By: Laura Shaw
As contradictory as it may sound, I felt as though I knew what I was getting myself into coming to Nepal, yet had no idea what to expect. I was confident I had sufficiently prepared myself mentally and physically for my time here: to trek my way through the mountains, be living in relative isolation, and have limited access to resources. However, you never really know how prepared you are until you arrive. One thing I could not have predicted was how different each of the four teachers' experiences would be while in our villages. The four of us (Andrew, Zoe, Katie and myself) had met in Kathmandu, spent the week together for orientation then trekked together for four days to our villages. After a group hug in the garden of the Trekker's Inn Guesthouse in Ghandruk, we parted ways and settled into our villages. In Ghandruk, Katie has experienced an ever changing and revolving door of trekkers, guides, and porters every night and at times has even helped serve dal bhat. In Tolka, Andrew was welcomed like a brother by the staff at a lively guesthouse and but is further removed from the rest of us being on the other side of the valley. In Kliyu, Zoe has been adopted as "my daughter" to her host family at a quiet guesthouse, but has her fill of excitement during busy days at school. And here, in Kimche, my life is significantly different than all the rest, but in all the ways I could have hoped for.
Kimche is a village that doesn't even show up on Google Maps. It has a population of about 300 people, spread out down the mountainside. I stay at the Kimche Guesthouse and Restaurant which is in the lower part of the village, below the jeep/bus road but along the main Ghandruk-Birentanthi path. My walk to school every morning is a trek in itself: 20 minutes up the mountain through farm yards, rice fields, up stone paths, along rock walls, and short cuts galore. The school's enrollment sits just above 50 students, Grades 1-8. After school, I generally walk down with students along the road, with a view of the Himalayas, as they hold my hands, sing, dance, and speak to me in either broken English or Nepali that I don't understand (yet). At night, I eat dal bhat with my host family in the kitchen then read, write, lesson plan, watch videos, spend time with the neighbours, play cards, etc. Anything to pass the time. When the sun goes down, Kimche goes quiet. However, it's the peaceful kind of quiet that sets your mind at ease.
When I hear the other teachers' stories about visiting co-workers houses, chatting with other trekkers, having a cup of raksi on a Friday night, or attending cultural programs in town, I'm reminded of the world outside Kimche. I have got so caught up in my simple life here because it feels so normal to me and quite reminiscent of home. I grew up in a rural Saskatchewan town of 1, 600 people, but have been living and teaching in a "larger" town of 3, 500 for the past five years. Villages next to the one I lived in have Kimche sized populations and are surrounded by farms for as far as the eye can see on the flat prairie. The closest school to mine was one of 85 students, Grades 1-12. The school I taught at was larger, with approximately 350 students from Grade 6 to 12. I couldn't go to the grocery store, gas station, or sporting event in town without running into multiple students and/or their families. In a small town, you're always a teacher, but I like it that way. The mentality is much the same here. The majority of locals know, or assume, that I am the volunteer teacher in town. Rarely do conversations start with asking who I am or what I'm doing here; instead people ask where I am from and how long I am staying (they generally already know where). On my walk to school the kids will yell "Good morning Miss" or "Hello Teacher!" and frantically wave from wherever they are on the mountain until I hear and acknowledge them. I say namaste to nearly everyone I pass or who passes through my guesthouse - it's just what you do. However, once it's gets dark - around 6pm - I am left to the solitude of my guesthouse. It's this calm and stillness that I often sought out at home. Even living in a town felt crowded at times and I frequently found myself taking a drive out on the backroads, heading up to the one hill in town to watch sunset or walking through the trails to the baseball diamonds. Here, it doesn't take much to find that same feeling, just with a much different setting. I can walk out my door, pick any seat on the guesthouse patio and it's there. A minute or two walk up or down the path to the rice fields or the 15 minute walk to the waterfall outside of town and I find the same. I am grateful for the endless spaces and moments I have to be alone and think - this is something I am try to be very cognizant of and doing my best to not take for granted.
A place like Kimche is certainly not everyone's cup of tea, just the same as big cities aren't mine. I'd go stir crazy living in a city of millions and would be bursting to find a quiet place or time to get out, even just for a day. On the contrary, I understand that a lot of people would struggle living in place this small and isolated from society; there is definitely a sense of being alone that is not for everyone. All the feelings of boredom, remoteness, and alienation can be overwhelming and take their toll on every part of your mind and body. However, your perspective and attitude change everything. Through my years of traveling, I have come to appreciate the time to think and be alone. Through teaching, I have learned to appreciate moments of silence and the feeling of having nothing to do. Don't get me wrong, I miss a lot of people, experiences and material things from my life outside of Nepal. I definitely need and crave social interaction at some point in my days and weeks and I would be missing sports terribly if it weren't for my daily volleyball games with students at lunch break. It's all about balance. My balance is just a lot different than that of my friends and family at home or that of the other Trek to Teach teachers. Where we live often says a lot about us as people. I know exactly why the TTT team placed me in Kimche, but neither the team nor I could have anticipated just how fitting it would be. Only three weeks into my time in Kimche and I already feel as though I have learned more than I expected and been challenged in the ways that I need to be. I can only hope that the next six weeks will provide me more of the same opportunities and experiences.
Written by: Trek to Teacher Laura Shaw