Over the past few days, the Peace Corps has broken us up into regional groups and begun flying and jeeping us all over the country to our posts. Pretty upsetting since some of the people I have spent the past 3 months with have been sent to very far away posts. For example: Ben Ilka had a 2 hour flight to NepalGunge in the far west, a 5 hour bus ride from there to DadulDora (sp?) and a 1 day hike from there to his village (which is described as "a scattering of houses" in the Peace Corps literature). I won't be seeing him easily. Some PCVs in my group are within a few hours of me by bus, and I'm sure we will try to see each other occasionally -- 3 people are visiting (Jill Schnurr, Ben Hayes, and Sommer) on the 24th/25th - nominally for my birthday party, but mostly to share our initial post arrival stories. Dasai is also coming up quickly, and a lot of us are planning to converge in Kathmandu (where we still haven't been!) to relax, trek, and sight see. That is also when we are planning to watch the tape of the PSU/Arizona game, etc. which you should be sending (hint, hint).
[aside: I told Ben Ilka, an Arizona alumni, that your (mom's) voice sounded subdued (not excited) when I asked you to send the tape you had made of the game (quote: "Do you still want me to send the tape"). He (and I) took this as indicating that Penn State probably lost the game. I also heard a VOA sports update describing PSU as ranked #4 the day before its subsequent game against Akron - and I thought they would surely be ranked higher if they had won (VOA apparently is lax in updating their rankings from week to week). So Ben is now convinced Arizona won the game. I now know better (I'll explain how below). I don't think I'll relieve Ben of his misconception, though. It will make watching the game with him all the more fun! Good job at not giving away the result!]
Virginia Blais, a fellow 189 PCV, is also posted in Janakpur - as a secondary English teacher. On the jeep ride here, we dropped off two other PCVs - Abby and Ben Hayes. Dropping off Ben was very depressing and disheartening - we didn't like the look of his village, he didn't know anybody there except his supervisor who he'd met only once and who doesn't speak English, and he didn't have anywhere to stay that night. We left him at a hotel and drove away. It made Virginia and I very anxious about what we would encounter when we arrived in Janakpur. We had no cause to be worried, though. I could make a long list of reasons why Janakpur will be an extremely livable city. Here are a few...
1. The city is great. It's dirtier than Dharan, as I expected, but it's bigger, more interesting in appearance, more open to exploration, and it already seems like there will be more things to see and do. It's too early to make any definite comments since I've only seen a small part of the city, but I think I will like it. There are small curvy roads (open roads, not dark alleys) which discourage the loud, polluting traffic which was ever-present in Dharan. There are a million basals, restaurants, stores, bazaars. There are ponds throughout the city (reminiscent of the pond behind my apartment in Florida), and there are greenery and open spaces throughout the city.
2. There are westerners here! (This is where you will begin to say things like "wow" and "I can't believe it"). First of all, another PCV from my group - Virginia - is with me. This means I will have somebody to go through all of the initial settling in stuff with. I think we are the only people (aside from a married couple assigned to Dankuta) who were placed in the same city. I can't emphasize enough how much less anxious we both will be through these first weeks because the other person is here. Our jeep driver pulled into a hotel when we arrived in Janakpur, presumably to drop us off like he had dropped off Ben. Virginia and I bristled at the prospect, told the driver to wait, pulled out a list of PCVs already in Janakpur (there are 3 of them) and made some calls. Kraig - who helped me during practice training - is in K-du, but Bill, Zack, and Larry - who we hadn't met yet - were home. They came and met us, and directed the jeep driver to their dera (apartment). Bill and Larry helped us carry our things into Bill and Zack's apartment, where we can stay "as long as we need in order to find place(s) of our own". Larry showed us around town - helped us buy bikes (invaluable in Janakpur), located the courier office, the bank, and the bus station for us, took us to lunch, and showed me Kraig's dera (where I'll probably move in within the next couple days). Before going out to dinner with the other PCVs, a British volunteer, and a Nepali woman from the Janakpur woman's development center (great conversations), Bill showed us a school under construction which he had raised money in America for - and directed the building of over the past year - located in the middle of the city -- very impressive. The most impressive thing of all, however, was Bill and Zack's apartment itself, where I am now. In addition to a phone line, they have 5 huge rooms on the second floor of a house (a Nepali family lives downstairs), a balcony overlooking a beautiful pond, solitude and isolation (a long front walk which keeps them set back from a road which isn't that busy anyway), a 20-inch color TV with cable, running water from a tank on the roof which they can refill each day simply by flipping a switch downstairs, a nice bathroom with a sink, shower, and western toilet (although water must be bucketed into the toilet), a big kitchen with a small refrigerator and a gas stove with 2 burners, ceiling fans in every room, a laptop computer (Bill's) which is on sale (Bill leaves December 24th) and for which Bill has established internet access and an e-mail account through a Kathmandu provider. It is basically an apartment which would be considered better than average by college students at Penn State.
Well, I shouldn't tie up Bill's computer too much. He may want to check espn.com to see the college games scheduled for today (he also graduated from Penn State in December, 1996 (and knew Aaron Stell from some of his film classes!)). Or maybe he'll want to play some Play Station with me or watch a movie (Did I forget to mention that they have a Play Station and VCR, too?).
Virginia and I will both have moved into this apartment by February -- by then Bill and Zack will have both returned to the US. The apartment itself has been held by PCVs continuously for about 7 years -- with each new PCV adding to its facilities. Virginia and I will probably get an additional burner for the stove and an "air cooler" -- something which looks like a dehumidifier and works like an air conditioner (although for a very limited area).
I haven't seen my school yet. It's about a 3 kilometer bike ride from here (ug!) so I'll be a commuter just like I was at home.
Oops, the cleaning lady just arrived to clean the apartment and do Bill and Zack's laundry (!!!).
I'm starting to think my Peace Corps experience will be a little different than most of the people's here -- and very different than I had anticipated. I'm tempted to tell you to discontinue the web page. I'm almost embarrassed to let people in on the secret of how isolated, easy, and western my time here could be if I choose for it to be. (I can almost hear dad saying "Why the heck wouldn't you choose to have running water if you can have it". He's probably right.) It seems that Bill and Zack were able to accomplish a lot of things in the community, even while living this way -- so maybe it won't be detrimental.
Today I'll bike around to look at a couple other deras with Virginia - for comparison with Kraig's, and visit the women's development center, and maybe bike out in search of my school. Can you believe I'm riding a bike?! I never thought I'd ride a bike again, but it's fun - Janakpur is extremely flat and bike-friendly.
Oh, we're having a holiday through Wednesday, so I won't have to start doing anything work-related until Thursday. Yet another thing which will make settling in easier. After that, I'll observe classes for a few days before I start teaching (I'll be observed by my headsir for the first few days - yikes!)
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