You are looking at posts in the category Kathmandu.
Around this time last year I gave a talk at the Center for Nepal and Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University. It was pretty well-attended – around 50 professors, students, government and NGO representatives.**
A few days ago, I got beer and momos with a linguist friend who works at TU. He had just submitted a report to UNESCO about multilingual education in Nepal. Specifically, after hearing my talk last year, he asked UNESCO for funding to take a team to visit the pilot schools from the Government of Nepal/Government of Finland*** multilingual education project, which ran from 2007-2009 in seven pilot schools in six districts around the country. This was one of the things that I had wanted to do but never managed to – for various reasons I ended up spending more time with I/NGO programs than the government ones.
In any case, I’m sure that this report will be very useful for the future of multilingual education in Nepal, which is linked to the future of Nepal’s language diversity and education system. And I’m thrilled that my work inspired someone else to do more research in this area!
* Creating more research! That’s a Thing, right?
** It probably would have been better attended two days earlier, when it was initially scheduled, but then I got stuck out of Kathmandu because of a landslide. Lesson learned: always schedule in extra days when traveling in Nepal.
*** mini-rant: one of the goals of good development/aid, I think, should be at least trying to develop a sense of ownership among the people who benefit from the project. Simplistic example: if you go somewhere, build a water tap, and leave, then when it breaks your water tap is broken, and people who need water feel powerless to fix it. If the people using it feel like it’s their water tap, it might get fixed when it breaks. They might even improve on it when they have the resources to do so. The Finland MLE project is an example of not developing a sense of ownership. Even though it was technically a joint Nepal & Finland government project, it’s always referred to as ‘Finland’s project’, even by people who were central to the project. The lack of ownership is one of many reasons why I expect that few elements of the Finnish project will every be mainstreamed into government programs. But perhaps this new report will have insights on this, and perhaps they will be less pessimistic than my view.
(Please excuse a moment of language nerd-ery)
We talk about verbing nouns in English, and we do it all the time. For example, Language Log has been talking about using ‘back burner’ as a verb:
Two years ago, Obama tasked CIA Director Leon Panetta to prioritize the hunt for the 9/11 mastermind, a response to the perception that the Bush administration had allowed the hunt for bin Laden to back-burner.
But I hadn’t noticed this in Nepali before. Until today, while reading the Nepali Times, I saw this great line:
“Bideshinu rahar hoina, badhyata ho,” sums up Surya Man Lama, 21, a private-college graduate. That is the general refrain up and down the line: we don’t like to go abroad, we are forced to.
Unless I’m mistaken in my language knowledge (always a strong possibility), this is an example of Nepali noun-verbing. Bidesh means foreign country – to break it down further, desh is country (as in Bangla-desh, or the term Deshi for someone from India or South Asia), and bi-desh is out of the country. -nu is the ending for the infinitive of a verb. The -i makes it a causative (I believe). So the word bideshinu is something like ‘foreign countrying’: “We don’t choose to foreign-country, we are forced to”
Posted on April 22nd, 2011 by Miranda.
(actually I don’t live in Kathmandu any more, I live in Lalitpur. When I say I live in Kathmandu, it’s a bit like living in Cambridge and saying you live in Boston.)
Of course, if you want to find a grater, for grating potatoes and onions and carrots for potato kugel, you shouldn’t look in the big supermarkets that cater to people like me. They won’t have them. When you ask the woman in the kitchenwares part of Namaste Supermarket, she’ll say ‘oh, try upstairs’ in that way where you know she has no clue what you’re talking about but wants to be helpful. Instead of the big stores, it’s the kitchen supply shop behind the pedestrian bridge over the main road, next to my favorite stupa, where they guy will just pull exactly the kind of box grater you were hoping for off the shelf.
On the way back, a group of young teenage boys swagger down the path like they think they’re the coolest thing ever. They start singing, at me, sansara kai raamri timi – you’re the most beautiful girl in the world. I assume they assume I won’t understand. But I do, and I can’t help cracking up. And they notice, and start laughing too. By the time I pass, they’ve switched over to English – you’re beautiful…
And just down the way from there, Happy Dog is hanging out, as usual locked out from the house where he actually belongs. Happy Dog is light brown with a white diamond on his forehead. On Holi, someone had either given him tika or thrown color at him – in any case, his forehead diamond was red for a while. Now he’s back to white on the forehead, and apparently he’s started answering to the name Happy Dog, because when I call him that he comes up to me and starts wagging his tail. Or maybe we call him Happy Dog because he’s usually just that happy.
Posted on April 19th, 2011 by Miranda.
I’ve been enjoying watching Greg Mortenson, of the book Three Cups of Tea getting what sounds like some well-deserved criticism. But, as more eloquent writers than I have pointed out (round up post here), as soon as someone claims to have a magic bullet to solve development, we should be skeptical.
A great example comes from today’s Kathmandu Post:
NUWAKOT, APR 19 – Government projects such as roads, electricity and irrigation are turning fatal for people in Nuwakot district.
The murders of three of a family at Bhadrutar one-and-a-half months ago, related to project disputes, can be taken as an example.
The reason for the murder of Bishnu Prasad Thapaliya, 67, Bhairabi Thapaliya, 64, and Shyam Thapaliya, 42, was dispute over irrigation, road and drinking water projects with other locals.
The arrested, Krishna Pandit, Phulman Tamang, Krishnaman Tamang and Purushottam Khatiwada, told the District Attorney Office that it was all due to dispute over projects. The District Court has remanded them to custody.
The family of the victims said that the deceased had disputes over irrigation with Krishnaman and Phulman and over road and drinking water with the rest. Of the arrested, Pandit is a UCPN (Maoist) district secretariat member.
The arrested persons said seven of them were involved in the incident and that Pandit was the mastermind. They also revealed the murder plan was made at Chwandanda and that Khatiwada supplied the weapons.
Over a dozen other cases filed with police and the local administration are project dispute-oriented. (emphasis mine)
One of the organizations we work with at LDC got their start by building a water point in a village that had previously had no easy water access. The village was thrilled that they had a tap in the village center, freeing them (and by them, I mean mostly women) from walking a long way to the river to get water and carry it back. A much wealthier, more powerful town downhill was upset by this – they thought the uphill village was going to cause water shortages in their town. So a group of young men went up the hill, broke the water tap, and threatened to beat up anyone who rebuilt it. In the end, the uphill town did rebuild the tap, and the NGO managed to convince the downhill town that the uphill town having water was not going to hurt them. After all, it wasn’t a big change in the amount of water being used, just in the ease of access for the uphill village (And, as an aside, all this water is glacial melt, meaning that if glaciers shrink all these people will become climate change refugees).
All this to say:
Posted on March 7th, 2011 by Miranda.
It’s been a while since I posted and a bunch of things have happened. I went to the US briefly and came back to Nepal, and I got accepted to grad school and decided where I’ll be based for the next several years (Philadelphia!). I had a housewarming party despite my roommate being stuck in traffic on the way to the party. I’m about to have someone from home come visit for the first time and I’m worrying about how to show off the good sides of Nepal.
What got me to post today is one of my favorites – possibly the very favorite – of the development blogs I read, Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. I was reading it today and realized I had a particularly (for me) SEAWL-y day. Some things (helicopter rides) are unlikely to ever apply to me, and others (eating with your hands) I do but didn’t today, but some of the things I did do today include:
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)!
Posted on December 27th, 2010 by Miranda.
In elementary school chorus we used to sing this awful song about how in our house there was a Christmas tree (or maybe it was a menorah in the own house? I don’t remember), but in our various neighbors’ houses there were different lights for the ‘holiday’ – because of course you live in a neighborhood where you’ll have a menorah in one house, a Christmas tree in the next, Hindus on the other side celebrating Diwali, and a family that celebrates Kwanzaa across the street (actually where I grew up it wasn’t so far from that. But still.)
I was up on the roof the other day, enjoying the sun and the mountains, and noticed that in the yard next door, you can still see the path drawn for Laxmi to enter the house on Laxmi puja, the roof next door has a Buddhist flag, and my landlords have a shrine for Virgin Mary in the yard. A heartwarming moment of diversity.
It makes me feel a little better about my rambling to reporters from a Nepali newspaper about how one of the things that intrigues me most about Nepal is its diversity. Not telling you what paper, but next Saturday will have a feature with short interviews with a number of present and past Fbrighters, at the Fbright family Christmas party (turkey, stuffing, dal bhaat, cookies, pie, the amazing chocolate cake from the Radisson). I imagine I will sound like an idiot in the interview, but am pleased to be in a newspaper anyway.
Going to Pokhara on Thursday for my second New Year’s there in a row. Looking forward to warmer weather, a break from dealing with the new load shedding schedule (already almost as bad as last year’s worst, and only going to go downhill from here), maybe some good views, and plenty of time with some excellent friends.