Saturday, February 03, 2007

House Mother Interviews

So we had house mother/sister interviews today at the orphanage. We set up in the director’s office, on the new cane furniture. I didn’t know what to expect, naturally. The interview committee was me, Dinesh, Rekha, and Shova (a Nepali trustee and lawyer). We sorted through questions to ask and they thought it was important that everyone ask something, so they gave me the easy ones that I could say in Nepali…

Tapaaiko ghar kahaa chha? (Where is your house?)
Ko kosanga basnubhayo? (Who do you live with? You can ask this in Nepal.)
Tapaai bihaa bhayo? (Are you married? Ditto.)

Some of the other questions, the real ones, were…

Why do children cry?
What is your experience working with children?
What constitutes a healthy food diet?
What are the most important things for a child to learn?
You will be working with children from all different backgrounds and castes. Would that be a problem for you?

One applicant canceled yesterday, so we had six interviews to conduct today. Shova had recruited the first two women we interviewed through her work doing free legal advocacy for women. Another trustee, Major Chandra Bahadur Pun, brought the last two interviewees, one was a true applicant from the newspaper ad, and the sixth was referred by the Single Women’s Association.

Of course, I couldn’t follow these interviews word for word, but I could follow the topics and the general attitudes about each. So what follows here is a recording of only general impressions mixed with some post-interview observations shared by Dinesh and Rekha.

The first girl was Kiran Malla, unmarried and without children. She was really shy and soft-spoken but the most educated applicant: a bachelor’s degree in business. She was very obviously nervous, fiddling with her purse and shoulders hunched forward. It quickly became clear that she didn’t know exactly what to expect of the job, or that she was so overcome with nerves that she couldn’t fabricate responses.

The second woman was Sushma Bhurtel. She was 24 years old and unmarried and for some reason moving from house to house in her family. She made a very deferential Namaste before entering the room. Her answers were quick and developed, and even though she doesn’t have a child, it was clear she knew a lot about working with children. She admitted that her cooking skills were limited (joking that she could cook water) but thought it wouldn’t be a problem to learn more. Everyone responded to her positively. Her education level is the eighth grade (D and R were hoping for college or HS grads) but they seemed to think she was very intelligent despite the lack of formal schooling.

The third woman was the only true applicant via the newspaper ad—Indreni Shresta. Dinesh spoke to her on the phone last week. She explained that she was 31 years old, widowed and had a five year old boy. She said she was so desperate for work that she would leave her son with her parents and work in the orphanage. She didn’t even want the money directly and said we should send her salary to her parents. So I was expecting someone rather sad-looking to walk in but instead she was really funny and very easy to laugh. Some of her answers were a bit vague and not serious enough for the interview committee’s liking, but they did like her personality and thought it would be a good mix with children.

The fourth woman, midway through the interview, said she would not take the job if offered because it didn’t pay enough. She had just finished training to be a trekking guide. She took the interview to measure the potential income. Just as well for everyone.

The fifth woman, Sita Koirala, was older with two grown children. The Major had asked her to interview and he sat in. She had experience working with another NGO called Children Nepal though it didn’t require childcare. Since longevity and constancy are two hiring priorities, I think the committee was worried she wouldn’t keep the job very long. Plus, her salary expectations, if we had gotten that far, would probably have been too high.

The sixth and final applicant, Dil Kumari Pijapun, came with her mother (it might’ve been grandmother) from her village the day before, about a 3 hour bus ride. She’s recently divorced and has an eight year old boy. They live with her brother and sister-in-law. Her family are distant relatives, I think, of the Major and he suggested she interview. When she walked in I was stunned; she looked no older than 18, and it was quickly clear that she was a reluctant applicant. Her answers, when she gave one, were barely audible. After a few minutes of nonresponse, the Major started prompting her along and then answering for her altogether. She just didn’t seem to understand what the job might entail, the work expectations, the pay, and, after a while, she just kind of stared at the ground. I think she was totally mortified and overwhelmed. The Major relented and mercifully ended the interview. I just kept thinking about her circumstance—divorced, jobless, with child and only sixth grade education, living in a rural village with her brother and unlikely to get remarried because of her divorce. And then dragged here for embarrassment in front of relatively well-to-do Nepalis and a bideshi. And it’s no one’s fault—the Major was only trying to find something for her. Ideally she was someone we’d like to help through employment but she we were unable to discover whether she would be able to perform the job. It was, if I haven’t described it well enough, pretty heartbreaking.

So the hiring committee decided on Sushma for house mother and Indreni for house sister. They’re essentially the same job but house mother is the higher ranking staff member. D and R and Shova liked Sushma’s maturity and practical answers. They liked Indreni as well but feared that she might be a little flaky. Plus, I think there’s some lingering concern about her son. Personality-wise they seem quite opposite which could be a good mix.

There is a third hire, Tara, who currently works for the Rajbhandaris during the day with cleaning, child care and washing. Another heartbreaker—she lives with her son and husband in a one room flat behind the Rajbhandari’s old apartment. Tara’s husband does not talk to her. He married Tara (his second marriage) because his mother wanted a grandchild and now wants nothing to do with her. She doesn’t move out because she would lose the flat. She’s only 25. Nonetheless, the good Rajbhandaris knew that she could use the extra work and pay. She’ll come to Sam’s House during the day to clean and help with other chores.

Shova’s going to do background checks tomorrow and we’re hoping to make job offers by Monday with training at Namaste House to begin on Tuesday. The house mother/sister, if they accept the jobs, will do four days of observation there and then have some direct training with Rekha. After that we’ll begin admitting children. Of course, there’s always a hitch and we’re expecting one, so check back.

This week the furniture will be delivered, we’ll buy some appliances, and Rekha, as board chair, will go to KTM to complete our final registration with the Social Welfare Council. This registration should be relatively simple and straight-forward compared to the one we had in Pokhara. It also means that Dinesh and I will be bachelors for three nights with Ritesh in tow. Like all good Dads everywhere, Rekha says Dinesh has a tendency to go out for dinner when she’s not home to cook.


Yesterday Dinesh wanted a haircut. All the barbers operate in these extremely small spaces, and are usually run by Indians, though, Dinesh tells me, they always say they’re from the Terai because if they say they’re from India, some Nepalis will discriminate.

These barbershops also give old-fashioned shaves, which I’ve always wanted to get but was a little scared. Dinesh insisted they were fine and we went to get groomed together. My shave (waterless, yes) was excellent. The barber used a straight-razor and something that smelled like Lilac Vegetal with foaming soap. Between strokes, he cleaned his razor of foam and stubble by running it along a square of newspaper. Still, Dinesh said this was fine so I relaxed. After the first shave, comes a second with a different, I presume, sharper razor. Then the face massage—about two minutes of kneading my head and pinching my eyebrows with his fingers. This is topped off by a cold cream rub. Frankly, I looked great. Truly, it was an excellent shave. And it cost 10 rupees, or about 18 cents. I tipped 10 rupees and I’m going back later this week. Dinesh’s cut was good too (20 rupees) and now he looks like Jean-Claude Van Damme circa Bloodsport.

So, things continue to go well here in the world’s only (and soon to be last) Hindu kingdom. Life is good.

Love to all, CB

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