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August 4, 2000 (Email)
Are We There Yet?

[ Phone call from Mark on Friday night, August 4, 10:00 - 11:55 PM ]

Mark called from Kathmandu on August 4, expecting to talk on Kurt on Kurt's birthday (however, Kurt was not at home). 

The computer set up had been improved since he last called:  the connection was much better and Mark was talking into a telephone, not using a headset.

Mark had left Janakpur by bus on Tuesday night, for Kathmandu. Early in the trip, a landslide occurred, delaying the bus for 3 hours. The trip to Kathmandu is about 10 hours by bus, and 8 hours into the trip, another landslide (caused by the monsoon rains) occurred.  They sat in line, with approximately 100 other buses, waiting, for thirteen hours!  Nothing was done, no road crews arrived, no food or communication was available.  Then, the bus turned around, to go back to Janakpur.  Mark finally got back to Janakpur by the middle of the day on Thursday. 

Mark said he was able to sleep part of that time and he had a book with him -- The World According to Garp -- which he read through.  The weather during the ordeal was rainy and very hot.

The passengers received no refund for the uncompleted trip to Kathmandu, and they were charged for the return trip to Janakpur!

The people on Mark's bus expressed no anger.  When he asked them why they weren't upset or angry about the circumstances, they replied: "We don't care" and "What can you do?"

On Thursday in Janakpur, Mark went to the airport to get a flight to Kathmandu -- as did many other people from the buses.  Mark was number 49 on the waiting list.  The first 48 got on the next plane out.  Mark finally did get on a plane on Friday;  the flight takes one half hour and costs about $20.  The total cost of the bus "trip" was $10.

The workshop at the Women's Center, which Mary Lou attended, had gone well, and this resulted in Mark's trip to Kathmandu and meetings there on Sunday and Monday.  He will meet with Claire, the founder of the Center (whom he has not met before) on Monday.  They will discuss bringing in a consulting company to manage the Center.  The current Board of Directors is a group of women at the Center, who realize they do not have the experience or skills to run the business successfully themselves.

School begins on Saturday, but the first week is spent with the students getting their schedules and books, and with the parents coming to pay.  Parents will continue to come to the school, making late payment, and will not hesitate to come into the classroom and disturb the class.

Mark will start teaching within a week, when classes actually get under way.  He is not going to teach at the girls school, but at a school nearer his apartment which is smaller and is the school at which Virginia would have been teaching. (Virginia is back in Nepal, having spent some time in Boston and then in Thailand.  She is going to visit in Janakpur and then choose her next post.)

Of the six teachers at his school, three are women, and the principal is a woman -- an unusual staff for a school in Nepal.  Mark will be teaching math to 6th and 7th graders and will have smaller classes (less than 40) than in his previous school.  He plans to make seating charts in which boys and girls will sit in alternate seats -- not on separate sides of the room -- and expects that the students will not like this arrangement.

A new group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in two weeks for training in Chitwan.  One guy will be posted near Janakpur in November; he will be about 5 km south (a forty minute bike ride away).

This weekend, 12 of the current volunteers happened to be together in Kathmandu.

The Women's Center has a big display at an exhibition at the Myhelan Cultural Arts Center in Long Valley, New Jersey.  The exhibit runs from September 8 through October 30, 2000.  (Click on the above link to find out more about the exhibit and/or the Myhelan Cultural Arts Center.)

We talked about the types of food that Mark has there -- fruit: pineapples (sweet and delicious and in season for about one month), mangoes, guavas, bananas (different -- smaller -- than those here), and watermelons (also smaller);  vegetables:  tomatoes (smaller), cucumbers (enormous) and eggplants (huge);  meat:  goat, chicken, pigeon, lamb -- not pig, cow, oxen, water buffalo, cat, or dog.

For breakfast, Saturday morning (it was now about midnight here, 10:00 AM there), he was going to a new shop, the Himalayan Java -- the closest thing in town to a Starbucks -- for mocha coffee and muffins.  The (50%) owners are Canadian.  In Nepal, the ownership of any business must be at least 50% Nepali.

Mark is planning to travel to Tibet, leaving September 30 and returning to Kathmandu on October 8.   He is hopeful that we (his parents) will meet him in Frankfurt, Germany a few days after his return to Nepal.

He recommended that we read "Are you Experienced?" by William Sutcliffe,  who as a young man traveled in India for three months, and who describes the harsh culture there.

 Just before hanging up -- our conversation was almost two hours -- he said that the phone call had cost 570 rupees (approximately $8.00). 

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