Tag Archives: In the News

Nepal TV Station Presents News By Kerosene Lamp

I’ve discussed the problem of load shedding and power shortages in Nepal before. It’s a huge challenge, especially in Kathmandu, and one that really effects daily life. Imagine regularly not having electricity 12 hours or more a day! I’m not even talking about the practicality of using a computer, or charging a cell phone– but the basics, like having a refrigerator to keep your food from spoiling, or having a light to study for your exams and do your homework by in the evening. Perhaps one could imagine this as a problem in a village, but in the capital city? It’s truly remarkable, and sad.

The BBC’s Joanna Jolly had an article today which highlights Nepal’s electricity problem– apparently the nightly news broadcast on Kantipur Television has started to present their show lighted only by a kerosene lantern.

Reading the news by kerosene lamp-- is it 1911 or 2011? (photo credit: BBC)

“We want the government to produce more electricity as soon as possible,” Kantipur News head Tirtha Koirala told the BBC.

“So far we’ve been getting a very positive response from our audience, but nothing yet from the government.”

Mr Koirala said his television news bulletin would continue to be broadcast in darkness until the government responded.

I say “bravo!” to the news for taking a stand.

If you want to read the full article click HERE.

Yarsagumba

There was an interesting article on the BBC today about a Himalayan medicine called Yarsagumba–it’s made from the mummified remains of a bat moth caterpillar and a fungus which grows out of the remains. It is a prized Chinese medicinal aphrodisiac.

The harvesting of this medicine has led to problems in the region with security and violence as it is one of the only means of income for local people. It is such a profitable trade that one kilogram could fetch $10,000.

How can I not share an article about trading and ingesting high altitude mummified bat moth caterpillar/fungus remains from Nepal? HERE.

Nepali Adoption Troubles

My sister forwarded me an article the other day about an American couple in Colorado who were in the process of adopting a child from Nepal. I wanted to share the details…

Apparently the adoptive family  filed all of the appropriate paperwork and paid all of the necessary fees, but when the time came for the US government to grant a visa for the child to travel with his new family to the States the consular office denied it because:

the United States government decided to halt issuing any visas to children adopted from Nepal because of kidnapping and child trafficking concerns.

The U.S. State Department says it has seen too many cases of false birth certificates to the point where it can’t verify if the children were willingly given up by their biological parents.

The family claims that their adopted son “Cali” was found under a bridge when  he was less than a month old, and that someone dropped him off at the local police station. Currently he is living in an orphanage in Nepal.

In August, Larry Georgeson decided to fly out to Nepal to visit his son. He had to explain to Cali why he couldn’t come back with him right away.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Larry Georgeson said.

The Georgesons hired an immigration attorney to collect the proper information in Nepal to prove their son was not kidnapped or picked up in trafficking.

Even when the information is collected, the Georgesons still aren’t guaranteed their son will receive a visa from the State Department.

I understand the trafficking concerns, but I worry about the adoption possibilities for kids that really do need a family. It is a very real possibility that if P and I couldn’t have kids, we would want to adopt a child from Nepal some day. Does this mean we couldn’t?

“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.

“Gross National Happiness” and Ethnic Cleansing

WordPress featured  a blog posting on Bhutan today, and since the tiny Himalayan country was also a topic of conversation at dinner the other night, I figured it was time to bring it up as a post. I must admit, I am not an expert on this topic, but I’ll try my best to explain.

Before I moved to New England, I knew very little about the country of Bhutan, but I admit it intrigued me. I had it on my list of places to try and travel to some day. I knew it was a fairly isolated state (the government strictly regulates tourism and travel), that it had a monarchy, that Buddhism was the prevailing religion, that the citizens of the country were required to wear traditional Bhutanese clothing, and that rather than measuring the GDP the king measured the GNH– Gross National Happiness. Who wouldn’t want to live in (or visit) a country that measured national happiness? It must be a happy place, right?

Tell that to the 100,000+ ethnically Nepali Bhutanese refugees living in camps in Eastern Nepal!

Ethnic Nepali Bhutanese Refugees at the camps in Eastern Nepal

I started learning more about Bhutan when the city I currently live in became one of several resettlement centers in the United States. The US government has agreed to bring 60,000 (ethnic Nepali) Bhutanese refugees for resettlement. Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark have agreed to take most of the remaining population from the camps in Eastern Nepal (which have sparked its own issues, I’ll mention this later).

Due to the resettlement process, I occasionally see older people in Nepali dress walking down the road when I drive around town. Since many from the resettled population are older and have limited English language skills, the local Nepali student population has become active in helping the Bhutanese families transition to their new home. P and I have driven vans of refugees to a nearby temple for festivals, and some of our neighbors have been much more active—having dinners, organizing donations, acting as medical translators for health visits, and participating in outreach activities.

I found this nice synopsis of the cause of the refugee situation online (taken from “Cultural Orientation Resource Center Refugee Backgrounder booklet on Bhutanese refugees”):

The great majority of Bhutanese refugees are descendants of people [of Nepali origin] who in the late 1800s began immigrating to southern Bhutan—lowland, malarial-infested regions shunned by the Druk Buddhist majority—in search of farmland. There they became known as Lhotsampas (“People of the South”).

Contact between the Druk in the north and the Lhotsampas in the south was limited, and over the years, the Lhotsampas retained their highly distinctive Nepali language, culture, and religion. Relations between the groups were for the most part conflict free. Under Bhutan’s Nationality Law of 1958, the Lhotsampas enjoyed Bhutanese citizenship and were allowed to hold government jobs.

In the 1980s, however, Bhutan’s king and the ruling Druk majority became increasingly worried about the rapidly growing Lhotsampa population. Concerned that the demographic shift could threaten the majority position and traditional Buddhist culture of the Druk, Bhutanese authorities adopted a series of policies known as Bhutanization, aimed at unifying the country under the Druk culture, religion, and language. The policies imposed the Druk dress code and customs on the Lhotsampas and prohibited the use of the Nepali language in schools. Nepali teachers were dismissed, and Nepali books were reportedly burned. The government also established new eligibility requirements for Bhutanese citizenship that disenfranchised many ethnic Nepalis, depriving them of their citizenship and civil rights.

When the Lhotsampas began to organize politically to protest the policies, the authorities declared the activities subversive and unlawful. Some Lhotsampas became activists in the Bhutanese People’s Party, which called for Bhutan’s democratization. Smaller ethnic communities also began to advocate for a more democratic political system. In 1990, large-scale protests led to violent clashes with the police and army and to mass arrests. Ethnic Nepalis were targeted by the Bhutanese authorities, who destroyed the Nepalis’ property and arrested and tortured activists. Individuals were forced to sign so-called “voluntary migration certificates” before being expelled from the country. In December 1990, the authorities announced that Lhotsampas who could not prove they had been residents of Bhutan in 1958 had to leave. Tens of thousands fled to Nepal and the Indian state of West Bengal.

Many of the refugees that are now resettled in the US have been living in refugee camps in Eastern Nepal for 15+ years. The entire story can’t help but tarnish (for me) the quaint idyllic picture the Tourism Council of Bhutan likes to paint of the government and country, and the idea of “Gross National Happiness.”

In addition, since Nepal has its own civil conflicts, political instability, and infrastructure problems, many Nepali citizens are also looking for a way out of the region. Since six countries have promised to resettle the Bhutanese refugees, there have been instances of fraud where Nepalis have tried to take advantage of this benefit by disguising themselves as Bhutanese refugees and applying for resettlement. Needless to say the process can be messy.

Lastly, when the refugees finally make it out of the camp, life is still not easy. The economic hardships in the US have also hit the refugee population. NPR had an interesting profile on Bhutanese refugees who can no longer find work after their resettlement stipends conclude, even when they are willing to do the most menial of jobs.

So much for “National Happiness.”

For more information:

Cultural Orientation Resource Center: Refugee Backgrounder booklet on Bhutanese refugees
Wikipedia: Bhutanese refugees
Wikipedia: Bhutan
Human Rights Watch: Nepal- US Offer to Resettle Bhutanese Refugees Sparks Tensions
NPR: Bhutan’s Reluctant Turn From Monarchy
NPR: Gross National Happiness Measures Quality of Life
BBC: In Pictures- Refugees use photos to tell their story
BBC: Bhutan celebrates its sense of nationhood
BBC: Bhutanese Refugees Start a New Life

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.

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).