Dave's Nepal Visit - January 2016 (Days 1-12)

In January 2016, Dave Britten travelled to visit our colleagues in Nepal and to be updated on the progress of our valuable work there. Here, Dave gives a brief commentary of his mission.

Day 1 - Flight from Istanbul, arrived to find welcoming committee at the airport. Very pleased to see Gita, Santosh and Kishor. Gita had to get a bus back to Narayangarh, Santosh and Kishor took me to Premium hotel, but not before a generous portion of dahl bhaat!

Day 2 - Recovery day, met up with friend Mukesh Sah and had time to relax in the Kaiser's Garden of Dreams. Where tourists visit and the young lovers of Kathmandu meet out of sight of parents. Many of the buildings there were damaged, but repair work underway.

Day 3 - Stayed at Santosh's home to get an early start. Then twelve hour journey on bus to Phulkharka. I love Nepal local buses, but 12 hours is a bit much for 110 miles; not due to traffic but state of roads.

Day 4  - Phulkharka, Dhading province. Kishor gave me a tour of the village. Of the 85 houses, 84 were destroyed by the earthquake. Aid, including from the Rotary Club of the South Cotswolds, has enabled the villagers to build temporary homes from corrugated zinc panels, some of the rebuilding has begun.

Also visited the school with Kishor Adhikari and Santosh Bikram Adhikari. All of the classrooms were destroyed in the earthquake, fortunately it was not a school day. I presented books and pens to all of the children from Our Street Our Children. Met with the staff and asked what they need most. Firstly a new school! This is covered by Japanese aid, work started whilst I was there. Next they said a teacher! The government pay for five teachers, they have eight and they need ten. The shortfall is covered by generosity of local benefactors, but they have other things on their mind with their rebuilding. One teacher costs just £720 for a full year, if you are interested in helping contact me and I will put you in touch with them.

Welcome by Gita

Dave is welcomed by Gita at the airport

The Garden of Dreams

Temporary classroom at Phulkharka New teacher Prakash with new student Sushan

Temporary classroom at Phulkharka

New teacher Prakash with new student Sushan

The Garden of Dreams

Day 5 - Today we are celebrating Maghte Sankranti festival. In Phulkharka this festival is celebrated by eating Sel Roti (like a skinny donut made with rice flour) and yam curry, drinking raksi (an acquired taste, millet beer) and bullfighting. The bullfighting I was not so keen on, thinking of the European varieties. But Nepali bullfighting is different. Two farmers bring an ox each and put them in a field. The oxen then do what comes naturally. When one has had enough, he runs off. No one gets hurt, unless the spectators stand too close and get in the way of the retreating ox. There were 24 oxen paired off. The event was well attended with several thousand local villagers and one westerner. As I stood out I was made guest of honour and introduced to the crowd. I realised there had been a misunderstanding when boys started coming up with England, Man Utd, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy shirts for me to autograph. My Nepali is not good enough to explain, so I decided to bluff it out by signing "David B" and saying that Victoria and the kids were fine. I think I got away with it, just another tall blond handsome athletic Englishman!

Day 6 - Today I'm on another long bus journey from Phulkharka to Narayangarh, my home in Nepal. On arrival I am exhausted, but Gita has organised a reception with the homework club. Again I am adorned with flowers and in return I distribute gifts from the students' sponsors. Here I meet the new teacher Prakash and new student Sushan.

The long bus journey gives me time to reflect on the exceptional skills of Nepali bus drivers in Nepal, who cope with everything that nature throws at them in the mountains. Darwin would have been interested to see natural selection in action in Nepal's transport system. The bad bus drivers drive into ravines; the good ones go home to their wives to bring up a new generation of bus drivers. I have confidence in the ability of the bus drivers who have transported me over some very dodgy roads; nevertheless before I travel I always make a point of meeting the driver to check:

Day 7 - Today Gita wanted to take me to her home village Ashpokhari near Pokhara, another long bus journey. But having spent nearly 24 hours on buses on the past three days, I declined the offer and slept in. I know what you're thinking, it's shocking. Used the time to visit a few friends, they all wanted to see "Jackie Madam". Saw Rojina, secretary of OSOC Nepal, which was a pleasant surprise as she is in the middle of her medical finals. Got back into the habit of dodging traffic in the heart of Narayangarh; a new vehicle that you can't hear coming is the electric rickshaw, good idea with a fuel crisis, but the country can't generate enough power so I hope they're using solar power to recharge. Yet they still have higher emissions than Volkswagens.

Day 8  - Today went on to the streets of Narayangarh with Gita. On previous occasions we have encountered larger groups of children, usually gathered by roadside cafes, where we give them meals. This time we only found small groups, but enough to distribute the knitted hats and scarves that had been donated in the UK. As ever it can be difficult to see children as young as 4 or 5 living life on the streets and surviving through begging and rag picking (gathering and selling recyclables). Despite this desperate life we saw smiles when they demonstrated their skills with home made spinning tops.

Children with knitted hats and scarves

Street children with donated hats and scarves at Lions Chowk, Narayangarh

Presentation of a commemorative plaque at  Ashpokhari

Chameli Devi Piya Primary School Presentation of the new television

Chameli Devi Piya Primary School

The official donation of the television


Day 9 - I  relented to Gita's demands and today we set off for Ashpokhari. At 5 o'clock! Caught the first bus out of Narayangarh, stopping off to meet Shilu, one of my first students in homework club who is now studying for a BBA in Pokhara. In homework club Shilu used to test my memory of mathematics with fun questions about complex trigonometry, algebra. I know what you're thinking, the word "fun" is quite unnecessary in that sentence as ALL trigonometric and algebraic questions are bound to be fun.

At Ashpokhari I was festooned with garlands and presented with a commemorative plaque. 2 years ago we had donated a computer to the school; the local education board was so impressed with their use of it that they donated 4 more, to give them a usable, and used, computer suite.

Day 10 - Complete with commemorative plaque we returned to Narayangarh. I had some time spare so went shopping with Gita. Gita loves shopping. Watching Gita in action is an impressive sight, she is a phenomenal haggler and I am always confident of getting the best price. When shopping with Nirajan he would often ask me to stay out of sight as he joked that the prices would rise if a western wallet was observed.

Whilst in town a German tourist asked me for advice about the best hotel in Narayangarh; I put him on the bus to Sauraha in the National Park, 20 miles away. Much as we love Narayangarh, it isn't what you would call a tourist trap.

Day 11 - Chameli school is back today, so went in to reacquaint myself with the staff that taught with Jackie when she was there for a year. The nursery class sang songs for me and showed their prowess on the play equipment we had provided. Got roped into taking an English class. Discussed with the principal what resources we could purchase to help the school. The principal wanted a computer, but the computer room is only due for completion in 2073 (John Chilcott says he'll get to it as soon as the Iraq enquiry is finished - seriously the Nepali year 2073 begins in April). I purchased a TV, which they will use for educational DVDs.

Had an invite from one of the staff to visit his home. His wife does not approve of him drinking, so he took me to a bar where we polished off a bottle of vodka before we caught the bus. Don't think he got away with it, is there ever anything more obvious than a drunk trying to appear sober? Apparently yes; two drunks trying to appear sober.

Day 12  - Today is "programme" at Chameli school. As with all gifts to schools, the students staff and management committee are gathered to formally accept the donation, garland the donor and give many speeches. The children are very patient as they listen to an hour of speeches; I make mine very short and keep the children amused with with my Nepali. All this for a TV! I'm trying not to let it go to my head; information about my future engagements are available from my press officer.

I then turn my hand to telecoms engineer to rewire Gita's phone line and reconfigure the router to fix the wi-fi as I have got behind with this diary and haven't seen email for a few days. With up to 16 hours of scheduled power cuts each day finding an Internet cafe that's on line can be tricky.

My body finally rebels after 21 consecutive meals of dhal bhaat; “I'm sorry sir, this is no longer a stopping service, express through service only, please take a seat!”

I like to buy the local (English language) papers to keep up to date. They have good reporting on cricket and the Premiership football, bizarrely supplied by a French news agency. Today there was an item about a 14 month old boy who was severely burned by a witch doctor to expel demons that had apparently possessed him. Evidence for the possession? Diarrhoea. Each time we come there seem to be stories of witchcraft. It's always sad to read stories like this, but for me it emphasises the need for education so the next generation can be better informed to make decisions.

[A Tune for Nepal]  [A Day in the Life]  [The Bear Necessities]  [Dave’s Nepal Visit (January 2016) - Part Two (Days 13-22)]

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[A Tune for Nepal]  [A Day in the Life]  [The Bear Necessities]

 [Dave’s Nepal Visit (January 2016) - Part Two (Days 13-22)]

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 Dave's Nepal Visit - January 2016 (Days 1-12)