In the small village of Dumrikharka, perched up on a hill, not very much happens, and I feel this is the main attraction of the place. After leaving dirty, noisy and dusty Kathmandu, Ramechhap is literally a breath of fresh air. After a lovely bus ride, offering all the comforts you could want (the rear of all buses advertises free Wifi, air conditioning and comfortable seats, all of which are blatant lies!) you arrive in the small town of Manthali from which you will start the 2 hour (or three depending on your level of form and the weight of your pack) hike up a very steep hill. Once on top and trust me you will be happy to get there, you will be greeted by Ama and Buba, your host family, as well as Gita their daughter-in-law and her three lovely children. The view is gorgeous from the house, and on a clear day you can see in the distance some large mountains covered in snow.
Ramechhap living is rough to say the least: no running water and therefore no proper showers (there is a bucket, but please use the water sparingly as they have to carry it up the steep hill; you should be aiming for a shower a week max, bring wipes!), frequent power cuts, no internet (obviously), extremely hard beds and a family of rats that live in the ceiling and spend the night partying and procreating (if you have a choice, sleep in the first room; the ceiling is not a plastic tarp and you can hear them a lot less). I hope you love rice and vegetables because you will be eating nothing but… (I asked my host mother if she would consider making something else one evening and she looked at me as if I had gone insane) there is no store in the village, so I suggest you stock up on snacks for you (and the family’s children) to break the dhal bat routine. I had not done this my first week and would wake up at night dreaming about food, my mouth drooling… I never spent so long brushing my teeth; toothpaste was my dessert every night.
I know this sounds hard, and I had a similar reaction when I read other volunteers’ reports, but it is WORTH IT! So much that I decided to go twice during my stay, two weeks at a time. The host family, and especially Gita (the daughter-in-law) and her three children (Nikil, Kabita, and Rada) brought happiness to each and every day, and made me feel like a member of their family. I, and another volunteer who was with me the first two weeks, got very close to them and brought them back with us to Kathmandu for a couple of days of shopping and fine dining (Pizza Hut--the children had never had pizza!). If you are looking for the “authentic” Nepal experience, look no further; you will be completely immersed. Then again the host family is one of the richest in the village; they own land, many goats and cows, and are able to provide meals three times a day.
Not very much happens in Ramechhap, and you are completely disconnected from the world, which feels amazing. If you go there alone, bring books and start to get comfortable with the sound of your own thoughts; they can get very loud at times. The family speaks little English, if any at all. My most interesting conversation in two weeks was with my host mother debating whether or not chicken is tasty, after which she reluctantly conceded my point and returned to her favorite pastime of yelling at things, this time telling the little chicks to get the hell out of her kitchen lest she turn them in to momo. Despite this I never felt lonely, thanks to the three children, who once they had overcome their original shyness would not leave me alone for more than two minutes, requesting games and hugs, which I was always delighted to provide. If you wish to bring them toys, stick to games they can play together, and keep it simple… balls, jump ropes and Frisbees are a good idea and are more technologically advanced then anything they already have (Nikil, the boy, used to spend hours dragging around a piece of wood nailed to a beat up string; this was apparently the best thing ever).
The local school is a fifteen minute walk from the family house and is an interesting experience to say the least (or at least it was for me). The children are between 4 and 12 and are extremely friendly; however they have a VERY basic understanding of English, even in the highest class. Teaching them was frustrating at times. My first week, there was no blackboard, no schoolbooks and the children had nothing to write with, and spent most of the class running around, yelling and fighting each other. Do not hesitate to be firm (don’t go around slapping them; leave that to the other teachers. Keep your sanctions verbal, threatening them with getting kicked out of class and sent to the principal’s office is very effective) and impose yourself on the first day. The first impression you give them is the most important. My average class looked like this: between three and fifteen children per class, depending on whether their parents need them at home or not; most of the time the children forget their books at home and have nothing to write with; classes last between 45 minutes to an hour and a half (I have no idea what determines the length of the class, just go with the flow and the children’s level of attentiveness) and were usually split into half an hour of teaching and the rest of the time spent trying to get them to sit down and be quiet, or running around fetching them from other classrooms where what was being taught was apparently much more interesting. Again, this sounds rough but it is extremely rewarding when the children remember something from the lesson taught the previous day. Don’t get discouraged or angry at the children; they are very young and have very short attention spans and are for the most part adorable.
They have recently moved into a new building which we have just begun to decorate. Please continue this as the classrooms are almost empty and look a little gloomy. We had painted “CLASS 1, CLASS 2, CLASS 3” on the doors, but some little jokesters scratched off the “cl” on every door, so now they just say “ASS. This needs to be fixed as soon as possible if you can get your hands on paint.
A couple of essential words: “Mito” means tasty. Ama asked me if the food was good at every single meal, and I had to assure her ninety times in a row (thirty days, three times a day) that rice, potatoes and cauliflower are indeed tasty. “Pugio” means full; use this when she comes at you with a third or fourth serving of a mountain of rice. Also, when you feel you can eat no more, have another serving: rice will fill you up for about an hour after which you WILL get hungry. “Ramro” means good, I used it every morning to tell Ama she looked good, best to keep her happy!
All in all this was a fantastic experience and I will miss my Nepali family like crazy. Out of everything I have done here (trekking in Pokhara, hanging out in Kathmandu, teaching in Bigu), this was my favorite.
I hope I will have given you a little taste of what life is like in Ramechap and if you decide to go there please send all my love (my name is Balthazar) to the three little angels and their mother.