Å arrangere kjærligheten

Støvet blir stadig løftet opp fra bakken i det tunge kjøretøy ruller bortover landevegen. Det etterlater seg en tåke som fyller luften. Det er å vondt puste.  Til tider er det umulig å se det som bare ligger et par meter for føttene. Det er noe symbolsk i dette. Denne usikkerheten som fyller luften. Partiklene trenger seg inn i stoffet på den hvite kjolen hennes og gir den en noe mørkere farge. I likhet begynner alvoret rundt det som nettopp har funnet sted, sakte men sikkert å synke inn. Feststemte mennesker ligner nå et begravelsesfølge som gråtkvalt følger sin søster, venn og datter til bussen som står parkert et steinkast fra kirken. Den skal kjøre henne vekk fra dem, og til sitt nye hjem. Til en ukjent by, hos en ukjent familie, med en ukjent mann. Sin nye ektefelle.

 

Det lignet ikke de bryluppscenene jeg har vært vitne til tidligere. En mann og kvinne som etterlengtet gir hverandre sitt ja, og som i et lykkerus trer ut av kirkedøren. Et par som i kjærlighet lover sitt liv til hverandre. Dette bryllupet hadde et annet preg. Et preg av noe underliggende. En mann og en kvinne som etter et eneste møte, et møte arrangert av familien, sa ja til å stå brud og brudgom. Jeg vet lite om hvordan dette møtet artet seg. Om det var en umiddelbar gnist, eller kanskje til og med kjærlighet ved første blikk. Uansett, var det et to dypt alvorspregede mennesker som sto foran alteret på bryllupsdagen sin. Med blikk godt plantet i kirkegulvet repeterte de ekteskapsløftene til hverandre, og med skjelvende hender plasserte en ring på hverandres finger.   

Noen måneder tidligere hadde vi bodd en knapp uke hos hun som nå var brud og familien hennes. På mange vis var det et annet menneske som ble fulgt av sin far opp kirkegulvet denne dagen. Det var tydelig at den trygge og rolige jenten vi ble kjent med, nå hadde et annet sinnelag. Det tynne sløret for ansiktet hennes, var ikke nok til å dekke et nervøst uttrykk som gjemte seg bak, tydelig tunget av seremoniens alvor. Mine øyne rettet seg i hovedsak til bruden, ettersom det var hun jeg kjente. Likevel var de tydelig at også brudgommen delte hennes følelser. For meg framsto noe hensynsløst ved det hele, på kanten til brutalt. Å binde to mennesker, praktisk talt fremmede, sammen på denne måten.  

For mange av oss har arrangert ekteskap utelukkende negative konnotasjoner. For min del har det vært forbundet med kvinneundertrykkelse, tvang, og av en eller annen grunn synonymt med barneekteskap. Etter jeg kom til Nepal, har jeg fort måttet innse at jeg har feilet i å anerkjenne nyansene i de ekteskapsformene som ikke passet inn i min ide om hva et “moralsk ekteskap” er. Bryllupet jeg var vitne til denne dagen var et arrangert ekteskap, ja, men det var verken et tvangsekteskap eller et barneekteskap. To voksne mennesker sa ja til giftemål, sant nok etter familiens tilretteleggelse, men like fullt var de de to som gav hverandre sitt ja.  

Gang på gang har jeg snakket med unge jenter og gutter, godt utdannede og reflekterte, som sier at de ikke ønsker et såkalt “love marriage”, men heller foretrekker arrangert ekteskap. På svar om hvorfor de ønsket seg denne formen for ekteskap, har jeg fått høre omfattende utredninger som argumenterte for at arrangert ekteskap simpelthen fungerer bedre, og hvordan statistikken ser ut til å være på deres side. Til tross for at jeg ikke har konkrete referanser å vise til, har jeg blitt fortalt at tallene viser lykkeligere ektepar og lavere skilsmissetall for ektepar med arrangert ekteskap. Ideen er den, at kjærligheten skal vokse seg sterkere med tiden, i kontrast til par som begynner som kjærester i et “forelskelsesrus” hvor gnisten, angivelig, sakte men sikkert dør ut.  

Jeg prøvde å huske på dette under bryllupsseremonien, men med bakgrunn fra en kultur hvor bryllupsdagen gjerne beskrives som “den lykkeligste dagen i ens liv”, var det å se et anspent og nervøst brudepar svært påfallende. At dette kunne være starten på et langt og lykkelig ekteskap virket for meg nærmest absurd. Dette skulle jeg likevel få avkreftet bare to dager senere, med en melding fra bruden som utrykket stor begeistring for ekteskapet så langt, samt optimisme for fremtiden deres sammen. Da jeg forsiktig spurte om hvorfor hun på bryllupsdagen virket litt nærmest litt trist, svarte hun hun selvsagt var trist. Et av livets kapitler var over, men like fullt var hun klar for å ta fatt på et nytt.  

Det er mye det kan sies om hvilken rolle ekteskapsinstutisjonen spiller i det nepalske samfunnet. Hvordan det i stor grad forblir en sosial forventning, til hvordan tradisjonelle kjønnsroller fremdeles rår innen ekteskapet. Likevel har jeg fått ny innsikt i hvordan selve betingelsene for kjærligheten i stor grad er påvirket av kultur og samfunn. Selv om det fortsatt klinger rart å høre at en “gleder seg til å bli ordentlig kjent med sin ektefelle”, har jeg en ny funnet forståelse av at et ekteskap inngått på andre premisser kan være, ja, like ekte.  

A little teaching…a lot of learning

Time is passing quickly, and Christmas is just around the corner. It feels almost surreal that I am close to halfway done with my internship here in Nepal. A lot has happened since I last wrote. Though my blog posts continue to be a bit delayed, I nonetheless want to write about my experiences both for the sake of sharing, as well as for my own self-reflection.

As the days pass I realize more and more the significance of my experiences here. Though it’s not far into the past, I can say that the month of November of this year was one of the most impactful periods in my life.

My team-mate Mathilde and I travelled from Kathmandu to Dhangadhi, a city in the Far-western region of Nepal. From here we travelled to the village area, where we for the whole month of November would stay with a local family, who over the course of just one month truly became like our family. The purpose of our stay here was to teach at a local school. This school, AG English boarding school, has through 19 years especially aimed to educate underprivileged youths, many of whom live in extreme poverty.

It would be a lie to tell you that I didn’t feel a little intimidated that I for this month would hold the title of a teacher. I had little to no teaching experience, and I was just a few years older than some of the students at the school. As the first day rolled along, it turned out that my feeling of intimidation, was far from irrational. As the bell rang for first period, Mathilde and I were placed in different classrooms, without the slightest idea what subject to teach. However, the students were more than willing to help us along. It didn’t take more than a few periods before I found my “groove”. School was truly nothing but fun, which are words I think very few of us has ever put in our mouths…

Of course, there were challenges along the way also, one of the biggest being the language barrier. I knew no more than some conversational Nepali, and the students knew some, but not too much English. This resulted in the classes looking less like a lecture, and more like a game of charades, something neither I, nor the students seemed to mind.

The differences between the education philosophy in Nepal and Norway was evident from the very first day. To a large degree, in the Norwegian school, it’s not the student who has to alter him or herself to fit into the system, but rather the system that has to alter itself depending on the needs of the student. However, the opposite is the case for the Nepali educational system. Perhaps a telling example of this, is the morning routine of Nepali schools, where the students are lined up almost militaristic looking, to do a march, have prayer and sing the national anthem.

Coming from a low power distance culture, it was challenging to observe how the teachers would state their authority. Beating  children is not only a common practice in Nepali households, but also in schools. This was oftentimes difficult to witness, and I had many conversations with both teachers and students about this issue. Though we came to understand each other’s perspectives, we still stood by our own philosophy on the matter.

The students quickly picked up on the fact that I would not punish them by hitting, and they therefore felt more compelled to speak freely in class. This was good for interaction and discussion, but it also resulted in the noise level in my classes being significantly higher than in the classes of other teachers. After some time however, I found that having a five push-up “punishment” for students who were making too much of a fuss, was both a fun and quite effective solution.

We taught all kinds of subjects, varying from math, English, science, computer, health, moral and social studies. Though I felt competent to teach most of these, there were times I felt like some of the students were more qualified to teach the class than I was. I was beyond impressed by their knowledge and ability to reflect around complex issues. The role of teacher and student were in my case often completely indistinguishable.

I especially enjoyed teaching 7th class moral. This class challenged both the students and myself on our values and worldview. I remember one class in particular where we discussed the virtue of contentment. Essentially the book concluded by saying that you should be happy with what you have, an idea which I believe most of us could get behind. However, being aware of the reality of both my own life and the life of many of the students, I rightfully felt like a hypocrite while saying that you should accept and be content with what you have. I know that this is not a principal that I, nor most people of the west is able to live by. A huge aspect of our culture is centered around always chasing the newest and best. Simultaneously, I was aware of the many struggles these students and their families face. Many of them continue to live under the poverty line, without having even their basic needs covered. How could I then, with any credibility or right, conclude that you should be content with what you have. It is not the case in my own life, nor do I think contentment is a something that can be expected in many of their cases.

I might have come to AG English boarding school with the purpose of teaching. However, I am convinced that I learned more than I could ever teach away to others. Things that can’t be written on a blackboard, or that you can be examined on. I hope to take the things I learned with me, and allow them to impact my life.

  • Maria

The first month…

*pictures below

Oh, how time flies. Today, exactly one month has passed since I first arrived in Nepal, and what a month it has been! My time here has been packed with great experiences, great challenges and great lessons. Too much to squeeze into a few paragraphs, but I will do my best to paint a picture of what my life “down here” looks like. After a prolonged break from doing any school related work, my writing skills might be a little rusty, but so be it. I will try to write my posts in English, but as I expect my grandmother to be my most avid (though hopefully not my only) reader, I will most likely write a few posts in Norwegian as well. And who knows, after a while maybe even a post or two will be in Nepali…

Since arrival we have had a pretty tight schedule. There has been things happening left and right and that’s why I simply haven’t brought myself to sit down and write my first update until now. Better late than never is a saying I swear by, but I will try and do better…

Ok, enough rambling. Let’s get down to business. So let’s start at the beginning. My-team mate, Mathilde and I arrived at Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu and was welcomed by our local contact person. Just upon arrival, it was obvious to me that Nepal was a country, vastly different from anything I had experienced before. Instantly the place screamed of chaos. There were people everywhere, animals everywhere, loud noises and new smells. It was both fascinating and at times frightening.

However, as the days passed the chaos became less chaotic, as I realized there was in fact a system to it all. I just had to restructure my Norwegian line-of thinking to see it. Don’t get me wrong, Kathmandu remains chaotic, but there is however a great charm to it all. We learned to navigate our way in this both literally, and figuratively, foreign place. I’m not suggesting that we overcame the culture shock in just a few days, but on a surface level we seem to have adjusted pretty well. For instance, we have learned the art of crossing the street (yes, in Nepali traffic it truly is an art), and we can no longer imagine falling asleep without the sound of street dogs barking outside of our gate.

Though we have in many ways adapted, I daily have realizations of how much of the dynamics, structure, history and culture I am unaware of. Every time I learn something new, I simultaneously realize that there are more things to know, that I previously didn’t even know to consider. Nepal is an incredibly complex country as it is among the most diverse places in the world. There are more than a hundred of different ethnic groups, each with their own culture, cuisine and often with their own distinctive language. The fact that Nepal remains a unified country, despite its great diversity, is in itself an accomplishment. The complexity of the Nepali society and its population could, and should be discussed more profoundly, but a deep understanding of it is still beyond me.

The diversity of Nepal is not only a reality in its population, but in its geography also. The country is divided into three regions; Terrai (the plain area, bordering India), the hills (where Kathmandu is located) and perhaps what the Nepal is most famous for, the mountains. The Himalayas constitute the border between Nepal and Tibet (China). The nature is truly jawdroppingly beautiful. The natural beauty combined with the cultural landscape makes for some incredible sights. On our bus trip from Kathmandu to Siraha, I could not bring myself to read, sleep or do anything except for looking out of the window. Sleeping was also difficult due to the fact that the bus driver drove as if he was part of a video game. To cope with the traffic here the only solution is to channel your inner adrenaline junkie. And after a month I finally am able to take the bus without thinking of what my last words ought to be…

Kathmandu is where we have spent most of our time, and we are happy that this is where we will be based for most of these six months. However, the capital is not representative of how most people in Nepal live. Just a fraction of the total population lives here, and many, if not most of the people have migrated to Kathmandu from the countryside. We are therefore grateful that we got to travel to Siraha and Itahari, two villages in the south-east, to observe what “the real Nepal” looks like. In Itahari we stayed with a family, who demonstrated exactly why the Nepalese are famous for their hospitality. Overall, I have been absolutely amazed at people’s incredible generosity, kindness and openness. It doesn’t take more than a brief conversation before people offer to open their homes for us. Though Nepal remains one of the poorest nations in the world, its people are certainly rich in humanity.

I am excited for what the next five months will bring, and hope that you will continue to follow my journey!

Until next time,

– Maria

A picture says more than a thousand words…

Great experiences with great people

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