You are looking at posts that were written in the month of January in the year 2011.
This and the next post I have in my head are also book posts. I feel guilty that I’m not full of exciting Kathmandu posts. When I first moved to Kathmandu last fall there were so many exciting things about living here. Every time I bought anything or found something or took a microbus, it felt like a major accomplishment. Now, even though I’m still likely to get lost while trying to find a place I’ve never been before, these things aren’t as thrilling. And most of my daily life is pretty calm – I go to work, I run errands, I cook, sometimes I meet up with people and do fun things.
I do appreciate the exciting things about my life here; that even when work is tweaking the website and writing grant proposals, it’s still interesting. That a couple times a week it’s clear enough when I get home to watch the mountains turn pink at sunset. For the language nerd in me, that if I listen carefully I can hear quite a number of languages being spoken around the city.
At the same time, I’ve lived in Nepal for much more of the last year and a half than I’ve been in the States. Which seems kind of crazy, but also helps explain why I’m as excited about things like the past occupant of my apartment leaving a cabinet full of novels as I am about some of the Nepal things that used to be so thrilling.
So, this cabinet. There’s a great range of novels, from the mildly trashy romance novels to quite a number that have won serious awards and acclaim. The woman who left them taught at the British School and I wonder if she taught something related to literature.
Somewhere between the trashy and the heavy she left a number of Alexander McCall Smith books (author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and many others). The one I just read, The Full Cupboard of Life, continues with some of the same characters as The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and like that book is charming enough. It had one passage that I particularly enjoyed and want to pass on/save for myself (about language, of course):
Mma Makutsi, of course, had another language tucked away in her background. Her mother had been a speaker of Ikalanga, because she had come from Marapong, where they spoke dialect of Ikalanga called Lilima. That made life very complicated, thought Mma Ramotswe, because that mean that she spoke a minor version of a minor language…
Mma Ramotswe had more or less forgotten that Mma Makutsi spoke Ikalanga until one day she had used an Ikalanga word in the middle of a sentence, and it had stuck out.
‘I have hurt my gumbo,’ Mma Makutsi had said.
Mma Ramotswe had looked at her in surprise. ‘Your gumbo?’
‘Yes,’ said Mma Makutsi. ‘When I was walking to work today, I stepped into a pothole and hurt my gumbo.’ She paused, noticing the look of puzzlement on Mma Ramotswe’s face. Then she realised. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Gumbo is foot in Ikalanga. If you speak Ikalanga, your foot is your gumbo.
‘I see,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘That is a very strange word. Gumbo.’
‘It is not strange,’ said Mma Makutsi, slightly defensively. ‘There are many different words for foot . It is foot in English. In Setswana it is Ionao, and in Ikalanga it is gumbo, which is what it really is.’
Mma Ramotswe laughed. ‘There is no real word for foot. You cannot say it is really gumbo, because that is true only for Ikalanga-speaking feet. Each foot has its own name, depending on the language which the foot’s mother spoke. That is the way it works, Mma Makutsi.’
That had ended the conversation, and no more was said of gumbo.
Posted on January 15th, 2011 by Miranda.
Guests in This Country: A Development Fantasy, by Greta Rana, is one of the few novels I know of about development/aid workers. I don’t know that it’s a book I would have enjoyed except that I enjoy writings that involve a significant amount of skepticism towards the development world – which deserves a good dose of skepticism.
Guests in This Country is set in a fictional country, Lapalistan, that the author calls a mix of Laos, Afghanistan, and Nepal. I enjoyed the many bits of Nepal that showed up, from the divide between people in the capital city and the country and the way people’s behavior changed when they went home to the village, to the ostentatious cars of the aid agency, to some of the peculiarities of the airport (foreigners get waved through while Lapalis/Nepalis are scrutinized for things they could be taxed on).
I saw a review of this book online that described it as plodding, which is fair. It’s the sort of book where you know every step of the story at least thirty pages in advance, but I still found it satisfying when those things did happen. So, not a book I’d recommend to friends outside of the I/NGO world in Nepal (or, I suppose, other parts of the developing world) – which is good because it’s published by Pilgrims and probably not easily available outside of Nepal. But for those of you who do fit that description, it’s a good book if you’re feeling particularly cynical about your work, perhaps if you’ve been doing little but grant writing for a while and want to cry the next time you see the words empowerment, sustainability, or beneficiary.
Posted on January 12th, 2011 by Miranda.
Today, at a story-writing workshop where members of various linguistic minorities were writing stories in their own languages to increase the body of literature in languages that are rarely written down, I ran into someone I knew and wasn’t expecting to see. She was the facilitator* of one of the best literacy classes I’ve been to, in a very distant part of Nepal – and a part of Nepal where almost everyone comes downhill during the winter because it gets so cold in their own villages. (Except for the one person in each family who stays behind to shovel snow off the roof, because for some reason the houses in this snowy region have flat rooves.) In any case, this excellent teacher is in Kathmandu for the winter, working on developing materials and a curriculum to teach in her language.
We got the chance to talk about the other literacy class that I’d tried to visit during that trip. After walking an hour from the main village, drinking about a gallon of tea (with me studiously avoiding the butter tea), and sitting around for ages, someone finally decided to tell us that the class wasn’t meeting – there was a festival/soccer tournament in another village, and everyone had pretty much picked up and left to go play soccer. When we visited the room where the class was supposed to meet, it looked suspiciously like there had never been a class, and the people who were supposed to be running it had hurriedly faked something to make it look like the class had been running. The walk back to the main village, now in the dark and rain-verging-on-snow did not improve the experience.
But today, the facilitator of the successful class tried to tell me that my impression was totally wrong. The class hadn’t been running – but it was because someone in the village had died a couple months before, and people there are so scared of ghosts that they weren’t willing to go outside at night, when the literacy class was supposed to take place.
Coming up: Things I’ve been reading, including a novel about aid workers and a collection of essays on languages in education in the Philippines.
*facilitator is to participants in a adult non-formal education class what a teacher is to students in a formal school.
I haven’t even been here a month and I’m already getting lazy with this blog thing. I can tell I’m going to need prodding to keep it going.
Pokhara for New Year’s was just what it should have been – beautiful mountain views, relaxing by the lake, some mild hiking, plenty of time boating on the lake, some of it in a paddleboat that seemed ready to sink at any moment, dancing in the new year. There are photos up on fb of the highlights.
We even got a nice surprise to start the year at the office – a request from one of the first literacy classes that the NGO started, back in 2002, for help building a roof for their new building.
Part of the justification for focusing on adult literacy classes is that they can form community groups that will do their own development work in their own communities, which will be more useful and powerful than anything an NGO can do for the community. The groups formed in literacy classes might work together on income generation, create new structures that give power to previously marginalized members of the community (women, ethnic groups/linguistic minorities, lower castes), work together to make their voices heard in government and access government and NGO resources, and generally do good things in the community. Literacy classes, so the theory goes, are not just about learning to read, though being able to read and do simple math is also useful in achieving all those good things.
With projects run by I/NGOs, they always talk about long-term benefits to the community, but the organization’s involvement ends long before you can really see community empowerment or changes in gender relations or things like that. Except if you work through a local organization that doesn’t leave. Then you get to stay in touch while a group of adults learns to read, starting with the language they speak at home and transitioning to the national language; learns to use a calculator and add, subtract, multiply and divide; learns about running a group and making money through family-based business; and then strikes out on their own.
In the case of the group we heard from today, they’ve stuck together for five years after ending the initial three-year literacy/income-generation course, gotten funding from another NGO to do human rights education programs, continue to make money as a group, have registered as a cooperative with the government, and now are building their own building. They have men’s, women’s, and children’s groups that meet to talk about issues and plan activities. They are working together to improve their community (just like we say in grant applications they will!). Mother tongue-based literacy classes: they work (at least sometimes)!