Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

Nepali government repeals its remarriage payment plan

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I published a story on Womens eNews about legislation proposed by the Nepali government to pay couples who remarry when the wife is a widow. Single women, as widows in Nepal prefer to be called, were strongly opposed to the plan. Likening it to another kind of dowry, single women told me they felt marked with a price tag and demeaned.  Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR), the most prominent NGO working for single women’s rights in Nepal, spent months lobbying the government and various policy makers to repeal the proposed legislation. Yesterday I received an email from WHR’s founder and executive director that their efforts have paid off. I’ve included the email below:

“Monetary Incentive Policy for Remarriage of single women (widows) ceased”

In the Budget 2066/67 B.S. (2009/10), Minister of Finance, Surendra Pandey under the Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Point No. 63, announced that a couple marrying a single woman (widow) would receive NRs. 50,000 to encourage remarriage of single women (widows).

Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR) filed a writ against the government at the Supreme Court for ‘Stay Order’ on January 08, 2010.

On 19th January, 2010, under the joint bench of Honorable Justice Balaram K.C. and Honorable Justice Girish Lal Karna, there was a hearing where the Honorable Judges mentioned that the government, instead of increasing access of single women (widows) to health, education and job opportunities, has encouraged dowry, hence, the judges made a decision for the ‘Stay Order’.

Now, the policy of giving NRs. 50,000 to a couple marrying single women (widows) will not be implemented.

WHR family is extremely thankful to each one of you for showing solidarity and supporting our endeavor.

Women for Human Rights, single women group family

Baluwatar, Kathmandu


January 19, 2010

Nepal story is out

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

One of the stories I reported while in Nepal was published yesterday by Women’s eNews. The piece is about widows and their desire for broad social acceptance, even if they do not remarry. In a country where losing a husband means losing much of your status and identity, there are single women who are pushing for change and proving that living successful and independent lives is possible. You can read it here.

Home now

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Or, really, for almost two weeks…! Strangely, though I should have posted this days ago, there hasn’t been a chance. Between Thanksgiving, jet lag, and jury duty it’s been busy…

Thankfully, I do think my jet lag is finally starting to recede (though at a play earlier this week I couldn’t help but doze a couple of times – and it was a really good production!). It was iffy there for a while. My first three or four days home I felt distinctly like a 3-year-old who really needs a regular afternoon nap…

It’s been a nice return home, however, with Thanksgiving and all the over-eating accompanying the annual feast. Seeing my family and friends and sharing some of the experiences from my journey has been a treat.

Now that everyone has headed home, however, I am forced to come to terms with the return to my normal New York life. Already, I miss the constant distractions of travel; of having all of my senses on high alert for strange new smells, sounds, tastes and views; for eager conversations with people whose stories are variously inspiring, harrowing, and moving. I love waking up not quite knowing what the day will be, though knowing all the same it will be exactly and utterly what I make of it.

Yet coming home has also given me some time to reflect on this trip. The Congo is that rare place that on some levels is totally depressing. The horrifying effects of protracted conflict are visible in every rut of the road and crumbling shack; in each ragged tear of a child’s clothes and tall wall topped with barbed wire. The desperate state of so many people and institutions there is often hard to see.

Yet on other levels, Congo is filled with daily examples of hope and promise and strength and survival. I am thrilled to have found a couple of those in my stories and to have met some of the people that embody them. It is a uniquely personal and gratifying experience. So far I’ve heard from several people about whom I wrote who are pleased with the results, which is the best feedback possible. And I’ve had at least two emails from others wanting to do something – in these cases donate money or mobilize humanitarian organizations to respond to some of the situations I explored in my pieces. To say this is more than I expected and that I am thrilled is an understatement.

Nepal, obviously, was a very different place and left me with very different feelings than did the Congo. But being there was equally invigorating. What I surely enjoyed most was the experience of being so far away while trekking – no cell phones, no computers or Internet, no T.V., no radios, no running water and only a single, spare light bulb in our rooms after sunset (if we were lucky). It’s so rare these days to feel really remote and I loved it.

Other elements of the visit were special too. In particular, the general warmth of the Nepali people, the vibrant colors of their clothes and jewelry, and the physical scenery, which was stunning. It’s quite a humbling experience to look up to Mountain peaks of 7,000-plus meters and consider one’s place on the planet. Yes, we are small. Quite another experience when told that for Nepal, these peaks are small! To me, they (being several summits in the Annapurna range) looked and felt like they were floating in the sky – it couldn’t actually be possible that they were connected to the ground and rose so precipitously, I thought. But, of course, it was and it was amazing to see. Out west, the mountains were not as close to where I walked and loomed overhead somewhat less powerfully. But they still outlined and underscored the vastness, emptiness and utter quiet that was so often all around.

Khatmandu was beautiful, though it is more crowded than many places I’ve ever been. I actually got stuck in a human traffic jam one afternoon while walking in the old part of town! Luckily I was directed through a series of snaking side streets and small tunnel-like passageways that helped me circumvent the crowd. And the shopping there … what’s a girl to say? It was endless and some of it was really beautiful. I did bring a couple of treasures home.

So now it’s time to get back into a routine here in New York, finish several more stories and start planning the next trip. Even I’m curious to see where that might be!

The 15-hour bus ride

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Oh, did I say 15 hours? Silly me, I meant 21 hours. Local bus. Lots of stops. Not comfortable, imagine that? Here’s a run-down:

Our vessel of ill repute

Our vessel of ill repute

Hour 0: Bina and I arrive in Surkhet (pronounced Sur-ket) and find a bus (really a large minivan) that will take us to Napalgunj where we can transfer to an overnight bus that will get us all the way back to Pokhara – home base for the Three Sisters Adventure Trekking (the company about which I am writing) and for Bina and me. We are told the trip will take 2.5 hours.

Hour .5: first stop (to pee etc)

Hour 1: second stop (to pee etc)

Hour 2: third stop. Yes, to pee, etc, but this time we stop in a town where we can buy some food. Bina procures us some yummy bean curry and spinach as well as several delectably greasy potato samosas and sugary fried treat. We eat in the van.

Hour 3.25: arrive in Napalgunj. But before letting anyone off of the bus, the driver makes a quick swoop to the local hospital for one of the patients whose fallen ill. He is a grown man and has been moaning and swooning for at least an hour now. He looks as though he is barely conscious, really. But when we arrive at the hospital, it’s closed. Yes, you read that correctly. Closed. Bina said there was some kind of strike here too… We did pass at least a dozen police decked out in riot gear, which seemed odd… Anyway, since the place was shut, we turned back around and made a beeline for the bus depot. I have no idea what happened to the man who was ill. He seemed to have some folks looking after him, so I’m hoping they saw to it that he was cared for.

Hour 4: Bina finds us our bus to Pokhara (what I would have done without her on this journey, I have NO idea…). This time, it’s a veritable bus, big and green, slightly hammered on the sides and containing about 10-12 rows of four seats (two per side). I buy a Pepsi.

Hour 4.25: We settle onto the bus. The seats are not comfortable, though I’ve been assured by the nice gentleman at the ticket booth they will be. The foam cushions quickly give way and render the seat as good as a slab of wood. My chair doesn’t go back far at all, the ones in front of us go back so far my knees are pushed up against them and Bina’s seat reclines to such a degree that the person behind her will have little leg room himself. Think positive thoughts. Bus makes a small circle around Napalgunj rounding up more passengers.

Hour 4. 5: Bus heads out of town. I move one row up, hoping to give Bina and I each our own seats, but soon a man sits next to her and then me. Her companion soon falls asleep basically on top of her – slumped sideways practically in her lap. She’s too polite to say anything. I nudge him awake and ask to switch seats with him. He obliges.

Hour 5-11: Driving. Frequent stops. Pee breaks, picking up and dropping off passengers. At one point three men with very smelly bags of fish get on. All the seats are full so they see fit to settle in the aisle right next to me! The smell is intense and I think this will not be OK for the next 10 hours. When I budge one of the bus workers and point from the smelly fish bag to the roof (hoping he’ll understand that I mean, please please please! ask the men to put their belongings up top) he reassures me – “only 10 minutes.” Felt a little bratty and whiny about my reaction, but, look, I’m human.

Hour 11: Dinner stop. Bina’s been sick a couple of times – very discreetly and only out of my sight when we stop. But she’s not doing well on the long ride. We both order ramen noodles for dinner. No dal bhat, please. I find the elusive chocolate biscuits for which the West Nepalis apparently have no taste! Even Bina wants one!

Hour 12: Total darkness outside, bus comes to a rather sudden halt. Soon enough there is clamoring off and then back onto the bus by passengers – mostly men (most of the passengers are men, but the few women seem less inclined to do the on-off shuffle). Bina is able to explain from what she’s hearing that there is an accident ahead. I get out to investigate. The rows of buses extend beyond where I can see – in front of me and behind. Granted, it is pitch black when all the bus lights are turned off. But in the 20 minutes I am outside, several more buses and trucks pull up and park on the side of the road – the other side – I guess, ours is already full.

Three men are outside our bus having a lively conversation in Nepali. To my great good fortune – being nosy, curious and linguistically deficient – one speaks halting English. He tells me the line of buses is 100 deep (I’m skeptical, but there are a lot of buses). He says two buses have collided up ahead. They are blocking the road. There are dead bodies. Police will come in the morning and decide what to do and maybe open the road.

Since I can’t see the collision, I have no idea if the police have arrived or not, or if, in fact, there are dead bodies or any injuries. But I’ve not heard any sirens or seen flashing lights. Given what we’ve already experienced and witnessed with the swift reactions and successful responses of the Nepali police elsewhere, I’m inclined to believe the man, that they are, as yet, no shows here. (Maybe I’m not being generous, and I do apologize if so, but it was late, and I was really tired.)

Hour 12.5: Feeling totally helpless and frustrated, I return to the bus. Bina has asked to switch seats. It’s a good thing, because her broken-and-therefore-too-far-leaning-back seat is quite effective at inducing sleep. I can’t do anything, in fact, but close my eyes.  Until, that is, the man behind me starts to push on the seat trying to get me to move it up. I try to explain it’s broken, nothing I can do. Bina tries to help too. He seems resigned.

Hour 13.5 or 14 (not sure): Man behind the seat puts his head on my seat and settles into sleep that way. He is breathing on me. I (awkwardly – this is so weird!) touch his face in an attempt to signal – not OK, please remove nostrils from the crown of my head.

Man behind the seat then reaches over the seat and, yes, between my knees to try and pry some mechanism on the seat he seems to believe will fix it and bring my seat forward! I swat his hand indignantly, making very clear he and his hand will be coming nowhere near my personal space – broken seat be damned! There is foul language involved. Again, a little embarrassed and hoping, assuming, no one really understood the English, just the message I was trying to convey. I think tone of voice is fairly effective for that. But I mean, his hand went between my knees! Big sigh. This is getting rough.

Hour 14-17: sleeping. Bus totally black. Bus totally not moving anywhere. But the Hindi pop music that has been blaring on the radio during the rest of the ride is off. So, apart from a spate of loud conversation between a mother and her child, which probably lasted 30 minutes or so (they were apparently nonplussed that most of the rest of us were trying to sleep), I did get some rest.

Hour 17: Bus comes to life. It’s now about 5 am. We are told the road has been cleared.

Hour 17-18.5: Bus turns on, turns off, turns on, turns off, turns on, turns off – you get the point – as it creeps through the logjam of traffic created by the collision. Still never saw any police or heard anything, but that really means nothing. My vantage point was limited.

Hour 18.5: Stop to pee, drink tea, morning break.  Bina and I decide definitively, we hate the bus. Hate it. We are told we have two more hours.

Hour 19-21: Fewer stops, and mostly to let passengers off. Though one short stop serves a somewhat mind-boggling purpose: from what I could tell, the bus pulled over only to allow passengers an opportunity to ogle what was apparently an accident off the side of a cliff. What a strange, and intrusive, procession it seemed. Everyone piled off, looked, piled back on and the bus continued.

Hour 21: Arrival in Pokhara. Too tired to even rejoice. Glad I did this, makes for a good story. Next time, I fly.

The Helicopter ride

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Sometimes, being the only foreigner around and thus drawing a certain amount of otherwise undeserved attention, has its perks.

Col. Madan and me

Col. Madan and me

When Bina and I finally got ourselves down to the airport runway for our flight out of Talcha, it was to be a helicopter ride. That we were getting out and not spending another day wondering about our fate was the best part. But equally exciting was that this would be a chopper – always more fun than some regular old airplane. And, as it turns out, I was in for a real treat.

After landing and unloading his cargo of World Food Program-donated rice, the helicopter pilot himself got out for a quick stretch of the legs and a salute to the policemen monitoring our departure. One of them pointed in my direction and the pilot, Col. Madan K.C., then approached me jovially wishing me “Welcome! Hello!” I greeted him in return and we had a warm exchange. In the space of only a few minutes he told me he’d been the pilot in 1996 to rescue a Texas doctor from atop Everest and was featured in the Imax movie about that same disastrous climbing season (he saved two people actually, Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau, in one of the world’s highest ever helicopter rescues). Then he invited me to join him in the cockpit after take-off to see “what it’s really like to fly a helicopter.” I, of course, accepted, but wasn’t sure if he was serious.

Soon thereafter we boarded and Bina and I settled into our bench seats at the rear, hugging in relief that we were actually on the move. Only moments later, one of the crew called us up front and after lifting off from the gravel ground, I was summoned into the cockpit onto a small Nepali stool made of straw. Settled snuggly between Col. Madan, a former Nepali Army pilot with 35 years experience, and his co-pilot, who actually did all of the flying, I started in on a half-hour long rhapsody of oohing and aahing at the views. What an incredible sight! The front of the helicopter is all windshield, rounded from the aircraft’s floor to its roof, offering a sweeping sight. Mountains rolled by one after the other in a continuous relief of distant and hazy blues and, as we descended, farmland greens. Nepal from the air is spectacular.

To top it all off, Col. Madan told me a bit about his adventures – landing a helicopter at 23,000 feet on Everest with space enough for only one side of his aircraft’s landing gear. The other half of the copter swayed perilously in the thin air. And on one of his take offs during that rescue, he was forced into a precipitous drop off of the mountainside before being able to regain elevation. Seeing that he could handle all of this, I knew I was in good hands, and clicked away with my camera.

When we landed Col. Madan and I exchanged phone numbers and emails. He told me he’d soon be in New York. I suggested we get coffee. I hope we do. I have a strong feeling he has many more stories to tell…