Exchanging Culture for Concrete Future

Life in Nepal is so hard that you guys should be singing blues

Once my French colleague joked, “Life in Nepal is so hard that you guys should be singing blues.” We were planting rice, exchanging culture, I guess, for fun, in Panauti and we both shared a big-good laugh. Next week I had to go to Nuwakot, as I was assigned to cover the new commerce there. Local homestay business and few guests are visiting at its opening.

French-man working in Panauti.

French-man farming at rice field in Panauti.

After two hours of ride from Kathmandu, I reached Teeghau, a small village in Nuwakot where Panchkanya School is established. Surrounded by silent –enormous- green hills and covered by artistic clouds, Teeghau is surely an unexpected beauty.

“Panchkanya Higher Secondary School is very much grateful to Royal Mountain Travel. This is a government school, you can see, and during the insurgent period, when government forgot us, Royal Mountain helped us through monetary and by supplying bits and pieces to institute this science and computer lab.”  Principal of Panchkanya School pointed his index finger at one of his labs. I tilted my head to right and that room was occupied with few computers.

Cloud dribbling rainfall in Teeghau.

Cloud dribbling rainfall in Teeghau.

At my short notice in Kathmandu, I was informed that this homestay is closely associated with Panchakanya Higher Secondary School therefore, to collect more information, I at once went straight to the principal.  When principal was pointing at one of his labs, a big bus arrived in front of school. Even at that stage, I was very much unknown about the personalities of incoming guests.

By that time, school was decorated as a newly married wife. Students were carrying flowers in their hands. Despite piercing heat, students were standing patiently and eager to welcome their guests.  When I saw a group of teenagers coming out of the bus, I overheard students of Panchakanya whispering to each other and cackling. It became obvious that it was the first that they were about to interact with any foreigner and they looked very much excited.

Students welcoming students.

Students welcoming students.

With warm welcome, guests entered the school. Our resident principal led guests into his office.  Inside office, guests exchanged their introductions with the teachers of Panchakanya. I understood then that they were from America and most of them were high school students and instead of calling them merely a ‘guest’, they were volunteer tourists. They were escorted by their two, optimistic, teachers.  After introduction program, they were taken to the classrooms.

At my surprise, everything was very much beyond my calculation. Foreign students decided to share classroom seats with the local students. Classroom was full of positive spirits. Students were exchanging their queries, local students were showing their textbooks and high school guests were receiving it with equal interest. Indeed, there were some barriers in communication; certainly language was the prime obstacle. Later to bring uniformity in communication, teachers who were in-charge of high school students came up with a question and answer program.

Students sharing their content of textbooks.

Students sharing their content of textbooks.

A 17 years old student stood up and answered that America was the powerful country in the world.

Teachers started with their introductions that they were from Eugene, Oregon. But local students did scratch their heads. They did their best to edify their new students, about their hometown but naivety was a sweet weakness which they couldn’t conquest. With smiles, teacher asked local students that if they knew about America.  A 17 years old student stood up and answered that America was the powerful country in the world. Teachers and students smiled at their surprise.

More questions, then, began to approach from local students. They asked about the culture of America, if they liked the Nepal or not and why did they visit this school. To reduce the barriers, Nepalese teachers translated questions into English.  Visitors, teachers, rather than answering themselves, they handed their students to answer those questions. One after one, they answered about the culture of America, about American foods and compared with Nepalese food.  They said that Nepalese foods were served in bigger portion unlike in their hometown but foods are rather delicious. They expressed that they were surprised and very much delighted by the unexpected but magnificent hospitality from the school and the whole village. Their purpose of visit was to experience the life of Nuwakot, Teeghau and souvenir it.

After the interaction program, guests were offered to relax in their respective homestay. Arrangements were already made and rooms were already selected under their respective names. There were 12 homestays for 24 guests. So, each homestay was made for two guests.  Owners of homestay were given responsibility to escort their individual guests till their house. Gladly, they showed their guests to their homes. Apart from the warm hospitality in school, owners of homestay were ready with traditional materials to welcome their guests.  This was another surprise for me and I could understand the feelings of our guests. “Guests are the incarnation of God” and people from Teeghau showed that how much they have preserved their culture.

Traditional welcome before entering the homestay.

Traditional welcome before entering the homestay.

After half an hour, once a lively town became quiet as calm as silent hills. Guests were comforting in their homestay and so was the charm of the town. Then it was the perfect time for me to meet with the principal. It was not hard to find him; he was always available and a helpful man.

“We owe a big amount of gratitude to Royal Mountain Travel(RMT). If you look at all this homestay, toilets are recently built in each homestay. RMT sponsored it all. Since 1995 they are sponsoring this school. This school runs classes up to 12 but government hold us up to class 8.  Rest are supported by RMT.”

When I asked him that why this school was supporting this homestay program, he replied,

“This is a very small village. Most of the people depend upon farming, rain farming to be precise. We believe this homestay will bring benefits among villagers, economically, and if community becomes stronger then, visibly, school will perform better.

“We, RMT and this school, discussed earlier that either receiving funds, we shall start something that will sustain for longer and benefit the whole community. This idea was initiated by Royal Mountain Travel first.”

Principal of Panchakanya School trying to ease the conversation between guests and his students.

Principal of Panchakanya School trying to ease the conversation between guests and his students.

“Does the revenue, generated from this homestay, go to Royal Mountain?”

“No. See, RMT did finance us to maintain toilets, so that guests could obtain conveniences or to the least opportunity. Few weeks ago, building toilet with bathroom was the biggest issue. We, villagers, hope we did our best to make our guest and funders happy.

“This is our first time, we need to improve but the money generated from homestay comes to this school. This chance will support this school to enhance the infrastructure and hire more teachers for the conveniences of students.  Villagers, too are very much optimistic with this new business. They believe this program will bring new hopes to create new opportunities. Students are very much bright and they just need opportunity. I am emphasizing more on this word opportunity because when they, students, go to capital for opportunity, there they are competing with the people who are hundred times qualified, comparing to them. Some do their best, I don’t have complains against them but we can’t count on everyone that would come out to their optimum. Frustration and failure throw them back to the village and to the traditional farming. Basically, rather than giving us fish, Royal Mountain is providing us rods and wire so that we can fish by ourselves.

“From next time we are planning to make this village into ‘Plastic Free” village. We are not complaining that people are making our village untidy but we just want to set an example. We can influence other cities and villages. We are, even, educating our students to minimize the use of plastics. “

I later found out that these guests were staying for 2 nights and the day after, they had organised cultural programs for their guests.

 

Day 2

 

Early in the morning, I saw guests walking with their new friends. They were holding local flowers by girls and boys were with their own kind of sports. Breakfast was served in their respective homestay but lunch was programmed in the school. Lunch was set in buffet system and food was delicious, another surprise to add on my memento.

After lunch there was, again, another interaction program with the class. This time teachers from both sides let their students be alone.  Students operated themselves into groups, so that they can interact with many students in a limited time. For smooth conversation, one group used the help of map to co-operate.

Optimum use of in-house resources.

Optimum use of in-house resources.

Next were doing their respective excellence. And one group was just playing outdoor games. Later, everybody combined with the sport group and the game became bigger and louder with laughs and fun. Games don’t need language to communicate because this time I was the living witness.

Not a new game but the players are.

Not a new game but the players are.

Despite cultural and language barriers, students from the two different poles enjoyed the fullest. They became closer than the day before and they understood additional to each other.

Then there was a call for a break because we were going to rice-planting field. It would be my second planting in a week but I was excited as others. After an hour break, a local bus came to pick us up and drove it to the field. Everyone was thrilled and look prepared. They had changed their dresses because they knew it was going to be messy. The principal of the school, their tour guide, other teachers from the same school and other students gave accompany. When finally bus stopped at the right place, people came out with an adventure. Though they had to walk few minutes down to reach the precise place but when they saw the venue, everyone was stunned. Without a waste, they started throwing mud to each other.

Mud-fight

Mud-fight arena.

Eventually, rice field became a mud-fight arena. Principal enjoyed with them and, so did the locals. Unlike Nepalese principal, teachers from Eugene decided to help farmers by planting rice seedlings.

Principal transformed into cowboy.

Principal transformed into cowboy.

For cleaning up their mud mess, villagers offered them to visit a small river.

Bathing

Later that evening, they were entertained by the cultural dances. Dance of Shamans, which is a very vital cultural part of that village. Shamans in Nepal are observed as deities. Balung dance followed after the performance of shamans. Fascinatingly, the very own villagers, to remind you not by kids, performed all those dances. This means, villagers were very much enthusiastic to comfort their guests and for their pleasure. With admiration, guests danced with the villagers.

Shamans performing their ritual dance.

Shamans performing their ritual dance.

Audience who were watching it silently were carrying big smiles on their faces. Villagers were happy. The village was happy. It was not less festive than Dashain or any important festivals.

Day 3

This is the morning that everyone exchanges their goodbye with their new friends or with this place where they experienced a complete new life. Might be there are some complains with accommodations and its facilities but I could sense that town was not lively as it was in the previous days. But this is Nepal; we fall in love very fast and we are not good at farewells.

Before I leave, I wanted to interview one of the guests about his/her experience. I met Micah Morton and his friend. They were about to have their breakfast. I asked them about the whole experience. They both replied that they were not expecting this much of warm hospitality and honours form this place at first.

They wished if school could do better in future and they would like to visit again and support the school. They were also very much pleased to experience the culture at very close, to dine as the villagers did. Icannot say, till this date, that it was either complains or admiration but they said they were served great amount of portion in each and every food course.  We had a laugh and I asked for leave.

Micah Morton, his friend and Shiva Pandey, owner of one of the homestays.

Micah Morton and his friend with the family of Shiva Pandey, owner of one of the homestays.

I questioned Shiva Pandey, an owner of homestay where Morton and his friend stayed for two nights. Shiva was very happy to experience this cultural exchange program. He was a teacher himself and he tried his best to serve his guest with all organic foods. He was proud that all food cooked and served was from his own land. He hoped that he would be seeing some more guests in future.

Farewell FlowerAfter few minutes, departure bus gave a warning alarm. There were warm exchange of hugs and waving hands. Promises to meet again and farewell flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

Video of Nuwakot Homestay

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