If you haven’t read the last issue of Empower Nepal, do so now as much of what is reported here is a follow-up on what is happening in Nepal which is not getting into the press in the US.
First, the Indian Blockade of fuels and goods coming into Nepal is still in high swing, and Nepal is really on its knees. It is becoming clearer that the India Prime Minister Modi and his conservative, nationalistic BJP party is trying not just to influence the internal governance of Nepal, but actually trying to interfere and disrupt the workings of government. In the name of helping the Indian émigrés and descendants residing inside Nepal, India seems interested in annexing at least the borderlands if not the entire country of Nepal, much like they did with Sikkim. Blocking the transport of disaster relief and rebuilding supplies, creating internal dissension and provoking a revolt is, of course, a violation of international law and human rights! In addition, there have been several incursions of the Indian Border Guards into villages in Nepal with guns blazing, chasing blackmarket profiteers it created. This week a major Nepali political party causing much of the violence and disruption sent its representatives for closed door talks with PM Modi! You can just picture Modi shaking their hands and saying, “Keep it up. We will support you!” To date, violence in the Terai (the southern Borderlands of Nepal) has resulted in the burning of vehicles and police posts, over 50 deaths, and hundreds wounded,. Ambulances carrying children and a jeep carrying medical supplies have been attacked and burned, even though they were promised safe passage. ANSWER cannot travel through the Terai to visit our schools for the lack of fuel and fear for our safety.
The result of all this is that supplies for rebuilding, for restocking hospitals and pharmacies, for transportation and cooking fuels, are only available on the black market at 3-4 x the going price. Many private cars are still on the road because the rich can afford to pay the blackmarket prices. Taxis have doubled, even tripled their rates because they, too, buy blackmarket fuel as most of their fares are wealthier or desperate enough to pay. Buses and trucks are mostly in line waiting for rationed fuels, so the few buses still running are crammed to capacity with passengers hanging out the doors and riding on the top.
NO, I have not dared to climb on top of one of those old buses, some of which list badly to one side like a sailboat being hiked against the wind. Like the rest, I push myself inside, becoming back to back and belly to belly with my fellow sardines…In fact, I usually try to pass the time or have fun by talking one on one with a student trying desperately to get home after school. Sometimes, I can bring some levity to the situation. For example, to one lady who was being shoved firmly against me, I pleaded loudly, “Lady, please, I am a married man.” She turned bright red and laughed while everyone else howled.” Another time I yelled out, “Let me off at the 3 Monkeys’ Restaurant.” Someone spoke out and corrected me, “It is 5 Monkeys!” He was right, but I quickly retorted, “No, no. Two monkeys died in the earthquake.” It was simple enough English so that everyone on the Bus broke out in laughter. They were all still laughing as the bus dropped me off. Such moments when we help restore spirits, bringing good will in difficult times, are lessons in our common humanity and are to be remembered, even cherished.
Nevertheless, Nepal is in dire straits. Winter is now upon them. There is no central heating in Nepal except the 5 star Hotels. Kathmandu is rationing electricity and canned propane. There is power only 9 hours a day. Our office is dark and cold. Our staff is wearing coats indoors; their breath is condensing in the air as they sit at their desk; and their small electric space heaters under the desk are permanently off. They can only cook or boil hot water in our miniature microwave when there is power! Restaurants are almost all smoky as propane has been replaced with wood for cooking. Relief agencies can do demolition (by hand) and clean up the rubble, but no one can rebuild for the lack of materials. The prices of everything is out the door and sugar for tea in short supply. Hospitals are without oxygen, supplies, and running out of medicines. After 4 months of India’s blockade, there is no sign this will let up soon. Without goods coming into Nepal, it is learning to become self-dependent again at great costs. Nepal dares not provoke an incident.