Category Archives: In the News

“Stuff Nepali People Like”

P brought to my attention this morning that the Nepali Times is running a series of articles on “Stuff Nepali People Like.” The first in the series touched on a few subjects that the American-Nepali Household has already discussed… from the ubiquitous love of steamed momo, to being called “fat” by relatives, to being fed constantly while visiting others (well, it’s more or less a rant on rice, but you get the same general idea).

Momo love-- a fundamental part of Nepali culture ;)

Certainly there is more that can be written; P asked me if I had posted about tea yet, and I’m surprised that I haven’t since a universal love of tea seems to be at the heart of Nepali-ness as well. I’m sure if I think about it a little more I can come up with a few more guesses as to what will be in future postings of “Stuff Nepali People Like,” but for now, feel free to check out the original article HERE.

The Strike Continues…

P talked to his family on the phone last night—Day 5 (now day 6) of the national strike I mentioned in Maoist Protests and Everest Expeditions . There has been no water for days (his family eventually purchased some for cooking purposes) since the little water available in the city is being re-routed to strikers in the streets. Electricity has been sporadic, businesses and schools are closed. In fact a few days ago one of our Nepali neighbors flew home to visit family and had to walk home from the airport since there are no cars allowed on the streets. Another friend is probably landing in Kathmandu as I write this, and will most likely have to walk home as well. I asked her to write a guest post and email it to me to give us some updates on what is happening “on the street.”

Strikes are not uncommon in Nepal. I’ve mentioned them before in my own travels in the country. However  these extended, nationwide organized strikes make it difficult on the average person to survive. As one recent New York Times article mentioned:

Katmandu has come to a halt as bands of Maoists brandishing sticks march through the streets ensuring that government offices and businesses stay shuttered. Schools are closed, households are running out of food, and even money is in short supply, since all the banks are closed. Tempers are flaring. It would not take much for people’s discontent with the strike to tip into civil unrest.

No wonder P’s dad insists that P never permanently move back home and why my university would rather create student programming in India than in Nepal.

Another article states:

Nepal is often hit by strikes, but this one is particularly severe. Journalist Prashant Jha said it was unusual in its strict enforcement and longevity.

“Tourists are going back, people are suffering, there is going to be a shortage of supplies, exports will dip and industry is crippled,” he told the BBC.

A peace rally was organized for Friday night so demonstrators could protest against the strike and advocate for a return to normal business, but latest word on the street is that the peace rally was cancelled due to security concerns. (Update… I just heard that the protest is still on– Nepali Times: Rally Goes On Despite Threats, you can also show your support through a Facebook group…)

Let’s hope the strike ends sooner rather than later.

Some of the latest articles on the strike:

New York Times: Powerless in Kathmandu
BBC: Nepal Brought to Standstill by Strike
BBC: Nepal Feels Effects of Maoists’ Anti-Government Strike
NPR: Nepal’s Maoists Block Roads to Government Offices
Republica: Maoists to Retaliate if Attacked
Republica: Maoists Ban Milk Supply
Republica: Maoist Strike Brings Traffic to Halt (and lots of other similar stories)
Nepal News: General Strike Turns Violent; Clashes in Various Places

Political Cartoon from today's Republica featuring Maoist leader Prachandra

Gurkhas in Afghanistan

P has a childhood friend whose family moved to the US several years ago with green cards, and to help pay his American college tutition P’s friend joined the army ROTC. Eventually he was called up for service in Afghanistan and has since already served at least one tour of duty. We met up with him randomly last summer in Nepal, and he told us a bit about his experience, and about meeting other Nepalis working there–whether they were contracted as cooks and other service workers by the US army, or Gurkhas serving with British troops.

Anyway, P found an interesting five minute video last night that I thought I would share about Gurkha troops in Afghanistan, and how many Gurkha soldiers connect with the local Afghan people. It was pretty interesting. You can watch the short video here: From Himalayas to Helmand.

Video description:

For almost two centuries, the Gurkhas have held a place among the fiercest and most loyal warriors in modern history. This group of young men, who come mostly from the rugged hills of rural Nepal, have fought for the British in almost every war since 1815. Today, members of the Royal Gurkha Rifles have a robust presence in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. They play an invaluable role in training and mentoring programs for the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, mainly because of the cultural knowledge they bring with them.

Maoist Protests and Everest Expeditions

May Protests Planned

News has been fluttering around about the threat of a month long national strike in Nepal organized by the Maoists starting with May Day on May 1st. Several articles have recently covered the issue:

BBC: Maoists converge on Nepalese capital
Republica: Peace Process at Risk
Nepal News: More than half a million people set to hit streets during… May day demo
Nepal News: Bhattarai says Maoist nationwide agitation will be ‘peaceful’
Nepal News: Government asks Maoists to call off demonstration

Added on 5/3: BBC Maoists strike shuts down Nepal to Topple Government
New York Times Nationwide Strike in Nepal Threatens Final Steps of Peace Process

Everest

May is the start of Everest summiting season—the critical few weeks in May where the South Asian weather patterns usually shift (before the arrival of the monsoons) giving climbers a good shot at finding the summit of the mighty mountain relatively clear and storm free. This year a Sherpa team is leading a Nepali organized environmental expedition to help clean up the ever-growing trash on the mountain including old ropes, used oxygen bottles, camp gear, and the bodies of climbers who died on the ascent. Seven-time summit-er Namgyal Sherpa  notes, “I’m a climber and I can say frankly that I’m a little bit angry when I climb Mount Everest because of the rubbish,”

As part of the expedition the team hopes to retrieve the bodies of three climbers which have been lying on the trail: Swiss climber Gianni Goltz, American Scott Fisher, and New Zealander Rob Hall (Fisher and Hall were part of the 1996 team that died on the mountain in one of the worst climbing disasters in Everest history, chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his book “Into Thin Air”—a book I admit I have a hard time putting down, even though I’ve read it several times).

A recent BBC article (“Everest ‘death zone’ to be cleaned”) notes:

Namgyal says some families have expressed the desire to leave the bodies on Mount Everest, as they feel this is what the climbers would have wanted.

However, the expedition project co-ordinator, Chakra Karki, says that Nepalese people do not want the mountain to become a graveyard.

“We respect the sentiments of the family of anyone who has died on Everest,” he said.

“But it is a holy mountain and our government policy is clear – there should be no dead bodies on the mountain. All dead bodies should be brought below base camp and either buried or cremated. They shouldn’t pollute the mountain glaciers.”

You can learn more about the expedition by listening to a PRI’s The World audio segment on “Cleaning up Mount Everest” and reading the Nepal News article.

Load Shedding

If you visit Kathmandu I can pretty much guarantee that you will  experience “load shedding.”

I had never heard this word until P started to talk about it a few years ago when the load shedding situation started to get really bad.

Apparently, for the last few years, Nepal has not been able to produce enough energy to meet the needs of the capital city, and as a result the electrical grid in various zones of the city is shut off during different parts of the day to help save on energy in general. This has become so routine that now the power companies post load shedding schedules in the newspaper so that each household can predict and expect when they will and will not have electricity each day (example from the electric company’s website in Nepali… and an example in English for a week in March).

For those unfamiliar with the pervasiveness of Nepali load shedding– imagine… for a while the power was cut for a few hours, eventually it was up to 12 hours a day, then 16 hours a day, I think for a while it might have even been higher than that (18, 20). It’s not like the power company has to have one long load shedding day a month to balance energy needs, because that, while inconvenient, would be manageable… but these are daily occurrences. One Nepali blog wrote an opinion piece called “Sixteen Hour Load Shedding in Nepal: How the Hell Can One Run the Government?” stating:

The country has some interesting experience to share from its existing 12 hours power cuts. Nepal Police says that incidences of robbery & petty crimes go up during the dark hours. Hospitals refuse accepting emergency & injury cases due to their inability to operate such vital machines like MRI & CT. Nepali doctors are adding laurels to their professionalism and ask for extra privilege & protection for their success in “Candlelight Operations”. Nepal’s radio & TV networks have officially announced a five hours’ closure of “informing the public”. The dailies publish students’ complaint letters lamenting how their exam & career are affected by continual load-shedding.

Some families have generators to help them through the load shedding hours, but many do not, including P’s. Appliances like refrigerators are useless if you only have power for a few hours a day, and luckily many families don’t rely on refrigerators in the same way that Americans do. Without electricity one can’t use the computer, watch the tv (even for news), or listen to a radio that doesn’t have batteries. When we were visiting over the summer the family would often sit on the flat roof as the early evening darkness set in and drink tea while waiting for the power to come  back on at 7 o’clock. Candles were lit around the house for light, and P’s mother could still cook on the gas burners in the kitchen. Surprisingly, life went on, without electricity, day after day. When I went to my friend’s house to have henna designs put on my hands for her wedding, we had to sit near candles and flashlights when the lights clicked off—we had driven from P’s house (in one zone where we had no electricity) and driven to her house (in another zone) and followed the blackout as it switched across town.

During the height of the blackouts, load shedding was a common topic of conversation, and I could hear P discussing it on the phone with his family. It was kind of like the “how’s the weather?” question for a New Englander because it changes so frequently… “how many hours of load shedding do you have this week?”

It has been years now since the energy crisis has come to a head… and it is still a problem. In January 2009 the BBC had an article on the energy issues in the country with the sub-headline, “Just when switching over to clean energy to fight climate change has become a global mantra, water-rich Nepal appears to be heading in the opposite direction, changing from renewable to dirty energy.” The article highlights Nepal’s nationally declared energy crisis, which is unfortunate and absurd in a country with “more than 6,000 rivers… gushing down the Himalayan foothills… there is the potential to generate tens of thousands of megawatts [of electricity through hydropower!]” Of course there is a lot of finger pointing… the old government blames the lack of power generating infrastructure on the ten-year long Maoist insurgency since the Maoists were “repeatedly accused of disrupting the construction works [of a dam project]” while the Maoists claim “political mismanagement” in the previous regimes are the real cause of lack of proper energy infrastructure. The main point is that to elevate some of the energy problems the government imported  several surplus industrial diesel generators from China left over from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

That article was published fifteen months ago, and I still talked to P’s dad about load shedding yesterday on the phone. An article in the Himalayan Times from March 12 stated that the weekly load shedding outages in the Valley were increasing from 77 hours a week to 84. Eight-four hours a week… that is still 12 hours per day of no electricity.

Trekking in Nepal

There was a nice article in the New York Times today about trekking in the Annapurna region of Nepal. If you would like to read the full article (it is a bit long) you can read it HERE. One of these days I’ll have to tell our story of trekking in Solukhubu (Everest region) this past summer…

Uncertain future of Nepal’s former child soldiers

There was an article from the BBC today on the rehabilitation of Nepal’s former child soldiers. You can see the original article HERE.

Clad in navy tracksuits, dozens of young Nepali faces stand around in the midday sun at Dhudhali barracks in southern Nepal, waiting to board buses and trains home.

After three years spent living in UN-monitored camps since the country’s civil war, they are the first of around 3,000 former Maoist child soldiers now being discharged and returning to civilian life.

The move, which has been repeatedly delayed, is seen as an important step at a time when the nation’s peace process has stalled since the Maoist party left government in May last year.

Nepal’s decade-long conflict cost 16,000 lives and finally ended in 2006 with an agreement between the government and Maoist rebels.

‘Sad to leave’

The children, along with about 1,000 disqualified combatants, will be given a choice of vocational courses, entrepreneurial training or school classes for up to one year.

On Thursday, around 200 combatants at the Dhudhali camp had a final midday meal of chicken, rice and beans, and sat through a ceremony where they were each given garlands and blessed with red powder.

They then boarded buses to go home, each with 10,000 Nepali rupees ($137; £86) allowance for travel and other expenses.

“They told me I was a child soldier so I have to leave,” said 20-year old Punita Shah, who quit school four years ago after the Maoists asked her to join their cause.

Accustomed to getting up at 4am and a strict routine of military drills and physical exercise, she says she is looking forward to being back with her family and working on the farm.

“I have many friends here and I am sad to leave them, but I want to go back and support my mother and father,” she says.

“I joined the party to help the people and serve the nation,” she says, “Now I am a common person, not a soldier”.

The UN has said it will monitor those discharged for a year to ensure they do not join military or paramilitary structures.

However, many of those being released on Thursday say they will remain committed to the Maoists and plan to join party organisations.

‘Revolution not over’

During the war, the Maoists were notorious for their recruitment of young people – voluntarily or by force – from remote villages. Some were aged only 12 or 13.

“The revolution is not over, but it has now turned to peaceful politics,” said 22-year-old Dev Das, who says he will get a job and join the party locally.

During the war, he organised food and water to his “comrades” during conflict periods and saw many of his friends die.

“I was ready to sacrifice my life. On the one hand I was thinking about liberation, on the other about death,” he said.

It is hoped that, following the discharge, the Maoists will be considered for removal from a UN list of political parties that recruit and use children.

An agreement in early 2007 pledged immediately to discharge 4,000 minors and disqualified combatants following a UN verification process which was completed by the end of the year.

But the move has been delayed by the failure of the Maoists and other parties to reach an agreement.

Robert Piper, country resident for the United Nations in Nepal, say he hopes the move will add momentum to the peace process which has stalled.

Indoctrinated?

“Progress in Nepal’s peace process has been a long time coming,” he said.

“The reintegration or rehabilitation of these people back into civilian life is a terribly important sign that we are turning a corner and entering a new chapter this year.

“I hope these young people will be able to move from an institutionalised life spent following instructions to one where they can make their own choices.”

As part of the peace deal in 2006, about 24,000 Maoist troops agreed to be confined to 28 cantonments – monitored by the UN, but run internally by the party.

The fate of the remaining former combatants has not yet been decided and remains a key political issue.

The Maoists want their former fighters to be integrated into the army, but political opponents claim they are politically indoctrinated and therefore ineligible.

Former rebels have been protesting since their leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) quit as prime minister after a failed bid to sack the army chief over the issue.

Other articles on this topic appeared today as well including including “Nepal former child soldiers free” on the BBC and “Ex-child soldiers leave Nepal camp after 3 years” in the Washington Post (with a picture slide show).

Sari Soldiers

While on the topic of recommending things… a friend in Canada recently went to a documentary film festival and saw this film: “Sari Soldiers.” It looks really interesting. It doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix yet, but if I can find it and watch it, I’ll let you know how it is. The trailer is below:

Recent Stories of Nepal in the News

I came across a few articles on the BBC this morning about Nepal so I thought I would share the links. Then I thought I’d pull together a few other links I’ve been thinking about lately for good measure.

The first article was about a reprise in a call for “Gorkhaland” in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal. There are many Nepali speakers and ethnic Nepalis who live in this region of north-east India, including P’s grandfather’s family who hail from Kalingpong. When P’s father was young P’s grandfather sent him to live with his wife’s parents in Kathmandu. Eventually his grandfather and the rest of the family moved to the KTM valley as well, but when P was young the relatives still living in Kalingpong wanted P to come and live with them and attend primary school in their “ancestral home.” This was in the early 80s when the original “Gorkhaland” separatists were involved in skirmishes, and it was eventually deemed too risky to send P, and he spent the next 15 years of his life living in Kathmandu.

I guess recently a new state was created in southern India and this has rekindled interest in fighting to create the state of “Gorkhaland.” The  article talks about the situation in more detail: “India new ‘Gorkha’ state talks to continue.”

The second article has more details about the Maoists in Nepal. I was on a roll for a little while talking about Nepali history, and I’ll get back to that at some point, but where I was leading to was a discussion of the “People’s War” and the Maoist insurgency. Fighting was put on hold during the past few years as the Maoists and the government tried to reach a peace agreement. Among other things this led to the removal of the king and the Nepali monarchy in general, and electing Maoist officials into the national government. However various events have led to a disintegration of the fledgling peace, and lately large demonstrations and strikes have occurred. You can read more about this at: “Growing fragility of Nepal’s peace process.”

This piece I’ve been sitting on for a while waiting for a time to mention it. The New York Times runs a multimedia series called “One in 8 Million” which feature stories about various (and diverse) people living in the 5 boroughs of New York City. A while back they had a feature on a man named Tika Chapagai, a recent immigrant from Bhutan (the country known for measuring its “Gross National Happiness”) by way of Nepal. This topic probably warrants its own post some time, but I just wanted to mention briefly that one of the newest refugee populations currently resettling in the US are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees, many of whom have spent many years in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. I don’t really know all the back story to this refugee situation, but according to Human Rights Watch, Bhutan stripped the minority ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and forced about 100,000 into exile in the early 1990s, allegedly in an attempt to ensure a homogeneous culture. I have several friends that are employed as translators for the Bhutanese that have been resettled in our city. I believe one of my readers also works with this population, so perhaps he can chime in, and I’ll look into more information to write a proper post sometime soon.

Another article that has recently featured in the New York Times was about two Nepali taxi drivers in New York City who shared the driving duties for a cab. One drove the night shift, the other the day shift. One day the night shift driver tried to kill the day shift driver with a meat cleaver, and after the attack jumped to his death from one of the city bridges. The article unravels the events that led up to the attack. P and I have a friend who works as a taxi cab driver in New York, and on a visit to the city a year ago we got an inside view of what the job entails. The article is both interesting and sad.

Last but not least I wanted to link to another article which was kind of interesting and bizarre. It was a Time Magazine article called “Somali Refugees in Nepal: Stuck in the Waiting Room” and it was about a community of Somalis who were trying to get smuggled to Europe but wound up stranded in Kathmandu.

Happy Reading!

Mount Everest Cabinet Meeting

Climate change is something very near and dear to this American-Nepali household. Climate change and glacier melt in the Himalayas is a large part of P’s doctoral work. Over the summer we trekked up into the Everest region so that P could make contacts with local people, researchers and officials. We even randomly happened upon a climate change awareness festival in the shadows of the high peaks.

This morning, BBC featured an article on a pre-Copenhagen Nepali cabinet meeting on climate change awareness. The Maldives held a similar meeting not too long ago, and chose to hold it underwater to highlight the very real danger of rising sea levels and the threat to low lying island nations. In turn, the Nepali meeting was held at Mt. Everest base camp to highlight the temperature increases in the mountain region and the threat to glaciers which are important to the waterways of Asia.

I wanted to relay the article. You can see it in its original format HERE.

Nepalese ministers have held the world’s highest cabinet meeting on Mount Everest, to raise awareness of the effects of climate change.

The ministers signed a declaration on climate change during the meeting, which comes before the Copenhagen climate summit starts next week.

PM Madhav Kumar Nepal told the BBC the Himalayas were “a global treasure” that needed to be protected.

Studies show temperatures rising faster there than in the rest of South Asia.

The studies show the rise has led to a reduced snowfall over the mountains and has caused glaciers to melt.

The entire cabinet of 21 ministers travelled in a fleet of helicopters to Kalipatar – a plateau at 5,200m (17,000ft) next to Everest’s base camp.

Medical equipment, oxygen canisters, soldiers and journalists had already been ferried to the site.

During their half-hour meeting, the ministers – some wearing oxygen masks to help them breathe in the thin air – endorsed a resolution on climate change, which they called the Shara Matar – Top of the World – Declaration.

“We wanted to stress one point: that the Himalayas are a global treasure,” Mr Nepal told the BBC.

“They are the water towers of Asia, feeding its largest rivers and nourishing hundreds of millions of people downstream.”

Crowds of local people, many of them wearing traditional outfits, gathered at the village of Syangboche, from where the ministerial helicopters took off.

Nawang Tenge, a Buddhist monk waiting to greet the minsters on their return, said the meeting gave him hope for the development of the region.

“For us, nature is God. But we are not treating our God fairly and that is why we are facing problems,” he told the AFP news agency.

“Last year, there was no rain or snow here and the temperatures go up with every passing year.”

Mingma, a 47-year-old inn keeper, said he was glad the government was “taking initiatives before it is too late”.

“Usually authorities tend to act only after accidents. We are now hopeful that something might be done,” he told the AP news agency.

‘Critical’

Mr Nepal said the mountain range played “an important role in global atmospheric circulation and a centre for unique biodiversity”.

“The lofty peaks and mighty rivers have inspired civilisations and supported a mosaic of cultural diversity and because of that we need to preserve Mount Everest, the mountains and all those places downstream,” he said.

The trip was funded by a group of Nepalese private organisations, many of them from the tourist sector.

Environment Minister Thakur Prasad Sharma shrugged off criticism that the meeting was just a costly publicity stunt.

“The fact is that the glaciers are melting due to global warming. That has become a critical issue and we want to draw global attention to it,” Mr Sharma told AFP.

Mount Everest is the highest point on earth, with a summit 29,035 ft (8,850 m) above sea level.

The cabinet meeting comes after the government of the Maldives – the world’s lowest-lying country – held an underwater cabinet meeting in October to highlight the threat to their territory from rising sea levels.