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."

Gaighat, Finally!

01 Jul

My arrival in Gaighat was somewhat unceremonious, involving a 14-hour bus ride which resembled one of those rides at theme parks where they shake you within an inch of your life while you watch a screen – only, unfortunately, there was no screen. I will spare readers the details of my misery, but accompanied with severe diarrhea, let me assure you that it was acute. I was violently ill when I arrived and remained so for several days, but under the kind and watchful care of Nicole and the various members of my new Gaighat family, I managed to recuperate and again find the idea of intaking food to be vaguely plausible.

Yesterday, during my first real trip out of the house, I was sitting at the internet cafe when suddenly I heard shouts and yelling outside. We ran outside to see a small crowd of people in the middle of the street, at the center of which was presumably a fight. The horde slowly progressed further down the street and was lost to view. Maybe 15 minutes later, I saw police in full military dress marching down the street carrying police shields, and an hour or so later when Ajaya-ji (my supervisor at NESPEC) was driving me to the office for the first time on his motorcycle, we saw that the street was closed off and as usual, tires were ablaze. A bandha in Gaighat! And on it has continued today – the shops are closed with grates over their doors, the street is impassable, nothing is happening.

From what I could gather, it seems like there was a contract given out by some local governmental office for the construction of a road. It was given to the construction union, but the local Young Communist League (YCL) felt that it should have been given to them, because they feel particularly empowered now that the hither-to Maoist insurgency is in power in Nepal. So they started a fight and beat up some unfortunate man, and apparently the construction union fought back and beat up some other unfortunate fellow, and there it is – a bandha. So no buses are running in and out of Gaighat anymore – not until this issue is resolved.

Regarding this sort of thing, people here tend to shake their heads and wryly smile, saying, “Naya Nepal ho” – this is New Nepal. It’s because on Republic Day, there had been terrible excitement within the country for a Naya Nepal, a New Nepal. And yet now the nation is in fact regularly stalled to a halt because of the unending bandhas.

Talking to a Nepali woman yesterday (I’ve actually been carrying out basic conversations in Nepali!), I gathered that she expects things to settle down. At the beginning of a democracy, there are so many new voices struggling to be heard that all that seems to result is chaos. But before, there was only one voice that was heard, and that was the King’s. So my (largely ignorant and presupposing) impression is that although the bandhas are frustrating, people are in general glad to have this new republic where people have a voice. At present, too many voices clamoring against each other results in cacophony. But perhaps someday, some semblance of harmony will be reached.

Posted By Raka Banerjee

Posted Jul 1st, 2008


  • Paul Colombini

    July 3, 2008


    Hey Raka! I heard about your digestinal challanges and just wanted to say I totally feel for you. I had a similar bout that lasted a few days when I first arrived in Delhi. Hope you are feeling better now and glad you are picking up some Nepali! I’m still working on Hindi and can now count to 20 (BIS!)

    – Paul

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