Friday, January 26, 2007

To kill a cow....

Though Nepal no longer is the world’s only Hindi Kingdom, now that the King has lost power, the parliament has still just decided to keep the cow as the national animal – despite strong protests from the Maoists.
If you kill this holy animal it will by the law be considered manslaughter and you can end up spending many years in jail. However, mostly it will be enough to pay a huge fine. For many people here it is not possible to pay and instead the “killer” will run away from the crime scene.

This was exactly what happened today on my way to work. In the middle of the road was a half dead cow laying and around it many excited people, who told me, that a jeep had hit the cow and then driven off.

With a huge cow in the middle of the cow a long line of cars was quickly formed on both sides of the road. Had the police stepped in and done their job it would not have been a problem, but it is not that easy in Nepal. I several times told a police officer to do his job, but he obviously did not what it was.

When a Nepali bus driver sees a line of cars in the road he does not stop but instead he goes to the opposite lane and drives to the beginning of the line to see, what is going on. This happened on both sides of the cow and created a big traffic chaos. I sat for a while looking at the madness having a laugh, but also realised that I would have to get into the game - otherwise I would have been stuck there for several hours.

Well, there certainly isn’t much logic on the roads of Nepal. In this situation I do not understand why they didn’t kill the cow (who was in so much pain) and pulled it to the side, so that the traffic could move on – but in this country there are many unanswered questions. Despite the madness and the fact that I came to work late, it is episodes like this that makes Nepal an interesting country to live in – you never know what is around the corner!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Maghi – yet another festival

In Nepal we follow a different calender, which means that I am actually living in the year 2063. We have just entered the 10th month of the year, Magh.

The first day of Magh, known as Maghi, is one of many holidays in Nepal. But for many young Tharu girls this day is met with mixed feelings. These young girls, known as Kamalari, live like slaves; there parents are very poor and often forced to “sell” their daughters as maids in other families. Already from the age of 5 are they sold. Their working conditions are poor with 12-14 hours work a day, a bed in the kitchen and a yearly salary of 35 US – yes, a year!

The parents negotiates one-year contracts for the girls and according to customs this always happens on Maghi. This means that every Maghi the girls leave their work place to meet up with their parents. Often this is the one day a year where the family is together. However, Maghi is also the day that a new contract is being negotiated and the Kamalari will leave on that very day to work for a new family in a new area. It is with a lot of insecurity that the girls move to the new household, since they do not know what to expect regarding work conditions, physical and psychological violence might be part of their new life as well as sexual abuse.

The tradition with Kamalari is practiced in all of Terai. Often the negotiation is done privately but in the Dang district there is an actual market for this. Marcus, Sara and I spent this Maghi visiting that market.
In the beginning it looked like an ordinary marked with plenty of food stalls and junk. Rather quickly we realized though that there also were Kamalari and not only that but entire families looking for work carrying around their small bundles with their few private belonging. Most likely that was ex-kamaras – free bounded labours – looking for a way to survive.

Since some locale organization has started to work against this tradition nothing was done out in the open and it was difficult to get people to talk. I did manage to talk to an Indian farmer, that had come to the market to purchase 10 workers for the farm in India. He told me, that a good worker would cost him 5.000 Indian Rupees a year – roughly 100 US.

This kind of slave trading cannot be classificed as human rights violations (as Sara and Marcus told me), since the people freely enter into this one-year contract. For many people the market in Dang is their only opportunity to find work and ensure the survival of the family. Still, it is sad to see these people sitting in groups with all their belongs waiting for a buyer. The Dang market gives a clear picture of the extreme poverty that a great part of the population of Nepal lives in.

There was, however, one good story to tell from that day. On the way to the market our driver “unfortunately” hit a chicken on the road. He and the photographer went running after it into the forest and came back proudly carrying a dead chicken – a great contribution to the Maghi feast at their homes.

Nepalgunj Riots

After a lovely Christmas holiday in Denmark I am now back in Nepalgunj. Though having read about the riots in Nepalgunj during Christmas, I had actually completely forgotten about them again. However, the many burnt down shops and furniture and motorcycles on Surkhet Road drew a clear picture of a town that had been through 2 days riots. End result was 150 looted and burnt down shops, one dead and 20 wounded.

Since then I have participated in meetings about the riots and it seems that everybody is confusing about what had happened. Most people seem to believe that royalists were behind it. These are people very much against the democratic process that is taking place in Nepal in these days. It is also believe that the people doing the actual looting were outsiders paid to start the riots. At the same time the authorities didn’t act at all!

Video recordings show 200 police officers watching a handful of people looting a tv-store and carrying the goods pass the police. This happened on the 26th of December – a day there was curfew in Nepalgunj, which the police – obviously – was unable/unwilling to enforce.

To motive for starting the riots was the many different groups of people living in town. There is a big difference between Madhesi – the original Terai people with great affiliations to India and their own language – and the Pahadi people, who have moved to Terai from the hills and are now holding all important positions in the area.
Also between the large group of Muslims in town and the Hindis have there been conflicts. However, it is believe that there conflicts were merely used as an excuse to start the Nepalgunj riots.

It is worring to know that it takes so little to start a riot of this nature. In the moment everybody is working on finding out what happened, why it happened, why it wasn’t stopped and most importantly how to ensure that it won’t happen again in a town with so great differences in politics, economy, religion and life conditions.

Pictures will come later!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Christmas in Denmark

Christmas at home was just as nice and relaxing as expected. Naturally, I ate too much food and candy joined by too many beers and glasses of wine and too little exercise – but since it is once Christmas once a year, so it is allowed…..

It was great to see the entire family especially my niece and nephew, Simon and Sara, how have gotten so big. After spending about a week in Horsens with the family, I went to Copenhagen to see the friends and celebrate new years. Those of you who know me can probably guess how my days in Copenhagen were spent…and that I now need an extra vacation just to get over my vacation ;-)

Pre-Christmas in Nepal

Though coming home for Christmas there was still time for some Christmas traditions in Nepal.
Having enjoyed several glasses of Glögg here and there (hot red wine with some good stuff in it!) I did have the best one served at my Nepalgunj colleagues, Robin and Nanna, house for the Santa Lucia celebration - following the nice Glögg there was a mini Lucia-parade performed by Nanna and Sara followed by dancing in the living room. A lovely night in Nepalgunj that ended with Greg momentarily losing his car keys and waking up the entire neighbourhood with the help of his car alarm.....

No Christmas without a very wet Christmas-lunch/dinner. Since all the MS Development Workers were gathered in Kathmandu for first aid training, this was a golden opportunity to have a Christmas party. And where else to go than Baryo Fiesta, a restaurant owed by a Danish chef, to eat wonderful Danish Christmas food. Unfortunately, there was no snaps to go with the food and there was plenty of Vodka – check out the picture of Sara demonstrating how the Swedes manage to get drunk as fast as they do.
After several bottles of Vodka we also felt comfortable enough to follow Sørens numerous Karaoke performances – not a pretty sight but a very fun night!

And then is was off to Denmark….