Then the ‘om’ sound resonated through chaos and created the world.
India, the birthplace of the Buddha, drifted aimlessly in the vast sea, like a giant raft.
Until, at the core of the earth, unknowable forces stirred.
Where there was sea, land was pushed up, and the land gave way to the sea.
The collision between the island India and the mainland was so great that the universe was filled with a deafening crackle, the sound of rock on rock.
Rivers emerged as fountains; mountain peaks were drawn, sharp and pointed against the blue sky.
The creatures of the sea were petrified.
Among the peaks of the Himalaysa, thousands of feet high, people still find the fossil remains of a past that came about at the bottom of the ocean.
That is how I imagine the emergence of the Himalayas, long ago, before the mountains were given names.
Sir George Everest, the “surveyor general” of the British colony, mapped India and gave his name to the highest mountain in the world, which is called Sagarmatha in Nepali, or Chomolungma in Tibetan. Mountains ignore political boundaries - you do not notice that Kanchenjunga is on the border of Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, K2 on the border of Tibet and Pakistan, Kula Kangri on the border of Tibet and Bhutan.
It’s been 25 years since we were last in Nepal. To human standards that is “long ago”, but that “long ago” is of a very different order.
This Friday at half past nine I will board the plane that will take me to Kathmandu via Abu Dhabi. I fly on many wings: my family, my friends, my school.
This time I do not just “travel”, I have been invited! In Kathmandu, Teeka Bhattarai and Barbara Kosiol will be waiting for me. My Nepali friend is the founder of the ‘Centre for Educational Policies and Practices Nepal’. Barbara is our Berlin friend, we first met in India in 1983.
For two weeks we will listen and discuss, meet teachers and parents, visit and document community development projects, prospect schools that want to join a project for child-friendly education. The trip will take us from the bustle of the capital to the heat of Makwanpur in the Mahabharat Hills, just above the Terai plains, to the solitude of Rasuwa, near Langtang in the high Himalayas.
How long have we been preparing for this trip?
Six weeks, ever since I booked a ticket.
One year, because last year Teeka was studying pedagogy in Leuven, and we would discuss education for hours on end while driving to my school, Sint Vincentius Gijzegem, where Teeka would be giving talks about Nepal in our multicultural project called ‘Borderless’.
25 years, because in all the years since we travelled in Nepal and worked there as volunteers, we never lost contact with the country…
My final year students in Social and Technical Sciences have a question: “Miss, can we give you teddy bears and baby clothes?” I ask Teeka and then tell them that this is not what the Nepalese want, they don’t want ‘aid’, they want exchange.
We discuss and finally choose two approaches:
- Self-documentation (6 STWA): the students take pictures of themselves and of what they hold dear, and write short texts in English to go with the pictures. The idea is for the Nepalese students to do the same: that way we will be exchanging information. This will not be easy, because when I talk to Teeka, it appears that there may not be a computer in Rasuwa, and it is unlikely there will be electricity in the villages around Rasuwa.
- Designing a board game (6 STWb): After careful consideration we decide to make a game. It has to meet several requirements: it should be big, colourful and attractive to children. Made of fabric, it will be both durable and easy to transport. We will ask questions about Nepalese culture and tell something about our own culture. We document the whole process with photos and tape recordings, because that’s what the promoters of the Nepalese project are interested in: specific information about how education works in Belgium.
6 Science-Mathematics also choose various initiatives around self-documentation.
We form four groups and each group decides on a different method.
Eventually we arrive at a documentary (in English) about school life, a PowerPoint presentation “A Day in the Life of …”, with photos and captions, a recording of English nursery rhymes, with pictures showing how the songs could be taught, a movie with short sketches about what students appreciate about their education, and what they dislike. These documents will be used in training sessions for Nepalese teachers.
My two 5 STW want to do something as well, but I am too tired to guide them and develop methods. My heart is in two places at once, in Nepal and in Flanders, and my normal life hasn’t stopped. I feel that I’m scanning my limits.
We arrange to do something simple – we’ll make it bigger next year because I hope that this initiative will last…
Today we will make small picture books, with images that are close to the lives of Nepalese children - ordinary things: animals, landscapes, photos from travel brochures about Nepal and India. We’ll make finger puppets for toddlers too.
Nothing is obvious: we have to be careful when choosing photos. Without information about Nepal it’s an impossible task, and Google gets pillaged.
The initiative spreads gently, like ripples in water when you throw in a pebble.
People ask questions, show interest - without the help and encouragement of colleagues the scheme would be unworkable. At noon I give a brief information session and twenty colleagues come to listen - among them the entire management team (four people)!
At the entrance of the school, prayer flags are a colourful symbol.
Something’s stirring in the corridors of Gijzegem…
On Thursday the school radio will broadcast a Nepal special, but then, I won’t be there anymore, I’ll be packing.
A digital camera (new), audio equipment for interviews (new), USB sticks to store all information (new), teaching materials from Nepal (new and made by the students), walking shoes (used), a down sleeping bag (because the nights are cold), light clothes (daytime temperatures are between 25 and 35 degrees), pictures of home, small gifts for Teeka and Barbara.
Text: Carine Verleye
English translation: Len Beké
Photo: Barbara Kosiol