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."


20 Nov

We arrived in Siddipur to conduct the project kick-off meeting after a 3 hour motorcycle ride that would give any dirt bike course a run for it’s money. The participants of the meeting were representatives from the various areas of the village (small population but covering a relatively large area) and the purpose was to explain the focus of the project, how it is funded, and to create a committee that would spear-head the effort locally. The participants asked thoughtful questions to clarify the coming program and independently established a diverse and inclusive committee to organize the local land rights effort. With that, our full-day meeting was concluded.

Since it would be pitch black by 5:30 and we were all thoroughly exhausted from our motorcycle trip over dirt roads and through rivers, sand dunes, and gravel pits, we decided to stay the night and make the return trip early the next morning after resting and with full light. We had a quick pre-sunset tour of Siddipur and prepared to settle down for the evening.

Siddipur during sunset

As we waited for our “dahl bhat” dinner to be cooked at a local eatery (which can often take some time as the rice, dahl, and vegetable curry is made to order), we sat by the light of kerosene lamps and chatted with some youngsters who had started a local club, The Dipscika Youth Club. The shared about the cultural programs they had been developing to give local youth a focus for their energy and the fundraising activities they held during the recently finished Tihar/Deepavali holiday (see the next blog for a snapshot of this festival). With a little encouragement several of the brave youngsters practiced their English with me, and we were even serenaded with a “sentimental Nepali song” by, Navaraj Rai, one of the vocally talented youngsters, who also happened to be the chair of the youth club.

After our delicious and belly-warming “dahl bhat,” we stumbled through the dark to the home of Hira Devi Rai, one of the local villagers who was putting us up for the night. We climbed up a ladder to the second floor of her home and after several of us hit our heads on the low beams despite warnings, found the rooms where we would sleep. Having been given the most luxurious beds in the house we nestled onto our wooden palates covered w/ blankets and thin cotton pads while Hira and her family prepared beds for themselves on the dirt floor of the kitchen downstairs. When we shortly turned off our lantern we could look through the unpaned window to see a brilliant sky of stars, shining fiercely, ummuted from the glow of electric lights or a moon.

Hira and her two kids and me

We awoke in the dark to the sound of roosters and slowly shed our covers. As we drank steaming hot tea provided by our hostess and prepared to make the return trip to Gaighat we received an invitation to be guests of honor at a farewell program the Youth Club wanted to hold in our honor. I had heard of the Nepali custom of treating guests like Gods, based on the belief that guests coming to your home to bring blessings, and thus should be worshiped. Though I have certainly been overwhelmed by the openness, and generosity of Nepalis (even those in the tourist business who should be trying to maximize their profits on tourists), I had certainly never experience the full extent of this custom…

NESPEC delegation being honored during the Farewell Program

In the harsh light of the early morning we found ourselves seated in the middle of the market’s sole road that had been converted into a performance space. A sound system, powered by a converted car battery, had been magically produced, and through crackling and more than intermittent feedback the program began. We were given plates of oranges, coconuts, and other sweets that are typically used as offerings when praying and were donned in flower garlands. Speeches by the leaders of the Youth Club were given, introducing us to the crowd, thanking us for overcoming a difficult journey to visit, expressing gratitude for the new relationships that were forming, and inviting us to quickly return. Then cultural dances were performed, songs were sung, and we were asked to give impromptu speeches about our impressions of the town.

Youth of Siddipur performing a cultural program

With the end of the program and handshakes all around, the 5 of us all piled onto our 2 motorbikes to return to Gaighat. The irony is that through this all, I felt like we were the ones who should be thanking them – not the other way around!

Posted By Nicole Farkouh

Posted Nov 20th, 2007

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