Thursday, October 8, 2009


After working with James' charity for a month, James set me up with some of his Nepali contacts to teach English in a remote part of Eastern Nepal. Going in, I knew very little. All I knew was 1) To get to the village, it was a 2 day mountain trek from where the road ended and 2) I was to be the first foreigner to ever live in Khijee. Over my 3 month stay, I stumbled upon a gem. In a place that has never seen any kind motorized vehicle, this is far removed from the 21st century, I found a very special place in the world.

"In that poor and simple town, no one doubted or forgot that its treasure was its people" -Gregory David Roberts (Shantaram)

Khijee was a mix between Buddhism and Hinduism. In Nirvana, the highest level of Buddhism, a person may not have any desires, because desires signify inadequacy with your current mind state. Almost everyone in Khijee was extremely content with themselves, and willing to give away any material possession. Being the guest of honor, everyone wanted to make sure that I was enjoying myself, and they would sacrifice almost anything to do so.

On the first night I arrived, a lady offered me food and rice whiskey. Sick and tired, I declined, heading to bed without dinner. Later I found out that she was upset that she could not be of help to me on my first night. This was not an act to impress a visitor. This was the general attitude of the town, every day, every night.

Yes, there were many inconveniences for me (leeches, beg bugs, bucket showers, no modern technology, getting sick from bad water, being forced to overeat a diet of only rice and potatoes, kids knocking on my door at 6AM, etc.), but getting to experience a community like Khijee was more than worth any minor hardship. Plus, it was impossible for me to voice any complaint because they all dealt with the same issues. For them it was a way of life, and they didn't know any differently, and they did so with smiles on their faces.

A friend asked me why there are a billion NGOs (charities) in Nepal and not so many in other 3rd world countries like Burma or Vietnam. I now realize why Nepal is such an NGO darling. After 1 month in Vietnam, I was over Vietnam, mainly due to the Vietnamese people. After 4 months in Nepal, I want to stay here longer and help more, all due to the Nepali people (well, it wasn't due to the Nepal Transportation department or diet)

Mom: You were so close to a phone and you waited a month to call me?

My response: Well, it was true that I only brought 3 20-minute phone cards, but maybe I did so on purpose, The only reason I called was to make her day. It love my mom, and enjoy talking to her, but it makes me think about home. It makes me think about that hug I'm gonna give/get after1 year of separation, probably in the driveway or at the front door. That scene is going to happen if I think about it now or not. And if I think about it now, it takes away from where I am currently. Khijee Phalate, Okuldunga, Nepal. Where they eat the goat's intestines and the bones. Where they don't get a stock report. Where everyone is family, and is treated as such. Where the old ladies drink local whiskey. At 9AM. On Wednesday. Where they don't look forward to Saturday, because everyday is a good day. Where the joy of giving is the gift (no, its not just an expression). Where they actually use the frisbees, guitar, volleyballs and chess sets I gave them. Where the family all sleeps in 1 room and sing and dance together at night for fun. Yes, this is where I am right now. And let me soak it up. Whats the point of the journey if my mind is back at home.
Are we there yet? - To get from Kathmandu to the end of the road, my Nepali friend, who joined me on the journey, told me he had made the ride in 5-6 hours. Not even close. 4 landslides and a giant boulder parked in the middle of the mountain cliff road meant sleeping on the crowded bus. 29 hours of fun.

Math Question: There are 40 passenger seats plus 1 for the driver? How many people can fit in the bus? 41. Wrong Another 30 can squeeze in the aisle, on peoples laps, and in the drivers cabin. How many? 71. Wrong. Another 35 can fit on the roof. How many? 106. Wrong. Answer: There's always room for 1 more.

Beasts of Burden - In this picture, Lakpa, the guy who set me up with this opportunity, is towering over Wangda, our porter. Wangda came up to my chin. 5'2'', 120 pound, strong and compact, with eyes that spoke of the hard life. At 18 years old, carrying 100 pound loads up and down the steep mountainside for days at a time will be the only way he ever earns a rupee.

Good Morning - Most of the trek, I had no option but to drink unboiled water. This, (and possibly the altitude) made me quite ill on the first 2 day. Waking up every hour on the first night, the last thing I needed was a 3AM wake up call from a giant leech, taking all the blood from neck and leaving his mark on my white t-shirt. Things had to get better from here.

How was the view? - Just in case you were wondering about the scenery. This is the toilet. The shower was not any nicer.

For those of you who have not used a bucket to shower, know that you're not missing out on much. Being around 9,000 feet, the air was cool and crisp, even on a sunny day. Like pouring salt on a wound, the gentle wind reminds you that you are pouring Everest ice run-off water on your head. The worst shower I ever had was my first cold water bucket shower. Actually, it was my only cold water shower. After that memorable experience, I made the family heat water on the wood stove. The best shower I've ever had was the day I returned to a hot water shower in Kathmandu.
Where's the rest of the town? - The center of town consisted of about 15 houses in a more or less flat area. In every direction of the mountain face, houses were scattered every so often, with each family having enough room for crops to sustain. Some of my students walked 2 hours to school every day.

The best students in the world - The slender, goofy looking Science teacher came up to me in the first week and asked " Are the students doing the homework you give them" I replied, "Well, some of them" In his thick Indian sounding English he said "If the kids don't do their homework, you must walk out of class, go to the tree, find a stick, and come back in a hit them and say 'why didn't you do your homework'". I worked with the principal to stop this behavior, citing so many other ways for correcting behavior.

This was just one of many things I recommended to changed in the school and town, among a few of the other changes I asked for were:

To have the teachers teach for the full 45 minute class period instead of 20-30 minutes, to give in class tests (currently the kids are not tested in any form), to have substitute teachers when teachers leave Khijee for a week or 2 (currently, half the students are running around school because there is nobody to teach them), to give grades and report cards, to not burn plastic in the kitchen fire stove, to not inhale the plastic smoke, to eat fruit or veggies every day.

To give you an idea of my teaching environment, please fill in the blank:

Why is there ________ outside my classroom?
A) A cow pooping
B) A toddler with no pants
C) A random guy smoking a joint
D) All of the above

Food - I may not have the biggest appetite, but most of these kids ate just as much rice as I did. A full grown man would eat 3-4 times as much rice as me. Twice a day I was uncomfortably full for the amount of rice they pressured me to eat. Not eating all the food was a sign of disrespect.

Where's the 7-11? - Everyone looked forward to Wednesday. Wednesday was market day. Wednesday was a good day. Wednesday was the only day fruit was available. The bananas were usually black and mushy, but necessary to give me the vitamins and minerals lacking from my all white diet.

Peanut Butter - To help me get protein, I bought peanuts and ghee at the Wednesday market and made peanut butter, grinding the peanuts by hand.

The family I ate with did give me meat about once a week. In the kitchen, there was usually a chicken tied up in a bamboo crate, or a goat tied up outside. After our meat dinner the animal somehow disappeared. Coincidence? It was quite a common occurrence to see a boy running through the fields trying to catch his dinner.
Here's a saw, a chisel, and string... build me a house - Everything here was done the hard way. To build this classroom, the workers carried gigantic stones from the bottom of the valley, chiseled them into the right shape, and used mud instead of cement to keep everything in place. With sweat and tools that are 300 years outdated, the level of precision was amazing.

"Everything is one because everything is connected. Therefore, since there is holiness, everything is holy" -Buddhism

"Everything dies, baby that a fact. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back" -Bruce Springsteen

A fork in the path -Walking from my house to the monastery for a Puja, I came to a fork in the road. Neither way looked familiar. I took my pen out of my pocket, and threw it up in the air. Whichever way the tip landed I would walk. The pen couldn't have pointed more to the leftward path. "OK" I said with some uncertainty. After 5 minutes, nothing looked familiar so I turned around and walked back to the fork. Right when I got to the point where the pen landed, I noticed a fallen tree that I had seen on a previous trip. Indeed, the pen had led me in the right direction. With confidence, I walked the leftward path again. 10 minutes before I reached the monastery, a heavy thunderstorm drenched me. Had I not made that detour, I would have arrived dry.

Moral of the story: Never doubt yourself, or you'll get wet.
Gaurishankar -After our 4 hour walk to the biggest closest hill, the view of Gaurishankar was crisp and clear. Spectacular. I wanted a picture standing in front of this holy mountain, but I figured I would finish my packet of crackers and peanuts before asking someone to snap my photo. By the time I finished eating, a small cloud moved in front of the base of the mountain. I figured I'd wait for the cloud to pass, but soon a bigger cloud moved in. From there the weather got worse, and soon Gaurishankar got lost in the gray abyss. I never got my picture.

Moral of the story: Act now, or your dreams will forever be cloudy.
Long days - The kids in Khijee had extremely long days. The average kid would wake up at 5 or 6 (yes, AM) then work in the field for a few hours before walking up to 2 hours to school. After school from 10-4, the long walk back home. When asked to perform an errand, kids would drop whatever he/she was doing. Without being asked, kids would do the dishes, sweep the floor* and serve me food and drinks. I never heard one complaint from any kid in town, or hear a kid question the authority of his parents. The 13 year old boy at the house which served me food was by far more disciplined than I.

* I always questioned the sweeping of the dirt floor, how clean can it get?
Are you just gonna sit there? - 67% of Nepali adults are unemployed. They are blessed with fertile land to plant crops and build shelter. Content with minimal survival needs, they are really good at doing nothing. Really, really good. After working in the field from 6-9, they spend the rest of their lives sitting on benches.

Also, never get into a staring contest with a Nepali. Combining the extra time on their hands, and the lack of any real exciting event (ever), they have plenty of time to practice staring at anything that moves. In Kathmandu, I saw a crowd of 40+ people watching a guy paint his store front. Being one of the most exciting events in the history of Khijee, I was always being watch and followed. Once I had 3 kids wait for me outside the toilet. The level of openness is amazing but it's not my style. After 1 person asked me if I needed a nailclipper, 3 more people commented on my long nails that day. To say they were very interested in me was an understatement. This was their most endearing, yet irratating quality.
Presents - Khijee was an eye-opening win-win experience for with the town and me. Before my departure, we both gave gifts to each other. Gifts that we had ample supply of, but the receiver could use a bit more of. I gave the town money donations, health advice, a guitar and other games. They gave love. Without any material possesions, they let me know that they were very very grateful of my work. It was very touching to hear these people thank me for helping to give their kids a chance to leave Khijee speaking English, the gateway language to the rest of the world.

**************Right now, there is no English teacher in Khijee. If you are interested in volunteering in Khijee, and experiencing the warmth and innocence of the Nepali people, please send me an email at


  1. Jesse, I know you wrote this a long time ago, but I really enjoyed reading it today. Thanks. :)