Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Bandh For You Today Sir?

"Waiter! What's this bandh thing?"
"Well sir, it's an entertaining dish, I suppose you could say."
"Well, for goodness sake, what does it take to make one?"
"Oh, that's easy, pick up the newspaper on any given day and you will find some 200 reasons to make a bandh."
"Really? It doesn't take much then?  Go ahead, give me the details."
"The thing is, not everyone agrees on the ingredients and at the end of it all, more often that not, no one can really remember exactly what went into it.  There are always rumours afterwards, any of which could have been the main ingredient.  Of course, there are your staple items that can always be counted on.  Those would be:
One.  A group of impressionable teenagers.
Two.  A band of delinquent young men
Three.  Rocks, tyres, bricks, sticks, and eventually shotguns, rifles, riot gear and big police sticks
Four.  Said groups of young people block roads, force transport not to move, force shop keepers to shut up for the day, and close schools.
and Five, to quote V for Vendetta, 'what will happen?', 'what usually happens when people without guns stand up to people WITH guns'"
"OK, but your last one, for example, what was in it?"
"According to popular belief there were at least three major things:
One.  Two students were kidnapped some time ago, much like how it used to know, during the insurgency.  Yesterday they were found dead, perhaps with knife wounds, perhaps not.  No one actually knows who murdered them, but popular belief is that the Maoists were involved.  Yes, I see the question you are about to ask, they would be the political party leading the insurgency and who are now (effectively) in power and have promised that this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.  The young delinquent men often conclude that obviously it IS happening right now and thus mass in large groups waiting for the slightest excuse to get a little bit violent.
Two.  You remember the fuel crisis a while back?  Well, transport prices went up, didn't they?  They haven't come back down since petrol became available again.  Students tend to get upset about these things.
Three: Some people are upset that the private schools have money.  Or that people can afford to send their children to private schools.  Or that they have to pay too much to send their children to private schools.  Or something.  I do know that it involved private schools, money and a bunch of generally grumpy people.
Having said that it could be anything that goes into it.  I've heard of another ingredient being the proposal to break the country into autonomous states, and in another, the government refused to provide public money for the ritual sacrifice of animals."
"Right, I think I understand, well, what's it good for?"
"One.  It's a good excuse not to go to work for the day.
Two. Boys love hanging around in groups destroying things.
Three.  It's a crude but effective way of getting the government or other people to do what you want.  Take the animal sacrifice example, I believe they got their money back.
Four: It gives those involved a rush and a feeling of power over others - you may choose to see this as a negative, but I'm calling it a positive, only for those involved though.
Five.  Usually bideshis and bicycle or motorbike riders are left alone.  It's just cars, buses, trucks and shops that people seem to get angry at."
"So the drawbacks?"
"Well, pretty much the flip side of all the good things.  If no one is at work, then no work is being done.  If boys are destroying things, the guy that owns them usually gets upset, or has to pay to fix it.  Being such an effective way of getting your way, it is positively reinforced, next time there's a problem, everyone will remember how effective the last bandh was.  If people like the feeling of having power over others, well, we know how useful that really is.  Bidesh or not, it's a sure way to get you nercous about whether you will get to the airport on time tomorrow..."
"I'll have the chicken..."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bats and Bricks

I'm a mahout on an elephant being pushed up the stairs.  I'm alone with a cricket bat in a china shop except for the timid bull sitting in the corner.  I'm bashing my head against a pillow while leaning on a brick wall.  I'm pulling teeth from a baby and ripping hair from a bald man.  I'm juggling 2 knives, an angry cat and an anvil Wile E Coyote style while singing Click Go the Shears.
In short, I am going batty and this weekend can't come fast enough.

Rockclimbing, Puri Sabji, Banana Splits and the Bookclub

What an EPIC weekend to end an epic week.

Friday night was Katherine and I relaxing at home watching DVD's. The problem with a plan like this, as I will illustrate when I get around to doing a "characters" post on Katherine, is her inexplicable ability to fall asleep the moment any part of her body reaches a parallel angle to the ground. 10 minutes into the movie she was a goner.

Early up on Saturday to join Flo and Mike and head towards Nagarjun forest, where Flo had been a number of times before on the advice of someone that told someone to tell his fiancee that it was a good place to go rockclimbing. The place is so out of the way that that's a rather normal way for you to hear about it. It was the party of people from countries beginning and ending with 'A', with representatives from Oz, the US and the land of the Sound of Music.

[Flo, trying to keep me alive and save me from myself]

They were amazing climbers and I was a total novice, I don't think I held them back too much though, and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. I'm still sore. We did get the chance to meet Freddie Wilkinson. Sound like someone important? No? Well, I'll have you know that he's a pretty famous climber. Yeah, I didn't know either, Mike was impressed though (he did well to hide his awe, except for that moment where he went "DUDE! That's Freddie Wilkinson!").

[Mike trying to be all nonchalant]

Leaving the forest I spotted one gigantic monkey. This big guys testicles were off the scale (if there even is a scale for such things). He was easily scared though, as two baby monkeys invaded his territory and moved on. Those things are so agile they scare me, youj never know if they are gonna go for your eyes or not. He didn't get away before we could knock off a few impressions:

Rockclimbing was followed by a rather intense nap, that left me wondering whether I was actually awake or just severely drugged. You know, when you sleep for a little bit too long in the afternoon?

I went to meet up with Flo, Mike and Mike's roommate Mana. Mike and Mana are Dartmouth students her working on Engineering Internships with a Nepali NGO. They do pretty cool stuff like pull apart batteries and attempt to reverse engineer Nokia stuff, and in their spare time they build bridges. They both have blogs going (checkout my links to the right to see what they have been doing [and their versions of the stories I have been telling], they're not all lies).

We had dinner at a place that Mike has been raving about for weeks. Puri Sabji was the order of the day for 30 rupes (about 50c). Potato curry that you shove into a thin puffy little bread thing. It was fabulous! And you get about 5 of them! I will be going back for more.

We followed this up with drinks and banana split sundaes back at Mana & Mike's house. There we were joined by Avi, Gemma and Annette(from Norway) and Katherine (who again pulled off her imitation of a tall blonde American with a sleeping disorder. They couldn't get us out of their house until about 1am. Just for future reference, after the first glass, Nepali whiskey isn't all that bad.

Monday night saw the inaugural meeting of the AYAD book club, with appearances from special guests Liz and Sanjana (whom I accidentally called Sandika - for no apparent reason other than a completeinability to remember Nepali names). Liz is an American I was introduced to by Lena and Sanjana works with Gemma, Annette, Katherine, Danielle, Sascha and Kat at Save the Children ("SAVE THEM! SAVE THEM!" - actually, with that many people to look after them, I hope they'll be ok).

We have been reading a book called the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I think its an absolutely fantastic bok that I got right into (I still haven't finished yet, as it proved mighty hard to find, and the Tihar festival got in the way of deliveriess, "come back tomorrow sir....not today sir, maybe sir, please come tomorrow"). My enthusiasm was met by equal enthusiasm in the opposite direction with the others finding no sympathy for the protagonist, an Indian servant turned murderer . I don't have any sympathy for him, but I did appreciate his cynicism and wit. Check it out, it won the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
The bookclub will reconvene in 1 month to read "Snow" by....... [someone] set in Turkey.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good Intentions

So, the much heralded trip to Boudnath temple was a failure amidst a victory.

After doing a few laps of the stupa we (somehow) managed to get about 10 of us onto a rooftop restaurant. The problem with a group of more than 5 people is that they don't tend to act like sheep except for when you don't want them to. So when you are a hungry shepherd, and you just want everyone to follow you they may not. In the end you might just say "screw you all" and hope they work out where the rest of you are.

Anyway, the reason that we had to do a few laps of the stupa is because you must walk around a stupa clockwise, for fear of the gods or God, or something, smiting you. Now although the idea of seeing something smiting brings a smile to my face (as I imagine it's not exactly something you would see every day) it also wasn't soemthing I wanted to risk for fear of being labelled culturally intolerant or, more importantly being trampled. I did see one guy trying to go anti-clockwise on a bicycle. I think it would have been faster for him to do 10 laps clockwise than to travel 10 metres.

There were THOUSANDS* of people - tourists, Buddhists, Hindus and tourist Buddhists (complete with whacky clothes) out doing the walk. We were there because supposedly the stupa is lit up like a runway every month at the full moon. After the sun setting, and still nothing happening but many local shopkeepers setting up tables and lighting thousands** of candles on laying them out on tables in front of their shops. A ceremony was taking place with some monks chanting and blowing into conches (Lord of the Flies style) and horns while passing people threw food onto a pile (that they had bought from the entrepeneur who set up a shop next to the pile). I'm not sure what happens to it after, but I hope it goes to someone needy (it was a VERY big pile of food).

We retreated to our rooftop balcony to have some drinks and dinner. After about an hour, it occurred to someone to actually ask why the stupa was not lit up yet. Completely baffled, we asked the waiter, who suggested (in that "I'm answering even though I don't think I understood your question" kind of way) that it "might" have happened yesterday but he wasn't sure. Someone (it might have been me) suggested that he thought that the full moon was on the Wednesday. This was all devastating news to poor Mike, who had been planning this expedition since Monday with email trails a million*** miles long from volunteers trying to avoid doing work.

It did leave a few riddles.
1. Why on earth had they lit all of these candles just to have them sit on tables outside shops?
2. Why were there so many people walking around if it wasn't a special occaision?

Someone suggested that perhaps, unlike many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus might not especially wait for special occaisions to go to worship or meditate, or do what they do. I think we'll have to wait for the next full moon to find out.

The night was still claimed a success from the good food, company and that anticipatory feeling you get when you know something cool is about to happen (even though it didn't).

This is something like what we missed:

* OK, maybe hundreds
** no, this time there actually were thousands
*** not actually "millions" - maybe one million****
**** probably not though

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Invitation From Mike I Couldn't Refuse

Friends, on this coming Thurs-eve, under ye newly full lit moon glowering in ye carbon molecule and particulate matter smog haze, by bicycle, cab, tuktuk, and goat we shall make haste nor'east, yonder where lies ye great Stupa of Boudhanath. Ere, on ye full moon eve lay ten hundred thousand score lit-candles, flick'ring whence we ambulate clock-wise of ye stupa in "Kora." Complete ye Kora, and we'll all dine on banana split sunday's at our flat when the clock strikes nine times.

Come or come not if ye will, but come with a bike if ye can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Good Bits

So apparently I have been making it sound like Nepal is unbearable. I have absolutely no idea what would give anyone that impression, but thought I would make a post of all the really cool stuff that has happened or that I see everyday, or that puts a smile on my face. I warn you now, if I ever complain, its usually because I find negative things rather more comical. I think most people do. That's why we have sitcoms, and like watching people cry on Big Brother. Misery is more entertaining than a list of happy feel-good things.

Nevertheless, let's stop wasting time:

Raju lifting the phone of the hook, taking his shoes off, putting his feet up on the desk and saying, "Rob, I sleep", and promptly doing so.

- Copping out on my Halloween costume and just going as a "local biker" - this is what I wear to work everyday BTW, (sans 2Pac shirt obviously, that was there to make me more "local", I just couldn't find a Britney Spears shirt to look hardcore)

Rosie after the Halloween party in an effort that just goes to prove that you never can exaggerate the danger of sewage filled manholes.

Trekking awesome-ness

Hashing goodness

The amazing people that I have met here (I have more than one for every single day). I made a specific list just to see how many I had. Its an amazing list, with entries such as "chow mein guy", "chow mein guy's wife", mohan's family, "grumpy fruit man" but also such amazing names as all the other AYADs and various volunteers I have become friends with, Raj, Gunga, oh yeah! And the "loud female rights activist lady".

["smiling kiosk dude" from work]

The "Australian Big Day Out in Kathmandu" - a bizarre spectacle of 'Australian culture' right here in the Du. Complete with dancing and of course, man-love.

The local equivalent to a lorry passing me on the way to work.


Sunrise over the Du.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Characters > Bhoj Raj

Bhoj Raj G/aut/am is a fascinating creature that I see daily at work. He is very affectionate, highly intelligent, looks like he is about to cry just about most of the time, says thankyou one or two more times than necessary in a single conversation, is a Brahmin (very high caste status), can go by the nickname of Bhoju - although I am not prepared to get that familiar with him, lest he start trying to hold my hand in public- and is probably not quite as good at English as he thinks he is. This is fine, as my Nepali is a long way short of his English, I'm just setting the scene here.

Bhoj Raj, as has been pointed out before has appointed himself the "Rob Nepali Guru" meaning, he tries to teach me Nepali. Usually, this results in him saying things to me very quickly and pausing meaningfully while waiting for me to respond. This usually results in a 20 minute conversation where I mainly try and work out exactly which is the new word he is trying to teach me, as it is not either clear or easy to pronounce. Any attempt to get him to repeat a sentence prompts some kind of cognitive reset function resulting in him saying something completely different with no memory of having said something different 10 seconds before.

Today he told me his love story. "You and I are very alike Rob-ji," he starts, "we are both very young to be married, and both our wives are NURSES!" OK, so I lied when I got here, telling everyone that my girlfriend was actually my wife. Something I did on the advice of some Nepalis living in Australia who suggested it would "just be easier" when she comes to visit. Unfortunately, that won't be for a bloody long time, and in the meantime I have to keep together this web of lies that not only had us married before we started going out, but involves a honeymoon in Thailand (a place I have never been to) and means that I pretend to actually own a home.

Me: Are you in an arranged marriage? (FYI, options are love marriage or arranged marriage - about 50/50)
BR: NO NO! I am in a love marriage. But the story around my wedding is very strange.

The short of it is that Bhoj Raj met his wife, Urmila, while working at a hospital in Pokhara, over time they got to know each other rah, rah, rah. Where this gets interesting is around the point where Urmila's parents start to look for a good husband to set her up with. They found a nice chap. A businessman I believe that might or might not have known something about engineering.

She refused to marry him saying that she was in love with somebody else. You can almost see the scene now can't you? Demanding to know who it was, Urmila's father set out on a mission to discover more about the mysterious (and in my opinion over-friendly) ophthalmic assisstant.

You see, although you might not quite understand it, I most certainly don't, Nepal works (less and less nowadays, but it exists nevertheless) on a caste system. I haven't got a great grasp on it except to say that if you are a Brahmin, then you are pretty much ok, you have quite a lot of status, are likely to be able to afford education and won't be going begging. What I did not understand is that even among the various castes, there are ranks. Although Urmila is also a Brahmin [YAY], unfortunately poor Bhoj Raj is a lower rank than her [poo].

Her parents refused to allow her to see him and demanded that he come and see them alone. Afraid that they would be waiting with a bevvy of large brutish family members to do him an injustice, he refused to go unless he could take friends. As I understand it (and I am sure I have got part of this wrong) eventually they came to the conclusion that they could be together only if BR agreed to marry her the next day at temple, or the whole thing was off and Urmila's father would not take part in it at all.

It was 2pm in the afternoon and BR wasn't expecting this particular development. He had no money for a dowry (also required) and none of his relations knew anything about this. Apparently he went crazy that afternoon, finding special clothes, contacting relations to tell them about the wedding and borrowing some money and or gifts for a dowry. And the next day they were married. That was back in February, and unfortunately she is in Pokhara for now and he in Kathmandu.

He really is a character and always has a smile on his face (if it does look like he is also about to break out in tears).

[on the left - yes, the over-affectionate one]