Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mustang

Last month we spent 10 days in Mustang, a bit of Nepal that juts up through the Himalayas into Tibet. It was a remarkable place and we are glad we got there before the final stretches of road from Pokhara to Lo Mantang are completed next year and the area becomes more accessible. We spent half our time on horses, the rest on foot or jeep. As a girl of the West, Malinda was in her element; Harvey was less thrilled by the horsey bits and was glad to leave with his bones and most of his dignity intact. But it was a wonderful trip in the most beautiful country either of us has seen. We'll let the photos (a small sample of the 1,400 we took) tell the story....


At Chogo Pass (4,230 m)

The geology of Mustang is phenomenal, and Malinda waxed rhapsodic at all the clines, lifts, folds, and types of rock. Those who have driven with her and endured her roadside geology lectures will understand why Harvey was glad to be on his own horse in wide-open country.


Everywhere one goes, the landscape is littered with ruins of forts, castles, monasteries and settlements. There has been very little archaeology (or ethnology, for that matter) done in Mustang and one could easily spend a career working up there.



Mustang gives one an idea of what Tibet what like before it was savaged by the Chinese. Buddhism is alive and well and the vibrant monasteries and schools attest to the survival of a remarkable culture. Unfortunately, we couldn't take photos inside most of the gompas, but the people were sufficiently different from the Hindu tradition we are used to that it all seemed exotic.



Many thanks to Rabi Thapa of Sacred Summits (www.sacredsummits.com) for putting the trip together and to Vivek Limbu for (once again) being such an excellent travelling companion.

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While we were in Mustang, daughter-in-law Mira and grandchildren Sumana and Ashim moved to Kathmandu so that the kids can go to better schools. The three of them provided much of the spark around the compound, and with their departure our lives are much less interesting, lively, and fun.

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We are well into the school year, and once again we are teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English. We now teach six days a week, which has the advantage of ensuring that the classes are fully "ours" and the disadvantage of being six days a week. We are now familiar with the pedagogy and textbooks (see our March blog on teaching), and Miss Rockbeat and Chankhay the pet monkey seem like old friends.

The government has instituted a compulsory computer class for the 6th grade and we are teaching that as well. To ensure that the 29 6th graders have hands-on access to the school's ten computers, we teach them in three shifts. Harvey does the instruction in Nepali, which is a marvel since he can't explain a lot of this computer stuff in English.

Like its English counterparts, the Nepali computer textbook is quite something. The first chapter explains that there are three "brands" of computers: IBM, IBM-compatible, and Apple. There is one fleeting reference to Microsoft and none to Windows. We learned last year that we can teach the textbook or we can teach the truth; to try teaching both just confuses the kids. So given the all-importance of the district-level exams, we teach the book. In later chapters, we will tell them about MS-DOS and 8-inch floppy disks. We may need to re-learn technology when we get home.

The book may not be fully accurate, but we are glad to have it both to structure the curriculum and to give us something to talk about on those mornings (the majority) when there is no electricity. But when there is power, it is a real joy to watch the kids light up when they master the mouse and can write their names in the Paint program (and make it red! and blue!).

We have recently been told that we have been volunteered to teach computer to the teachers in the 15 schools in our "resource center" (like a school district) who are also teaching computer to 6th graders. Some of them, we have been told, have never used a computer. We don't know yet if that is true, but we wouldn't doubt it. The hills of Nepal are technology-poor and we get reminders of it in many subtle ways. For example, last week, dutifully following the textbook, we explained to the students the difference beween dot-matrix, inkjet, and laser printers. During the discussion, it occurred to us to ask how many of them had ever seen any kind of printer. None had. Sometimes it seems like the mountain we have to climb with the kids is impossibly steep. (As another example of technology poverty, people here play solitaire with real cards!)

Meanwhile, the 7th and 8th graders are nagging us mercilessly for computer time and instruction, and at some point we will need to accommodate them. And the teacher who has been designated to teach computer when we leave needs tutoring as well. It is gratifying to be needed and useful, but we cannot allow this to be a full-time job.

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Finally, several times a day we find ourselves looking at each other, shrugging our shoulders, and saying yo Nepal ho ("this is Nepal"). Below, a yo Nepal ho moment, captured at Muktinath....