Here is the last part of the Nepal thing. A few years ago I spent some time doing voluntary work (building a school) in rural Nepal.It was far and away the best experience of my life. The warmth and the friendliness of the people despite everything they have to put up with is something I will never forget.When I got home I wrote a 6000 word A-Z of Nepal for the volunteers the next year so they would have a bit more of an idea when they arrived.
This was all 4 years ago so some of the information is out of date. Nevertheless, I am going to serialise it here.
THE A-Z OF NEPAL – Part 7 (the last)
U is for Unfinished (as in buildings) – In Nepal this is a common sight. The frame will be constructed to the level of two floors. The ground floor will be completed and then the building will be left. This is due to a tax by-law whereby if the building is not finished no tax need be paid on it, which makes it cheaper to (non)construct in this way. The owner may simply fill in a form saying that they do not have money to complete the building.
U is also for Urchins (Dickensian style) – In Kathmandu this is an all too common sight. Many are at school but are forced to beg. A standard of the youngsters is to ask the name of your country and then they will name the capital city, for which you give them money. There is appalling child poverty in Nepal so its best not to get too uppity about it.
V is for Villages –
If you really want to know what Nepal is like you have to leave Kathmandu or Pokhara and head to the villages (see picture above). It is in rural Nepal that you will see the best hospitality that the country has to offer. There is a Nepali saying that “ Guests are Gods” and nowhere is this better seen than in the villages. Most of Nepal’s population is rural rather than urban and 27 different ethnic groupings and a whole host of different terrains make for a wide spectrum of cultural knowledge to pick up.
W is for Whisky – they make their own and before you ask – yes, it is foul. The most common is “Bagpiper” which features an illustration of an Indian man in a kilt on the front of the bottle playing something that looks like how someone who had never seen bagpipes would draw them.
W is for Women – the conditions for women in most of Nepal are fairly bad. In the villages they work in the paddy fields as well as cleaning, cooking, all the washing and raising the children too. When one Nepali male was questioned about this his reply was that the men “ didn’t feel like working” (though it must be said that many Nepali men do work hard and this was a particularly lazy specimen). 73% of women are subject to domestic violence and some young girls are sold into prostitution in Indian brothels. It is also one of the few countries in the world where men live longer than women. Thankfully not all of Nepal is like this. Some villages are forward thinking and give young girls one extra year of education free more than boys.
W is also for the World Bank – the World Bank (WB) surmised that for Nepal to be on the way to development a priority would be a good road from the east to the west of the country linking up all the major sites on the way. This is obviously a sensible idea but the staggering thing about the project is that it demonstrates just how much it is possible to ruin a good idea. When the route the road would take was being decided the WB in all its infinite wisdom opted to neglect the advice given to it by the locals (what do they know?). The WB wanted the road to follow the river through the country as rivers carve their way through mountains and therefore there would be less difficulty constructing the road. The Nepalis advised against such a route because the areas surrounding the river are the areas where most landslides occur (especially in monsoon season). The WB (as it always does) decided that it knew best and insisted that the road had to be built along a specific route, by the riverside. The net result of this is that many are killed and injured by landslides every year on this road (around a hundred deaths in 2003 alone). The landslides also wash away huge chunks of the road and mountainside too which means that the costs of repairing the road are a constant drain. But is doesn’t end there. The frequency and severity of landslides has increased along the roadside because building the road where they did meant a large amount of deforestation. The WB were forewarned by the Nepalis about the effect this was likely to have but again chose to ignore it (the roots of the trees bind the soil together thus steadying it and preventing landslides). After the problem became noticeably worse the WB decided to give another loan in order to replant as many trees as possible along the route. They insisted (for reasons best known to themselves – most likely because they were cheapest) that eucalyptus trees should be planted. These are not indigenous to Nepal. The outcome of this scheme was that the fragile ecosystem was put out of kilter by the non-native trees. But it doesn’t end there either. The WB has now given a third loan to Nepal which is to be used to rip up the eucalyptus trees and plant native Nepali trees. All of this may seem to just be negligence or incompetence but it isn’t – it’s much worse than that. People die every year because of this incompetence and not just in the immediate way brought on by landslides. In a country where average earnings are $200 per year the average person simply cannot afford to be burdened with paying their share of three huge World Bank loans, two of which shouldn’t have been necessary and one of which was botched. Incompetence on this scale costs lives. It is not funny.
X is for the Nepali X-factor – this is funny. It is an algebraic equation. To illustrate this we must provide an example. If a job that has to be done (e.g. changing a tyre) requires 2 people to do it properly, then X will be the number of times that 2 has to be multiplied to arrive at the number of other people that have crowded round to give opinions on the way the job is being performed or just to stand and watch. All of this will of course be done after the preliminary debate about how the job is to be done, which may go on for up to an hour.
Y is for Yetis – a Japanese scientist claims to have finally disproved the existence of the yeti. He is certain that bears in fact make the tracks that have been found. Y is for Youth – more elusive than yetis in Nepal can be the younger generation in the villages. Young males in particular can be harassed from all sides. If they remain in the villages the Maoists will harass them to join. If they manage to get away from the Maoists without being recruited then the army will come and arrest them for being suspected Maoists. Consequently, most of the young people have moved to Kathmandu or Pokhara and work in the tourist trade.
Z is for Zoom-Zoom which happens to mean “lets go” in Nepali, which is handy because this is the end.
PHERI BETOLA (speak to you later)