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Belfry Meeting, 7th November - Sir Edmund Hillary's Schoolhouses In The Clouds - A Talk By Bob Jordan

By Norma Green

Bob Jordan, a teacher and member of the British Council, married in 1965 to Jane and was posted 4 weeks later to Kathmandu. His job was to train Nepalese teachers of English.

On arrival Bob discovered that he had to go trekking in search of these remote schools, quite a task when the only suitable shoes he had brought with him were Hush Puppies. Bob and Jane were also expected to attend British Embassy parties and during one particular evening Bob was introduced to the guest of honour, Sir Edmund Hillary. As it happened, Bob had just finished reading Hillary's book "School houses in the Clouds" - the story of Sir Edmund Hillary's gift of primary schools for the Sherpa children - his way of repaying the Sherpas for all their help surrounding his conquering of Everest on the 29th May 1953. During their conversations, when Sir Edmund discovered Bob's line of work, he asked Bob to go and check on the 7 schools already built.

Bob's story then continued with slides. Bob and Jane flew to the Solu Khumba region landing on a rough grass airstrip which Sir Edmund Hillary and his team of Sherpas had flattened with their feet. They were given an itinerary, and they set off - on foot. A considerable amount of walking ensued - 75 hours in 18 days visiting 7 schools.

Bob's task was to give the teachers of English a test, check registers and do a written report for Sir Edmund Hilary. They were given a great welcome wherever they went and had an amazing time trekking to the schools and meeting the people. Those initial 7 schools have now grown to 32 and higher education is also provided in Kathmandu.

Many amusing stories were related, not least about the day they were due to fly back to their house in Kathmandu. They reached the airstrip and the plane duly arrived. Jane boarded along with all their luggage. Another couple then rushed up to the plane asking if they could use the plane too. It was agreed, and the husband got in. The pilot then considered there was no time to load Bob or the man's wife due to worsening weather, so they were left behind, with no luggage. The pilot promised to return the next day, but it was a further 7 days before the plane could eventually land again. The Sherpas pitched a tent for Bob and one for the lady and to counteract boredom, he spent the next 7 days teaching his companion to play chess with "chessmen" cut from cigarette packets.

The last slide showed Bob and Jane leaving Kathmandu after their 4 year stint, covered in flower garlands. Both he and his wife returned to the UK and went to Edinburgh to do the same course. As part of their coursework they designed a syllabus to teach Sherpas spoken English. This they gave to Sir Edmund Hillary and it was used with great success.

Many thanks to Bob for coming along to tell us about his time in Nepal. We all found his stories very interesting and would welcome him again.