One of the things I did during the hiatus was to travel up to Twyford in Berkshire for the village fireworks. OK, the fireworks were not the main reason for me going to the scene of so many Scaryduck stories. What I was really there for was the leaving party for my friend Penn, who has given up her job and travelled half way around the globe to Nepal to work for three months or so in a children’s home in Kathmandu.
Penn is sending regular emails to friends, family and supporters back in the UK. I’m going to reproduce them here, exactly as she sends them to me. Here are the first two. I hope that they will make you think…

Hello Everyone!

well what can i say there is so much to tell you! I have been so up and down it has been a real roller coaster ride but i think that am finally setlled here.

So let me tell you about my placement. I am working at Siphal children development home which holds somewhere in the region of 60 children ranging from 2 1/2 years old to 14 years of age with about half of them being under 6! I thought i would be able to cope with what i saw there and that i had prepared myself well enough, but that is complete B.S nothing can prepare someone for what i went into. The kids are completely beautiful and amongst the happiest kids i have seen which is completely amazing when you view their circumstances. These homes are built for children whose parents are in prison serving life sentences! 16% of marriages in Nepal will end in murder and usually the husband killing the wife, this is a common thing here and not unheard of or shocking to the locals at all. the bad things is that as nepalese homes are small 3 out of 4 of my kids will have seen the murders take place or will have been in the same room. The nepalese state will not allow fostering or adoption of these children as they know where their parents are! The kids then go and live in the prison with their parent once every six months for one week. This is all completely ridiculous when you think they will be adults when or if their parents survive and leave the prison.

The home is a huge damp building that would be demolished at home and has plain white mildew covered walls. the play ground is a dust yard with a rusting swing set which the kids love. And the place reeks as their toilet is a huge tiled room which the kids stand at the door to pee and pooh into as they have not really been shown better. But the dumb thing is they are happy smiling kids – ok they all have continuous colds and eczema from the damp but they are great.

so my first day was horrifying and i came away feeeling that i could not have an impact there. The kids loved me being there and some call me sunshine as they say my hair is the same colour or dolly as i look like a dolls head which they play with (or so they think). They clamber all over you and queue to be cuddled as they now associate the westerners with affectionate people.

So i came away upset and wanting to come home and ignore this desperate, poverty stricken scenario as it was too much to cope with and then i felt disappointed in myself as i thought i was better person than that. Then Craig (thank you gorgeous) sent me a little adage about starfish and i decided that i had to put the shock and my own needs aside and help these kids. So i went back yesterday and spoke with the head of the home (which is no mean feat as his english is not good ) and we designed activity time tables and i am going to buy a load of paint and fabric and redecorate their stdy rooms with murals and floor cushions put bag pegs up that sort of thing! I hope in doing this they have not just seen another westerner who cuddles them alot and then buggars off after two months but they have a slightly better world to survive in.

One of the most amazing things about these kids is their hunger for knowledge and willingness to learn i have NEVER seen this level of eagerness in a child before!! Three year olds know their alphabet in english and nepalese and can write to a high level!

So i am now extremely positive about the whole thing and have the other volunteers giving me hours of their time here and there as a lot of them are in schools and not homes so i want them to help me out.

The other volunteers are Claire who i share a room with, who is absolutely lovely and we get on very well and she reminds me alot of Bear, simon, mark, Penny (i am now pitstop to aviod confusion), claudette, anna, ellen, luke, harry, andmatthew. They are all fabulous and its quite a family unit i was really upset on monday and home sick and they all rallied round to cheer me up and talk with me. It is quite amaxzing how close we have all become. I have all ready been labelled as organiser and comedienne as i came in and sorted out beer kitty, the resource cupboards and can tell everyone where all the bargain shopping is!! and of course i also have a smutty or cheeky reply for anythign put to the table. We now have a nice routine of dinner, out for a beer and then back for the cards and beer club(monday – friday national curfew of 10.30 – 11pm)! The food is fine and i do not feel like i am starving to death and i look forward to the meals as it is nice to see everyone at the end of the day!

Right i think that is enough to keep you all going! I have a bad cold so i am now off to buy some antibiotics (which cost 55p) and going to bed for the day so i may not email for a day or so and try to get better – apparently getting sick is part of the induction and i am the last person to do so in the group , but it does make you feel rotten.

Missing you all and i hope that you are well – bear with me on keeping up with the emails i have a lot on my plate this end but please keep sending them as they cheer me up no end. I will send some pics on the next email as the computer i have downloaded them onto is busy.

ah helay batola (see you later)

Penelope the determined

PS Big bruv the kids adore my yellow hat and it is a great source of amusement for the crew at home!

This is the second mail:

Hi everyone!

I hope that you are all well and England is not too cold for you!!

Firstly let me start with an apology- I am sorry if i am not able to respond to all of your emails individually I am currently averaging 12 emails per day and i simply do not have the time to respond individually to them all! But please keep them coming as they are fabulous to recieve and cheer me up no end!

Well what can i tell you so much has happened since we last spoke. I am cured of my bout of tonsilitis and i am now fighting fit, but none the less it has been a tough few days. Saturday i finally lost the plot and had the biggest temper tantrum after a fight with the nepalese communication system!! I think that was really a a turning point for me as at that point i had to make a decision to find a way to feel better or come home, and seeing as you are getting this email you probably realise i am staying.

I have always considered myself a strong and independent person who could cope with most things but you honestly have no idea how different things are here! Have you ever been stood in a queue at shop and looked at the other twenty closed tills and wonder why no one is working on those and are simply stood around chatting about last nights eastenders (which by the way i am really missing). Well take that level of frustration and multiply it several hundred times and that is what you have to endure here! everything comes five days after it was supposed to be here and then three hours later than the time FINALLY agreed. Chuck into this mixture some home sickness, tiredness cos it is impossible to sleep beyound 7am as the world and their wife are kncking down the odd wall or out in the streets demonstrating how well their horns work and you are part of the way there!

SO i have devised myself a new routine and have booked loads of stuff to do out of town at the weekends! And i am throwing myself into the work at the home. This weekend i am going into the mountains to do some white water rafting and the thought of being out of the city is overwhelming.

The work at the home is coming along well though that too has been a slightly surreal experience! When i began to paint my study room most of the teachers and home helps came to watch as nepalese women are notoriously lazy and also alot of the people have not seen painting done particularly with rollers! so as i painted to my audience of seven adults and numerous children i began to realise that this is why i am here! not only to brighten rooms , but also to show the people things they have not seen before and learn more about myself! I have learnt that i am perhaps more human than i expected but also when push comes to shove also a strong and very determined individual!

Mr. Oli (the home father) has asked if i would give them a photo of myself as they would like to build a small prayer temple to me!!! Wow i now have a serious ego problem to cope with too. It would seem that in years of volunteers they have just been prepared to accept the state these children live in and not aplpy themselves to change it. The very fact that i have asked to paint is in itself a surprise to them and when i ever i walk around the school every one starts mimicing the action of painting walls – which i have to say makes me chortle and is a welcome change from the action of swigging poo! I have also received a proposal of marriage from one of the nepalese men we know – not for himself but for his son who should be mature enough in the next ten years!!! When i explained that i have a boyfriend whom i was very happy with he asked if I had friends he could send. Apparently any tempted parties would have their own clothes and bed ! Now there is an offer you do not get everyday!

The kids continue to be amazing as i washed out my brushes and rollers in the stream behind the home they all started to giggle and scream i was quite alarmed at this and called Mandira to translate what they were all shouting! The kids were delighted as they thought i was turnign the water into milk and sending it to the gods, no amount of reasoning could convince them otherwise and before you know it they are singing to songs to me as i am making their god happy. Even the monkeys came to see what was going on and looked at me in the oddest of fashions! then later that day Khilan (one of my favs – i know i know but its hard not to ) was pulling me to the courtyard and said please miss i have football and there was an old carrier stuffed with rubbish that he had tied to make a sort of football shape. The kids and i played with this for 30 minutes until it burst and then i provided a new carrier and you would have thought i had given them the world. There is nothing as beautiful as such a simple joy and it truly makes your heart ache.

This is quite simply a journey of paradoxes for me…

Right i now have to go and chase down things that i was supposed to have saturday so i will bid you all Nameste (good day – literal translation bless your soul and future) and leave you with this thought.. Next time you run the hot tap in the kitchen to rinse your plates etc just think that is probably more hot water than i have seen since i have been here.

Missing you all terribly and look forward to seeing you all in the new year

All my love and warmest wishes

Penn x

I’ve emailed Penn, and discussed what help we could give. She thinks that a parcel with some toys suitable for children aged 3 to 12 would be useful, as well as clothing for that age group as well. Can you help? If you can, email me and we shall see what can be done.

2 Replies to “Admiration”

  1. I was struggling to get up, and into work today. The emails from Penn has put all that into perspective and then some. Very humbling.

  2. I’ve tried a few times to write a comment here and I’ve just realised that further words aren’t really required, but actions are.

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