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

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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One of the “new perspectives” that I will come back to the US with concerns water…its availability, use, cost, preservation, and the idea of water as a human right.

I saw a post today from my friend Will Wyatt’s Facebook page with this infographic from the Huffington Post.

Bottled Water
Via: Term Life Insurance

Pay special attention to the information regarding water rights and corporatization. And what about the percentage of profits from bottled water sale that only perpetuates the advertising and sale of bottled water?!!!

This issue is close to my heart after seeing how much trash a person, a home, and a community actually produces. With no trash pickup in Nepal to conveniently whisk away “the problem” before you realize how big it really is, its easy to see what the environmental impact of “convenience and safety” is.

Glass, plastic, cardboard, and food waste - all waiting to be burned, buried, or washed away.

Empty water bottles are an (as of now) unavoidable by product of the tourism industry which generates a large portion of this land locked country’s income. Until Nepal can guarantee safe drinking water (or filters that remove parasites and viruses, not just dirt) for all of its citizens and visitors, discarded plastic water bottles will be a nuisance here. But what excuse do we have in developed countries for contributing to this land fill filler? Hint – the answer is NONE!

Buy a Sigg bottle and a Brita or Pur tap filter today. Less than $30 bucks and it will pay for itself in no time, what with all the plastic bottles you won’t be buying. : )

Glass and plastic bottles, cartons, and discarded paper collected from the house and neighborhood - all waiting to become art projects!

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Back by what seems to be popular demand, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you a slideshow.

Love from Kopila!

Friday Fun-day!

Fridays always end up being filled with excitement and good news.

First and most importantly, Saurab had his operation last Sunday and he is doing splendidly! He came to the house with his grandmother today after lunch and had a nice new full cast on his arm. I took him on a quick tour of the school so he could see the progress that has been made in his absence, and then he came back to the house and we played with a balloon while his grandmother chatted with the grown-ups.

He will be back at school on Monday. I am so happy to see that he is doing well and on his way to a full recovery. I swear he’s actually grown a centimeter or two since I last saw him.

And then….

We had an art-fest at the school today – and it was insane. As much as I like to plan and organize things, today I pretty much failed. We were doing papier mache in 2 – 6th class, making paper turtles in KG and 1st, and doing thumbprint art in nursery. We ran out of newspaper, containers for glue and water, bowls, scissors, and, since this was the first time the teachers have really ever done anything like this, it was chaos. I was so busy running from room to room trying to resupply things that I didn’t take a single picture. Kelly said she got some though so I will post some of hers soon hopefully. Between the two of us we usually cover the “events” here pretty thoroughly.

5 and 6 class made pencil troughs for the desks, so that their pencils and pens don’t keep falling which causes distraction and disruption in class. 2, 3, and 4 class made bowls/containers for us to use in the classrooms (a great way to save money on supplies, recycle, and be creative right?). KG and 1st made turtles out of these cool bowls that are made out of leaves (street vendors use them to serve a hot corn mash called chaat – delicious!), and Nursery had fun dipping their fingers in paint.

Once the dust had settled, the finished products looked good, and the kids had fun, which is what counts. Hopefully the teachers learned a little about what does and does not work when you are doing art projects. And we actually ended up with extra newspaper after sending the Amazing Tope to get more in the middle of the morning.

While we tried to get the art projects started in half the classes, Christina worked with the other half on some Hindi mantras and chants she learned while she was in Pokhara last week. The kids all sounded so awesome. They also worked a little on meditation and yoga, and really took to it. She actually left the room they were in to help Kelly and I, and when she came back, everyone was still quietly meditating. The kids are so excited to learn new things and do these “out of the box” activities that we really don’t have to fight for their cooperation or good behavior. They just want to be good and have fun!

Tomorrow we will make a trip to Bul Bule to play, bath, and wash laundry. We are also doing some deep cleaning at the house. Tonight, Frank is hosting movie night for the kids. He says we’re watching Ratatouille. Sweet!

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Of Simpsons and Smithsonian

Before I left for Nepal, the day I registered this blog actually, I began working on a post called “Why Nepal?” It’s still in my drafts folder, and it will probably stay there. The real story wasn’t about why I chose Nepal anyway – it was about my family, and the moments that have a lasting effect on your perception of the world.

My parents instilled in me and my siblings an ability to empathize at a magnitude which I honestly do not see in the majority of people. Sometimes it’s frustrating and embarrassing – I cry at the drop of a hat. NPR broadcasts, magazine pictures, episodes of The Simpsons (for real – the one where Homer can’t play the video game as well as Bart and he feels like a failure made me bawl). I even cried while reading a book about the man who developed the metric system. Who reads a book about that – much less cries while reading it?

I don’t know how they did it, but they did. My heart ached for kids that were teased at school. I had to make sure that all my baby dolls and stuffed animals were on my bed and touching when we left for vacation, so that they wouldn’t get lonely or scared being stuffed in the dark of the toy chest. When George Bush was elected for a second term I was one of those people who wanted to leave the country, not so much in protest, but because I felt like if I didn’t physically distance myself from his leadership I would never be able to face a person from Iraq or Afghanistan, knowing what we had done to their countries, and that we knowingly elected for it to continue.

My parents also instilled in me a love of learning. They raised me to love words, to love describing things. I loved playing games with them (the town I first lived in was so small there weren’t really kids my age) even though I always lost (no handicaps, even for toddlers) because it was fun to try to figure out what they were talking about, and to feel like an equal. I’m pretty sure if we could have had only one book in the house, my Dad would have chosen a dictionary. No bibles, no crime novels or historical biographies – just a reference book to help you discover ways to say (and think) exactly what you wanted.

But the greatest gift my parents gave to me, and I believe the single most important skill I will ever possess, was the ability to think critically and independently. I didn’t fully realize what a priceless gift this was until a few years ago, when I became increasingly disillusioned by our country’s foreign policies and (to put it in what I think are very magnanimous terms) ill-advised and misguided “nation building” efforts. My parents taught me the importance of “Why” and they practiced what they preached. Most of the time, our house was a democracy. There weren’t a lot of “Because I said so” answers given. We were allowed to dispute (respectfully) our parents’ directions and ideas.

There were probably times my parents thought they had created a monster. For instance when I came home and told my Dad, a federal border patrol agent, that he was addicted to drugs because he smoked cigarettes. I think many would agree with me that this is an accurate statement, but quite a precocious one for a 7 year old to make. Or the stand off between my mother and I over whether I would make my Confirmation to the Catholic church. In the end I didn’t because I argued that I would be lying to her and everyone else in the church, which would be disrespectful and make a mockery of her faith. It must have been embarrassing for her to have a daughter that openly proclaimed in youth group on Wednesday nights that she didn’t believe in God and demanded evidence for why others did, especially since she was a teacher at the school. But she let me be a thinking person, for better or for worse. For that I will never be able to repay her.

The moments that led me to Nepal are these: sitting at the kitchen table with my father, looking at pictures from an article in The Smithsonian, depicting starving children in northern Africa in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I asked why they didn’t get lunch at school, and he told me there was no school for these kids. A little unsteady, I asked him if they didn’t have school, where did they get books to read. He told me they didn’t have books, and they didn’t know how to read. That statement made my head spin. It had never occurred to me that there were kids in the world who didn’t have schools, or books. I had assumed everyone knew how to read – it was, of course, the most important thing next to breathing. Of course, I cried on cue. I was deeply unsettled by my first exposure to the inequity of the world, and what I now refer to as “geography as fate.”

The second moment is of my mother teaching the children of migrant workers in Del Rio, TX. Kids that had truly been “left behind” as a result of their transient lifestyle, in the 4th grade many of them were still completely illiterate. My mother believed in them, and with a dedication to the idea of self-actualization through education that only my mother could have (you only need to have spoken to her for 5 minutes to know how ferociously devoted she is to it) she brought the lowest child in the class from not being able to write her name to reading on level at the end of the year. My mother showed me that inequity and injustice aren’t a reason to give up. No child is a lost cause.

That’s really why I am here. Often times I have wondered what my Dad would say if he were still alive. There are lots of things I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on, but I know he would see the value of giving others the chance we all deserve – the chance to learn to think for ourselves.

I know now why I never finished what should have been my first blog post. Today, July 19th, was the day to tell the story of my family. I am sharing this with my friends and family, and the entire internet I guess, because I am so proud of how I grew up and the family I have.

Happy Birthday to my sister Laura who turns 26 today. She is a girl with an amazing heart, a stellar work ethic, and an unmatched ability to think of others before herself.

To my father Peter, who died on July 19th seventeen years ago, and to my mother Regina, – I don’t know how you did what you did, but I am so thankful for it. Thank you for giving me the life I have.

Smells Like Home Depot

Awesome news and a quick photo blog to go with it…we moved third grade from their temporary classroom in the house to the permanent one at the school! Yay! It just needs some finishing trim work and a door and it will be perfect.

There is SO much progress being made at the school right now. Here are some highlights:

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Summer Camp

It’s 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. I’m watching over a little village girl who is staying the night with us (more on that later) and thinking about all the things I’d like to write about here – but not sure where or how to begin.

Our original Saturday plan was to take a trip to BulBule to play and wash, but the skies looked ominously full of rain clouds all morning, and with no car/scooter (I don’t feel confident enough yet to ride with kids on the bike) I didn’t want to risk everyone getting drenched/cold/sick, etc. So instead, we busted out the embroidery thread!

With Maggie away we’re in summer camp mode anyway, so why not try out the time honored tradition of making friendship bracelets?

With a book of designs from Maggie’s cousin, Kelly got everyone started.

The boys were really keen on the project…

Others were just hanging out where the cool people were…

Frank got in on the action with an “advanced” lanyard design.

While I was snapping away I caught Shanti and Santosh having a serious discussion under a table. Kind of Shanti talking and Santosh trying to look like he’s listening…

I love how he looks like he’s reading a newspaper the whole time.

We should have known the day was going a little too well. When we adults finally pried ourselves away from the string festival upstairs with the intention of going to the market to buy fruit for the kids, we were greeted by a little village girl with a gash on her head. Apparently she fell on a rock while playing. So Frank made a detour to get supplies for stitches, since it was now late Saturday afternoon and we knew we wouldn’t be able to find a doctor.

Unfortunately the only suture needle the pharmacy had was WAY too big, and this little girl was WAY too frightened (the kids are all pretty afraid of the clinic, they’ve never been to a doctor before and they have no idea what to expect) so we had to butterfly the wound closed and this morning (just a few hours from now actually) we will take her into town to get it properly closed up.

Her mother said it would take them an hour to walk home, and her little girl had already fallen asleep on my lap, so she slept over last night. I think part of the reason I haven’t slept very well is my worry that she’ll wake up scared, or wet the bed, or bump her head against the wall, or fall on the floor, etc…

In closing, check out our new and improved side yard! Maggie bought lots of new fruit trees and our turkeys are loving their new digs. These pictures are from just a couple of days ago, and already the guys have added a brick footpath that links our new kitchen with the main house. Now if we can just keep the goat away from the new plants!

Have a great Sunday world!

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The Play’s the Thing!

After being open for just over one month, Kopila Valley Primary School had its first fine arts performance yesterday! It was a huge success. 3rd grade sang “In the Jungle”, 4th grade narrated the event through a puppet show, 5th and 6th danced, and we even had some poetry readings from individual students. Parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends came to support our students as they shared their knowledge and talent with the community.

Here are some pictorial highlights…

In other news, my ninja like ability to sneak up on children committing naughty offenses such as spitting over third story balconies and dredgingnalis (open air sewage drainage ditches) for non-existant fish (as if existent fish would be a good reason to jump in a sewer) has been compromised by what I maintain is some Nepali-lite version of pertussis. It’s harder to catch kids red handed when your approach is preceded by a rhythmic whooping which has to sound something like a bobcat hacking up a habanero tainted hair ball from the deepest recesses of its lower intestine.

In other words, I have a bad cough.

I also have a big success story to share regarding my after school reading class. Watch out, because my vestigial “Teacher Lisa” half is about to emerge…. Today my students, who 3 weeks ago knew no more about reading than the name of the letters of the alphabet, today sounded a word for me that contained not one, not two, but three sounds! If you’re a reading teacher you know this is a big deal. Blending phonemes is tough, and in a second language full of sounds that don’t exist in your native language it’s even more difficult. As they pronounced each sound I wrote it on the board, and had to take a second before turning around to congratulate them, because I just couldn’t believe that I was witnessing this lightbulb moment. My emotions were getting the better of me. These students are learning to read and they will take this skill with them forever. It’s profound and humbling to be a part of such an arrival of self sufficiency and import. These amazing kids also answered comprehension questions which I translated into Nepali!

I can say things like, “Is /c/ a sound or a letter name?” And, “Which sound is this vowel saying?” Everyday I can pick out more words as Maggie speaks with the kids, although all my native Nepali aunties and uncles speak too quickly and with too much of an accent for me to catch much. Whenever I try to string together a Nepali sentence or two they laugh, but I am not sure if it is out of delight at my effort, or derision at my butchery.

That’s it from this side of the world today. Make the best of your time because you can’t take it with you!

Photo by Karen Watson

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