Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!

Monthly Archives: August 2010

Allergic to Dallas

Hello everyone! I am alive – just trying to get back into the swing of things here in the US and as of Monday, Dallas, my city of semi-permanent residence.

School starts next week and I’ve been making some last minute changes to my schedule. Spent a few days in New York visiting good friends and buying books for the school! 😀 😀 😀 never had so much fun swiping a credit card.

I woke up yesterday morning with inexplicable hives. Dr. Frank – where are you when I need you? Been taking anti-histamines and using some cortisone cream – but I just think it’s weird to come all the way back from Nepal to have an allergic reaction to…laundry detergent? dogs? American culture?

I want everyone to know that this isn’t it for Arambha. I have devised some masterful ways of working for Kopila from afar, including writing an official curriculum for the school! and preparing for a return trip in March.

So please don’t delete me from your RSS feeds or your favorites bookmark – you haven’t heard the last of me.




This Is Your Chance – Yeah I Mean You!!!

Ok guys, we’re now entering phase 2. I left Surkhet this morning in a teary blur of flowers, tikha, and sweets gifted to me by the fabulous children of Kopila Valley Primary School.

And now I am in Kathmandu winding up an afternoon of book-buying at Pilgrim’s Book House with a nice cup of green tea.

But here’s the thing: I’ve already run through half of the book budget given. We’ve done well – at an average of $2.71 per book I’ve amassed dictionaries, question/answer books, and level appropriate reading material.

But we need to do more! We need class sets of chapter books and thesauruses! Poetry anthologies! Art books for all our recycling materials! Who knows when this opportunity will arise again. I’m here in KTM for the next three days, with the ability to buy quality literature that will be shipped back to Surkhet for free! Why stop at $100? (about 40 books).

I’d like everyone to consider donating $5, $10, $50, or more to KVCHS’s budding library. We have one book shelf at the school currently, and half of it is filled with 8th grade grammar workbooks (no offense to sentence diagraming of course.) Let’s make it ten, twenty, thirty shelves filled with Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Eric Carle, and Tommy dePaola! I want Orr to have to come back and build a fourth building for the library alone.

Our kids have 30 minutes of library/free reading 3 days a week, plus reading time every day in English. If we don’t grow the library now, the kids will run out of material in 30 school days. We are going to be using innovative software that allows us to have a system for checking out books to children without actually having a librarian, and without internet access. What does that mean? We’ll be the only library around for a 100 miles or more by my guesstimation. If you want a children’s book in Surkhet or its surrounding villages, we’re the only option. And most importantly, we will be delivering, DAILY, the gift of reading to 212 children AND their families. This is how change happens. Now all we need are more books!

Here’s what a few dollars can do for us:

$5 = a pair of how-to craft books for our Friday enrichment classes

$10 = an illustrated dictionary for 4th grade

$50 = a class set of James and the Giant Peach (20 books)

Many of you follow Maggie’s site and have generously donated money to this worthwhile effort. Thank you thank you thank you for getting the ball rolling. Now we need everyone else’s help to keep up the momentum.

If you can spare a few dollars, please consider sending it our way. It will go so far and make a difference for so many kids.

Click here to help us now!

A smattering of what I've bought so far...

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Time to pack

Just shared mango juice box prasad with everyone. Got the sweetest, most wonderful goodbye cards and letters from everyone, as well as Kathmandu book shopping wish lists.

Still hasn’t completely set in, but I know its coming soon.

I can’t wait to come back – that’s all I can say.


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A million?

So today was a blur of trips to the market, last minute project completions, and packing (for Cristina and Kelly anyway). I have stuff on every floor of the house and haven’t even attempted to start gathering it.

So, amidst all our running around, the last of the acoutrements from the old kitchen was moved into the new kitchen. Once everything had been put in its shiny new place, it was time to clean out the old one. This included bug bombing.

We came home from market trip number ?3? to a bluish haze lingering on the front porch and the sick sweet smell of aerosol DEET or some other atomized toxic cocktail. And then, they came. The roaches. They were all over the hallway. All over the office, the living room, Frank’s old room. Luxury suites in the Hotel Cockroach Kopila were selling like hotcakes.

Now, some of you might be freaking out about roaches in a house – but give me a break. We are in a perpetual construction site in a tropical climate, in a house with screen doors that stay closed nary two seconds at a time. The only guaranteed air conditioning we have are open windows. Having grown up in the middle of nowhere in a house that was under construction, I can attest to the impossibility of keeping bugs out of a house. It’s just going to happen.

So – Kelly, Cristina, and I are in the office, printing pictures for the school or something. And Kassoum comes in. She’s such a wonderful, elegant woman. Reserved and demure, but with an open heart and a talent for relating to others. She sits down, and with a slightly perturbed face that is so classically hers, she said…”So many roaches I think.” We nod in agreement, there are a lot of roaches. Then there’s this pause. Not because we don’t want to talk, just because we’re all absorbed in what we’re doing. And Kassoum is translating her next thought:

“A million roaches are dying today I think.”

I hope to goodness that this is funny on a blog, because in the moment it was stomach hurt funny. We all cracked up. Kassoum is not one to embellish, and “million” is such a classic American “throw-away” word, that it just was plain laugh-out-loud, tear up, giggle-till-you’re-beat funny.

We got over it, and then it was time for Kelly and Cristina to make their departure. As we said goodbye to the staff in the kitchen, a lone roach ranger made his way in from the hall. Baju saw him and started flicking him with a newspaper towards the front door. But he kept flying and scurrying around. I remember thinking, man, nothing bothers Baju. She’s awesome. Then he came towards me and Gyanu. She tried to step on him but missed (I don’t fault her, she’s so tiny the damn thing was half her size). Now it was up to me….

One of the things I truly cannot stand is killing roaches. I just don’t like it. I think many people can sympathize with me, so I won’t go into any more detail. But I knew what I had to do. I was the one with the flip flops on. And how could I let down Baju? This was my moment to shine in the spotlight of helpfulness. So I grabbed my flip flop, I whacked…and I missed. But then I whacked again and I got him. And at the point of impact EVERYONE squealed. Not just me, or me and Kelly, or Cristina. EVERYONE. Superwoman Baju, scrappy Gyanu, composed Kassoum, we all squealed, cringed, and turned away.

Some things are just part of the human experience. They aren’t unique to a culture or an ethnic enclave. Things like love, music, and a good laugh are what we all have in common. That and the grossness of squashing roaches.

Me with the A-Team

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Goodbye Volunteers

Frank left today. Kelly and Cristina are leaving tomorrow. And I will be gone on Friday. One minute I am so ready to come home and see everyone I love, and the next I want to change my ticket and stay another 2 weeks.

In any case, I wanted to share some thoughts and stories about our “Dr.” (med student extraordinaire) Frank.

He has been such a rockstar here at Kopila. EVERYONE loves Frank. He had a gaggle of little girls from here at the hostel that would follow him around, from clinic to house to the top floor and back down to the school, giggling and jumping. They just adored him.

All the grown up Nepalis loved Frank too. He was the first to buy a topi, and he wore it all the time! Everyone in the market got such a kick out of it. And at dinner time he could eat almost as much dhaal bhat as a Nepali – which is a lot. Once or twice even Baju (typically a poker face) expressed her approval at his ability to pack it away.

When Maggie introduced all the volunteers at the show last month, we all got polite applause. But Frank was hiding on the sidelines (the topi makes him invisible) and Maggie forgot about him for a sec. When she realized and introduced him – people stood up. They cheered. They roared. Hannah, me, Cristina, and Kelly just looked at each other. Where did that come from?

But more than his charm, humor, and digestive prowess, Frank was a lifesaver here at the house and school. Literally. He solved mystery illnesses (no wonder one of his fav shows is House!), he woke up in the middle of the night for vomiting children, he rode on the back of a scooter he barely fit on by himself in the rain at midnight to take sick kids to the hospital.

He was never afraid to say he didn’t know an answer, or that he wasn’t sure what to do next. So many times he and Kelly would say, “I know how to treat hypertension and diabetes – not tropical boils!” But they researched online, consulted colleagues, read Karen’s travel medicine book (PS Karen – we found it!), and trudged on. Sometimes I could tell it wasn’t easy. Getting an accurate history through a 12 year old translator isn’t the best scenario for diagnosing severe headaches coupled with leg pain and loss of consciousness. Or try suturing a 4 year olds’ head wound with a needle gauged for what looks like exotic veterinary medicine. Quick, what’s the toxicity of an entire tube of adult flouride toothpaste, because baby Madan – 2 years old and 17 lbs soaking wet – just ate one. The list goes on. Every day was something wild and woolly.

On top of what must have seemed like a 6 week long emergency room on call shift, Frank taught health classes at the school. Once hand washing and drinking water standards had been covered, he dove right into the good stuff – anatomy, pathology, and organic chemistry. One evening as Kelly and I ate our dinner roti, Shova told us she was studying for a health quiz. When we asked what it was about, she told us the types of foods. We understood from the blank look on her face after asking what kind of food roti was, that Frank had been up to his usual ways. Why teach the food pyramid when you can jump straight into carbon chains and peptide rings!

He even managed to teach the kids a smattering of Japanese, and showed the boys how to shave during he and Kelly’s special puberty talk.

Frank was a great volunteer teammate as well. He was always quick to pick up a treat from the market for Friday nights on the roof, or to listen to you vent about a project that just wasn’t going the way you wanted it to. His crazy ultra-capitalist schemes (what Surkhet really needs is a teaching hospital – and a CASINO!) became a running joke, as did his craving for cow meat. While waiting for a line of tractors to pass us on the main road earlier this week, I caught Frank staring off in the direction of a herd of cattle and heard him murmur, “Just look at all that meat! How can they not eat it!”

I just don’t know what we are going to do without him. I only have to give medicine to two children in his absence and I am already worried I’ll forget. He’s helped this community and this family so much. I walked by his room after he left and one of our Aunties was sitting on his bed sobbing. It reminded me how many great hearts there are here – people who open the door to their home and their family with the utmost trust and goodwill. Their kind and gracious manner masks the plain hard work that they do from sunrise to past sunset. Her sad crumpled face showed me that language barriers and different backgrounds are no match for the closeness that comes from living, working, and caring together.

To Frank, dozing at 35K feet in a cramped middle seat over the Atlantic right now (hopefully after having some meat based dinner), and to all the Kopila volunteers past and present – the best in us thanks the best in you.

Frank, Nisha, Cristina, and Kelly. Photo Courtesy of Frank Cioppettini

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