Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Nepal

Posted by Andy Hockley on 3 March, 2008

Over the course of the last year I’ve travelled to some fairly messed up places. From countries with murderous dictators (Uzbekistan) to countries undergoing severe political turmoil (Bangladesh, Pakistan), to places on the front line of the supposed ideological battle between “Western” values and fundamentalist Islam (Pakistan, and on some level, Dubai). I’ve also failed to travel somewhere (Afghanistan) because my hotel got bombed two weeks before I was due to be in it. All of these trips were bookended by two separate trips to Nepal. Of all of the countries mentioned above (with the possible exception of Afghanistan) none is more messed up than Nepal.


Since Nepal rarely makes the international news, the current situation there may have escaped your attention. For about ten years, the country had to deal with a fairly intense Maoist insurgency in the west of the country. A couple of years ago a deal was struck, bringing the Maoists into a national unity government. Subsequently the king was stripped of most of his powers, and the country changed from an absolute monarchy to a more figurehead based one. When I was there last year, the process for national elections had just begun, scheduled for October. A friend of mine, Paula, had just arrived to join the UN mission helping oversee and support the elections. At that time there were severe shortages of many things (including petrol and diesel) and regular 6 hour rolling blackouts (called “load shedding” in Nepali English).


A year on and things have not improved. In fact they have got significantly worse. The elections were postponed and are now due to take place in April, though few imagine that they actually will. In the meantime a new political crisis has taken hold – The south lowland part of the country, known as the Tarai, has started agitating for more autonomy and political power. Since the region forms part of the only accessible border – the one with India – factions in this autonomy movement have been able to lay virtual siege to the rest of the country, stopping the transportation of petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas, etc. What seemed like pretty terrible hardship for people last year now looks miniscule in comparison. Many of the streets of Kathmandu are lined with parked vehicles – trucks, buses, taxis, cars – all queuing for petrol (though the word queueing is somewhat misleading since that implies a vaguely active process. These queues involves waiting for up to three days to buy a limited amount of petrol. There is little to no cooking fuel available – gas or kerosene. Load shedding is now an 8-hour daily event. Couple all this with the fact that Nepal is already one of the poorest countries in the world and you don’t really have a pretty picture. The city anyway looks in places like an open sewer, and the roads are a disaster. Then bear in mind that Nepal is an extremely centralised country – so if this is the situation in Kathmandu, it must be many times worse elsewhere.


It’s a very beautiful and spectacular country, with fascinating sights and wonderful and caring people. I could tell story after story about some of the people I have met there – from the teacher in Kathmandu who every summer gets donations from his colleagues, buys a bunch of dictionaries, which he packs into a rucksack and then sets off on a long trek through the mountains, donating a dictionary to every remote village that he comes to, to the participant in our workshop who apologises for not being online very often because he has to walk 24 hours to reach the road, and thus have access to an Internet cafe, and many more tales in a similar vein.


But by christ it’s a mess.

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