After a hard day’s work, the jubilant nights in Maya were always an event to look forward to. Despite being limited in choice in what we could eat and drink, the headmaster Ashis always made sure we lived it up as much as possible with what we had!
Preparations for the night began early, as supplies from a local village called Sulley sometimes had to be procured and cooking with the simple mud oven could take a long time. It would be decided amongst the volunteers who would be doing what role beforehand. Some would be on cooking duty, others on supplies and the rest could relax, take a shower and help with some cutting if necessary. Setting off to Sulley always proved to be an adventure. The journey consisted of a one-hour trek down a precarious mountain pass, which became even more hazardous when the ground was wet, so we were always keeping an eye on the volatile skies and hoping it wouldn’t rain. When we arrived we were always greeted by some of the schoolchildren who lived there, and received an especially warm welcome from the owner of one of the shops, whose daughter went to the school. Every visit we were invited inside and given a cup of buffalo milk tea and some curry to try, which all tasted delicious of course! Usually we would buy some eggs and biscuits, and if we required anything else we would ask Balika, a girl from class C, who spoke impeccable English and was always happy to show us around the village. On some occasions, when all the volunteers were experiencing protein cravings, we would go down and buy a live chicken, which would then be transported back flapping around in a cardboard box! With all these distractions in Sulley it was easy to spend a long time there, which is why one eye always had to be kept on the time. Leave it too late, and you could be plunged into darkness on your way back!
Cooking was also a fun experience, and a very different one to what we were used to at home. First the fire had to be started, which required some practice and a lot of energetic blowing down a bamboo pipe. It could take a while, but watching the fire slowly grow was always gratifying. Once this was done, the cooking could commence. The room would quickly fill up with smoke and cause your eyes to sting, and so crouching down to avoid the smoke was the only way to move around comfortably. Coordinated teamwork was required, with the head chef manning the wok and two others looking after the fire and handing the chef the necessary ingredients, utensils and even headtorch light, as the single solar-powered bulb on the ceiling would not provide much visibility. Overall, a hectic but exciting and rewarding time was always had!
With the meal prepared and food served, all the volunteers and any staff staying at the school that night would gather in the dining area and enjoy the meal over some jovial conversation. A locally made spirit called Roxy was often passed around and drunk well into the night, and music was played through whoever’s phone had charge. The small dining room would have a bustling, party atmosphere during busy times, and Ashis seemed to treat every night like it was Friday night! At these late hours, it would be very dark, cold and often windy and rainy outside. Having strong torches and headlights was essential if you wanted to go to the toilet or volunteer’s house, and we often had to do this as a group as the surroundings had a slightly spooky feeling to them! The night would often end with us going up to the hammock outside the volunteer’s house to relax a bit before bed. If the sky was clear, the stars of the Milky Way would be visible. We spotted several shooting stars, which always made the magical night feel even more so.