The Remoteness and The Geography
Jajarkot is a remote district in the western mountains of Nepal. Driving along the serpentine trail of a national “highway” from Chinchu; Surkhet, heading towards Thalaha; Jajarkot felt like any other road in Nepal actually, the mangled roads dug incessantly can sometimes remind you of a war zone, but green and beautiful Bheri river, roaring and flowing south by the road kept us distracting off the road. Small bazaar (towns) set up along the road on a regular distance selling tea, dal-bhat, fishes and fruits, this could be anywhere in the remote mountains of Nepal.
On our arrival in Thalaha Bazar, I can’t tell how relieved I was to see our TRUCK loaded with 2100 school bags, 6300 books and stationery materials had arrived safely before us, which begged the question, ” A fully loaded 10 wheeler truck, at least 15 meters long if not more, how did it come through, how did it manage to the sharp turns?” Drivers in Nepal deserve a lot more praise than they get.
By the time we started to unload the truck, we were losing daylight and this had attracted a few young faces lighting up in the dark shouting “Jhola-Jhola” (Bags Bags)!
Before I go any further let me put Thalaha village into perspective. Thalaha in Jajarkot is like any other villages in Nepal, except there is no electricity, no phone network hence no internet. This was going to be our basecamp for the project for the next 5 days in Jajarkot. Going to a place like this sometimes does feel like travelling into the past.
The Far West and The Children
“I feel like a foreigner in my own country,” said Vishal on our third evening in Jajarkot as we were struggling to overtake a marriage procession in pitch dark along the river banks, after a long day of bag distribution. The gait was slow, led by one dim light leading the marriage procession, and the roar of the river drowned in the beating of drums that preceded the procession.
It’s true, the far west and mid-far west of Nepal are quite different from what we are accustomed to here in Kathmandu, of course, Kathmandu is not Nepal. Far away from the clamors of the capital here, the dialect of Nepali spoken sounds exotic and archaic. Sometimes coming to places like these feels like taking oneself for a leisurely stroll into the era long gone.
The third day into our project in Jajarkot, we went to Dasera, the village was around a 2-hour drive from Thalaha, our car broke down and it was raining of course. We got lucky and the mayor of the village lent us his car and for which we were eternally grateful to him. The road was the worst you can imagine, actually I was questioning myself, can you even call this a road? After numerous sharp turns and several slips on this muddy road, we eventually arrived in the school. More than 200 students were expecting us to come to their school in Dasera.
When we arrived in the school perched on a hillock, we were welcomed by a thick fog and around 200 students drenched in rain along with their parents. It was a sight that will remain with us for a long time; to see the children completely drenched and shivering accompanied by a gust of chilly wind.
Horsemen are men of characters, & I speak with our experience in Dolpo 2016. “To ride a horse is to fly without wings”, they say, and all the horsemen I’ve come across are flying and in their own world. This one was no exception. Full of childlike inquisitiveness, our horsemen mounted the bags onto several horses and what never fails to amaze me is that they have the strength of a superhuman. The big sacs full of school bags and supplies weighing at least 40 kilos, he would just toss it onto the back of his tiny horses and tie the ropes with his teeth. Incredible! He led us through suspension bridges, narrow horse trails, dispersed villages and not to forget through graveyards in the middle of the forest. Finally, we arrived in the school, where we saw around 300 children impatiently awaiting our arrival.
The Tomato Vendor Girl
Our final day in Jajarkot, the morning was a foggy and a wet one after a heavy downpour the previous night. I was down in the kitchen by the fire holding onto my dear cup of tea, a silhouette approached us amidst the thick chalky fog and stood in front of us, a young girl from the village selling tomatoes. Children in the village are shy and only speak when they are spoken to, but this girl just smiled when I asked her name, there was no response. This girl came down all the way from the next village, 2 hours walk away. When asked if she also received the school bag we brought, she nodded, smiled and went on to settle a bargain of tomatoes with a village lady. It’s moments like these when I feel truly good about what we do in schoolbag projects.
Feedback of the project has been wonderful, after a telephone conversation with the secretary of the rural municipality of Chedagad, Mr. Pawan Singh was pleased to tell us that the attendance of the students in the school has increased significantly and the school bag project has motivated the students and the parents alike to go to school regularly.