(7/10/12, 9.30am, Nepal time)
This morning was my first day of work at the orphanage. It meant an early start; I was awake from 5am and was having tea and biscuits at 6am. I have to admit, I stood behind my bedroom door for a few moments before I could muster up the courage to step outside and make the walk on my own down to the orphanage. Eventually I told myself to man up, that I had flown nearly 5000 miles on my own and hadn’t come to any harm, so why should a five-minute walk down the road be scary?
I visited the orphanage with my supervisor yesterday, but it was on the back of his motorbike. It was a little daunting to know the local people were watching me as I walked this morning, but I knew it was just out of curiosity. After all, where I live isn’t exactly a tourist area and to see someone like me there must be a bit surprising. Still, I had dealt with this the last time I was in Nepal and it had to be faced again, albeit this time without 12 other volunteers by my side. Luckily, all went well and I arrived at the orphanage to see lots of little faces either smiling or looking away shyly. I wasn’t sure what to do, what the schedule was like. I headed for the kitchen first, and asked what I could do. Communication here was a bit of a problem, as my limited Nepali and the little bit of English that Aama (mother) could speak meant there was some confusion. Still, I was made to sit and drink tea before going out on the terrace to brush the girls’ hair and put it into pigtails, and to play English word games. I also applied some cream on one child’s face to heal a sore-looking cut. The children were all so well-behaved, with each one helping another. The older ones (the eldest being 14) were looking after the youngest, while some of the little ones swept and tidied for Aama. I wanted to tell them to stop, and to go and play or get ready for school instead of cleaning, but I realised that my role today was as an observer, not someone to waltz in and upset the balance. I don’t think it is wrong for children to help with housework; it's good practice for them to be tidy and responsible, but I’ve seen it so little of that behaviour in the UK that it was a little bit jarring.
The children put aside their games around 8am and sat down for breakfast. I was hoping to help serve this but instead was handed a bowl of Suji, a pale, sweet substance that reminded me of sugary porridge, but smoother. First tea, now food? This wasn’t what I was expecting, and to be honest I felt a little uncomfortable accepting food from Aama. I get fed at my home-stay, so it was unnecessary, but kind and generous so I accepted. I think I will have to make it clear that they should not give me tea or food there as I already have more than I need. But this is just another example of Nepali kindness; even when they have very little, they want to share. That is the great paradox, that in the Western world we can be so possessive and territorial, and only look after our own. I know I’m definitely guilty of it. Yet here, they would feed a stranger before themselves. It's humbling.
The children gobbled down heaped platefuls of rice and curry before washing up, changing and gathering in the study room. One of the older boys took charge and the children got into lines, and were ordered to ‘stand’, ‘hands up’, ‘hands to the sides’ and ‘attention!’ I have to say, I grinned the whole way through... they were like a happy little army in their school uniforms. After this, they sang what I can only assume is the Nepal national anthem, which they did beautifully. Then they bowed their heads and held their hands clasped in front of them in prayer. It was such a lovely sight. After this, each little one shouted their number in English before leaving the room in a neat line. They were like little ducklings, each following another UK volunteer, Kit from Scotland. 3 adults including myself took charge of the line and headed out towards the school. Two boys stayed by my side asking me questions in English, quizzing me on where I came from, where I am living now, and how long I will stay in Nepal. I also had one tiny little girl ask to hold my hand, so we walked together. Honestly, these children are so friendly and polite, it is utterly adorable.
As they arrived at school (after crossing the main highway in and out of Kathmandu, crazy) they all turned and waved to the adults, crying ‘bye!’ as they popped through the school gates. Some ran back out to high-five us, and some came out just to say goodbye again, it was lovely!
I walked back to my house, smiling to myself at what a nice morning I’d had. I had been so uncertain, even slightly fearful, at what it would be like. I was afraid of not liking the orphanage, at being disliked. But I felt so welcome, and it was a pleasure to be there. I am looking forward to this afternoon when I can go and collect the little ones again and take them back to the orphanage. I will have to think of games and things to do with them to encourage their English, but I will spend some time planning this and seeing what works. But honestly, this morning has made me so sure that I am in the right place, doing the right thing, and I'm so glad.