Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mountain Biker Sends Buffalo into Air

After we got back from our mountain biking adventure, I was taking my dad on one of my usual four hour mountain bike rides. I am cruising down a jeep road, and as I round a corner I see a buffalo standing in the middle of the road. I slam on my brakes and stop just before the buffalo. The buffalo leaps up onto his back legs, does a 180 degree turn, and launches himself into the air in the opposite direction. He runs at full speed for two minutes before he stops.
Unfortunately, this was not a wild buffalo. Some middle aged Nepali lady, who was carrying at least 50 pounds of vegetables on her back, was herding this buffalo up the trail. She looked at me, looked at the buffalo now 100 meters away, looked back at me, and started laughing. She put her vegetables back in her house and began running down the trail after her buffalo.
I felt terrible, but fortunately she thought the whole situation was hilarious!

Holy Festival (and my last day at the orphanage)

Holy crap. Today we celebrated "Holy." I still don't know exactly what the festival means, how it is related to Hinduism, or why people celebrate it the way that they do. All I know is that it has been my favorite day in Nepal so far. I was told the night before to wear a bad set of clothes that I did not care about. By the end, all of my clothes were stained pink, purple, red, green, blue, turquise, yellow, orange, and every other color you could think of. I was dripping with paint and water from head to toe, and I had a couple of crushed tomatoes and crushed eggs in my hair.

I got to the orphanage around 10:00AM and was greeted by a cloud of water balloons, dyed water, and powdered paint. For the next two hours, we opened up bags of powdered paint and dumped them on each other's heads, took all food that was left out and threw it at each other (there wasn't much food around), and filled up buckets of water to unload on people that were still dry. By the end of the day, there was not a spot on my face or arms that was my true skin color

We managed to use up all of the water during the water fights, so there was no running water to wash our clothes or take showers. We walked the kids to a river, brought bars of soap, and all jumped into the river to shower and wash our clothes. It worked surprisingly well. A couple of the kids were scared to get into the water because they could not swim, so I grabbed them and got rid of their fears.

When we got back to the orphanage, they had a ceremony for me since it was my last day. About 1/3 of the kids kissed me goodbye they were so sad to see me go. I really want to figure out how to get back here and see them again.

Shiva Ratri Festival

Shiva Ratri (The Day of Shiva) is a national holiday in Nepal. Shiva is one of the most important Gods in the Hindu religion, and the whole day is set aside to get closer to him. In the morning, I went to one of the shrines with older girls from the orphanage to pray for husbands in the future. Women stood in line for several hours to bring their offerings-- burning incense, fruits, leaves, water from their homes. They gave their offerings to an important looking man standing at the shrine, and the man put their offerings on the shrine, gave them a ticka (a large red mark above their eyes), and blessed them.

Shiva is also the God of destruction and marijuana. At night everyone buys sugar cane in five foot long rods, heats an end up in a fire, and then whacks the end as hard as they can on the ground. The end of the sugar cane usually explodes and makes a noise as loud as fire crackers. So at night there are several large bonfires, a lot of exploding noises, and kids and adults eating sugar cane until the sugar rush is out of control. None of the volunteers could fall asleep that night due to our sugar rushes!

Marjuana is decriminalized on Shiva Ratri, and many Nepalis smoke once a year on this day to get closer to Shiva. I opted out of this part of the festival.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Extra school for exams

Final exams are coming up in less than a month. To make sure that all kids are prepared, students that are ranked 11th or lower in their class must go to extra school from 4PM to 6PM. The top ten students do not have to stay. This has made things very quiet around the orphanage in the afternoon, and it didn't take me long to figure out who the smart ones were. In three weeks when the exams are over, the extra schooling will come to an end and the kids will get a one month break.

Making a (very small) Difference

Every morning before school I help Garnisham, one of the older kids, do his math homework. He needs someone to help him one-on-one for two reasons. Firstly, he needs someone to explain every question to him. Secondly, he cannot sit down and concentrate for long enough to do a math problem unless someone is constantly encouraging him. After a couple of weeks of helping him for an hour every morning, he now has more trust in what I tell him than whatever is written down in his math book.

I have been trying to teach him about math concepts instead of sheer memorization, and it has been very challenging based on his schooling. Yesterday we were working with graphs, specifically rotating points and shapes 90 degrees about the origin. In his book it said that if you rotate (x, y) 90 degrees clockwise, the point becomes (y, -x). He had no idea what the formula meant, confused the negative signs, and could never keep straight the formulas for clockwise and counterclockwise.

The problem was that he did not understand what rotation was. So I physically rotated his math book 90 degrees clockwise and started to explain the concept of rotation. I drew a graph with some shapes on it and physically rotated the piece of paper 90, 180, and 360 degrees clockwise and counterclockwise. We began solving problems by rotating the graphs instead of using the formulas. After a half an hour, he finally understood what rotation was. In the end, I was even able to show him how the formulas were derived.

We'll see what he remembers tomorrow, but today it seemed like he finally understood the homework he was doing.

Sarankot Sunrise

Sarankot is a tiny village 2,500 feet above Pokhara in a perfect spot to view the Annapurna Mountains. The village is a popular spot to go for sunrise, so I woke up early one morning to bike to the top to watch the show. At 4:50AM I hit the road, and by the light of the full moon I was able to follow the road. The moonlight reflected off of the snow in the Annapurna Mountains, and I could see a couple 8,000 meter peaks barely visible halfway into the sky.

By 6:00AM I had reached the end of the paved road. The last twenty minutes were mountain biking to the top, and I found out that the moonlight was not as bright as I originally thought. By 6:20AM I made it to the top before dawn and sat to watch the mountains appear before my eyes.

When you are at the top of Sarankot, you can see 23,500 vertical feet of mountains all at once. For the next 45 minutes, I watched the mountains light up by the sun in sheer amazement. First the sun lit up the tops of only the tallest peaks, and slowly it unveiled the beauty and magnitude of the mountain range. After 100 pictures, I decided to ride down to begin my day at the orphanage. What a morning!

Plans for my Final Month

My volunteering is coming to an end and I will be traveling for the next month. Below are my plans for those that like to keep track.

Until March 7th: Mountain bike around the Annapurna Mountains with my dad. It is usually a 16-20 day hut to hut hike, but we will hopefully make it an 9 day hut to hut mountain bike. Max altitude is around 17,700 feet.
March 7th-9th: Volunteer at the orphanage for 3 more days
March 10th-12th: Kayak to Chitwan-- 3 day intro to kayaking clinic where we learn how to run rivers with class 3 rapids on the last day!
March 12th-14th: Two days in Chitwan National Park-- a tropical jungle with tigers, rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, over 400 types of birds
March 15th-21st: Final week in Kathmandu. Biking to the Tibetan border (4 day ride) and visiting some of the sites that I missed the first time
March 22nd-April 1st: Flying back to Chicago and going to the British Virgin Islands for a week before going back to school-- sailing around a 35 foot catamaran for a week with 12 of my friends