Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bandh? Check.

Someone called for a nationwide bandh today, so motorized vehicles are not permitted on the roads and most stores are closed with the exception of some brave shop owners, such as the gentleman proprietor of the cybercafe in which I now sit.

(This morning Ranjit called and I expected him to say that we would not be playing tennis. How could I doubt his inner sportsman? We walked to the tennis courts instead, 20 minutes one way. One good thing to be said for the bandh--you can walk in the middle of the street.)

I say "someone" because the bandh, according to Dinesh, was called by "ethnic groups of Nepal" who feel they are not adequately represented in the National Assembly or Congress. But no one can tell me which members of ethnic groups or which ethnic groups in particular. Now, as Newars, Dinesh and Rekha are members of an ethnic group, technically speaking, so I asked them at dinner last night why they were calling for a bandh. They could not tell me why. Then they went back to eating silently. I slept with one eye open last night.

Obviously they have nothing to do with the bandh, like many other people considered to be members of an "ethnic group." I asked if ethnic people's weren't already represented by the eight political parties who have representatives in Congress. They agreed that was the case.

OK, so who's sponsoring the bandh?

After walking around the streets today, through Bagar, down to Chipledunga and Mahendrapul, my educated guess is that the bandh sponsors are young men feelng particularly disenfranchised by the current political situation. And there are thousands of them. The bandh is a way to call attention to their dissatisfaction. The "ethnic group" mantle might just have been a cover.

A few intrepid souls ventured out on motorcycles and they were likely caught at an intersection by a group of young men standing over the piles of ashes that had been tires asking why they were disobeying the bandh. I couldn't follow the discussion standing so far away, but it seemed that some people were permitted to pass while others were forced to go back. I couldn't distinguish the difference in physical appearance. One rider who became openly defiant has his cycle key taken by some guy wearing mirrored sunglasses, like the prison boss in Cool Hand Luke. Kind of intimidating.

Interestingly the fruit and vegetable vendors are allowed to operate, which I'm guessing might be due to their low status or because their goods can spoil in day, and a bandh is only meant to send a message, not ruin your business. Or, it might be that, borrowing from John Kennedy's Toole's epigram in Confederacy of Dunces, "no one respects a produce vendor."

For Sam's House, the bandh was an inconvenience, yes, but also a reality check. Inconvenient in that we were planning to visit a village for an interview and process with the hope of having 5-6 children in house by Sunday at which time we could hold an "opening' with the other trustees. Losing today means we will possibly only have 1 or 2 children. It's a reality check in that despite all our good intentions and all the good work we may come to do someday, there is a much larger situation here in Nepal and presently no one seems to have an idea how they can work themselves out of it. Sometimes I think, "What's Nepal going to do?" They have virtually no natural resources to export except for hydroelectric power which is so saddled with corruption the infrastructure may not ever get built. The conflict has chased away tourists. Because Nepal has no seaport, it's not profitable for foreign companies to manufacture here. Because the populace is so generally uneducated, these same companies have no desire to outsource information sector jobs here either. So, as they say in Nepal, ke garne: "what to do?"

Dinesh is one of the many people who have lost faith in the political system to bring positive change. For this reason, he says "I'm just focused on trying to do something good for people." Unfortunately more people here do not share his humanitarian impulse, or I should say, haven't had the set of advantages needed to be in a position to make such a statement.

The bandh is supposed to be one day only. Hopefully we'll get out tomorrow to meet a few more children after we pick up Pratima and her mother.

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Speaking of Pratima, after I wrote yesteday, I had some misgivings about how I presented her information, fearing I might confuse some people. While Sam's House is an orphanage, not every child will be a pure orphan, meaning that both parents are either deceased or unaccounted for.

In processing the children needing homes, we rate them according to certain criteria. I think I described this before. These ratings determine their level of being "at-risk." Obviously pure orphans are significantly "at-risk" but this is not the only consideration we make in our selection.

For Pratima, her father had abandoned her and her mother was unable to work consistently, or at all. She told us she worked from time to time but, according to other reports we heard from locals, that may have been for pride only. Therefore, as a young girl with no father and a mother unfit to care for her, Pratima's "at-risk" level we considered to be very high. And when we say "at-risk" we mean the likelihood that they could be indentured to families in India as servants or worse.

This is why we call Sam's House a home for orphaned and abandoned children.

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In this particular cybercafe that I visit quite often, I've struck up a friendly relationship with the owner and his assistants. Sometimes when I arrive all the computers are taken. I offer to wait but they insist that I work at the main computer, the one on the front desk which is used to log the usage of the other computers. No other patron has this level of access. It's embarrassing, yes, but very sweet too.

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Tonight we having dinner at Ranjit and Ama Gurung's. I'm expecting Ama to feed us within inches of our lives, as is the Nepali way. So I'm skipping snacks today in order to have enough room because saying "no more" will not be an option.

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Cute moment from yesterday... I came back to the orphange in the late afternoon, after Dinesh had already gone home. Earlier in the day Rekha had told the didis to buy some fabric so they could have some kurtas made for daily work, a sort of uniform. They were very excited about this.

I walked past their room to take something to Dinesh's office. Their door was open and I could see them holding the fabric in front of them, modeling in the mirror the way it would look after the tailors. They didn't see me standing there and when I said "hello" they burst into embarrassed laughter.

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Ranjit has offered to teach tennis lessons to all the kids. One hour a week. He says he owns 10 small "trainer rackets" that they can use. Perhaps Sam's House will one day be the future proving ground for Nepal Davis Cup team hopefuls. We can dream.

3 comments:

Jells said...

"Shaking the tree boss, shaking the tree . . . "

Because Nepal doesn't have the abundance of government holidays like we have here in the States, maybe these bandhs are their way of acknowledging they need a day off?

I hope Dinesh can make it here this summer, I think we would all love to meet him.

-Jells
P.S. Spring training started on Monday - just a matter of time before Baltimore catches the Tribe.

Carole said...

I was very pleased that I know what a brandh is. Not a good thing though. Hope it is over soon.

Pratima is beautiful!

The blog is wonderful. Love, M

Sheila said...

You may need to ask Dinesha and Rehka to take some "team photos" of the new tennis players on the courts.