What Stands Out?

Two weeks in a village high up in the Himalayas teaching English:  squat toilets, no wifi, heat, or hot water and it’s cold. The small house was two rooms constructed of cinder block. I shared with a host family. I slept in a room that was accessed by a ladder, my bed, an elevated board with heavy blankets. Three buses and an hour trek up the side of a mountain. I was the second westerner to come to this village: I didn’t speak the language, they stared, I smiled.

Can I do this, I told myself.  Do your best do your best, became my chant when questioning why I’d come.

I have always wanted to do some sort of volunteer work.  25 years ago I feel in love with Nepal and had always wanted to come back.  Then I discovered Michael Hess and Nepal Orphans Home and it seemed like a good place to start. Reading about the host families and rural settings sounded interesting, but not for me, I thought. And yet that is where I found myself, completely unprepared. Not only had I never taught English before, I had never lived for any extended length of time in such third world conditions.  Completely ill prepared, just do your best just do your best.

My host family had two boys, ages 10 and 12, who spoke some English. I had made the very wise decision of bringing badminton. Immediately a connection was established.  The kids in the village and I played everyday, several times a day. I’m good too!

I felt completely ineffective as a teacher; I forgot the P in the alphabet, couldn’t remember any songs, and ended up playing hangman. I was like a substitute teacher, only this one from a different culture who doesn’t speak the language. It was mayhem; I had to fight back tears in the beginning. Yet all the kids would say, “Madam, come to my class, come to my class, today you come.”

So, of course I went to every class, but was at a loss when I got there. These beautiful, eager, dirty, poor children wanted to learn. When I could finally say, ”Sit down and be quiet,” and “You are very good,” in Nepali, they clapped!

In one class a boy was so eager to read and learn more English words, that when the others would act up, he’d say, with authority, “BE SILENT,” and they would. He would nod at me to proceed. This beautiful, bright boy is 10 years old. 

Something was beginning to happen to me. I no longer needed my chant of just do your best. I began to feel something stir deep within me.

One very difficult part was having no time to myself.  From the moment I woke up to the time I went to bed, I was pulled in many directions. Badminton, endless cups of tea and enormous bowls of rice; when I pleaded, “No more rice,” I was given noodles and potatoes.  After school one little girl would grab my hand and say, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” Having no idea where I was being led, I never got very far until another child would intervene, and say, “No no no, you come.”

 I always ended up playing badminton until it got dark. I’d go back with my host family’s boys and have more rice. Several other children would come over and do their homework and then we would all play cards until I was utterly exhausted. Sleeping was the time I got to myself, and I slept very well up there, soundly and warm.

I found myself looking forward to going to school, probably for the first time in my life. These dirty, poor, runny nosed kids where capturing my heart. Their sweet smiles--happiness in their eyes when they saw me, my happiness back seeing them--were filling up my heart. I was falling in love with these kids, their essence, their beauty, their desire to learn. Their beautiful, sweet faces, some with ill fitting, dirty school uniforms, girls with bows in their hair, boys with ties, processed a beauty I had not seen before. They gathered around me like bees to honey and I loved it.  I loved how my mind seemed to silence and become still, almost peaceful. With the majestic Himalayas as a back drop, I felt myself becoming a part of the village, no longer stared at, but greeted.  The grandmother of my host family, a beautifully aged woman, with a face etched by time and emotion would come around and just stand and watch me. I’d just smile at her, and say Namaste.

When it came time for me to leave, I could not hold back the tears. The morning of my departure I was given garlands and handfuls of flowers. The kids looked sad. The teachers at school were sad. Then I saw the tears in the eyes of the grandmother who had never spoken a word to me, and we embraced. She said in Nepali (which was translated for me), “Come back, come back, bring her back.” I felt emotion from a place I never had before, a love that needed no words and had no barriers of race, language, religion, nationality.

 So, after two weeks high up in a Himalayan village what stands out? Love--one I hadn’t known before.