Our Week in the Nepali Village of Namsaling

Our Week in the Nepali Village of Namsaling

Caroline Williams, USA

We are now in Nepal and have had a wonderful time thus far. This past week we have spent our time with a Nepali Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) named Namsaling Community Development Center (NCDC) and have basically become a part of the NCDC family.

Journey to Nepal

Our travel plans to Nepal changed a bit when we decided to not go to Varanasi, but rather stay in Rishikesh for a week longer. With this, instead of crossing Nepal’s border on its southern side, we decided to cross on Nepal’s eastern border because it was closer to our desired destination of Ilam, Nepal. Even though this plan was more costly because it required a flight from Delhi to Bagdogra, India, it was a good investment and saved us a lot of travel time.

“I like Nepali Boys”

On Sunday, October 12, we took a bus from Kakarvita to Charali (about 10 km) and then took a shared taxi from Charali to Ilam. This taxi ride was quite interesting because it lasted three hours and was in a shared Jeep that fit about 13 people plus the driver and his assistant (who sat on the roof). A bonus to this taxi ride was one Nepali woman who was quite loud and seemed to be quite interested in Stephanie and me, especially me. The woman repeatedly tried to speak to me in Nepali saying, “Malai Nepali Keta Manpercha” over and over, even though I responded with an incredibly confused and surprised look each time. Soon enough, a different man in the car told me that this meant “I like Nepali Boys.” So for their entertainment, I wrote this phrase in my little notebook and repeated “Malai Nepali Keta Manpercha” which made the whole car laugh. Later, this same lady also had the courage to repeatedly say, “Nepali Sange Biegarsu” which means something like, “I will marry a Nepali Boy.” Again to entertain my peer passengers, I wrote this one down and repeated it in the car.

While it sounds like I may have been annoyed by all of this, I was not. I was simply reminded of why I love Nepali people. They love to laugh and they will also take you under their wing as if you are a brother or sister to them; even if they barely know you.

Eventually, we arrived to Ilam, and were greeted by the Namsaling Community Development Center (NCDC) staff at our guesthouse. This was especially great because I was able to see my friend, Amol, who was in the same study abroad course when I was in Nepal last year. Amol now works for NCDC and it was great to briefly hear about the work he has done since being an employee with NCDC. He had to leave after a short time though because there was some sort of bingo event that seemed to be a big social night for the community. I thought it was a bit funny because at home, I only associate bingo with either kids in elementary school or old people.

Our first night in Ilam was also special because while we were eating our dinner, I was surprised to see another friend, Bhupal. Bhupal has been a staff member of NCDC for over 30 years and was a staff member of the study abroad program that Amol and I were a part of last year. Bhupal is one of those people who brings a smile to your face without even saying a word. His warm heart and also goofy-ness makes anyone feel comfortable as if they have been life-long friends.

Later, he suggested that Stephanie and I join him in his field work the following day and since we didn’t have strict plans for our time in Ilam, we decided to join him. He said that we would be visiting the village of Namsaling and that it was four or five hours away. Him as well as the other gentleman who was with him, Hom Nath (who I will talk about more later), kept repeating how it was a long journey, over four or five hours, but this didn’t seem too bad to us because we were used to long travels by road. Little did we know, they meant that it would take over four or five hours by foot! But this still seemed fine to us because we’ve never traveled in this way. So Monday morning, we tried to pack as light as possible (still not light enough, as we later discovered) and made our way to Namsaling with Bhupal and a new friend, Pradeep.

Monday – Walk to Namsaling

After leaving our homestay, our first stop was to visit the main NCDC office in Ilam where we met all of the staff and got a tour of the area. It was great to see the different sectors of the organization and especially to hear about their efforts relating to alternative energy. They promote about nine or so different types of alternative energy sources, such as biogas and pico-hydro set-ups, and have each technology available to show at their office.

Soon enough, we left the office with Bhupal and Pradeep and made our way to the village of Namsaling. We were told that the journey would first consist of a one-hour walk down-hill, then we had to cross a river and then walk uphill for the remaining four hours or so. This all sounded fine and dandy at the beginning of the trip but we later found out that the journey was much tougher than we expected.

We made one stop at a little shop before we reached the bottom of the hill and unfortunately my hamstring was beginning to hurt. While drinking cold Fanta and eating a spicy puffed rice snack, Bhupal then asked us if we needed a porter to carry our bags up the hill after we crossed the river and I decided to request a porter for my backpack. While I would normally be too proud to do so, I did not want to reinjure my leg for a third time so I decided to listen to my body and accept that I am not a Nepali and therefore not used to climbing hills consistently.

My second favorite part of the journey that day was crossing the bridge at the bottom of the hill across the rushing river.  It reinforced the reason why I love bridges because they can make transportation, and thus access to resources, a lot easier. Bhupal also said that before they had the pedestrian suspension bridge, there was only a small, unsteady bamboo bridge to cross the river and it took a lot of time and effort to pass the river. Now, it has become a great resource to the Namsaling community because they can reach the municipality of Ilam much easier.

You now must ask, “If that was your second favorite part of the journey, what was your favorite part?” Well, my favorite part was talking with Bhupal and hearing his stories. Bhupal told me about the various cash crops of the village, about how he had come to become a respected NCDC worker among the whole Namsaling village (now over 1,000 households) and also various stories about Dr. Barry (who I will talk more about later as well). This conversation, complimented by the wonderful forested scenery, again reminded me of why I was so happy to be back in Nepal; and also excited about my time here with NCDC because I was sure that I was about to learn a great amount from this organization.

There’s no use in hiding it, the walk up the hill kicked our butts. Bhupal and Pradeep however were incredibly kind and patient and even offered to carry Stephanie’s backpack for a good portion of the way. We are incredibly thankful that they were understanding for why we were so tired up the hill and it made us further recognize the strength of Nepali people with their way of zooming up and down the hills. The last 20 minutes of the journey was the most difficult, not only because it was dark out, but because we had walked so long and it was a continual uphill journey.

Soon enough, over six hours after we left Ilam, we made it to our homestay and were incredibly relieved to finally relax. We were greeted by the husband and wife of the house, a local English teacher, and a local politician. We were also greeted with a small glass (or two or three) of the local alcohol, raksi, made by the wife of the home. Afterwards we ate dinner without silverware, only our right hand, and continued to chat for a while.

As we were sitting and relaxing I couldn’t help but smile and be thankful for my opportunity to be in the Nepali village. While the home we were staying in was very basic, it still felt homey because it was filled with loving people and much laughter (mostly thanks to Bhupal). Yet again, I wish I could describe the feeling I had at the time in a better way, but once again, I have to give up trying.

Stephanie and I then washed our faces and brushed our teeth at the faucet, which was a bit more of a challenge than it needed to be thanks to the local alcohol, and then went to the bathroom in the outdoor toilet. I actually enjoyed this process though because I was able to slowly introduced Stephanie to the “village-way” of doing things based on my one-week village experience last year in a different area of Nepal. We then fell asleep on our beds, basically a table with a comforter over it as a mattress, and was greeted in the morning by the sound of roosters.

Tuesday – A Laid Back Day

The only thing we had planned for the following day was to prepare for a few hand-washing events that NCDC was arranging. For Stephanie and me, this basically meant we followed and watched Bhupal and Pradeep as they arranged things in Nepali.

My favorite part of the day though was visiting the home of one of Dr. Barry’s (again, I’ll talk about him later in this post) best friends. His name is Laxmin Nepali and is in the “untouchable” caste. Dr. Barry talked about him while I was in China and he said that even though he only has a sixth grade education, he is one of the wisest man he knows. While we were there he was sewing many shirts on the porch of his house and Bhupal described to him that I knew Dr. Barry in Nepali. Because Laxmin does not know English very well, the only way I could communicate with him was showing him a few pictures of Barry and that seemed to make him happy.

For pretty much the rest of the day we played Rummy 500 which seemed to turn into the game of the week. We played two full games, had dinner and raksi like the previous night, and then Steph, Bhupal and Pradeep played another game of Rummy 500. I was tired of playing cards by that time though because I’ve played so many cards growing up and now I feel like I have a time limit per day when it comes to cards. Bhupal and Pradeep are crazy and even played another game which I think is nuts.

Wednesday – the Day the Toilet and I Became Best Friends

In the middle of the night, I unfortunately wasn’t feeling well and had to puke. Then in the morning I had some severe diarrhea (maybe too much information for you Western folks?). So I told Bhupal in the morning and we decided it would be best that I stay at home that day. So basically all I did that day was sleep, venture to the toilet, and read.

Around 3:00, the mom came up to my room and spoke some Nepali to me. I only recognized one word that sounded like “eat” so I replied with “hajur” which is yes in Nepali. I think she also called for the English teacher to come over to do some translation work which was quite helpful. He was able to tell me that I would have raman-type noodles which sounded great to me. He quickly left though because he had to go back to work (or something). I then ate the noodles at a glacial pace while listening to a handful of Nepalis talk in Nepali. I was curious about the name of my food so with a timid voice, I attempted to ask what the name of my food was by saying “yo ke nam ho?” I said it timidly because I wasn’t sure if the grammar was correct. But they then laughed and seemed to be surprised by my one Nepali phrase and responded with “chauchau.” I later found out that the grammar was correct but they were actually unsure how to respond because they didn’t know what to call the noodle meal.

While I was at home, Stephanie, Bhupal and Pradeep went to the International Hand Washing Day event in a different area. Stephanie seemed to love the event because she was able to venture through the deep jungle for an hour, play with a bunch of the kids, spend time at one of Bhupal’s close friend’s home, and was also able to see the whole process of the community coming together to learn the six-steps of hand washing.

Thursday – Second Hand Washing Event

On Thursday I was feeling a lot better and was able to attend the second hand washing event in a different area of the village. Throughout the day though, I felt like the whole village became aware of my diarrhea the day before because Bhupal seemed to tell all of the Nepalis. I wouldn’t have known because my Nepali is very limited, however diarrhea is the same in Nepali as it is in English so I was able to understand when he was telling someone. It’s okay though because it seems like talking about these kind of health issues is no problem in the village.

The hand washing event was interesting because it took place outside and people of all ages were there. Stephanie and I, along with three other people, were designated as “special guests” of the event so we had to sit at the front, facing the crowd, for the whole thing. There were then many speeches, none of which we understood given the language barrier, and it concluded with all of the children taking turns learning the six steps of hand washing. Bhupal gave this introduction and he seemed to do a great job at it because he made the audience laugh a few times.

Thursday ended in an interesting way because about six more NCDC staff members arrived to the home we were staying at. This basically turned into a big party where we drank a lot of raksi (maybe too much) and then played more Rummy. It was great night though, because even though we were with a few founding members, the CEO and other important NCDC staff members, it was like being with family with so much laughter.

Friday – NCDC General Assembly

The reason all the NCDC staff members came to the house the night before was because they had their annual general assembly in the Namsaling office. There were maybe 60 or 70 people at this event and each attendee got a shoulder bag with a small notepad, pen and a packet with information about NCDC written in Nepali.

The day consisted of a two-hour morning session where (I’m assuming) they announced about NCDC’s progress this past year. They also seemed to give a few awards. We then had a snack for lunch and everyone also had to practice their six steps of hand washing. Following, there was a two hour discussion time where (I think) they discussed the budget and also stuff for next year. I don’t really know what was said because the entire thing was in Nepali. While it was probably our most boring day because we couldn’t understand anything, it was still good to be there because we experienced what a general assembly was like for this NGO.

We then had to leave the home we were staying in, said goodbye to the mom and dad of the house, and walked down to a different house to stay at for the night. We moved to a place more downhill to make the commute the following day a bit easier.

After about one hour, we reached the home which probably had between 16 and 20 people, most of whom were from NCDC. This was great to be a part of because again, it felt like a family atmosphere around Thanksgiving time back home. Others played Rummy while I kept score, we drank raksi, and soon enough had dinner. Overall, the day ended in a great way and we were again happy to be with the NCDC family.

Saturday – Journey to Ilam

We woke up to Bhupal’s deep voice at 6:00 am to hear that we were going to leave at 7:00. A group of about 10 then left the home and walked downhill for almost two hours. The walk downhill wasn’t too bad because we took the road path down which wasn’t too steep to walk down.

We then reached the river and crossed a different bridge. To my surprise though, once we crossed the bridge we continued to walk down. Then all of the sudden, people started to take off their shoes and walk across a portion of the river. We then found out that we had to walk up the river for a short distance to reach the area where a jeep would pick us up. While this did hurt my feet with all the stones at the bottom of the river, it was still a cool experience.

Soon later, a jeep arrived to the bottom of the hill and the 10 of us packed in the car. Stephanie and I were incredibly happy that a jeep was arranged to take us uphill because walking up the steep hill would have sucked. We then made it up the hill along the bumpy road and within 30 or 45 minutes we soon arrived to our homestay in Ilam. We then took a much needed shower (because we didn’t shower all week) which felt amazing and had our breakfast meal.

NCDC’s Origins

Even before we arrived to Ilam and Namsaling, I had heard a lot about NCDC and a bit about its origin. Since being here though, I’ve really enjoyed piecing together all the stories I had heard before and learning about the organization’s interesting story. The story first begins with Barry.

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry Bialek was a staff member of the the Engineering for Developing Communities (EDC) study abroad course I took in the summer of 2013. Throughout the course, we learned about the successes of NCDC as an NGO in Nepal and later learned that Dr. Barry was the one who conceived the idea of NCDC.

Almost 40 years ago, Dr. Barry decided to volunteer with the Peace Corp and was placed in the village of Namsaling in Nepal. His assignment was to be a math and science teacher at a school in the village which required that he quickly learn Nepali and become fluent in the language. With his two years of service, he became very close with the community and formed a deep connection with Namsaling.

Following Barry’s time with the Peace Corp, he decided to go to medical school in North America yet his heart still stayed with Namsaling. He then thought of an idea to develop a Namsaling Community Development Center within the Namsaling village which could bring the community together, and to also have a Namsaling Community Development Foundation (NCDF) in Canada to support NCDC. Barry then decided to suggest this idea to a friend of his, Hom Nath Adhikari, who was also a teacher in Namsaling while Barry taught.

Hom Nath

Hom Nath liked Barry’s idea of having a community development center and decided to help Barry further develop this idea. Even though he was busy with his teaching job, he continued to work hard to develop the organization.

Barry and Hom Nath then developed a 100 year plan for the village of Namsaling which gave sort of a vision for the community. They then figured that NCDC would be a platform to implement this 100 year plan and amazingly to this day, the village is on track with this 100 year plan. This plan included different sectors such as education, water, energy, communication, transportation, etc. According to Hom Nath, Barry facilitated this development of this 100 year plan and thus played a key role in the organization’s development.

When NCDC was first developed, the Nepali government was a Panchayat sort of monarchy system. And a government approval from the Namsaling Assembly was required to officially make NCDC an established NGO. This took some time but soon enough, they were accepted by the government.

When the organization began, Hom Nath requested that the village leader require each household give just 5 Rupees per month as well as a few days of labor for the organization. With there being 500-600 households in the entire village, this gave NCDC some money to work with. The organization was then able to work on various collective projects that helped improve the community’s economy, health, sanitation, etc.

Five years after NCDC began, they faced some troubles because when Nepal’s government changed to a multiparty system, the community then became divided regarding their feelings towards NCDC. Some political parties didn’t like how NCDC was working and this made it very difficult for them to work. Despite these difficulties, Hom Nath as well as other political party leaders then decided to make NCDC a platform for the different political parties to discuss their opinions and differences and this then created the first board of NCDC.

Afterwards, NCDC continued to grow and become successful where they then needed their own full-time employees to manage the organization. This was because the people who were running NCDC already had their own full-time jobs, Hom Nath as a teacher for example. So then along came Bhupal.

Bhupal

Bhupal first became interested in NCDC when he was about 13. He would listen at the door of meetings and consistently hear the updates about NCDC’s projects. His interest continued for another 10 years or so and then finally, a job posting was advertised for NCDC’s first full-time position. To his delight, he was selected as NCDC’s first official employee.

Even though he was only paid 50 Rupees a month, which many people harassed him about, he loved his job. He worked day and night to improve the organization and soon became much respected among the community members. He even created the first community health post which was actually at the same house we stayed at during our time in Namsaling. Barry later came back to Namsaling and saw Bhupal’s incredible dedication and they soon became very good friends.

Bhupal has been successful in his job because he is a very social and also caring person. Just by walking with him throughout Namsaling, we could tell that he genuinely cared for the various households in the community. The community also seemed to respect him a great amount because we could stop at various people’s houses and would be greeted with tea. In addition, Bhupal has a great sense of humor which makes it very easy and pleasurable to travel with him.

Something that I would not have guessed is that Bhupal only has a 5th grade education. I learned that when he was seven, his father died and he then had to stop school so he could help at home. Despite this, he continued to be interested in learning various things and I think this curiosity is what has helped him most throughout his life. He was curious about NCDC and then became a successful employee. He then wanted to communicate with the foreign partners in English so he worked hard to learn English. Later, he became curious in photography and now he’s very proud to have his own camera. And the list goes on. Hom Nath also helped with Bhupal’s education through the years because he also saw great potential with his incredible work ethic.

Overall, Bhupal is a very inspiring person and I feel honored to call him my good friend.

Various Comments

There are basically only two meals here a day at 9:30 am and 7:00 pm and a mid-afternoon snack.EVERY meal is dal bhat (lentils and rice) and the only variety is the type of vegetable that is served with it. Even though Nepalis have the same meal every day for every meal, they still absolutely love the meal. To my surprise, I haven’t gotten sick of the meal but I know I will enjoy having a non-dal bhat meal when we get to Kathmandu next week.

Barry comes back to Nepal quite frequently and is a much respected person among all of Namsaling and also much of Nepal. Sometimes, it even seemed like Barry was a celebrity in Nepal because he would even speak and sang songs on the national Nepali radio at times (in Nepali of course).

It was a pleasure to interview Hom Nath about the creation of NCDC because his face would light up and his eyes would sparkle when he spoke about NCDC’s development. You can tell that he is very proud of the organization’s progress and that many people also respect him for his great work. Even when we walked with him from Namsaling to Ilam, many people would greet him with a smile and addressed him as “sir.”

There are two children at our homestay and both are incredibly cute. One is a 1.5 year old boy who is incredibly clever and is learning both English and Nepali. The other is an 8 year old girl who is very active and hangs out with us a lot. She has incredible English and is also very curious with most everything we do. I normally don’t like being around kids for a super long time but I have enjoyed hanging with her because she is now like a little sister to me.

We learned that Hom Nath was married when he was 9 years old! Can you believe it? They didn’t have their own home until they were maybe 20 but they were officially made husband and wife by their parents when they were so young. How incredible!

Dear Mom, when you pick me up from the airport can you have a vegetarian Jimmy Johns sandwich (with light mayo) ready for me? I’ve been dreaming of one this week and I think that’s the first think I want when I get back to the States. Thank you!

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