Asia | Nepal | Kathmandu Valley | Kathmandu – Harsh Reality
It is the 23rd of April in Kathmandu. The past week and a half has been filled with violent political protests, electrical black outs, culture shock and intestinal distress combined with the harsh reality of my 6 day work week.
Monday the 16th of April, members of Nepal’s leftist political parties gathered for what was to be a peaceful protest calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. They had planned to block him from entering his offices. Having been made aware of the plan, the Prime Minister entered his offices early before the protesters had a chance to get into position. As a result, the protest turned violent. Stones and bricks were thrown at police and at least a dozen government and corporate vehicles were burned. Police charged the crowd and used tear gas to disperse them. Thousands of people returned to the streets in a more peaceful protest on the 18th of April and more protests are planned for the future.
In this hotbed of political upheaval, Maoist’s continue looting villages and police stations, taking money, guns and ammo. On the 18th, the government announced plans to mobilize military troops into the areas worst affected by Maoist activity. The worst affected district of Kalikot saw over 70 police officers killed in the first week of April alone. The number of police outposts in that area has been reduced, by threats or attacks, from 16 to a mere 2. Having spoken with some local people, it seems to me that the general feeling is one of non-caring. One man said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter who runs the country. We all still have to work and only the very wealthy will be affected.’
In other news, electrical and water shortages are plaguing the city. Many women are forced to rise early to get into long lines at various public water wells to fill their water pots for the day. The lines and the wait can be very long and many are calling on the government to provide more water. Hopefully, the coming monsoon season will alleviate the problem for these people.
Meanwhile, the entire city is being subjected to ‘load shedding’ or electrical black outs. Everyday each section of the city is designated a time frame where they will have no access to electricity. These times change from day to day, but unfortunately my area seems to always be affected whenever I have time to check and send e-mail. This has been a bit frustrating.
Having been here 17 days now, I have met with a number of cultural differences. I have been invited to dine with various families and have learned much as a result. Firstly, in 2 of the homes I have felt quite uneasy as I ate as a guest with the men, while the women either served or hid themselves in the kitchen waiting until we were finished before having their own meals. One home was Nepali and the other Indian Muslims. The 3rd family I dined with, also Nepali, was the most fun. The children had already eaten so I sat on the floor with the husband AND wife eating all together with our hands. I, of course, was not so adept at this method of eating and created quite a mess. We all laughed at my ineptitude. While we ate, the children poked a stick at the biggest cockroach I have ever seen. I figured ‘no biggie’ as long as it was on the wall opposite me where I could keep an eye on it. As I took my next bite, I looked up to find it gone. Suddenly, it scurried right up to my plate, took a look and scurried off as I yelped with surprise and shock. Again, we all laughed at me the silly Westerner.
In other cultural issues, I am becoming accustomed to treading through garbage and stepping over dead rats. I am also used to the frankness of most Nepali people. I have been asked so many questions by children and adults alike. Some of the most popular questions are, ‘Why are you so white?’ and ‘Why do you have spots?’ While people here are used to seeing white tourists, it seems they are not so accustomed to pasty white redheads with freckles like me. I am still attempting to get used to the boar’s and goat’s heads that advertise what kind of meat is for sale on the fly covered tables as I walk to school each morning.
My report comes to you late this time around as one of my previously mentioned family dinners ended in a 5 days of intestinal distress. It wasn’t as severe as some have experienced as I was not writhing in bed for days, but I suffered intense stomach cramps and an inability to eat much of anything. Through most of it, I kept working at the school. Thankfully, I had Saturday free and spent the whole day resting in my hotel. Sunday I was still ill, but after school I came home and slept for 12 hours. I woke up this morning feeling great.
My first 6 day work week was quite harsh. I am hoping it was only due to my illness. I am teaching English to classes 5 through 9. I really enjoy the students. They are more polite than any children I have ever met. When I enter the room, the whole class stands and says, ‘Good morning Miss.’ They do not sit until I tell them to do so. It is almost annoying as they ask permission for everything, ‘ Miss may I ..’ go to the toilet, enter the room, stand, sit or even take a drink of water. It amazes me every day. I am constantly being asked by some of my girl students if I will come to their homes for dinner or join them all for a picnic in a park. I haven’t had time yet, but hope to do some of these things with them. They are truly very sweet children. By the way, the dancers I told you about in the last edition won first place in the competition. I am very proud of them, as is the whole school.