I’ve spent the past eleven months, hopping all over the world. I’ve been having fun, but…
I hit a wall right around Ukraine and haven’t fully recovered to form. I’m mentally exhausted. You would think, walking across an entire country (Spain) would give me time to return back to my adventurous flair, but it wasn’t enough. If anything, it made me antsy to return home. But not home home, but rather to Pokhara, Nepal. I can’t say it enough—Nepal has occupied a giant chunk of my heart. That’s why I felt the desire to go back there for a while, before I continue on this quest to the seven continents.
Once I arrived in Kathmandu, my people in Sarangkot were messaging me like crazy! I swear I only told a couple of individuals that I was coming back, but it just goes to show how fast word spreads in the villages of Sarangkot Hill. I took a bus the next day to Pokhara where I was greeted by my “son” Samir and his fellow classmate Bishal. They came all the way down the mountain just to welcome me. I’ve trained them well.
To celebrate, I took them out for milkshakes and then to my local favorite reggae restaurant, Buzz Cafe. Later on, one of my Nepali brothers, UK, came down to welcome me. It’s only been three months since I last saw them, but as soon as I did, I knew I made the right decision in returning. I felt at home.
I taxi’d up the always-horrible roads up to Pandeli, one of the many villages in Sarangkot. It was now the rainy season and the roads were more beat up and muddier than before. Nearly impossible to drive through. My driver had to drop me off about half a kilometer early, because it was impossible to drive any further. As I walked down with my bags in tow, a little boy shouted out from a distance, “Give me sweet!”. I cringed. I recognized the boy from the school in Pandeli I taught at before. He’s the same kid who always and only asks me for sweets and nothing else. Not even a single polite ‘namaste’. I take a little blame for that. I may have bribed the younger classes a little too much with sweets in order to get them to calm the heck down. But I swear that one day, I will give him that “sweet” he consistently demands from me, except I’ll wrap a piece of cow poop in a candy wrapper and give it to him. If that doesn’t stop him from asking me, then I don’t know what will.
I walked down the muddy paths into Pandeli, with kids and random villagers saying hello and wishing me welcome upon my return. I walked half of the way basically in a small stream. This exact path was completely dry just three months ago! Not only that, this mountain was a lot more jungly. So wet. So humid. So muddy. Everything, taken over by green. Below, Phewa Lake was larger and darker than before. This version of Sarangkot felt more alive. It was a welcoming sight.
I normally stay with Aatma and his family, but this time I opted to stay with his brother Yam and his family; just for a little change, even though they are just a seven-minute walk from each other. Bindu, Yam’s wife, came to welcome me along with my other Nepali brother, DJ. Yam came a little later and helped settle me in. I then explained my prospects to them.
Yam and his wife, Bindu.
I usually come to Nepal with an agenda. The first time, almost three years ago, I came as a naive volunteer to help teach English at a primary school. The second time, in January 2017, I came back to fulfill a promise I made to the older classes. That promise was to take them on a field trip that they wouldn’t have to pay for. We did that and we had a lot of fun. This time however, I came with the purpose of just absorbing the culture even more and of course helping out at the school. Only I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore field trips. I took the students on a boatload of big and little trips last time, which my bank account showed for. Not this time.
Soon after settling in, I went down to Aatma’s to visit and noticed he expanded his place even more! He’s now built another kitchen and he made my old room even bigger! Where is he getting the funds to do all of this? The whole family was there: Aatma, Mina, Amish, and little Aakash. All except for Aatma’s teenage daughter, Amisha. “Where’s Amisha?” I asked. “She’s staying down with our uncle because she’s menstruating,” said Amish.
Oh, let me explain this.
So, if you’re a female on your period in Nepal, you are considered “unclean” and must be away from the rest of your family members. You can’t touch them, can’t even be more than a few meters away at all times. It’s especially worse when it’s their first time on their period. They are cast aside, essentially locked inside another room, far away from where the family resides. Like in a shed or something. They can’t even read or study while menstruating or otherwise they will upset the god of education among their many, many other gods. It’s totally superstitious, just like many other zany Nepali superstitions I’ve encountered here over the years. I’ve heard about this the very first time I came to Nepal, but I’ve never witness it happen, until now.
I visited Aatma’s neighbor, the home of Abishek, one of the class ten boys who lives just a couple minutes away.
Abishek and his classmate, Bhuvan.
As usual, I was greeted warmly and with black tea by his family. Normally Abishek’s mother or sister are the ones who serve me tea, but since they were on their menstrual cycle, they weren’t allowed to be anywhere near the kitchen. I found it amusing and rolled with it as Abishek did all the kitchen handling while the females kept their distance. Amused by what was happening, I casually began to whistle random tunes without thinking, and as I did, the two women of the household began speaking to him in Nepalese. I could tell they were speaking something about me.
“Dan, they are saying not to whistle,” Abishek told me.
He just smiled and it seemed like he couldn’t explain. That’s when I remembered someone telling me that whistling attracts ghosts or something like that.
“Oh, the ghosts,” I said, with a slight hint of mockery.
I began to whistle even more, just to see how they would react. All they did was attack me with smiles and laughs whenever I did.
Abishek lived just below my good friend, and fellow teacher, Shree Krishna (Caesar). I wanted to pay him a visit. As a matter of fact I would have seen him by now, but he’s been MIA. According to some of the talk of the villagers, the reason I haven’t seen Caesar yet is because of a plague of bad fortunes, accidentally committed by his mother and sister-in-law.
Shree Krishna (Caesar) and me during my birthday celebration last February.
“Did you hear, [Caesar’s] mother and sister crashed their car into a cow some days ago?” they would tell me.
“Ummm no?” I said
“It’s very bad.”
Very bad indeed. A cow is considered their sacred god…and they rammed into one that was standing on the road (which is actually pretty normal in this country)! From what I gathered, a string of bad luck was on its way to the family of those involved…which meant Caesar himself. Caesar’s brother, Arjun, took a motorbike to Kathmandu to follow respected Hindu figures…or something like that, to relieve their family of guilt, perhaps? Since then, Caesar’s mother has been suffering greatly from a serious lung cancer and since he is the only available one in the family, he has been escorting her back and forth to the most capable doctors all around the central lands of Nepal. After a couple weeks, I finally met up with Caesar at his home, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from Yam’s. But unfortunately, it was brief. While I was there, he received a phone call from Kathmandu telling him that his brother Arjun and his wife were involved in a near-fatal motorbike crash. Caesar, who JUST got back home to settle, had to rush all the way back to Kathmandu, to tend to his brother and his wife. While at the same time, Caesar’s mother still had pending operations where she needed Caesar to escort her. She was too old and fragile of doing it on her own.
Caesar constantly traveled back and forth about six hours each time between Pokhara and Kathmandu to tend to his brother and mother. Photo courtesy of Caesar.
I’m not superstitious in the slightest, but it is all a bit strange how all of these unfortunate events are happening right after they hit that cow in the street. By the way, Caesar’s family extends into Yam’s. Bindu is Caesar’s and Arjun’s sister, which means my brothers, UK and DJ, are their nephews. I don’t expect anyone reading this to actually follow the family trees of this village. It’s mostly for my own admission. Poor Caesar couldn’t catch a break. He had to leave his position at Bal Prativa Boarding School in order to support his ailing family.
Caesar was the maths and science teacher at the school. He also spoke English the best out of all the teachers. Sarmila, the usual English teacher I followed, was on maternity leave. It seems I came at a time where there were many gaps to fill at the school until Aatma could replace their two most qualified teachers.
A photo of most of the staff at Bal Prativa Boarding School, the school I help out at, taken last February. Three of the teachers have left, leaving a major hole in the student’s education.
I always enjoy having my own classes, but sometimes it can be a bit overbearing with the language barrier. The students generally understand me when I speak slowly enough, but then there was always a handful of students, forever lost in the cosmos. Also, I’m calling them out right now, Bal Prativa is full of sneaky little cheaters! It’s examination time (again) and it’s my role to act as a class officer to make sure everyone keeps quiet and doesn’t cheat. It’s way more difficult than it sounds. I had to pretend to record them on my phone and show it to principal Aatma if they continued talking.
I came to the conclusion that the majority of these students cheat, some more than others, and there was very little I could do to stop it. The other teachers weren’t too persistent about it. Once I came to that realization, I just let them be. It’s Nepal.
I didn’t realize how daunting the school situation was going to be this time around. Class ten will be studying for their major exams soon and they were without three of their teachers. The third one took up a job in South Korea doing God knows what. Aatma and Ashok (another teacher) relied heavily on me to continue where they left off from their books, not just with class ten but also with class nine, eight, seven, six, and sometimes five, four, and three, teaching English and Social Studies mostly. Then sometimes they’ll have me dabble in Science and Accounting. What the heck would they have done if I decided not to come back to Nepal so soon?! I gave it my all.
At this point, I still have not seen Amisha nor Caesar, though I have been in contact with Caesar at least. He has been busy, staying bedside at the hospital in Kathmandu, taking care of his brother and sister-in-law, because they were unable to do so themselves. They couldn’t even walk! That’s how bad it was, but Caesar remained diligent in handling the tasks between them and his ailing mother.
Whoever this “god of education” was, he or she put a massive workload on me, which I wasn’t expecting. Now, I don’t believe in any of this stuff but while in Nepal, I roll with it out of respect to everyone there. When I brought it up in class, one student told me that maybe the god of education sent me to Nepal to help while there are no other teachers.
“Maybe…”, I began. “But I think it’s just pure luck.”
She along with others began to snicker and say things to each other I couldn’t comprehend. It’s no secret to them that I don’t practice Hinduism, like most foreigners who visit this country, but it’s important for me to remain respectful and go along with it.
If anything, the god of education and all the lore that goes with it certainly does make life in Nepal interesting for me. Even the cattle have gone mad.
For better or for worse…