Tassos Coulaloglou

Tassos Coulaloglou (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Tassos was born and raised in New Jersey. He attended the University of Wisconsin (UW) and graduated with his BS in Political Science in 2001. Tassos spent one year studying abroad at Utrecht University in Holland while in his final year at UW, After graduation, Tassos moved to Lithuania to become a freelance journalist and teach high-school history and English as a second language. In 2004, he returned to the States to work as a team leader with the League of Conservation's Envirovictory political campaign in Milwaukee. He returned to Eastern Europe the following year and resumed writing before starting graduate school. At the time of his fellowship, Tassos was studying for a Master's degree in International Relations and Diplomacy offered jointly by Leiden University and the Clingendael in Holland. After his fellowship, Tassos wrote: “...now in class, I try to break the Euro/America-centric positions that seem to dominate and ask what the Nepali view would be…this fellowship pushed me to understand a people, to think in their terms."

02 Jul

I went on a four day excursion to a remote village in the northwestern part of Baglung district last week. I was waiting to post the blog entries until I arrived in Kathmandu so I could use a lot more photos than usual (faster internet and electricity that actually stays on). I was there to observe a program created by members of the Baglung NGO community who are working to build awareness about the Constituent Assembly on November 22nd. It is a vitally important step toward a democratic and peaceful Nepal. It was exciting to see how enthusiastic and driven they all were to educate the people in this remote region to the process of restructuring the Nepali political system for a more equitable and inclusive Naya Nepal (New Nepal).

Destination Nishi
Day One:
I’m sitting in my cot after a long day that started at 5:30 AM. It’s the halfway point in my journey to Nishi, a remote village that is one day’s jeep ride and another full day of hiking away from Baglung. I’m tagging along with Yogendra and four other activists who will give a series of lectures and discussions regarding the upcoming Constituent Assembly in November. While I won’t comprehend much, I hope to better understand how most of Nepalis live: in rural, underdeveloped areas. And in the hills region, add ISOLATED to that list. This has become abundantly clear just from this first leg of the trip.

From the very start I knew it would be memorable. In a jeep that should normally fit 10, we squeezed (understatement!) 16. In the second row bench seat, four grown men sat like sardines in a can; you could barely close the door. I sat directly behind the driver with Yogendra’s pointy shoulders wedged into me. For an instant, I wondered where the seat belts were. Thankfully, I didn’t verbalize that thought. I would have been laughed out the jeep (that happened later when they thought I was serious in suggesting we should all be wearing helmets inside the jeep).

At our first stop about 2 hours in, I was ecstatic to get a break from the ride. While I waited for our chowmein to be served, I snapped this shot of a woman getting her nose pierced. You have to love the pair of pliers.

Even with the heat (90 plus) and the duration (we left at 6 am, arrived at 5 pm) I was still excited about the trip. But I would soon find out that the roads were, well, not roads. They were more like dirt and rock paths barely wide enough for vehicles. All the ruts, craters, channels, mud, rocks and boulders meant we were bouncing around like a pair of shoes in a dryer for 11 hours. It also meant our pace was equal to a good jog. I know this because when we left Baglung, we had the pleasure of joining what seemed like half the Nepalese army on their morning run (not a lot of smiling going on).

Here are my fellow traveling companions taking a rest along the way to Burtibang, the half way point in our journey to Nisi. Tajendra Thapa, chairperson of the Nepalese Indigenous Federation of Nepal is telling a story to pass the time. Sitting in front is Mankumari Budha, a member of the Nepal Magar Association. Behind her in white is Omkar Thapa, social worker and investor in FM Baglung. To his right is Lalbahadur Thapa, chairperson of the All Nepal National Free Student Union. And finally there is Yogendra Chhantyal, my dai and COCAP Western Region Focal Point Facilitator.

For the first hour, it had been relatively funny. Everyone was laughing, enjoying the bumper car ride. A little later I turned to Yogendra. Sarcastically and with a smile on my face, I said to him, “So it’s like this the whole way, right?”

He had a slightly confused look usually reserved for stupid questions. “Yes,” he said.

I was getting nervous.

In the second hour, I was trying to figure out what I’d gotten myself into. Getting thrown around while crammed into a four by four was losing its appeal. By the fourth hour, I was so bruised and battered, there was no turning back. By the sixth hour, it was so dangerous through the hills that I gave up all hope of survival and started thinking things were funny again. And of course, there was always the scenery.

These kids have the right idea on a hot day. I’m taking the picture from our jeep while we’re driving through the river.

It’s hard to describe the indescribable. I took a million pictures, but photos do little justice to the vastness of it all. They can capture only a fragment of the natural beauty of this region of Nepal.

Needless to say, I made it alive to the village of Burtibang where we’re spending the night and still have a full day of hiking ahead of us tomorrow. I hope to learn more about my fellow travelers and the program in store for the Nishi villagers. Now I’ve got run to the river before nightfall. Time for a Nepali bath…

But not all parts of the river were able to be crossed. So at the village of Kharbang we left our first 4X4 and crossed a foot bridge to change jeeps. Here was a local villager trying to stay cool in the shade.

Posted By Tassos Coulaloglou

Posted Jul 2nd, 2007

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