Friday, July 30, 2010
There once was a girl who hated leeches
“they’ve no purpose in life,” she preaches
She faces off with a buff
Thinking she’s tough
But in the end she jumps up and down and screeches
There once was girl who loathed bugs
She thought they were a bunch of thugs
She got cornered by a fly
She thought she would die
But was saved by a woman with jugs... of water
There once was a girl who hated nature
She thought it was ripe with danger
In ninety degree heat
She was covered in DEET
Thank god she’s studying the legislature
There once was a girl from BA
Who met with the leader of the PLA
She saw flowers on his blinds
And thought is was fine
But questioned if he was gay
There once was a student of rights
Who got involved in a couple of fights
But she picked one with a leech
With a much longer reach
And now she sleeps with the lights… on
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
A couple weeks ago I visited the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Gundu which is in Bhaktapur district. (See map below)
The organization that I am based out of just completed a two-year long water and sanitation improvement plan for Wards no. 6 and 7 within Gundu village. Although Gundu VDC is in close proximity to Bhaktapur city, safe water and sanitation there was in very poor condition so ENPHO, with support from WaterAid Nepal, took immediate action in devising an improvement program. And in order to ensure that the water and sanitation issues (which were relevant to the community) were to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, ENPHO conducted a study with extensive participation from local communities. Therefore, the “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” became a community-based initiative that utilized the households and centered on a community approach to improve sanitation and public health.
Before the implementation of ENPHO’s improvement plan, a survey that was conducted in the village showed that 24% of households were completely deprived of toilet facilities. But among those with toilets, most of them (79%) did not practice safe and hygienic sanitation. Furthermore, the quality of water in Gundu is very poor since there is lack of a proper treatment system and some households (38%) did not practice any type of filtration before consuming. Other households (35%) only used cloth filtration. This led to some diarrhea and fever problems (but fortunately no deaths!)
Since the improvement plan was only a two-year long project, the “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” has come to an end but I wanted to see for myself how the community has carried on with what ENPHO started. So after lots of driving and asking for directions through unpaved roads uphill, we finally found Ward no. 6 and 7 of Gundu. While there I met with a water user committee member of Ward no. 7 who has been on the committee for awhile. First I asked him about the make-up of the water committee in Ward 7. He stated that there are 11 members on the committee but only 3 are women. The ages of the committee members range from 35 years old to 67, with him being one of the oldest. When I asked him how the community has been carrying on from where ENPHO left off, he said the biggest problem is that there still needs to be more awareness on why not to defecate in some areas. He went on to say that particularly during the monsoon season, when farmers are out in the field and far away from toilets, open defecation is quite common. However, the water user committee is struggling with ideas on how to enforce these new sanitation practices. He stated that the community members can be fined as a penalty but he doesn’t believe that this enforcement is strong enough to change people’s habits without some type of awareness campaign. Only when the water user committee members come walking around do households practice safe and hygenic practices, he added. However, "ENPHO did a good job of going door-to-door to educate the community members, which is unlike the other [NGO] groups who have come to implement projects in the past."
Below are some pictures of ENPHO's work that were taken during my site visit.
EcoSan toilet. It consists of two chambers which are used for defecation and an outlet for urine. This way urine and feces will be separated. When the first chamber is filled up with feces, it is closed for 6 months. In the meantime the second chamber is filled up. This converts feces into manure which can then be used as fertilizer.
Toilet with solar compost to be used as fertilizer.
ENPHO logo on ECOSan toilet.
Rainwater harvesting to increase water supply.
In sum, ENPHO's “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” has led to better water quality, improved water pressure at tap stands, construction of toilets for every household, promotion of EcoSan toilets, a health and hygiene training program at school, storm water management and drainage system, solid waste management, and general awareness to the inhabitants on water and sanitation related issues so that the local government can take over once ENPHO has completed the project.
Before leaving, I asked our water user committee friend what's the next big challenge for Gundu. He stated that since drinking water supply is not a problem anymore, the next big issue is securing enough water for irrigating the fields. Currently the community relies solely on the monsoon rains although they are waiting to hear back on a project proposal which would help them build a canal so that water is better collected at their source point.
Signage for “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme.”
Monday, July 19, 2010
There is always a reason and science can explain everything. This is generally my position, whenever I have to cope with magicians, circus, fortune-tellers, astrologists, stories of ghosts, devils and curses, weird natural effects or alleged miracles. Maybe that is what happens when you have a biologist as a mother and a chemical engineer as a father. As a child, I have never heard of storks carrying babies in their beak. Babies come when, 9 months before, a spermatozoon meets an ovule. I have always known that, since the age when you start to come out with uncomfortable questions.
The ayervedical medicine is an illusion, the intolerance test works because of placebo effect. The sky is blue because of the way the Earth's atmosphere scatters light from the sun; Santa Clause exists just if you believe in it [so, Santa Clause do NOT exist].
Sometimes however, my skepticism and intense rationality fold up in the most unexpected moments.
During our field trip, we spent three days in a village named Mittikan, few hours from Pokhara. Mittikan is mostly a Gurung village. Gurung are a Nepali ethnic group migrated from Tibet in the 6th century, traditionally brave, strong and loyal soldiers, known for their contribution to the Gurkha and British Armies. The family I was hosted in was a relatively wealthy family: my father was a literate man in his 40s, and the children two teenagers students (the third child was in Saudi Arabia working as a waiter). Nobody in the family could speak or understand English, but gesticulation, face expressions, and some Nepali words here and there (thanks Dee!!) helped the communication. The second day I woke up 6 in the morning feeling really, really bad. Probably because of some not-so-boiled water, or a strange food reaction, I spent all the day and following night throwing up, trembling and in a semi conscious status. Therefore, while everybody else was joyfully playing volleyball and experiencing the village lifestyle, rice plantation and the typical Gurung dance, I was, instead, experiencing the typical Gurung toilet. I felt really sad, because I knew that that was the only occasion we had to be in a village, and I was not able to enjoy anything there.
My Gurung aama is the sweetest woman in the world. She decided to take care of me in her own way and I decided (consciously or unconsciously) to trust her own way. Basically we communicated just through expressions ( I feel that my facial expressions have incredibly “developed” since I have arrived in Nepal). When she entered in my room in the afternoon, without any reason I showed her the medicine I was taking, and not surprisingly she did not understand anything (“she is not a biologist, Eu!!” ). She just put back the medicine on the table and took a comb instead. She started slowly combing my hair and tie them in a pony tail. It was nice, slightly calming my stomach also. Later in the evening, after my noisy throwing up, she took my trembling arm and dragged me somewhere behind the house. I was really weak and confused. On the way, I saw Dee sitting with the aunt eating baked corn, and I was able to tell her to please come with me because I had no idea where I was going. Dee, my mum, the aunt and I entered finally in a dark room/house, where there was this little old man watching television, sited in a wooden bed. His glasses were deep, and his legs too short to touch the floor. My Aama explained to him something in Gurung, pointing at me. He made me sit in front of him, and looked at me. I tried to smile at him. He was holding some seeds on his right hand. Then he started whispering something while doing some large gestures with his arm around my body. I was silent all the time, and Dee too. I enjoyed that situation, taking it seriously. I did not ask any question to my Aama, what was happening and why. Making no opposition. Maybe because I felt really weak, I just trusted her, him, and in general trusted the situation around me.
My self-control, skepticism, rationality left room for a while to a more spiritual side of myself, and at the end of the day I thought experiencing that sensation was as much as intense as experiencing rice plantation or a Gurung dance.
I came back in my room. On the table my medicine, and, next to it, a comb.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
So, what happens when you bring American architects to Nepal? Particularly, in the time frame of the 1960's? You get the royal palace, now the Palace Museum. Dee thinks it looks like some sort of Christian church, I think it looks much more like a Florida retirement home. For those of you who have never seen the palace, let me describe it for you. I agree with Dee, the outside looks like a weird version of an Episcopalian church, painted in what can only be described as Pepto-Bismol pink. Basically, think of the stereotypical Florida pink exterior paint color, and that what the palace looks like.
The interior was worse. Wood paneling, flowered upholstery, and lots of portraits of people in ridiculously large glasses. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. As we first walked in, we saw the grand entrance hall with a double staircase leading down into it. I seriously only thought those things were only in the movies, where one person goes down one side of the staircase and the other goes down the other side, and they meet at the bottom. On the side of the staircase were two giant tigers, rearing up on their back paws.
There were only 19 rooms open to the public; the rest of the palace was closed off. We saw a lot of the receiving rooms for foreign dignitaries, heads of state, Nepali parliamentarians, and others. The receiving rooms were pretty much the same- lots of photos, wood paneling, plush velvet couches, flower patterns galore, and a mix of Western and Nepali art and figurines/trinkets. We also saw the various dining rooms- one for just the visiting dignitaries, and a large banquet room for huge parties of visitors.
There was one hallway in the palace that was lined with pictures of the late King and Queen with various visiting dignitaries. The Bangladeshi heads of state visited quite a lot, but they also got visits from the Swiss Confederation, England, Yugoslavia, and other Asian states. Those photos were really fascinating to walk past, seeing who has visited officially.
We also saw the various bedrooms in the palace. They have one bedroom for the visiting head of state, another one for that person's relatives traveling, and a final one for the head of state's first lady. This, of course, begged the question of, what if the visiting head of state is a woman? I guess the husband would get sent there. Visitors were also allowed to view the king and queen's bedroom. I was very surprised at how modest it was. I would say it is only slightly larger than a typical master bedroom in an American house, and it was very much not ornate in its decorations. I expected the bedroom of the king and queen to be large, ostentatious, and richly decorated. Clearly, my assumptions were way off here.
After viewing the palace we viewed the gardens, which were sad. The whole palace seems in a state of non-upkeep. The lawns and gardens were overgrown. Also, the fountain looked quite terrible, in the same style as the palace. Jakub stated that it looked like a communist swimming pool from back home. It was all white and seafoam green paint, with a little bit of a garish mauve. We did see one animal in the garden, which I believe resides in the deer family (I'm not sure what exact kind of animal it was).
Outside, they also had the grounds open where the building was where the royal massacre occurred. Unfortunately, all that was there were the foundations, as the building was destroyed soon after the massacre. Honestly, this doesn't help much in refuting the conspiracy theorists that think Gyanendra or some other force was behind the massacre. You know, something about destroying evidence (and the whole damn crime scene) so soon after the incident. It was a little surreal to see the site, although I think it would have been even weirder if the building were still there and they let people in there (although I'm sure they wouldn't have done that).
All in all, it was quite an interesting experience, seeing this palace that we've read about and seen so many times in our time in Kathmandu. It was also slightly disturbing to see that the interior looks just as horribly retro as the exterior. Hopefully, the next time someone in Nepal tries to bring foreign architects in, they will pick someone a little more renowned and with better taste. Although, I guess in their defense that was the style then...
It is hard to believe that this beautiful adventure is coming to a close (this said with 4 weeks left still, 3 more in Nepal and the rest in India). It feels like that to me. I am not ready to go, even though my mom, for example, is in disbelief when I said my summer was flying by too quickly (she misses me). Today, I replied to a friend who asked “how is Nepal?” that it was a “beautiful chaos.” This is a good description for it. It is the place where the most beautiful colors of the world come from, among other things. Nepal has taught me so much in a very brief period of time, and it forever has a place in my heart. I keep thinking about the overall unpredictability of life, and when I tell my Nepali family, colleagues and friends that I will come back soon, I am not certain how my life’s path is going to wind its way back here. I feel that somehow it will. That is the thrill of fate that I am willing to accept.
The last two weeks at my internship were spent researching and in the field, conducting interviews with victims and victims’ leaders of the ten-year conflict (1996-2006), along with NGOs and others concerned with the topic of victims’ organizing and transitional justice. It will be challenging to synthesize, but it is amazing how quickly one can gather research for a good overview, and I hope to do my findings justice in the remaining weeks to be spent on finishing my report, and writing the next portion of my academic paper (excluding our retreat to gorgeous Pokhara and Chitwan starting this Sunday). I always say that the most valuable aspect of the International Field Program at GPIA is the opportunity to self-reflect and position oneself in a given “career” for a while to see what fits and what does not. I am discovering that everything I have done all along in my academic path has been leading to the work on human rights. It just so happens sometimes that what one is pursuing ends up having a name, but one needs to find themselves in a position to recognize that. This will be the key legacy of my Nepal 2010 IFP.
Many conversations, firsthand accounts, observations and intellectualizing later (in any one day of my summer work, I would change my mind about something after each encounter, as I was learning), I am still convinced that societies recovering from war cannot move forward on their path to reconciliation and peace until the past is confronted head on, and in the process, victims – the many who have suffered directly and indirectly – are completely included and made compensation for in the process. This is why in the last 10 months, I chose to focus on a particular policy to facilitate that, transitional justice, and the more I see it criticized, the more I think about it in the perspective of any other policies out there – we are just trying to understand our world, break down the phenomena, and come up with a solution. However imperfect, these are malleable plans that can be perfected under close study and follow-up, as long as the theories they stand upon are strong. I wish the least powerful to gain their rightful place in the process – at the center. On the surface, victims-based approach seems so utterly logical if the very problems one is seeking to address via given post-conflict policies concern the very recipient of the abuses during the war – the victims. However, nothing is quite like it seems. Not in Nepal.
The tragedy of the Nepali situation is that it is highly political, and everyone and everything is overly-politicized, so that the movements, such as the one I am studying (victims’ movement) become divisive, and thereby weakened in their divisiveness. So are the victims who tried to strengthen their voice through organizing for their own security and protection, power leverage and greater justice gains. The climate in which they operate is so complex. There are too many manipulations and forces that exert various pressures on them, and meanwhile, they are just trying to discover their lost family member, or asking their government for an acknowledgment of their suffering, an apology. How does one empower them while letting them know there truly is strength in numbers? That victim is a victim, no matter the victimizer; no matter the ideology; no matter the caste, class, or gender; no matter the severity of their suffering.
The biggest flaw of any public policy is that it cannot possibly, realistically encompass every single case in its unique form, as these incidents were so varied, no matter how context sensitive the policy is. The pain is so real and the incidents so different, each a solitary experience deep down, but some generalizations can still be made, as long as we are able to be inclusive and hear everyone’s voice. That part is realistic.
It is possible to create common platforms where these stories can be told. I’ve seen it done during my internship by the human rights community, and I have created my own space and the space for others to speak up. I am leaving here with a sense of greater concern for the top leadership in Nepal than their grassroots.
How can a person live peacefully in a country that either terrorized them, or allowed terror to occur, where the same faces are still in power, institutions of authority meant to protect the public good that abused their people are still in place? How can people who received this kind of treatment move on without being reassured that it will not happen again; that somebody takes responsibility for these acts; that somebody is sorry it all happened? How can a government possibly gain legitimacy in the eyes of its people if it refuses to merely engage in a dialogue when they are crying out for help, exasperated, broken, poor, humiliated, forgotten? I feel for the innocent people who are never asking for wars to be fought, but are always irresponsibly pulled into them by the power-hungry few, then re-victimized when it comes time for repair. I’ve seen it all. I never forget the 150,000 who never made it alive in Bosnia.
Nepal is in deep trouble with its leadership. It is a patronage-meets-corruption system of rule, and the government is accountable to no one. The politicians are running pretend-democracy and everyone sees through them, but how to fix this? I see no end to impunity, while I see no way it can go on either. In a democracy where no one seems to be included, how does one choose to vouch for a particular voice (as I am doing with victims)? Sometimes (really!) I wonder why we let idiots (excuse me) run our countries? It is a universal flaw. I wish for Nepal’s peace process to run somewhat like the traffic in Kathmandu – chaotic, in all directions, but flowing without any major clashes. However, even to this, the status quo will expire and eventually we’ll need a traffic light. Something that sets the rules, and can stand in stability, while the rest respect the rules (a stable government perhaps? the rule of law? no conflict).
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Other days I struggle with wanting to yell at it. Tell Kathmandu to be quiet, clean itself up, pull itself together. Walking down the street being trailed by a child trying to sell me a postcard or pulling at my arm as if my skin were a sleeve wears on me. The honking grates at my nerves, especially on those mornings when the city wakes me up before the birds get the chance to. The black exhaust that coats me when I walk by. The dirt, the poverty, the confusion. The lack of sidewalks or street names. These things sometimes culminate to a point where I want to bubble over and shake this country. Walking over the Bagmati River that smells like dying animals, lined with slums.
I live in an area that is overrun by NGOs, INGOs, IGOs (basically every .org acronym you could think of has set up shop here) but no one seems to be dealing with these simple things. There should be no reason that I can see for Kathmandu to have such a water problem. Yes, I understand that it is dry for much of the year, and the monsoons are an essential part of the health of this country. But there are so many rivers here, why no one is cleaning them up I just can’t understand. Yes, of course there's more to it than that. But still. Clean up the damn river. Make it an asset, not a liability. Utilize the resources that are here. Build capacity. Empower people. Educate. Do all the things that these organizations tout. In some ways Kathmandu seems primed to be at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Based on the lack of clean water, many houses practice rain gathering. Because of the shortage of electricity many houses have solar panels. People compost. People walk and take public transportation. But there is a lack of infrastructure and more importantly the city seems to lack a plan. All of these simple things that are done out of necessity, stemming from financial and natural sources could, if developed into cohesive policy actually make a big difference in the functioning of the city. Or so it seems from the naïve foreigner's perspective who has only been here a month. I’m sure it’s more complicated. It has to be. Otherwise why wouldn’t things be different?
So here we are, it’s the 4th of July, and I have to admit I am completely uninterested in doing anything particularly American. Not that I think there is anything wrong with celebrating, and I thought that I would be much more interested in doing something quintessentially American on this day, but it turns out that I'm not. Everyday in Kathmandu I walk around with an overt understanding of being a foreigner. My foreignness is undeniable, and while on first glace I may be pegged simply as just being white I am constantly aware of my Americaness. For this reason, today I did not feel the need for any further patriotism. And since everything feels so latently coated with meaning I don’t think I could set off fireworks to celebrate independence day in a country that continues to struggle to define itself as a state in a fragile political climate. With the news of the Prime Minister’s resignation, and the need to establish a new government within the next three days, eating apple pie in the rain just doesn’t seem like something I want to do.
All that said, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else this summer. In many ways the same things that are challenging or overwhelming are what make this experience so interesting and fun. Those moments of frustration never last, and at the end of the day the satisfaction of a day spent learning and being exposed to new thing makes it all worthwhile. I can handle the constant state of being overloaded with stimuli if it means I get to feel like I am enmeshed in a novella, complete with tales of love, death, intrigue, tradition, family, conflict, and mystery. I mean, really, let’s face it. How often does one get to live fiction?
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
So yesterday we left the café that fit all our requirements - mostly the wifi, the working wifi, then the request for beer, and then the need for cheap (we rarely make it to the cheap need) - and we all hopped in cabs to our separate homestays around the city. I was so tired by this point (7:30pm) that I was practically ready to enter my house and go straight upstairs to my room and sleep until the next morning. I feel very lucky in general with my host-family: they’re very nice, make me feel comfortable (besides the food pushing early in the morning….), and the house is a really home-y place to come back to. On the best days though, their 4-year-old granddaughter is still over.
The last few nights in Kathmandu have seemed more eerie. Its more palpable that something might happen. Although we’re the only ones that are feeling this based on the surge of police and armed police presence during the day but mostly down the completely desolate streets of our neighborhood at night. (We’ve been told that the new Superintendent of Police put more police on the streets to tighten up on crime, but also just in case something is being planned due to the pseudo-resignation of the PM the other day -- which also received much less fanfare than I would have expected, even if he was supposed to have resigned a month ago, and even if he didn’t actually leave the post….) So after making it through said creepy streets with my cell-phone lantern to help me spot the puddles, big rocks, or other people, I made it home - exhausted. But I was home.
Or was I.
I got to the gate. Its locked. UUUUGH! I start calling the house. The phone’s connected to the dial-up. This is the second night in a row that I’ve tried to call the house and can’t because the phone line is connected to the dial-up. I’m VERY glad that Uncle and Auntie are connected to the 21st century (between 7pm and 8am) but I almost want to gift them a second line. (Or maybe finally take down Uncle’s cell number….)
So I start screaming. UNCLE!! Wait a few minutes. UNCLE!! Oh I have keys! I have a set of about five keys. I think they open Buckingham Palace. I’m sure of it. Because my backpack in the middle of Kathmandu far far away from the Palace is a good place to save the extra set of keys…. I mean why else would I have these keys THAT DON’T OPEN A SINGLE DOOR IN OR TO THIS HOUSE?!
I see a light go on in the living room. SUCCESS! UNCLE!! Nope.
Doors to the apartment building next to the path to my house are open. “Why don’t you open the gate?” said one very sweet and helpful girl. “It’s locked. UNCLE!!” Then they start discussing my predicament between the various balconies - to which most of the building is now occupying to watch me scream UNCLE!! One nice man comes out.
He looks at me. Looks at the lock that is so clearly on and shutting me out from my bed and comfort and the possibility of sleep and laying down…. And one look at the part of the gate that opens for a car to pass through.
Then he looks at me.
And opens the car part of the gate.
…….. Maaph garnus neighbors. I’m sure at least that I provided you all with a good story to retell over dinner. I’m sure in that retelling I’ve become any number of ridiculous things. But Sorry/Excuse me anyways….
Yep. Now I also have Uncle’s cell number.
So after that long day which ended with an UUUUUGH it was really nice to come into the house and see that Samiya, the 4-year-old and her parents were over hanging out and watching TV. I was happy to be back at my homestay and happy to be the hoop for Samiya’s basketball and to watch a bit of Indian Idol.
Monday, July 5, 2010
My day starts off with me sleeping in until 7am (yes sleeping in!) My host family wakes up at 5am every day to exercise and do whatever else one does early in the morning. I shower and usually have breakfast around 8am, after everyone else is well into their day already. My breakfast is always accompanied with “aap” (mango) since it is mango season right now.
Since the Nepali work day does not start until 10am, I usually linger around the living room to hang out with my host family or try to get some readings done before I leave for work. Around 9:30am I get ready for my 20 minute trek to work which is at an NGO called Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO, http://enpho.org/). Now this is where things get tricky. Did I mention that Kathmandu doesn’t really have street names or numbers? So how do I get to work? Well I exit through my families black gate, take a right down the winding street and to the busy Chowk I live near, keep walking straight then go diagonal once I reach a building which has been deemed the Flat Iron building (yes like the one in nyc), then past the international school where children wave at me, past the ironic Kurt Cobain lettering sprayed on the wall, left at Yum Yum noodle stand, right at the main road with lots of traffic, straight past two gigantic piles of trash taking over the sidewalk (no wonder everyone just walks in the street), then finally left at a construction site which leads me down a dirt road to ENPHO.
While at ENPHO I am working from their resource center on the fourth floor which has a great view of the neighborhood. I usually spend the morning reading or editing. Then around 1pm some co-workers from the 3rd and 4th floor have a group lunch in the meeting room. Everyone brings a dish to share but instead of sitting down and eating from plates, everyone stands around the table and starts grabbing at the rice, roti, etc. (and whatever else) all with their hands – it’s a total chow down fest. The co-worker who invited me to my first group lunch kept telling me to push through, get a spot, and start grabbing because the food will be all gone in 10 minutes.
It was so weird at first – a race to grab food? But now I really look forward to our group lunches where I can sample different Nepali homemade meals. As for my participation, I usually bring cookies from the store around the corner - I hope they don’t mind.
After lunch I really look forward to the masala tea which is served to the whole office (~50 people.) Then I complete my day with more readings and research if I have no scheduled meetings. Around 6pm I leave for the day and walk home past the construction site, up the main road and around the giant piles of garbage, left between a Pepsi sign and Coke sign which leads me to Yum Yum noodle, then a right past the empty international school, past the Kurt Cobain spray paint, then my beloved Flat Iron building, through the busy Chowk then down the winding road to my black gate where the housekeeper has this uncanny ability to always know when I am approaching the gate.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Aya can have her tempos, for I prefer to gamble at the taxino.
To play at the taxino you only need possess an extremely basic knowledge of the Nepali language – a few numbers and a stock protest phrase (you’ll see what I mean) should suffice – and some passable acting skills. The game begins when you want to go somewhere, but cannot be bothered to deal with the aggravation of public transportation. At this point, you eye up the taxis in your vicinity looking for a suitable opponent. Once chosen, you make your opening gambit and the game begins.
For an opening salvo, you could do a lot worse than dipping your head and saying “Namaste dai” (Hello Brother!). This shows a modicum of cultural awareness, and thus may go someway towards encouraging more lenient opponents to go easy on you. After this you should immediately say your destination, followed by the word “koti?” (how much?). Then begins the next step of the game, in which you both try to guess the fare for the journey you are proposing.
Be prepared for the opposing player to pull a face and mutter something – he’s probably pleading about the price of petrol, the state of traffic, or the number of kids he has: you simply need to pretend to understand whatever he is saying, and nod appropriately. He will then give you his opening guess. This guess is simply a marker, and a good player will respond to it with vomit-inducing theatrics that would be a more appropriate response to news that the CA has declared eating momos a violation of bikas, or that the Nepali constitution has still not been written after three years (ok, maybe not the second one). Even the most reasonable price must be greeted as though it is the climax of King Lear: this is all part of playing a good strategy. Then, using your extremely basic Nepali, you offer your counter guess, which will generally be a good 100 to 150 rupees lower than what the driver said. A really good player (like I sometimes am) will not budge from this price. Here is where you throw in the stock phrase you have learnt in Nepali. At the moment I am working with “But [enter destination here] is quite close brother” or “I am a student” (the second one is unsurprisingly less successful). This is simply a softening-up tactic. Ultimately, whether you succeed in sticking to your first guess or not depends on how you play your end game…
Of course, the driver will revise his original guess, and what comes next is a battle of wits. If you have faith in the estimate you have given (as you should), you must call the bluff of the cabbie and say “meter ma janus” (lets go on the meter). This represents an ultimatum for the driver: either accept my offer or we’ll let the meter decide how much the trip costs. As such, this can be something of a gamble. But cabbies dislike the gamble (and like pocketing your money), and again, your opponent may shoot off a load of Nepali at you, probably saying that tomorrow is an inauspicious day and the world might end so he wants to live it up on this final night. Respond with a slightly dismissive shrug, feigning understanding, and repeat “meter ma janus.” If he accepts your guess is good, he will agree to your price, the game is over and you win – you correctly guessed the price of the journey. However, the gamble comes as the driver may decide to go on the meter, and it is a lottery whether or not he has doctored his meter to run faster (and was thus bluffing YOU all along). Often, the meter is fine, and the real price will end up somewhere between the guesses made (generally nearer your one). But when that meter does run fast, there is not much to be done but hold your hands up and accept defeat by a worthy opponent.
Tempo-riding may offer something of the thrill of the roller coaster, but it is at the taxino that the poker-faced egos battle it out for the sake of pride.