Raka Banerjee

Raka Banerjee (Nepal Social Development and People's Empowerment Center - NESPEC): Raka has spent much of her student and professional life abroad. She received her Bachelors of Arts in international studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. She then taught English in Japan for a year and in the slums of India. At the time of her fellowship, she was pursuing her Master's degree at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, specializing in International Development and Nonprofit Management. After her fellowship, Raka wrote: "I had no choice but to let go of my previous life entirely and really dive into Nepali life without a single anchor to hold me back. I adapted to the culture in as many ways as I could – the clothes, the food, the behavior, the expectations – everything. And because of that, I feel that I really became Nepali while I was there – my mind changed from an American mind to a Nepali one, and because of that even my thought and behavioral patterns changed. The intensity of this only became clear to me upon my return to the U.S., when I found myself on the verge of tears at my first step on American soil – I felt that I’d come to a new country, leaving my home behind."

Arrival in Nepal

19 Jun

It is always an unnerving task to set virtual pen to paper in the writing of the inaugural blog entry. My duty is further complicated by my intentions for this journal – in it, I hope to not only advocate for and represent the work of NESPEC (Nepal Social Development and People’s Empowerment Center), but also to create a record of my experiences during my 3-month sojourn in Nepal. My writing is therefore meant to serve as one of the forums through which I can raise awareness of the issues faced by NESPEC – yet I also hope that it will serve as a tool which will help me to understand, interpret and process my circumstances and the roles I will play in my new environment.

I arrived in Nepal at 8:30am this morning and was greeted by Nicole Farkouh, who graciously braved all manner of traffic and transport tribulations to meet me at the Kathmandu airport. Nicole worked with NESPEC during the previous summer, so she is well-versed in both the human rights issues that they deal with and the ways in which they work to assist the underprivileged in Nepal. Over a much-needed lunch of dal-bhath (rice, lentils and mixed vegetables), we talked a bit about the lands rights campaign that NESPEC is currently working on – there are many issues related to sharecropping, government land, lack of property rights, erosion of fertile lands, etc. which have left many Nepalese people without land to till, and therefore without food to eat. My work, as far as I can see at this point, will in part entail increasing NESPEC’s capacity for raising awareness for this kind of campaign – ideally through the internet, as well as other means.

I arrived unsure of the specifics of the political situation here in Nepal – did the new existence of the Republic of Nepal imply that political dissent has faded? Not from the streets, it seems. When the crowded bus on which Nicole and I were riding ground to a halt, we took to our feet and quickly found ourselves amidst a large crowd, smoke rising from the center. Closer investigation revealed that the smoke was being created by several car tires that had been set ablaze in the middle of the street. Men were scattered all around, chanting “Zindabad, zindabad!”, which I remembered from my smattering of Hindi means “Long live”. I failed to discover the identity of the life upon which longevity was being wished, but Nicole thought that it was likely tied to a recent meeting between the Minister of the Forestry department and a local government official, which apparently led to the Minister locking the local official in a bathroom.

I’ll leave it at that for today. My next few days will be spent acclimating and making plans for my upcoming bus adventure to Gaighat. I am looking forward to discovering whether the ride will take 8 hours or three times that – only the bandhs (protest strikes) can tell!

Posted By Raka Banerjee

Posted Jun 19th, 2008

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