So I just returned from a week of assisting the Fordham Law School fact-finding mission in the Terai. I recorded video of the interviews and gained some insight into the social/political/economic relations of the region. I’m currently living in Kathmandu with my friend Amit who works for UNHCR. Here are some thoughts:
“We don’t have enough to eat.” It’s something that I’m both used to and not used to hearing. I am used to hearing it on television and in classrooms but not from the person in front of me sharing shade and dirt. This I think will be a recurring theme–experiential knowledge.
Subsistence looks totally different on the page of the customary tenure paper I wrote last year than it does in the villages we interviewed in this past week. Subsistence, from an experiential perspective, is a stick and straw hut with a cot inside. It is a level of consumption so far below what American consumption looks like it seems not just quantitatively different but qualitatively different. It felt very odd to feast (very inexpensively by American standards) for many of our meals during the trip considering many of those interviewed said that their food security is interrupted by any shocks.
Gender. The recent rights education campaigns and Maoist advocacy education have really taught people—particularly women—to resist injustice. In many villages we visited, women conduct all the politics. They are the ones who break down caste barriers that have existed for centuries by eating with each other, which forces the men to do the same.
Nepali. In Nepali, each number from 1-100 has its own word you have to memorize. Thank goodness the currency is 1:75. I’m probably only going to memorize 1-10, 50, 100, and 1000.
Community. It’s amazing that people who are unrelated but share a common identity can be so close. Other members of the fact-finding mission found the Tharu community we interviewed particularly close-knit and living up to their reputation as kind and honest. It makes me wonder about the lack of community in the life choices I’m making. I’ve pigeon-holed myself into nomadic lifestyle, and I have the hypocrisy to condemn places like Cambridge that are just a collection of ephemeral professional culture resulting in a thinness of experience and a dearth of vivacity.
Cultural Softness. My father once commented that he didn’t think I’d be comfortable living outside the developed world. One reason he chose to stay in America was that I had grown up there and would have a tough time returning to China. Maybe his hypthosis is grounded in his experience growing up in a socially and politically turbulent China. I’m finding this is not the case. Wealth and stability isn’t necessary to smile, to look into someone’s eyes with understanding when you speak to them. The first thing I noticed here was that I saw more people smiling walking down one street in the middle of town for an hour than I had my entire two years in Boston. Amit speaks of a softness to this whole country—the people are kind despite harsh circumstances. Some places are polite and others are not. I guess we can chalk it up to the ineffable cause of culture.
Posted By Kan Yan
Posted May 16th, 2009
May 16, 2009
People tend to be kinder when they never know who they will need tomorrow. If your survival might depend on you neighbour sharing any extra crops they have you tend to be nice. The flip side is that such desperation can break out and mask violence.
IOW I’d have to disagree with your definition of nice. I feel that people are similar everywhere but the *expression* that emotions takes depends upon the culture.
As for the Maois advocacy campaign, given the internal statements about resorting to violence I hesitate to attribute anything good to them.
In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge