Monday, June 30, 2008

And Some of the Rest

We had photo day a couple weeks ago at SH. Here are a few samples and some other pics from the visit. We're now in KTM, leaving on Wednesday.


The young'uns.


The up and comers


The tweeners.


The elders.


Pushpa


Pooja


Kiran

Pooja and Kiran are the two most recent children to join Sam's House, and if you didn't know that you wouldn't be able to tell. Kiran and Pratima are joined at the hip and they sit together in school, which, I've observed, doesn't help their focus a whole bunch. Pooja has bonded with all the older girls, emulating them all the time, except when it comes to soccer and she joins the boys.


Rina and Pratima arranging shoes.


From our ice cream outing to Lakeside... Maya and Prema hustling Sandeep across the road.


Pooja, Manju, Mina and Mamata before school.


Riot police under a statue of King Mahendra on Durbar Marg.


A protester yells at the riot police. Note the Che shirt. Not to mention the Che persona and grooming.


A photo from the start of the trip, at the rally outside the King's palace (now the People's Palace), just two days after the start of the new republic.


A few months ago, you may recall, the oldest children were invited to appear on a children's radio show where they tell jokes and sing songs. Well the gang was invited again and we took the next oldest set--Sarita, Sabita, Amrit, Pratima and Mamata. And Dinesh gets to say a few words about the home.

Here's Sarita practicing her song for Laxmi and Dinesh.


Brittany, Sarita and Hannah in the taxi on the way to the station.


Sabita, Hannah, Amrit and Dinesh awaiting air time.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Last Post from PKA

For a variety of uninteresting logistical reasons, I have no photos to share this week; not that I don't have photos. Just that I don't have them with me nor the time to upload them so you will have to pain yourself through this post, which has been unusually challenging to write on this rainy Sunday (like Monday in the States) morning.

B & H are at yoga class right now but I did not feel like any stretching or bending would be good for my constitution at this hour.

We are taking the didis to lunch today, a grand idea inaugurated by Gordon and KC at the end of their visit. The didis deserve so much more but they are excited for the lunch nonetheless. Oh, and Sandeep gets to come along. He'll probably kiss all the waiters while putting away five pounds of food.

I'm having trouble thinking of a unified narrative for this post so I'll just give you newsy stuff from the week.

We had been trying to go on a short trek to a place called Ghandruk, which is a traditional Gurung village, more than a mile high. We intended to go last Monday but there was a transportation strike. Because of the rising cost of gas, the taxi drivers wanted the right to raise their fares. We needed a taxi to get north of Pokhara, to a place called Nayapul (New Bridge) and the strike lasted two days. We finally left on Wednesday.

This was actually a good thing because the transportation strike also included buses so the SH gang was home on an unexpected two-day holiday (the best kind). We were needed to keep them occupied during the day. B came up with the idea to play Pictionary which was a great, great idea. The children loved and the didis played too. It's really interesting to see how children can or cannot think abstractly or what their mind goes to when they are given something to draw.

A few hilarious moments... Saran got the word "bangle" (a woman's bracelet). He walked up the board and excitedly drew a circle and then turned around to his team with an expectant face, like "you get it?" Which of course no one did. It was an ordinary circle. He kept imploring them to guess which they could not. Rina later go the word for an orange and drew a flower, much to my and Brittany's amusement (we were doling out the words while H played scorekeeper and judge). The surprising best player was Bishal, who, it turns out, is quite the artist. On his first attempt he got "lion" and drew and remarkably good facsimilie thereof. Then he got duck and did the same. Each time his team guessed right, he jumped up and down and they showered him with hugs.

So, on Wednesday we got a late start and arrived at Nayapul a little before one. We hiked up the trail to a place called Syuali Bazaar when it started to rain heavily and enduringly. So we holed up their for the night and had a great time being the only tourists in this small village.

The next morning we set out early for Ghandruk. We had been told to expect a landslide up the trail but when we arrived it was much worse than advertised. We found a raging river coming down the hillside, bearing more and more debris from the still-crumbling landslide. There were a host of Nepali people standing at the banks watching the torrents and a few men offered to help us cross. We slid down the banks to the water's edge trying to determine if and how dangerous it would be to cross. After waiting for about thirty minutes, we discovered that the river was actively widening the chasm in which we stood. So while we might've been able to cross, it would not have been certain we could come back the same way, especially if it rained again that day (it did). We decided to turn back (sigh of relief, parents at home) and go back the trail to a village called Birethanti for the night, agreeing that it was the trekking not the destinations that mattered.

Along the way, B & H decided to photograph a waterfall coming down out of a steep hillside (there are so many seasons waterfalls here in the summertime). The waterfall crashed into an elevated pool, but you could see into it by scaling a small rock wall. They walked up and asked me to take some more pictures. While up on the rock wall, B got the idea to walk into the elevated pool and convinced H to do the same. The water was falling from at least 100 feet above and who knew what was at the bottom of the pool. Before I could object, they crawled over the edge and soon I could only hear high-pitched squealing but of the joyful kind. Naturally, as the responsible one, I had to go in and make sure they were all right. You could barely balance yourself inside the pool because they were covered in slick moss, but if you held to the sides you could maneuver around and get under the waterfall. It was pretty cool. However, I would like to reiterate it was not my idea.

I think this episode (one of many) is what's made B & H so much fun to travel with and such good volunteers at SH. As many people can tell you, for all the charm in Nepal, it can be a challenging place with the cultural differences (as it would be for a Nepali to light upon the US for a month). B & H have managed to keep a very positive attitude all the time and it's made all the difference in the world. I know that at their age and on my first visit, I would not have been so graceful in dealing with all the challenges.

Back at the house for the weekend, which is sadly our last, we spent as much time outside as the rain would allow. When Gordon and KC were here, they painted the SH logo on one of the walls in the playground. H painted a white border around that so we could have the children put handprints alongside in corresponding colors (wanted to check this with you Gordon, but time was of the essence). It will look very cool, and best of all, it has room for more handprints so when the time comes...

We head back to KTM tomorrow morning. I can't believe it. Then a day in KTM and a long, long flight home to the US, arriving on July 3. If I can manage the time I'll post more photos.

Thanks so much for all the notes and sentiments. I hope we've convinced you your support of SH matters, a great deal, to these children and without your support who knows what their lives would be like. Each child here has their own story, like Manju's, and because of your gifts they have a life that was impossible just a year and a half ago. They're learning and playing and, best of all, loving like happy, healthy children.

Life is good.

CB

Friday, June 20, 2008

My New Family

Namaste!

I would like to apologize in advance for any errors in this post because for some odd reason Chris has chosen me to do a celebrity blog.

Instead of the usual daily recap of our to-dos I would like to write about a few of my discoveries into the minds of the Sam’s House children.

I have felt that while in Nepal, laughter (although the universal language), can only get you so far. I was more than happy to take English lessons with Brittany through the help of Dinesh’s wife, Rekha. From our nightly homework routines, I gained a small insight of the true atmosphere of Sam’s House.

Rekha gave Brittany and me nightly assignments of asking and answering questions with the children and didis. The basics included such things as: asking where you are from/how many people in your family/ names of family members, and of course how much does this cost? She would specify whether to ask the children or the didis. One of my pieces of homework directed me to Babit. I had to ask him “How many sisters do you have?” I was not hesitant to ask him this personal of a question because he does have an actual blood relative in the house, Sabita. He then repeated my question in English, to make sure my accent did not throw him off. In Nepali he replied: barrha. From my knowledge of Nepali numbers 1 through 10 I knew his answer was not what I was expecting. It turns out he has 12 sisters, which he proceeded to name.

This event came back to my mind as I was teaching in the children’s school. I was teaching Class 1A the subject of Social. Unlike our social studies, the primary “Social” revolves around topics of family, objects and other things that affect their “social” lives. On the page from a student’s book I had borrowed I read allowed this question “How many children are in your family?” As soon as I had looked up from the page I realized Amrit’s hand was in standing high in the air. In the back of my head I thought of how I could somehow avoid calling on Amrit to answer. Thinking of past teachers tricks of killing time by writing questions on the bored, calling on the kid who was doodling in the back, etc all raced through my head. Amrit had picked up on all of the other times I had heard crickets when I asked the class questions and had helped restating my broken Nepali. His answer: “20.”

The fear of receiving confused looks or silence after asking a question had been long broken with my first class UKG. Rather, it was the topic of this question. I did not want Amrit to feel alone, or different because of his family situation, or the sheer fact that he did not really have one (he was found living alone despite the fact that his father is alive.) But, yet again a Sam’s House child surprised me.

All stereotypes of orphans should be broken with this final story of my three part piece. I came into Sam’s House as a volunteer believing that an orphan is left with very few options and is alone until adopted. I do not know if I had watched too many movies in my past or what, but I had this strange feeling in the back of my mind that these children, although not physically alone, still do not have a family. My na├»ve perceptions were finally (and I must say I am happy they were) shot to pieces with this final event.

Exams at the children’s school are coming up and so Sarita had me ask her questions in her Social subject. The question “How many children are in your family?” and “What is your father’s name?” Her answers: 20 and Dinesh.

I never had the perception that these children were growing up in an Oliver Twist setting, however it took these three kids (along with other small instances) to finally bring me to understand the truth of family. A family is not something that you are born into. Just look at all of the families that have members that do not even speak to one another. Instead, I have learned that it is a living, breathing thing. It grows through the actions of the individual, as they care and love those around them. The individual develops the family, and just as a living thing, families can die, but only if the individual decides to not be a family.

The Sam’s House children have/ still are developing their family. They consider the didis their 4 mommies, Dinesh as their father; they make up 8 brothers and 12 sisters. The children with living relatives and have visited them still recognize that they have a family Sam’s House. A family that I am now an Auntie in.

~ Hannah Smith

More Photos from Summer 2008


Hannah finishes up a round of this hand pat game that Brittany taught to the children. It's rather simple: you join hands around in a circle, someone says a number, and then you slap hands one at a time going around the circle. When the designated number comes up, the slapper must hit the hand of the person next to him/her or they're out, and vice versa if the slappee cannot avoid the slap. It is the newest morning craze.


Has anybody seen Rina? I just can't seem to find her...


Brittany helps the children onto the swinging carousel. Dinesh found this amusement park for us and we took the younger children. They loved it. But Brittany and I watched in fear because everything was made out of metal and the children were so excited that they wanted to move onto every ride all at once, which caused them to occasionally exit the rides while they were still moving. We all came home intact.


Kiran hangs on for dear life.


The Swinging Ship of Death (a.k.a. The Pirate Ride).


Sanju and Manju. Sanju is a college student who attends the Pokhara campus of Tribhuvan University, which is right next to Sam's House. She stopped by one day asking Dinesh if it was possible to volunteer a bit, hoping that someday we'll be needing another didi. Dinesh was very impressed as this does not happen very often. Sanju has already become a big hit with the children.


Bishal and Saran try to figure out how they can get more stars on the merit board.


Sushma and Pooja in the morning. Pooja is an outstanding soccer player. Runs like the wind.


Maya and pigtails ready for school. The children in classes 1-3 started exams today.

Here's a nice story about Maya... yesterday we took the children down to Lakeside for ice cream again, though at a different restaurant that is truly on the lake's side. With 27 of us--children and didis and volunteers--we made quite a commotion getting settled into our tables and there were lots of westerners sitting around us, quietly reading books and having conversation. I was a little nervous about too much disruption.

A few minutes after sitting down a gentleman stood up and started taking pictures of us and, a little alarmed (overly so, it would turn out), I asked him if he'd like to take a photo of us. He just waved and smiled and sat back down.

When it came time to pay, our waiter said that same man had asked if he could pay our bill (for 27 ice cream cones). I went over and thanked him. He was German and his English was not very good but he said he intuited that the children were from an orphanage and I told him he was right and thanked him for his generosity. And then all the children said thank you. Just before we left, I grabbed our four oldest (Mina, Maya, Dhiraj and Babit) and brought them over to make Namaste for the man again. He seemed a little embarrassed but graciously made Namaste back.

And as I'm walking out of the restaurant with these four, Maya said, in English, "He is a very kind man." And I said, "Yes, he is. That was very nice of him." And then she said, "We should invite him to our house." Which, of course, I should have done in the first place.

More and more we have these little moments with the SH gang that just blow me away--how they apprehend their situation in a positive light. Maya wants people to see Sam's House it because it is her home. I think that might be related to the stream of volunteers we have coming through. Volunteers help the children realize their home is a place worth spending time at.

It reminds me of a time when Jen was doing some research in Jiri. She and her assistant were going to do an interview at a home occupied by a low caste family of blacksmiths. And as they approached the home, a little girl came out and announced that they were blacksmiths and wanted to know if they still wanted to come in. Jen was devastated that this little girl, who she thought to be around 4 or 5, should already have internalized the idea that her home was unworthy of visiting.

As Hannah wrote in her post, they truly see the home (this home you've given them) as their family even though they must recognize it is not typical. Mina and Maya, I've written here before, have told Dinesh they plan to give to Sam's House when they get older. I hope this continues because I suspect it will only get harder for them as they move into adolescence and they might begin to see their situations a little differently, especially as it relates to wider Nepali culture.


Mina and Brittany acting out their favorite Nepali movie action scene.


Monkey see, monkey do. Pratima and Sabita with Hannah.


Brittany with Sarita and Mamata.


Sandip, Dhiraj and Santosh on a school holiday. Sandip is the most independent two year old I've ever seen. Climbs the jungle gym by himself, swings on the swings (also by himself), is potty trained, and occasionally puts himself down to nap--all things that would give American mothers, in my experience, heart attacks (except for the potty training). However, when he gets tired he gets a little clingy to a couple of our didis and insists on being carried. This week they've been trying to wean him off that behavior and this has been a difficult week for The Colonel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Manju's Village

Yesterday we went to Manju's village, Lumle, which is a winding, twisting, and elevating half-hour north of Pokhara. I had prepared B & H by saying this ride would be more terrifying than paragliding but the roads were dry and it went smoothly.

Manju is the second child who came to live at Sam's House, back in February 2007. She lived with her grandmother in a single room quonset hut on the side of the road. It had room for a bed and a small, single-burner gas stove. They survived on income Manju's grandmother received from selling grass clippings and other types of manual labor. Manju attended school irregularly, less often than not (for reasons explained below), and she could hardly read when she began school at GEBS.

I wanted B & H to see a typical Nepali village and also to get some appreciation of where the Sam's House children started their lives--the conditions, and so forth. I hadn't been thinking about taking Manju along but Dinesh suggested it as she had seen her grandmother only once since last February when her grandmother came to Pokhara.

At first Manju said she didn't want to go but then changed her mind. When we arrived in Lumle, Manju jumped out of the cab and ran ahead of us to her grandmother's house up the hillside. We struggled to keep up and by the time we reached the house, Manju had already moved on. We found her further up the hillside at her cousin's house, where they informed us that her grandmother was down near the river cutting grass. One of Manju's cousin's went down the hill to find her and we walked back to the road to get some tea and wait.

We waited and drank tea, it occurred to us that they might not be able to find her. Some neighbors came out from their houses to greet Manju. Some of her old friends sat nearby. After awhile we had drawn a fairly large audience. Manju, who is normally very shy, did not interact very much.

Then after another ten minutes this old woman dressed in traditional work garb (sarong, headscarf and shirt) came toddling across the road, already with tears in her eyes. She looked a hundred years old. Manju jumped up and ran to her and her grandmother hugged her and kissed her face over and over. Then she asked how Manju had come to Lumle and Manju indicated Dinesh. Manju's grandmother made Namaste and waved us to follow behind her. She grabbed Manju's hand and they walked together to her house.

When we arrived at the house, Manju's grandmother placed a mat on the front step for us to sit on. She offered us rice and milk (all she had, I'm sure) and Dinesh declined. She took Manju in the house and immediately fixed her a plate, like a loving grandmother anywhere in the world.

Manju's grandmother came back outside and sat with us. She asked who we were and Dinesh explained who we represented (the Sam's House family) and she started crying again and made Namaste and took my arm and kissed it. Dinesh also told her that we were planning to get an operation for Manju to fix her eye (she is cross-eyed) and she took my arm again. And I so much wished all of you could have been there or that I could've explained how many people have made this possible for her and for Manju.

She again offered milk which Dinesh declined but she was hearing none of it and went back and poured us glasses. Then she sat back down and told Dinesh that sometimes when she gets sick she misses having Manju around but understands that she has a good home now. The grandmother said that after Manju's mother left (she was mentally disabled), Manju would ask "when you die, who is going to take care of me?"

Manju's grandmother said she had never liked school because other children would steal her pencils and notebooks, and if you've met Manju, you know she could put up no protest. Other children used to mock her mother and call Manju "the daughter of the crazy woman." Needless to say, Manju did not enjoy school and spent more time working with her grandmother.

We sat for a while and a neighbor came by with another little girl, who stood hiding behind his legs. He explained that this little girl had the same situation as Manju, living with her grandmother, barely able to make ends meet. Again, Dinesh explained that we were full but maybe in the future, when we had a bigger place or a new place, we could admit her. Dinesh has to do this very often. I can't imagine how difficult it must be.

It was time to go and as we walked back to the path that led to the road, Manju's grandmother kissed our hands again and thanked us (you) over and over and over and over. Dinesh told her that Manju would come back to visit her during Deshain (in October).

CB






Grandma and Manju walking back to their house.


Photos courtesy of Hannah Smith.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Paani Paryo

It is raining to beat the band here today.

In the early afternoon, we had a brief respite. Hannah took the older children to the college campus to play soccer on a game-length field, while Brittany and I took the younger (and non-soccer playing) children to an amusement park by Mahendrapul and then for ice cream. These were successful outings on both accounts.

Hannah began with boys against the girls and then 8 neighborhood children showed up, so it became the Sam’s House gang against them. We prevailed 3-2. If you had money on this game, the payout was…

The amusement park was really nice, but more like a playground. All the rides (20 rupees for admission, no ride tickets) were “spinners” but in different forms, like the merry-go-round, airplanes, and tea cups. The children loved it. I got nauseous just watching.

Again time is short and I’m prioritizing pictures. On Monday, we’re taking Manju back to her village to visit her grandmother. I wanted B & H to see what a typical rural village is like and also to get some sense of how our children lived before Sam’s House. I think it will be a good trip. Dinesh is coming along which always makes it more fun.

Have a great weekend.

CB


It's only 8:15 in the morning and already Rina has a good nose and lip sweat going. The other day, the bus was loaded and ready to go after school. It was 4:30p. The teachers noticed that Rina was not on the bus. After a long search, they found her on the playground, hiding for fun. The bus did not make dropoffs until 5p. The teachers were not pleased. The next morning, before school, all four didis and Laxmi were talking to Rina at the same time about not being "badmas" (naughty) today. I pity the poor fella who one day decides to ask her out...


Rina and Pratima arranging shoes.


Miss Laxmi (Mrs., actually) and Maya.


Zerberts all around for Sandip.


Kiran and Binita on the playground.


We went on a hike one afternoon to the top of a hill across the river from Sam's House. You can see an observation tower at the very top and I've always wanted to go up there but lacked sufficient motivation. B and H and I walked up the other day, in 90+ heat. It took much longer than the one hour I expected. More like 2.5. Also, the path is not very clearly marked and we lost our way at one point.

From high above we heard two high-pitched voices yelling to us, yelling directions, it turned. We started following their commands, zig-zagging back and forth on this hillside, occasionally hearing them squeal when we made a wrong turn. It was pretty funny. When we reached the top of that part of the hill (about 2/3 the way up) we met two sisters who had been out cutting grass and collecting it in those baskets.

They led us to the next part of the trail and we laughed to watch them scurry past us with no effort and no missteps at all, like cats. It was incredible


Our guide, who looked to be about 10-11 years old, and who claimed to be having a school holiday, but I suspect that wasn't the case. More like her parents needed or kept her home to work.

I like this picture because it reminds me in many ways of how bad ass Nepali children are, especially the girls, which is one of the reasons I think my wife became so fond of this place. They are, comparatively, so much more independent and capable at their ages. Look at this girl--carrying a hand sickle, a basket strapped to her head, cutting grass in the 90 degree heat, running across the hillside in foam flip-flops, and reaching out to help strangers. Competence, strength, industry, and kindess. And yet she is not going to school.


B & H are celebrating...


... this view of the Pokhara valley.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Catching Up

Lots to say and revisit but I want to prioritize getting pictures on the blog, since, let's face it, that's so much more interesting.

CB


Pratima, Mamata and Kiran. This is a common occurrence. Of what exactly, I am unsure.


Babit showing off his poster book report. He sat upstairs in the study room, alone working, while his siblings played in the yard. Well done, Babit.


Amrit, the Keeper--absolutely fearsome in goal, as you can see.


Whilst playing Travel Scrabble, I was treated to a new hairdo. Binita approves.


Prema takes a rare five on the slide with Saran, Pushpa and Santosh.


Hannah and Brittany in their new kurtas with Asuna and Sushma.


An unsuspecting Hannah receives a crunching slide tackle from Suraj, while Pratima calls for the ball (or runs away, we can't remember). Check out Saran in goal in the distance. That's Bishal sitting on the ground next to him, picking grass. He plays very casual D.


Brittany and the older girls getting ready for school. It's Friday, as you can tell.


Binita completes a twirl in her Friday whites.