Joe’s Arrival

So we are back in Kathmandu, hair still slightly pink from Holi and we’re gearing up to pick Joe up from the airport and when I say gearing up I mean running around in tiny circles, emitting squeaks of delight four or five times a day in order to release some of the excitement. It takes 12 years for collection day to arrive but then suddenly it’s here and we’re at the airport watching people come and go and Anoushka is giving me guidelines on how loud I’m allowed to scream when he lands, loud enough to convey happiness, not loud enough to get us all arrested. I’m practically vibrating with energy, we’re right at the front, sorry to those people I pushed and barged past to get here and flights arrive and people meet their loved ones and leave but there’s still no Joe. Yet. After half an hour I’m still so excited I could explode, after 1 hour I’m worried he’s missed his flight, after 1 1/2 hours I think he’s met someone on the flight and snuck off with them, after 2 I’m like screw this guy, fool probably got on the wrong plane and has ended up in some backhole country and I sure as shit ain’t waiting around any longer and he can just find his own way back…and then there he is, my bestest buddy, walking through with his rucksack and travel pillow and only looking slightly flustered- he queued three times for his visa, not sure why, he’s not sure why, but the fact is he’s here now and we’re all heading back to the hostel.

We show him all the cool parts of Kathmandu, back up the steps to the Monkey Temple, over to the Garden of Dreams and I watch as he eats all the food here and ask what he likes best and if momos are his favourite food now and he reminds me he doesn’t really like rice. Er, you’re in the wrong country then my friend and you’re gonna get huuuungry.

It’s the tourist bus to Chitwan, no luxury now there’s three of us and we see the serene elephants and grumpy looking rhinos, we even see one baby rhino escape from the park and run along the street, it feels like he’s flipping the park keepers the bird like ‘so long suckers’ we meet a great group of people and spend the evening drinking beer and playing cards, the next day it’s off to the farm to do some hard labour and sing for our supper. We meet Tara and his wife Anjana, their daughter Anatika and their son Ananya, they are a lovely and unbelievably hard working couple and we begin to see what life is like in rural Nepal. There is a lot of farm land and most people own a small plot of land and some sort of animal from buffalo to goats to chickens. Our family own two buff, a mum and a daughter, both sweet but not so keen on being cuddled, only fed. The shower is a hose poking through a concrete wall that also acts as the clothes washing station, the washing up station and the only source of drinking water, it’s not heated but it’s so sunny and warm in the day it’s refreshing not unpleasant. There are 8 other woofers staying at the house so dinner is a kitchen packed full of people from all over, scoffing rice and chatting about their travels, we always sit on the floor on cushions made of straw and eat from big metal plates and bowls. Food is two meals a day, one at around 10am and the second around 5pm. Usually both consist of rice, dal and a potato or vegetable curry, we sometimes add moi which is buff milk turned a little bit to yoghurt, sounds gross but goes well with rice. On a few occasions we got potato fritters and tomato chutney instead, these were the delicious but pretty labourious, peeling, mashing (without a masher, only by hand), mixing and frying for 15 people. Worth it though. We spread the buff manure over the field and planted some seeds, we chopped trees into logs and cut down bamboo to make structures for growing plants. It was pretty tough going but the food and the company and the lovely family made it worth it, even the digging around in shit.

Tara was also a teacher in the school 10 minutes down the road, he invited us to visit one day and upon arrival we get swamped by the kids who are having their lunch break, using the time to race around the garden, the garden had a lot of huge pot holes and some iron rods sticking out from the floor, ready for an impaling, it would fail any risk assessment set by Ofstead yet there were a hundred of more kids racing round and having a ball and not one of them fell in a hole or cracked their heads open on the concrete slabs. There were paintings of animals on the walls outside the classrooms but they were looking pretty tired and faded so Anoushka immediately races over to local paint shop and buys some bright colours and a couple of paint brushes and sets to work. Joe and I make to leave as neither of us want to get roped into painting but just then Tara comes over and asks us if we would teach a class for half an hour because a teacher is off sick. This seems like it could be fun so we say yes and are plopped into a classroom and told to teach them some English, anything we liked. I’m not sure fun was the right assumption, absolute carnage follows; the children are all yelling at once, asking us what are names are, where we’re from, how old we are, they’re also shouting at each other across the room and stealing each other’s pencils and books, Joe and I stand a bit dumbfounded at the front, both holding our little black pens for the white board and not really sure what to do. We start to call out for them to be quite and try and play hangman but no one is listening to us so we just stand there are wait for the bell. After what seems like the longest half hour of my life we hear the heavenly clanging sound and we rush out of the classroom and go to see how Anoushka is doing but get collared by Tara on the way, he says actually there are a few more classes that need a teacher and this time he splits us up so we’re all alone amongst the pushing, shoving and clambering on chairs, two more half hour classes and then it’s the end of the school day, Anoushka has made an excellent start on the paintings, Joe and I are exhausted and I’m certain we taught not one single child a single word of English.

Anoushka packs up her paint brushes and makes plans to return tomorrow, Joe and I make plans never to return again, I mean the school is nice and the kids are cute but trying to control 30 teenagers in a hot room with varying levels of English with a board pen and game of hangman has not been my favourite way to spend an afternoon. Of course, when Tara asked if we enjoyed ourselves and whether we would be willing to come back again tomorrow I could feel my soul curl into a ball and hide and by the look on Joe’s face his was doing the same but of course what came out of our mouths was “Yes, how lovely, I’ve had a great day, can’t wait to come back” Our beaming smiles turned to tears as he turned away but on the way home we started plotting and planning, tomorrow we would take control and be good teachers, we would have a lesson plan, there’d be no more shouting and we were gonna teach some damn English if it killed us. That night we decide we were gonna teach opposites, we’d use the words they come up and use each one in a sentence, if they behave and do the sentences we’ll play Simon Says, using the action words we’ve come up with, i.e. Up and Down, Sit and Stand. But only if they’re good. The next day we go in, ready for anything, we’re together for the lessons today and we stroll in, write our names on the board and tell everyone to sit down and be quiet, we ask them to introduce themselves one by one but no one is to talk because it’s rude and disrespectful when others are speaking. Boom. We’re in control, they’re all a lot calmer today anyway, I guess the excitement of having Brits in the school has waned slightly. They call out opposites they know, we add a few more, they write some great sentences and love it when we mark their books, we have a great time playing Simon Says which we change to Tara Says, we all laugh when someone does it wrong and then the bell goes and they’re sad the class is over, so are we, it’s all “Bye Joey” pronounced ‘Zoey’, “Bye Tasha” pronounced ‘Tasa’ and were suddenly the best teachers ever. Repeat exactly the same lesson three more times and we’re practically planning on opening our own English school cos we’re so good at this. Anoushka has not only beautified all the old paintings she’s also added a few of her own, a huge giraffe, an under the water scene, a monkey, a map of Nepal, she’s doing the final touches in gold so we get in on that so we can share in the creative glory then it’s home to delicious dal bhat and relaxing at the house.

In general our evenings are spent hanging with Anatika and Ananya either helping them with their homework, them showing us Nepali music videos or playing round after round of ‘Spoons’ one of the most exciting card games in the world, we teach them ‘Joker’ which they love and try all the tricks of the trade trying to get rid of the joker on to the next poor person. They’re super wonderful kids, they’ve had a constant stream of Woofers come to stay with them so their English is excellent, they’re confident, friendly and always full of energy, Ananya tells us stories and riddles usually as he clambers over someone to sit on them. An example…What’s the smallest room in the world? I’ll give you a clue, there isn’t mush of it. It’s been a great and tiring week, we say our fond farewells and hop on bus number one of three that will take us to Lambini, birth place of Buddha and home to monetarist from around the world. It’s a shit journey, it always is here, but after 3 buses, one bag left on a bus, one exciting tuk tuk ride chasing after the bus, a quick finger pointing session about who was supposed to carry the bag off the bus and we’re there, we settle into our Korean monetary and wander round to explore. It’s delightfully spiritual here, a canal about a kilometre long runs through the centre of the whole place, it has lots of little bridges crossing over it, and you can get a boat from one end where the Eternal Flame burns to the other where the huge Peace Pagoda gazes out, bright white with it’s Buddha eyes. We walk through beautiful gardens and passed a gold statue of laughing Buddha and over to see the temple where he was actually born, well, apparently. I think quite a few places claim to the actual place where he was born so I guess no one really knows. We’ve learnt some bits about Bud, total cool bean, and now we will no longer strive for happiness or hide from sadness as neither can ever be permanent and are both simply part of life and life is the most precious gift we’ve been given, with this new mantra in mind we board the crappy bus that goes on the crappy roads to Pokhara, but we will not shun the crappiness or discomfort cos both are a part of life and life is a gift blah blah blah.

The second we arrive Anoushka whisks herself off to a yoga retreat up a massive hill mad Joe and I check into our hostel. We go out on the lake every day and swim in the middle bit where it’s cleanest, we eat Buddha bowls and salads and even play tennis but only once cos we’re both quite rubbish. We got very drunk and had a wonderful time bar hopping, we popped into an art exhibition (one man in his studio apartment sitting on the bed watching us while we leafed through his abstract paintings of half naked women) we were the first and only people there which made for an awkward 10 minutes, but then a few others arrived and we felt we could leave. We found a bar playing live music, Joe took over playing the drums till he found alcohol intake was making it hard to concentrate, then we continued to drink many more Cuba Libras. For me it was on the walk home that the alcohol really hit and I struggled desperately to get up the, what was then a ‘gigantic, slippery, treacherous mountain’, but the following morning appeared to be a ‘small mound’ in order to get home. A few scratches and bruises were worth it for such a fabulous evening.

We pick up Anoushka from her 7 days of health and holisticness and spend the next few days sunbathing and drinking juices by the lake. Then it’s once again back to Kathmandu, a bit of last minute shopping to get more fantastically colourful clothes and a quick cooking sesh before we head to the airport and fly to Tibet, ready to meet Everest from the other side.

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