Yesterday I bought a map of the local area and discovered that a Shiva temple is quite close by. I figure it is about a 10 minute walk so at 8:00am I have my breakfast (porridge again) and after a boiling hot shower (bliss!) I set off. I walk through the elephant camp and out the other side, along some tiny dusty paths and onto larger roads, through a few village settlements, into a forest and out the other side. I look at my phone to check the time and realise I have been walking for just under an hour. My map reading never was any good. I ask a woman passing by on a bicycle if the Shiva temple is in this direction and she giggles with an imaginary friend and says "yes, you go, you go". I carry on walking. The ground has now become very rocky and I stumble a few times. I am quite sure I would have a sprained ankle if it wasn't for my strudy trekking shoes. I stop to buy some bookmarks made out of elephant dung paper. I've been looking for this little shop everywhere after hearing about it. They have such nice things - I'll definitely be back.
A typical Tharu house
Mange ridden dog
Holy cow! :-p
Making my way through various villages
A little further up the road I find that I am walking alongside a river. I scratch my head. I don't remember this on my map but I can't check to be sure because - clever me - I've of course left the map back at the guesthouse. The road bends to cross a bridge. There is no other turning, and nor can I go straight ahead but I can't see any sign of life anywhere.I decide to cross the bridge. A man with a horse and cart is coming in the opposite direction so I ask again whether I am still going in the right direction for the temple. He smiles and nods. I plod on.
Crossing the bridge - "Are we nearly there yet?"
The cart and horse man
Eventually, after yet another trek through another bit of forest, I reach a small village. There are some boys gathered around a raised table (about waist height) playing some sort of game. I ask them about the temple. They all laugh and talk in Nepalese before confirming that I should just keep going straight. After a further 10 minutes or so, I have to ask again because it really doesn't seem as though I'm getting anywhere. A woman in front of her house making a mat tells me "that corner, you go" and points ahead of me. Yay! I've made it! It has taken me nearly an hour and a half and, despite the cold and fog, I'm starting to get hot and bothered. I quicken my pace, eager to see the reward of my determined walk. I round the corner, camera at the ready, holding my breath. I stare ahead of me. I blink. I rub my eyes. I blink again. In front of me is a low wall enclosing the entrance (through a rusty old broken gate practically hanging off it's hinges) to a 'garden' that is actually better described as mud with leftover building materials scattered around. And in pride and place at the centre of this enclosure is what I assume to the Shiva temple. It is a very modest building and really nothing at all to write home about - no seriously, at all. My guesthouse is nicer. Where are the ornate carvings? The unique age old architecture? The bursting colours? It definitely has none of this. Just to be absolutely sure, I ask some passing children if this is in fact the temple. They say yes and then in the same breath demand that I take their photograph.
Ta-da! The temple in all it's glory. What do you mean "is that it"?
Woo ....... hoo
The demanding kiddies
Well, I'm gutted. That was really probably not worth such a long walk. And now I have to do it all again in the other direction. I gather up my tripod and stomp my way back through the village. I now know why people were laughing when I told them where I was going. I grumble to myself that I will check with Dal from now on 1) distances of things on my map, and 2) whether it's bloomin worth it! On the way back through the village, I stop to watch the boys playing their game. They do tell me the name of it but, after repeating it to me three times, I still don't quite catch it. The game consists of a big square board made into a table. It is covered with chalk dust and in each of the four corners is one hole in the table surface (a bit like snooker). There are white and black game pieces which are flicked across the table between the thumb and the middle finger, rebounding off the sides and - hopefully - dropping into a hole. There is one red piece which is the Queen. It looks like quite an addictive game but, although they ask me to play, I still have a loooooong walk back and I need to have some lunch before meeting the Women's Group at 12:30pm.
Boys at play
Just as I reach the bridge again, I hear a tiny voice calling 'Namaste' from the forest to my left. I look through the trees. The little voice keeps calling until eventually I spot the source - a small child, perched half way up a tree. He smiles. Not sure why he's up the tree but he seems happy enough so I smile back and cross the bridge. I hope that was the right decision and he's not still stuck there tonight!
Child up a tree - amazing what you find on country walks ain't it?
I get back to the guesthouse just before 12:00pm and tuck into some vegetable chow mein. I have finished reading Wild Swans now (very interesting book following three female generations through the cultural revolution in China) and have started reading Light A Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy. Love her stuff.
At 12:30pm, I cross the road over to the path which leads to the Women's Centre where they learn Nepalese, Social Studies, Maths and English - studying the subjects on a rotational basis - for just 2 hours per day. The Women's Centre (or 'school') looks pretty much like an elephant stable, made up of 8 thin pillars with open sides and a straw roof covering. It is not a particularly warm afternoon so I'm quite glad the 'school day' is so short. I make my way over and introduce myself to the 9 women who are attending today. There are usually about 15 per day although attendance very much depends on home life (such as a child's sickness or a husband's drunkenness). The man who has set up this Women's Centre (hereon in referred to as the 'Headmaster') runs a shop at the corner of the road selling baskets and honey. He lets me do what I want today as I don't have a lesson plan prepared so I go round the circle of women and ask them to introduce themselves and tell me their ages. This is done with varying degrees of success. They are all at very different levels. Santi is a confident girl of 22 and sat to my immediate left. She tells me she works very hard to practise her English and as a result ends up interpreting my following questions for the rest of the class. We go around the circle again asking about their families - how many members there are, whether they have children, what jobs do the different family members do etc. Seems that they were all married off as young children so they did not attend school. They can't read or write in Nepalese let alone English but they are eager to learn because of the booming tourist trade. As Santi points out, how can they sell bottled water or souveniers if they can't offer these things in a polite way or work out the correct change. They feel that they need this school very much to survive and become independent. I also learn that most of them are divorced with children (the women range from 19 to 45 years old). As a result of divorce, they have practically been shunned by their families and are desperately trying to support themselves. They hire themselves out as farmhands or do ad hoc cleaning in hotels - but nothing is full-time and jobs come and go. They all really want to better themselves and have a chance to stand on their own two feet like Western women. I feel incredibly lucky (for the umpteenth time in the last few months) about my heritage.
The Women's Centre / school
After I have got to know the women and they have relaxed with me, 'school' is signalled as finished and I arrange to meet them tomorrow at 12:30pm for our first English lesson together. I go back with the man who is acting as the Headmaster (he still hasn't introduced himself to me and I keep forgetting to ask his name! lol) and we sit outside his shop chatting about how the school came about. His wife brings us tea mixed with honey which is very nice indeed. The sun is shining and I listen to his story. His brother did very well at school (naturally gifted) and eventually became a Professor in Kathmandu. Over the years, the brothers talked about how wonderful it would be to help the 'lost women' of Sauraha - i.e. the former child brides - who found themselves turfed out of their homes by their families, but through no fault of their own.
Dal got talking to the brother - the Headmaster - one day and agreed to rent out some land which he owned behind this man's house. The women spent three months sitting on the cold ground in the harsh icy wind coming straight from the Himalayas before eventually the brothers had raised enough money to build the 8 pillared structure and roof (about 80 quid). At this point, a volunteer from Denmark who had become disillusioned with her work at a local orphanage offered to come along and teach 'conversational English' to the women. By the end of her trip, she had also paid for and even helped to lay the straw roof (cost of about 15 quid). And so the official 'school' was born. It has been up and running for just under a year now. The brother in Kathmandu advised how to organise it properly (using a register etc), set them up with some contacts in the Government so that they could get school books and then left them to make what they wanted of it. At first, there were approximately 95 women attending regularly - literally spilling out into the surrounding fields - but gradually numbers have dwindled as life here becomes harder. On average, there are about 15 women per day. In the monsoon season (June, July and August) no one comes at all as they are usually busy rebuilding their homes. The Headmaster tells me that these women are really amazing people and so full of life. When the school gets a recognised status (they must have 100 enrolled and regularly attending pupils for this) he wants to call it "The School for Model Women of Sauraha". I think that's lovely.
The Headmaster tells me that the women desperately want to learn handicrafts so that they can sell souveniers and also sewing. I think that's a great idea but he tells me that he has no idea how much sewing machines cost - but he will take me to find out if I am interested in trying to help in the future (he knows I am strapped for cash and continuously tells me that my "time" is more valuable). I tell him that I am definitely interested and I would be happy to accompany him when we have a chance. We finish our honey tea and he takes me on a tour of his shop, obviously very proud of his baskets which he makes by hand in 1-2 days flat. I tease him and tell him that isn't possible and he barks at his wife who appears with some straw and a bowl of water. Seconds later, he has started making a basket and tells me that when I come for school tomorrow, he will be finished. His wife takes an opportunity to show off her talents also and brings out some beautiful flower stands she has made using banana leaf, and some bracelets made of 'holy wood'. I think they're so pretty, and made of natural and recycled materials - I wonder whether they would go down well at the markets in the UK? I really wish I had the contacts and savvy to make something like this possible. I've been thinking about it since seeing all those beautiful paper bead jewellery in Africa. How can I get it to the UK and sell it on? With all profits going to these two organisations I've come into contact with. Answers on a postcard please!
Wetting the straw to begin making the basket
Winding banana leaf around the straw
Taking shape ...
Not the finished product but one similar
Finally our chat winds down and with the cold evening drawing in quickly, I head down to the internet cafe to update my Blog (hey there!). I am determined not to make the same mistake as last night and am actually aiming to get home before dark this time. Finding myself at the opposite end of the village to where I am staying without a headtorch at 9:00pm last night was not at all fun. I have no idea how much elephant poop I stepped in but I could probably make quite a few bookmarks if I tried ...
Reading by candlelight before bed