||[Apr. 8th, 2008|04:52 pm]
I have arrived in Pokhara, Nepal. This is a town in the central region of the country, on a lake at the base of the Annapurna range of tbe Himalayan foothils. Needless to say it's gorgeous here. So was the ride, a broad (for Nepal -- one lane each way) flat road threading through the hills. I plan to stay here for probably two weeks, including a walk into the mountains. I want to see Annapurna. It's a 7-9 day trek to Annapurna base camp and back, with lodges every night. One of the charms of Nepal is that it's still not possible to drive to the vast majority of places.
I was reminded on the ride over just how different this place is from home, just how different people can be. I stopped at the top of a little pass in an isolated village for lunch. I saw the restaurant from the road, which is to say, a dark wooden shack with rough tables inside and people eating rice and curry off of metal plates. I pulled up, pulled off my helmet an sat down. All eyes were upon the foreigner, or his shiny and expensive bike. I gestured to the old woman who ran the place that I wanted lunch, pointing to someone else's plate and to my mouth. I hate not being able to speak the language, but I go through so many countries that I almost always can't.
A young man approached me and began talking in clumsy but clear English. First he asked me where I was from -- they all do. He asked me what I was doing there and where I was going. He asked me what I wanted to eat for lunch. Then I started asking him questions.
He's a teacher. Trained at university, then moved to this little rural town to run the school.
Five or six men watched us talk, wide-eyed. They were dressed in essentially rags. Farmers, one might say, but 80% of the population farms rice and maize just to eat. A normal group of village men.
"I moved here because I wanted to teach the people," he said. "I teach them to read. If you cannot read, you can have no knowledge."
The men said something among themselves, laughed in my direction. I was reminded, again, what ignorance is. These people know nothing that someone hasn't told them. They've never picked up a newspaper, much less a book. Television and radio and rumor are their sources of information. All the myriad tools at my disposal for understanding and exalting in the world around me -- science, politics, philosophy, poetry, economics -- they have none of them. I reminded myself that this is not unusual, that this is the situation of billions of people, a substantial fraction of the world's population. They've barely ever seen foreigners, or even people from a different town. From conversations with such people in the past, I know that they probably mistrust and possibly resent those outside their caste or ethnic group and want to ensure that "their people" are in power at all levels. I know that the women are treated as little more than objects.
I have so much respect for the millions of unthanked teachers of the world.