Students demonstrating on the street.I know this is my third blog about protests in Nepal, but I promise, this will be the last.
Nothing particularly eventful had been happening the past week in Kathmandu, besides the continued political in-fighting and random demonstrations. You know, typical Kathmandu stuff. As this would be one of my last weekends in Nepal, I decided to take a mini-vacation. I was away for three days, and returned to a Kathmandu that was – literally – on fire.
I took my first trip outside the Valley to Butwal with a COCAP volunteer, Bijay. It was a great experience – I had heard that Kathmandu wasn’t the real Nepal, and I found out that this statement was, in fact, true. However my time wasn’t particularly blog-worthy (at least for the purposes of this one) until the day I tried to return on Sunday.
In the morning, Bijay called the micro-bus ticketing office to reserve two seats for Kathmandu. He was told that there were mass demonstrations all around Nepal, and the buses where having difficulty getting through on the roads. I hadn’t checked my email, yet alone the news, on my vacation. Bijay was surprised by the news himself, and started piecing together the story from people hanging around the hotel. The Government had announced on Friday that there was going to be a 25% price increase in oil and an 11% increase in diesel, and as a result, people poured out into the streets in protest. Through the advent of technologies such as text messaging, the word of the protests reached all corners of Nepal, and people began to organize smaller protests in their communities.
Driving by as the crowd dissipates.Luckily, we were able to get a microbus (it looked like a Land Rover knock-off) to take us to Kathmandu after an hour of waiting. When the microbus started on the main road, I noticed black piles in the middle of the road. The fires from the protests in Butwal were already out. I assumed this was one of the flash-in-the-pan demonstrations that I’d seen several times since being in Nepal. As we continued through mountain roads and valleys, it was oddly quiet. There was no oncoming traffic.
When we hit the first town there was already a long line of buses, trucks and cars stopped. The distinctive billows of black smoke signaled that the road was blocked up ahead. In an attempt to bypass the demonstration, our driver followed a few cars down a side alley. Unfortunately, the protesters figured out the scheme, and blocked that route. Our driver then drove up the wrong side of the road to find an open area on the side of the road. There was a group of a hundred or so high school-age students burning tires and refuse on the road. They were chanting slogans about student unity and creating change. After about half an hour, the crowd dissipated and the fire burned out. We continued on our way.
A boy adding fire to the flames on a remote road in the mountains.Every few miles, there would be signs of small protests – burning or smoldering piles on the road. The smell was awful. At a few points we had to stop for a little bit or attempt a detour. However, we were sometimes in remote mountain areas, where there were no alternative routes. At one point, there was a blocked road because of a rather huge fire. There were young men and boys standing on the side of the street and laughing at the stuck motorists. One of the women in my vehicle chided them, saying that they were endangering lives. Since there was only one road to that area, if there was an emergency, ambulances wouldn’t be able to get through. They just laughed at her, and said that they didn’t care. It was obvious that the point of their vandalism wasn’t to make a statement to the Government; it was just to pass the time, be part of the violence, and to entertain themselves. Their frustrations ran deeper than an increase in oil prices.
This fire was rather large, and spreading to the grassy sides of the mountain. It would be a while before it would go out, especially since boys would continually add trash to the pile. Thankfully, the driver of the vehicle was completely insane, and, in Schwarzenegger-like fashion, just drove through the fire.
When we got to Kathmandu, we could hardly get into the Valley. Traffic was stopped for miles. The driver did some amazing maneuvering through the narrow, unpaved roads in villages, and got us as close to the center of the city as possible. I ended up walking two hours to get home to Santinagar. On my walk, I could tell that Kathmandu had suffered much more destruction than what I had seen on the road. The blackened piles were larger and more numerous. Bricks and rocks littered the ground. In my time in Nepal, I hardly saw an emergency vehicle, but in the span of two hours, I saw at least seven zoom by. By the time I got back to my flat, I was covered from head-to-toe in a thin film of soot.
On Sunday evening, the Government rescinded the price rise, and everything has returned to “normal” in the city. Nepal also learned once again that if you yell and scream loud enough, the Government will back down. In some cases, this kind of protesting is positive. In this case, I’m not so sure. Unfortunately, protesting has become the only way of expressing themselves in Nepal.
Posted By Lori Tornoe Mizuno (Nepal)
Posted Aug 21st, 2006