Whilst I was trekking there had been a national teachers strike and the school had been closed for the entirety of my time away.Strikes, of any magnitude, are very unusual in the UK but are a common occurrence in Nepal.Road closures are particularly frequent and on such occasions it is pleasant, and slightly eerie, to walk down the empty streets safe from the chaos of the traffic.These Banda's (strikes) can be triggered by a myriad of grievances and seem to be a first rather than last resort.
A two week vacation for most English children would trigger mass celebrations but the students of the school and orphanage were keen to return to their studies and after intense pressure from parents the strike was called off.We were able to get straight back down to the big issues including human rights, dreams, pollution, Egyptian mythology and cursive writing.Anyone who has seen my handwriting, especially under time pressure, will know I am definitely not the person who should be teaching this subject so I just hope I haven't caused any irreparable damage.
During my time at the school I made friends with some of the schoolteachers and ended up socialising with them on occasions.Considering they were educated people, and I'm referring to the men here, their conversations were often of a very un-intellectual nature.I think they assumed as Brits are very liberal in action that we would be happy to talk about anything and everything lewd and personal.Some of the questions they asked me were really inappropriate but I was rather amused at how keenly they awaited my response.Baffled at the preconception they seemed to have of young British males I was enlightened when I read, in the English language newspaper The Kathmandu Post, an article entitled 'Alcohol and Drug Abuse by Young People Leads to British Sexual Health Crisis'.The chorus of 'Rule Britannia' stirred up inside me.
One teacher was able to take me to some of the historically and culturally interesting places in Kathmandu and had a useful knack of finding the side entrances so I didn't have to pay the over-priced tourist entry fees.I say over-priced in order to justify my actions.We also headed to a great blues bar just outside the centre of Kathmandu and I enjoyed a bottle of Everest with the drummer of Nepal's top rock band, you may have read about it in OK or Hello.He left the bar on his push-bike, so rock'n'roll!
As the rains began to fall on Nepal the paddy-fields surrounding the orphanage became flooded transforming the place into an island.One evening I was returning to the orphanage in the evening and I could not see anything.In the end I took my flip-flops off and waded ankle deep through the mud and barely kept my balance on a number of occasions.I was also left powerless to stop the ultimate exercise in futility each day.The children took great pride in cleaning their school shoes every morning so seeing them muddy within five minutes was always slightly sad.
Finally it came to the time when I had to say goodbye to the school.Though I enjoyed teaching I wasn't too upset to put down my board marker and bid farewell to my short-lived career in education.I did feel sad to say farewell to the pupils and staff though and they had been so kind to me and made my experience enjoyably memorable.I was given a garland of flowers by the students and a circle of red tikka was placed on my forehead.There were then speeches by senior staff and it came to my turn to speak.I wanted to produce some inspirational and enlightened words for everyone but could only come up with 'follow your dreams' which, given previous conversations with some of the male staff, was probably not the soundest advice.
Days later I was to say my final farewell to the children at the orphanage.From as early as the first week I was concerned by the affect that leaving after two months would have on the children.As the day approached I was apprehensive and asked one of the orphanage workers to explain the circumstances of my departure in Nepali to avoid any misunderstanding.In the end it went really well and the children were happy about having had a good time.I knew I would miss them but I'm so glad I didn't upset them.
On my return flight I was incredibly lucky to get a north facing window seat on the plane.It was also a clear day so the views of the Himalayas were totally breath-taking and I could see all the way to the arid landscape of Tibet.
When I look back at my time in Nepal my enduring memory is the people.They are so friendly, genuine and hospitable and I feel honoured to have had the chance to meet some of them and spend time getting to know their culture.They are incredibly kind and would always go out of their way to assist you in any way.I also enjoyed the inclusivity of their culture and it was a pleasure to see how harmoniously different religions co-existed.
However, when I think about the future of Nepal I can't help but feel concerned.Unemployment sits at around 40%, GDP per capita is under $400 and many young children, particularly in rural areas, have little or no access to education.The peace process is in a precarious situation and I feel if the Maoists do not get the changes they are agitating for then they will renew hostilities with the rest of the government.Many ordinary Nepali are exasperated by the government and the current political situation and I felt moved seeing them resolutely getting on with their lives.I just hope Nepal learns to govern itself properly and utilise the resources and incredible landscape it has been blessed with because it is a truly amazing country.
Just thought I'd mention that the orphanage owner Raju also runs his own trekking company and uses the vast majority of the profits to help improve the welfare of the orphans.Excuse the shameless plug but if anyone is thinking of trekking in Nepal and wants to use a company that makes a difference then you can check out www.nepaltravels.com.
Anyway, I have now returned to the UK and I am earnestly working at recovering the 20 pounds I lost while living on daal bhaat (rice and vegetables).I'm also beginning the process of job hunting so I should have plenty to keep me busy at present.
Right, I'm off to eat some pies and update the CV.