Wednesday, June 18, 2008


In America we have all lived through (in the big cities) or have heard of a sanitation worker, fireman, or other sort of strike. We have them but they are not common. In Nepal, there is some sort of strike nearly everyday. It is usually a transportation strike,and the buses, microbuses, and safa tempos do not run. Sometimes the strikes happen because of petrol prices; sometimes because of a non-transportation-related political protest; sometimes because a bus or taxi driver have been robbed, or even worse, stabbed. I take a taxi to work and have luckily found a very polite Buddhist driver that I meet each morning. Some mornings we are on our merry way then encounter a strike-related road block. It might just be the traffic police directing us another way or maybe buses parked horizontally across the road, blocking it. It might be students or young men protesting on the street corners and interfering with traffic flow at the intersections. Remember that most people go to work and other places here in Nepal via public transportation. BIG problem. I'm glad I am living here so I can begin to understand some of the reasons why, experientially, things evolve so slowly. Getting work done, running errands and accomplishing the chores of everyday life take a LOT of effort, planning and energy here in Nepal. It is tough.

There are other strikes as well. This week we have lived through a strike that prevented the garbage from being picked up for a week. This photo shows the normal amount of trash we have in our alleyway. (That is a shrine in the background. They are on every corner of Kathmandu.) In a normal week here in Kathmandu, everyone throws their trash out in the street (like American 40 years ago) and it gets swept into a pile to be picked up weekly. This week our little trash pile was three time as high and smelled pretty ripe. On the main streets the trash piles were so large that they were obstructing the curb-side lanes of traffic.
We have strikes in the Terai region, to the South, where the some of the residents block the delivery of petrol from India to Kathmandu. This also brings transportation to a near standstill.
No matter where they occur in the West or in developing countries, strikes are a form of (usually) non-violent social protest that occur when the government is not working well or is not listening to a marginalized or disempowered group of its citzenry. When you think of strikes in those terms, it is easy to see why there are so many strikes in Nepal.

As President Clinton has explained: 'The difference between Americans and the people of the developing countries is not based on intelligence, resourcefulness, energy, enthusiasm, or even money. The difference is that in America we can consistently depend on our infrastructure: garbage pickup; transportation; mail delivery; electricity; clean tap water; flushable toilets; police and fire protection; offices and stores being open as advertised; delivery of food and other items to the stores; open schools (schools were closed for three weeks earlier in June because textbook printing was behind); and on and on.
I think I am beginning to get it.


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