Training, Acclimatisation and Éclairs

Saturday 09/12/12: Chocolate lava flecks land on my face as I scrape the little pot out with a spoon and I finally come up for air. I’ve got two frozen éclair things wrapped in foil under my arm for the umpteenth time this week as we walk back from the local bakery to our guesthouse – how I wish we’d never found the delightful Hermann’s bakery with their finger-licking chocolate pastry goodness. I comment out loud that I’m turning in to a pig but words aside, I’m still going to stuff the éclairs in to my face when we get back to our room in my new gluttonous ritual. Then when it’s all over, I’ll sit back in disbelief and shamefully exclaim that that is without doubt the last time I do that! I’m so gross right now – fat, spotty and unfit. I’m not exercising enough (or at all) and I’m smoking and eating too much. Unless we’re actually eating, most of our day is spent contemplating where we’re going for our next meal. Thankfully, we’re moving from our suburban bliss to central Kathmandu today so I’ll be out of range of the sweet smell of the bakery and hopefully this means my clothes will start to fit again!

Over-eating is not a problem I thought I’d have to cope with in Nepal. Between arriving in Kathmandu and the volunteers’ plane landing, us team leaders have had three weeks of acclimatisation and training. While we’ve had a blast getting to know each other and exploring Kathmandu, it’s not the reason I’m here and I’m starting to get frustrated at the lack of progress. Normally the pre-placement period doesn’t last so long but with the first Nepalese elections in 20 years, the volunteers’ arrival had been pushed back a week in order to allow any potential unrest to settle. 

Our first week’s training was more or less 9-5 but mainly covered everything that we’d done at our long weekend of training in Leicester in the UK.  There, we’d had days of every answer being that we’d know more once we reached our respective countries as our answers were “country specific”. Now in Nepal, this has changed to “community specific” – we’ll know more once we are on the in-community training. This place is definitely going to help my aim to Stop Being Such A Control Freak… either that or I’ll self-combust.

The only real advancement is that we now have Nepalese counterparts… or most of us do anyway. When we all meet at the beginning of the week, the energy is high and there are lots of smiles and chat. All of a sudden, it’s like that moment in school when everyone pairs off and you’re left on your own. Where’s my counterpart? I ask the trainer and she explains that my guy hasn’t been in contact. I spend the next two days watching everyone bond in their respective pairs which I have to interrupt when I make up awkward groups of three for any exercises.  

The counterpart relationship is really important. The VSO’s strategy, at all levels (team leader and participant alike), is to pair a UK person with someone from the country or region in order to help embed projects and ensure sustainability. Both are volunteers and will live in the same conditions while working together to manage their projects.  The only difference is that the Nepali volunteer will speak the language and will have an understanding of the local culture but as they’re generally better educated and from the city, they’ll be out of their comfort zone too. Each pair will share a host home and usually a bedroom, though team-leader privilege means I’ll get my own room. It’ll be an intense relationship and is key to both the success of the project and to each individual’s experience… and mine hasn’t turned up.

Finally, after two full days of mild panic, a replacement is identified who can start the following day. Rachana is very sweet, 25 and most importantly, here! She needs to go to India for a week for some prior arrangements but we keep in touch via email and I’m fairly positive that she’s not done a runner. She’ll arrive back in Kathmandu the day after the volunteers arrive and we can get to know each other properly then.

The rest of us spend our last few days of freedom finalising training plans and settling in to our new hotel in the middle of the city. 

Tomorrow, finally, our volunteers will arrive and the real work starts. I can’t wait! The last three weeks have been so much fun and full of incredible experiences but there’s only so many éclairs a girl can eat. Our weird limbo will soon be over and we can get on with why we’re here.

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