On the road again. Watching how buses and trucks waltz the bends, people hanging by the open door. There is no Big Brother ensuring seat belts are fastened, no ghostly officer belting out orders. Merely the will to arrive.
And the hope that one’s destination will materialize - not ending up off the cliff but at the ticket’s destined stop.
Destiny. Isn’t that what life is all about? Fulfilling one’s destiny, one’s pre-ordained karma?
The roads begin to change with the landscape. This is the national southern highway now. Buffaloes roam calmly, assured of their role in daily life. They are not easily disturbed.
To travel to the far west, we have to first drive through the Terei , the crop basket of Nepal.
Flat and fertile, the Terei is dotted with cow-dung houses and rice paddies. Accompanying this southern wheat basket is the inevitable increase in population.
They came from across the border, they came from the hillsides and settled here in this rich, fertile land. The land is rich, holding promises of full bellies at sunset.
Cowdung houses dot the road and paddies. Women and children are scattered across fields of green.
Sauntering across the paddies. What stories do they tell each other?
Yet, as we travel south-west, my mind returns to Pokhara where I was told about educational options.
We sit in a clean room, glistening with white walls, drinking coffee out of white porcelain cups, the dust and roads of buffaloes still to come.
“It’s quite simple”, he said. “If we want our children to be educated, we must send them to private schools. I have no choice. In the government schools, we never know when there will be classes. So who ever can afford to, sends their children to private schools. We are lucky. There is a good private school here in Pokhara”.
I watch his face carefully, biting my tongue with a whirlwind of questions. I cannot help myself.
“Who runs these schools?”, I ask quietly, still searching his face for a glimpse of understanding.
“Ah, Americans.”, he replied.
Still I cannot keep silent.
“And do they allow the children to keep their religions?”, I inquired, my throat dry, my heart in knots, fearing the worst, hoping for the best. For in Nepal, different religions are tolerated. Hindus, Buddists, Muslims all have a place in society. Yes, there are elements of Christianity, just as there are tribes who practice Shamism. All are respected and interwoven in what constitutes religion in Nepal.
He fidgets slightly his seat, his eyes cast low. I am gazing directly at him. I want the truth, as cold grips my being.
I was baffled. “No?”
“No. Any child who goes to this school must become Christian. They are not allowed to be Hindus or Buddists or any religion other than Christian. They are not allowed to be what they are at home. “
Tears of anger fill my eyes. This is a repetition of what is happening in Afghanistan – American “teachers” who are in fact extreme Christians, preaching extreme Christianity. This is the same pattern which is happening today in Vietnam. We will provide you with private education – your children will give up their religion, their cultural heritage, their identity and become what we want them to be.
My mind races. The Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in the name of religion. Their religion. Their approach to religion. No other religion tolerated, neither past nor present.
The Romans destroyed the ancient culture of the Druids across Europe. Afraid of what they could not understand, it was simpler to destroy all traces of previous cultures, easier to spread their power and control by destruction.
The Portuguese and Spaniards excelled at destroying South American populations, in the name of the Christian Cross; even in Japan, where the Portuguese were the first Europeans granted permission to land, the Shoguns of the time became fed up with the Jesuits.
The British were generous in their colonization – as long as the colonized gave up their ethnic identity, adhered to Christianity and the Queen.
Are we not living in the 21st century? Has humankind not learnt from its past?
Must education be traded for religious brain-washing and renouncing one’s ethnic beliefs?
My mind spins with questions and the indignity that prevails in this attitude which has caused so much pain and destruction. This is not education in my view. This is an out-dated form of Christian Crusade – one that has no place in our 21st century.
Yes, of course there are trade offs with education. Yes, of course, education comes with a price.
But not with the price tag of renouncing one’s identity for the sake of extreme Christianity coming from the United States of America nor any other country. Not for the extreme Christianity that does not respect nor acknowledge any other religion or identity. Education does not equal the adoption of any religious extremism.
As a Christian, I am profoundly shocked, embarrassed and saddened.
In fact, I am horrified. These are no educators. These are no religious respecting individuals. Whoever does have a religion will respect another individual’s religion, another individual’s identity – not the abolition of one’s beliefs and identity for the sake of reading and writing.
Again I question him. He is from an upper caste, a well educated family, a Brahmin with history and tradition. He nods and shrugs. Government schools are unreliable. Government teachers come and go as they please – there is no sense of responsibility towards their duties and their small shops and businesses need attending to. Besides, who wants to spend time with 50 children in a classroom with 3 walls and a chalkboard, reciting the same lines day after day, year after year? The shop provides more interest as well as more income and local gossip. Choices are limited and education is a necessity.
I look away. As an educator myself, I am helpless in the face of this reality. It is not my reality. However, it is a reality I need to learn about if I wish to contribute positively towards this country, so in need of development at every level.
I look out the window, letting what surrounds me to temporarily brush away what I had learnt. Sunset. Fields of green.
And the joy of being alive. The innocence of belonging to a group, to an identity which is not smothered in the name of those who pretend to help and educate.
A child splashing in the evening sunset, his grandmother doting on his innocent pleasure.
As I have often said to students of my own over the moons that I have been in classroom, never should education require the annihilation of one’s identity, of one’s roots and culture. Those remain what one is, what one should be proud of, what one should respect. One’s roots, history and culture play a major role in education.
For what is education if not a celebration of the past, skills for today and preparation for our tomorrows?