the right direction. It was a hot ride but as we went down the new road the crowd thinned out and we had a little more leg room. By the time we got to the part of the road where the earthquake made a large chasm all the cars and motorcycles have to slow down to dip down the three or four foot drop there was a safer amount of people on the bus and no one fell over. When we got off the bus we were uncertain where to go at first, then we walked over to the main cross street and turned to see if we could find anything. We were looking lost and a man in a tie on a motorcycle came to us and told us to keep walking past the bridge where we would see the students.
When we got to the auditorium, we found we were actually on time despite our worries. We were escorted by the doctor to the front row of seats and waited for the ceremony to start. The auditorium was actually very pretty and kept quite cool because ceiling fans had been installed on the walls angled at the audience. I think the ceremony ended up starting almost an hour late but we were able to talk to a few of the teachers and some students that my fiance had met when we visited the school. She also enjoyed seeing all of the women and girls wearing beautiful saris and dresses. She was very excited once the ceremony started to see many of these girls doing fairly intricate dance routines of many different styles. One of the more interesting songs had a routine that also acted out violent turmoil that recently erupted in Nepal and the song called for peace.
There were many, many, many speeches during the graduation ceremony. They liked to refer to it as a farewell because the students were moving on to "plus two" which is school to get the students through 11th and 12th grades before moving on to university. Very early on, we learned the speeches would mostly all start with a long list of personal acknowledgements of the many "dignitaries" in the room and finish with acknowledging the graduating class. At least three times and perhaps six or seven times we were both mentioned and thanked by name and at the beginning of the ceremony we were asked to stand and be recognized. It was rather odd because only a few of the students had met us for one visit to the school, but our thought is that they have plans to ask us for donations. My strategy will be to not overpromise and admit that we are both early in our respective careers but we will surely give some publicity in the US for the school and allow information for other people to make donations based on the good word of mouth they hear about this school in a recovering area. If there's two things I know it's how to decline to spend money I don't have and to spread enthusiasm for the things in life that I enjoy. In the end, neither of us were pressed for donations in any way.
There were so many speakers and at least three of them gave their speeches in Nepalese. These speeches seemed incredibly long, very impassioned, but incredibly long. A few students had chances to give speeches. My favorite was an awkward boy who had a strange, almost robotic voice. He rattled through his speech with very good pronunciation, then when he was done he got nervous and turned to the wrong side of the podium and jumped off the stage back to his seat. Additionally, the masters of ceremonies were two girls who had an incredibly monumental task of introducing everyone, giving speeches and appearing to memorize long portions and recite them very well, over the program that amassed about five hours.
After we had the prepared dinner at the end, there was promise of an extended informal program. We stuck around to see if we could see the additional dance and music routines but the sun was starting to go down and we needed to get back to our neck of the woods. We started waiting for the bus but we were not feeling comfortable for the time we had to wait so we flagged down a taxi who was able to drive us all the way back. Walking back to our apartment from the taxi, it was starting to get dusky and we felt very lucky that we had the sense to leave the graduation and safely trek back to the apartment.