Wednesday, 22 March 2017

#13 Eat fast, walk slow

Classroom at the women's school in Kirtipur

Kathmadu stretches out like a mass of crumbling brick coloured Lego pieces
On Sunday I was whisked away on Deven's 'scooty' as they adorably call scooters here, to my host family's home in a 'village' 40 minutes away from Kathmandu called Kirtipur.

When I heard the word village I had two images that kept popping up in my mind. One seems now a ridiculously idealistic image of a serene, remote setting with a river, thatched huts, snow capped mountains in the back ground and goats and chickens running wild.

The other was a gloomier image of a dark, cold tin shack crammed in amongst other dark, cold tin shacks in the city with no running water, no power and definitely no WiFi. What I got was something inbetween.

Ganga didi and her husband Dilip live with Dilip's mother Ama in a six storied, modest, typical Nepali house. They have no children and rent out the lower rooms to university students.

The kitchen looks like any standard kiwi kitchen except with very different ingredients in the cupboards and a gas cooker instead of a stove. And there is even WiFi! It's slow but it's there. There is running water most of the time but it's cold and there is no shower.

Washing involves crouching under a tap whilst steam rises off YOUR body. Normally the warmest thing in the shower is the water - not the person showering!

The view from my room is like a real life version of those treasure hunt books we had as kids. You know the ones where you have to find all the different items in the photo?

There is so much going on and something new is happening every time you look outside. It might be a mother bathing her baby on the roof top, a girl sitting on a balcony brushing her hair, a crow surveying the town from the window sill or a pack of dogs rummaging through the rubbish below.

From the rooftop Kathmandu looks like piles of crumbling brick coloured Lego. Many of the houses are half finished with some of the older ones becoming unihabitable after the 2015 earthquake.

Ganga is the principal of the school I am volunteering at which is called Kirtipur Grihine Mahila Bidhyalaya. It is a 'private' (private in the fact that it isn't government funded rather funded by charity grants) school for women over the age of 14 who have never had the chance to go to school. Most were too busy looking after siblings and later husband's and children.

The school is only a short walk away from Ganga didi's home and we quickly fell into a routine. It's the first time I've had routine since I left my job in early February so it was both nice and mundane at the same time.

Ganga didi makes daal bhat, the national dish of lentils and rice, twice a day every day. Once in the morning and once at night.

She is in her last year of a law degree so each morning she attends college from 6-9.30am. She then comes home and we eat daal bhat together before walking to school which starts at 11am until 2.30pm. After school we walk into town and eat lunch at a cafe or pick up some groceries before coming home and resting until it's time for daal bhat again at 8pm.

"You know something Ayla," she said to me one night after having obviously observed me for a couple of days.

"Westerners walk fast and eat slow. In Nepali culture we walk slow and eat fast."

Right on the money!

At first teaching was terrifying. The next day I felt a bit more confident and now I'm beginning to look forward to it. The women don't speak much English which means I'm left out of most conversations but I try not to mind.

I learn a few more words in Nepali each day and slowly, slowly (bistari, bistari) Nepali life is starting to make sense.

It's a good, grounding experience to be the odd one out. To be the idiot who doesn't know even the simplest things like how to feed myself with my right hand, how to communicate or do other things that Nepali people take for granted.

I feel like a child again - following Ganga didi around so I don't get lost in the endless maze of avenues and alleyways that make up Kirtipur neighbourhood and asking 101 questions, trying to make sense of this muddled world I've stumbled into.

Ganga didi told me Nepal is still recovering from years of being a dictatorship. After that they had a royal family for a bit until finally Nepal became a democracy about 27 years ago. Nepal was one of the few countries to have a communist party voted in back in the 90's.

The earthquake no doubt set them back a few years too.

The poverty is very noticeable but the saddest thing I've come to realise is that we have some of the same conditions back home. Even though New Zealand has nowhere near the level of corruption that Nepal has, things still aren't great especially in poorer parts like Northland, and the gap between the rich and poor is increasing at an alarming rate.

Although it's in our national psyche to chime 'we don't know how lucky we are mate' whenever anyone complains, I don't think accepting that comparatively being lucky, is the way to go. We need to raise the bar because, looking around Nepal, the bar is set very low.

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