Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Office is Very Normal

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned

Ritter meets with a colorful array of people. His appointment schedule ranges from meeting with local crooks (aka land brokers) to British thangka scholars who bash Italians, to first time (hence confused) visitors to the country. His occasional visits to the US embassy put the security up in arms for parking his jeep in a restricted area. His idea of “documentation” for a visa application is “I am the documentation!” Phone conversations range from “we gave the solar panels to the organization, but the Maoists stole them” to “and what happened to the dog, did they bury it or pitch it over the Bagmati bridge?” He regularly stalks academics researching the ethnic groups with whom we work. “Academics are like plumbers,” he told me, “you have a problem, you hire them to figure it out.” Figure it out, yes, but our office and partner organizations are the ones who “fix” it—for academics, such work is “meddling.”

Prakash recites numbers aloud to himself as he double-checks a budget for the umpteenth time. He is also a bit of a news junkie, so reads portions from the Nepali and English news websites online quietly. “Did you hear about the bridge collapsing in Cambodia?” “Eh, those Maoists, they’re in deadlock again” “Did you hear about the tsunami in Japan?” These have been our conversation starters in the morning. Occasionally he decides to listen to rock music, without headphones, but the volume is still quiet. He yells at Radhe to get the puppies to stop fighting over nothing or chewing his motorcycle’s parts. He Skypes regularly, chatting or calling with people he’s met at various MLE (that’s “multilingual education”) workshops, conferences, and training programs all over South Asia; with office associates in other parts of Nepal; or his brother’s family in the United States. My favorite day was when I returned back from West Nepal and couldn’t remember what the Tharus call that sweet, dense, steamed dough they make, so Prakash calls up Ram, one of the office workers in Dang, over Skype just to ask him “Hey! What’s that sweet, dense, steamed dough made of rice flour that you eat at Maghi called? Dhikiti? Ok thanks! Yeah, that’s it.”

Eva, a former Fulbright scholar, has government ministers stop by just to say “hi” and welcome her back to the country. In reorganizing our library, she has found awesome bilingual children’s books chronicling the adventures of Tommy Tempo in Kathmandu and Chitwan. She has been spreading her ideas concerning democracy in writing a grant concerning the NFE classes we support. Bluntly, she knows that the Nepali government will fail to meet its deadlines or fulfill its promises to the people, and she says so in the grant; hence, we need to look for other ways to build democratic ideals and empower people to participate at the grassroots level in the process. How about teaching marginalized women how to read?

Ritter believes we’re all under Radhe's thumb. Radhe is the half blind and half deaf guardsman who opens the gate in the morning for us all. We’ve all been locked out or locked in, depending on which side of the gate we’re on when he has an errand to run or decides to walk the street. He sweeps and mops the floors of the office in the morning, gives us tea with too much sugar in it, and decides when we’re done drinking said tea. Eva has taken to holding her cup of stone cold tea just so Radhe won’t take it when he thinks she should be done with it. Ritter and Prakash have sent Radhe out to buy everything from tea bags to electrical plugs, and have sent him back out to get the correct item when he’s arrived back with the wrong item. Once, he broke a lamp on the ceiling while cleaning it; both Ritter and Prakash took turns fixing it to their satisfaction.

Daily office activities include double-checking the electricity schedule to make sure the batteries for the inverter are charged or when we can print something, huddling around the gas heater when second winter sets in, and answering the phone with our own greetings. I with “LDC, this it Tori,” Ritter with “Guten morgen!” and Prakash with “Hello?!” We still deal with crashed computers, finicky printers, impending deadlines, and take time to brainstorm ideas—all the usual stuff. If you ask me, our office is very normal.