Wednesday, June 30, 2010
In order to write this, I’ve left my house at 9:30am. I thought that I’d head to Pilgrims bookstore because I heard they were having a sale. No go. They’re closed until who knows what hour. So where else? The restaurant for today’s meetings is probably closed still -- and going there would mean that I would have to cross the main road… which unless I REALLY REALLY have to, I 100% do not feel like doing. So I went to The Bakery Café up near Pulchowk because I know that they have wifi and it’s a nice place to sit and read and write. Nope. Closed until 11. At this point its about 10am. I’ve already walked up the hill on the main road from Kupendole to Polchowk. Which means nothing to you… or really to me for that matter. Its all along one street (avenue?) and takes about 20 minutes to walk up if you walk at the pace that I walk. So yea. No meaning really.
So then I thought ok…. Now what? I walked to another café that while it looked 100% closed - as in no one was there yet and the people were just getting the displays together, I walked in with a big smile and said “OPEN?!” and they smiled so I took that as a yes. The barman however was not in yet, so I had to wait to get my bottle of water. So I sat down and turned on the fan - got the password for the wifi and basically forced them open. Sorry about that guys. But I couldn’t take it anymore! You had your gate up and a nice smile so I ran with it.
And thank goodness I did because I ended up with a meeting that I can just make before our weekly IFP meeting! I’m very excited about that! So thank you nice men that I forced to open earlier than you wanted. You have helped me a great deal in my research and I’ll remember you fondly for it. (Its casa Toscana near Polchowk - on the road that’s not the one with Vespers or New Orleans… the other one… yea. My direction giving skills were bad, and have gotten worse…). On a side note, I was meant to come here -- they’re playing Simon and Garfukel’s “Cecilia” on the speakers. Thank you once again for opening and for welcoming me in such a nice way!
For full disclosure, I started this blog in the café this morning and am now in the offices of the Nepali Times after an interview. So that’s kind of AWESOME. I’m blogging in a place where news happens J I’m a total news junkie and find this AWESOME! (Right. Others are reading this and this may lower my credibility as a serious student…)
--> note that I’m now editing this three days later than when I started writing this on Sunday…. Just you know, since I’m going for full transparency. My paper is on accountability and transparency (in the general sense) so I feel that I should uphold this in the blog too.
SO, the post I was working on and thinking about since last week:
(1) “Little Truths” is a comedy show on tv - don’t know the nepali name…- which is more or less a variety show with lots of short sketches and some of the same characters that show up in different sections. Again my descriptions are bad - apologies to one and all. But last week I was watching it with my host family, their daughter, son-in-law and 4 year old granddaughter. I don’t mind watching things I don’t understand, just watching is good for me. But I was glad when Uncle translated one of the sketches for me:
One man is looking up at the sky. Another man sees him, looks up and looks at the man. And then joins him in looking up at the sky. Then a third does the same, and then doesn’t see anything so asks what they’re looking for. The second guy says, I don’t know, I saw him looking. The first says he’s waiting for the constitution to fall from the sky.
This is interesting in and of itself because the fact that the constitution is made into a joke for prime time consumption is fantastic! Not fantastic that its being made fun of - but that its in the common discussion and part of the discussion which takes place on TV which then takes place around the dining room table - maybe (not in my house from what I can tell, but others maybe?) The other interesting part to this joke is the fact that the punch line is that the constitution will magically appear. From what I’ve understood, this is pretty much what everyone - even those writing the document itself - are waiting for. One hopes this is just the perception, but there are questions as to the political will of those involved.
(2) On one of our tours of the city during orientation we were told that the monsoon would start on June 17. This was based on folklore and other traditions. So far since then it hasn’t rained much. It did however, actually pour for the first time on June 17. The little truths of common understanding and wisdom prevail! Then of course as I said it didn’t rain. The other day was the big festival for Machindranath. There’s a whole long story with this that I don’t know well enough in the least to do it justice. However, this is essentially a chariot (I think two chariots?) that are made here near where I’m living in Patan and then make a circle around the many little streets of the neighborhood and end in the main rotary in Jawlakel. Every 12 years these chariots make a much larger trek to much further outside of Kathmandu into a far off district. At the end of the festival a bejeweled vest is shown to the crowd (again, I’ll have to find the story behind this) and the President (it used to be the King) acknowledges the showing of the vest. The dates for the making of this large chariot and the procession are of course decided upon based on astrological calendars and alignments. Its said that when this festival is completed, the monsoon will really start. This festival was delayed for one month because of these astrological signs. But once more, on the evening after the festival completed, it rained just as it had on June 17. With all the force in the world. Again, as after June 17, it hasn’t rained again since that evening. But no one said that it would rain every day or night, just directly after one or the other event.
(3) 4 year olds make the best teachers - especially if you’re learning a new language. While David Sedaris is right, and I am relatively angry with little kids that get things easier in terms of learning language - its nice when a child takes time to teach you too. Sometimes though I’m apparently a frustrating student and when I don’t understand a word, Samiya just says it louder. Apparently THAT is a universal way of communicating. They don’t understand you - say it louder. Or throw your hands in the air and grab a book to go over the alphabet and numbers with the person who is much too incompetent to understand what you’ve been trying so desperately to get across. (I also had an interesting question brought to me by Samiya. She wondered if I was white because I drank a lot of milk when I was younger. Not wanting to undo any parenting that had been done, I said that yes I did drink a lot of milk when I was young, but I was always this color…..)
(4) That you will have adventures in eating is a universal truth for traveling. But one would expect that these are adventures in eating strange foods or something you wouldn’t normally eat at home. However, here that has turned out not to be the case. Here, Katie and I have gone to one café a number of times - so much so that we’re regulars and while they don’t immediately bring us an iced tea when we arrive, they put the mosquito repellent at our usual table. Just like being at home! One day we were hungry and decided to go for salads - I thought I’d try the Hawaiian salad and Katie the Chef’s salad. I had asked what was in the Hawaiian and gotten a response that was confusing to both me and our waiter. But I ordered it anyway - I mean, why not? So the salads came. They were the same salad. In every way that it mattered they were the same - I have photos to prove this. The waiter saw our confusion and stood there. Waiting. “We ordered different salads.” “Yes, different.” “No, they are same same.” “No.” Points at Katie’s and says, “Cheese.” Points at mine and says, “No cheese.” Oooh. Ok. Not entirely the same salad. We both stand completely corrected. In another visit we ordered the vegetable basket. I made the mistake of inquiring if they were “fresh“, as opposed to “raw.“ We were told they were vegetables, yes fresh, in a basket with some sauce. We got, well exactly that but in a form that can only be described as complete creativity on behalf of the chef. They were puff pastry like baskets (one biters) with vegetables chopped in a sort of béchamel sauce. Well done. The vegetables were indeed fresh. Thank you. Another time I wanted french fries, and Katie wanted the greek salad. Turns out that the greek salad is what we thought the vegetable basket would be - a plate of raw vegetables. And I decided to take a chance and get cheese fries. Which turned out to be fried cheese.
Well done Jazzabel. I appreciate the surprise that you give me each time I order. Keep it coming - but please could we maybe strike a deal where you’re cheaper if I’m a regular customer, or if I’m confused about what it is that you’ve brought me?
(5) Since starting this post I’ve also made a number of observances that I’ll just list as things that made me go, “Ah ha!”:
- There’s a large billboard advertising for entrance into the British Gorkah Army. Ah ha….
- Today I took a tempo with a woman hanging off the back. Not surprising that there was someone riding standing and hanging on, but strange because it was a woman and there was also plenty of room for her (plenty being that a portion of another body fit inside comfortably enough). AND there was a woman driver! That surprised me more. And then, Ah ha! The driver was the daughter of the woman hanging off the back - and at one point the daughter (my guess) got tired of driving and maneuvering and asked for her mom to take over. She was hanging off the back to enter the front quicker! Ah ha! Also, Ah ha! is that when Priyanka and I knocked on the ceiling to get out, she didn’t stop until she reached a more appropriate stop. Women drivers are much more law abiding! Ah ha! Fascinating!
- There is a jew in Jamsikhiel (where I live)! No, I know that I’m here and Katie too. But there’s another! AND HE PLAYS KLEZMER MUSIC WITHIN ONE INCH OF HIS LIFE STARTING AT 7AM! Ah ha…. And then uuugh, thank you?
- In walking from a meeting to the main road to catch a bus back home, I was almost hit by a motorbike. No, that’s not Ah ha. That’s normal and furthers my annoyance with generally walking around, BUT what was Ah ha! Was that this motorbike had a GPS that was telling the driver to “Turn left at the next intersection.” No, my Nepali is not all of a sudden amazing, IT WAS IN ENGLISH! AND the driver heeded the GPS instructions! For you motorbike that almost hit me, I’m ok with that general lack of paying attention to me. I’ll let that go just for that excitement that you gave me!
- The best of all is an ad that I hope to sometime get translated. However, to my untrained eye and extremely limited (to none) understanding of Nepali there is an ad that I enjoy greatly that just recently started appearing on TV during half-time in the World Cup games. Its an ad which ends with a seal from one of the Nepali ministries that promotes the idea of businesses to give out receipts to their clients! Something about “bikas” (development) being said often in the ad makes me think that they’re saying something to the effect of, “If you don’t give out receipts how can we develop? Because without these simple pieces of paper how can we be accountable to each other. And if we can’t be accountable to each other in situations like this, how can we expect our government to do so?” Yea. That’s 100% what it says. Ah ha!
I’ll end this long (LONG) post with the following song: “Won’t be fooled again” by The Who and the following explanation from Pete Townshend on his reasoning for the song. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the Nepali context and it’s been stuck in my head for weeks now…
“Townshend stated in 2006 that: "It is not precisely a song that decries revolution - it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets - but that revolution, like all action can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything. The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause. [...] From 1971 - when I wrote Won't Get Fooled Again - to 1985, there was a transition in me from refusal to be co-opted by activists, to a refusal to be judged by people I found jaded and compliant in Thatcher's Britain." -- from wikipedia (apologies… but it was exactly what I was looking for) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Won%27t_Get_Fooled_Again
These lyrics and most of the interviews that I’ve had could basically be interchanged. Everyone is saying the same thing - the leaders are all the same; the constitution will be new but what will it change; with all the political changes that have occurred, what really is different? Not much. People are just hoping they won’t be fooled again. (sorry for the direct play on words… but its exactly that, so it works too well not to use.)
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Won't Get Fooled Again
No, no I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
There's nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-by
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no Yeah
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Many of us have been talking about it, but I am going to blog on it: why have there been no strikes/protests/demonstrations in Kathmandu while we have been here?
Every book and academic paper we studied about Nepal, everyone we spoke to who has been to Nepal, every news paper article we read before coming to Nepal, warned us that regular disruption due to bandhs, chakajams and julus was inevitable in Kathmandu. However, we have been in the capital for almost a month now and everything has been calm (relatively speaking).
And its not like there is any shortage of material to incite unrest. In the weeks leading up to our arrival, the city was paralysed for weeks by Maoist protests as the deadline for the promulgation of the constitution loomed. Of course, a deal was ultimately struck averting crisis, but its terms provide plenty of material justifying protest. First, the agreement was supposedly signed after the deadline had passed, meaning the body charged with drafting the constitution had already expired . Second, as part of the agreement the existing government, and in particular the Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, would resign – this still has not happened. But despite all this, daily life continues uninterrupted. Why?
While bread maybe in short supply in Nepal (with Kathmandu currently enduring a water shortage) our time in Kathmandu has coincided with the global circus that is the World Cup. Everyday two or three football matches are being broadcast into people’s homes, and when the electricity cuts out there, they can head to a local generator-driven bar. Every cab is sporting the flag of one nation or another, and discussing performances with their clients; people are proudly wearing the shirt of their favoured team. Is this quadrennial spectacle responsible for the smooth functioning of the city (relatively speaking)?
The test will come when the World Cup ends. It is concerning to think that there may be a backlog of unrest waiting to be realised. But if that is the case, at least this charismatic but overwhelming city allowed us to find our feet before showing us this other aspect of its personality.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Water Shortage & Well Washing Festival by Keesler
While in Nepal for the summer my research project entails investigating the management of water here in the Kathmandu Valley. In this increasingly dense capital, there is more demand for water than there is supply. Defining factors that have led to the increased water crisis in the Kathmandu Valley in recent years include: an unchecked boom in population, urbanization and industrialization, a disregard to the over drawing of groundwater, and the pollution of river waters. Furthermore, having access to improved water sources does not mean that water is always available in sufficient quantity since many households do not receive a regular supply, particularly during the dry season. At present, the demand for water in Kathmandu is approximately 200 million liters per day but during the dry season, the water authority ‘Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited’ (KUKL) can supply only 90 million liters per day (45%) and 120 million liters per day (60%) during the wet season (UN HABITAT, 2008). Even at my host family’s house and my fellow students’ host families, everyone is urged to take quick showers due to the water supply shortage.
On June 17th, people of the Newari community around Kathmandu celebrated Sithi Nakha, which is a day for cleaning the wells, water sprouts, taps, and water pipes before the monsoon rains come. I was told that Kathmandu used to be a lake bed, and since water percolates through the walls of the wells, they need to be cleaned thoroughly so that the walls do not get cemented. The day June 17th was chosen because that is when the water levels are the lowest. My group was able to go on a heritage walk around the district of Patan where I was able to take pictures of these wells before the Sithi Nakha festival.
According to the Kathmandu Post, the Newari community has demanded the government address water woes: “This day must be celebrated nationally to ease water shortage,” said Astman Kisi Maharjan, chairman of Youth Awareness Environmental Forum (YAFE). Speaking at a programme organised by YAFE in the Capital, Maharjan said the collective effort from every sectors will help manage drinking water.
While here I hope to disentangle the many actors and stakeholders within the management of water throughout the Kathmandu Valley. That includes looking into: public private partnerships (PPPs), community-based water supply systems, public companies registered under the Government of Nepal, the largely unregulated privately-owned water supply services, and the role of INGOs and NGOs. There has been an increasing need for effective management of the water supply systems within Kathmandu in order to provide water for all.
Boy do I have a lot on my plate for this summer….. =)
Monday, June 21, 2010
It is Monday and I am ready for action at my internship. Walking to the office this morning, I contemplated my biggest challenge – what will happen when I receive all the documents on victims’ groups’ activity in NEPALI? A HUGE challenge (Fucillo huge, Kim). At the moment, I am scared to look at time on my watch (mid-morning). The day of action is slow in waiting (on Nepali time again).
On Friday, my department coordinator returned from the field visit and I was eager to complete my Terms of Reference, getting everyone on the same page with my project, and launching it big time – “let’s meet on Monday”. Ok, Monday. A day for action. Every hour of my short-term summer internship is precious, and last week (while waiting for him to come back from the field), I edited and expanded upon the Transitional Justice Department Operational Manual where I was able to use my knowledge of the field, and fine-tune it to what I know from the side of academics. I worked with the director on this, and she was happy with my comments, incorporating them all! Ok, the project.. he has my draft ToR in hand; I have my questions for him printed, but another meeting happened in the meantime. He is coming back in 10 minutes – 30 minutes ago. There is only so far my initiative can take me. Nepali time.
International Crisis Group Crisis (“Blunt for Blunt” in Nepal)
As I knew they would be, NGO’s in Nepal are very different from those I helped run in the U.S. We never had private cars, canteens, 5-story offices, servants? This is truly an industry of its own kind. They have a lot of potential, but as I have been doing with Nepali politics (political parties, politicians), I am taking them with a grain of salt as well.
Last week, we met the head of the International Crisis Group here in Nepal at his office with a planned dinner after in Lalitpur. Preceded by a week’s worth of meeting cordial, polite, respectful and collegiate academics, politicians (even when they did not directly address our questions/concerns, they presented their views in a polite manner), this was the first interaction that I felt thrown off by, and very critical of. I realized that when a great amount of experience and intelligence is coupled with arrogance and “pompousness,” it is worth very little.
My skepticism and defense stems from two places – one is a person, in such a poor language at that, criticizing the entire international community (especially the UN), all other partner organizations and donors, acting as the only “enlightened body” on Nepal bound for reforming the entire fields of political science and anthropology here, and the second is the said person attacking an entire field of transitional justice with complete authority and conclusiveness in an overly-simplified manner, mind you! As a young scholar interested in the same topic, looking at the conceptualizations in the field, the approaches and gaps for further study, I felt a natural defense, even though my personal conviction in the importance or the existence of the discipline was unshaken. In spite of my reaction, I have tentative plans to continue the debate with this person who put me on the spot in front of my entire group asking me to define the term “transitional justice” and attacking the term “transition” among other comments.
What makes the academics and practitioners in the field respectable, from what I know thus far, is their awareness and self-critique of the conceptual and normative problems in the field. What I took away from this “crisis” meeting, along with a grain of bitterness that inevitably spilled itself in this entry, is the ability to decipher a surface perspective from the one deeply rooted in the knowledge about the argued subject (and how easily one can appear naïve), along with a reminder of the importance of critical inquiry that The New School (and Cornell) have instilled in me. Nothing is as it appears. In fact, if everything that is said by the politicians and activists in Nepal came true, the country would become an instant utopia.
This is my concern – everyone is very good at saying exactly the right thing, but the rhetoric is cheap when people are waiting for results. With NGO’s, I understand that a lot of their language and actions conform to the donors (they need the money after all). This is where the danger lies. For instance, amidst the above-mentioned exercise of editing my department’s manual, I was seeing how the concept was being defined by my organization and framework adopted, and from an academic standpoint, having studied the field for 10 months now, I was already seeing the misinterpretations, and something that seemingly could have been copied from a workshop on transitional justice. I was afraid that before they even understood the concept, somebody had instructed them to adopt this in their programming.
On the one hand, I see the imports of external ideas about peacebuilding, etc. (bad!). On the other, I see a root of a new policy that could thrive here in Nepal (or do harm, bad!). These are serious concerns. Lesson: Try to look beneath the surface, and learn how to identify what is the layer that hides it, who created it, and why.
One blog post later, still waiting. Nepali time.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
You learn to intently focus on your surroundings here. Not like in the US or Japan where you can go on having no clue what goes on between your starting point A and destination point B for the 30 years of your commute, because a voice (both automated and human) will tell you when exactly you need to get off. In Nepal, observation and detail become your second nature. The street names are obscure and destinations are entrenched in local jargon. Walking to my internship is the same. I find myself constantly praying that no one decided to repaint that wall or that gate a different color. Kalpana told me that if someone is coming to the office for the first time, they would have no choice but to take the one route that goes past major landmarks. Never mind that so many streets lead to it – the only explainable one is the one where you turn at the sign for the Sri Lankan Embassy and continue in some relation to the famous temple in the area.
The prize that comes in exchange for convenience is an intense connection to the city that you are a part of. The labyrinth of wide, narrow, rocky, dusty…they all flow through your body like veins. You move through the heat and smog as part of it. The tempo doesn’t provide any shelter like an air-conditioned subway or cab in New York, it just gives you wheels. You know if the rain is coming, because you smell it in the wind. You know when you’re nearing a chowk, because you feel the tempo dodging people more frequently.
I’m a pro at this public transportation now, completely self-proclaimed and topped with a naïve foreigner grin. A little over one out of every two attempts gets me to my destination, and I swear the statistics are rapidly changing in my favor. For being here for two weeks, I call that success. Then of course, I always manage to bang my head as I get on and off the tempo. That totally messes up my flow, not to mention it blows my cover as a pseudo-local. It’s also when the drivers are courteous enough to ask everyone where they are going, when my cool Nepali façade is ripped away. Chakrapath, Naryan Gopal chowk, Maharajganj. Thamel, Jawalakhel, Pulchowk, Bhatbhateni, Ratna Park, Sundhara. The names of places I can deal with, thanks to my religious studying of the Kathmandu Valley map every night. When the drivers get even nicer and start asking things in detail, then it’s all over. But I’m not afraid to get lost here – I feel that term is so irrelevant, like it is in Manhattan.
Check back with me in another week – I may be considering becoming a driver for tempo route 5.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Sometimes I feel that living in New York has spoiled me, and has raised my expectations from those who work in the service sector. NY’s waiters are usually efficient, faultless and extremely fast. My Starbucks’caramel macchiato coffee with soy milk has always the same taste, and always meets my expectation. Moreover, it is regularly served to me with a tremendously cordial smile - yet, a recent study has shown that a sincere smile never lasts less than 1 second and more than 4 seconds.
Here in Nepal, I am realizing how Manhattan is another kind of world.
I’ve felt sick since the second day of my arriving in Kathmandu, which is kind of annoying because I almost never had dinner with my fellows outside. Thus, one of my first nights I asked to the reception of the hotel I was staying in if they please could bring to my room two boiled potatoes. Instead of hearing a NY-style reply, such as a convinced: “Sure, 2 boiled potatoes for Mrs. Pietrogrande” and then seeing the waiter run fast to the kitchen to give the order, I experienced that kind of answer from Paras (the guy of the hotel): “Oooooooooh”. Followed by a long staring at me, and his sweet, huge, sincere 3-seconds smile, bigger than his face. “Yes” I then answered with an unexpected confused tone, like if I was justifying myself for the “weird” order. “Hunchha” (that means something like “ok”) said the shy waiter, and instead of going to the kitchen, he waited for me to go upstairs. Hunchha...
20 minutes later he knocked at my door, with the same sweet, huge, 3-seconds long sincere smile, again staring at me. He held a small plate with two potatoes. Two potatoes with all their brown skin. And nothing else. Two potatoes and that’s it. Not a fork, not a knife, a tray, a napkin. Now: my room happens to be at the 5th floor and I felt really bad to ask Paras to bring me at least a fork. And he got that big sincere smile.. Paras still standing in front of my door with the small plate, I briefly considered the idea of eating the skin-potatoes in some original way instead of asking Paras to go all the way down to bring me a fork. But the imaginary scenario of me eating my potatoes with eye-brown tweezers convinced me to ask for cutlery. “Oooooooooh”. Hunchha...
The night after, I needed hot water to dissolve my new powder medicine. I called from my room the reception because I felt too weak to go down. A similar “Oooooooooh” came from the telephone’s receiver. 45 minutes later - 45 minutes later!!! - a younger boy knocked on my door. He held a tea-pot full of hot water. That’s all. Nothing else. Not a cup. Not a spoon.
That time I stayed with my tea-pot. I melt the medicine using the back of my brush-teeth, directly in the tea-pot. At the end of the day, I was happy for receiving a sincere smile. And repeating in my mind the lesson learned: never give for granted anything, neither a spoon.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
You don’t really think about all of the things that a government is responsible for until you notice something is missing. For me, one of the major things that I have noticed in Nepal is the complete lack of garbage cans. I happen to live in a nice area of town, and I would say that the amount of trash on the streets is less than in other areas I have seen, but even so. The amount of time I have spent carrying around trash, looking for a place to throw it, seems a bit ridiculous. At one point I asked why it was that there was nowhere to put all the waste and the answer I got was that there had been garbage cans at one point, but they have since been stolen for the metal and don’t get replaced because there is no municipal government. Having to be conscious of such simple things as what to do with my empty water bottle has been a constant reminder of the easy yet profoundly useful things that are tasked to a government.
2. Functional (non) chaos
I was excited to hear Rhoderick Chalmers, the director of the International Crisis Group in Nepal, mention that there was no anarchy in Nepal, that in fact what seems like chaos is not actually so, because I had just been thinking about that same point and talking it over with Cecilia as we were making our way over to the ICG office. We were talking about it in regard to the way in which the interaction between people and cars on the streets seems to work. From the outside it seems pretty impressive that the population still manages to grow despite what seems like it should be inevitable death for most, if not all pedestrians. But in reality there are rules. I’m still not totally sure what they are, and I don’t know if all Nepalis do either, but somehow I feel like I am generally able to follow them. I am even beginning to appreciate the incessant honking because I understand that it is really just the car’s way of saying “hey, I’m here… ok bye.”
This is a good, if not a big step. Its at least in the right direction. I’ve gotten comfortable in my home stay and have an easy walk to my work-base (its not an internship, its more of a place where I can come and get advice and lately a good place for internet connection as well) and relatively quiet days which are full of contemplation.
Since starting here at INHURED I’ve edited some translations of interviews with Bhutanese refugees, edited a proposal for a new project to the Australian development agency, and edited the proposed script to OHCHR for a docudrama on transitional justice. All of which have been immensely educating and interesting. I also sat in on a meeting with the artist who is designing 3 billboards for INHURED, which will be posted all over Nepal focusing on the constitution (what basically the constitution will include), five of the fundamental rights and freedoms, and the general structure of federalism.
I’ve written a preliminary TOR and a long list of questions that I need to work on some more. But all in all I’m ready. Someone call me! Someone email me! I’m ready to meet with you and ask you questions about citizenship, individual rights and freedoms and representation in Nepal!
No? Not yet? Phone’s on…. Internet is working better at the moment than it was 10 minutes ago. No? Ok... I'll keep thinking and writing then.
Its not all lost though, not at all. I actually feel like right now I’m waiting, but in a little while (in a few hours, a few days, or next week) I might have more than I can handle. Here’s hoping!
Technically, I’m ahead in the game: I have time to read and reflect, and I have three (!!) meetings set up. One is with youth involved in Today’s Youth Asia!, another with the Press Attache for the US Embassy, and a third with one of our advisers, who also happens to be one of the leaders in the National Planning Commission. So I would say that I’m actually off to a really good start. (Now I have a tentative 4th meeting for later this month!)
This coming Saturday morning I’ll be headed to a conference which is being put on by my friend Mandira Raut at Today’s Youth Asia. She’s training youth to be journalists. On Tuesday I went to see a taping of the show that she produces, which was fantastic! It was so wonderful to see her at work, but even more so, it was so amazing to see such a great show!
Today’s Youth Asia is a TV program (I believe hosted on Kantipur)- as well as a magazine - where a guest is invited to discuss a topic of interest and some 20 to 25 youth are sitting in the audience listening and then each has an opportunity to ask a question of the guest. It’s a GREAT program and one that really involves youth at every level, all of them are supremely intelligent and excited about what they’re involved in. For Tuesday’s taping, Mandira had one of her interns and one of the youth journalists pick me up near my house. I am so impressed with them both!
The youth journalist (who also now conducts media trainings for others), he’s about maybe 14 or 15 years old, was telling me about what they do and I was talking to them about my research. As we came to the bridge that unites Lalitpur (the district where I live) and Kathmandu we closed the windows. The smell that comes from this river is close to nothing you have ever experienced. It’s livable for a bit, but typically you’re stuck on this bridge for a good 10 minutes due to traffic, so its pretty unbearable (but I don’t know whats worse - being in an enclosed car with no AC or having the windows open with the Eau du Stink wafting in?). The student (I need to get his name!) said, “The politicians are working, but they’re working on something else. This river is my problem. They don’t travel this way, and if they do, they never have the windows down to experience it. They don’t know that this is a problem. They’re working on other issues which are important, but not on my problems that need fixing.” When can we vote for him as president? Or should we try to reserve him away from politics so that he doesn’t lose his easy way of speaking and seeing things so clearly?
So after the taping of the show, which had the Press Attache of the US Embassy as the main guest, I met with three of Mandira’s students. She has tasked them with writing an article for which they need to conduct interviews. I told them about my research and asked them to take that on as their article topic. On Saturday I think I’ll be seeing them, so I can hear what they’ve found out so far, and I can get some more of the youth in the program involved in asking around to teachers, parents and friends their opinions. I’ll also at least try to conduct some interviews for myself while there on Saturday. (What exactly is going on on Saturday, I have no idea. But that’s half the fun right?)
It sounds like a pack of wild flies are coming into the office to attack us. This can only mean that there’s a World Cup game on and the power is back. Also in completely separate yet exciting news for me, I’m having a fantastic hair day! So I’ve got some meetings set up, about twelve more requests floating out there, I’ve got electricity, and really like my dress and hair. It’s a great day in Nepal!
------ To finish this off, here’s a great song by Fito Paez "Trafico en Katmandu" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Rtbdh-ydPQ)(gracias Barbie!!), but I’m still not sure how the song is fitting in with the city yet…
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I started my internship one day later than everyone else in the group (those interning) due to my office staff being in the field outside of Kathmandu in other districts. My organization is called Advocacy Forum (www.advocacyforum.org), and they are a leading Nepali human rights NGO. I joined them for six weeks to conduct a project under their transitional justice department falling directly under my research interests of victims-based approaches to transitional justice and victims’ justice, where I will be documenting the work of the victims-based groups that have been trained by my organization in advocacy on behalf of the victims in their respective districts across Nepal (most importantly, the areas that were the hardest-hit by “The People’s War”).
My first day began “Nepali time” style, when I was prepared for a full first day from 9 to 5, and ended up going to the office at 2:30pm after the director of my organization became available to meet me. I practiced patience and flexibility, atypical of my stringent “New York City style,” and both were expected to be tried in Nepal. I promptly ate my breakfast at a scheduled time waiting for one of my team leaders to pick me up, and through the serial postponements, ended up reading the newspapers, interacting with the family and staff who were going about their business in the house (everything happened around me as I was sitting in the living room and they wondered why I was still there), and writing a blog post about Kathmandu. Finally, I took my light lunch at the café I discovered on my way to work called “Roadhouse Café” (super Western) while spending some time on the internet, just before I was picked up (my host family’s house does not have internet).
Located 15 minutes from my home (walking), my office is a light-filled five-story building (very hot), and upon arrival, I was first introduced to Mandira Sharma, our Director, and a well-recognized leader in the Nepali human rights movement. I finally got to speak with her after hearing so many great things about her work. Many academics, activists, artists and others I have been meeting in Nepal thus far knew her personally. She was kind and grounded, welcoming me, and setting me up with my project before the head of my department returns from a field visit on June 18th. I got to brief her on my experience of attending a large (500-600 people) meeting at the City Hall yesterday on the issue of the Disappearances where three key party representatives met human rights movement representatives, among them being Pushpa Kamal Dahal (the infamous Maoist figure called “Prachanda”!), and Richard Bennett who is the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and whom Cecilia and I were introduced to prior to the event (both exciting occurrences). I reported that there was nothing new to be learned between the party leaders’ attacks on each other and banter that avoids addressing the real issue (I call this trend in Nepali politics, witnessed firsthand thus far, “turning the wheels” or “passing the buck”). No one seems to be listening to each other, and an event that had so much potential, where the human rights leaders spoke openly calling for the parties to answer why the proposed legislation has not been passed, and why the disappearances have not been answered about or the perpetrators punished, turned into a regular political game. The event was hosted by the Association of the Families of the Disappeared lobbying on behalf of the victims on the Maoist side of the conflict who were disappeared by the State Security Forces during the ten-year war (1996-2006) (note that the vast human rights abuses during this conflict occurred by both sides, but the majority of the crimes investigated, particularly the 1000 plus disappearances, were committed by the State Security Forces). The event was in Nepali and we had two wonderful colleagues from Nepal Institute for Development Studies (NIDS) translate for us. In addition to my urging desire to understand Nepali and frustration for not knowing the language, I felt extreme frustration at what I was witnessing, feeling the disappointment in the leadership and politics, and fear that the weakest, faintest voices that I am the most worried about – those of the victims – will never get heard if those representing the people in the government cannot even sit on the stage long enough to hear each other speak (this is the consensus government?)! Below are the photos of this exciting event where “everything is illuminated” (ref. Johathan Safran Foer). I veer off path..
Having met Mandira, I was taken around the office to be introduced to other staff – the “torturers”, the legals (legal aid), the admins, the documentation, and apparently my department is the “glamorous one” in contrast to say, torture (all of my favorite human rights abuses; this one is for Beth). There are about 5 other interns who are working on separate projects in other departments, all very friendly and approachable, and I ended up sitting at my department’s office on the 5th floor with Martin, formerly from Sweden, who is finishing his work with Advocacy Forum to move onto working with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong (where I believe other Hong Kong IFPers are interning from my Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School). I began my preliminary readings, charted a brief plan for myself for now, and created a ‘to do’ list. While sitting at that office, everything working out so perfectly with my internship, my international Field Program, with all of my passions aligned, I realized how much I loved being here, doing this very thing that I am studying, feeling passionate about human rights and justice after war, and I thought, this could be my career. Thus far, albeit early, I say: I love being in the field.
Ironically, every day between my home and work, I have to pass the army barracks, on my windy road to “justice.” I am ready to take on the curbs, even though the traffic is crazy and I have no idea most of the time what is coming up or how fast. No uphill battle is too difficult when in your heart you believe in the thing that is right. Barracks or no barracks. May they remind me why I am going there every single day for the next 6 weeks.
Yesterday afternoon, on my way back home from the NIDS office, I met a boy whose name escaped my memory. He leaned towards me while walking in the same direction from Hotel Ambassador down the road to that big traffic juncture connecting the eastern end of Thamel with other parts of the city.
- “Hi, how are you?” he asked me.
- “Good, thanks,” I replied, sensing this was not the end of our conversation.
- “Where are you from?” he continued.
- “Czech Republic,” I answered.
- “Oh, I know! Capital Prague, right?”
- “Correct,” I mumbled.
- The incessant stream of questions followed: “How long have you been to Nepal?”; “How long will you stay?”; “Where are you going right now?” ; “What do you think about Nepal?”
Eased by finding out this was not one of the kids begging for money or looking out for a new family, I found it refreshing to chat with that young stranger. Interestingly enough, he turned out to be a rather clever and sensible boy. He told me about how his mother took him and his three other siblings out from rural Nepal to Kathmandu to earn some money to support their father, a farmer living in the countryside. We also talked about Nepal’s current problems (water, electricity, pollution) and how they could be solved (political parties need to find consensus on the present constitutional process). Given the boy’s age (13-14yrs max.), I was stunned by how much he knows about his country. I remember myself being at the onset of puberty - completely unaware of what’s going on in neither political nor economic scene, too much preoccupied with my personal wants and generally arrogant towards the more serious issues in life. Unlike me, the boy was keen on successfully finishing his education in one of Kathmandu’s governmental schools and then going out to find a part-time job to better serve his family.
After visiting the famous Sherpa outdoor store across the southern Royal Palace entrance, we set on heading back to where we had met and then northwards toward the British Embassy complex. Now, there was another element in our conversation. The boy asked if could buy for him one box of milk powder, ostensibly for his little sister Anita (that name I remember). Wondering for a moment, I agreed and, just because I was in no mood of finding any nearby supermarket, I offered to give him money instead. He refused, insisting that cash is no good for children because they soon become comfortable with it (later on, I realized that milk powder costs probably more than what I would have given to that kid as a pocket money - so, another smart thing from him to do). He convinced me to find a supermarket close to my area and so we were off to buy some nutritional stuff for his little sister.
On our way back, I learned the boy was really fascinated about geography - especially linking countries with their respective capitals. He told me I can ask for any country and that he would know what the name of its capital city is. So I started with Europe: “Iceland,” I asked.
- “Reykjavik,” he responded swiftly.
- “Belarus,” I continued.
- “Belarus.. that will be... Minsk!” he shouted victoriously.
- OK, now something tricky, I thought. “Paraguay!”
- “Asuncion!” he replied with no overt difficulty. Suddenly, I felt ashamed of myself having in mind Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay) as the right answer. Being in the dominant position of a milk-buyer, I could afford pretending to be dead certain about the correctness of the kid’s answer. By the time we reached the supermarket, the boy proved incredibly adept at locating countries’ capitals in many different parts of the world. With the exception of Turkmenistan (Ashgabat) - the only question from which I came out as a winner - there was no doubt about who is the master of geography there. Reminding myself of my elementary school years and my own obsession with getting to know capitals of all countries in the world, I really began to like that boy.
Our brief friendship lasted for only some forty to fifty minutes. After buying him the milk powder, some cookies and a small orange juice with a straw glued to the box’s surface, we waved each other good-bye and took on opposite directions. My next thoughts went to the dilemma of how to cross one of Kathmandu’s many wild and chaotic streets and get back home soon so that I can eat my daily portion of bhat, vegetables, and drink a glass of paani.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Kathmandu, a place in the Valley
My imaginary Shangri-la. I have been waiting to see this place that I learned so much about, turning it into a dream, romanticizing it in spite of my better judgment. On our descent from the tall mountains into Kathmandu Valley, I nervously anticipated the moment of coming face to face with my new city, Kathmandu, and becoming one with it for the next two months. In spite of pondering the state of the highway and Nepali politics, I was slowly enjoying the warmth of the Nepali air, its greenery that I missed while in the heights of the Everest, and the colors that were gracing my eyes. I felt more at ease instantly, and while having loved Tibet, I left China with near indifference.
The excitement of seeing the remainder of our IFP group that evening (June 5th) mixed with the excitement of the big plan being realized left me in a nervously anxious state, and my first contact with Kathmandu surprised me. The descent was slow, but the awaiting city in the valley was not, and I was suddenly cut off in my day dreaming and thoughts when I found myself in a whirlwind of vehicles, dust, construction, heat, busyness that poured from every corner, and the ride that became less than pleasant. The China road took us slowly to an adjacent avenue that led us past the former palace grounds into Thamel, where we were happily greeted by our Professor Ashok Gurung (for me, the moment that marked a true beginning of my Summer IFP).
It took a few days to orient myself after a peaceful Tibet that allowed for this contrast in Kathmandu. I cannot quite describe my first contact with it, as this memory has been replaced with a little over a week’s worth of getting to know it, understand it, and surrender to it. It was a feeling of surprise and curiosity, a diversion from my dream where my mythical city became the mere urban place that attacked my senses indiscriminately. I quickly learned, through exploration during our first (orientation) week, that I would love it indiscriminately in return.
To me, a place is a being too. It has its own character and soul. The most intriguing part of arriving in it is the search for these two things. The city can let you in, like a person, or it can keep you at a distance. One forms a relationship with the place, and learns to cohabitate (or resists). To me, getting to know a place is synonymous to getting to know another person, and this is the search that keeps me going. This is what makes me love cities that are so similar in their urban character, yet so different in their unique soul. Again, uncovering the layers that determine why one is like so is the most exciting task.
Kathmandu. Our oneness lies within our multi-layers that I understand so well due to my internal composition. We are both complex, and there is always more depth to go into, but both are able to reveal ourselves easily, and both exist as any other large city, and any other ordinary person. Yet, it is somewhere within our layers that our soul resides; our true intangible nature, containing our unique essences. Somehow, we both grew quickly due to forces that neither could control or shape, but we are learning to keep control of our growth, steering it our way. We have our histories, our personal landmarks in every part of ourselves, but we are okay to live as a decentralized whole, reigning it all in. Perhaps we realize our potential while reconciling with the inevitable surrender. The best we can do is listen to any alarms and act accordingly, in-tuned to our growth. That is certainly the best of what we need to do for each other right now. I need to listen and orient myself in this new environment, as I breathe in Kathmandu every day, trying to understand it, and learning to cohabitate with it. Unlike Beijing, this city unconditionally lets me in, and for that, I am already grateful.
Happy at peace and feeling at home in Kathmandu,
P.S. As everyone else in my group, I have been given a Nepali name by our IFP Team here in Nepal, and it is Durga (Goddess). My host family calls me that, and I have been soaking up Nepali language since moving into their home this Sunday (June 13). I feel a formation of yet another identity here, and I love carving out my place in a Nepali home, my internship host organization, and beyond. Both being with my host family, and being in Nepal, feel natural to me. Now if only the language could flow so easily.. It is by far the most important aspect for coming to terms with another place and culture, and my greatest challenge thus far.
Monday, June 14, 2010
The meetings that we’ve had have been instrumental in bringing our semester’s-worth of readings to life. We saw the wonderful city through the helping eyes of knowledgeable tour guides - showing us the many details that will help us navigate and better enjoy the city (the many internal courtyards of Kathmandu, which were traditionally the front of the houses; or telling the point of the compass based on the hand positions of Buddha) - and we have seen the political debate come to life through a sometimes rowdy meeting with two politicians.
Tomorrow I’ll be headed to City Hall for a meeting of Human Rights organizations and government officials. There will be victims groups attending and speaking, but I’m not entirely sure the premise of the meeting. Being flexible was something that Ashok had instructed us to be, and I’m looking forward to showing up and seeing what happens. Thanks to NIDS there will be an interpreter who can help me decipher what’s going on as well.
This afternoon I moved in with my host family, a very nice couple in a nice part of town. I’m staying in Jhamsikhel (which I’m having a lot of trouble remembering for some reason), and its located not in Kathmandu Valley, but in Lalitpur. What that means exactly, I’ll need a better map to tell you. (Flexible. Patience. And not really caring what part of the city/or other city you’re living in… I’m doing well so far.) This is apparently the “New Thamel” and therefore frequently described or called “Jhamel” (get it? Thamel… Jhamel….). This is mostly because this is the new district where all the UN and other IOs have headquartered. (I walked by the North Korean Embassy. We’re not in Kansas anymore!!!!)
My family is made up of a husband, Uncle (Nepalis, I’ve been told multiple times, are bad with first names because they so frequently use the familial titles that they forget the given names, so I’m going with that too), who is retired from working in an administrative position in various Ministries of the government, his latest position was in the Ministry of Planning. And Auntie, who is a dedicated housewife. They have three grown daughters, one living and working at the Africa Desk of the UN in NY with her husband and one daughter; another daughter is working and living with her husband and son in Sydney, Australia; and the third is working and living with her husband here in Nepal. Another grandson is moving with his mother to New York on Friday (I think that this grandson is a nephew, because his mother is Auntie’s sister). Many of their daughters friends, Uncle told me, have left Nepal - for the US, Australia, Canada.
When arriving in Nepal, initially I was jarred a bit by our first walk, but I’ve gotten used to the semi-congested, unpaved and potholed roads - which are for driving and cycling, never for walking (even if the pedestrians cover the road). I’ve gotten used to (but with some difficulty) to the hotel staff that smiled incessantly and stood over you while you drink your tea. I was expecting more beggars, more trash, and dirt (as in dirty, not dirt as in dust -- of that there has been PLENTY). The heat hasn’t been that bad either, and we haven’t had any rain really yet (although last night was the first. and it was HUGE!!!!! Biggest claps of thunder I‘ve heard in a long time!!) Based on the conversations with people from the previous year, I was geared up for something more dire. Maybe having been in Mumbai (de)sensitized me? Maybe I was prepared for this unknowingly? Maybe its because I’ve only been in very nice areas (ding! ding! ding!)? But, so far, nothing yet has hit me with more than I can handle (besides the food poisoning the other day….).
Now at the house, I had a little time to interact today with my family. Like I said, they’re a very sweet couple. When I arrived at first though, I had no idea what to expect. Again, based on conversations with people from last year, I was expecting something that in the end made my inferences of what was happening, totally false - and although I didn’t say any of them outloud, I really would have made a mess had I done so… International crises averted (and general saving of face successful).
We arrived, with a bit of confusion as to the actual location of the house - “So where exactly are you in relation to ‘The Learning Center’? hmm. And the Arun Thapa sculpture? Oh. Ok, turn back around,s again.” Once here I wasn’t really sure when I should speak up, or ask a question. My inference led me to believe that this was because it was a patriarchal society and so I wasn’t being asked anything to talk about. No…. apparently I just didn’t speak up. I didn’t speak up though because I really didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t even tell if I was being talked about. I had trouble figuring out the layout of the house, and who the other person in the other room was…. I still don’t know who the other person was, but the other room turns out to be the family room.
I’ve been asked a number of questions in terms of technical support on the desktop computer that they have. I’ve been sufficiently and completely useless at any and all of these questions. So much so that the password for Uncle’s skype was deleted and he had to call someone else to get it. So, we moved on to other things.
I watched Auntie while she did some laundry. She doesn’t speak any English and my Nepali is oh so so poor. And as David Sedaris said (paraphrasing), “I hate those babies who have it so easy! With everyone pointing and repeating the same word over and over.” I have no idea what she is trying to say to me. But at some point “Grandson” or she shows me toothpaste. And we understand. She has a grandson. I don’t need toothpaste, I brought my own.
The other bad inference came with dinner. After sending a quick email (dial up is connected from 7pm to 8am), it was time for dinner. I gave them the cd - “There is music with an accordion.” “An aquarium? Fishes?” …. hand motion accordion… “Oh. no. Hm. Music. Ok.” - which they liked the gift but the speakers on the computer don’t work and there is no CD player (so… basically…. yea… next time a book?) .. I’ll find something else for a parting gift. So after that, there was a small table brought for me in the family room. Uncle sat on one of mats (it’s a sofa, but foam mat is more descriptive - very comfortable) and Auntie brought us food. Surprisingly, I didn’t get mountains and mountains of anything. It was more than I’ve been eating generally, but it was great food so I didn’t mind! But Auntie never joined us. I was, again, convinced that this was something to do with the patriarchicical society. But no. Auntie doesn’t like soccer and would prefer to watch her Indian soap opera in the other room. OBVIOUSLY!
While in the family room, I was looking at the photos hanging up. Many of them of family and religious figures. Then in one frame was a collage of the most recent King and some members of the royal family. I was jumping to conclusions left and right. Uncle asked me what my project was, and I tried to find a way to say “Democracy” without making a complete mess of the relationship that we just created and being kicked to the curb. Apparently, this is totally fine. I knew it was, but still. Framed photo of the King… Democracy…. Didn’t add up directly. But it works. He was quite interested in what I was studying and is very smart, quoting many different forms and history of government. “There are many illiterate people who do not know their rights, but with the media and TV this is changing.” (Thanks to many of the journalists that I know!!) And he said also that “The monarchy exists in many other countries still because people do not know their rights as citizens.” I definitely didn’t expect that comment with the former King looking down on me from the other wall.
Tomorrow will start with a fun ride on a scooter from near here (the British School -- this is JUST like La Lucila!! With Northlands and everything!) to City Hall for the meeting. I need to get a scarf to cover my face MUCH sooner than later. (Mom, by the time you read this, I will have been there and back safe and sound J ) For now, sleep and contemplation on how to stop making so many wrong assumptions!
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Around 100 years ago, it was French, not English, that was the language of diplomacy, the one that everyone knew. Now, English has become so widespread that when new concepts pop up, languages begin to adopt the English terms for them rather than come up with words in their own language. I've noticed it before during my studies in Spanish and Arabic, but I have noticed it to a disturbingly large extent in Nepali.
Worldwide, there is an exorbitant increase in the number of languages that are at risk of dying out (some at greater extents than others). When keeping in mind the widespread use of one language in other languages, it amplifies the risk that so many languages are at. Although aficionados of Esperanto would probably welcome the homogenization of language, it isn't necessarily a good thing. Language is central to the lives of people. It is tied to culture, ethnicity, society, etc. To take language away is to take away a part of the lives of the people who speak it.
I will say, the globalization of the English language is great for a native English speaker like myself. I rarely have to worry about communication with people in public, as English has spread to nearly all corners of the earth. If I was a truly lazy and inconsiderate person (I try not to be), I would never bother learning other languages as most tourist locations around the world have English-speaking people. It's a terrible thing, but sadly so many people actually follow that belief. Why learn something when you don't need to?
Reaction from Nepalis has been generally positive when they learn that we are learning Nepali and attempt to speak it. I have a feeling that this is a sign (and not a good one) that most white people they encounter don't know the language or try to learn it. I remember witnessing an American woman at a temple in Tibet trying to communicate with a monk operating one of the souvenir stands. She was trying to negotiate a deal, which unfortunately consisted of her raising her voice every time the monk didn't understand her, and speaking very slowly as if she thought he was dumb for not understanding her. I probably don't have much room to talk as I don't speak Tibetan, but I tried very hard to understand what they were saying and also worked to develop a system of communication that was mutually comprehensible with each person I interacted with. Generally it consisted of a lot of hand signs and punching numbers in on a calculator, but I learned from each interaction I had how to communicate better. Unfortunately, the woman at the monastery displayed what I call 'typical American tourist behavior' by treating the native person in a dismissive manner, as though they were a lower sort of being than she was. So many people expect to hear English in foreign places; I don't think they know what to do when they can't find it.
Language has always been to me a very interesting way to look at the world. It can tell how people that use that language relate to each other and the world as a whole. It reveals preferences within that group of speakers and states the relative importance of one thing to another. People always laugh at 'Chinglish', Chinese translated into English. While much of it is just bad translation errors, some of the ones seen as amusing are due to the different ways Chinese and English describe the same thing. Homogenizing languages won't just take away from the humor people find in translations, but it will take away the unique ways different groups of people have of communicating. The fact that languages across the globe are co-opting English should not be a sign of joy for ease of communications, it should be seen as a sign of sorrow for the end of individuality, uniqueness, and the loss of cultures globally.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
We arrived at the border before Chinese customs and immigration opened, so waited for a half hour to be let through and checked. The Chinese border is very clean and they are very precise when looking through your passport and paperwork. After clearing you cross the bridge and are magically transported back in time to 2 hours and 15 minutes earlier.
Its amazing how different one side of the river smells and feels from the other. The China side smells of incense and yak. The Nepal side smells of curry. We had a young boy helping us in the no-mans land in which we found ourselves, and had he not pointed out the small door for Nepal immigration we might have walked on through to the car waiting for us. Where the Chinese immigration is in a building with tiled floors, separate desks, various lines, and x-ray machines, the Nepal immigration is one room in a small house that is shared on either side by small markets or entrances to hotels located on the second floor. There are four customs officials who look at your passport, ask you to fill in an arrival card, and then you hand both back to another official on the opposite side of the long cubicle. The room quickly fills with foreigners entering Nepal scrambling to use the small amount of desk space to fill in their cards and hand in and retrieve their documents.
As different as the Nepal immigration office is from the Chinese, both seemed to be equally efficient, but in their own way. I think that this will be something that I’ll encounter a lot this summer - I’ll remember the extremity of the Chinese in surveillance and general up-keep of the entire country, and compare it with what I’m seeing and experiencing while here in Kathmandu doing my research. I’m not sure if I’ll find anything that is really particularly comparable, but I’m sure that I’ll be confronted with a different sort of efficiency, one that I will come to learn as custom and comfortable.
For the time being, I’m still in a bit of shock at being here. To be honest, I was a bit freaked out upon our first venture around the block from our hotel yesterday afternoon - the cars and motorcycles coming from all sides and on the wrong side of the road, the bridal procession with the trumpet band in front of it and the family following, the multitudes of people, the stores, the almost overwhelming onslaught of everything constantly hitting all my senses. And that was just in walking two blocks around our hotel. Dinner helped. A lot. Seeing all of my friends, all of us nine (one more who arrived this morning!) with our professor and local hosts. It was comfortable and familiar - and the walk back was much easier (even at night time) than the first venture out.
I still haven’t walked far around Thamel (where we’re currently located) and I’m still not really sure where in Kahtmandu (or the world) I actually am. But one thing is for sure - I’m excited! Still nervous and still unsure of how I’m going to start my work and what my first questions will be, who I will meet with, etc. But it will be fun - because there’s almost no way that it can't be. Ten good friends who worked hard all semester to come to this unknown country at a time of great transition, meeting with the change makers, and having the opportunity to look at our interests in the field - all the while experiencing the monsoon!
My topic of focus this summer are the broad questions of democracy, in particular individual rights. There has been a draft written of 31 individual rights and freedoms created by a Committee for the Constituent Assembly (CA). Since the draft was written, the deadline for the writing of the entire constitution has come and gone, threats of nationwide strikes have been made, and the Prime Minister has said he would resign, and then reneged. The writing of the constitution has been postponed for another year so that the CA and all the drafting committees can have time to write and present their drafts and various issues such as how to divide the country into new federal states can continue to be discussed. Still having the feeling from the many military walking around Tibet and going through similar check points from the armed police forces in Nepal, I’m forced to face the reality that this is a country in transition, with an interim constitution, many questions that still need answers, and many people who will or are trying to have a say in these changes, and with just as many, if not more opinions. I’m looking forward to get started but feel a bit like I’m fumbling as I did at the beginning of last semester - this time though I just have to bring back the voices of the many articles that we’ve read and see where they are happening in real life. There are few times when we get the chance to do this and even fewer when we get to see the changes as they are unfolding.
If anyone is interested in seeing photos from this trip and information on our travels through China that preceded our arrival in Nepal, my personal blog is: www.cecisphotos.shutterfly.com.