Friday, January 11, 2008

Outta Touch

I know, I know ... I've been outta touch for almost 4 weeks. But I have a perfectly good reason. Sit down and I'll tell you what's happened.

On December 18, 2007 I boarded a twin engine plane with Mahindra and Rudra bound for a tiny village called Rumjitar. This village is about a 40 minute flight east of the capital city of Kathmandu and due south of the tallest mountain on the planet. Our plane landed on a mixed dirt and grass runway that was located on a pennisula of land sitting about 1000 meters above the valley floor. The pilot barely had enough time to land the plane, throw on the brakes and spin the plane around before plummeting into the valley below. It was absolutely crazy!

When we emerged from the bamboo gate enterance of the airport, there were 5 men from the neighbouring village of Sanitar who made the one hour journey south to meet us. They greeted us in the traditional Nepali way, that encompasses placing a flower necklace around my neck. They insisted on carrying all of my belongings, but I insisted right back, so we compromised. I carried my back pack while they transported my tripod and video camera. The hour walk north (uphill) was fairly easy, and I was taken by how different everything was. I had never imagined things to be so simplistic. Evidently, the locals were surprised by how different I looked too, because they actually came out of their homes to see the strange man that had stumbled upon their village.

When I arrived in Sanitar - the village where the school is currently being constructed - I was greeted by 270 school children ... all of whom welcomed me with "Namaste", flowers, and began clapping as I walked between the 2 lines they had formed to officially welcome me to their village. It was truly overwhelming to see such a response from these children. There were also about 40-50 community members standing on the side also clapping. We soon found ourselves in a community assembly, where we were introduced as the "group of three" that would be building a school here in the village ... more clapping.

It wasn't long (about 15 minutes) before the work began. We were involved in instant meetings and discussions with regard to the school. These discussions, incidently, didn't stop the entire 4 weeks that I spent in Sanitar. I have to tell you, that it didn't take long to realize that I had just set foot in both the most remote and poorest part of the world that I have ever been exposed to. Only about 5 people spoke english in the village ... and three of them had just stepped off a plane. Mahindra thinks that Sanitar is among the top 10 poorest villages in the country.

I lived with 3 different families over the course of my stay in the Okhaldhunga region, all of which were remarkably hospitable. They did everything they could to make my stay as comfortable as possible. So much so, that I wasn't allowed to "work" on any of the school building. When I threw a "fit" to Mahindra, he insisted that I didn't seem to understand, that was Nepalese hospitality - I was helping to raise the funds, so I didn't need to do anything else. In the end, after a bit of complaining and insisting on my part, I was invited to do some of the work.

The Everest English School is now well on its way to being built - 40,000 bricks are currently being made by local labourers, there are crews working on the sides of hundred foot cliffs breaking stone by hand, and there are other workers sawing 100 + foot trees into three and four foot sections to be used for windows and doorways. People are literally working around the clock. Our day would often begin at 6 am with villagers arriving outside our room, calling into Mahindra to get up. The first task of the day involved walking the 600 or 700 meters down toward the valley floor to collect any finished boards that had been sawn the day before and bring them back up to the school site.

What is happening in this tiny village of about 1200 people is truly remarkable. The entire village is in a state of euphoria surrounding this project. I can't count the number of people who have come to express their gratitude to me about what I am trying to accomplish - thankfully Mahindra is around to translate. It is a very exciting project to be a part of, and I wish all of you who donated time and money to my "vision" were here to experience what I have experienced. During my time in Sanitar, I tried to get involved in as many aspects of village culture as possible ... surprising myself with what I was able to accomplish in the remote village.

However, all of this progress come with a price. We are ahead of schedule ... and that means we need money! I can not justify sitting in a country spending my own money while I could be home earning it for the school. As a result ... I'm on my way home. I plan to leave Kathmandu sometime next week - flights are hard to come by right now (they only fly 3 times per week), but I'm hoping I can get one by Tuesday. There are so many stories to tell, experiences to discuss, and photos to show. I hope that I get the chance to share them with you.

Thanks to everyone who has made this journey possible - I, and the entire village of Sanitar, will be forever grateful.


Kevin Harrington said...

So glad to here from you and excited to here all the stories. Have a safe trip home. I found a picture of the Ramjitar village (Google earth)-it's now my background on my computer. What an amazing adventure you are having. A couple of things:
1)could you please change the picture on the blog.
2)I was also wondering Troy if you could link the Give meaning site to your blog? I tried but you need your password.
3) Opening Date- April 1st is written on my calendar already!

Cathy Lavoie said...

Troy, I can't tell you how proud I am to know you! It's an amazing process that you've set in motion, and I just know that the momentum will continue to build. Congratulations!

Julia Tschanz said...

you are completely amazing and inspiring Harris! Hopefully when you mean you are coming home you mean Victoria. It must be so hard to leave your project still in the building stages?