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November 5, 1999 (Phone)
Honor Thy Bicycle

[11-5-99 -- 8:00 AM EST]

[Note: This was the first time I was personally at home for one of Mark's calls from Nepal.  We had last talked when Mark called from San Francisco just prior to leaving.]

Mark is leaving Janakpur tomorrow and going back to Shantinigar for one night.  From there he is going to Dharan.  There are two consecutive holidays, for a total of about 10 days.

There are "fireworks" going off already (the night before Tihar), which Mark described as big, dangerous explosions.

During this holiday, Nepali people show devotion to mechanical things -- tractors, refrigerators, etc. -- by dressing them up and giving thanks to their gods.  Mark was criticized for failing to honor his bicycle.

The temperature is down to the 80's and drier--Mark called it "bug season."  He was sitting outside on the porch of Bill's apartment, under a light, being annoyed by the bugs.  He woke up one night with bugs swarming in his room, coating his mosquito net; some even got on his face. These were tiny green bugs that had got through the window screen.

All the buildings have a structure made of bamboo and are made of concrete ("like a prison") .  Out of town, in the village, the houses are made of mud and animal dung.  During the holiday, the houses will be painted in bright colors and he is looking forward to seeing the village decorated this way.

Mark gave an exam on fractions to the sixth grade.  As expected the students tried to cheat during the exam--they have been taught (not by Mark) that this is ok.  To try to prevent cheating, Mark had boys and girls sit in alternate seats as much as possible (there are many more boys than girls), and four of the girls began to cry -- either because they had to sit beside of boys or because they could not get help from their friends during the exam.

Mark had photocopied the exam and this was the first test the students were given which had not been written on the board.  It took him "forever" to explain to them how and where to answer the questions, and even after he did examples of how to answer the test, some of them did not understand.  The textbook, a 5" by 6" paperback, is not very helpful;  the topics appear in an illogical order, but the students become confused whenever Mark deviates from it.

The students seem incapable of creative thinking, they object if he uses any method not in the textbook, and they learn by rote memorization.  They do not recognize the simplest number patterns, such as even numbers.  He has taught them Tic-Tac-Toe, but he can still often beat them at it.  He invented a 9-game Tic-Tac-Toe to play with them, which they've had trouble grasping.

Despite all of this, though, some people there do play chess, and Mark has even lost many of the games he has played there.

Mark used stickers on the 6th graders' exam and the 7th grade wanted a test in order to get stickers.  They assured Mark they would be in school today for the test, even though today was the last day of school before the vacation.  Sure enough, only four students in the entire school came today.  The other teachers, knowing the students would not show up, still came to school to talk to each other and drink tea.

The kids are "enthusiastic" in class, although Mark doesn't know what they are enthusiastic about.  They continue to scream questions at him and run up to him.  He thinks it is still the excitement of having a white person there.

It has rained only one day since he has been in Janakpur.

There is a laundromat, that looks like a lemonade stand -- clothes are picked up two days after being left with the old lady there.  [Note: In his most recent email, Mark had likened Nepali society to a laundromat, so I asked him whether Nepal actually has laundromats.  My feeling was that such a place would have to be -- by far -- the dullest place on earth.  As usual, Mark was underwhelmed by my brilliant insight...]

He wants us to send newspaper articles he would find interesting and news about pop culture.  No one liked the licorice Dad put in one of his packages.  The video tape had been opened (!) but it did arrive.

We talked about meeting him this summer and he said to ask (our aunt) Carol Kay what she would do.  I suggested that she'd probably want to come along and Mark said that would be great.  This time he mentioned possibly meeting in Europe, if not in Nepal.

After his phone call he was going to meet some friends for supper at about 7:30 PM (about 8:45 AM here).

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