Namgel finally arrived in Salleri late that evening as his jeep had spent at least 3 hours queueing for petrol en-route. I told him to have some food at his Auntie’s and I would see him in the morning.
Another sunny day dawned in Salleri but I had the noisiest neighbours whose alarm went off at 4am followed by lots of loud chattering and clanking around the room and then their jeep arriving outside 30 mins later honking its horn just in case the whole village hadn’t already been woken up by said neighbours….
I tried and failed to get back to sleep and was downstairs around 7.30 (I remembered this place didn’t like early starts). Namgel soon appeared and we went through lots of info about Rocham school and what we expected out of our meeting with Buddhi at our NGO for this project, Young Star Club. I didn’t need to worry, he had already been through all my emails and had a list of queries already. I knew we had picked the right man for the job, Namgel was Supporting Nepal’s Children’s first official employee. He was going to be our liaison officer and project manager and had already taken full control. I was excited!
We headed down the hill, picking up Kami on the way as he knew where we were going, Buddhi was waiting for us as we headed up to their office with his big beaming smile. The meeting went well, I introduced Namgel, we talked through the concerns we had regarding the information that he had emailed through to us and neither Roger, Nadine or I could make head nor tail of. Then Namgel and Buddhi started talking in Nepali, in a very animated way. When they were done, Namgel turned to me to start to tell me what they had said, I just stopped him from translating and asked if he was happy “yes, I am” I then told him I didn’t need to know what had been said, just that he was happy. I needed Buddhi to know that we trusted Namgel completely, that simple act ensured Buddhi knew he had our full trust.
It was Mothers Day, and I’d had no internet for a week. We found a lodge on the way back which had wifi, so I took full advantage, ordered a plate of momo’s and got a message through to my Mam both in person and on Facebook. Mind you that was all I was able to do, it was the worlds slowest internet connection, both Namgel and I were laughing at how long things were taking.
An early evening was needed to make up for the early wake up, I also knew we were starting early the next morning.
Another bright and sunny day dawned, Kami arrived and we headed down to his Auntie’s for breakfast (this lodge doesn’t like early starts) we were packed off and the 3 of us headed up the hill behind the monastery to clear mountain views, views across to Kunikhop and just stunning scenery all around.
It was a hot day, I was trying to keep up with 2 Sherpa, and they were trying to walk at Hazel pace. All we saw were locals heading down to Salleri for provisions, and not many of them. Up and up we headed then we came to the tiny little shack by some mani stones that the team had stopped at for tea and biscuits in November. That time it was cloudy, this time it was stunning, beautiful views over towards Mera Peak and clear blue skies, we were extremely lucky.
Down, down, down, giggles ringing in my ear from both Namgel and Kami, both of them have the most infectious laughs, again I realised just how lucky I was to be in such beautiful surroundings with these two gentle souls.
Lunch was of course dal bhat and we were back in the same place as November, it was a popular stop with lots of porters sat outside enjoying the sun.
It was a beautiful hot day but the afternoon’s walk seemed to go on for ever. The one thing I did remember was that it went downhill, and then a bit more, then some more. I recognised lots of houses, but this time instead of being surrounded by beautiful brightly coloured flowers, they were mainly just leaves, ready and waiting for spring to be sprung.
Lots of walking along through terraces and eventually I recognised the school in Losku, but of course Kami couldn’t remember where we went down, we found our way through eventually and made our way to the same tealodge, but it was shut! Turns out the owner was down in the field, so Namgel and I sat on the bench while Kami went down to find her.
That evening over more dal bhat, we had a visitor, he started to tell me about a group that had arrived last November and that he had been interviewed by a couple of them…..I told him I had been part of that group and the two that interviewed him were my friends Nadine and Roger. He was pleased to hear we had come back to support the school at Rocham.
We headed away from Losku, down through the terraces again, once more this all looked different to November, it was because the crops weren’t ready for harvest. As we headed down to the first bridge, I remembered walking through fields of wheat with no real clear path, as the wheat and millet had been harvested since I was last here, these terraces looked bare.
Round the side of the hill with stunning scenery all around, we finally got signal and were able to tell Bhakta where we were. He was on his way to walk up Waku hill with us, he warned us to be careful on the hill we were headed down, he didn’t need to worry about that, I remembered that part from last year! The 3 of us edged cautiously down through the forest until we reached the bridge and I looked up at the rock face in front of us…..oh yeah, I had forgotten about you, a nice big, steep hill upwards, but at least we were in the shade.
Bhakta found us about a third of the way up the hill. Cue lots of hugs and smiles and an exchange of rucksacks, after we had guzzled some of the coke he had brought for us
We came round to Waku a different way this time, round the side of the hill whereas in November we had gone up and over to then drop down to the same lunch spot we were at now. We had come round the side so that we could look at the reconstruction of the school at Waku to see if we could get any pointers for our reconstruction.
At our lunch stop (you guessed what we had….) I got talking to a guy from Reed Nepal who was working in the area and had been to Rocham and understood the difficulties they were facing with the lack of teachers. I learned a lot in that 30 minute conversation, about how the quota system works, when the best time to apply to the local education office was and that the school management committee should be strong and stand up for their rights. All of a sudden I knew the processes, cards were exchanged and we promised to keep in touch.
Up through the terraces and round the hill towards Rocham, this seemed to go on forever this time, I didn’t remember it being so far. But Kami was really tired and stopped far more than usual, I was worried about him but Namgel assured me he was OK, it had just been a long day for him as he had slowed down to my pace rather than walking at Kami pace.
We arrived to a very peaceful village, exactly how I had asked. It also helped that it was a holiday today for Worldwide Womens Day, how comes we don’t get holidays for days like that.
The boys headed off to one of the classrooms to erect my home for the next few days, a tent inside one of the classrooms while I was treated to some chyaang
Namgel and I were already aware of some unrest in the village regarding the lack of progress (as they saw it). We talked through everything with Bhakta and Kumar that night and got them to the point where they understood what was going on and that yes, we were doing things, but we had to get them done in the right way and through the appropriate authorities.
It was a lovely night catching up with my Rocham family, but we did miss Bhim. Chyaang and dal bhat was the order of the night, although Kami fell asleep in the corner very early on “dherai tagyo” was what he told me (very tired) I told him he could have a lie in and a lazy day tomorrow
I had a lovely chyaang induced sleep in my warm and comfy tent that night and was woken up by Kumar bringing in some tea to my tent and telling me there was washing water outside for me. A quick hair wash and a rinse out of some of my clothes and we were off down the road to have a look at the youth club that had been recently built.
This had been constructed in a very short space of time. It was funded by Tihar collections in the village (Tihar was last November) and they had all worked to get the building constructed in super quick time. Namgel quizzed various people working inside the building to find out where the materials had come from and which was the easiest route to transport them in, it was a morning well spent. We sat and watched the various volley ball matches going on, it was all very very competitive and great fun to watch. Kumar came down to fetch us, time to head back to his for lunch.
As the school was closed today, we had a lazy afternoon and Namgel and I spent time sorting out what we would be saying to the School Management Committee members that were coming to visit us that evening – to say I was nervous was an understatement!
We sat at Bhakta’s house and the SMC all filed in – this was the gang we had watched playing volleyball earlier. The atmosphere was tense and immediately Namgel started talking I could feel the tension rising, they would interrupt him, I could tell they were not happy with Young Stars Club and couldn’t understand why we were using them and not giving them the money directly. They seemed to get angrier and angrier, but Namgel remained calm, all the time listening to them and then answering their questions. There seemed to be a divide in the room, the younger members of the committee were clearly the aggressive ones and after about 30 minutes of Namgel, Kumar and Bhakta (all were sat both sides of me, on one side of the room, my bodyguards….) pressing home our point, one of the older members suddenly “got it” looked at me and smiled, then started arguing our point to the younger members of the community. It was just before this point that I was very tempted to stand up and say “right, we do want to help you, but if you don’t want to do it through the proper channels, then I’ll take our money and go to another village” but I didn’t….it was hard to bite my tongue as I could feel the anger all around and that they didn’t want to do it our way, but I trusted Namgel, this was why we asked him to join us, he calmly worked his magic and got the whole room to understand what was happening.
Kumar left the room, I was worried, but I didn’t need to. In order to cement this new feeling of happiness on both sides, his own brand of Roksi was popped open. As he took the top off the bottle Namgel and I nearly passed out with the alcohol fumes and laughed….I was staying on the chyaang, no way was I having any of that!
The Roksi was handed round in generous measures and everyone was in good spirits, Namgel was smiling and telling me all was OK, he had properly worked his magic and we were back on friendly footing with the SMC. I busted out the pictures I had to hand out to the kids tomorrow, and some of them were taken by the various parents in the room. Turns out our new poster boys Dad was also there, so I gave him a copy of the poster and the picture we had used, he was a very happy man now.
The next day dawned with more challenges for me, the teachers, and one in particular. Rajendra had joined last April after Roger and I had visited, we met for the first time in November and were all impressed with him. I had had a couple of conversations with him on Facebook and could tell from those that all was not rosy in Rocham, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the conversation I had on the school playground the moment he saw me. I guess it was similar to what Namgel had experienced last night, but this time I was getting it in English.
“You promised us a teacher” was his opening line. I gently explained that yes, we had, but then 25th April had happened and all priorities had changed. The children were now learning in an unsafe building and that had to be our main focus now. “Yes, but you promised us” He was right of course, but again I had to enforce that our priorities had changed, the children’s safety had overtaken the need for a teacher. Here I also thanked God for my conversation with Jeevan from Reed yesterday. I told Rajendra that he had to empower the SMC to keep applying for a teacher from the Government as they were under quota for teachers. His argument was that there were no teachers available, I countered that with the argument that I was not qualified to find a teacher and if there weren’t any available, how was I supposed to find one. We went round in circles for about 15 minutes and again during this conversation I wanted to tell him that we would just take our money and leave and then where would they be, but I didn’t, I had my calming Sherpa standing next to me and even though he didn’t join in on this one, just having Namgel there by my side kept me calm and sane….eventually Rajendra saw my point and backed down.
“So what activities do you have planned for the children?” Eeek that’s not one that I expected, I had told them all that I didn’t want to disrupt the kids schooling so I wanted them to ensure there wasn’t a programme day, and there wasn’t but now he was wanting me to have organised something. “The children are so excited that you are here and are looking forward to spending time with you” I said I hadn’t organised anything, but why didn’t we get the sports day equipment out and spend an hour after lessons playing some of the games they had enjoyed last year. He seemed happy with this and went off to start the school day.
We were then presented with garlands and watched the morning exercises before the kids filed into their classrooms and the sounds of chanting and reading from all the classrooms filled the air. True to my word I didn’t disrupt any lessons, I grabbed my laptop and sat quietly in Bhatka’s house trying to connect to the internet (fail, no 3g) and write up some notes.
The head of the SMC arrived and Namgel went through the conversations that had taken place last night. He was much calmer and took everything on board straight away, there was no bad feeling at this meeting. Namgel then left to head down to Budhidandha and get a jeep back to Salleri the next morning, then home to Kathmandu. I had never been happier to have Namgel by my side as I had for the last couple of days, he was a great asset to Supporting Nepal’s Children, It had completely cemented my belief that we had the right man for the job.
I got called to the playground by Rajendra, no sign of the equipment for sports day, but luckily enough I had bought a bubble machine for them. This was paraded round the playground firstly by Kami, then one of the teachers, then one of the students…..each time being followed by excited kids trying to catch the bubbles, a much better idea than lots of individual bottles (not that I have ever been able to bring 300 bottles with me, this seemed a much fairer way to have fun with bubbles!)
Picture time and it didn’t take long for me to get overwhelmed by kids crushing round me trying for selfies on my phone, I seemed to have pictures taken with every single child, on my phone, on Bhakta’s phone, on Rajendra’s phone, on various students phones…..this was going to cost me a fortune in prints for my next visit in November!!
Having had my picture taken with every child and every member of staff, I felt that we were back on track in the village. Rajendra was now all smiles and hugs and ensuring that lots of pictures were taken of the 2 of us.
The kids all skipped off home waving and smiling and telling me they would see me soon, balance had been restored and I slept well that night after some more chyaang and a leisurely dinner with everyone at Bhim’s other brother, Birkha’s house…..
As we set off for our next adventure the next morning, the old Headmaster arrived. I was really glad to see him as he is due to retire this summer. Goodbye’s and good wishes were given and Kami and I headed down the hill with Bhakta knowing that we had done a good job (well, Namgel had) and that the villagers were back “on side”.
Now to the next part of my adventure, into the unknown for both Kami and I as we headed off to visit Chheskham and the widow of one of our Sherpa friends who had died in the avalanche at Everest Base Camp last year, this was going to be hard in more ways than one.
Thanks, as ever for persevering and getting to the end. If you would like to help me raise funds for Supporting Nepal’s Children and maybe even buy some uniform for any of the kids at Kami’s village school (see previous blog), please click here
I’ve uploaded some of my pics of this part of the trip to the following folder: Rocham