Jill's Adventures in Nepal

The following is compiled from e-mail and air-mail sent by Jill during her Peace Corps service from August 1997 to September 1999. Final update: September 18, 1999 (newest addition: e-mail dated September 18, 1999).

NOTE: Items currently remain arranged in reverse chronological order (most recent entries at top, oldest at bottom). In future, now that this is a completed document, I will probably re-organize them into proper chronological order.


Have you seen the photos of Jill in Nepal?


September 18, 1999
(via e- mail)

I can't believe I'm boarding a jet tomorrow that will take me away from Nepal; the two years flashed by like a dream. The last two weeks have been a flurry of souvenier shopping, hanging out with Peace Corps friends, and wrapping up my affairs here in Nepal. I called my village twice from Kathmandu to say good-bye, what good people they are.

Nepal is truly an amazing place. Yesterday I went to a shop to get something and chatted with the shop owner for a bit. Turns out his son in studying in New Jersey, and his wife asked if I could bring something back to the USA for him. I was also interested in getting her son's address/email so I could meet someone Nepali after I return, especially to keep up with my language. So this morning I went to their house for breakfast and chatted for a few hours with them. They seem like lovely people and we all had fun. I can't picture the same thing happening in the States. Everyone here is so kind and friendly...

Well, there aren't words to describe the experience I've had here. The only thing I can say is if you have ever considered joining Peace Corps (or even if you haven't), GO FOR IT! It is truly an amazing opportunity for helping others while experiencing great personal growth and cultural understanding. My life has been touched by the people I've met here, and I hope that they feel the same way about me.

Thanks to all of you who have kept in touch with me over the last 2 years. It was a rare occurence when I didnt get any mail in a week. Knowing what was going on in your lives and sharing my experience with you all kept me going through the rough times.

Obviously, I can no longer be contacted in Nepal; however if you wish to get in touch with me back in the USA, you can use the following email address: jillchaskes@yahoo.com

Questions about Peace Corps, Nepal, etc. are always welcome...

Namaste,
Jill


September 9, 1999
(via e- mail)

On September 3, I left my village- this time not knowing when I may return, if ever. The week was full of invitations to people's houses, good-bye programs at school, and tears. It was difficult packing up and preparing to leave and even harder when the time came to go. Two years worth of good memories were at the forefront of my mind and I could clearly see the love that I have for my village, the folks who live there, and the love that they showered on me. My Nepali mother and some of my students walked the 3 hours with me to reach the bus and were there to say good-bye when the bus rolled away. It was heart-breaking.

The last two months went so quickly. Back in July I visited another one of my students- my sister/student Ishwara. It was a 6 hour hike to her house in Karule Tenupa (the village I hiked to last year for her brother's wedding), and it was worth the walk to spend some quality time with her. I also took several trips to Dharan to help at the training of new PCVs. I spent 2 weeks in the terai observing and supervising the teaching practice of 4 new PCVs. It was hot, but I enjoyed being helpful and seeing some of the terai culture, which varies greatly from the hills.

I am in denial that my service is coming to an end, but of course I am looking forward to continuing with my "real life" and returning to the land of handguns and 79 cent tacos.

jill


July 22, 1999
(via air mail)

I returned to my village on June 25 after being away for 5 weeks. It felt good to see everyone again and sleep in my own bed. Things have been really quiet around here because school is on break and most of the teachers are in their home villages or working on their farms. And most kids are busy planting corn and rice.

I feared that time would slow down for me now that I've got a lot of free time, but that's not been the case. I've been reading, learning to knit a hat, and spending time with village friends. I also spent 5 days in the neighboring village of Bodhe at the home of one of my students. We hiked about two hours downhill to her house and spent time eating fresh, juicy mangoes from her trees. I've also gone to Dharan to help with the pre-service training of the new Peace Corps Trainees who arrived in June. I'll be spending two weeks in August with a few of the trainees during their practice teaching in a Nepali school.

Everyone keeps asking me when I'm returning to America, and it's hard to believe that the date is almost here. It's strange to be around the new trainees and see things with fresh eyes again. It's hard to remember when seeing a cow sitting in the middle of the street was strange, or the language sounded foreign and unfamiliar. I also have trouble recalling when Peace Corps felt difficult and stressful. The last year has been so nice without the stresses and frustrations of adjustment.

Yesterday morning I was surprised to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas, which are usually elusive during the monsoon season. No matter how many times I've seen them, I still stare at them with wonder whenever I see them.

I'm taking my last weeks to make sure I know how to cook various Nepali foods, capture certain people/places on video/photos, and spend time with my closest friends--that may include returning to Karule Terupa, a 6 hour hike away, to spend time with my closest "sister" and former student.

Six of my eighteen students in class 12 passed their national exam in English. I guess that's not bad, though 2 students who I thought could have passed did not. I did all that I could--the rest was up to them.

I'm trying to enjoy my last two months in Nepal because I know they'll be over before I know it. I'm telling myself that one day I'll be back for a visit--it's the only way I'll be able to say good-bye.

-Jill


June 19, 1999
(via e-mail)

I just got back from my weeklong Tibet trip...here's the scoop. It's not possible to go to Tibet solo from Nepal, so I joined an organized tour through an agency called Greenhill Travels here in Kathmandu. I was put onto a group visa with 5 other people: 2 American guys, a Swedish couple, and one guy from Holland. All of us are around the same age and we got along well.

The trip was overland, which means that we took a bus up to the Nepal/Tibet border. It took about 5 hours to reach there from Kathmandu and the road was wet and scary! We filled out a bunch of immigration stuff at the border, met our Tibetan guide, and switched onto a new bus. After a few hours of driving on the Tibetan side, the weather and landscape changed drastically. The plush green mountains and fertile land became barren and desert like, and the rain stopped. Most of Tibet is desert-like with huge mountains, but is quite beautiful. It's how I picture mountainous Nevada or the American southwest.

The itinerary had us stopping overnight in Neylam, Lahtse, Shigatse, Gyantse and then onto Lhasa and in each town we visited Tibetan Monestaries and temples. We saw LOTS of different Buddha statues, monks, and smelled much incense. Tibet is very high in altitude, so I took a drug called diamox for the first 2 days which helped me to acclimitize and not feel the effects of altitude sickness. We drove over some mountain passes that were 5010 meters high!!

We saw lots of sheep, yaks, and mountains. Some days we spent 8 hours on the bus, but we nodded off between admiring the gorgeous scenery. We spent an hour one day driving around a turqouise colored lake that I couldnt keep my eyes off of because it was so beautiful. The road was not paved and therefore quite bumpy, but our driver was very good.

On the fifth day we reached Lhasa, which was very developed and much different than I'd pictured. It looked a lot like the other Chinese cities I saw on my trip to China last year. We spent the last few days there seeing the sights and roaming around the city. I managed to get my own hotel room and it had a bathtub!!!! So that was certainly a treat, especially because the accomodations in the smaller towns earlier in the trip had not been too comfortable (and the tibetan toilets were gross!). The accomodations improved each night as we stayed in larger towns and got closer to Lhasa.

I don't really want to comment on all of the "political" stuff surrounding Tibet. I went there to have a holiday and experience a new place. Of course one cannot ignore the influence of the Chinese there, or forget the fact that even pictuers of the Dali Lama are illegal there. We were greeted by Tibetans begging everywhere we went with the words "hello money" which became annoying after a while. I guess I can ignore the beggars more easily in Nepal, as I'm a PCV and am "helping Nepal" by being here. But I can't say the same for the Tibet....

Anyway, it was a good trip. The scenery was gorgeous, bits of the culture that I could pick up were pretty neat, and seeing all of the Buddhist temples and monesteries was quite interesting. It wasn't an easy trip, as the bussing became tiresome and the altitude screws with one's general health. But I am really glad I went and I've got 3 and a half rolls of film to share with you all at some point....

Best of all is that our trip went off without a hitch. We met a lot of travelers who experienced health problems with people in their groups, bus problems, road problems (landslides), or guides who didn't want to follow the prearranged itinerary...I feel REALLY fortunate that ours worked out exactly as planned...

Basically, Tibet is a cool place....

I'm heading off to my village in a few days to finish up my last 90 days as a PCV....thinking of you all!

Jill


June 6, 1999
(via e-mail)

I finished my last day of teaching in Nepal on May 20th. It felt really good to be done, but I've been missing the contact with my students. Following the end of school, I came into Kathmandu, where I've been for about two weeks. I was helping the rest of the Volunteer Action Committee prepare for our all-volunteer conference. About 110 PCVs came to Kathmandu to attend the conference, which turned out to be a great success. The highlight was a debate about whether or not Peace Corps should be in Nepal. It was a controlled debate with rules, and really generated a lot of good comments, ideas, discourse. I had been opposed to having the debate, as I thought it was going to turn into a big screaming match; it did not however, and it turned out to be really interesting. I even gave my own 3 minute opinion (for being in Nepal) as an audience member.

Following the conference was a BIG party at a nice bar that we had to ourselves- lots of drinking and dancing. And the following night was a talent show. There sure are a lot of talented PCVs! We had a gymnast, guitar players/singers (I even did one number), a skit, a fire dancer, and someone read a short story she'd written. Fun was had by all.

Whenever I'm out of the village for a while, I start missing the folks there. So I called today and talked to Mylie Didi, my Nepali mother. She was happy to hear from me and we talked for a minute or two. She hasn't talked on the telephone very much so I think she was a little nervous. It was really funny. I am looking forward to going back there and seeing her. I really miss her.

Upcoming events on my schedule include my group's Close of Service conference and a trip to Tibet. So I am looking foward to those and then heading back to my village to spend my last weeks here in Nepal. The reality that my service is coming to an end is starting to hit hard: it makes me both happy and sad.

I'll send another update following my Tibet trip...

jill


April 11, 1999
(via air-mail)

April 26 will mark 1 1/2 years of living in Mauna Budhuk, my village. So I've decided to reflect on some of the changes I've been through over the past 18 months.

When I first arrived to Budhuk, I still clung to some of my American customs. So much here was new, that I needed to vigorously hold on to a few bits of my native culture and individuality. For example, I ate my dal bhat with a spoon for the first few weeks. Now, not only do I always eat with my hand, but I'm convinced that it's the secret to enjoying it. Somehow, the rice and lentils just tastes better when eaten by hand. Another example is Nepali clothing. I've always dressed for school in a Kurta surawal--the outfit worn by most unmarried women. But I'd often wear jeans on my day off. For the past year, however, my jeans have been in storage in Kathmandu for use when I'm there. Even on my days off, I wear a long skirt or Nepali lungi. I've even started wearing Nepali accessories--cheezy plastic bracelets and necklaces that I used to wear when I was about 8 years old.

I was once frightened by the cows, buffalo, and goats that routinely wander around the village. I'd cross to the other side of the road to avoid getting close to the "beasts." Now, I'm a semi-experienced herder. Cows and goats frequently sneak into my hostel's compound to feast on the leaves and fruit that have fallen from the surrounding trees. Though we've tried several different methods to secure the compound's front gate, the animals still seem to find their way in to knock our clothes off the line and create a path of destruction in their wake. So I've recently taken up herding and can be spotted wielding a stick and driving the trespassing livestock from the compounding while shouting the perfunctory herding call, "Oy, jah!"

I've finally adjusted to "Nepali time" by which everything seems to begin about two hours later than when planned. So when a school/village function is called for 12:00, I no longer drag my punctual self there at noon just to wait for everyone else to arrive; I show up at 2:00 pm right "on time" with my Nepalese friends. And the tea shop small talk that was once a futile attempt to grasp a bit of meaning is now a satisfying way to spend a few hours, shooting the breeze with the locals as an equal participant in the conversation. My language skills have gotten good enough that I've given several impromptu (but brief) speeches at recent village events.

By far, the most satisfying change is that my love for my Nepalese neighbors has continued to grow exponentially with time, and our relationships have been brought to a higher plane. I've watched many village infants learn to walk and talk before my eyes. My neighbor, Neesa, who was a toddlen when I arrived has blossomed into a precious little girl. The other evening I paced outside her mother's door like a nervous father while her mother gave birth to her second child. I've offered rice, peanuts, and flowers to the Hindu gods on festival days to celebrate with my neighbors. I put flowered wreaths around the necks of my 12th grade students, who I've taught for 2 years, and placed red powder on their foreheads at a ceremony to commemorate the end of their high school studies. I've become like a regular member of the community; I'm no longer a guest. I have a history here. I have a home.


March/April 1999
(via air-mail)

The Nepali New Year will be here soon -- April 14th on our calendar, but the first day of the month of Baisak on the Nepali calendar. The new year will be 2056.

We had another nice program for International Women's Day this year, and again my female students spent a lot of time planning and preparing. It was a great success, and I enjoyed it because my role in organizing the whole affair was quite minimal this year.

Last week I spoke briefly (in Nepali) at a program sponsored by an organization of oppressed/low caste Nepalese who are working to eliminate discrimination against them in Nepali society. The caste system was legally abolished here over 25 years ago, but lower caste Nepalese still suffer from great discrimination on a personal level by many higher caste Nepalese, as the caste system is imbedded in their Hindu faith.

For example, I have a low caste student in each of my classes (one is by far the top student). Each has many friends in class and can be seen walking arm in arm with his buddies. However, neither is permitted to enter the homes of any of his classmates. Or if either touched food or drink of a higher caste Nepali, the higher caste person would not eat/drink it. When I've discussed these issues with some of my students outside of school, they express dislike for the system and would like to let their low caste friends into their homes, but their parents/grandparents won't permit it. One student of mine (whose best friend since childhood is of a low caste) said that her friend can enter her home but cannot go into the kitchen. She also said that she would eat food cooked by her low caste friend as long her grandmother wouldn't find out.

So it seems like the discrimination will be around for a long time, but the younger generation seems to carry less traditional beliefs. Maybe when they became grandparents, some change will be achieved. Anyway, I spoke briefly about my surprise and strange feelings when I learned about the caste system, and expressed my own belief that for me, all Nepalese people are equal. I was asked by my low caste student to speak at the program, so hopefully he was pleased with my remarks. His English ability is miles above his classmates', he is a sweet kid, and a talented, aspiring singer/songwriter. I really like him a lot.

Finally, my schedule for my remaining 6 months seems to be changing by the minute. I'd planned to be in K'du in April, but the conference I was to attend has been postponed to June. So chances are that I won't be back in the big city until late May. So hopefully I can catch up with some of you via e-mail then. Both my close of service conference and the conference of all Nepal's PCVs are now set for June.

A major cause of the schedule changes is Nepal's upcoming parliamentary elections. We're supposed to avoid traveling during that time and to stay put in our villages, as protests that may erupt in city areas could be potentially dangerous. But we're not expecting any trouble -- it's just a common-sense precaution. Elections will be held in 2 phases: May 3rd for western districts and the 16th for the east.

I'm finishing up in the classrooms and hope to be finished teaching around the Nepali New Year. I'll be happy to be done, but I've left the most difficult material for the end; so the next few weeks of class will be a struggle for both me and my poor students.

I feel so lucky to have friends/family like you, as my flow of mail keeps on coming in strongly. How I wish each of you could spend a day in my village!

Love,
Jill


February 25, 1999
(via e-mail)

I spent the last few weeks teaching in my village and arrived in Kathmandu today. I am on my way back from spending a week in Pokhara, the biggest tourist destination in Nepal after Kathmandu. It's got a big lake with boating, good views of the Himalayas, and lots of touristy bars and eateries. I attended two conferences: 6th International Conference of Nepal's English Language Teacher's Association and the other was a Peace Corps conference for all the PCVs who teach 11/12th grade as I do. Both conferences were interesting and made a great excuse for me to get to Pokhara on official business (ie. paid for by Peace Corps). I managed to take out a rowboat with a friend on the day that the mountains were the clearest (great views and hopefully great pictures), and Pokhara was in pre-tourist season and not too crowded.

The first motorized vehicle ever to "wheel" into my village arrived 2 weeks ago! It was a bulldozer that ploughed a truck road to my village. The bus will still be a 2 hour walk away, but jeeps and trucks will occasionally come into the village to bring supplies. The folks were thrilled to see the bulldozer, and the following day a jeep and a motorcycle arrived! I caught the bulldozer's arrival on my video camera!

Twelfth grade national final exams begin early April, so my days of teaching 12th grade are numbered; 11th grade will end about a month later. It looks like I'll be able to keep mildly busy until I get out of here (mid-Sept), but I wont mind spending some free time in my village with the folks during my last few months to do all of my goodbyes. I think I may spend some of my remaining 3 weeks of vacation time travelling within Nepal, but I am also thinking about trying to see Tibet.

All's well--I'm heading back to my village tomorrow to continue my teaching. Winter ended early which is nice, and now the weather in my village is great...sunny and slightly breezy. It's been great hearing from all of you!

Love Jill


January 18, 1999
(via e-mail)

Happy 1999! I can't believe how time is flying by. I spent the end of December in my village, teaching and giving mid-term exams to my students. As I expected, the good students did well, and the weak students did poorly.

I spent New Year's Eve in Dharan, a city four and half hours (two by foot, two and a half by bus) from my village. The party was hosted by Ken, a PCV who lives in Dharan, and there were a total of 9 PCVs, 2 British girls from another program, and 2 of Ken's Nepali friends. I had a really good time, especially because all of the PCVs (excluding myself and Ken) were from the newest group. They'd only been out of training and at their sites for 2 weeks, so they hadn't yet developed the somewhat "jaded" attitude that we more "seasoned" volunteers seem to adopt after about 6 months. Not that we don't like it here, but time does something to one...It was also nice to be the person at the party who'd been in country the longest, except for the Nepalis of course.

Following New Year's, I headed out west to the small city of Bhairawah. It's in the terai, or plains area, 300 km west of Kathmandu and about 4 km north of the Indian border. A British volunteer, myself, and a few other PCVs were giving a 20 day training to 75 Nepali teachers of English from the western regions of Nepal. I stuck around for the first 2 weeks and gave 3 sessions a day to groups of 25 teachers; each session lasted for an hour and 45 minutes. I was training them in methods of teaching literature, while teaching them the actual 11th grade literature curriculum to model the methods. It was stressful but mildly enjoyable.

The highlight of being in Bhairawah was taking a 3 day side trip to a beautiful town called Tansen. I stayed there for a month with a host family back in September 1997 during my own training and had wanted to return there to visit the family. Tansen is only a 3 hour busride north of Bhairawah, so I took advantage of the opportunity to visit them. I stayed at their house, they filled me up with good food, and we spoke no English this time. It was really a lot of fun.

Now, I am in Kathmandu for a few days, getting some schoolwork done. My school's winter break doesn't end for another 2 weeks, so I will slowly make my way back to the village for the start of classes. I am freezing here in Kathmandu, and none of the hotels, restaurants, offices, etc. have central heating. Occasionally, a nicer restaurant will have a small space heater. Unfortunately, Bhairawah, which is unbearably hot in the summer and usually warm in the winter, was having a cold spell when I was there. I think it was colder there than it is up here in Kathmandu. Oh well, it could be worse. I just got a letter from a PCV friend in Poland who reported that temperatures there are -20 degrees celsius!

I should have exactly 8 months of service left as of yesterday...I am trying to enjoy every minute while looking forward to finishing up and returning home.

jill


December 15, 1998
(via e-mail)

I've just spent 6 weeks in my village and am in Kathmandu briefly to attend a meeting of the Volunteer Action Committee that I was elected to in July. We'll discuss PCV issues and begin plans for our all volunteer conference in May. It's nice to eat non-rice meals and get hot showers.

As for what's new, there's lots! I've got a small video camera with me in the village now that my dad won in a raffle. It can run on batteries, and so far I've taken about 45 minutes of footage, doing a walking tour of my village. I'm thrilled to know that my memories will be recorded for my future viewing pleasure and to be able to give you folks at home a better look at my life here.

In other exciting news, my room now boasts a fluorescent tube light! When I first arrived in the village, they told me that electricity was 10 years away. But a "wealthy" villager bought a dynamo that runs on diesel fuel. It can power about 100 outlets. The electricity only runs in the evening for a few hours, but I am not complaining. I can finally read and write at night! The first night that the electricity started, it was like a combination of Halloween and Xmas; everyone, including me, was going door to door to see everyone's glowing bulbs!

I've been keeping busy with my teaching and my girls club. Every week I have about 4-6 girls over to my room and we do crafts or a small activity. Because they are young, ages 10-13, I usually plan the activities myself. But they've seemed to enjoy all that we've done so far (make friendship bracelets, crayon leaf rubbings, etc.) and it's great fun for me, too.

In cultural news, I was recently kept up one night from 1:30 to 3:30 am by a man going door to door chanting and playing a horn. I couldn't figure out what was going on, and became increasingly uneasy as he played outside my window. I found out the next morning that his caste is "Jogi" and that twice a year he comes to people's homes to scare away ghosts and evil spirits. Wish someone would do the same for the mice! I also ate a new food: pigeon. I actually found it to be rather tasty (similar to duck) and its soup is especially good during the winter season.

My latest news is that I have been asked by Nepal's Higher Secondary Education Board to be a trainer at a teacher training to be held in January. As I will be on my winter vacation from school, I am planning to go for about 2 weeks and train some English teachers in the new 11th grade English curriculum. It will be similar to the training I worked on in July, but for teachers in Western Nepal this time. I'll be happy to spend the time in the terai, the flat and WARM part of Nepal; my village is especially cold in January! And finally, I'd been trying to figure out how when I'd get to Pokhara, the town considered to be the big resort town/tourist hot spot. I just found out that there's a conference there in February that I'll need to go to, so that takes care of that!

I'm feeling good both mentally and physically. I am looking forward to completing my service, but am trying to enjoy and make the most of the remaining nine months. The time really has flown right by. I'd like to wish everyone a happy and healthy 1999! Please keep your letters coming, they're invaluable to me!

love,
jill


November 7, 1998
(via air mail)

My vacation passed quickly, and I am back in my village once again. It was a little more than a year ago when I first moved out here, and I'm amazed at how quickly the time has passed by!

I received a warm welcome upon my arrival back in the village, and I'm busy teaching my 11th and 12th graders. I am not really looking forward to the cold season, which is quickly approaching, but some good things will result: tangerines and guavas will be in season, and I'll enjoy stunning views of Mt. Kacherjanga, 3rd highest in the world.

I inherited and bought some stuff from volunteers who were leaving Nepal. I was happy to get a kerosene lantern from one PCV--mine has been broken for 6 months and candles aren't too effective in the windy, cold season! Another gave me some long johns and warm pajamas, and I bought a nice REI fleece sleeping bag liner off of someone else. All items should leave me in good shape for winter.

This year, we've got winter break from school which I'll be looking forward to. It will last for a month. I'll spend a few days of it in Kathmandu and hope to maybe see a bit of Nepal that I've not yet seen. Or perhaps I'll go to the terai (southern plains area of Nepal) to thaw out for a few days.

Looks like I'll spend Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Xmas holidays in my village--which is fine I suppose. Maybe I can arrange for a good supper to be cooked here. I'll probably be here for New Year's Eve also. It's not really celebrated here because the Nepali calendar is different; New Year's here occurs in mid-April. I actually like being away during this time to avoid the commercialism and materialism that seems to plague the USA around Black Friday to Xmas.

Well, it's time to go eat dinner. I gave my didi (older sister) extra money to buy meat (chicken) today--so I'm looking forward to dinner tonight. Don't forget to write!

Jill


September 14, 1998
(via e-mail)

Dear friends,

Please excuse me for such a long delay in writing my latest update. I'll try to fill you in on what's been going on here.

School ended in early May and somehow I managed to keep busy over the summer. I walked a total of 17 hours up and down mountains to attend the wedding of one of the teachers at my school. The walk was done in grueling summer heat, I fell 3 times, and water sources along the way were few and far between. It was an experience I hope never to repeat, but I enjoyed the wedding and my presence seemed to be appreciated. I also visited 2 villages and schools in my area (the closer is a 5 hour journey) to check them out as possible sites for future volunteers. Both were nice and each received a new PCV in August.

In late June I helped with the planning of a conference for all of Nepal's PCVs (about 120 total) which was held in Kathmandu on July 4th weekend. The conference went really well and we enjoyed a July 4th celebration with other Americans, ex-pats, and an elephant on loan from the Kathmandu Zoo. I must say that I felt much more patriotic this year than ever before. I also managed to get myself elected onto VAC, a committee of 12 PCVs who act like a student council. Basically we deal with issues important to PCVs and help to change policy, make improvements to things (our computer lab for example), and act as liaisons between the PC administration and PCVs.

Most of you have heard about my trip to China by now. In mid-July, I met my parents in Beijing and we toured there as well as Xi'an, Shanghai, Suzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong. It was a 2 week vacation and we found it to be absolutely wonderful. There is an abundance of pictures, slides, and home video for any of you silly enough to request seeing them.

Upon my return to Nepal, I caught the last week of a teacher-training that was given by some PCVs and VSOs (another volunteer organization). We trained 24 Nepali teachers of English on the new 11th grade curriculum and modeled teaching methods that they can use in their classrooms. It went quite well, and we're hoping to give a similar training later this year to another group of teachers.

Finally, I am back in my village, and although I swore I wouldn't teach again my second year, I am doing it. I warned the folks at school that I will be out of the village now and then to take care of other work, so that someone will need to teach my classes while I'm gone. But I felt loyal to my students, and the school is short one teacher, so I agreed to teach 2 classes. Though teaching can still seem futile at times, I found out that 40% of my students passed English this past year. So I suppose some learning did take place. The percentage might seem low by American standards, but I was quite pleased.

Everything seems less stressful now that I've got one year under my belt and I consider myself pretty well-adjusted to village life. I can even sit in my room and identify which village kid is crying by the sound of his/her sobs. And my Nepali language skills have sharpened considerably. I no longer speak the formal Nepali that we learned in training, but have finally picked up "village Nepali" complete with slang and unconjugated verbs.

Please know that your letters and kind words continue to be invaluable to me! Often PCVs seem to get less and less mail as time goes on, but I received 10 letters in one week this month--probably a record for me. I miss you all and think of you often.

Namaste,
Jill


June 25, 1998
(via e-mail)

[Jill wrote this in response to a Peace Corps solicitation for volunteer testimonials.]

The Pride in Their Eyes

Before joining Peace Corps, I recall hearing that successes experienced by Peace Corps Volunteers are often unquantifiable or immeasurable. Now, I fully understand what that means.

I had only been living in my village for a few months when I heard about International Women's Day. As the only female teacher in my secondary school, I figured that I should be the one to propose and organize a celebration for the girls at my school. I got my headmaster's approval for a program and began contemplating the possibilities. As Women's Day quickly approached, a revelation hit: I had absolutely no idea what would be fun and appropriate for my school's Women's Day program.

Somehow, my calendar suddenly showed that International Women's Day was three days away, but I had planned absolutely nothing. I think my procrastination can be attributed to a delusion that the elusive art of "planning" in Nepal would eventually be revealed to me. When no such enlightenment presented itself, I came upon an obvious and logical solution to my dilemma: because the program was for the girls at school, they should be the ones planning it.

The next day, I invited my class's eleven and twelve female students to attend an after-school committee meeting to plan the International Women's Day program. About ten students came, and we began discussing possible activities for the program. It became apparent that the girls were deferring to me to make the final decisions, but I refused. I offered a few suggestions when it seemed necessary, but tried to stick to the role of facilitator.

When the students finally realized that their meeting would last a week unless they began making decisions, they rose to the occasion and drafted a schedule of events for the day. We made a list of items to be bought or found and began work on the preparations. I delegated tasks to small groups of girls and they began inviting our guest speakers, buying prizes, and gathering spoons, marbles, rope and the other items needed for the games and races which had been planned.

On the morning of the program, the girls looked exhausted. They had been burning the midnight oil, literally. Along with some male students that they recruited, the girls had worked late into the night by their kerosene lanterns making badges for the program participants to wear.

All of our preparations seemed to be in place, but the proverbial Murphy and his law always seem to come around when least wanted. Large black clouds loomed ominously overhead, and a few teachers changed the start-time of the program without informing all of the staff members. Consequently, half of the students were outside on the school yard waiting for the program to start, while the other half were still in classes. As the wind picked up, so did some of the girls who had been waiting outside--they started off for their homes. I needed help coaxing the girls back to the school, but my committee members were all off fixing their hair and saris for the program.

After what seemed like an eternity, the rest of the students were finally let out of classes and gathered together on the school yard. We quickly got the program started before the wind could blow any more of the girls home, and finally, everything came together. One of the twelfth graders began leading the rest of the school girls on a march throughout the village. They carried placards and chanted slogans about the importance of educating girls. Women from the village joined in as the group went marching past, and by the time we all returned back to the school yard, there was an impressive number of girls, women, and spectators gathered to enjoy the program. Even the sun came out and joined us, peeking its head out from behind the clouds.

The rest of the program went off without a hitch and included speeches by our guest speakers (including one given by me in the best Nepali accent I could muster up), games and races, and an awards ceremony. The day's activities were enjoyed by all, but the greatest reward by far was the sense of accomplishment felt by my students who had organized and led the program; they were all beaming with pride. Few girls in Nepal--especially in rural villages--get the opportunity for leadership experiences, so I was pleased to have given them their first taste of it.

When the program ended I returned to the hostel where I reside to find one of my brightest students, Purna Maya, wearing the widest smile I had ever seen on her face. Glowing with pride, she grinned from ear to ear and said to me, "Miss, the program was even more successful than I ever could have dreamed." I quickly realized that I had underestimated both my own and my students' abilities, for I had just been thinking exactly the same thing.


May 16, 1998
(via airmail)

Greetings from Kathmandu,

I really enjoyed my in-service training. The PCVs in my group and I stayed at a nice hotel in Dhulikel, 75 minutes east of K'du. We worked on our Nepali language skills, traded war stories and triumphs from our time at our posts, received more vaccinations, and enjoyed our first hot showers and pizza in 6 months.

Summer break from school has finally arrived, and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm out of the classroom until mid-August, so I'm working on some other pojects in the meantime. Another PCV and I are helping Nepal's Higher Secondary Education Board with a curricular survey project, and we're also visiting some villages/schools to check their suitability as posts for a new group of volunteers. I should also be helping with the technical training of the new 11/12th grade English PCVs. In addition, I'll attend a conference for all 150 of Nepal's PCVs and take a 1 1/2 - 2 week vacation with my parents somewhere outside of Nepal.

I'm still enjoying myself and seem to be keeping busy even though school is out. For my current work, I've been spending some time in Biratnagar. It's Nepal's 2nd largest city and is about 6 1/2 hours from my village (4 1/2 by bus and 2 by foot). While in Biratnagar, I stay with 2 PCVs in their apartment, which is dubbed "the villa" by other PCVs because of its luxurious facilities (electricity, telephone, gas stove, small refrigerator, indoor plumbing/bathroom, and phone). Although Biratnagar is extremely hot, the soda, chocolate, ice cream, french fries, yoghurt, etc. available there makes it liveable for short periods of time. Also, we are able to rent films and a TV/VCR; so when other PCVs are passing through Biratnagar (which is often because it has eastern Nepal's biggest airport) we pool our extra money and have movie marathons.

I've been working off of a letter writing system where I reply to every letter I receive. So if you've written to me but haven't received a response, it means that a) I never received your letter or b) you never received my reply. Depending on where I am in Nepal at the time and where you are in the world, letters take a minimum of 10 days to arrive--though often the average is more like 2-4 weeks. Occasionally, letters drift in 3 months late. I've heard that the record at the Peace Corps mailroom for a late delivery is 3 years! So if you've written to me and not heard back--you may want to try again.

My duties for my second year are still up in the air, but I hope to remain in my village, as I enjoy the people and environment despite a lack of facilities. I feasted on lychees today and am helping my 11th grade students cram for their English final tomorrow (it's a standardized test for every 11th grader in Nepal). Of my 25 students, I'll be overjoyed if 6 pass.

Well, thanks again for all of your support. I usually receive 4-6 letters per week and love hearing all news from your lives.

Peace and Love, Jill


undated
(via airmail)

Greetings to all of my webpage readers, especially those of you who are enjoying your Peace Corps experience the sane way: vicariously through your insane friend/neighbor/sister (insert appropriate relationship here).

I want to share with you two recent discoveries that have significantly improved my quality of life here in the village: 1) one of the vendors at our weekly market now sells Wrigley's Doublemint gum (any food items resembling those available in America are great comforts for me); 2) my underwear supply will last twice as long if I wear each pair for two days instead of just one.

I'm also pleased to report that the winter season has finally ended and my fingers and toes are completely thawed. There is no rest for the weary, however, and the windy season has arrived in full force to blow all of my freshly handwashed laundry off the clothesline and into the dirt. I haven't time to complain, however; I'm too busy contemplating what havoc the upcoming monsoon season will wreak on my life.

Teaching school remains a challenge, especially because a severe eraser shortage is currently plaguing our school. It's not that we can't afford them, because we can. We just haven't bought new ones for some reason. I don't try to think logically about the situation because there isn't any logic to be found. Anyway, each morning before school is a 15 minute scavenger hunt to locate an eraser--a most coveted item considering that the blackboard is our only available teaching aid.

I've realized that I have read more in the last 8 months than I did in four years as an undergraduate English major plus my two years in graduate school. I just completed reading my 20th book (for my own enjoyment), I read Newsweek cover to cover on a weekly basis, and I've had to read almost the entire 11th and 12th grade English curriculum, including Animal Farm, 25 poems, 6 one-act plays, 18 short stories, and 25 essays. I skipped reading Romeo and Juliet though, having determined that my 2 previous readings (in high school and college) plus a viewing of Franco Zeferelli's film have left me in good stead should "The Montagues and Capulets" ever appear as a category on Jeopardy!, the TV quiz show.

Not only have I read the ludicrous curriculum, but I've also created Cliffs Notes-like summaries in "simple English" for most of it. My reading and summarizing have led me to a few noteworthy conclusions:

1) The computer is a god. After endless typing on a non-electric, old-fashioned typewriter (sans correction ribbon, of course), I've come to admire and appreciate Bill Gates and his vast computing empire.

2) If I were to retake the GREs now, my previously dismal verbal score would probably shoot up a good 300 points.

3) It is humanly impossible to summarize essays by Aldous Huxley using "simple English."

4) If I have to read some literary works in the curriculum six or seven times before I (a native English speaker with a Masters degree) can fully comprehend them, it's unlikely that they are on an appropriate reading level for my students.

But my students seem to understand and appreciate the summaries, and all the reading and typing make me look like I'm working hard, so I guess it has been worthwhile.

Finally, thanks so much to all of you who have been faithfully corresponding with me. Your letters are an invaluable part of my ability to stay sane. And for those of you (you know who you are) who would rather spend your free time at movies, cutting your toenails, or doing something totally useless like studying for exams, don't expect any letters from me when you're isolated in a rural Nepali village without e-mail, Seinfeld reruns, or Taco Bell!

Love,
Jill


undated
(via airmail)

I decided to make a list of some interesting observations I've made while living in Nepal:

  • One of my students walks 2 hours to and from school every day (4 hours round trip).
  • A goat recently wandered into my doorway.
  • Our post office is only open from 12:00 - 2:00 p.m., but shops are open 6:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
  • There is absolutely no correlation between how many seats and standing room are available on the buses and how many people actually ride on them.
  • I hve not had a hot shower since October 23, 1997.
  • "Are you married?" is one of the first questions someone will ask after being introduced to you.
  • Teachers at school frequently go into class 10 minutes late and stop teaching 10 minutes early.
  • Of the Nepalese who are familiar with American music, their favourite songs seem to be The Eagles' "Hotel California" and Lionel Richie's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
  • A common snack is "jamir and corsani": a fruit that is more sour than a lemon is cut into pieces and served smothered in hot chili peppers.
  • The first class of the day for 12th graders begins at 6:30 a.m. (Unfortunately, it's an English class, and I'm the teacher.)
  • All candy, no matter what type, is called chocolate.
  • It would be absolutely scandalous for a girl and boy to be seen holding hands or walking with their arms around each other. It's very common, though, to see guys holding hands with each other or girls walking arm in arm.
  • Teachers show up early to school and stay late to teach extra classes for their students. These classes aren't free, though--the teachers charge tuition.
  • The Nepali language has a word to describe almost any familial relationship imaginable. There's even a word to describe the relationship between a bride's and groom's mothers.
  • Nepalese are amazingly efficient at conserving water when washing clothes/dishes (you would be too if you had to carry it from a tap to your house!).
  • When I receive letters from my grandmothers, people here are often surprised to find out that they can read and write. Most older Nepalese women here are illiterate.
  • Concepts such as the Internet, answering machines, beepers, American bathrooms, covering one's mouth when coughing, pizza, and privacy are unknown concepts among most people in my village.


    January 6, 1998
    (via airmail)

    Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy 1998. I spent the weekend before New Year's at the home of my nearest PCV neighbor. This is always relaxing because he's got a nice guest room, eletricity, an indoor shower (with freezing cold water) and he's quite a chef. Although the Nepali new year isn't until April, we had January 1 off from school to kick off "Visit Nepal '98," Nepal's new tourism campaign. VOA contributed to my New Year's cheer by reporting a story about the Mummers Parade. Although my father's dislike of the Mummers was transferred to me at an early age, I enjoyed hearing the South Philly accents of those interviewed. VOA was also quick to report all the scores of the College Bowl games, but I certainly could have done without hearing about OSU's loss, especially because they lost to Miami's biggest rival--FSU.

    I moved into a new room--I've got one of five rooms in our school's hostel. Teachers live in two room, and five female students live in the other two. It's a really nice room, and I feel like I'm back in one of my dorms--except that I've no heat, a/c, carpet, bathroom, or electricity. But there is plenty of room for my things, the walls are painted white, and there are several windows which provide ample daylight.

    By the time you read this, a new group of volunteers will have arrived in Nepal. It will be nice not to be the "new group" anymore! My group is called 184, as we're the 184th group to have arrived in Nepal. Over 4,000 volunteers have served in Nepal since Peace Corps began here in 1963.

    I finally began a new book--John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. I've quickly devoured 350 pages and though I've not finished it yet, I highly recommend it. It's most enjoyable! I'll also recommend The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was my last good read.

    Time is passing relatively quickly for me. I've got a few things to look forward to: my PC supervisor's visit, an abundance of school holidays in the next two months, and a conference in early march for PCVs living in eastern Nepal. We're going to stay in a hotel, and I'm hoping to have a hot shower there--I've not had one since October 24th!

    I've been eating a new food called "gundrug"--it's one month old, fermented spinach. I also had a month old fermented lemon. Believe it or not, both were quite tasty--or maybe I've just been in Nepal for too long. When I board the bus in the city 4 1/2 hours away to return to my village, the people usually know where I'm headed--I guess I'm like a "regular" now. And goats, cows, and chickens have become as commonplace of a sign for me as cars were in America. January 28th will mark my 6 month anniversary of living in Nepal.

    As always, thank you for your letters and news from your lives and parts of the world. I miss everyone dearly, but I'm also enjoying my crazy life halfway around the globe (usually)! Love,
    Jill


    December 6, 1997
    (via airmail)

    Ten Clues that you're living in a Nepali Village

    10. When you ask "what's for lunch/dinner?", the answer is always dal baat tarkari (rice, lentils, vegetables)

    9. Although the bus has only 25 seats, there are 40 passengers and a few goats or chickens

    8. Your hands take on a new role: washing machine

    7. The expression "burning the midnight oil" is no longer figurative

    6. When your male students see you showering, you shrug it off as no big deal

    5. If you mention the words O.J., Madonna, or Disneyland, no one knows what you're talking about

    4. Sleeping in on a Saturday means getting up at 6:00 a.m.

    3. You must walk for 2 hours before reaching a store that sells Coke (unrefrigerated, of course)

    2. When people see a roll of toilet paper on your desk, they ask "Yo kay ho?" (what's that?)

    1. Himalayas, Himalayas, Himalayas

    On a more serious note, I'd like to thank everyone for your continuing support, letters, and wonderful packages. Your inquiries about my experience here and news of your lives at home help to contribute to keeping me sane (along with Voice of America and my weekly copy of Newsweek's international edition).

    I'm continuing to smile despite the fact that the 3 month cold season has arrived. At least the sky is clear now and I can see the Himalayas every day! I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving feast along with 12 other volunteers--we had all of the trimmings including turkey and stuffing. And don't worry about me getting scurvy, as I eat what seems like 100 tangerines per week!

    Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy new year!

    Love, Jill


    It's a semi-well-kept secret that I occasionally dabble in poetry. Here's my 1st from Nepal.

    the kite (for Matt)

    in the sky there soars a kite
    above the tallest tree
    She flies so high she's out of sight
    where nobody can see

    She blows along just to and fro
    alone up in the sky
    She's never sure where she will go
    it makes her want to cry

    but every day she's seeing things
    which are very new
    focusing on the joy this brings
    is what she tries to do

    And when the kite begins to yearn
    for the safety of the ground
    She tries to think of all she'll learn
    And the strength that she has found

    She also often thinks about
    the ones she left behind
    who never filled her up with doubt
    or tried to change her mind

    Instead they urged her to explore
    the world she longed to know
    to see what she'd not seen before
    where others rarely go

    the lengthy journey of the kite
    has just recently begun
    months of flying day and night
    lie ahead before she's done

    But every hour in the air
    brings her closer to
    returning back to those who care
    though she may be someone new --

    Because of all that she has seen
    through very different eyes
    and the places she has seen
    on her voyage through the skies

    Jill Chaskes
    11/22/97
    7th Mungsir 2054 (Nepali date)


    November 12, 1997
    (via airmail)

    I've enjoyed eating with a family this week--they are quite poor (I'll pay at the end of the week for my meals) and live in a room the same size as mine. There's a mom and dad, 2 daughtors Muna (12 years) and Buibui (11 years), and Umbritsagar (10 years), Nabin (5 years) and Augum (3 years) are the 3 sons. The kids get excited to have me there--I think I give the kids bragging rights because I'm eating with their family. But they're really cute and Buibui has been quite helpful to me--showing me where things are, etc. I let the kids (and their mom) decorate a small pumpkin that Mike sent and they really had fun. Here a pumpkin is a regular vegetable (it's a different type though) so the villagers have trouble understanding that we use them for decoration only (and eat just the seeds and make pie/bread) with them. The pumpkin was a big hit and sparked an impromptu lesson about Halloween for about 12 kids. I had them even trick-or-treat at my door (without costumes) and I gave them M&Ms.;

    It's funny the things the kids find interesting. They use combs here, so my brush is usually an object of interest. My 11th grade neighbor is fascinated with my combination lock--they just use padlocks with keys. Mike sent 2 small candles--those small cheap ones you get that smell good. Those also seem to be an unusual thing--their candles are all very thin and tall. I brought a set of jacks complete with 3 superballs (the ones in the bubble gum machines). The kids like it a lot because it's very similar to a game they play with rocks.

    My meager wardrobe feels overly excessive compared with the villagers, who have maybe 3 or 4 changes of clothes. It's funny though because some of the women knit beautifully, so their children wear dirty, ragged clothes with a gorgeous sweater over it!

    I've been eating an abundance of fresh oranges, guavas, and tangerines grown locally, and they're so cheap! What everyone has said about not being able to spend money in the village is true--there's just nothing to busy--so I can just save for when I go to K'du and then eat well and spend freely. There is some stuff to buy here actually--it's just all really cheap. To give you an idea, I get 7,500 rupees/month (my housing allowance is given on top of this!). Here's a sample price list ("rps"=rupees):

  • morning meal/day = 15 rps
  • cup of tea = 2 rps
  • 5 guavas = 1 rp
  • 1/2 liter kerosene = 6 rps
  • 4 oranges = 4 rps
  • box of matches = 1 rp
  • a pen = 10 rps
  • laundry soap (bar) = 8 rps

    That's the only stuff I really need to buy here. When I was in Dahran for that festival, I bought a plate, bowl, fork, spoon, knife, wok-type pot, large tea kettle (all metal), plus 2 buckets, a hurricane lantern, plastic 2-qt. pitcher, and a kerosene stove all for 1380 rps. I have no more big expenses so I can just save! There are a few other expenses actually--I must buy my school supplies with my allowance, so I spent 300 on newsprint and 150 on small notebooks for my students. And one way bus fare to Dahran is 45 rps. So I won't be swimming in rupees, but as you can see I've got plenty. In K'du a decent "western style" meal runs 100-200, a music cassette is 90, a decent hotel is 200-300/night, piece of cake is 50, a coke is 20, so that stuff adds up. K'du eats up money quickly.

    I feel lucky to have my headsir because he and I are a lot alike I think. Two PCVs have met him (the one who did my post survey and the PCV in Dahran, who coincidentally lives 1 street away from my headsir's house there). Both told me I was lucky cause he's worked with other PCVs (I'm the 3rd in my village, but the 1st female... the last was here 1990ish), speaks good, clear Nepali (easy to learn from and understand), and is nice. So I told him that those PCVs said I've got a good post and a good supervisor. He told me that if people ask, I shouldn't say that he's good, just that he does enough. He was telling me that he's his own man and doesn't get involved in political party stuff (which is the key to advancement in Nepal). And that over time there have been successful changes that he's brought about (he's been here for 14 years) but he works slowly. It's like how at home I'm not one of the types at work who brownnoses the superiors and tries to move ahead. And although I was a good RA, I never had a million programs planned or creative new projects. Similarly, I plan to be a good PCV, but I don't think I'll be implementing a million new projects or building libraries as some PCVs are doing. I'll work at my own pace and be a more "subtle" type of volunteer. Fortunately it seems like our styles mesh. I was afraid he would be a work horse when I first met him, but now that I see how things really work around here, I feel differently. I also like that he lets me sort of self-direct my activities at school and left it totally to me and the 2 English teachers to devise our co-teaching plan. He'll ask me to help with stuff, but it's usually something very manageable--currently I'm organizing/cataloging the English language books in our school library. He's also a bit fatherly and will tell me to sweep my floor, hang my mattress out in the sun to kill any bugs that may try to invade it (I haven't noticed any), etc., and when I was staying with him in Dahran he'd ask each morning if I'd washed my face. It's funny!

    The crazy life I'm leading and the things I see have taken on a sort of normalcy--so what I'm doing no longer seems like a big deal. Watching the slide show of returned PCVs at those recruiting meetings I thought, "Wow she lived in that kind of house!... The villagers look so strange with those clothes/jewelry!... She had to travel 4 1/2 hours (two of which are by foot) to see another westerner!... She used a pit latrine and had no electricity!..." But now that's me and it no longer has that sense of awe or wonder about it. The villagers don't look strange--they look like Nepalis! And their houses look like Nepali houses. And 4 1/2 hours is a short journey--some of my fellow PCVs take a bus and walk for 3 days before they reach their post! All has become more regular, but I guess it won't ever really seem "normal" because of my American P.O.V.

    My village is actually larger than I thought--I don't know the actual population. But I live in the "main" part of "town"--like living on Broadway in Pitman [New Jersey]. There are a few shops and houses here, as well as the school, post office, phone, and health post. The rest of the houses in the village are scattered about the hillside in a number of wards.

    Oh well, out of room. Love you all dearly...

    [heart] Jill


    November 8, 1997
    (via airmail)

    Greetings from Budhuk,

    I've been "on my own" now for two weeks. I'm trying to settle in and get my bearings. I've been observing some classes at school and helping to catalog the English books in the school library. Most books are donations--there is a bunch of small books from the early 80s which have come from the USSR. They have names like "Soviet Azerbaijan," "USSR: New Frontiers of Social Progress," and "Trotskyism Today." Quite funny!

    We had a 4 day vacation last week for the Nepali Festival of Tihar. My headmaster took me to Dahran to celebrate (7 1/2 hours away) with his family. They just built a house in Dahran (a "city") where his family lives during the winter. Tihar is the festival of lights, and houses were all lit up with candles and electric lights. Fireworks were popular, and kids came door to door singing for money and sweets. The village way of celebrating is different. Large groups of kids go village to village and put on a variety show-type thing for about 3 hours and collect donations. It was fun on the first night, but they kept coming all week!

    Tomorrow I'll begin teaching in 11th grade. I'll take the class for 3 days and my Nepali counterpart will also take the class for 3 days (we're on a 6 day schoolweek here). The same will happen for 12th grade. I'm a bit jittery because the students' abilities are low, and I'm afraid they won't be able to understand me. But I'll just give it a try.

    So far things have been going along okay... I took my first shower at the water tap today. I wore a special garment called a loongi which Nepalis wear when they shower outdoors to hide their bodies from being seen. It was actually kind of fun! Today is Saturday--market day in Budhuk. Locals came and sell their goods. I bought peanuts, tangerines, oranges, lemons, guavas, and potatoes--all for under US $0.50!! All is cheap.

    Voice of America is keeping me in time with everything at home and has become part of my daily routine...

    Miss you all so much!

    [heart] Jill


    October 21, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    Greetings to all my website viewers! I'd like to thank my brother for his efforts in creating this site and say hello to Matt! Ive been in K'du since Oct 6 and will head out to my village on the 24th. On oct 17th, training ended and I officially became one of 37 new Nepal PCVs. We had a swearing in ceremony and big bash. Its been nice to be in K'du and eat good food, get hot showers, and watch espn/cnn, but the overcrowding, tourists, pollution, and prices makes it a tough place to stay for too long. All of our supervisors came into town for a conference this week and my headsir (principal) is excited to have me at the school. Some of my duties will include teaching a conversation class, some 11/12th grade English classes, and working with the English teachers in my school and nearby schools. I am a bit concerned that he'll want me to get going on everything right away, and I'll need time to adjust. But he cannot fire me:) and generally things in Nepal run pretty slowly anyway. I am busy getting ready to go out to my post, buying what I need and packing up. Thanks again for all your letters and good wishes. Feel free to ask any questions! Love, jill


    October 18, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    greetings! swearing in was nice - the new ambassador hasnt been sworn in yet, so we had it at the home of the next person in line-a woman actually. our supervisors conference is tomorrow so hopefully mine will show up. i head out on the 24th. i get to fly east with 5 other PCVs and then a jeep will meet me there with my baggage and drive me up to post. then i'll have to walk for 2 hrs but porters will carry my stuff to the village. things are going well. its hard to be in the city so long without a whole lot going on and anticipating getting out to post. but i'll be busy for the next few days buying all i need. got a wool sweater today for the equivalent of US$8.00 not bad, huh?


    October 12, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    i'll be in k'du thru the 24th. its now the biggest festival in nepal called deshain and it lasts 15 days. we had a ceremony at the peace corps compund where they sacrificed a goat and then spilled its blood all over the jeeps and other vehicles to bless them for a safe year. now i'll feel more secure riding in them (wink wink). i managed to get to the israeli embassy for kol nidre...the other jewish vit's didnt join me, but there was a peace corps staff member there who i had met, and i also met 2 guys from L.A. on a semester abroad. it was nice but all in hebrew so i was a little lost:) i feel like i'm on vacation cause the last few days have been mostly free time. my language oral exam is tomorrow so i'll study a bit today. but ive been reading (on my 7th book now) and relaxing and eating. i realized that the food here in the tourist restaurants is actaully pretty bad- if these places were at home i'd never go. but here, in comparison to dal bat, we enjoy it and savor every morsel. our swearing in is the 17th and then our supervisors should be in town for a conference with us (in my case, my headmaster from my school) and we'll figure out what my exact duties will be. hopefully he'll show up. ive been spending time at the embassy country club, reading and getting imported soft drinks...all is well. love, jill


    October 7, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    Hello all. I had a great time with my host family, and was sad to leave them. I arrived in K'du 10/6 and was happy to eat pizza and pasta after weeks of just rice! Unfortunately though, it's tourist season and they are everywhere! We are overjoyed at our hotel accomodations- carpeted floors and hot water (sometimes). On Oct 17th we will officially swear in as volunteers and then head out to our posts shortly thereafter. I took a 9 day solo trip to visit my future village, Budhuk. I spent many hours on bus to get there, but it's beautiful and I can see the Himalayas from my village. The school has nice facilities and the people were friendly. There is no electricity however, and all of the village's water is supplied by 2 communal water taps. I think I will like it though. The village just got a phone last month, which is nice. From my village, I just need to walk 2 and a half hours and bus for 2 hrs and then I'm in a big town and can get cold sodas and pringles! I am enjoying my time in Nepal, and esp. currently in K'du because our training schedule is wound down and finally we can get some relaxation time. I appreciate receiving all your mail and good wishes, keep it coming!! I am having fun and taking care of myself as best as possible. Love, Jill


    September 18, 1997
    (via airmail)

    Greetings from Nepal!

    My practice teaching went well. I taught a period of English to 60 eleventh-graders for five days. It was supposed to be for six days, but an ex-prime minister died so they cancelled school. This happens all the time in Nepal--something will happen in the country and they'll just call off school. In fact, some other old guy from Nepali politics died today, so there's no school tomorrow all across Nepal. Although I enjoyed the teaching, I was in a miserably hot part of Nepal and had a brief bout of homesickness/depression--but it has passed. :-)

    The two highlights of the practice teaching experience were: 1) Visiting Lumbini--the birthplace of Buddha. It's kind of like the Jerusalem/Mecca for Buddhists. 2) We ate our morning meal each day at a small snack shop--the owner told our language teacher something like, "I liked having the white people decorating my shop"--and so he threw us a lovely party on our last day. His five siblings came and they served us a virtual feast of special foods for free. It was so nice of them!

    I've been back with my host family this week. Because Nepalis eat only two meals a day, they have an afternoon snack of tea and some food like fruit, roasted corn on the cob, bread, etc. I've volunteered to make the snack tomorrow (it's called Kaja--the snacktime, I mean), and I'll be making two dishes they've not had before--onion rings and garlic bread. Hopefully they'll be edible--they don't really have butter, so I'll have to use ghee, which I believe is unclarified butter.

    On the 20th, I'll be leaving again for a visit to my future village. I'll take a Peace Corps jeep out most of the way but will be on my own to return via bus. Fortunately most of the ride will be through the Terai (southern, flat part of Nepal) so the roads won't be mountainous. But it'll be a long trip--probably 15-20 hours each way. When I go out in the jeep, I'll be riding with 6 other trainees who are posted out East also. They were in the other half of our training group, which means that I've not spent much time with them. It'll be nice to hang out with "new" people.

    After my visit, I'll return to my host family for a week and then I'm off to Kathmandu. I'll be there from October 6 - 20 at least. We'll be wrapping up our training, getting what we need for our post, and we'll swear in as volunteers on Oct. 17. I should be able to send some e-mail from Kathmandu.

    Today we learned how to cook Nepali food during our training. We cooked all day and then ate--and we were allowed to invite one member of our host family. The menu was dalbaht (rice/lentils), tarkari (curried potatoes/tomato/green beans), roti (a bread similar to tortilla), achar (a tomato salsa-like dish), goat meat (which I didn't eat because I saw the gaot while it was still alive), salad (which here means sliced tomatoes, cucumber, onion), and rice pudding for dessert. It turned out pretty well!

    I've got a long day tomorrow as I prepare for my post visit... it's getting late, 9:15 p.m. already! I'm usually to bed by 10:00 p.m. and up by 5:30 a.m. or so!

    [heart] Jill [signature in Nepali]


    September 4, 1997
    (via aerogram)

    Howdy!

    Currently I'm staying with a host family. All of our (volunteers') experiences are very different depending on our family, obviously. But the variations are quite extreme. I got quite lucky--they are very well educated, have a TV and phone, and I'm the 4th volunteer they've hosted. This means that I am treated quite well, but they don't stare at me, or hound me with questions, or follow me around the house. It's crazy what some of my friends are dealing with at their host family's houses!

    Each day I do, see, or hear something interesting here. I've eaten gourd and vegetables for which I know no English name. I eat rice and lentils daily (with my right hand only), and today in training we built a pit latrine out of bamboo and mud! The Nepali language has different names to describe all kinds of relations. For example, Julia is Sarah's "Bouju" [i.e. Sarah's brother's wife] and I think I am her [Sarah's?] "Pupu" [i.e. Sarah's husband's sister].

    I've got 3 host siblings. My "bhai" (younger brother) is Rabi (13 years old), my "sano Bahini" (small-younger sister) is Bina (14 years) and my "tulo bahini" (older-younger sister) is Sila (22 years). Both parents are teachers.

    Next week I travel 2 hours south to do some practice teaching. Should prove interesting. I'm still enjoying Nepal.

    [heart] Jill

    [additional material from undated aerogram, approximately the same time period:]

    I have my own room there, which I share with a few spiders, moths, and unknown buzzing insects. At the moment I'm finding out about a festival for women called Teej. It is taking place today and there is a lot of dancing. We visited a temple in town and observed some of the celebration.

    Each day is a new adventure in eating vegetables that I didn't know existed, or improving my technique of using my hands to wash my clothes, or trying to get accustomed to living without toilet paper. The language is a constant challenge, too. But the people are friendly and giving. Personal hygiene, table manners, and cleanliness are virtually unknown comcepts here. But it's new and fun and diffferent, and the Nepalis enjoy watching me dance and laughing at me.

    When I return, I think I'll be an expert camper-ready for the most basic conditions. I think you'd be proud of me. It's hard to be "prissy" in a third world country.


    September 1, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    Hi. I am in Tansen and found an e-mail place. My host family is nice, 2 teachers and their kids. I eat well and have a nice room for myself. I'll be leaving next week to do a week of practice teaching in Butawal, 2 hours south. Heard about Princess Di, pretty sad. We are still having our language training and tech sessions. The girl who did my post survey is in helping with the edu. training and is answering any questions that I have. I am learning a lot about culture, and I am really appreciating the USA and all of our amenities. Please don't take anything for granted, especially toilet paper, water that comes out of the tap already treated, and food variety! I am enjoying training for the most part but am looking forward, nervously, to getting out to post. The time is passing quickly, although 2 years does seem like a long time :) Everyday is like a new adventure... Love, Jill


    August 25, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    hello! things are going well..spent last night in Nagarkot with the other half of the training group at their training site. they had a talent show (i sang) and a party. we dont get to see them often, so it was nice. i selected my post the other day. the 7 teachers had 10 sites to choose from. we read through post surveys that curent PCVs completed to get the info about the school/village. I'll be in a small/med size village in the eastern hills called Buduk. if ya want to find it on your map, look east and its 2 hrs bus + 2 hrs walk northeast from Dharan(dharan is at the north edge of the terai). i sent a detailed letter about the village so I wont repeat here, but it sounds nice and came highly recommended by the two females who did the survey (one is a 10+2 like me). i'm in k'du for the last time in a while (maybe till october) cause we move on wednesday a.m. into host families in tansen. during the day we'll train at a hotel, so there might be a phone there. had pizza today which is a rarity here- it had been a month sice I had it, so it tasted good! not much else to report. having fun, Jill


    undated
    (via aerogram)

    Hi! (I forget what I wrote before sorry if I repeat) I will attempt to answer your questions from the letters you've sent. First, please do put my address on the web--all mail will be welcome. The weather currently is hot and humid, and because it's monsoon season, it rains daily. We're on the latitude with Ft. Lauderdale, so it's similar. What we get in terms of news is the Kathmandu Post--an 8 page paper that will include big stories from the world (i.e. plane crash in Guam) and an international edition of Newsweek. I could probably find Voice of America on my shortwave, but have yet to do so.

    Most of us are 25-30 but we range from 21-55. Everyone is nice but I've yet to bond with anyone in particular. Nepali is based in Sanskrit and is similar to Hindi. Our whole training staff is Nepali. I will write for you: [Nepali characters follow] It's pronounced "mayro pareewarma panch jana hunuhuncha." It means "my family has five people."

    Yesterday was a festival in Bhaktapur that was a cross between Halloween and the mummers. It's actually a celebration to mourn those who've died in the last year. One of the volunteers met a guy (American) who lives with a family in Bhaktapur and does PhD research there. He got a bunch of us actually into the parade--it was so cool! We danced around the city for 4 hours for crowds of Nepalis lining the streets. They got a big kick out of us because we're foreigners and we'd put on costumes and hats that we made!

    Tomorrow we'll find out where the education posts are and then we'll decide where we'll go... I'm quite nervous! I am looking forward to next week--my home stay with a family!

    I'm really tired--we have 4 hours of language per day. But sometimes we do fun things. The other day we were sent in pairs to Bhaktapur to buy fruit and veggies, practicing our language and bargaining skills! It was really fun. Did I tell you that males walk around hand in hand and with their arms around each other? It's quite odd indeed!

    I just finished my homework and am feeling quite tired--a bad sunburn on my forehead isn't helping... Keep the mail flowing! [heart] Jill


    August 13, 1997
    (via e-mail)

    hello. nepal is really nice but hot and humid. i am enjoying my time here so far except for a brief bout with bacterial diarreah that seems to have affected most of us by now. our nepali training staff is great and the other volunteers are an interesting mix of nice people. we stay at a hotel in Bhaktapur till aug 26 and then goto a host family for a while. the education volunteers visited a school for 2 days and then we each taught a 20 min period to 11th grade (we'll be teaching 11th and/or 12th). their comprehension seems to be about on a 7th grade level by American standards, but their required national curriculum is probably on an American 12th grade level (shortstories,grammar, poetry, 1 act plays), so teaching will be most interesting. the levels of the students also varies if one is at a city or village school. in about a week i will know where in nepal my assignment will be, and at the end of training in oct. we'll be sent out to our posts. training goes from 7am to 4pm and then we have free time,but were usually in bed by 10 or 11 cause were so tired. i really am enjoying language training and most everything else. some days are rougher on the mind and soul than others, but i take things day to day and it seems to keep me happy and more sane:) i can get coke/sprite/kitkats, but even in the city of 60,000 where we train (15 km from kathmandu), western products are few and far between. more is available in k'du. rice and lentils has become tiresome, but our cooking staff try (usually unsucessfully)to make some western dishes. i can see snow capped mountains on a clear day (also few and far between) and the landscapes are quite a sight! unfortunately so is all the poop (stray dogs and cows are as common as cars are in the USA) and mud. but i came in part for a cultural experience and by gosh, nepal does not dissapoint:) i miss you all! please write letters often but PLEASE dont reply to this email account cause i wont be here to get it (i'm in k'du on my day off) peace, jill


    August 3, 1997
    (via aerogram)

    Hi,

    Nepal is very different than the U.S. (go figure!). The country is beautiful, but quite dirty in parts. Personal hygiene is virtually unknown. Dogs, cows, sheep, and chickens roam around on their own, nose picking seems to be the national pastime, and it's not unusual to see a man urinating or spitting in the street. Nevertheless, all is green and in bloom because it's the monsoon season. Mountains are beautiful, and huge snow capped peaks are visible on a clear day.

    Until August 26 I'll be in Bhaktapur, a city 15 km from Kathmandu. All the trainees in my group (the original 40 people were split into 2 halves) are staying at a guest house. We each have one roommate and a bathroom with a shower :) Of course there is no air conditioning, but we've got electricity. After being here, I'll travel 10 hours west to a host family.

    Language classses began yesterday and so far I know the basic greetings, etc. We went on a "field trip" today where each of us was dropped off in a part of town away from our hotel. We each had to interview a Nepali and ask a few questions. Then we had to find our way back. We did have $ for a bus and a map. At some point I knew where I was and could have walked back to the guest house, but instead I took the challenge of taking a bus.

    Outside the city it's beautiful. I took a 3 hour hike with Rosemary (from O.S.U.) yesterday and ate out for the first time (we have a cooking staff so we usually don't need to get our own meals). The meal was good and didn't get any of us ill, which is the REAL sign of whether it was a good meal or not.

    The training is very organized and the staff (all Nepalis and one PCV who finished in April) are super. I like it all so far although I know I'm already missing everyone, a/c, western food, and T.V.!

    [heart] Jill


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