No Hot Dogs for the School Picnic

by Annalise on December 2, 2009

Well there wouldn’t have been beef hot dogs in any case but this school picnic was a whole new experience.

I have been teaching conversational English at both Glen Buds Secondary and Darwin Academy in Kathmandu for over a month now. Last week, Glen Buds organized their annual picnic for their Kindergarten through Grade 5 students and they insisted I join them. The location they chose for these 85 students plus staff was Godowari, a lovely park area with the National Botanical Gardens, about 25 km south of the city.

The buses were to leave at 7:30 a.m. from Glen Buds in the North East of the city. I got up early and hopped on my bicycle at about 6:45 to get there in time. When I arrived, I was among the first but there were lots of kids and parents to visit with as we waited. All the kids were excited because they were not required to wear their school uniforms for the day. As the rest of the party arrived, the buses were being loaded with the supplies for the picnic although I didn’t find out until later just now much had come along. There were speakers and a CD player for sure and the prerequisite cricket bat and ball, soccer ball and badminton sets. I was happy also to see the blue jugs of drinking water, a rolled up remnant of carpet which would be used for the kids to sit on while eating and several large boxes of presumably food.

At 8:30, the last of the intended passengers arrived and we were off; Nepalese time! I rode with the older grades and their teachers. As soon as we were underway, a musical game began. This had the front of the bus playing against those at the back half. The game, as far as I could make out, involved each half in turn performing a popular song. They had to sing at least 5 lines of the song and the syllable on which they stop has to be in the start of whatever song the next group performs. Everyone was engaged in this game except, thankfully, the bus driver. And I mean really engaged! They were jumping up from their seats, dancing in the aisles (they love to dance here!!) and singing at the top of their lungs. As soon as one person thought of a tune that would work, everyone would pitch in with their voice for the most convincing performance. Amazingly this went on for the entire hour and a quarter drive. I got to see a whole new side of several of the teachers. This gives me plenty of new fodder for their English lessons!

We poured out of the buses at Godowari and walked into the large park area to claim our group’s turf for the day. There were many school groups out to enjoy the same type of day. All of the teachers and older children went to work to unload the food and supplies from the buses. There were an extra ordinary number of boxes.

Chandra, the Assistant VP immediately went to work stringing his extension cords to set up the music. Prakash, a new teacher who looks to be about 20 himself, was into the cricket with the older boys and in no time they were all hunting for the ball. Aradhana the Senior VP who’s a delightful, warm, rotund woman was quickly organizing the kitchen area so as to start preparation of breakfast. Newspaper was laid out over a large area near the kitchen shelter for food preparation and inside the shelter, 2 large portable cooking burners each with their own 40lb. fuel tank were set up. A huge pot was placed on one burner to heat the milk for milk-tea for all 95 of us. The other pot was used to make up a quick bean curry to go with breakfast. In our corner, we set out to make 95 jam sandwiches with the box of sliced bread and pots of jam that emerged. Two other teachers were busily peeling the 100 hard boiled eggs that had been brought. When the beans and the tea were ready, all the kids sat in rows on the carpet laid out and then enjoyed this full breakfast before returning to their sports, playing and dancing.

The physical activities continued and on several occasions, I was asked to lead a singing game so I dug deep, having heard Nepali all day and working hard to pick up the words I’m learning and recognize. I led with “Do the Hokey Pokey” and “Corner Master Store”. The kids all joined in and we made up all kinds of silly new phrases for these two. There was also a dance competition grade by grade and they sure kicked up the dust! The grade IV girls even taught me a traditional Nepali dance but I’m certain I did it no justice. Fun to try though and they had a good laugh.

Meanwhile at kitchen central, all manner of things were being peeled, chopped and diced. We had tomatoes, potatoes, fresh peas, green beans, lentils, seven or eight heads of cauliflower, onions, garlic, chilies, loads of fresh chicken, a huge bag of rice and more. The school’s regular cook who regularly prepares the simple warm lunch for the boarded students as well as teachers was there but he happily took on the assistant cook role to Sammi, the math teacher with a reputation as the best cook. Sammi is one of the teachers who had the most songs to contribute on the drive out as well; she is clearly an energetic spark! So she set up the cooking area and went about bringing in all the ingredients we’d prepared for her to cook with. I had been asked to peel the potatoes. I discovered they’d already been cooked and I was to peel them now that they’d cooled. When I was done pulling away the peels, Sammi mashed these with her hands in a large bowl and added them to a vegetable curry she was working on. There were several other things already cooking and clearly the plan was for a feast.

I joined four other teachers to walk to the Botanical Gardens with the students and we spent about an hour touring the various buildings and gardens there. It was not an extraordinary display in comparison to other Botanical Gardens I’ve seen but it was quiet, lovely and very much enjoyed by the kids. When we got back to the camp area about an hour later, the meal preparation was well underway. All that had to be done now was keep all else warm and cook the rice. Rice for nearly a hundred! And plain rice wouldn’t do so it had to be rice with fresh peas and carrot cooked in with of course a bit of spice.

We sorted through the disposable plates. These are available everywhere here and are made of large flat dried leaves crudely sewn together to create a proper plate shape. It is very cool to see but I’d not used one before. We sorted these so that the kids wouldn’t have any leaky ones. When they had all washed their hands and were seated, the teachers proceeded to deliver all the dishes to each of the kids starting with the little ones, all seated in rows and full of anticipation. First the rice, then three separate vegetable dishes, two of which were masala or spiced, next fresh papadums ( the fried, crisp crackers that we’re familiar with from East Indian cooking), then a fried chicken dish as well as a curried chicken stew. In addition there was a daal – lentil dish spooned over the rice. The kids dug in, literally as they enjoyed this meal the traditional way, without utensils. The right hand is always used for eating.

After all the kids had been offered seconds of all the dishes, they received a sweet honey cake served in fresh yogurt along with their milk-tea. It was extraordinary; a feast and as with breakfast, once the kids had been fully fed, it was the teachers’ turn. This time with the senior kids serving us. We ate like the kids and I thoroughly enjoyed every finger full! When we’d all eater, it was a quick clean up, a bit packup back onto the bus and then we settled in for the ride home. To my surprise the song game started again but I was pretty spent by then. Spent, full and happy. No hot dogs missed here.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shirley Robertson December 1, 2009 at 11:17 pm

My mouth is watering. I can just taste it. Yummmmm. It’s too bad Robin couldn’t have gone with you.

Isn’t that area just further on from where we did our hike?

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