Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I thought you might find some of the suggestions for dealing with load-shedding humorous...from the Himalayan Times.

Ten ways to lighten you up on stark, dark days

The new load-shedding schedule has caused much distress among people. Mindless timing schedule resulting in negative reactions from people is justifiable, though there are things, which we can to do to combat this dark vortex, which will only get worse with the passage of time.
We at The Himalayan Times have 10 suggestions to remain sane in the maelstrom we call “load-shedding”.
•Generation Y can spend quality and “quantity” time (12 hours of load-shedding) at home with family, as other places are sure to be enveloped in darkness.
•For the romantics, candle-lit settings are a perfect way to have dinner on nights when the
power is off from 8pm-2am (thrice a week).
•People can have a bon-fire on their terraces or lawns with a scrumptious barbeque to beat the load-shedding.
•Happier days ahead for husbands, as their wives will not be stuck in the routine saas-bahu rut. No hang-ups as to who will watch television when.
•Kids can get away with not doing their homework and have a plausible excuse not to study. Parents please note that it is imperative that you keep emergency lights at home if you want your children to study.
•With barely enough time to charge your mobile phones, you can watch movies at the cinema hall without your cellphone disturbing you in the middle of a racy scene.
•You can avoid a bath and get away with it. Others will smell just the same, if not worse.
•Married women can finally find time to catch up on their reading, order grub or make instant food. The mothers-in-law will definitely understand.
•You can sit out and gaze at stars, they are much more clearly visible in winters and if you are lucky you may see a few shooting stars. This can be immensely romantic.
•Last, but not the least, read The Himalayan Times back to back. We are really informative and entertaining.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Maoist-led government has declared a national power emergency and decided to set up diesel-operated power plants to help meet demand.

Load shedding, on Monday, increases to 12-16 hours per day.

Keep the people of Nepal in your thoughts at this time. It is now very cold there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In an attempt to censure those journalists and institutions not sympathetic to their platform and implementation strategies, Maoist-affliated union members have triggered strong responses by the international community against their tactics.

I predict that this, with the hindsight of the historical lens, will be a watershed moment in Nepal's history.

Here are a few of the responses:
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
"NHRC urges the Nepal government to make necessary arrangement to safeguard media institutions including Himalmedia and provide security to journalists," the Commission said.

OHCHR asked the Nepal Police to complete its investigation the incident as swiftly as possible so charges could be laid, urging state authorities to take all steps necessary to ensure that the media has a secure environment to work in.

Human Rights Organisation of Nepal (HURON) said that although Maoists have attacked press freedom time and again, the government has not taken any action yet. The attack illustrates that the Maoists still do not believe in the principals of democracy.

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN), Informal Sector Service Centre and Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) and even the pro-Maoist Revolutionary Journalists Association also condemned the attack and called for legal action against those involved.

The UML today boycotted a previously scheduled meeting with Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in protest at the Maoist vandalism at Himalmedia. "We wanted to register our strong condemnation against this attack on press freedom and the values of democracy by the ruling party," the UML's Madhab Kumar Nepal said.

European Union: "This aggression represents completely unacceptable behaviour within the framework of normal and democratic political life." "Press freedom is one of the most important components of democracy, and these renewed attempts to subjugate the independent media signals a very disturbing trend that must be stopped."

U.S. Embassy: "We condemn the violent attack on Himalmedia personnel and facilities on Sunday, December 21, as a blatant, illegal assault on freedom of the press in Nepal. It was a criminal act to invade the premises and physically assault the Himalmedia staff: The perpetrators of this assault must be held accountable."

"We encourage the police to complete the investigation of this latest incident of criminal violence against the media as soon as possible and press charges against the perpetrators. There is no justification for the use of violence and intimidation by any party or organization in an attempt to control the media or threaten freedom of the press in Nepal. The culture of impunity that has protected some criminals from prosecution for violent, illegal actions should end."

Reporters Without Borders: "We urge the government to take particular care to safeguard press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said. "After the recent wave of attacks on the media, the Maoist party took no steps to punish those responsible. The government must guarantee the right of every voice to be heard by punishing violators and by not allowing its supporters to act with the impunity."

The International Federation of Journalists: (IFJ) "This attack on Himalmedia is an attack on press freedom and has nothing to do with the defence of journalism or the public interest", said Jacqueline Park, director of the IFJ Asia-Pacific. "We call upon the political leadership in Nepal, including the Prime Minister and the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, to promptly denounce this act of vandalism and take personal responsibility for ensuring that the guilty are appropriately sanctioned", said Park.

Rock on journalistic freedom in Nepal! I think this is the coolest nonviolent social protest statement I have seen in a long time.

The Media Society and Editors' Alliance of Nepal, in a released statement, has strongly condemned the attack by Maoist workers on Himalmedia, and launched a protest program beginning with blank editorials in all member newspapers, television and radio news programs on Tuesday.

In a very public response to the Maoist-affiliated union member attacks on Himal Media offices and staff yesterday, the major newspapers published blank editorials as a symbol of the attempt to stamp out journalistic freedom.

The protest editorials appeared Tuesday in the Annapurna Post, The Himalayan Times, The Kathmandu Post, Kantipur, Nepal Samacharpatra, Rajdhani, Himalaya Times, Image Channel TV, Image News FM, Nepal, Kantipur TV, Kantipur FM, myrepublica.com, dainikee.com, e-Kantipur, Newsfront, Nepali Times and Himal Khabarpatrika.

The respondents issued a statement: "This is the first in a series of escalating protests that our media companies will launch if the current organised attacks on us by groups affiliated to the ruling party are not stopped immediately...We feel the attack on Himalmedia and other media houses represent a serious threat to press freedom, democracy and pluralism in this country, and it is ironical that it should be perpetrated by a group affiliated to a party that won the election and leads the government."

The raid on Himalmedia on Sunday, in which 12 people were injured, was the latest in a series of attacks and threats against newspapers, tv stations and radio all over the country in the past.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Over the weekend, at least 50 former rebels attacked staff and vandalized the offices of Himal Media, one of Nepal's biggest newspaper publishing houses.

The protesters alleged that the Nepali Times and other magazines carried articles critical of the communist party. They also expressed anger at the firing or relocating of employees affliated with the Maoist movement.

Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda has denied any role in the attack. He told Nepal media the attack was by "immoral agents" who had "infiltrated" the Maoists. He pledged an investigation into the incident.

"This is a direct attack on free press and democracy," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times, which is published by Himal Media.

Hundreds of journalists marched through the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday in protest at the attack.

I challenge you to contemplate - really stop and think for a moment - what your life would be like if you had to live 10 hours of each and every day without electricity.

I hadn't gotten an email from Sudip in a few days so yesterday I Skype-called him and he reported that load shedding is now up to 10 hours per day. The reason I hadn't heard from him is that he hadn't been able to get to a computer while the power was on.

Wikipedia defines it this way:
A rolling blackout, also referred to as load shedding, is an intentionally-engineered electrical power outage. These blackouts are normally in response to insufficient resources and inability to meet prevailing demand for electricity.
I define it another way: Load shedding = dark & cold & a barrier to communication, business, development and progress. It's an everpresent feature (or should I say an everabsent feature) of the daily lives of the people of Nepal.

Here I'm quoting fellow blogger Bibek Paudel because he says it so well: "People plan their days accordingly. They sleep and wake up accordingly. Businesses and office-goers, professionals try to adjust their work and daily routine in harmony with the load-shedding schedule published by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA, aptly called No Electricity Authority of Nepal). NEA is very good at doing it. It changes its schedule and duration time and again, citing different reasons. In summers, its usually because of the flooding at certain rivers that grains and rock try to disturb the hydro-power plants. In winters, its because most rivers originating in the mountains decrease in their volumes because the snow melts less. At other times, its because one or the other power plant needs to be closed because of technical difficulties. At no points do we learn about measures taken to forestall annual occurrences of such events."

In a country where the snow melt runoff from Mt. Everest and the rest of the Himalayan range produces a power potential equivalent to the combined installed hydroelectricity capacity of Canada, the United States and Mexico, this is ridiculous. Less than 1 percent of Nepal's power potential has been developed. Basically, Nepal has the potential to produce enough power for itself, India and other other South Asia countries, with the sale of the surplus power fueling economic development.

Some assert that this latest crisis is falsely generated for some political motive such as government officials who will benefit from the building of diesel-run power plants. Others say that the current power plants are in such terrible condition that they cannot handle the load. The rapid growth of the Kathmandu Valley population is also cited.

Whatever the real reason, its a great hardship for the people.

Friday, December 5, 2008

For the first time in 7 months the US Embassy has issues a new warning about travel to Nepal. While I don't know all of the particulars that prompted the Embassy to take this step I do believe it reflects the weakening of security and the progressive audacity of the youth leagues that are harassing the citizenry here.

The warning was written on November 21 but only emailed to us today.
I provide it, for the historical record, in it's entirety below.

I am not having any problems, personally, so don't worry about me. Just please do worry about all of my Nepali friends and the country as a whole.

November 21, 2008

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Nepal and urges caution when traveling in country. The Department of State remains concerned about the security situation in Nepal and urges American citizens to obtain updated security information before they travel and to be prepared to change their plans on short notice. This replaces the Travel Warning for Nepal dated May 7, 2008 and updates safety and security information following the formation of the coalition government in August, 2008.

Despite the recent smooth transition of government, some unrest remains. The Young Communist League (YCL), a Maoist Party subgroup, continues to engage in extortion, abuse, and threats of violence, particularly in rural areas. Youth groups from the other two main political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML), have also formed and clashes continue among these political rivals. Violent actions by multiple armed splinter groups in the Terai region along the southern border with India remain a significant concern.

While protests and pre-election localized bombing incidents have decreased, demonstrations and disruptions still occur. During demonstrations, protestors have used violence, including damaging vehicles, throwing rocks, and burning tires to block traffic. Given the nature, intensity, and unpredictability of disturbances, American citizens are urged to exercise special caution during times when demonstrations are announced, avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring or crowds are forming, avoid road travel, and maintain a low profile. Curfews can be announced with little or no advance notice. American citizens are urged to consult media sources and to register with the Embassy (see instructions below) for current security information.

Crime in the Kathmandu Valley, including violent crime and harassment of women, continues to rise. Police resources to combat such crime are limited. Police have reported a number of robberies by armed gangs, sometimes resulting in injury to the victims. The U.S. Embassy reports an increase in crime in some popular tourist areas such as Pokhara and the Thamel area of Kathmandu. Visitors to Nepal should practice good personal security when moving about, especially at night, and avoid walking alone after dark, carrying large sums of cash, or wearing expensive jewelry. In several reported incidents tourists have had their belongings stolen from their rooms while they were asleep. Solo trekkers have been robbed by small groups of young men, even on some popular trails. Some Young Communist League members extort money from foreign tourists along some popular trekking routes, and have threatened physical violence to Nepalis and non-Nepalis alike for violating localized strikes.

Travel via road in areas outside of the Kathmandu Valley is hazardous due to erratic drivers and frequent road accidents. Public transportation, such as microbuses and tuk tuks, should be avoided because they are often overfilled, driven unsafely, and mechanically unsound. American citizens should use taxis with meters or negotiate a price with the taxi driver before starting a trip.

Most U.S. official travel outside the Kathmandu Valley, including by air, requires specific clearance by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. As a result, The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens may be limited. Active duty U.S. military and Department of Defense contractors must obtain a country clearance for official and personal travel to Nepal.

The U.S. Government’s designation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organization under Executive Order 13224 and its inclusion on the “Terrorist Exclusion List” pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act remain in effect. These two designations make Maoists excludable from entry into the United States without a waiver and bar U.S. citizens from transactions such as contribution of funds, goods, or services to, or for the benefit of, the Maoists.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today was a business day so we rented a motorbike and visited the Women's Skills Development Project production center. This is the place where the women learn to loom the fabric for those great purses! We met with RamKali, the Executive Director and their current designer, a young woman from Japan. What a great day!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This is the view I woke up to the first morning in Pokhara. It's Machupuchere or Fishtail Mountain, part of the Annapurna Range. Yeah, it's breathtaking.

So Sudip decides we should rent a boat and row over to a trailhead on the other side of the lake....only he fails to tell me that he knows nothing about rowing about a boat so I get to be the rudder. We laugh hysterically the entire way across the lake. After the hike up, we land at the World Peace Pagoda. From there we have great views of the Annapurna Range, the lake and the town of Pokhara. Nice.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On our second attempt we successfully rode the tourist bus six hours to Pokhara. We trekked up and down the road looking into the souvenier shops and then rewarded ourselves with a beer at a restaurant by Lake Fewa.

Pokhara is trash- and smog-free…at least the tourist area…and that is way more than you can say about Thamel in Kathmandu.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s a rare thing for me to be excited about getting up at 5am but I was today because it’s trekking time. Our bus was scheduled to depart for Pokhara at 7am so the 5am rising allowed me enough time to finish packing (which I did in the dark – load shedding) and walk the 40 minutes to the tourist bus park on Kanti Path. Sudip met me on Lazimpat and we were both happy to be getting out of the city.

Only thing, what bus? The buses didn’t show up that morning because the valley was under a bandh. A bandh is a very big transportation strike to the exponential power. Nothing moves (except feet and bicycles) and everything closes. If you try to drive you risk getting a brick thrown through your car window and if you keep your storefront open you risk the same fate for your plate glass windows. However, some of the people who own stalls or sell their wares on the street at Indra Chowk or some other alleyway or square are usually left alone. These events are designed to gain UN, foreigner, media and official attention so the main streets are where the action is.

Today’s bandh is due to the murder of two youths by, allegedly, members of the YCL – the Maoist youth force. The families and many supporters are protesting to demand that the Maoist led government take full responsibility for those responsible and provide reparations for all the loss and damages incurred. Really sad. But at least now in Nepal, the deaths of two young men calls forth a protest instead of silent resignation which is the case in so many other nations.

While heading down Kanti Path to Lazimpat, we encountered the live protests and I took a few shots along the way. For those of you who worry, don’t, we stayed safely out of the way and these shots are taken with the zoom. The protest was fronted by the security force and what we observed was angry but peaceful. We did see the bus that had its windows taken out and you can see the shattered glass on the street in the photos. There were some injuries but none that we witnessed.

It’s a surreal thing to witness for a contemporary American but makes me think about our own civil rights movement and the protests that some of my generation were involved in. More surreal still, Kathmandu and especially Kanti Path with not a vehicle in sight.

Never ones to let a little bandh spoil our day, Sudip and I decide that since this officially day 1 of our trek that we are going to trek Freak Street. We left the bus stop (you know, the one without the bus)and headed for some power breakfast at Kumari's Restaurant. Sudip is staring unhappily at his fake cappuccino which was really quite dilute mocha. I, on the otherhand, am pretty happy with my bowl of muesli/fruit/curd.

Afterwards, we walked to Indra Chowk and down Asan Tole for some “window” shopping. There are small shops and stalls but it is also a street market where the Nepali people shop for fresh veggies, spices, clothes and almost anything. I think it is a requisite part of the Kathmandu experience for everyone who visits.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tomorrow I'm (finally) leaving Kathmandu behind to go trekking with Sudip! Knowing Sudip is true friendship bliss.

We are heading to Pokhara and will trek from there. Pokhara is also home of the Women's Skills Development Project and we plan to visit the factory and talk about handicraft stuff. Plus, I have several orders to fill!

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited!

On Sunday, at the invitation my new friend, Prabin (photo above), I attended a concert of the Kathmandu International Music Society held at the British School. The first performance was a jazz trio. The young Nepali drummer was amazing. In the second half an amazing Australian soprano sang several classical tunes. She works for an NGO here. Prabin organized the event and did a great job! Lots of culture in Kathmandu, Nepali and otherwise.

On my walk home, I was blessed with this sight. I think it is the Langtang range. This is the view that alluded Carly, Molly and I all summer.

I'd like to introduce you to my landlady, Janisha, who is a 28 year old force of nature. She visits me many mornings with a cup of tea. She is awesome! In this photo we are about to go out to dinner with her spiritual advisor, Meetra. Of course, this is him in the next photo. Meetra translates documents from Nepali into English for the Embassy and other groups. In his spare time, he practices living in the moment and advises others. Innnnteressssting!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One piece of advice that you receive when you are new to a foreign country is "never turn down an invitation." I would add to that: "pay attention to serendipitous moments" and connections that lead to connections than lead to connections when you are working in a country the size of Arkansas.

As I was walking (hmmm...I'm beginning to notice that all good things happend to me when I am walking here...pay attention America!!!) through Thamel last weekend I had a conversation with a very cute 8 year old girl named Sophie. Later that day, as I was walking back home, Sophie and her Mom were walking in front of me and her Mom invited me to dinner and asked for my mobile number. Later her husband called me (because of better English), to set up the dinner. As it turns out, he is a pianist and has invited me to a concert tomorrow (Sunday) at the British school...jazz and classical. Last evening I met Prabin for refreshments and found him to be wonderful company. We talked music and politics and culture and lifestyles.

Did I mention that I love Nepal?

Visit with Indra

Today I am very lucky because one of my favorite things happened...a visit with Indra!!!

I have been suffering with a cold from the last 3-4 days (as has Sudip, Janesha and everyone else I know!) but decided to get out and walk to Thamel to the wireless cafe to catch up on email. Luckily I ran in to Raju and Indra as they were entering the READ Nepal office so I came inside to work here.

Indra and I had a "brainstorming" session about ideas to help the people of Nepal. It was GREAT!!!

By the way, here is the site of another great NGO working in Nepal: http://www.chessnepal.org.np/ Indra worked with them and also Heifer project sites before coming to READ.

The other fun thing we did today was to set up Indra's blog: indrabhujel.blogspot.com
Teaching blog development...another form of public service? ;-)

I’m here in Nepal trying on the dream: a chance to blend my love of art, craft, women and empowerment by exploring and working with women’s craft cooperatives. This photo has two cups of tea (Nepali milk tea) and not Three Cups of Tea like the bestselling book but the principles are the same. I had been sitting in at the retail storefront of Manakamana Handicraft Udyog (factory in Nepalese) and chatting with Krishna Sedhain, owner. For those of you who bought the wonderful felt bags, scarfs and purses from me upon my return, you’ll remember that I discovered this little store because Krishna’s laundry is upstairs and that is where I took my dirty clothes this summer.

Annnnnyhow, Krishna and I shared the prerequisite tea before business sitting on the little stools that are ubiquitous in Nepal. (I mean UBIQUITOUS.) This time I am excited that not only am I purchasing items and filling orders, I am creating new designs that the women will then produce. Also on this trip, I will be visiting the factory (ouch, can I call it production center please) to meet the women and assess the environment. I’ll file a report on that trip later.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Here are a couple of photos of my apartment in the Baluwatar neighborhood of Kathmandu. I’m about 2 minutes from the READ Nepal office. Compared to the Basantapur/Freak Street area – it’s upscale and quiet. Compared to my space in Himalaya’s Guest House – it’s huge. I live in back of my landlord’s house and though called an apartment it’s really a small house: 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and kitchen (although I only have a gas burner), dining room, living room and sitting area. It’s almost too much, really. But before you think I’ve gone too bourgeoisie this time around, please note that my shower spews only rusty water and has only two temperatures: scalding and ice cold. We still have load shedding (blackouts) 4 evenings a week, and of course there is no internet access. The ambient temperature is controlled by how widely I open my windows. So far it’s been Indian Summer here (warmer than Little Rock) so it’s been OK but we will see how I fare when the temperatures drop.

On Sunday I visited the technical center for the Association of Craft Producers (ACP), a local private (no NGO support), not for profit professional organization providing design, market and technical support services for low income craft producers. I was taken on a tour by Gabish Joshi, a wonderful young man who serves as the trading coordinator. He leads a team who manage all of the exports.
Most of the craft production occurs in the villages but the 43,000 sq.ft. technical center prepares raw materials, develops and tests prototypes, and provide space for the finishing of crafts. ACP maintains a full-time staff of 60 and employs over 200 producers in 30 groups in 15 districts around Nepal.
Since it’s inception in 1984, ACP has shifted from an NGO-based development approach to one that is more aligned with how the private sector works. This is very closely aligned with the ideals and values in my philosophy.
Three cool things about ACP:
1. Design Quality. Meera Bhatterai, Executive Director, has focused the organization on this and it is clearly evident in the products for sale at Dhukuti, their retail outlet in the Kupandole area of Patan.
2. The Environment. ACP is committed to protecting Nepal’s environment and has taken a number of proactive steps: waste water treatment center; rain water catchment system; change from kerosene-based to water-based printing inks; use of recycled paper; smoke free work environment; and, the avoidance of using hardwood or plastic in production.
3. Producer Benefits. ACP has provided more than 1200 producers with not only increased income but benefits as well: savings program; performance rewards; workplace cafeteria; continuing education; education allowance; loans; counseling; paid maternity leave; clothing, medical and household allowances; an emergency fund; and professional membership and fellowship.

Pretty cool, huh? Wait until you see the stuff they make…

Friday, November 7, 2008

What's Up in KTM?

I am very happy to be back in Kathmandu!
The weather here is like Indian summer - blue skies, no rain, no humidity.

I am living in a large 2 bedroom, 2 bath apt. behind the home of a family. It also has a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, garden...all for less than the guesthouse last time.

I am in Baluwatar which is a more upscale area of Kathmandu. I am only 2 minutes walk from the READ Nepal office so I can put in some volunteer hours with them easily. For now I am scheduled to teach (?) some conversational business English to them week after next. I think this is funny.

Next week I am going trekking with Sudip into the Langtang region to visit his home village. I'm pretty pumped about that.

I could not have a better friend in the world than Sudip Lama. There are no words.
A true friend is someone who has your best interests at heart and he is certainly this for me.

We have been working on the handicraft business and also the jumpstarting of his trekking business. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun!

Cheers to All!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

(Wish I had a photo but no cameras allowed in embassy!)

This morning (evening your time), I attended the election watch party at the American Embassy in Kathmandu.
There were about 250 Americans and embassy employees (Nepali) watching the results come in.

It was solidly an Obama crowd and with every state called the room echoed with cheers and applause. We were served a breakfast buffet and most of us had a beer in our hands (at 9am) when Barack gave that moving speech.
The young event photographer (American, about 28 years old) had to put down his camera because he was crying so hard. There was hardly a dry eye in the house and it was great to be there.

I have never been so proud to be an American and while I miss being there with all of you it is great to be in a country where the people are celebrating right along with us.

Tonight I'm attending an Obama celebration at Mike's Breakfast restaurant - it's a place started by an American Peace Corps volunteeer about 20 years ago.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back Home in Nepal

I've arrived safely after a LONG plane ride or two.
Sudip met in the airport.
I have a wonderful 2 BR 2 bath apt. with a kitchen, dining room, sitting room and patio with a garden.

I am at the Himalaya Java internet cafe and forgot my elecronics converter so my battery is about to go.

It is noisy, smoggy, crazy, beautiful, strange Kathmandu.

I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO happy to be here!

More later...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Unlike most American airports that roll up the runways at around 10pm, the Doha, Qatar airport is a bustle of activity as I write this at 2am. The terminal is still brightly lit as flights arrive and depart here all through the night.

It’s not lost on me that tonight is Halloween and I am spending my time assigning all of the costumes that parade before me to their appropriate nation or ethnic group. Even though this is my third time here, I am struck that this is the most ethnically diverse population I have seen in any airport. I am pretty good at distinguishing the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and South Asians, but sometimes have a hard time knowing is someone is Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi or Nepali. I can usually tell the sub-Saharan Africans from those in the North and can discern most Muslims, of any nationality, by their dress. There is something oddly sensual about the women in their burkhas or some in other robes where only their eyes are visible. I think it has to do with the way the cloth floats around them when they walk and the promise of what lies underneath. The Westerners are easy to identify as they travel around in pods wearing their trekking clothes.

During my total 10 hours (*sigh*) layover I have only seen 3 other people using a laptop and very few talking on their cellphones. What in the world are they doing with their time? Most are talking and laughing with their companions.

There’s a McDonald’s like playground and the noises of the children cannot be drowned out by the overhead flight announcements.

There is only one shop in the whole airport - duty free. It's filled with booze, cigarettes, chocolate, perfume and electronics for sale. No books. No magazines.

On to Nepal!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The realities of life - school, commitments and cost of airfare - have me arriving in Kathmandu just after the main festival season. I've missed Dashain and now I'm arriving in Kathmandu on Saturday on the heels of Tihar or Deepawali, Nepal's festival of lights.

Tihar honors Laxmi, goddess of wealth, and prayers are offered up for prosperity. During the five day festival, days are set aside to honor man's best friend, dog, and for sisters to honor their brothers. Cleanliness or brightness are also celebrated and reminscent of the farolitas in Latino culture, every home is decorated with oil lamps, butter candles and lights. At night, the city sparkles and on the third day of the festival, Laxmi alights her steed, and owl, to tour the world and assess the celebration from above.

I'm hoping that Kathmandu will be still be glittering for one more night, just for me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've been checking into progress made by the new government while I was away and the information I've dug up is not encouraging...

Six months have passed since the monarchy was abolished and the Federal Republic of Nepal was established. Four months were spent forming the government, and two more were taken up with the budget and the celebration of the festival of Dashain. The government has formed neither a high-level political council nor a special committee for integration and rehabilitation of the PLA. There has been no investigation into persons who disappeared during the 10 year conflict. Their families have been waiting almost two years for information. Lands grabbed during the insurgency have not been returned to their rightful owners. The new government is far behind schedule in drafting the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the people of Nepal go without the basic services of life: safe water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare, quality education...

Friday, October 24, 2008

VOTING! Yes We Can!

Today I joyfully voted for Barack Obama for President of the United States. Tonight I heard President Clinton speak at an Obama rally in North Little Rock. Pretty awesome day.

I voted "early" as I will be in Nepal on election day. So far this week, in Pulaski County alone, over 28,000 have stood in line for up to three hours to cast their vote.

As I stood in line to vote, I reflected - out loud to those around me - on the historic constituent assembly elections in Nepal this year. Some people walked for hours and others arrived at the polls before dawn to ensure that their voice was heard. Others braved incidents of intimidation and threats of violence. High voter turnout - approximately 60% of the 17.6 million voters - reflected the desire of the Nepali people to take part in a democratic process and their hope the elections would bring peace, stability and prosperity to Nepal.

Importantly, over 6 million of women voted in Nepal with hopes, for the first time in their lifetime, for better representation and a more promising future for their children. For the first time, women in Nepal have a chance for a voice in how their traditionally patriarchal country is run.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Mikel Dunham–photographer-has passed out digital cameras to Tibetan refugees living in Nepal, asking them to record their everyday lives. He hopes to put together a book, but in the meantime you can see some of the photos on his site (above.) Enjoy!

As a teaser, I've included one of the photos from his website with credit where credit is due, of course!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On December 7, 2004 when he quit teaching and started cycling…across Nepal…and then the world. The 32-year-old Nepalese has already covered 32 countries, and intends to cover 113 by the end of his world tour in 2013. He is currently in Kenya for three weeks before moving on to Tanzania (keep your eyes peeled James Mitchell!)

Why did Lok abandon his teaching career and start cycling? To promote peace and universal brotherhood after conflict erupted in Nepal. Even though his role as a teacher was important, he felt that his mission for peace could do more good for his country.

"I've always felt that although we are geographically and culturally divided, we are all human." To Lok, peace is the most important thing in the world. "The whole world needs long lasting peace and if we can plant seeds of peace in our people and governments, every human as well as all living things will surely get free, fearless, meaningful and holy live."

"So let's not give priority to theft, robbery, kidnap, rape, murder and terrorism."

"Courage keeps me going," he says of his worst experiences in a journey which has also been characterized by robbery in Thailand, Malaysia and Sudan.

Mr Lok's bicycle has three flags at any time: one for peace, another for Nepal and the third for the country he is visiting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This week I'll receive my first shipment of handicraft goods from Nepal. I'm morphing into an entrepreneur, along with my friend Sudip, and this is our first transatlantic, heck transmultiplecontinental, transaction!

As you can see I'm making up my new words here...it's what entrepreneurs do.

The good news is that I've sold all of the felt items and fiber purses, EVERYTHING!, that I brought back with me from Nepal! I've ordered more so the business can participate in mission market at my church in November. My friends (I have the BEST friends) are going to staff the table for me and make more money for the women of Nepal! Sudip did the shopping and sent the package my way on Saturday.

I'll keep you posted on the arrival and the contents of the entrepreneurship box!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Katie and I are having fun here in Birmingham on all of our adventures: grocery shopping a Publix - real grocery store (Kroger, hello!); cooking together; sharing wine preferences; finding detours around ever-present I65 traffic; taking me to World Market (WalMart, pleeeeeeeeeease let World Market into Arkansas), and today, hiking at Oak Mountain State Park. Tonight, we'll watch SNL, and maybe a movie or two, together.

Nepal, however, even with Katie near, is not far from my mind. I leave a week from Tuesday. I'm looking foward to my treks with Sudip and us working on our projects together. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit while I am there and I'll try to run into him. Also, the Asian Mountain Biking Championships open there on November 6th.

Mainly, I can't wait to see my friends there and hear "Namaste!" a hundred times each day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Today is the first day of International Day on the Elimination of Poverty. UNESCO celebrates the right of every human being to:
*Food, Housing and Clothing
*Safe Environment
*Health and Social Services
*Education and Training
*Decent Work
*Benefits of Science and Technology
*Cultural Identity
*Peace and Security
*Access to Justice
*Freedom of Expression and Participation

In Nepal, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has appealed to political parties, civil society and international community to work in coordinated manner to eliminate poverty from Nepal.

In a message he delivered on the occasion of , PM Dahal said, "I want to remind all that the policies and programs and budget presented by the current government that I am leading also has put poverty alleviation as top priority."

He expressed full commitment to uplift the backward and disadvantaged communities in the country.

PM Dahal also reiterated his commitment to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

"For any country, political stability and peace is the foundation for development," he said adding that the job of institutionalizing peace was, therefore, very important. "Judicious investment and distribution of public resources and services are the first duty of any state in the absence of which poverty-free country cannot be built," he stated.

The slogan of this year's international day against poverty is Lets Stand Up Against Poverty and Do Something.

For Nepal, the United States and the whole world I wish less rhetoric and more action to build the infrastructure needed for development work to succeed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Breakfast with Heifer

This morning I rolled out of bed at an uncharacteristically early hour for a very good reason - breakfast with my friends from Heifer Nepal! Mahendra Lohani, VP of Asia/South Pacific for Heifer International joined me, Neena Joshi and Tirtha Regmi, Sr. Program Managers, and Shubh Mahato, Nepal Country Director, for fellowship and discuss buiding the partnership between READ Nepal and Heifer.

I'm really excited because, upon my return to Nepal I'll be able to travel out into the field to one the Heifer Project sites. The Heifer Nepal folks are great people doing great work and I am happy to have a friendship with them. Thanks, Mahendra!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ok, so now that we have established (see previous post) that Nepal is my real home and I am only a missionary here in the U.S., I can admit that I can't wait to get away from here and back to Nepal. If Katie were here I'm sure that my feelings would be different but she isn't so...

In an attempt to cure my longing for Nepal I wandered over to the Asian Market in the same strip mall as T.J. Maxx. Demonstrating a total misnomer, the Asian Market is filled with things used in Indian and Nepali dishes. Well, OK, so they are in SOUTH Asia. But still...

In honor of Molly Brunkow and our love for it, I bought cubes of paneer cheese and some spicy sauce to go with it. How that works is that you stir fry the cheese and then add the sauce. I also bought some crunchy stuff that is the Indian version of Chex Party Mix except a whole lot spicier. This is the stuff that is in Mixed Chat, my favorite dish at Anmol Sweets, the Indian restaurant chain in Nepal. Mixed Chat is yogurt with fruit and this crunchy stuff in it. Carly and I had it and kept marveling at all of the goodness in one dish. So this morning for breakfast I had vanilla yogurt with strawberries and blueberries and the crunchy stuff mixed in. It was one creamy, crunchy, sweet and spicy dish from heaven!

Yesterday, as I was telling a friend - one that I hadn't yet bored with my tales of love for Nepal - about how open, generous and downright magical the Nepalese people are and she therefore reached this conclusion: Nepal must be your true home and you are only a missionary to the United States.

Man, I think she is one smart woman!

Friday, October 10, 2008

My friends in Nepal have been celebrating Dashain, their biggest holiday and festival. In importance it is on par with our December holiday season and New Year. Interestingly, the colors red (tika) and greem (jamra)are important in celebrating Dashain.

The 15-day festival falls around September-October, after the rice harvest. This festival is known for emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People will return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together. It's HOME for the HOLIDAYS, indeed!

On the first day, called Ghatasthapana, a special worship room is set up and used to worship the Astha-Matrikas (tantrik goddesses) as well as the Nava Durgas (the 9 durga goddesses), to whom the festival is consecrated. Married women will say the mantras for the next fifteen days, and guard the goddesses. Barley is sowed on big earthern pots which have a coating of cow dung. These seeds will sprout in ten days. The sprouts, which symbolize a good harvest, will be decoratively placed on the heads of family members later on in the festival as a blessing.

And here's the part that is VERY challenging to me...

The eighth day, Asthami, is the day of sacrifices. Goddess temples all over the Kathmandu Valley receive sacrifices, ranging from goats and buffaloes to ducks and chickens. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the goddesses. This meat is taken home and cooked as "prasad", or food blessed by divinity. This food is offered, in tiny leaf plates, to the household gods, then distributed amongst the family. Eating this food is thought to be auspicious. (Auspicious is a BIG word in Nepali culture.)
Sacrifices continue on Navami, the ninth day. Families will visit various temples around the Kathmandu Valley. On the tenth day, "Dashami," a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermillion will be prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "tika". Elders put this on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with fertility and abundance in the upcoming year. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders will give "dakshina", or a small amount of money, to younger relatives at this time. The tika continues for five days, during which time people also gather to play cards around massive amounts of food and drink.

In several parts of Nepal, Dashain is the only time of the year when people receive a set of new clothing. Likewise, in poorer families, the animal sacrifice was eagerly anticipated since it might be the only animal protein the family would eat all year. This may be true in certain parts of Nepal where food is in low supply, but is less so in the cities. In general, the tradition of sacrifice is lessening with the easy availability of meat for daily consumption.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

From Yahoo! News:
A Yeti Airlines plane crashed Wednesday while landing in the Mt. Everest region during foggy weather in Nepal, killing 14 tourists from Germany and Switzerland and three other people.

The plane took off from the capital, Katmandu, and hit a boundary fence while landing at Lukla airport, about 185 miles to the east, said Mohan Adhikari, general manager of the Katmandu airport.

Adhikari said 18 people were on board. The crash killed 12 German and two Swiss tourists, as well as two Nepalese crew members, he said. The identity of one passenger killed in the crash was not immediately known.

One Nepalese pilot survived the crash and was flown to Katmandu for medical treatment, Adhikari said.

Dozens of flights land in Lukla each day and Yeti Airlines has a good reputation.
Looks like the weather was a major factor.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

War on Sex and Liquor

Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam has declared a "War on Sex & Liquor" in Kathmandu.

Apparently, there is a robust sex industry extending out from the dance bars in Thamel - the tourist district next to my neighborhood. I didn't stumble upon any such places while I was there, but I was rarely out late at night either. Who knew?

For last Spring semester's American Grand Strategy course I did my policy paper on Trafficing in Persons so I DID know that many Nepali women are trafficked to India for sex work, but there is very little research done on prostitution in Nepal itself.

The subsistence nature of large parts of the rural economy meant that there was no mass market for commercial sex until comparatively recently. Economic development and urbanization and the increasing integration of Nepal within global consumer cultures has altered this. Also, the 10 years of the rural violence associated with the Maoist insurgency forced migration to Kathmandu and women into the sex trade in order to survive.

Critics compare Gautam’s move as another populist measure like Maoist’s resistance to Miss Nepal Pageant. But, Gautam comes from a moderate communist party UML which advocates a form of democratic socialist ideals. Some hotel entrepreneurs, too, criticized Gautam’s strict orders to the police to shut down all bars and discos by 11 in the evening as dictatorial, fearing such actions would be detrimental to tourism industry. However, the Thamel shopkeepers have issues a press statement in favor of the ban.

New Kumari

Here's little Matina Shakya after being appointed as the new living goddess or Kumari, with her mother Sunita Shakya in Kathmandu. She's a big three years old.

I'll see her when I return to Kathmandu as she'll be living, away from her family, in the ornate 15th century temple in Durbar Square. She regularly appears at a carved window to greet foreign visitors who are not allowed to see her in the upstairs chamber.

In a break with tradition, she was chosen by the President instead of priests following the abolishment of the monarchy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

As yet another testatment to the wisdom and good taste of my friends in Little Rock, they demonstrated their love for the art and handicrafts of Nepal by buying almost everything I brought back with me from my summer trip: felt purses and scarves from Manakamana; women purses from the Women's Skills Development Project in Pokhara, thangka paintings, Tibetan bead earrings, and beautiful cards made from Lokta paper!

A special shout out goes to fellow artists Judy Henderson, Jann Greenland, Michele Fox and Susan Strauss who participate in the sale and contributed a significant percentage of their take to the women of Nepal.

I'm excited that they gave enough money to so that I can recycle some back to the women's cooperatives, begin work on a website for Manakamana, pay my great friend Sudip for his work on the ground in Nepal, and purchase some more products to keep this great cycle of giving going.

I return to Nepal on November 1st and am there for six weeks on another buying and business exploration trip. Stay tuned for the date of the next sale of fabulous Nepali products!

Friday, October 3, 2008

The number of tourist arrivals in Nepal in the first nine months of 2008 rose by 2% over the same period last year, officials said yesterday.

The Nepal Tourism Board said the negative growth seen from April to July had reversed and the arrivals in September were up by 1% as the total number of visitors arriving by air from January through the end of last month hit 257,181. "Tourists arrivals from the United States of America and Canada increased by 13% in September in comparison to the same month last year," it added.

Count me as part of the "surge."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.

A most happy and auspicious Dashain Festival to all of my friends near and far bringing you much joy and good fortune!!!

To learn more about Dashain, click the title to the article.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Winds of Change???

The new government of Nepal, led by the Maoist party, is beginning to make it's mark. It's far too early to draw finite conclusions but there are some indications that the wind of change are blowing in my home away from home.

The government is making efforts to deport undocumented Tibetans for the very first time.

Members of the Maoist army have entered the parliament building adorned with automatic weapons in order to provide 'security' to constituent assembly members.

The Miss Nepal pageant has been cancelled following complaints that the pageant discriminated against women of darker skin and shorter stature.

There has been a crackdown in activities in dance bars, etc.

The state-run Trust Corporation, overseeing cultural affairs, appointed the new Kumari, or living goddess. In the past, Kumari was chosen by the head priest of the monarchy, now abolished.

Government officials have reached out to the rogue government of Iran to establish "closer" relations.

An infusion of money from China into the Nepalase Army.

The launch of another armed youth force, this time by the Nepali Congress, to join the YCL (Maoist) and one by the UML.

My friends in Nepal are not yet experiencing an improvement in basic services such as sanitation, petrol availability, road conditions, or healthcare.

Stay tuned.

One Month to Nepal!!!

I'm only one month away from landing again in Kathmandu! I'm sooooooooo happy! During this visit I will be able to finally go trekking and see things outside the Kathmandu Valley. I can't wait to see my friends again!

This week is my sale: Shop the Himalayas for the Holidays (without the jetlag!) I'm selling the purses, jewelry and other things I brought back from Nepal in support of the Women's Skills Development Project and the Manakamana Handicraft Cooperative. I hope it goes well so I can take some money back to the people.

Friday, September 12, 2008


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Open House October 2,4,5

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In the U.S., Hurricane Gustav came ashore with less force and surge than Katrina and the levees in New Orleans held. Many are still without electricity but, for the most part, the damage was less than expected.

Gustav, downgraded to a tropical depression, moved north and has taken up residence over Arkansas. So far, the rainfall estimates are around 7-8 inches in the last 24 hours. That is a LOT of rain. Around 90,000 Arkansans are without power tonight and there are flash flood warnings in many counties. Lots of inconvenience.

Meanwhile in southern Nepal, 60,000 people have lost their homes. In the Bihar state of Inndia, 550,000 people are displaced and another 300,000 still await rescue. The resucue, using mostly small boats, is preceding at a rate of only 25,000 per day.

The Nepal Red Cross is coordinating rescue and relief efforts in my home away from home. Interesting but not surprising, you cannot donate online directly. Another example of how much infrastructure support is needed in Nepal.

If you are interested to donate Nepal Red Cross Society right away, then click on the follwing link to DOWNLOAD THE DONATION FORM and send it to our email address dharma@nrcs.org / fundraising@nrcs.org , then you can deposit the amount in our Bank account 18-0002089- 58 of Standard Chartered Bank.

If required we will come to collect the amount in your given address.

We thank you all for your kind cooperation!

Download the Form in MS Word format

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tonight America holds her collective breath as Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 storm, barrels through the Gulf of Mexico straight toward the city of New Orleans. It's the third anniversary, to the day, of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster to ever touch the U.S. The severe flooding that nearly destroyed that uniquely beautiful city was caused by an inadequately maintained levee, or dam, system. Most blame inadequate funding by the federal government for the breaches, the severity of the flooding and damage, and the loss of life.

Halfway around the world in a place near and dear to my heart, another natural disaster with a man-made component is unfolding. A dam on the Kosi River in eastern Nepal ruptured sending floodwaters into the surrounding area and south into India.
The goverment of Nepal has already apologized to India for not taking adequate measures to maintain the dam.

Already, at least 70 people have died in India and Nepal and that number is expected rise. More than 250,000 homes have been destroyed and a total of 3 million people affected. More rain is expected and rescuers are racing to reach those affected before the river rises again. In a reminder of New Orleans, people are being rescued from the rooftops of their homes by small boats and relocated to camps. With the lack of drinking water and food, UNICEF has noted the rise in the cases of diarrhea and other infectious diseases.

From the people of America to the people of Nepal and India, our thoughts and prayers are with you. We ask that you pray for us as well as Hurricane Gustav approaches our coastline.

Friday, August 29, 2008

One of the positive things I noticed while visiting Nepal was the large number of newspapers, websites and blogs writing and publishing open critique of the events as they unfolded. People openly discussed their opinions about the waning days of the monarchy, the government in transition, and the effect on the people. Freedom of the press is a hallmark of participatory government, or dare I say, democracy.

Now, less than a few days following the swearing in of the Prime Minister, Maoist leader Prachanda, a major new publishing company has been formed. The new company, the Nhu Republic Media, will bring out Nhu Nepal, Nepali daily, and the New Republic, English daily in about three months.The new company plans to pump 400 million rupees into the economy over the next five years.

The company is being formed by editors who recently resigned from Kantipur Publications.

The editor of the Nepali daily will be Narayan Wagle (author of the award-winning fiction Palpasa's Cafe) who resigned from the editorship of Kantipur, Nepal’s largest daily, a few days ago. The editor of the English daily will be Ameet Dhakal who resigned from the Kathmandu Post, Nepal’s prominent English daily, a few days ago.

The editors wished success of Kantipur terming that as “the best newsroom in the country”. They said they wanted a strong and vibrant newspaper in Kantipur so that they could compete with a strong team and paper. They said they will be focusing mainly in the Kathmandu markets in the beginning- at least the first year- and go outside valley depending on how they perform in Kathmandu.

“We will be driven by journalistic principles,” he said and said that commercial priorities would be second to the newspapers.

Wow, putting journalistic principles over making money? America, are you listening?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nepalese prime ministers traditionally visit India after they take office.

However, this Prime Minister, Maoist Prachanda, visited China first. He attended the closing ceremony of Beijing Olympics and met top leaders.

India has a major influence on Nepal's political and economical matters, while China keeps its distance.

Nepal gets all its oil products and most of its consumer goods from India. Landlocked Nepal also has to depend on India to move cargo and passenger traffic.

The Prime Minister said not to worry. He plans to keep an "equi-distant" relationship between India and China.


One of the major platforms of the Maoist Party was gender equity and inclusiveness. I mean, they made a big deal, and rightly so, about how the monarchy and the old feudal system in Nepal kept women out of the ranks of the powerful.

Prachanda, the new Prime Minister, has now appointed the new set of Ministers - like our Cabinet in the U.S. Executive Branch. There are NO women ministers.

Where are the Women???

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The monsoon season in Nepal this year has been particularly disastrous for people living to the southeast of Kathmandu. Yes, it's a natural disaster. But like the Katrina flooding of New Orleans, part of the blame for the severity of the disaster lies in the hands of the government. The dams and levees there were in bad shape.

The Embassy of Nepal, Washington DC appeals to all friends of Nepal to contribute funds to support relief efforts for the people affected by the recent flooding by Saptakoshi River in south east Nepal.

The flooding has severely affected more than 50,000 people who urgently need support for their daily livelihood and protect their lives from diseases. Not only government organizations, but also non-governmental organizations, people from private sector and civil societies have been actively involved in the rescue efforts.

Members of the Embassy Staff have decided to contribute seven days salary to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund as a token of assistance to the victim of flooding to help immediate relief efforts. The Embassy of Nepal urges all to contribute generously to help relief endeavors of the government of Nepal.

Looks like when I return to Nepal I can count on a lot more walking. Very good for my health!!!

Edited from a story by Tripti Lahiri in Yahoo! News

In fuel-starved Nepal, filling tank is a full day's job

How to get hold of petrol is one of the hottest topics in Nepal ever since its sole supplier, India, began refusing to sell fuel on credit a year ago to Nepal's state-run fuel monopoly, which owes it millions of dollars.
The ensuing shortage has led to rationing and pump queues of several kilometres.
The three men standing by their cars as night fell peered into the little white taxi, and recognising the Nepali cab driver as a friend, hissed, "Need petrol? We know where you can get some."
The driver slowed, and said he would return later for the few litres of black market petrol that would save him from losing an entire day queueing.
"I parked the truck in this line at 7:00 pm yesterday," said food transporter Krishna Bahadur Shrestha, 40, who was number 56 in a queue for diesel.
"They will only give me 10 or 15 litres. I won't be able to run my truck for even a full day on that."
In recent months -- despite a hike in government-set prices in June -- the supply has shrunk even more as rising crude costs that India passes on to Nepal have further limited how much the landlocked Himalayan country can buy in cash.
But the Nepali government continues to subsidise pump prices for fear of widespread protests in the country, still navigating a two-year-old peace process that saw Maoist rebels lay down their arms after a decade of war.
The policy has led the Nepal Oil Corporation into a sink-hole of almost 230 million dollars of debt -- and counting.
In July it was only able to import half what it needed, which it sold at a loss of 11 million dollars. Most of that was from diesel, which sells at a loss of 40 US cents a litre.
"Our purchasing price is higher than our selling price," said Mukunda Prasad Dhungel, deputy director of Nepal Oil Corporation's fuel supply and distribution department.
"The price is fixed by government. We can't do much," he said, adding the government needs to overhaul its fuel policy.
Maoist leader Prachanda, sworn in this month as the country's new prime minister following the abolition of Nepal's monarchy, has promised to tackle food and fuel shortages gripping impoverished Nepal -- but has not said how.
Meanwhile, Nepali workers devote multiple hours -- or even days -- each week to filling up. Drivers jostle to keep their spots every time the queue edges forward, while enterprising snack and water sellers flock to the lines and the captive customers.
Where possible, Nepalis try to keep their ears open for anyone who might be stockpiling some fuel to sell on the black market.
"One week ago I waited in the queue to refill the tank but when my turn came the gas station ran out of petrol. I wasted six hours of waiting," said taxi driver Bir Bahadur Lama, 48.
He eventually bought five litres from a bus driver who picked up extra fuel on a trip south to the region bordering India.
"Life is getting miserable," said Lama, who earns 103 dollars a month but owes almost twice that in monthly payments on the new taxi he bought last year.
Recently he has had to borrow from friends and family to make the payments, racking up a hefty debt.
"I think I put my money in the wrong place," said a morose Lama. "I spend more time queuing up at gas stations than waiting for customers."
Even those who don't depend directly on fuel for livelihood are suffering.
Food prices have gone up 20-30 percent in recent months, according to the UN's World Food Programme, because farmers have had to pay more to run tractors and transporters charge more to get food to markets.
"This subsidy is destroying the country," said Shiva Prasad Ghimire, president of Nepal's petroleum dealers association, which wants the government to raise prices again.
"All the development money, the money for roads, for drinking water is all going into the Nepal Oil Corporation's losses."

Where Have I Been?

I've been hanging out with Katie who returned to college this past Thursday *sigh*, and reconnecting with friends. I miss Katie ALOT already!

The other thing I've been doing is grieving Nepal. I miss my friends there SOOOOO much!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Prachanda: The challenges ahead

The elevation of Nepal's chief Maoist, the leader of the former rebels, Prachanda, to the prime ministership is something he could barely have dreamt of just three years ago.

By the early 1980s, with political parties still banned, "The Fierce One" had abandoned his job as a teacher and was operating underground as an outlaw.

Not until 2006 did he appear in public again, after the end of a decade-long Maoist insurgency that cost 13,000 lives.

Whether he retains his war name or reverts to being Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the new prime minister has a massive task ahead of him.

The euphoria surrounding the restoration of democracy two years ago; the successful elections this April; the historic end of the monarchy shortly afterwards - these have been milestones.

The last two years have been full of historic symbolism as the old Hindu kingdom became a secular republic, sweeping away all references to its past, to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

But at the same time, state authority has crumbled so much that many Nepalis are in utter despair.


A sense of anarchy prevails nationwide, so much so that mention of the phrase "the government" tends to elicit scornful sniggers.

Crime and violence have spiralled. The slightest grievance brings people onto the street to demonstrate or blockade. For example, eastern Nepal has been at a complete standstill for six days, called by transport workers in protest at the murder of a bus driver and a broad lack of security.

Not only that. The shortages of petrol, diesel, kerosene and gas are beyond measure because the authorities won't balance the financial books.

There is severe hunger in the hills. There are power cuts at the height of the rainy season. The police appear unable to do anything other than arrest demonstrating Tibetans.

The politicians including the Maoists have largely ignored all this, squabbling about ministry allocation for weeks on end and scarcely acknowledging ordinary people' problems.

Luckily most Nepalis are adept at getting on with their lives despite their rulers, so the country has not imploded.

As prime minister, Prachanda will also have to draw together a country which for the past year-and-a-half has been displaying new and worrying fissures along ethnic and regional lines.

As a man who comes from the hills but moved to the southern flatlands as a child, he is only too aware of the widening rift in the south between people of hill origin and the Madhesis -southerners ethnically close to neighbouring Indians who have been campaigning against their marginalisation since late 2006.

Although the new president and his deputy are both Madhesis, the community's sense of grievance persists.

Violence in the south-east bubbles away, with shadowy rebel or criminal groups proliferating and people dying each week.

In July a Roman Catholic priest was killed by a militant Hindu group waging what it called an "anti-Muslim campaign".

In an ethnically complex society, many more regional groups are emerging and clamouring, mostly peacefully, for inclusion.

Perhaps the biggest question is how the Maoists can transform themselves into a party of government.

'Switzerland of Asia'

After the Maoists' surprise but convincing victory in the April elections, their deputy leader admitted to having some "sleepless nights" given the prospect of running the country.

Having promised, extravagantly, to make Nepal into the "Switzerland of Asia", they have encouraged high expectations.

Nepalese traditionalists worry that the former rebels retain a totalitarian bent.

This is a party which still sports Stalin as an icon and praises him - alongside Mao, of course. It has not renounced violence.

Less than two years ago Prachanda told the BBC Nepali Service: "As a party struggling for the hard-working people, we should not torture anyone, even when someone needs to be eliminated."

Since the election, many accounts have emerged of the way Maoist cadres cheated at the ballot boxes in far-off places, and in May party members killed a businessman inside a military camp.

Yet now could also be the time when the Maoists are given a chance to prove themselves: to show they are serious about the social transformations in whose name they went to war.

They have a very strong presence in the villages, and many now long for them to be able to build on the starts they have made at eroding caste and gender discrimination.

They also promise a more equitable system of land ownership.

This will be a test of other politicians, too: of whether they can shake off their ingrained habit of trying to do down their rivals and prevent others from getting credit for change.

There are still further challenges ahead.

Many people whose near and dear ones died or disappeared during the conflict are awaiting truth and justice. They will want the authorities to provide it.

On a different matter, having a Maoist prime minister may help resolve the future of the 19,000 Maoist former combatants still in camps as part of the UN-assisted peace process.

With a new prime minister and president at last in place, one more task can also get properly under way - the writing of a new constitution by the huge assembly elected in April.

Hitherto its members have complained that the body is being marginalised by the usual coterie of establishment politicians.

There has been enough talking. The work must now begin.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' has been elected as the first prime minister of republic Nepal by securing majority votes on Friday's election.

Prachanda garnered 464 votes while the Nepali Congress members of the Constituent Assembly voted against him. According to CA chairman Subas Nemwang, 577 of the total 601 CA members took part in the election.

The three alliance partners, Maoists, UML and MJF, now have to finalize the composition of cabinet and the "Common Minimum Programme." Leaders will resume talks on Saturday.

For some interesting commentary check out the "United We Blog" link in the column on the right side of this page.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

FACT: Prachanda, the leader of Nepal's Maoist party, has filed his candidacy for the office of Prime Minister. The election is Friday.

FACT: The Maoists, and their People' Liberation Army, led a campaign of armed struggle for over a decade which led to the abolishment of Nepal's 240 year old monarchy this year.

FACT: The Maoist Party is now a political force after winning over one-third of the seats in the Consituent Assembly elections this past April.

FACT: As the leading party, the Maoists are responsible for leading the new government and the effort to draft Nepal's new Constitution.

FACT: The Maoists were shut out of the posts of President and Vice-President after failing to gain the support of the other parties.

Those are the facts. What's the buzz?

The Maoists have learned their earlier lessons and have forged an alliance with Nepal's third biggest party -- the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) -- meaning Prachanda has an excellent shot at winning the post.

With 298 votes needed to elect the prime minister by simple majority, the Maoists have 227 , while the UML has 108. Combined, they ensure the election of Prachanda. The only opposition will come from Nepal's oldest and second biggest party, the Nepali Congress. Congress, led by the current prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, will field a candidate on Friday and will not participate in the new government if they are defeated, their spokesman said. They have promised to sit on the opposition benches yet play a constructive role so that the peace process remains on track.

The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have demanded Maoist Chief Prachanda's resignation as head of the rebel guerrilla army as a pre-condition for their support. They assert that the Nepali Congress should be given control over the country's defenses if the Maoists want to win the election. CPN-UML leaders warn that if the Maoists do not return the seized property and dissolve the semi-military structure of its Young Communist League (YCL) within a specified time frame, his party may withdraw support to the government.

Urging the Nepali Congress to join the Maoist-led government, the CPN-UML will make efforts until the last moment to form a government with national consensus. However, the government formation is not expected to be delayed further regardless of Nepali Congress joining the government.

This time, my money is on Prachanda.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This is serious stuff and important to many people in Nepal.

The search has begun to replace the current Kumari, or "living goddess." She is considered by many as an incarnation of the powerful deity Kali and is revered until she menstruates, after which she must return to the family. Many Nepali Hindus and Buddhists consider Kumari as an embodiment of Taleju Bhavani, the goddess of strength.
The current Kumari, Preeti Shakya, is now 11 years old and should retire during the annual Hindu festival of Dasain in October. "If we don't change her now, we'll have to wait until next year which could be late," said Deepak Bahadur Pandey, a senior official of the state-run Trust Corporation that oversees the country's cultural matters. "If the girl starts menstruating while serving as Kumari, it is considered inauspicious," Pandey told Reuters on Tuesday. Astrologers are consulting horoscopes of candidates from Buddhist Shakya families to replace her. Traditionally it was believed that the girl's horoscope should be in harmony with that of the king of Nepal (except this is no longer a requirement since there is no longer a King!) The girl who is chosen as the new Kumari must possess 32 attributes. Not too different than the choosing of a new Dalai Lama.

Once chosen, Kumari lives in the Kumari Ghar, a wooden temple in Kathmandu's Durbar Square...right around the corner from the guesthouse where Carly and I stayed. Here's a photo of her digs. She appears at these windows during festivals and on other occasions. Foreigners are barred from the upstairs chamber of Kumari, a leading tourist attraction.
On Indra Jatra, in September, the Living Goddess in all her jeweled splendor travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which people in their thousands throng in and around the Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess.
Up until now, one of her main functions was to bless the king. This tradition began with the first king of the Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing from the Living Goddess. Now that the monarchy has been abolished and the King is no more, what's a living goddess to do?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The wonderful and hardworking people of Nepal are STILL waiting: on the chance for a better life; decent roads; available and affordable petrol; and the consistent delivery of services like healthcare, education, literacy, utilities, waste management, clean water and sanitation, and security.

Is a government that works for the people too much to ask for?

Obviously so. The political parties have been deadlocked over power sharing since the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy on May 28, and have yet to form the sorely needed new government.

Since a resolution through the consensus process has remained elusive, newly elected President Ram Baran Yadav, today, formally directed the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly to elect a new prime minister and government through a majority vote. Nepal's mainstream parties -- CPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) -- failed to meet all deadlines to reach a consensus on a Maoist-led coalition. It seems they could not agree on the distribution of the key areas of defense, home and finance.

Here's the rub:
The CPN-UML party is pushing for a government of consensus rather than one formed by a majority. CPN-UML leader K. P. Sharma Oli said his party will not join a government led by CPN-Maoist if the Nepali Congress is excluded. It seems that the major parties are unlikely to lend support to a Maoist-led government unless they part with the crucial home and defense ministries. Conversely, the CPN-Maoist party needs the support of mainstream parties to form a government since they failed to get a majority in the landmark Constituent Assembly election.

Political leaders, however, have expressed the hope that there was still place for fielding a consensus candidate for the Prime Minister's post, with formal and informal consultations continuing among the mainstream parties. A key meeting of the CPN-Maoist and Nepali Congress today failed to end the deadlock over power sharing. The former rebels have rejected the demand that they part with control over the country's defense and security. Maoist chief Prachanda promised to come up with a final decision regarding their demand after holding internal meeting of the party.

Meanwhile, the people wait in 4-14 hour petrol lines, suffer through multiple load shedding events each week, depend on India to meet a percentage of their utility needs, walk around or through piles of garbage, drink unsafe water, use poorly sanitized facilities, continue to pay to educate their children despite only a slight chance of a decent job, work long and hard hours to harvest and gather food, work overseas to send $$$ back home, and feed the blackmarket just to survive.


I'm home in Little Rock after a two-day journey on three flights. My jetlag is minimal as I was able to sleep in a hotel in Doha (compliments of Qatar Airways) and at the home of Ken and Patti Tolo in Washington, DC. It is GREAT to be here with Katie, Maggie, Mewmew! I am very much looking forward to reconnecting with friends and Clinton School classmates, faculty and staff and hearing the stories of summer adventures.

On my way home I appreciated some not so subtle changes in my activities of daily living which indicated that I was no longer in Kathmandu. Here are a few:

In Doha:

  • Cars outnumbered motorbikes 50:1.
  • No cows or goats on the road.
  • Abundant petrol.
  • I went into the hotel bathroom without my flipflops and the floor was dry.
  • I flushed the TP.
  • I brushed my teeth with water from the tap and I SWALLOWED it without fear of later gastrointestinal retribution!
  • The bathroom actually had a bathtub, and water from the showerhead did not rain down on the toilet.
  • My mattress was more than 1.5 inches thick.
    My pillow did not feel like a brick.
  • Dinner was a very decadent buffet with fresh salad and fruit...and my stomach did not knot up in worry while eating it.
  • People were NOT friendly.
  • No one said "Namaste!" (I'm beginning to appreciate what a lyrically cheery greeting that is!)
  • The TV had BBC and CNN on it.
  • The news actually reported all of the arrests of Tibetan protesters at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. (Did we ever see that on the news in KTM?)

In Washington/Bethesda:

  • Free and fast WiFi! (...which I have decided is life's greatest luxury!)
  • Strawberries, blueberries and bagels for breakfast. (No milk tea. Sorry, Carly!)
  • A full night's sleep without a chorus of barking dogs.
  • No 5am worship bells or the scent of incense wafting in through my windows.
  • A 20 minute taxi ride cost $45.
  • People were actually out jogging.
  • I ate a sandwich on whole grain bread!

Except for being with Katie, I'd trade it all away for another week in Nepal.

We'll see if my current opinion stands the test of time!