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10x FastDate: 29/8/2010

Numb buns.' I dare you to say it ten times fast. So, besides being an excellent tongue twister, it is also what happens when you sit on the back of a motorbike for 90 minutes getting transported toward the Nepali border for a visit to the last of the three girls' schools: Babuan. And I do mean border - on one side of the road is India; the other, Nepal. My trip to Babuan is a day early, and I have advance notice of only half an hour; I get a knock on my door at 7 am, and the intrepid Dheeraj is standing there, sheepishly saying, “We go to Babuan.” I peer back at him quizzically, and say, “Uh, today is Saturday. Babuan we go to on Sunday.” “Yes,” he replies, “But my mother is sick and I have to go to hospital with her tomorrow, so we go Babuan aaj (today). Abhi (now).” Well okay then. I grab my stuff, put it into my backpack, and we're off. But I have forgotten something very important… Other than its location, Babuan resembles the hundreds of small villages I have seen, and the ride there yesterday was remarkable only in the long stretches of open road that connected the otherwise isolated communities. It does seem that this area is a little more prosperous than others I have seen: many more livestock (cattle, water buffalo, goats, chickens; ducks); semi-advanced farming techniques (somewhat large scale hoop-and-tarp shelters for seedlings); more brick buildings, though thatch still the predominant building material. However, this area has been especially hard hit by monsoons, and there is water everywhere. Several times, we had to motor across streams or one foot deep mud ‘puddles'. On the way to Babuan, I yell at Dheeraj (so as to be heard from the back of the motorbike), “I need to get water.” He yells back, “Not possible.” Not possible? Are you kidding me? The plan is to be in Babuan for the entire day and teach two two-hour long classes. “No,” I say, “I must get water.” I didn't have time in the morning to boil my water for the day, of course. The beautiful green countryside lulls my panic into a dull pit. But everytime we come to a village, I anxiously scan the little shops to see if they sell water. We are so far out, and foreigners don't come out here, there is no need or profit in selling bottled water. Village after village passes, farther and farther out from the ‘convenience' of Forbesgunge. About an hour into the ride, I spy water in a stall. “Pani! (water!),” I yell. We stop and I get a liter. This is my second mistake. So, we finally arrive at Babuan. It is 9:30 in the morning, and children are in school. I learn later that they start school on Saturday mornings at 6:30. My presence causes the usual disruption until I motion all of them back to their classes with a stern, “School!” They laugh and smile, and with many backward glances, head back to their classrooms. I meet the principal of the school (no English) and a teacher (little English). I check out the schoolyard where class will be held: a pile of the ubiquitous red bricks used in this area covers a large portion of the yard; mud takes up most of the remainder. Oy. I scout around, but this is it. I will have to make do. I am then introduced to a teacher, Ritu, and we go for a little walk to her house just down the road. The odor of cow is strong; there are three of them standing in a small pen just off to the side of the main entrance to the family compound. Ritu is from a large family, and most of them live in a complex warren of single room dwellings. I am asked to sit down, and I meet everyone, including her grandmother and grandfather, who are remarkably savvy and humble. The grandfather can read English (which he did when I handed out a U. S. dollar bill to show). In their presence, these people were so, I don't know, it is hard to explain. They were curious without being judgemental, maybe? I liked them immensely almost immediately. That's all I know.

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