Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here, read this

Catching up, sort of
Kathmandu, Nepal

Today was yet another strike, this one notable for not having been convened either by Maoists or "labour unions" who were organized as Maoist mouthpieces. Instead, this strike was called by (wait for it) the Kathmandu Chamber of Commerce.

The COC intended to protest law enforcement's inability to protect them from the ongoing Maoist demands for "donations" from local business owners. Why can't the police and military do their job and protect us? they asked. Their method of protesting loss of revenue and business was...to close the businesses.

We've been awash in garbage anyway; yet another of the endless litany of strikes has been that of the sanitation workers. At Thamel Chowk, I literally can't cross the street without some kind of scarf wrapped round my mouth. I saw that I wasn't the only one as I picked my way across the trash. (Can't tell the Maoists with their bandit-bandanas from the people trying to avoid garbage stench.)

In absentia
A number of people have written asking why I haven't blogged. As usual, when I don't write, it's not because nothing is happening. Just the opposite - it's because too much is happening and I am a bit overwhelmed.

The town has been abuzz with, for one, the ongoing peace talks between the Maoists and the Seven Parties, taking place just a few blocks away at the Prime Minister's house in Baluwatar. (Turns out the PM is neighbors with my friend David.) The many opportunistic/enterprising vendors selling candy, tea and cigarettes to the onlookers camped outside will no doubt be disappointed that evidently, the talks have failed. Among other things, the Maoists refuse to give up arms. How could they? The minute they do, they will be vulnerable to the families of their many victims, seeking justice for all the abductions, extortion, "people's court" verdicts and so on.

Nun shall pass
A number of western mountain climbers witnessed the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Tibetan nun as she attempted to cross the Tibetan-Nepalese border. When the climbers and their guides returned to Kathmandu, they were hunted down and rigorously questioned by Chinese spies. The nun, named Kelsang Nortso, was one of a group of Tibetan pilgrims on their way to see the Dalai Lama, and perhaps, to gain freedom in Nepal or India.

There are still people out there that believe the Dalai Lama is some kind of medieval feudal lord that wants to return his people to a pre-democratic age. Nothing could be further from the truth. The burden of being head of government is something the Dalai Lama has wanted to rid himself of for a long time, and at his request, they have been moving toward being a fully democratic people-in-exile. The Tibetans have just held a free election in Dharmsala, electing Professor Samdhong Rinpoche as their Prime Minister.

How the Other Half Lives
My Nashville correspondent Darkhorse asked, "Does India have its own Woodward and Bernstein" to report on the vast underbelly of social inequities? an antidote to all the India Shining superpower hype of TIME Magazine glossy cover-story ilk?

Like most Indian situations, numbers are part of the problem - it's difficult not to get overwhelmed. A good start is The Other India, taking its cue from Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives.

Oh, and read this. It's all about the latrine scavengers of India. That's right, people who move human waste with their bare hands.

I photographed some of these folks back in February in Madras, but lack of time and Tamil translation prevented me from getting their story firsthand. The middle-class, English speaking Indians I related this to seemed horrified that I would even acknowledge the existence of such a thing. Naturally, I then knew I was on to a good story. In other places, you might get in trouble for telling a lie. India is a place where you get in trouble for telling the truth.

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