Life in Chitwan

“Go Ellen, It’s your last day! Go Ellen, It’s your last day!. Aryan, the youngest child at the orphanage was an immediate fan of the Beaver Song, a fun and silly song and dance that I taught the younger children last week. On Issy’s birthday, all 25 children chanted it for her along with the classic birthday party games and chocolate cake. Today, at my leaving ceremony, it was a solemn and sad (for me at least) occasion as each child stood in a long line with bright red flowers and a bouquet to thank me for my time here and a final Namaste. I received my bright red tika on my forehead and a hand drawn picture along with a short speech by one of the older students, thanking me for my contributions. I gave the orphanage a gift of some new ping pong balls and paddles as everyone seems to participate in that game on the cement table with bricks as the center “net”. Each child also got some chocolate and an American flag sticker I have been carrying around for months as I said a few words to each one. They are used to volunteers coming and going but for me, it’s the end of a wonderful, albeit challenging, experience.

One of the things that seems consistent in Nepal is the inconsistency. Plans change all the time and I’ve never known from day to day what my role will be. With the Portugese students being here for five days, routines were changed. Local village children were brought into the school for 3 days (at 7 a.m.) during their holidays so the volunteers would have someone to teach. Sometimes, they had volunteers at the orphanage as well, other times not, according to no particular schedule. Tom and Issy had organized a whole schedule for the two week break including art classes and sewing projects, but fitting them in forced everyone’s patience. We were told some mornings to do an academic hour so we had poetry, spelling and essay writing competitions. If nothing else, I’ve learned to be flexible and spontaneous and grateful for many years in the classroom.

Last night the routine was thrown off by yet another unscheduled event – a wild and violent hail/thunder and lightning storm. I helped my family pile up the shucked ears of corn under a tarp for the fourth day in a row as clouds gathered and rain threatened. It’s a laborious process to take a yards worth of drying cobs and make them into a huge pile. I know because I helped both pile it up and then spread it out again in the hot sun each day and I have the blisters to show for it.

This time,though, the threat was real. The rain started just as I reached the orphanage. Instead of working in the garden, several children, Tom and Issy and I gathered in the meeting room where we started working on a jigsaw puzzle. Not long afterward, the power went out and we were trying to complete a puzzle by the light of two flashlights and about a dozen children. One of the boys came in with a dish full of pea sized hailstones and from there it was just fun and games in the dark. Without the critical eye of the head teacher and the dark we had a jolly good time.

Having the power go out has been more the rule than the exception these last several days. Nepal relies on hydroelectric power and the need is way beyond the availability. As the dry season stretches on into June, the rivers are low and there are more and more rolling blackouts. The power is on for only an hour or two a day lately and sometimes just in the middle of the night. Although there is some sort of schedule, none of us really know what that is. I was grateful today that it came on for a couple of hours while I was home so I could recharge my phone and ipad enough to use them. Once the monsoon rains begin this summer, there will be more electricity. I’ve walked into town in the hot, dry heat a few times to use the internet, only to find that there was either no power or no internet. That one time with wireless was a lucky fluke as even a wired computer doesn’t work without power. I’ll post this from Pokhara, my next destination.

In the morning, I will leave my host family for a short taxi and a long bus ride north into the mountains which just made themselves visible after the cleansing rain last night. When I came home tonight, there were several new faces on the porch. Expect the unexpected here in Nepal! The older daughter-in-law and her son left sometime last weekend and I haven’t seen them since. Today the sister of the other daughter-in-law and some of her family members arrived for a few days visit. I’m hearing lots of Nepali conversation out my window as I write and I had my own last dal baht meal as they visited.

When my family has had their conversations in my presence, I find a quiet meditative place to sit nearby and listen. I have become braver in trying out my Nepali but most of the time the conversation just wanders by me as I sit nearby. There has been lots of down time during the afternoons between orphanage stints when the heat and humidity slows everything down. I’ve done lots of writing and reading and too many games of solitaire to pass the time. Each day I’ve forced myself to take a long walk to get some time in my hiking boots and some exercise but I come back sweaty and parched.

When I walked north to the forest the other day, I was greeted by strangers, hands clasped in Namaste all along my way. Wandering around the village reminds me of walking around a campground . People live outside here much of the time so as you pass by you see people hanging out, eating, doing chores and even bathing. Even in town, the shops are all open to the street so you can see inside each one as you pass.

At one little shop, a 14 year old girl took me by the hand and had me sit down. Her whole family came out to meet me and ask the usual questions, “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going?” which I can now answer in Nepali. When I said I was going to the forest, they warned me of the rhinoceros and the rock pythons that are both dangerous. As I approached the woods, there were 3 young boys sitting on the edge of the river. They told me they had just seen a rhino and remembering the charging one I’d seen in the national park, it seemed a good time to turn around.

There is no shortage of wildlife here from the tiniest insects infesting my room (my body is covered with tiny little red marks from the bites) to the wild elephants and rhinos. There are also many species of birds, including one with bright yellow feathers and another with brilliant green. Last night I woke up to the sound of something moving behind my bed. Eventually, I got up my courage to reach out from under my netting, grab my headlamp and investigate. I was glad to see it was just a little frog walking on a plastic bag. The lizards make loud sounds but are harmless and I’ve seen a couple of huge but shy spiders in my room. One was on top of the netting one morning. This afternoon there was a large snake next to the porch that I saw before my “father” and “sister”. Knowing there are many poisonous ones here, I decided I should tell them about it. They went after it with a big stick, killing it and throwing it in the garden. I felt bad about the killing but they told me it was dangerous and I’m not in a position to judge.

Animals are only one of the challenges here. Issy has been having digestive issues for over two weeks and is only able to eat bananas and drink Sprite. My friend, Lee, who is a South African man who was in my language class and arrived at the airport with me the first day, surprised me the other day by showing up here in Chitwan. He left with three other men to fly near Mt. Everest for a placement in a monastery teaching English to monks three weeks ago. While there, his shoulder became displaced. After hiking over four hours to the nearest doctor, he was reassigned to volunteer here closer to medical care. We enjoyed catching up on news of the many volunteers we have met. A couple have had to leave because of health issues and today, Lee joined that club. He has several large sores on his legs that have become infected and undiagnosed. Doctors here are stymied and there are new sores growing so he reluctantly, flew home today. I’m lucky to be healthy.

I did feel very far away from home when I received news that my grandmother in Florida died this week. My heart goes out to our family members as I mourn from a distance. She was following my adventures by my blog and I’m glad that she was a hearty supporter of my journeys, that I got to visit her last year, and that she died peacefully.

The rapid-fire Nepali conversations continue as I finish writing and get my things ready for my 9 a.m. taxi in the morning. As interesting and heart-warming as this homestay and volunteer time has been, I’m ready for a couple of days off before I begin my trek in the Himalayas. One can only eat so much dal baht…












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  1. Mary Blake

     /  April 7, 2012

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. I know she must have been awfully proud of you as so many of us are. Your uplifting spirit is always with me.
    Congratulations on finishing another stage in your travel and thanks again for your intriging blog.
    Stay safe.

  2. Jane

     /  April 7, 2012

    So sorry about your grandmother. I am sure she was very proud and happy to read about your many amazing adventures.

    Stay healthy and keep writing. Biking across the US seems like a tame little jaunt after the past few months.

  3. Anne Cowan

     /  April 7, 2012

    I am sure it is hard to be so far when a family member dies. My sympathies are with you! Your journey and stories are so fascinating. I am not sure I could do what you are doing! Have fun on your trek! Thank you so much for sharing your time with those of us following your adventure.

  4. Mary Kay

     /  April 7, 2012

    I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. Yet, another challenge on your journey. However, you are very strong and still have your eyes forward to your next destination. You are an amazing woman. You are on my Hall of Fame! Stay safe! Hugs!

  5. Candice Stein

     /  April 7, 2012

    Dangerous animals, annoying insects, the threat of food poisoning,… Ellen, you are really an adventurer. I am so enjoying your blog. You are a marvelous writer.

  6. Chris & Michelle

     /  April 7, 2012

    You go girl and I know GG was very proud of you. You were the “talk of the table” on more than one night for her and her group. Keep living the dream.

  7. Sandra Timko

     /  April 7, 2012

    Love the ping pong net. Hope in your next place the bugs are not biting and snakes not visiting.
    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. She will be watching over you on the rest of your journey. (I am not really sure of that but It always gives me comfort to think that way. )

  8. Barbara

     /  April 7, 2012

    Ellen- I’m not sure how you could possibly find any more adventure but I have no doubt that you will- and be wonderfully adaptive to whatever it is!

    I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother- I’m sure she was very proud of you and is even now following your journey. Take care.

  9. Thanks for such specifics on your time in Nepal- can’t wait to talk with you in person when you return, but have a wonderful time- seems like you are totally immersed- good going!

  10. Pam Perkins

     /  April 8, 2012

    My sympathies on the passing of your grandmother. It must be difficult because you are so far away. Good luck on your trek. I continue to be impressed with your ability to adapt to whatever adventure comes before you. You have such amazing spirit and true grit!

  11. Dawn Fogarty

     /  April 9, 2012

    On to the next adventure…can’t wait to hear what happens next! Very sorry to hear about losing your grandmother to this earth but I’m sure she is with you still. Take care Ellen – you wild, amazing woman!!!!

  12. Beth-Ann Betz

     /  April 11, 2012

    I feel for you, for the loss of your grandmother and I admire and thank you for the honesty with which you share your experience. I’m hoping your break time will give you all that you need. Hugs to you Ellen.


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