Why I should really stop wearing red…

Wednesday 20th February 2008

Sooo much to say, I don’t know where to start!
I took Sunita for her HIV test (which was negative thank god), and afterwards looked at the other profiles to see who else might need one too.
Sajani, a three year old, caught my attention – father is in jail on a drugs charge, mother is a prostitute who’s also very sick.
Hmmm, I thought.

“Priya? Can we get Sajani tested too?”
“Well, drugs, prostitution, seems quite likely, plus her mother’s ill already…”
“Oh no, her mother doesn’t have HIV – She has Hepatitis.”
(a rather long pause)
“Um, Priya?”
“Maybe we should test Sajani for Hepatitis then?”
…and so on.

Priya wasn’t aware there are different types of Hepatitis and doesn’t know which one the mother has.
In the end, given how many of the kids are lost or abandoned with no information at all, we decided to get them all tested just to be safe. Karla and Amy both wanted to help out, so we’re going to split the cost of the tests between us and take a group of kids together next week sometime.

As Sunita and I came back from the hospital last Wednesday with the results (I’d promised her a nice lunch out to celebrate, although she was very bemused – I kept telling her we were celebrating because she wasn’t sick, and she just looked at me funny and said “Maya, I know I’m not sick. Otherwise I’d be at home in bed.”)

Unfortunately as we walked out we came across the biggest Maoist rally I’ve seen yet – over a thousand people marching in the road with hundreds of red flags etc.
They were going so slowly I knew we’d never make it to the restaurant unless we got in front of them, so I grabbed Sunita’s arm and told her to walk as fast as she could.

We started pushing past people and trying to get ahead of them. As well as the people on foot there were several buses filled with protesters, and each one had about 20 or 30 people on the roof. When we were about in the middle of it all, a shout suddenly went up over the sound of the slogans, and I gradually realised that there were about a hundred or so people cat-calling and wolf-whistling (and other words for those noises men make in large groups). To my horror I glanced over and realised that the men on the bus roofs had spotted me and were obviously elated that they had a white woman supporting their cause. It was at this point that I realised Sunita was wearing a red jacket, and my rucksack was also red, so we went with the Maoist flags nicely!

I dragged poor Sunita along as fast as I could and kept my head down, and eventually we were able to cut in front of them at a big junction.
We were still walking fast to keep ahead of them, and I was well up for a taxi. Round the corner we saw a huge line of taxis, but none of them would take us!
It turned out they were all in a queue for petrol, as one of the pumps had had a delivery, so no one would get out of the line for us!

We had to keep up the pace to stay ahead of the huge protest on our heels, as I really didn’t want to get caught up in it twice!
Anyhow, we made it to the restaurant safely and had a well-deserved big fat lunch.

The marches are going on almost every day now, and things are increasingly difficult for everyone.
The load-shedding (that’s what they call the regular power-cuts) is up to 8 hours a day, and we still don’t have any water – it’s been about three weeks now. In the Terai plains to the south west, there have been regular banda’s and strikes, and the paper yesterday announced we’re heading for a serious crisis. We’re so short of everything – cooking gas, petrol, food, water, power, and there seems to be a bit of a stalemate going on.

For example, there’s been a banda in most of the Terai for 6 straight days, a general strike called by the Madhesi group (kind of a tribal version of the Maoists). They have blocked roads and shut down most of the area completely.
However, because of this Banda, nothing can get through, and as most of our supplies come from India, this is a major problem. The police had to order a curfew and enforce it at gunpoint to allow trucks of supplies to get through.

It’s all a bit confusing, because it seems like the Madhesi are making it all worse, but then, most of the people in the rural Terai region don’t get any of the supplies from India – they all get driven straight through the Terai up to Kathmandu.

So they’ve cut us off effectively, as we’re in the hills and don’t exactly grow a lot!
According to the paper, we’ve got about 7 to 11 days of food left in the Kathmandu valley, and after that we’re all screwed. Vegetable prices are sky-rocketing, as truck drivers have more than doubled the cost of transporting them into cities, and schools are shutting down because the school buses are out of petrol.
Even the hospitals are on reduced schedules, and most are on emergency-only at the moment, as to combat the power-cuts they use generators, but there isn’t enough petrol to run the generators anymore!
In the face of all this, it seems insanely unlikely that the elections will happen at all – they’d been re-scheduled for the third time to happen in April, but I can’t see it happening.

Don’t be too worried though – there are three volunteers now at my orphanage, so we can cope with the rising prices of food, and it’s very unlikely we’ll run out of food – the police will just keep on enforcing curfews to allow the trucks through I imagine.

I was actually going to devote this email to the massive religious Puja we had this week at our orphanage, but the political events seem more important at the moment.

You’ll have to wait for the next one to hear all about that little drama!
Nothing much else to say – I’ll start the next email in a minute!

tons of love

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