Friday, May 29, 2009

The Third Gender

So, I alluded to it in my last post.

The Third Gender.

Does anyone else think that thatmeans the aliens have landed?

According to an article I read in the paper a few days ago, in the 2011 census, the third gender are going to be acknowledged for the first time. People will be able to identify themselves as 'Third Gender'. There will be a 'Male' box, a 'Female' box and a 'Third Gender' box. This is a landslide, a victory in many ways.

According to a random fact Rory threw out earlier today, 15% of Nepali's classify as Third Gender. To me, this is a surprising high number, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. What is Third Gender.

From what I understand, Third Gender is a umbrella term to describe "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex" people. In my brief search I found that 2% of men and 1% of women in Australia identify as homosexual, I have no idea about the others. But at any rate this 15% number intrigues me.

The articles I have read suggest that the Nepali Supreme Court's decision to that the government repeal all discriminatory legislation against the Third Gender is a milestone for the community. I respect that. People have suggested, that even allowing people to identify as Third Gender in the census can help health policy as homosexuals are more at risk from HIV/AIDS etc.

I accept the value to human rights and anti-discrimination. But speaking as a data manager, (currently) a researcher and my general opinion, you can't just lump sexual preference in there with gender. They are two entirely seperate things. I think at the last hospital I worked at there were 5 options fo selecting gender and ZERO for selecting seual preference. Perhaps collection of that type of information would be incredibly useful. The privacy and sensibility of such a move would have to be debated and I have no intention of doing that here.

But as a data manager, the idea that 15% (if that is indeed an accurate number) of people will no longer be listed as male or female in the 2011 census is horrifying. I mean, what the hell will that do to the statistics, TO THE ANALYSIS???? ARGH! It blows my mind. OK, so you get a win in being abe to target health policies towards homosexual PEOPLE (not specifically men) or ttrans-gender or intersex, but you lose the ability to target health policies at do that same thing specifically at both women and men that have also ticked that box. Just because somebody has ticked the box to Third Gender because they are gay doesn't mean that they have changed body parts (they still have genitals). Women are one of the most underserved groups in Nepal (like most of the developing world) if the census (that a great many statistics are based on) don't accurately represent their number in any given population, they how good can any health policy or research be?

Yay to the Third Gender, but perhaps, a more practical implementation of it's meteoric rise?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Security Meeting

Given the rise in protests and unruly behaviour on the streets of Kathmandu following the resignation of Chairman Prachanda, we had a security meeting. Herewith lie my minutes of said meeting.

Venue: The Lazy Gringo (I recommend the burritto)

Time: Was-meant-to-be-6pm-but-Rob-and-Jess-and-Gemma-and-Dee-come-to-think-of-it-were-late (6.45pm)

Date: 14 May, 2009

Moderator: Rob
Scriber: Jess
Present: Put your hand up if you’re not here. Kat, Gemma and Dee were not present (Gemma and Dee came soon enough though)

The group waived reading of the previous meeting’s minutes as there were none. As everyone had read Susan’s email with security questions, reading of that was also waived. For completeness’ sake, they are included here (but there’s nothing really funny in that part).

“Susan understands the security information that she is providing is still not very good. She is now on an sms link, and will be providing more pertinent updates throughout the day, thru sms and email.

This coming week she is having a meeting with the UN about being included in the Sitreps, and other UN information about security. She has continually begged for this inclusion since taking on the job in 2007. And it had fallen on deaf ears up until now. She is now receiving more updates on a daily basis from AusAID in Kathmandu.
· How are each of you feeling about the daily activities on the streets of Kathmandu?
· What sort of information are your Host Organisations providing to you?
· Are your Host Organisations willing to let you go home early if Susan instructs you to do so?
· How would your Host Organisations react if Susan told you to stay home for the day?
· Susan will ask you for details on email of your supervisor and counterpart mobile phone numbers, so that if necessary she will inform them that she has instructed you to stay at home
· What are the reactions of your family to the flurry of activities on the streets that they are hearing or reading about?
· In the Sanepa and Pulchowk/Kupondole/Jamsikhel area, are you taking precautions about getting home late at night? (The muggings are continuing).
· What about Lazimpat how is it there?
· What about your homes and flats? How secure are you feeling about your security in the house?
· The buddy system of smsing, has broken down already. If the city really hotted up, would you all agree to fulfil this requirement of sending sms messages for you and your buddies?”

ITEM 1 – Security Updates
The group agreed that although at the beginning information on the situation was hard to come by, Susan’s efforts were very good and they were happy with the information provided. Those working at iNGO’s were getting plenty of information, but those at Nepali NGO’s were not. It was decided that we should share informational emails especially from the UN (and not just the daily jokes).

ITEM 2 – Personal Feelings
The group agreed that the current demonstrations were a frustration but easy to navigate. All you had to do to fit into a crowd was grab a flag, an effigy and start burning stuff. But for the most part, demonstrations were avoided.

ITEM 3 – Going Home Early
Most agreed that Susan was in charge, and if she instructed us to go home there would be no problem. Just to be difficult Avi and Chrissy said that the UN would probably not be happy, but usually they would provide security where required, or would have ordered staff home before instructed by Susan.

The same conclusion was reached for Susan ordering AYADs to stay home for the day.

ITEM 4 – Updated Contacts
Susan requested AYADs to provide updated contact details for our counterparts and supervisors.
ACTION: Change the lightbulb in the bathroom – and then remember to email Susan the updated contacts.

ITEM 5 – Family Concerns
Everyone agreed that our families didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, where Nepal was or what a Prachanda could do for you in the kitchen.

ITEM 6 – Patan Crime
Those in Patan said they were careful out at night and obeyed strict precautions against getting mugged. Woe betide the mugger that tries to steal Celeste’s ‘Last Cigarette’ (break into a Bon Jovi riff).

At this point, Rob interjected on the conversation and told everyone to shut the feck up as he had a meeting to finish.

ITEM 7 – Lazimpat Crime
What crime? Actually someone tried to steal Rob’s bike and he’s not happy about it. No one in the meeting really cared, so Chrissy went on the mention (via printed email in Rob’s hand) that she never walked alone at night but that we are pretty safe. Lazimpat’s AWESOME! [just like Barney]

ITEM 8 – Buddy System
The group disagreed that the system had broken down but that it was unrealistic to SMS Susan every night. Buddies could check on one another and report in to Susan in the unlikely event that someone was a) dead b) uncontactable or c) hooked up in Thamel on Friday night. There was no plan for buddies hooking up with one another and eloping to Pokhara*

Special thanks to the scribe for scribbling out the minutes (NOT).

Meeting Closure: The meeting was closed at about 7.30-ish, maybe? ‘Closing time - you don't have to go home but you can't stay here’.

*likelihood of event occurring – about 35.4%**
**not sure whether same sex marriage is legal in Nepal***
*** technically gay’s are now labelled as third gender, so potentially its not ‘same sex’****
**** what am I TALKING ABOUT?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Characters >> Kamal

Kamal was our guide on our recent trip to Langtang and the Gosaikunda. Kamal is one of the most relaxed people I have ever met and a truly skilled, ingenious and resourceful human being.

Before becoming a guide, Kamal went to work (as many Nepali's do) abroad. He hoped to make enough money to send home to his wife so they could live a good life. He signed a contract, and had to pay a fee to the agent for finding him the work, along with his airfare, visas etc. He went with a bunch of other guys all committed to the same thing. They were going to be labourers on a worksite to build a new hospital in Saudi Arabia.

On arrival however, they were forced to sign new contracts, for less than half the pay and poorer conditions than they were expecting. Working it for a few weeks it became clear that Kamal was not going to be making enough money to feed himself, let alone send money home to his wife. He decided to take control.

He started making whiskey and rakshi and selling it on the black market. "I just buy the water bottles, refill them with rakshi, and no one know". Although he probably didn't make mint, he was doing well for himself and was happy that he was able to send money home. I can't remember how long he was at it. His biggest comcern seemed to be getting caught for working illegally, not for selling alcohol. Apparently he got away with that rather easily. "Oh, I am new here, I didn't know". I don't exactly buy that part, but that's how he tells it.

Eventually, that is what he got busted for. He was thrown in jail, and from what I have read, getting a trial or even someone to pay attention to you can be very difficult. "So I grew long beard, very long - I didn't like it". "I tell everyone that I am Muslim, I am not, but they called me the Nepali Muslim! The guys in there looked after me". He made money selling cigarettes and other things people needed (the Morgan Freeman of the Shawshank Redemption) - i have always wondered how someone goes about getting stuff to sell inside a jail, but he didn't really explain. He was still able to send money home apparently, and made more money on the inside than he did selling booze.

After three months, he was released and hightailed it back to Nepal and his wife Laxmi. He worked as a porter and using his ability to raise the best out of any situation worked his way to being a guide and now seems to live quite a comfortable life. He is very proud that his wife runs their tea shop and makes enough bank to look after the daily things while he makes enough money for school fees and books for their beautiful children. He and Laxmi make an odd couple, as they are from different castes, and he constantly fights a battle for acknowledgement with her father. Probably part of the reason he ventured abroad to try and make money.

I've been meaning to tell this story for ages, but was out at their tea shop today and it all came flooding back to me. His daughter Kiran tried to tell me a story, but there were far too many gods for me to keep up with, and she quickly gave up. She did tell a joke that she was very proud of, "there was a patient who loved a nurse. And then the patient gave the nurse an apple. But the doctor also loved her. But the nurse not know the men love with her. And then she asked why the patient gave her apple. He said, 'an apple today make the doctor go away'".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'm Not Lost

So many people seem to think that I am here to "find myself". I don't know why. It seems that a lot of people say that maybe because they're not interested in leaving their homes or jobs or families or friendships for a year. They don't understand why someone would be interested in that.

But I'm not lost. I'm not looking for myself and I don't need to find the inner me. I've never really had a problem with knowing who I was or what I wanted in life. Sure there have been time when I haven't known what I was going to do next. I think that's kind of normal. But when I do know what I want I have never really had a problem is making myself go after it.

I don't think that I have left family, relationships, friends, a career or a home behind. My time here has allowed me to grow closer to some friends, learn more about other ones and learn more about myself. Just because I'm not lost doesn't mean that I can't grow and learn and change who I am.

At the moment this place is my home. My flat here doesn't smell like someone else's house that I'm living in, but mine. I know the back streets between here and work better than I did in Ballarat. Its normal to see live chickens and pig carcasses riding on the back of a motorbike. To see goats waiting to be slaughtered at the butcher on the way to work and not see them on the way home. Smiling protesters lighting fire to tyres is just another occurrence to me now.

I've learnt about communication. Not so much how to do it with people with different backgrounds, education and language to myself, but about how I communicate, and the faults in my methods of communication. That's not just at work, but in my personal life as well. In my year long-long distance relationship. With my close friends and my family.

I have been coerced into reading books that I wouldn't have previously looked at twice in a bookshop. They have taught me about Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, development, foreign aid, and what makes for some really horrible writing. I have had the time to do many of the things that I would love to do at home but never get around to because of work and life. I have been learning a new language that 2 years ago I didn't even know I wanted to learn and two years from now may only have uses as an ice breaker in a dinner conversation or as a tourist back here.

By living here I have learnt about Hinduism and Nepali culture, about India, about Tibet. I have made new friends, some that I normally would not have made the time to get to know. Immediately here, you have something in common with another ex-pat. I found about the gloriousness of Hashing. I have become a more interesting and interested person.

Nope, I'm not lost.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nepali Class

My Nepali teacher is either the most tolerant man in the world or he swears all the way home. Today we did some revision. Revision of 10 months worth of Nepali class. Below are the sentences he asked me to translate, followed by the English version of what I did in Nepali.

1. Till now, I have not eaten anything.
>>Now I don't eat.

2. Have you been to Australia?
>> You have went to Australia?

3. I am not yet married
>> I have not do wedding.

4. Is Katherine learning French these days?
>>These days, Katherine learn French.

5. What were you doing at 7 yesterday evening?
>> Yesterday evening to at 7 at, you did what?

6. I was thinking of going to India this June.
>> In June, it is my opinion that India I go to.

7. It is hotter today.
>> It is hottest today.

8. Immediately after coming here, we started leaning Nepali.
>> We came here and then Nepali language learn...*&#@% what's the word for start?

9. He always feels tired.
>> He is everywhere happy.

10. He has a bad habit of drinking alcohol.
>> He is a alcohol drinking man.

11. How long have you been working at the hospital?
>> How many years have you been working? DAMN! At the hospital? I mean, How many years have you work at the hospital...I mean... DAMN! How long have you been working at the hospital? [WHEW]

12. Who is this for?
>> Who's is this?

13. He knows how to play chess but he doesn't play.
>>Actually I got that one right -> not bad eh?

Thankyou Bejoy, you are so patient....

Friday, May 8, 2009

Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits

An introduction to the friendly (or not so friendly) horn in your average developing country.

"Toot!" - Hello, I am acknowledging your presence and just letting you know that I have seen you.  Also, if you have not yet seen me, I am here.

"TootToot" - Hello, I acknowledge your acknowledgement and am thanking you for the courtesy you afforded me.

"TootTootToot" - No worries, how ARE the wife and kids?  Its been so long since little Subas has been to visit.

"BIP!" - Excuse me, I'm coming through.

"BIPbipBIPbipBIPbipBIPbipBIP" - Sorry, my child appears to have taken over control of the steering wheel and is playing with its horn.

"BAAARRRRP!" - You ^*%(^#(* idiot, you're in my way and I almost died trying to miss [hit] you.


"DOOTDOODOODLE IDDLYPOP!" [to the tune of A Spoonful of Sugar] - I have too much time on my hands and I have tinkered with my horn (i mean, the one on my my truck) to annoy the living hell out of you!


"FFFFNOOOOOOOOORRRRRRHNNNNNN" - Maybe I can make this traffic jam move faster by blowing my horn.

"NGAK NGAK NGAK NGAK" - look at me I have a horn on my rickshaw that sounds like a DUCK [angry mob] "so, if she weighs more than a duck...she's a witch?  and therefore?  BURN HER!".

"Briiiiiiiing" - I am at the bottom of the food chain and I only have a crappy little bell - ummm... excuse me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh Banda My Banda

So I was sent home kind of early today, but it wasn't a celebration like one might often expect.  

Over the weekend things were kind fo crazy - a huge group of us went away to The Last Resort, a cool  little getaway near the Tibetan border for a weekend music festival.  As a festival it went off!  They have bungy and canyon swinging and high ropes courses and all kinds of adventure.  Or you can do what we did and just chill out for a brilliant evening of music.  

We spent Sunday lazing away in the sun enjoying some cards and poking fun at one another.  Three o'clock rolled up and it was time to leave  We spent about 20 minutes at the gate waiting to get across the suspension bridge due to some beurocratic issues, but eventually got on the bus and headed on our way.

Before too long we came to a bruidge upon which was a rather lazy looking group of smiling teenagers, who had just set fire to three or four tyres lying, rather unconveniently, in the middle of the road.  Quite pleased with themselves they were waving the flag of whatever political party they happen to be currently associated with, but generally standing around smiling at everyone.

As a general rule I object to bandhs, especially those where people are doing for the simple sake of setting something on fire or as an excuse to take the day off work.  This particular one (like many like it this Sunday just gone) were because the Prime Minister recently announced the sacking of the Chief of Army Staff of the Nepal Army.  This is big news.  Its hard to give the full story, because not only don't I know it, but it's intriguingly complicated and twisted.  

To summarise (badly) the Chief was responsible for the integration of the guerilla army into the regular army.  Which has to be about as much fun as integrating toothpicks to you behind.  Suffice to say, they have always hated each other and there's no love lost right now.  Apparently, the President disagrees with the reasons for the sacking and has announced that the PM's word doesn't count.  It's very difficult to really know who to listen to as Nepal is still without a constitution, so the powers held by certain positions are a little unclear.

The only thing that is certain is that you know you can rely on this story as I heard it from Liz who heard it from the guy on the bus who heard it from a reliable source that heard it from his cousin's husband's concubine's cat.  Who in turn heard it from the mouse he ate for breakfast.

The big news is actually that at 3pm today, Monday 4 May, 2009, the PM addressed the public.  This is why many of us were sent home.  No one knew what was going to happen at this point.  No one knew what he was going to say, and no one knew how anyone else was going to react.  As far as security goes, that's a good enough call for me to go home and shut the door.  It turns out that he resigned.  I heard this from the same source.  I really won't know what has actually happened, or what it means until I get to work tomorrow. BUT resigned!  It's BIG!  I mean, what the hell happens now?  For a long time he and the finance minister have threatened to take up their guins again.  Against whom, we weren't really certain.  A coup (or perhaps anti-coup, I'm not really sure how you can overthrow the government when you are the PM) has been suggested.

I think we just have to wait and see.  

[I'm trying to look unimpressed, unfortunately, due to my unfortunate pick of clothes that day,
 it seems to appear like I just lit the fire]

Monday, May 4, 2009

Characters > Rory

The Rormeister is Katherine's boyfriend and has quit his job in the middle of the recession to come hang here with us for the last 3 months of Katherine's year.  After that he's gonna return to do a PHD at Yale.  Lucky bloke.  

He's been here almost a month and pretty much has been sick at any point where one would really rather not.  He doesn't make good decisions regarding food.  

Rob:  Chicken Rory?  Really?.  You've been on the toilet for 2 days.  Why not go with the veg?
Rory: No big cat...I've got a good feeling about this!
Rob: I think you should reconsider.
Rory: Oh, look at this a ham, cheese, toastie.
Rob: Ham, Rory?  Really?
Rory: You think no ham hey? Yeah, I suppose that's a good decision.  I'm glad you're here man, OK, Raj, just get me an Ice Cream Float.
Raj: Uh, sur, we madea  mistake on the menu, we can't do ice cream float, that one is meant to be coffee with ice cream in it.
Rory:  Well I don't want that!  That sounds horrible.  How about a milkshake?
Raj: We can't do milkshake sir, there's no power.  
Rory: Damn, I really wanted that too...
Raj: Well, we could do it manually for you.
Rory:   Oh no Raj, don't worry about it, get me the ice cream float.
Raj: Sir...the...
Rory: Yeah, yeah, no power, OK. I mean the coffee thing.
Rob: Good decision mate.
Rory: No, its not.  I HATE coffee man.

Recently, having suffered a 2 day session of intimate love-making with Charpi, Rory became my self-appointed poo doctor.  The man is an expert.  He warned me against taking too many drugs to combat it as I'd be stopped up for days.  However, after 2 days I was at the point where mainly clear water was making its way out my poop-hole, I thought it was time to put an end to it all.  Blocking myself up with immodium (Gastro-Stop) appeared not to be working, until I woke up on Friday.  

Rory: I told you not to use that'll be a lucky man if you ever get to poop again, man!
Rob: You have no idea what it was like.  I couldn't go an hour without running to the toilet!
Rory: Of course I know what it was like.  You are talking with a man who has been having his own love affair with the toilet for the better part of three weeks.  I actually feel the best today that I have ever felt for my whole time in Nepal.  This is really quite a special moment.
Rob: But now I am totally stopped up. I need to go before the music festival this weekend!  I can't go riding on a bus for 3 hours like this!
Rory: you should have thought of that before you pumped yourself full of those drugs man.  I'm gonna tell you a story.  Its a story about the American Dream.  The American Dream is the one that just comes out, no effort, thought or exertion need be made on your part.  Wiping is purely optional because you don't really need to (but you do anyway).  That my friend, is the American Dream.  One day, it can be your dream.