Nicole Farkouh

Nicole Farkouh (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Nicole graduated from Smith College with a BA in Cultural Anthropology. She also has a Master of Education from the University of New Orleans. Nicole’s professional background is in education. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, mainly with middle school students with special needs. She is also a certified community mediator and has studied a complementary model of mediation based on Non-Violent Communication. She has studied abroad in India, lived and taught in Mexico. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying for a Master of Public Policy degree at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. After her fellowship, Nicole wrote: "More than anything, this summer I received a new level of understanding /appreciation for the complexity involved in “development” and “human rights” work…. Particularly being a foreign body trying to work in a new culture."


21 Jun

We arrived in Gaighat in the middle of a rainstorm. Of course, I couldn’t distinguish this location from any other we had stopped. However, when the bus staff started yelling and pointing at me I realized what was going on, wrangled my stuff into my backpack, stepped off the bus into the rain, and found my bag in the middle of the road where it had been hoisted down from the roof. As the bus drove off I rolled/dragged my bag off the strip of pavement, over a bamboo grate covering a sewage canal, and under the nearest awning I could find (pictured here).

I instantly understood why Gaighat hadn’t been listed in any of the tour books or shown on most maps I’d seen. At first glance its sum total appeared to be a cluster of 2 story erratically whitewashed concrete buildings with a hodgepodge of roofs lining the road on both sides for maybe 30 yards. The typically harsh effects of humidity on buildings added to the dilapidated appearance of the “town,” and were exaggerated by many 2nd story balconies made out of wood or thatched material that drooped with age. I later found that Gaighat is definitely more than my initial assessment made it out to be and is a quickly growing market and population center for people from all around the surrounding rural areas.

I felt like an alien with three heads who had just landed. The surprised stares came from all sides – across the street, from behind shutters on second story windows, and from necks craning around corners to see me. Not seeing anyone coming to claim me I started praying I was actually in Gaighat. Luckily, I had learned my lesson from my previous arrival in Kathmandu and had the phone numbers of my contacts within easy reach. I took a deep breath and decided if this remote place had a phone I would find it.

I turned to the woman under whose awning I had landed, knowing full well she wouldn’t understand my English, and asked anyway… Luckily the sign language for phone seems to be universal and she motioned for me to follow her. We arrived at a counter a few shops down where she said something and a phone was produced. The call worked, and I waited, surrounded by giggling children and stony faced adults until my knight arrived.

Bigyan is thirteen years old and the son of a local NGO president who was home for summer holidays from a boarding school in India. With lightening speed and mostly intelligible English he asked if we needed a taxi or could walk to the house where I’d be staying. I assured him walking would be fine – which it was until the pavement ended a hundred yards down the road (I still haven’t seen a “taxi” anywhere in Gaighat, so I’m not convinced the other option was better).

After their refusal to drag/roll my bag over the dirt & sand road we ultimately negotiated suspending it between 3 of us, he and his friend (who was along for the ride) on each side with me leading. Little did they know how grateful I was I had left another bag full of unnecessary things for Gaighat (hiking boots, jacket, swimsuit, etc) with a friend in Kathmandu!

We waddled along a while until Bigyan’s father, Arjun Kumar Dahal, biked toward us. With smiles and handshakes, more negotiations, and my bag precariously balanced on the bicycle’s rear rack we managed the rest of the walk to my new home.

Sabita Thamang is the matriarch of the house where I now live. Sabita-gii is friendly, gracious, a hard worker, very political, and laughs a lot. Though her husband works in Dubai and is gone for years at a time, the house is never empty.

Sajis is the 15 year old son who will be leaving within a year to move to Thailand to finish his schooling and ultimately complete a PhD in Buddhist Studies. Eleza is 13, though I initially thought she was about 8, and has been my savior and interpreter around the house. Shirjana is about 16 (no one knows for sure), the family “helper.” In exchange for a place to live because she was kicked out by her step mother has been incorporated into the family, albeit with a disproportionate amount of work.

My accommodations are clean and basic. Most importantly I have a ceiling fan and a mosquito net.

The house is a concrete rectangular structure with a hallway down the middle and rooms on each side. Shoes are taken off before entering and there is an additional supply of communal sandals at the back of the house we use when going out to the outhouse, bath stall, or water pump.

There is no indoor plumbing which really shocked me at first, but I’m a pro at using a hand pump now. The attached pic is of the back of the house – the door off to the left is the bath stall (that we sweep the water out of because there is no drain) and the toilet is just to the left of it – out of the pic.

Now that the basic needs seem to be taken care of, it’s time to get to work.

Posted By Nicole Farkouh

Posted Jun 21st, 2014

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