Monday, February 25, 2008

Attention All Stations ...

This is the call we hear from the Marine Guards alerting us to activity around the valley that we should avoid; burning tires, brick throwing or demonstrators just blocking traffic. The calls are coming more often. Political unrest in the Terai has meant little fuel and food for the rest of the country, particularly the capital. We are not using our generators during the day anymore in order to conserve fuel. In a very, very small way living without electricity for blocks of time makes us feel like we are identifying with the sufferings of the Nepalis. But it doesn't remotely begin to compare. Even to say so seems ludicrous. It appears that the agitating groups have opted out of the upcoming - desperately needed - elections. Law and order are disintegrating and we don't really know how it will play out. We are ready to evacuate but hope we don't have to.

Yet today, under a glorious sky, a dozen children with their mothers and didis played in a manicured garden, oblivious to what is going on beyond the compound walls. As it should be.

Peace, Laurel

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lhosar and Love

Oh someone has to stop me with the titles.

Tashi Ta Le!! Happy Tibetan New Year (Lhosar) a few weeks late. Another colorful holiday in Nepal! Our anemic pastels of spring might need an overhaul. Being just over the Himalayas from Tibet there is a huge population of Tibetan exiles in Nepal. Those in Kathmandu tend to live near one of the large Stupas - the most notable being Boudanath Stupa. So our little family decided to head over to the celebration just to check it out. We joined the throng and watched as the Tibetans circumambulated the Stupa, threw fresh lime (not as in a citrus fruit - as in powdered limestone - although that would be funny - well, not to them I suppose) on it, put up new prayer flags and celebrated together in traditional Tibetan clothing. We climbed onto the Stupa with the masses and tried to keep Swift from taking a dive off of it (no railings). I'll state the obvious - we don't blend. Our three blond headed children generally draw a little attention and families kept stealing one or another of them for their family pictures. Elderly women wanted to hold their hand. It is all quite sweet but how one teaches "stranger danger" in this context is a bit beyond me at the moment.

A few days before this Kit's class went to see the Lama Dancing at one of the Tibetan Monasteries where some of these pictures were taken. The fabrics used in the robes were incredible. The masks were scary looking. The teacher took all the kids around to meet the big kahuna lama and get katahs put around their necks (white scarves). These are the moments I miss our sweet church preschool. Lent is not exactly being covered in the same fashion at school. But that is our job and I digress.

Oh - the Love part. Congratulations to Daniel and Dolkar (no picture of the two of them together - oops). Daniel is Bill's colleague who arrived at post 18 months ago a single man and fell in love with his Tibetan teacher, Dolkar. They celebrated their marriage at the end of Lhosar. Theirs is a lovely story and we wish them every happiness!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Bandh Day Bandh Day ...

Sung to the tune of "Monday, Monday" which I vaguely recall being a 60's ditty but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Bandhs. Pronounced "bunds". These are strikes or closures and usually mean that all major businesses and transportation wherever the bandh is called close/cease. Any group can call a bandh and it is usually called in protest and is increasingly accompanied by angry people burning tires and blocking roads to enforce their call for closure and bring attention to whatever issue they might be protesting about that day. These tend to be incredibly successful here which is why people persist in calling them. Living with them is a Pain In The Rear End. Can I rant a little?

If a valleywide bandh is called, people can't get to work and don't get paid. Here that means that they might not eat that day. If a nationwide bandh is called - goods that should be making their way across the Terai from India will sit and rot - not a good scenario. It makes me crazy.

What does it mean for the pampered expat set like us? Inconvenience and annoyance yes - danger possibly - hunger, not yet. When people complain I just feel like walloping them and saying "get some perspective!!!" It is completely humbling to live the way we do when so many have so little.

Last year we had lots of bandhs but last week was a first for many new arrivals. It started earlier and ended later and we did not venture out at all. In the past blue plated vehicles may have been allowed to pass - not last week. The kids were at school when some of the tire burning and road blocks started so the school kept them on campus until 6:30 that night. I knew they were safe but was not exactly sans anxiety. They are only 4 and 6 years old! They got home after 7 pm pretty darn excited about the extended day - "we almost had a sleepover Mom!!". Geez.

I can think of one benefit to a bandh. It has to be good for the environment to have all the vehicles off of the road for a day. The quiet roads with only walkers, bycyclists and rickshaw drivers are actually nice - as long as you really don't need to get anywhere. I have to get a before and after photo of this at some point.

Punchy incoherent tired ... but I've been meaning to put this down for over a week so thought I should seize the moment.

Peace. L