Nepal: a few random notes.



Motorbiking in Nepal seems to be a never-ending source of entertainment. Maybe it’s the metaphoric value. I started out when I got here saying that the cacophony of auto and motorbike horns was for “no apparent reason.” No more. If we listen to whales long enough, we can learn (some of) their language. Likewise in Nepal, we can learn the language of traffic. I now speak Nepali horn and can distinguish at least five different messages:

1. The benign: To vehicles- I am coming up on your right and I’m going to pass.

2. To pedestrians: Here I come. Move aside. Or,… pay attention, you idiot. Move over or you’re going to get hit. Or,… do not take one more step forward!  I’m not going to let you cross this street!!

3. The victim: (to the traffic police while waiting at an intersection)– Why are you making us wait here so long? It’s our turn to go!!!

4. The impatient: (to surrounding traffic waiting at an intersection)– Get going!! The police are going to wave us on in less than 5 seconds!! I think.

5. The aggressive: (to oncoming traffic)– I’m taking some of your road and I’m not backing down!!

I think this is a good start. I’m sure there are more subtle messages to grasp. Give me time. But mainly, the instances in which a collision could result in serious damage are fairly rare. But there’s always some asshole out there, right? They will do u-turns in front of you without warning. They will pull away from the curb with just enough aggression for you to believe they will hit you without a thought. Pedestrians dart out from in front of stopped busses. Be ready for anything. Anytime. What I have also discovered is that the protocols when stopped at intersections; namely, “get out of my way, I’m going first” also apply at gas stations when waiting to fill up. There is no such thing as waiting your turn. And if you happen to object, well, that’s just your karma.

The NGO Scene
There are reportedly 50,000 NGOs in Nepal. Just let that sink in for a moment. This is a country of 27 million people. I doubt there are anywhere near 50,000 NGOs in America. What there are instead are millions of corporations created to shield the owner from taxes. The NGO functions in the same way in Nepal. In Nepal, until recently, they have been registered by local district officers who had complete control over who would be registered or not, without oversight. Does that sound like a situation ripe for abuse?
A national social welfare council now oversees NGOs, who now must report annually, like filing a tax return in the US. This is a new rule as of last year.  If an NGO fails to file reports for three years, they will be dissolved and its right to exist will expire. Annual reports must detail all income and expenditures.
The NGO scene has been rife with fraud. In the past, the money flow was not reported to anyone. NGOs were known to produce fancy names, websites, public relations campaigns, appeals for donations, collect large sums and not do anything they were claiming to do. NGOs have been created as money laundering operations for politicians, who cannot legally operate an NGO, as well as other illicit activities. Small donations can now continue to go directly to NGOs without reporting. But donations above 10K rupees must now flow through a government body before reaching their intended destination. Progress.
Do government officials seek bribes for agreeing to work with NGOs? You bet. Are you contributing to a Nepali NGO, sight unseen? Might be prudent to check on that.

Last week there were supposed to be three consecutive days of nationwide strike called by the Maoist party in Nepal. It turned into a one-day strike. When a strike does occur (no last minute reprieve), it lasts from 5am to 5pm. Now I understand why the guy at the laundry said mine would not be done for two days. He was counting the strike day.

The Congress party has the most seats in the National Congress. For now. The next two most popular parties are communist and together claim more seats than the Congress Party: the Maoist Party (UCPN) and the United Marxist-Leninist (UML). The Congress party is the establishment. The two largest minority parties have allied to counter the Congress party. In reality, we could say that all parties in Nepal are the establishment in the sense that all politicians in Nepal are presumed to be on the take from various sponsors, national and international, and all elected representatives are more interested in keeping their jobs than serving the national interest. That’s not like the US at all, is it?

This has meant that the creation of a new constitution, originally anticipated to take 2 years, has now taken eight years with no end in sight. The internet is full of descriptions of the political process of Nepal as being one of negotiation, intransigence, the throwing up of hands in disgust. Wash, rinse, repeat. To some, politics in Nepal is a black hole. No light is emitted. All energy is sucked into it, time, resources, the economy, development funds, ill-gotten gains, dark money, hope, optimism, the future.

I do not quite believe this is true. Nepal is stuck between a rock and a hard place. India, China, the United States and a number of non-governmental parties, legal and illegal, each have their own interests here and input into the political process. It’s more like a perpetual standoff between all of them.

There is no such thing as isolated political evolution in Nepal. It is a small, poor, resource-rich country locked between superpowers. The internal squabbles are, to a certain degree, a proxy fight for Chinese and Indian interests, with local self-interest certainly playing its (smaller) part. China undoubtedly supports the communists, but the communists are also capitalists in disguise. India’s influence is to a large degree economic, since it exports a great deal of food to Nepal and is heavily invested in Nepal’s energy future; and religious, since at least 65% of Nepal is Hindu. Yet Nepal also asserts its sovereignty, albeit in odd ways such as a 15 minute differential between time zones. Tres wierd.

Strikes are enforced by intimidation and violence. Maoists have been known to capture and burn vehicles violating the strike. The local police do not intervene. The party leaders do not denounce these acts. There may be motorbikes roaming the neighborhoods during a strike, but the main roads are only traveled by a few bicycles.

6 thoughts on “Nepal: a few random notes.

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