It had been almost a year since I had gone back to Nepal. While a trip back home would usually have me giddy with excitement in anticipation of all the fun that was to be had– this time the sentiment was quite different. I was anxious for various reasons. First there was this desperate need to embrace family members and loved ones who survived the devastating earthquake. Sure it was reassuring to hear that they were OK over the phone, but from my experience one usually tends to exaggerate their well being as not to cause any worry. I was also apprehensive about seeing all the damages incurred by my homeland. I knew many places that I held dear to me no longer existed and having to face that reality would be heartbreaking. However, I was also filled with hope and a sense of purpose. Having been so far away when the tragedy unfolded, I had felt helpless. But now I could finally go back and talk to the survivors, hear their story and see what more we could do.
Trucks filled with goods lined up at the India-Nepal border waiting to be let in the country.
However, once in Kathmandu I learned that the recovery from the earthquake was really not the immediate concern anymore. There was a new problem that everyone was dealing with: trade blockade from our neighbor and major trading partner India. While India has not formally admitted to this so-called blockade, it all started with the unrest of the Madesh region which is the country’s lower southern part that borders India. Nepal has gone through a lot of political issues in the past and the government finally promulgated the constitution after seven years. However, the Madesh region was not happy with their representation and made demands, which the government was unwilling to fulfill – ultimately leading to unrest. The Madeshi people held demonstrations and started creating barriers of goods, while India also imposed a blockade until Madesh got what they wanted.
Families stand in line from dawn till dusk in the hope of getting some gas for cooking and heating.
Being a small landlocked country, Nepal is heavily dependent on goods coming in from India. Because of this blockade, there was a huge shortage of gas, petrol, diesel, and medicine. The wealthy still had the option of buying things in the black market, if they were lucky enough to find anything. However, for majority of the population, they had to resort to standing in line for three or four days at petrol station in the hope of getting a liter of petrol. While the government is trying to bring in goods from China, the process is slow and the imports coming in are very limited. With no gas, people started looking for alternative methods of cooking food. Since the government only gave 8 hours of electricity per day, mostly during absurd time, cooking on electric stove was also not a viable option. Many households were resorting to collecting firewood to cook, but even the price of that was skyrocketing. Life was starting to get difficult once again for the Nepali people.
I enjoy watching the deusi – bhailo program (singing tradition of the Tihar festival) being held at Shikarapur School
In this chaotic period, I was glad I had something to look forward to. I was excited about going to Pharping. I wanted to meet our team, scholars, and see the progress of our partner school. However, it was almost impossible to travel. Buses now transported triple their limited capacity, with many sitting on the roof, as there were no other option. Luckily I managed to find a ride and was able to go twice. It was wonderful to meet everyone and see the inspirational work they have been doing for the community. One of the days I went, there was a Tihar singing/dancing competition that was going on in ASC and Sikharapur and it was vibrant, fun, and I really enjoyed being there. I met with the scholars and talked to them about their hopes, dreams, and plans for the future. I talked to our Nepal team about how our scholars and their families were dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake. Things weren’t ideal for many, as they were still living in temporary shelters and had no home of their own. With the winter approaching, their main concern was to make sure the families were fully equipped to take on the cold. So the team had already distributed much needed goods like blankets and warm clothes. I also had the opportunity to visit the site where the new school is being constructed and the view from the site was breathtaking. It is in a quiet peaceful hillside area that had a calming affect on me – a perfect location for a school! However, the progress of the construction was going slower than anticipated due to the blockade – the transportation of the materials were costing more and there was shortage of materials that was usually exported from India.
Construction site of the new school building – while the construction is slow due to the blockade, work is still happening at the local level.
Although the overall trip was wonderful, it was also infuriating to see the current situation. Had the world already forgotten that only six months ago 8,617 souls had perished, 16,808 were injured, 2.8 million lost their home, and 5.6 million were affected by two devastating earthquake? People hadn’t finished recovering from one disaster, now they were facing another one. They were once again denied their basic human right; however this time the violation was not committed by Mother Nature, but a political agenda. I was also filled with guilt. There wasn’t much I could do and I knew I only had to face the hardship for a limited time before flying back to the states. I could only hope that the political parties would reach an agreement and India would open up its borders again. But despite my own frustration – it was shocking to see how positive and accommodating people in Nepal were being. People were still calm, smiling and finding ways around the problem. It was almost like surviving the earthquake had changed their outlook in life. They were so grateful to be alive that even the blockade to them felt like a small hurdle that they could get over. It was admirable that despite all the hardship, everyone was determined to show his or her resilience – true Nepali spirit!
Standing with our Nepal team at our construction site. From the left, Kedar Sir, Sabina, Rojin,Pramila, Priti, Arya and Shashi Sir.
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