As chance would have it, i managed to get selected for the school Nepal trip. The actual trip Nepal side would be organised by MountainChild, an charity that the school has worked with before over the past few years. Previously the school have gone to remote mountainous areas (I thought that covered pretty much all of the country anyway) but the infrastructure, such that it is, is still recovering from the aftershock of the earthquake that occured pretty much this time last year.
We picked up the kids at Incheon airport. Organising 20 students, bags and goodies for the Nepali school took the full time required for checkin (no time to pick up Duty Free, hélas) and after an uneventful 7 hour flight (three films, so mediocre that I cannot remember any of them) we landed at the bustling airport (exaggeration) of Kathmandu. Herded on to two minibuses, we were shuttled to the MountainChild guesthouse for some Mo-mo's - a kind of local dumpling - and some sleep.
The school, Rising Star English Secondary school, was split into two locations after the earthquake damaged their existing building. We would be working in the upper school. the warm welcoming was awesome as it was spectacular. The Nepali students were in traditional dress. Each one of us were given a silk scarf thing and we were lead to our seats by primary school kids and then presented with a show of traditional dance in the school grounds. The effort that their school made put us to shame, with a lackluster improvised performance of Gangman Style k-pop.
When. i say School Grounds, what I really meant to say was Building Site. Flanked by a building under construction (with no lintels) built with polystyrene bricks, and another completed but barren unit on the adjacent side where the classes are held, the site was a sight to behold. The students were dancing on tarpaulin sheets covering bricks and soil. This was to become the playground and basketball pitch. At the far end of the triangle were foundations for a third block (this time built in brick) and in the corner, squat toilets with no running water.
The format of the school days were pretty much the same. Our students would run classes in the morning, with sports in the afternoon. Two other projects involved painting murals on the finished building block and preparing the outside area for the basketball court. We were divided up into 4 groups - Art, Music, Sports and Medical. Yours truly was chosen to lead the Music group. None of us knew what to expect, certainly not on the first day and so, in true teacher style, our students improvised with groups of Nepali students their own age.
Each day would see us with different and increasingly younger students. Conditions were difficult what with the heat, noise and dust, very few resources and not knowing how many students we would end up with in cramped classrooms. What was evident, however, was that the students took up the challenge and lead fun, interesting activities... And even got me to "dance" in front of them all.
Not knowing class sizes was problematic but more so for the Sports team, who, on the first day, cleared and levelled the ground adjacent to the school and ended up with 108 kids on the second... In a space not even half the size of a football pitch. Anything organised went straight out of the window as an angry tenant started beating students with branches for fear of her crops being trampled. The Nepalis were happy just to play with soccer balls, hoops and skipping ropes, kicking up even more dust into an air saturated with the stuff. On other days we migrated to another area outside of school, past improvised street cricket pitches (stumps made with bricks which were not in short supply) and the army trying to get branches out of overhead cables with other branches.
Over the four days in school, the medical team taught basic hygiene, and the artists painted on walls and faces. The latter was especially popular, with a never ending line of students. The grounds were cleared of litter only for more to be placed as the bedrock was brought in. Bedrock in this instance would consist of bricks, ceramic from sinks, floor tiles.... In a city devastated by the earthquake, what else could you do with broken homes but to rebuild? A truly thought provoking moment. Over the city, rebuilding is going on, with daily hard (manual) labour of moving soil and brick to more useful places. But oh boy... The dust!
By saturday, everyone was totally zonked. Saturdays in Nepal are rest days, so there is no school, and people go and buy meat instead of Daal Phat for their meals. We were invited (still in our teams) to family homes. In our case it was a one room house for 4 people ... Lit by one small LED light during the regular, planned power outages (Nepal have rolling blackouts every day). Despite the obvious difference in standards of living between Korean (and western) cultures to those in Nepal, we were welcomed with open arms and showered with gifts. perhaps those with less will give more? In any case it just continued to show the warm nature of the Nepali people.
We also walked to a local temple, damaged by the 'quake, opposite a site where an entire building crumbled taking 50-70 souls with it. Sobering.
Dust. Did I mention the dust? Time to escape it. That afternoon we returned to the airport for a short hop to Pokhara. 6 hours by road, this would only take 25 minutes in a Jetstream 41.
A great flight. as the plane stuck itself above the clouds at 10000 feet we could see the Himalayas in the mid distance... And above us. There are many peaks (not only Everest, to the East) over 8000m ... Or 26000 feet, so the sight was spectacular.
As was the landing, flying down the valley and turning to port late during finals to land at a fast rate of knots on a local airstrip. There are lots of these local flights, run by companies with great names. We flew Yeti Air. next time I'll have to try Bhudda Airlines.
Pokhara. A welcome change. Green fields in place of brown dust. We literally took over a hotel as the only guests.
We went for a little boat trip around the lake which would have splendid views of the mountains were it not for the cloud. This was followed by a local Nepali masala tea in a hotel which also had a great view of the lake and... Presumably, mountains.
We were there for one night but i dont know if it was worth using the hotel as we only slept for less than 4 hours. Wake up at 4h15 for an early morning bus so that we could walk to the local viewpoint to watch the sun rise over the impressive mountain range. Or rather a kind of glow through the mist of an early sunday morning. Still, it was pleasant enough and by 7am, we wandered back down, drove down the mountain and had breakfast before heading back out to return to Kathmandu.
The afternoon involved wandering around the historic part of town that was heavily affected by the earthquake. Temples and palaces and some wonderful architecture along brick paved roads. Many of the remaining buildings are now braced but the main temple only lost one or two bricks. Had a great meal (daal phat) overlooking the square before visiting the royal palace... Which did not fare well at all. An hour after a large meal, it was apparently time for lunch in a Korean restaurant. I declined at this point but it definately proved popular for the kids who ate very well!
Two days out of school and the adventure nearly at an end, we returned the next day to Rising Star for the closing ceremony. What a difference a week makes. Half of the outside area was now paved and so some basketball was played without any risk of irate, branch wielding locals. The students had prepared a local Nepali song and dance which was very well received. Unfortunately, two other dances had to be abandoned due to illness, but the thought was there. Yet more gifts were given, farewells were made but with a promise to return.
After another aggressive drive through town where you aim at people to miss them... Just... (The idea of driving on the left appears to be optional) we arrived at the airport, said goodbye to our guides, and had an uneventful, quiet, nighttime flight back to Korea. The nighttime lightning in the clouds was spectacular as I drifted off to sleep against the sound of 'This Strange Engine'
Nepal, i will see you again
Rising Star School
Kathmandu (Old Town)