Saturday 1st March 2008
There’s this tree….
It’s on Ratna Park, which is the major hub of Kathmandu, a huge public park, and the road around it is where all the buses and tuk-tuks terminate etc.
Every time I’m walking along the side of the road at Ratna park, I always notice this one particular tree.
It’s hard not to, as surrounding the base of the tree is an awful lot of shit.
The first time I went past it, I thought, “this must be where all the dogs come to poo”, and immediately forgot about it.
The next time I went past it, I thought, “Wait a minute, dogs don’t do that, they just go wherever they happen to be standing.”
At the exact same moment it occurred to me that dog poo doesn’t look like that either.
Then it dawned on me that returning to the same place to go to the bathroom is a very human trait, and there are a lot of homeless people living on Ratna Park road.
Now, this may seem quite a disgusting topic for an email, but I found it oddly endearing.
The thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s so hard to live here and stay compassionate about anything. There are literally thousands of homeless people, many of them hideously deformed, dragging themselves after you clutching at your ankles, street kids begging for money whilst huffing into their paper bags of glue at the same time, and the ones I hate most, the women who thrust their babies right into your face and grab you and won’t let go.
The only way to live here and stay sane is to ignore it all. You become a bit hard and a bit tough but you can’t keep giving to everyone, so you stop giving altogether. You walk faster, keep your head down and slowly it all goes away.
Just like the feral dogs that lie prostrate across your path, or follow you sniffing hopefully, you start to step over the street people passed out in the middle of the pavement without seeing them at all, except perhaps to subconsciously hold your handbag tighter, or shake off a persistent grubby child.
But then I saw the poo tree, and it made me remember that just because these people are homeless and starving, they still have those very basic traits that make us human, and separate us from dogs. They may be homeless and unable to wash etc, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a toilet, a place to go that keeps the part of the road they sleep in a bit cleaner.
And I really found it quite endearing and sweet, as gross as that may sound.
Then I started to notice other things too, like the glue kids who all hang out in Thamel, wild and crazy and very definitely damaged in the brain department after all that glue. If you ever go there early in the morning, you’ll see them all huddled up sleeping together under one blanket, looking a lot younger and more vulnerable than they do when awake, and then you remember that they’re just children.
Or like today, when one of the boys was sitting in the street with a sleeping boy’s head on his lap, picking through his hair for lice.
Nepal is a country full of surprises, despite it’s many faults.
One of it’s biggest problems is the total lack of fossil fuels and energy resources, hence the constant power cuts and gas shortages. They’re land-locked here, and rely totally on other countries for those supplies. Yet because of this, all the energy they do create is hydro-electric and solar, making it a remarkably green and environmentally friendly country, despite the flaws.
Nepal surprises me in other ways too.
There’s a restaurant in Thamel called the Bakery Cafe, which is part of a chain here in Nepal. All of the waiters and staff who work there, except for the manager, are deaf and mute. It’s a lovely little place, the staff are always smiley and attentive, and I love that they have specifically tried to employ disabled people who, in a country like this, may not otherwise have had a chance.
(Although if you tried that in England there’d be an uproar about unfair hiring practices and discrimination against non hearing-impaired people!).
There is also a significant number of women employed in sectors like the police, army, construction etc – probably a higher percentage than we have in the UK.
The political situation remains confusing, and often amusing too.
I’ve been reading the papers daily trying to make head or tail of it all, but they give so little actual information it’s taken me a week to figure out what’s actually happening.
The Banda in the Terai is now in it’s 15th day, and the 6-point demands they issued the government with have all been agreed to except for one. This last demand, the “One Madhes, One Pradesh” demand, was refused by the SPA (Seven-Party Alliance). It literally took a full week before anyone explained in the paper what this demand actually was!
I thought it was to do with the upcoming election, and maybe the voting system, but apparently the Madhesi’s want their own “autonomous state with the right to self-determination” within Nepal. The reports in the paper were mixed, but the Himalayan said that the government had refused this demand as they are currently only an interim government and this sort of major decision should be made by the officially elected government after the April elections. Which sounded like a perfectly reasonable and safe answer to me.
However the Kathmandu Post quoted an un-named government source as saying “we cannot agree to this demand as it would lead to the disintegration of the country.”
A rather blunt way to put it, however true it may be!
Other smaller groups have also submitted various demands for their own autonomous states, voting privileges, and tacked onto the end of one list of demands in the paper “…the Nepal army.” which I found really hilarious.
I suppose it’s worth a shot, but as far as I can see the Nepalese army is the only reason they still have a monarchy.
Everyone universally hates the monarchy and wants to make Nepal a republic (with the exception of the rather small royalist party), but that still hasn’t happened.
I suspect that the main reason is that the current King, while basically no longer allowed to do anything at all, still has formal control of the army (technically).
As the interim government consists of 7 parties, no-one has officially taken control, and if the King gets booted out, the resulting power struggle to gain control of the army would, I presume, be very nasty indeed.
So while basically having a role in name only, the monarchy are actually holding together a very fine balance by keeping the army out of say, the Maoists hands, or anyone else’s for that matter.
At least that’s my opinion based on the very sketchy information meted out in the newspapers here! (and bear in mind I could be utterly wrong – I often am!)
The Madhesi’s have been less obvious in their bid for the army – rather than simply demand it, they have broken up peace talks once again by adding several sub-clauses to the peace agreement. The government keep almost getting things under control and then someone will add a sub-clause and no-one will sign anything.
The last one in the paper was to do with the lack of proportional Madhesi representation in the Nepalese army, which could be amended by the immediate en masse recruitment of Madhesi’s into the army.
And so on.
Meanwhile, the petrol tankers line up at the Indian border ready to deliver fuel, but are unable to break through the banda.
There was a great photo in the paper of 132 tankers lined up at the Birgunj border crossing, waiting for the 2pm curfew to come into effect so they could have safe passage through the town.
On yet another note, I went with the boys to get water from the well this week, and was a bit frightened to see that it was empty. The boys took me to another one that had some water in, but not much.
I wondered how long until it starts raining and how far we’ll have to go next time to find a public well that hasn’t dried up.
However, I also found out that we can actually buy tankers of water from private companies, so I think we’ll be alright until the monsoon starts up (should be in April or May?)
That’s probably enough of my thoughts for now, so I’ll leave you with some of Kesar Lall’s instead:
Proverb 82: There will be no shortage of ash if you burn down your house.
Proverb 136: He who spits at the sky gets it full in his face.
lots of love
ps – I wrote this email a couple of days ago and saved it, but yesterday the Banda ended and everyone signed an agreement. The government will allow the Madhes to have an autonomous province but it will still be under the general jurisdiction of the central government, and they will begin to recruit more Madhesi’s into the army, but on a slower scale.
Also today I was lucky enough to see a photography exhibition that has been touring Nepal called “A People War: Images of the Nepal conflict 1996-2006″.
It’s become quite famous over the last few months and I’ve been dying to see it. It finally came to Kathmandu and is incredibly sad and moving. Some of the photos, and the stories that accompany them brought tears to my eyes.
It really astounds me that people have the ability to move on with their lives after something so horrific.
The exhibition was obviously fairly anti-Maoist, but they also showed some of the atrocities committed by the Nepali Army at the time too. Like when they burned down several entire villages that were suspected of harbouring Maoists. Or when they knocked on the door to a house where several neighbours were drinking and playing cards together. The neighbours were afraid to open the door in case the soldiers were Maoists, and the soldiers became suspicious that they weren’t opening the door because they were Maoists, so the soldiers opened fire and slaughtered them all. There was also a photo of a teacher who had his left hand chopped off because he refused to join the Maoist army, but to this day continues to teach classes in his local village school.
Really moving and terrifying stuff.