Three days in Bistachap

 Posted by Kristin Schutz at 6:11 pm  Nepal
Dec 052014

We have returned to Kathmandu after three days in Bistachap, a village just outside of Kathmandu but still within the valley. All VSN (Volunteer Service in Nepal) volunteers start here for training, which included Nepali language and cultural lessons.

VSN runs a school in the village called Brighter Future Children’s School. During the Maoist insurgency thousands of children were displaced from their families. Profiteering brokers would scheme parents into believing that their children were going to schools where they would be safe. In reality, these brokers would dump the children in very neglectful facilities. Up to 30 children would be crammed into one room at a time. NGOs and nonprofits found the chilren basically abandonded there and worked to find better places for them. VSN built one such place that is now Brighter Future Children’s Home. Many of the kids here have grown up and moved out into the world but there are still several living there. The school is truly an oasis. It has a small farm with vegetables, herbs, chickens, and rabbits! The chidlren go to school as any other child would but come home to this place. They are very polite and well behaved! But the Nepali government has mandated that all displaced children be reunited with their families, so once these children grow into adulthood or are placed back with their families the facility will have to change it’s purpose. They are looking into making it a training/educational facility.

It is here where we had our training every day.

There are three of us starting at the same time. Joyce is 67 years old and from Upstate New York. She is spending her retirement travelling the world as a volunteer. Joyce has a lion’s heart and gentle spirit. Tipping is not common here and actually something we aren’t supposed to do. But Joyce is so kind she bucks the rules and just wants to be generous anyway! I joke that she will leave Nepal with an empty wallet!

Catherine is in her 40s, although she looks much younger. She is a naturpath from Australia with a wild story of her own (growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid). Already we’ve had many deep conversations about women in the world, and a few laughs regarding potty-humor that  I will refrain from detailing for the sake of being a mature adult (or trying to).

I am so grateful to be volunteering with these ladies. Already they have been my saving grace! It’s important to have people around who not only share your values, but also can relate to the immediate events and surroundings. In other words, we can take solice in the fact that we all have  to use the same type of squatty potty, we are eating the same strange foods, and none of us has showered for days.

It is impossible to relay the last three days accurately. Although it was only three days, it felt so much longer! So I will just write  about a few things here.

1) Our host families.

We each stayed with a family in Bistachap. They provided a private room and two meals  a day (Daalbhat, which I will describe later). My family had two young children, a boy and girl, of elementary school age. The mother spoke more English than I expected and the children spoke very good English. I only saw the father a few times, since he worked most of the day. Everone was very friendly and polite but mostly kept to their own.  The mother had plenty of work to do around the house (cooking, cleaning, etc). And the children were  at school most of the day.

The house was very modest with just the essentials. There was a room for the parents, one which the children shared, the kitchen, an indoor toilet (a treat!), and the guest bedroom. Outside there was a large washing area for dishes and clothes. Imagine a square, cement basin with hose. In front of the house the family grew herbs and vegetables.

Just on the edge of the garden was a little alter area. Each morning and night the daughter would honor god by lighting incense and ringing a bell. She would then decorate the alter with a little fire surrounded by merigolds.  Every morning and night we could hear bells ringing across the village, as this was something every house did. It was usually done by the women of the house but I was told anyone could do it.

2) Our daily routine

Each morning we woke up with the sun around 5-6 am. Our host mothers and fathers had already been up for a few hours! There are no indoor showers (indoor toilets were rare and I was fortunate to have one!), so daily cleaning consisted of body wipes. We could have bathed outside but none of us were ready to take that cultural plunge yet.

We were served sweet, black tea around 7:30 am and breakfast around 8:30 am. Both breakfast and dinner are the same here; a dish called daalbhat. Bhat is rice and daal is a soup-like dish with lentils and beans. Each meal also has curried vegetables, whatever is in season. Right now it was mostly potatoes and couliflower.  To be truthful, it was hard eating daalbhat for both breakfast and dinner. It is a far cry from a western breakfast! I wasn’t sure if my host mother was concerned, offended, or confused when I tried to politely tell her I wasn’t eating that morning. But during dinner daalbhat I made sure to compliment her by eating all my food and saying “daalbhat mitho chha!”  Which means “The daalbhat is delicious!” I would also  muster a burb, a sign that her cooking was good.

After breakfast we had Nepali language and cultural lessons. Our teacher was a woman named Gauri, who lives and works in Nepal also as a teacher there. She was very patient with us as we tried to memorize important Nepali phrases like “How much does that cost?”

Around mid-day we would break for some delicious tea and coconut biscuits.

One afternoon we made momo, which is esssentially the Nepali version of a dumpling. Tastey little pockets of seasoned vegetables (the more expensive kind have chicken). We enjoyed the fruits of our labor and gave the rest to the kids at the school.

Training ended in the early afternoon so we had a lot of free time before returning to our host families. We would take a walk or go to the shop to buy snacks. But one afternoon we made a trek across the valley to the other side. Off in the distance we could see a shining golden Buddha sitting on the side of a mountain. We asked Jaguu (one of the founders of the school) to take us there. He happily obliged and we walked down the village, through the valley farms, through the villages on the other side, and up the mountain. The Buddha was surrunded by potted plants of various herbs and flowers. It was so quite up there and we got a full view of the valley. We relaxed for a while before heading back to our host families.

The village has no street lights so when the  sun goes down it gets pitch dark. We made sure we were back at our houses by 6 pm every night. We would then have our dinner daalbhat and retire early (around 8 pm).

3) The women

Like most of the world (and like the US not too long ago), the women do everything here but are afforded very little freedoms. Especially in the villages where life is more conservative  and traditional. The women cook, clean, wash clothes, take care of the kids, and even do a lot of the farming and animal caretaking.  The men usually work in the city or have traveled abroad to the Gulf to find work. Job opportuunities are hard to come by here because there is very little industry and business outside of what sustains the valley locally, and tourism.

If a woman is lucky and from a family of some means, she will have attended high school. Most of the younger girls in Bistachap are currently in or have completed high school. Their mothers either didn’t go to school at all, or went to school up until they were married. So the younger generations are fairing much better.

Catherine’s host family was right next door to mine. In fact, the two families were related by brothers. Her family had a bright and ambitious 19-year old daughter named Goga. I am so inspired by her story. She completed high school last year and passed her exams. Then after that she took a certification course in hospitality management. She passed that exam as well, but it took four months to receive her results,  and then another month on top of that to actually receive the certification paper. She is still waiting for that. She told us how she feels like she is in prison waiting for it to arrive! She has nothing to do at home in the mean time and is going stir crazy! But that week she saw an ad in the newspaper for entry-level positions in the city. She called and they said she can come for an interview even without her certification. However, she had to ask her father’s permission. Goga is one of the fortunate girls in that her father is very supportive and understanding. She once told him that she doesn’t want to get married until she has a job, and he was completely OK with it! Meanwhile her friends cry to her at night because they are being forced to get married right out of high school.

Our last morning in Bistachap was also the day of her interview. She was all smiles, and we knew her father had given her permission. We cheered and clapped our hands, her smile widened. “Ok I have to get ready now!” She said, and Goga bounced upstairs to prepare.

Goga is an exception to the rule here, but it is a rule that is broken more and more often as Kathmandu grows into a modern city.

The Maoist insurgency completely shut down the city’s growth for years and has left it stunted. Kathamandu is just starting to get back on its feet. For example, 10 years ago there were dozens of internet cafes on every street because homes did not have internet connections. Now there are fewer cafes because more homes have WiFi. As Nepal becomes increasingly connected with the rest of the world the younger generation is pushing for change. Isn’t that always the case? Haven’t we seen that all over the world?
















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