Volunteering in Nepal: last days in Pokhara

After taking the cooking classes and teaching English at the second private school for three days, I decided to quit learning and teaching there. I already gave an indication of my reasons for doing so in my previous post.

The first dish and food item which was taught in the cooking clas was Palak Paneer and naan, which were quite interesting. I like Palak Paneer and was interested to see how they made it, and I never knew a method for making naans is to stick them to the interior wall of a tandoor. The recipe book they used was in Nepali, and while the cook commented on the recipe in English specially for me, I didn’t take much note of it. The recipe, albeit probably a little bit different, can always be found on the Internet, I just wanted to see how it’s done.

Unfortunately during the second and third day it wasn’t interesting anymore as they taught how to make dishes which didn’t capture my interest at all. Almost all of them were quite unhealthy with either lots of sugar, oil or deep frying, so I probably wouldn’t make those at home. And if they were not unhealthy they would be Chinese dishes with noodles, not my favorite either. I had the wrong expectations, I expected to learn more about Indian food, but they teach Continental, Chinese and Indian to their cooks in training.

I thought that they, being experienced cooks, would also make interesting food for themselves to eat for lunch and dinner. I was around there all day and in return for my services in assisting them with teaching English, I could get lunch (at 9:00, so it’s more like breakfast) and dinner over there as well. It turned out that dal bhat is practically all they eat, and the rice was also sticky with big lumps rather than loose. I wasn’t expecting any meat dishes because meat is expensive, but anything different from dal bhat which I get at the foster home would have been good.

Even if I’m a little bit disappointed with the dishes and food I learned to prepare, I did learn some valuable skills. I learned how to cut vegetables, but don’t master the technique with the large knives yet. At my request the cook also showed me how to peel and cut onions, garlic and ginger quickly. By now I’m not sure if I still remember how to do it, but there also should be some instruction videos on the Internet which deal with this subject to fresh up the memory.

During the English class I felt quite redundant, while in Meena’s class I did all the teaching myself. When I asked Meena why she let me do the teaching she told me it was because she could learn from me as well, I’m more proficient in English. On the other private school a much more experienced teacher, Udaya, was working. The students there have a much lower level of English proficiency, so Udaya does a lot of teaching in Nepali, making it difficult for me to follow. Basically I merely helped with pronunciation and correcting student’s writing, but even then I felt unnecessary.

Udaya claimed the contrary was true when I told him my thoughts, and at his request I helped him out at another (third) private school a few meters away from the second even after stopping the cooking classes. But the feeling that I couldn’t make myself as useful as I wanted and the awkward feeling of working for private schools as a volunteer while students pay a market fee to learn there, made me decide to stop.

A day later I went paragliding. D.B. managed to negotiate a small discount of 500 NPR at a paragliding company so I paid 6500, which is a lot of money but probably still cheaper than doing it in Europe. The paragliding company also gives D.B. a small commission for bringing customers to them so he can use the commission for the foster home. However, a day later my friend Meena told me, after hearing how much I paid, that she could have negotiated an even greater discount as she had worked at a paragliding company and has some connections.

Nevertheless, the paragliding was another great experience I’ve had here for the first in my life. I went to the paragliding company’s office in Central Lakeside at 13:00, to be driven to Sarangkot at 13:30 in a truck with four other foreigners and five pilots. The weather was sunny and there weren’t much clouds, but visibility was not good enough to see the most distant mountains. We stopped on a clear slope close to the top of the mountain where we would take off. I would fly for half an hour using a paragliding harness with two seats, with me in front and the pilot in the back to do the steering.

Paragliding

After two failed attempts at taking off, the first due to me not running forward fast enough for the ‘sail’ to catch enough wind, the second one due to the absence of enough wind, we ran forward from the mountain slope and took off. During the flight you have your hands free so you can take photos all you like. It was great to glide in the sky and to pick up the winds by turning around and gaining the lift. It feels great to be like a bird, to experience the feeling of freedom, to be able to see so far in the distance. We landed again on a patch of grassland near the northern side of the lake. The landing wasn’t rough, it did require you to start running a bit and slow down as soon as I touched the ground.

Lakeside seen from the sky

Just before the last week of my stay in Pokhara, the children in the foster home started going to school again. This meant that the children in the foster home – who already had two new volunteers, Greicy and Glacia from New Zealand, anyway – would have even less opportunities to enjoy the things I could do with them. That’s why I decided to look for a school somewhere in Lakeside where I could teach English again for the last week of my stay.

This last week was reduced by one day, because a holiday called Democracy Day was held during the week. So I had only five days I could possibly teach and when I asked some people to help me find work at a school they told me the school where they enquired didn’t take volunteers for such a short period of time. I thought this was understandable, and ceased my effort to find a school. Instead I decided to continue helping Meena with teaching English at a private school, and to teach English to a friend and a relative of Meena in the afternoon. This provided me with enough things to do during the day and satisfied me.

The people who we’ve been teaching English at the private school, Samjhana, Sunita and Sujata, became good friends of me. Samjhana invited all of us to have dinner at her house after we visited the Mountain Museum in Pokhara. I was also given a khukhri as a present by the Sunita and Sujata. In turn I invited them over to Uttam’s house to prepare the easy Dutch dish, spinach mashed pot, for them.

I haven’t involved myself much with the orphanage which I left prematurely during the last week I was staying in Pokhara. When I talked to L. she told me that C. had complained about her to the police, who came to her hotel to take her to the police station for questioning. Fortunately it had no consequences as her Nepali friends told the police that L. had done nothing wrong, but L. was quite shocked by the ordeal. Fortunately the advisory board had taken notice of C.’s destructive behavior to everyone around him and asked him to step down as the manager of the orphanage, to which he agreed. His wife J. is in charge of the orphanage now, but I do not know if everything is all right now because I don’t trust C. for one cent, even if he apologised to me and L. for his behavior

My departure from Pokhara was marked by farewell ceremonies at both D.B. and Rekha’s foster home and at J.’s orphanage. I was given a lot of flowers by the children and now I probably have more than six of those yellow shawls. Uttam’s hospitality is infinite as he kept telling me how sorry he was that he couldn’t take good care of me, for example because there was no emergency battery-fed light for power cuts at night.

Telling him that my flashlight was sufficient for those situations didn’t convince him that he needn’t do anything more for me. I also offered to clean the house a bit so I could do something in return for his hospitality, but he would have none of it. Meena certainly inherited some of this attitude from her father. She insisted that she would roll my bag to the tourist bus stop on the day I left, as she accompanied me there at 7:00 in the morning with her friend who I taught English. I will never forget them.

Meena's family

3 thoughts on “Volunteering in Nepal: last days in Pokhara”

  1. Hi Alexandro, was nice to meet you in Pokhara. I sent you a sms which you did not answer so I think you had left by then. I enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate all the support from you while you were here even if we didn’t meet often. J visited me again today and asked me to go back there but I don’t feel like, you know why. I miss the kids though. I invite them now and then to come to my hotel. Well, I wish you the best success in your life and you can follow me in my blog: http://www.viagemincognita.blogspot.com/
    Cheers! L

  2. Hi L, thank you for your comment. To be precise I couldn’t answer your SMS because I didn’t have any credit on my phone account and didn’t want to add credit just for the last few days of my stay. Good to hear you are still in contact with J, I’ll make sure to read your weblog in the coming days. I’ve developed a backlog, I’ve got almost ten weblogs to read of other volunteers I met in Nepal because I haven’t been doing much since I got home. Good luck with the rest of your stay.

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