Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Visitors to Sam's House

I met Ketrin and Heather at the Pokhara airport, overhearing their American accents, and struck up a conversation. I asked them if they wanted to visit an orphanage, gave them my Pokhara phone number and honestly didn't expect to hear back because they were going on a trek and travel plans in Nepal frequently tend to get re-arranged, re-scheduled, etc.

Lo and behold, five days later Heather called and said they were ready to visit. I picked them up at their hotel and they spent the afternoon at Sam's House. It was a great time. The children had a ball.

The best kind of guests--those bearing gifts. Heather and Ketrin brought snacks and pencils for all the children. Indreni coached them through the receiving process. "My name is Binita Bhandari. Thank you, ma'am."

Sarita teaches Heather a hand-pat game.

The whole gang. It rained so we didn't get to play in the yard but the children entertained us with dancing, story telling and jokes. Heather and Ketrin taught the children how to do the hokey-pokey.

Ketrin making fast friends with Mina, Pushpa, Pratima and Binita.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pics from Sam's House

Indreni conducts the daily hair check during playtime, after homework is finished.

The house from the street. Check out the new sign with logo.

Sabita and Sarita on the sofa doing homework.

Santosh, Dhiraj, Amrit, Pratima and Saran on the slide.

Bishal on the playground. It's Bishal's world; you're just living in it.

School Times

School resumed today for the first time in a week and a half. It was quite exciting to watch the routine. I arrived just after breakfast, having spent the night at the Rajbhandaris. The children were upstairs in the study room doing lessons prepared by Kamal, the house tutor. Once those were completed, it was time to dress which was like watching people flee a burning building, but at the end, everyone was perfectly dressed and ready for school. We arrived at the bus stop 10 minutes early.

I wanted to go along on the bus ride this morning. As the only volunteer, however, my presence tends to be more disruptive than helpful. For that reason, I drew names from a hat deciding who I would hold hands with on the walk to the bus stop and sit with on the bus. Saran and Suroj were today's winners. And, Dinesh carefully explained, they will not be eligible for future drawings (and will have to pay taxes on all winnings, etc, etc.) So, please, people reading this, come visit. It's too much pressure for one person. Sam's House wants you.

The bus was packed and the teachers are already on board to monitor behavior. The school is beautiful, just like the pictures. The classrooms are clean and lively and the children seem to love it there.

Most of our children are in either lower or upper kindergarten. I'm unsure what separates the two. A few are in nursery school and three others in class 1.

In the morning tumult, Sushma remains collected.

Dinesh helps Sarita with her shoes. Mary Janes, freshly polished.

The morning hair queue.

Indreni conducts the hankie check.

Pratima's school ID badge. Every child wears one.

The official school pin for Gorkha English Boarding School.

Kamal, the house tutor, walks to the bus stop with the children. He arrives before school to monitor the study time and then comes again after school to guide them through homework.

Sushma returned from the store and passed the bus stop on the way back to the house.

Sarita on the bus. Looking studious.

The entrance to the school.

Activity in the hallways. The director of the school gave me a tour. They have an excellent computer room and they're are setting up a wireless network so that the children can get on-line from home. I'm not quite clear how this works but it's related to a large antenna on the roof.

Morning assembly. There's roll call and then a series of sing-along songs, followed by some light calisthenics, though shortened today because of the heat.

Rina is the only one home during the day, living the life of Riley. The whole place to herself and all the toys. Absolutely lives to be chased. Taps your hamstring and bolts away shrieking.

Walk to Sarangkot

A walk to Saragkot isn't actually correct but we did walk in that direction and up many hills to a point where we could observe all of Pokhara.

Yesterday was the tenth day in a row at home for the children and everyone was getting restless. I offered to take the bigger kids for a walk in the late morning as the heat would have been too much for the younger ones. So Dinesh set the cutoff line at Mina, Maya, Babit, Dhiraj and Amrit.

There was great preparation for the outing. The boys changed into dressier shirts and the girls switched from their daily kurtas to clean ones. Indreni dabbed the girls' foreheads with black tika and gave them shawls to wear, even though it was at least 93 degrees. Everyone also brought along a handkerchief--to stanch the flow of sweat from the brow.

It was only a two mile walk but sharply uphill. We stopped often for refreshments which were gladly received. They complained a little bit about the heat and their aching feet ("Chris Sir, mero khutta dukhyo") but once we could see the top of the hill they took off running, incredibly sure-footed and nimble in their sandals. That never ceases to amaze.

The hill was graciously windy at the top and we could see the entire town below. The kids ran in circles and up and down, jumping off any sort of precipice they could find. They asked to have their pictures taken, planning different poses for each shot. It was really great to see them rush to each side of the hill for the new view and collectively trying to identify landmarks.

From this vantage point we could see the room where Amrit used to live (see February 2007). He was showing it to the others. Dinesh has pointed out that the children don't like to talk about their homes or where they used to live. They don't have fond memories.

Stopping for Coke. Good times. Later we drank "Frooty" mango juice. Mina told me they prefer it to Coke. "Frooty"--ask for it by name.

Trying to located Sam's House from the top of the hill. You can actually see it from here just barely. If you trace up from the space between Babit and Dhiraj's heads you can see two red roofs side by side. Sam's House is in the group of smaller buildings directly in front of that.

Maya, Babit, Amrit, Dhiraj and Mina. Maya, Babit and Dhiraj are in class 1 and Amrit and Mina are in upper kindergarten, or, as they like to say U-K-G (you-kay-zhee).

And a quick work about Mina. She is nine and still in kindergarten, never having gone to school regularly before. Today I saw her in school and she was the tallest girl in her line by far. She came with two siblings, Saran and Rina. Their mother left them at the house and left to look for "work" and didn't return. In their village they had been living in a cowshed and, Dinesh tells me, incredulously, "It wasn't even their cowshed!" Anyhow, Mina is the most likable, friendly girl you'll ever meet. It's really pretty amazing how congenial she is.

Imitating Hindi dance moves from a Bollywood film--any Bollywood film. They all have a rural dance scene.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

House Looks Great

I arrived on Friday morning; Dinesh picked me up in the Maruti Gypsy, a sweet ride.

We went back to his house because the children were taking their afternoon nap. After lunch we walked over to the house. They were still waking up so I got to walk around the bedrooms and introduce myself. It was so great to finally put people with the pictures.

We had snacks of puffed rice and french fries. Then we went upstairs to play until the sun went down a little and it cooled off a bit. Then we went outside to play in the yard. Got to teach the children Red Light/Green Light (after considerable effort in getting the rules across in Nepali to five year olds), but called it "Hariyo (green)-Raato (red)" instead. Took turns carrying the children on my shoulders and ended the evening with a vigorous game of hot potato. I was in a full sweat by the time the rain came just before dinner.

The children are beautiful and happy and affectionate and so full of energy. It's sweet to see how they've bonded already, which is not to say there aren't some occasional disagreements over who was playing with what first. But enough of the talk, here are some pictures.

Most of the whole gang, minus Sarah, Santosh and Rina. We'll get a better group picture later.

Puffed rice, french fries and tea for 16.

Bishal enjoying his meal.

Snacks in the afternoon, before play time in the yard.

Tara combs Binita's hair before breakfast.

Watching Tara, Mina takes care of Pratima.

Though schools have been on strike for a week, after breakfast, the children do a little study with the help of lessons prepared by the in-house tutor, Kamal, who comes during the week. Here Sarita and Mamata look over their notebooks.

Saran, Amrit and Babit grab their towels for Saturday cleaning.

Binita waits her turn.

Maya helped the didis with the showers for the younger ones and got a faceful of suds.

Pushpa cleaning her fingernails after a shower.

Amrit freshly showered and cutting an imposing figure. Given his life experience (see February 2007) he couldn't be a sweeter child.

Saturday is also clothes washing day--the hard way. Sushma and Tara did a couple bucket's worth in less than two hours.

Sarita (reclined), Mina, Sabita, Binita and Pushpa enjoying a video.

Maya and Bishal relaxing on the floor, watching a video.

The schools have been on strike for a full week now and it does not appear the situation will be rectified soon. The school week starts tomorrow and Dinesh has not heard anything from GEBS.

It's also been very hot, making the children restless no matter what the source of entertainment. That's made for challenging times but the house staff is doing great. They seem really happy and the children adore them.

I hope you liked the photos. They are because of you. These children are so happy, starting to live normal lives without fear of hunger or mistreatment, going to school, plenty of friends, plenty of play, plenty of hugs and love. You made a huge difference in the lives of these children.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Training

Namaste! Not much to report yet--at least from Sam's House. I'm leaving for Pokhara on Friday, leaving Jen and Priti to their project in KTM. They'll stay here another two weeks, visiting children's homes in Dhapasi and Godavari. After that they'll do research in Pokhara and finally Jen will get to visit Sam's House.

I've been talking to Dinesh everyday. The school strike is still on so all the children have been home all day and it's been scorching hot. Dinesh has been racking his brain to find activities to keep them occupied and without breaking his budget. I think a water balloon fight is in order, but I need to check with the director first.

Yesterday Jen and Priti hit the streets for their research preparation by practicing participant observations. First we went to the Kathmandu Mall (six stories, food court, supermarket, designer clothes on the cheap) but it wasn't opening until 11a and we arrived at 9:30a. Foreigners!!! So we walked back to Thamel (where else?) and they did their observations from a second floor restaurant perched above the Thamel Chowk.

On the way to Thamel, Priti led us along backstreets and pointed out interesting features that we'd never notice without a guide. There was a Hindu statue that was the god of dentistry. It was covered with pennies that had been secured with nails. The belief was that if you nailed a penny to the statue, your procedure would go well or your check-up would be cavity-free. And not surprisingly, around this square, you could see at least eight dentistry offices.

(Speaking of dentistry, Dr. Jeffrey Hauger in Morris donated a box of toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to Sam's House. Really great.)

She showed us the apartment of an astrologer that her mother regularly consulted. He once told her that Priti would elope at the age of 18. Her mother was nervous about this and kept a close eye on her for the year. Of course it did not happen much to the family's relief.

After the observation practice, Jen and Priti went to Child Welfare in Nepal offices to collecting any existing data on orphanages. And that was pretty much the day. A good day.


The Thamel Chowk

Priti Shresta

Writing up the field notes.

Discussing their field notes.

Scenes from Airport Purgatory

I don't have any real affinity for these pictures but since I bothered to take them. From the Delhi airport...