No, we’re not concluding a yoga class.
I’ve just arrived in Kathmandu, and the sky is quite generous with late-night rainfall. In the car with Prakash from the JMC and Asbin – a former JMC worker and current caretaker of Casa Dei Guesthouse – we are en route to said guesthouse in Lalitpur. “Namaste”, the Nepali word for hello, is the only word I’ve managed to NOT completely mangle during the enjoyable impromptu language lesson that’s begun during the ride.
The ice has broken quickly, and we’re all sharing a great deal of laughter. There are two main sources of our giggling: the spine-shattering bumps in the narrow urban streets, and my pitiful attempts at pronouncing various Nepali phrases (the more I repeat them, the more ridiculous I sound). Our lungs fill with syrupy, dank smog with each guffaw, but the awkward cough-laugh that results only makes things more humorous. It’s not all fun and games, though.
It’s nearly midnight, but the streets are far from empty; zoo-like gangs of mangy dogs wander freely, and baton-wielding policemen stand watchfully. Prakash explains that after the recent resignation and replacement (via political appointment rather than popular election) of the Nepali prime minister, the already pervasive demonstrations in the country have become even more frequent. In fact, it will be quite odd if I don’t see lots of protesters out tomorrow. But wait, he explains, they prefer not to be referred to as “protesters”.
The demonstrators self-identify as the people’s true representatives, because Nepal’s politicians are generally accepted to be out to serve themselves. “Democracy” here is a far cry from what we know it to be in the U.S. (though such a statement can’t be fairly made without acknowledging the issues, obstacles, gross missteps and mishaps that occur in our own system as well); the options of meeting with representatives and/or contacting them via phone calls/emails/letters are simply nonexistent. As it stands, there is essentially one way in which the people feel they can communicate with their government: upend public order and stage mass demonstrations/strikes, causing destruction and violence if necessary.
We reach the guesthouse and continue our conversation over a dinner of pizza-flavored Pringles and Mountain Dew. Asbin points to the unlit candles on the table and notes his surprise that we’ve made it this far without having to reach for a match, as only four hours of electricity per day is the norm in Kathmandu. The new citywide power schedule, posted on the refrigerator, promises that daily power outages will now be limited to 90 minutes total each day. Perhaps owing to the new prime minister, the promise has held true thus far – but there is little faith in the longevity and sustainability of such a change in a simple public good like electricity. In fact, most people believe that the abrupt shift in leadership won’t change anything at all in the long run. Elected officials rarely do.
I try to thank my hosts for their generosity and hospitality in Nepali, but like the democratic reforms in this country, my efforts fall short.
Posted By Jessica Tirado
Posted Jun 13th, 2009