Plane Jayne

So sad to leave my new friends…

It was with a very heavy heart that I said goodbye to the children in Kathmandu kindergarten on Friday. They were a very special bunch, who had so little in terms of material possessions, and appeared in the same filthy clothes day after day, yet they were so appreciative of the little I could give them. What they wanted, as much as knowledge, was love and attention, and I was far better at giving that than teaching the English alphabet. In return they gave me heaps of cuddles and a real sense of purpose. I do wonder what will become of them as adults. I desperately hope they will be able to elevate themselves from the poverty they were born into, and have more secure and comfortable lives.

On Saturday morning I set off on my epic journey from Nepal to Goa via Delhi. I kept telling myself that this was all going to work like clockwork, but I guessed there would be some drama along the way. Kathmandu airport is so dated that it could have been built in the Victorian times, if there were planes then. Acres of brown carpet and brown wood are only interrupted by a vast array of large gold Buddhas. My first problem was an unexpected one. Nepalese security spotted that I was carrying a large consignment of E cigarettes. Those who know me personally will confirm that E cigs are my drug of choice, and they are as much a part of me as my blonde mop. I had enough to keep me going for 10 weeks so yes, I did look like a smuggler. Anyway the actual issue was that the officers had never seen an E cig before and just kept repeating the word ‘battery.’ I was not going to lose my drugs, so I quickly assembled 2 cigarettes and gave them to the rather stern guards and said ‘You try, you try.’ I then watched with amusement as they coughed and spluttered through the E cig initiation process, but it paid off. They waved me through and I laughed all the way to the departure lounge. There I stopped laughing, as I heard my plane was delayed due to ‘technical difficulties.’ These are words which you never want to hear before boarding, particularly in Nepal, where every vehicle that moves has an exhaust or a wheel hanging off. I was even more alarmed when 15 minutes later they announced this fault has been ‘fixed’ and we were ready to board. I suspected that some Nepalese mechanic, desperate for his lentil curry, had said ‘Yeah this one can go,’ without actually checking whether the left engine was now working. I am pleased to say we did take off with full power, but we were late, which meant that when we landed in Delhi I had only 2 1/2 hours before my next plane departed. I literally sprinted the length of the airport, which also had 15 miles of dire brown carpet, and then I had to negotiate Indian Border Control. The officer looked at my passport photo, then my visa photo, then my passport photo, and so on. I felt like saying ‘For Christ’s sake go to Specsavers, it is the same b-l-o-o-d-y photo!’ But I didn’t … Once he had taken my finger prints (yes really) I grabbed my luggage and dashed outside to wait for the shuttle bus to the next terminal. In the queue in front of me was an Indian family. I was slightly alarmed when the wife stared at me, then whispered to her husband, who in turn whispered to grandma, and so on. It was like Chinese (or should I say Indian) whispers. They then all turned round and stared at me. I did a quick check of my flies (zipped) blouse (buttoned) and could only assume I had wildly smeared lipstick, which I could do little about. Then to my surprise the little son came up and said ‘Excuse me Miss, are you Meryl Streep?’ I just smiled and said that sadly I wasn’t. What I actually felt like saying was ‘Do you think Meryl Streep would be standing in a crumpled linen shirt, waiting for a sodding shuttle bus, in this heat, with a 30 kg rucksack?’

Soon after the rusty old bus arrived and we spent 30 minutes driving round in circles. By the time I got off I had only 1 hour 40 minutes to catch my next plane so I went straight to the front of the mile long sari-ed check-in queue and waved my ticket. Unfortunately Indigo Air had just installed a new computer system, and there was a glitch they hadn’t thought of. As I had already had one baggage label for the first leg of my journey the computer could not generate another. 40 minutes later I was still standing there, whilst supervisor after supervisor, and the whole of the IT department, huddled round the computer screen trying to sort it out. To start with I was quite patient, and politely pointed out that I was going to miss my flight, the second time my observation had an irate edge to it and when I only had 50 minutes before take off I shouted ‘I AM GOING TO MISS MY BLOODY FLIGHT!’ That time they all agreed and told me to go to the boarding gate where my baggage receipt would be waiting. As I dashed through security I had as much hope of seeing my bag again as getting steak and chips for dinner. Anyway I got to the gate just 5 minutes before it closed and there was my baggage receipt.

On arrival in Goa I was extremely relieved when my bag actually appeared on the carousel and I headed out into the sultry evening to meet my driver. I noticed that Goa has a lot of new roads, unfortunately none of them are finished, and after an hour of juddering along in a clapped-out Toyota, I was in severe need of a neck brace. This requirement was exacerbated when, just outside my hostel, the driver slammed on the brakes, resulting in me being partially ejected into the front seat. ‘Sorry Miss’ he said, ‘there is a snake in the road.’ My first thought was ‘Well why stop then, why not flatten it?’ My second thought was ‘Christ! How many snakes ARE there in Goa??’

My new home in Goa and it is not a Compound…

East Meets West, West Meets Beast

Sunset over the city from my roof

I have really got into a routine now in Nepal. Every night at 6pm I go up onto the roof of the Compound and do ‘Pilates with Press-ups’ for 30 minutes, whilst listening to Spotify. This serves several purposes; firstly, the sight of Kathmandu twinkling in the sunset is breathtaking, secondly, I find it enormously therapeutic and thirdly, my next stop is Goa. Goa means the opportunity to wear one of my new (or should I say five new) bikinis. I do not want to spend all my time there trying to reposition a sarong to hide the Wobble, so press-ups and crunches it is. At this point I do have to say thank you to Nicky, my ever-patient Pilates teacher in East Grinstead who, in 3 years, has turned me from looking a Plank to doing the Plank, beautifully.

On Sunday evening I was working out as usual, when a very rotund Chinese inmate appeared, to hang out her washing. ‘Aaaw Yoga’ she said. I explained it wasn’t exactly Yoga, to which she replied ‘Yooo tich me?’ I forgot all about this oriental encounter until last night. At exactly 6pm Wang Fang waddled up onto the roof waving, and wearing a pair of leggings she had clearly borrowed from a Swedish Gap Year Girl. They were 10” too long and 10” too narrow. How she had managed to squeeze herself into them, and still walk, was a total mystery. She looked like an untied ring of black pudding. I was actually really irritated that she had interrupted my ‘Me Time,’ but graciously got her a mat and started off with a few gentle stretches. Some positions she did manage to hold, whilst muttering what sounded like ‘Eeyore’ under her breath. I was going to suggest press-ups, just for the sheer amusement factor, but fortunately the nicer side of my nature won. At one point I only asked her to get onto her hands and knees and she toppled over sideways and… bounced. Trying to get her back onto all fours was a challenge. I soon realized I was personally doing a full body work out, rather than a gentle core programme. The glute stretch was an equal flop, as she got stuck, whilst horizontal, with her elbow wedged behind her knee, and I had to prize her apart, like a pack of frozen pork sausages. After 15 minutes I said that the 30 minutes was up and thanked Wang Fang for coming. ‘Aaaw so good Jay!’ She exclaimed. ‘Same time to-mo-row?’ I know that the Chinese Market might be important to us after Brexit, but I am not going to help the cause. My Pilates session will be held at 5pm tonight.

As well as getting a structure to my days I feel that I have got a lot more independent and resourceful in my time here. This morning I went into the bathroom (I use that term loosely) and noticed a bloody great spider sitting on the bristles of my electric tooth brush. This beast was huge, and black and yellow. It looked like a bumble bee on steroids, with 8 bony legs, wearing a Wolverhampton Wanderers football strip. I cannot repeat the first word I uttered, but it did end in ‘ck’. If such a creature had appeared at home (which I know is unlikely) I would have screamed the place down, summoned Husband, or, failing that, called the Emergency Services. Here I was on my own. I knew it would take too long to run up 4 flights of stairs to the WiFi zone, to Google if this bugger was going to kill me, so I had to be brave…. I grabbed the tooth brush handle with a hand wrapped in a towel and flicked the angry arachnoid onto the floor, where I dispatched it to another life with a Fitflop. In order to dispose of the body I picked it up, with half a box of tissues, and lobbed the whole lot out of the window. I am quite sure that a poor street dog below was delighted when breakfast appeared from the heavens, complete with a white tissue parachute. I then replaced the head on my tooth brush, and lay on my bed for half an hour to recover, before heading off to school. This is probably the bravest thing I have ever done, so a round of applause, or at least a Facebook ‘Like’ would be appreciated…

Actually, make it a Gold Medal…

Finger Food

Nepali dinner

I know I haven’t mentioned the food since I have been in Nepal and there is a good reason for this…. There isn’t any. If any lady readers are considering shedding a few pounds in time for Christmas, sod the 5:2 diet, come to Nepal for instant and dramatic weight loss. So swift has been my shrinkage that some of the ‘Glamorous Granny’ linen clothes I bought only 4 weeks ago are way too big. Yesterday I was bending over the table in the classroom when 3 little gnomes starting tugging on the backs of my trousers legs to get my attention. They got more than they bargained for, as my black tie-waisted peg leg chinos gravitated south with alarming speed, and I revealed my knickers to Kathmandu Kindergarten. Thank God for Bucket Pants.

On the night I arrived, I went down for dinner and queued up to be given what looked like two skimpy side orders from the Lingfield Tandoori; one rice and the other curried potatoes, served on a metal plate (well this is a Compound with a capital ‘C’). I sat down and realized that I had forgotten to get a knife and fork, only to be told by a fellow inmate that there weren’t any! I looked around in disbelief and noticed people squashing the rice and slop into golf ball shapes and stuffing it messily into their mouths, leaving trails down their chins and T-shirts. This was an utterly shocking and gross spectacle, and one I did not want to be a part of, so I came up with a solution. I mixed the two baby portions together and scooped the mess onto my solitary poppadom, like a Nepalese open sandwich. ‘Just brilliant’, I thought, but then it all went horribly wrong. Halfway between table and mouth my precious poppadom collapsed, and I ended up with a curry car crash on my plate. I took one look at the wreckage, and sought comfort in my room, with the rest of my tin of travel sweets. Lunch and dinner are pretty much the same every day, just a different poor and unsuspecting vegetable has been chopped, stewed and chillied. I have now actually got used to eating with my hand. I do try to do it as elegantly as possible, then spend the rest of the day picking spinach from behind my painted finger nails. Yes, painted! I haven’t gone totally native yet…

There has been one saving grace in this food fiasco, and that is that the local shop sells a vast selection of Cadbury’s and McVities products, amongst the spices and weirdly shaped vegetables. I buy at least 2 bars of Dairy Milk a day, at £2 a go, and convince myself that I could easily do that on Lattes in Lingfield. The other fantastic find is Instant Cappuccino. It bears no resemblance to the real thing, but it contains caffeine and saves all the faff of trying to locate sugar and cow’s milk. Amazing! When I was packing to come here I realized that the box of 240 PG Tips was just not going to fit into my rucksack, no matter how hard I stamped on the box. Friends did comment that it did seem a little strange taking tea to India, but as far as I am concerned it is not TEA unless the leaves have been through a factory in Manchester. I am pleased to say that I have now located Twinings Breakfast Tea at a vastly inflated price which, when mixed with Coffeemate, makes a half decent cuppa. I could almost be back on a building site with my guys at home…

Another issue with meals which makes them even more unpalatable is the Gap Year Girls. Outside shoulders and knees must be covered at all times, as a sign of respect, but in the Compound anything (or should I say nothing) goes. I have to sit with my plate of mush looking at young, tanned beauties in cropped tops and micro shorts. Unsurprisingly, the young, male Nepali project coordinators appear with the same punctuality as the flies at meal times. Last night I was chuffed when Bhumi, a cute Nepali, started to chatting to me instead. ‘Hey, Miz Jayne, do you have a photo on your phone of you in your twenties?’ He asked. I pointed out that mobiles had barely been invented then. To which he replied ‘Oh that’s a shame, I bet you were pretty then.’ I reacted like any woman my age would. I went upstairs and ate a whole packet of Chocolate Hobnobs…

English dinner

Holy Cow!

Sunrise over the Himalayas

One of the inmates in the Compound is a beautiful Spanish girl, 33, called Raquel. She has given up her high-powered job in HR to travel the world for a year and is like a walking ‘Lonely Planets’ guide. When I heard that she had planned a trip to watch the sunrise over Everest on Saturday, I asked if I could join her. This meant a 3.30am start but I figured that I could sleep in the car en route. How wrong I was. Once we got off the main road, the road literally stopped. Instead there was a winding unmade track full of craters 5 feet wide and 1 foot deep for the last 12km with a sheer drop on one side. This might have been bearable in a 4 x4 but we were in the Nepalese equivalent of a Ford Focus. On numerous occasions my new Samsonite back pack nearly became a ‘superior sick bag’ as we were thrown around every corner and crater. Suddenly I noticed a massive form in the headlights which I thought was a mound of earth. As we approached I realized it was a large black and white cow asleep in the middle of our path, which had absolutely no intention of moving. As cows are holy in Nepal I knew there was no way the driver was going to flatten it, and give us all a sirloin. He had to go round it. We reversed and shunted, reversed and shunted. At one point one of the back wheels was airborne and spinning above the abyss below. I nearly said ‘ Look! Just run over Daisy and I will take the consequences.’ A 10000 Rupee fine and 10 years in prison seemed more attractive than the alternative… I could just imagine the obituary:

Jayne Webb was sadly taken from us whilst trying to avoid a Holy Cow on the road to Everest.’

Still it does sound more glamorous than:

‘Jayne snuffed it when she was run over by a bus outside Crawley Railway Station.’

By the time we had negotiated the bovine roadblock we were pushed for time to get to the summit before dawn broke. We sprinted up a flight of 50 steps to the viewpoint and there it was, the most magical and mystical sight; a golden watercolor of light rising above the Himalayas with wisps of white cloud below. I stood in silence, awestruck by the beauty of the moment. Words failed me (for once) but the spectacle will be etched in my memory forever…

I came down to reality with a thud when I got back, and was told that I would be teaching a kindergarten class this week. I have to admit that very little people are not my forte. When Son was 3 I took him to nursery, after a particularly trying weekend, and asked if I could pick him up when he was 15. Sadly the staff declined. I like kids when they become teenagers with attitude and swagger, and you can have a good bloody row with them. Being all saccharine to gnomes was going to be a challenge.

This morning I walked to the hut-like school with 2 tiny classrooms which were full of the cutest and brightest faces, with eyes shining like chocolate M&Ms. I was hooked. These miniature people were polite, eager to learn, and with a command of the English language most people in Wolverhampton would be happy with. They were clearly very poor, but already knew that learning was the best way out of this poverty. They looked searchingly at me, hoping that I could help them with their quest. Good job they didn’t know I hadn’t got the faintest idea what I was doing. One girl, Rupa, aged 4, told me she was going to be an engineer. I have no doubt she will. I finished the day proud of the fact that there were still the same number of kids that I had started with, and they all knew the name of their new teacher, Jamuna.

I love these kids…

Bookcases and Head Cases

Shed with a view

My first few days in Kathmandu have been a challenge. When I arrived at the hostel (compound) I was surprised to see that the walls were topped with razor wire and there were huge metal gates. I innocently thought these were to keep the volunteers safe, but soon realized they were to stop us escaping. I had paid extra for a private room as I did not want to spend every morning surrounded by nubile 20 year olds in thongs, making me feel even more depressed about the toll age and gravity have taken on my body. My quarters are separate from the rest of the house and it appears that the last thing to live here had 4 legs. I think they shooed it out and threw a mattress on the floor hours before I arrived. The only other thing in the room is a bookcase off a skip. Why the hell do I need a bookcase? A wardrobe would have been good. A large padlock secures the door and I was advised to padlock myself in at night. I do this but then lie awake worrying that my iPhone, which is attached essentially to 2 live wires sticking out of the wall, might burst into flames and I would be totally buggered as the window only opens 6 inches ‘for my security’. These are my thoughts as I lie in bed trying to drift off, when I am bored of squashing giant beetles by torch light.

The rest of the group, as one would expect, are mainly gap year students, full of youthful optimism, and wanting to see the world. I am the only English person, but fortunately English is the spoken language in the hostel. At the introductory meeting I jokingly introduced myself as the ‘Gappy Granny’. Big mistake. I have nothing against Chinese people per se, apart from the giant mobile phones, excessive use of selfie sticks and appalling dress sense, but one particularly annoying Chinese girl, Xo Siang Ho, really hacks me off. Every time she sees me she says ‘Hilo Garpee Grawnee.’ I swear if she says it again I will poke her in the eye with a chopstick and strangle her with her Huawei headphones,

The other person of note (or not) is an extremely dull German called Jorg. I know that a nation that prides itself on ‘precision engineering’ is not going to be full of people you want to go down the pub with on a Friday night, but this guy is a particularly fine specimen. He is 46, single (I wonder why)? And a software engineer (exactly). He drones on incessantly in a thick Germanic accent about how he comes to Nepal every year ‘to find himself.’ If he hasn’t found himself by now perhaps he should consider going back home and jumping under an Audi on the Autobahn, to put us all out of our misery.

This week has been a Cultural Immersion Week (initiation by fire) on the way of life here, before I am let loose on my class on Monday. As well as trying to learn some Nepali (impossible), I have witnessed abject poverty, but also the immense pride and contentment of the Nepalese people. One wise old man said to me ‘we expect little, so are happy with little, whereas you Westerners expect so much and are never happy with what you have.’ So true…

Reflecting on Nepal (after a long climb)!

.

Jesus Christ and any other gods…

Goodbye Jayne…

Well I made it (just). Midlife Crisis Jayne from leafy Lingfield is now in Kathmandu 4469 miles from home. I am actually very proud of myself for getting here all on my own. To be honest, I very nearly failed as early as Gatwick when I found it virtually impossible to lift my ‘super’ rucksack onto the baggage belt. Mrs Moody from Turkey Travel (aka Turkish Airlines) then pointed out that I had only paid for 30kg and had in fact 34kg of shoes and mosquito spray. That is only 8 lbs which is nothing, unless it has attached itself to my hips, then it is a bloody disaster. Anyway I managed to talk her down, but realized at that point there was no chance of talking her up to a free upgrade to business class.

My trip to Istanbul was uneventful but disaster struck on the second flight, to Kathmandu. As it was a night flight I was looking forward to a nice long sleep in my extra leg room seat, but when I got to seat 24A the world’s largest man was already wedged in there. I politely pointed out to the XXXXXL Yank that he was in the wrong seat then had to watch as he grunted and sweated and attempted to extricate himself from between 2 arm rests and wedge it all into the seat next door. As soon as we took off the supersize lump decided to fall asleep, and snore. Each snore reverberated around the cabin at 100 decibels as it found its way out from the vast adipose depths. Then it just got a whole lot worse. XXXXXL decided to lean on me, making me into a human pillow between his hulk and the window. You have no idea how cold your left ear can get when it is pressed against an airplane window at 39,000 feet for 6 hours…

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I arrived at Kathmandu and there was a cute little Nepalese man waiting for me, who bowed and said ‘Velcome to Nepal, Mrs Veb’. ‘Phew I have made it!’ I thought, but then we got in his little van and headed into the kamikaze craziness of the capital. No rules, no brakes, no tyres and no safety chips. The journey in the 1952 Toyota minivan was utterly terrifying. At one point my Little Man overtook a moped and we ended up on the wrong side of the road with 3 motor bikes and a donkey and cart heading straight for us. The problem is that Hindus believe in fatalism, so when your number is up, your number is up. I do not share this belief but at that point I prayed to every bloody god under the sun (Hindu and otherwise) to spare me. It seemed such a damn shame to get wiped out, without at least trying my mosquito net.

Needless to say we made it, and I now go by the name of ‘Jamuna’. But that’s another story…

Hello Jamuna…

Pythons, Pervs and Packing

I leave for my trip in less than 48 hours, so my preparations are really ramping up. Unhelpful Son decided to do something helpful!  He Googled ‘Things that can kill you in Sri Lanka’ and found:

‘Sri Lanka is home to a spider the size of a dinner plate. With a leg span that can reach up to a rather terrifying ten inches, the Fringed Ornamental Spider is the second largest in the tarantula family’

And

‘Sri Lanka is known as having the most venomous snakes of any country in the world’

Thanks Son, if only you had applied as much enthusiasm to your university research you might have kept out of the Uni Bar for a few hours longer last term. However, I did decide that I must get better at dealing with these critters, so I have allowed one daddy long legs to enter my office without fear of being squashed to the door frame with the sole of a Kurt Geiger.  I have also folded 3 fitted sheets this week, which I feel is good practice for wrestling with any boa constrictor.

As if this was not stressful enough, I am trying to condense ‘How to Run a House’ into one document for Husband to follow.  Having run my own business for 20 years, I am not bad at Excel, but never have I had to concoct such a complicated spread sheet.  No wonder I am buggering off.  I need a break from trying to remember website passwords and whose mobile phone is with which provider.  Let alone being on top of who has finished all the blueberries and granola, so no one turns into a cereal killer.  

Yes, I did buy that hat…. But it will never appear on an Insta post…

To be honest my biggest challenge is the packing.  Being super-organised, I have bought everything I needed to get, ‘plus a bit more’ and now I am worried about fitting it all into my 110 litre ‘super’ rucksack.  There is a lot of kit.  3 months’ supply of anti-wrinkle cream weighs a serious amount. I am guessing at least 2 kg.  I also have 2 large bottles of anti-frizz hair product and I AM taking my Babyliss Hot Brush. If I am going to put any photos on my shiny new Instagram page, I am not having my mates saying, ‘Christ Jayne looks rough when there isn’t a Toni & Guy around the corner.’  I already have a few Insta followers (6) and one is called ‘MILF Hunter’. Unhelpful Son thinks I should delete ‘that perv’ but, you know what, at my age I am bloody delighted he is following me….  The problem will be actually carrying this 10 stone back pack into Gatwick Airport.  I do not want to fall flat on my back at the check-in desk and resemble a stranded Ninja Mutant Turtle.  I am not looking an arse until I have at least left the country…

Goodbye Lingfield, Asia here I come! Next post from Nepal, if I don’t get lost in Istanbul…

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