Latest update on the continuing blockage at the Nepal/India border

In a follow up to my previous post, life at SIRC continues to be manageable despite the blockade of 3 weeks now.

Panorama shot of the SIRC facility in the Saanga Hills.  Photo credit Dr Christine Groves

Panorama shot of the SIRC facility in the Saanga Hills. Photo credit Dr Christine Groves

SIRC’s Administrative Director Dipesh tells me the facility has managed to legally secure a source of wood, allowing the kitchen to continue to provide two meals plus snack to 250+ people per day at the Centre.  There is enough of a stock of food supplies and wood for cooking to last them another month.

The festival of Dashain is imminent and means a 15-day festival across the country.  Most people usually head home to celebrate with their families but this year, with fuel shortages, there are fewer buses making the journey to distant villages.  And any buses that do have fuel, are overcrowded.

Heading home for Dashain

Heading home for Dashain.  Photo credit Nepali Times

In saying that, Dipesh mentioned a few of SIRC’s patients who are able, will be discharged temporarily to celebrate with their families, and return to SIRC to continue their rehabilitation program.  This will surely help to elongate the availability of food and fuel supplies at SIRCs, if there are less people at the centre for 15 days.

I came across this creative idea for an outdoor cooking station.  Ingenious eh?

Stacked recycled truck tire rims make great stoves!

Stacked recycled truck tire rims make great stoves!  Photo credit The Vanguard.

And finally, another update from Kelly a foreigner working and living in Nepal for a few decades now with her perspective on life during the blockade.  It’s long but worth the read.

October 10

Nepal has been suffering from electricity shortages for years, and for years we have had scheduled power cuts. People have dealt with this by installing inverters which charge batteries during the power times for when there is no power. They also have purchased generators which run on fossil fuels, and others have installed solar panels. Solar panels are expensive so most are used to provide only enough power to run a few computers and lights.

The internet may be down in a few days, already it was down today during the scheduled power cut, so this may be the last report until things normalize.

Regarding the blockade at the border, some suspect that the Indian Prime Minister, who needs the vote from the Biharis in the upcoming election, met with the Madeshis and agreed to help them with their border blockade if they would encourage their relatives in Bihar to vote for him. The Madeshis are descendants from Indians and all along the border, many look and dress more Indian than Nepali (could be one reason they receive so much discrimination). If this is so, then after the elections, which ends on November 5, fossil fuels from India should be flowing up to the border. Whether or not the tankers will get past the border protesters without being trashed is anyone’s guess.

This discrimination against the Madeshis is the reason why women were not given citizenship rights for their children in the new constitution. It is feared that Biharis will then marry Nepali women just so they can get Nepali citizenship, as if that is a prized status. It never occurs to the higher caste Nepali leaders that Bihar Indians just might be falling in love with these beautiful graceful Nepali women. There is no desire to give citizenship to the offspring of such “mixed” marriages.

The two main issues against the constitution, women’s rights and proportional representation reveals just how xenophobic these higher castes (all of the leaders are higher caste) truly are. They would rather blame India for Nepal’s present woes than share their power with the larger lower caste population groups.

Women took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration about this citizenship discrimination some weeks ago, but now they are too busy taking care of families to continue to be out on the streets making their voices heard. And besides they don’t have the power from blocking the borders.

If the constitution had been “inclusive” Modi would not have had an excuse to slow normal commerce and sales of fuel to Nepal. It is just possible that Nepal’s leaders think there will be more free flowing of goods and fuels once the Bihar election is over and that could be one reason the amendment hasn’t been signed.

I left work around 7:30 pm last night expecting to see a ghost town. Surprisingly, there was a fair amount of traffic but only about 20% of the usual (Friday night is the night to go out because Saturday is the “weekend”). As I passed the only petrol station from Thamel up to Budhanilkantha (about 10 kms), the cars that had been double parked in a queue for days, had drivers in them and brake lights were on. The petrol pumps were open!!!!! As I passed the station, 4 police were making sure no one was jumping the queue.

Papers have been reporting that 10 to 30 tankers have successfully crossed the border in the last few days. The queues for the Police Headquarters petrol station, for those of you who know Kathmandu, come west all the way to Nag Pokhari, three vehicles deep. They go east and north all around the huge block of police headquarters. The also go east and south all the way down to Naxal. All three vehicles deep.

Talking with my neighbor last night, she told me that it took her husband 2 hours (these days it takes about 20 minutes) to get home from Lazimpat, he had left his office at 5 pm. First there was a big rally/ demonstration at chakrapath (Ring Road and Maharajgunj- this is the same intersection where on normal days, during rush hour, it takes 4 or 5 policemen to direct traffic and at least three to four changes before one can drive through the intersection- about a 15 to 20 minute wait. Lately only 1 traffic policeman is there and there is no waiting to cross). He wasn’t sure if the demonstration was against India for not selling fuel, or against the Madeshis for demanding an amendment to the constitution before they stop their border blockade, or against the government for not writing the amendment.

Once he got to the Gulfatar petrol pump, 2 kms further, all traffic was stopped. Apparently, once people found out that a tanker was coming, those in the queue had called their friends who rushed out and tried to jump the queue. Instead of double parked cars, the cars were 4 deep and only a tiny tiny bit of road left for 2 way traffic. He was stuck there for an hour. Frankly, I am surprised I didn’t see any maimed and injured queue jumping drivers, people are so desperate for fuel. These people had been queuing for days for 1-1/2 gallons of petrol and must wait a week before they can queue for more.

This morning as I passed the station on my way to the organic farmers market and a small birthday party at Fire and Ice bistro, the petrol pump looked deserted. Hopefully all of those who had waited for days, got their precious 10 liters.

The farmers are managing to get their produce to the Saturday market, although not many shoppers were there today, nor many at the other farmers market at 1905. I talked with a friend who has a stall selling momos, to see if she would be willing to sell the Manakamana calendars which raises money for girls scholarships. She said she would be delighted to sell them but not right now because it was all she could do to figure out how to get her food to the market.

The birthday party had been originally planned to be at Nina’s restaurant (Nina, of Nina Hagar who packages the freshest cleanest meat in Nepal). Nina said she will have to close her restaurant next week. The party was changed to Fire and Ice pizza bistro because it would have been difficult to get up to Ninas (across from the American embassy) due to the dearth of taxis and overcrowded buses.

Annamaria, started Fire and Ice years ago and after eating her pizzas, I find the American ones pale in comparison. Her sauce is such a secret she cooks it herself at home and brings it to the restaurant, no one, absolutely know one knows her recipe. A very wise decision. If her cooks knew the recipe they might decide to open their own pizza place with lower prices, a practice not unheard of here.

I am presently (soon to be evicted) living in the house she used to live in. My landlady told me that when Annamaria lived here, she installed a sink and counters in the garage and a door which closed off the garage to peering eyes so she could make her divine, died and gone to heaven, secret recipe.

She joined us for a little while even though the bistro was packed. She said she was cooking her sauce on an open fire in her garden because she is out of cooking gas. At the restaurant she is now using an electric oven to bake her vegetables and is able to cook her pasta in her pizza oven. Out of 40 cooking gas canisters, she only has 6 left but it looks like she will be able to stay open during hours when there is electricity. Most other restaurants in Thamel (the tourist hub) have been forced to close down.

Five of us got together to celebrate the birthday of yoga teacher, Chrissie. One friend teaches English at a school next door to Ciwec clinic. She complained that it takes her 1 hour to walk to work in the morning and at night walking home, almost two hours because the streets are dark, and the sidewalks have been torn up and even a flashlight doesn’t illuminate all of the holes. When she spoke up at work about this, the other teachers agreed that it was becoming a problem, so the school has decided to close down one week early before the big Desain holiday. She is now off to Pokhara, the tourist lake resort, which is deserted, no tourists. She has heard that the tiny mom and pop type food places have managed to stay open but most restaurants have closed due to the shortages. Some tourist buses are managing to get enough fuel to go to Pokhara.

Another friend plans to fly up to Solu Khumbu (theway to Mt Everest) in a few days. She has a pretty good chance of getting up there because Nepal Airlines has been flying in airplane fuel from Bangladesh. Chrissie will be working, taking on classes of those who will be going out during the holidays. I will be house hunting and the fifth will be hanging out in her new home by the forest, she has no fuel to get anywhere anyway.

Most private schools are closing 10 days early because they can’t bus their students from all over the city, nor can they cook the students’ lunch. Our lunch room at the clinic announced they will only be serving one vegetable at lunch due to gas and fresh produce shortages. However our dental clinic is still staying open. We need to use the generator during loadshedding whereas the medical clinic does not need it as much unless they have patients in ICU or need to take x-rays. But I suspect that soon, the dental clinic will only be open when we have city electricity. Yesterday at work I asked a co-worker how his bike ride was, all of the staff in the dental clinic have been biking instead of riding their motorcycles. He said he rode his motor scooter to work because he had managed to get 1 liter of petrol on the black market paying 500% above the legal price.

Banks have announced they will have to close during loadshedding because they can’t run their computers, ATMs won’t work, and money transfers will be impossible.

The government declared a 15 day Desain holiday instead of the usual 5 days because it can’t cope with the shortages, although all of the higher ups are managing to get petrol and cooking gas. However, the courts have decided this is illegal ( not the having of petrol and cooking gas but having a longer holiday) so there will not be extra Desain days.

Only about 40% of the usual number of people at this time have left the Valley to go to their villages and families. Not enough buses running across the country. Usually bus ticket sales are sold out by now, but the buses are not selling advanced tickets. The companies are also demanding that they get a police or military escort if they are heading towards the Indian borders.

The leaders are complaining if this goes on people will have to start cooking over wood, they are so out of touch with the populace who are already cooking outdoors over wood campfires.

International imported goods come by ship in containers and port at Calcutta. Because these containers have no way of being emptied into trucks up to Nepal, importers have to pay the shipping liners for the unreleased containers. Not only that, they have to pay storage fees to the Calcutta port authority for the cargo. It is costing these importers about 12 million dollars a day (according to the newspaper). Some items are perishable thus, they have already perished, and other items aren’t worth the cost of the charges, these importers are suffering heavy losses.

A leader of the Madeshis, who lives in Kathmandu, is being threatened by unruly mobs shouting slurs and threatening to set his house on fire. In my opinion, they should be directing their anger at the people who caused this problem, the leaders who thought they could continue to ignore the rights of this group of people, when they wrote the constitution.

The Nepal Oil Corporation invited a global tender for fossil fuels, and surprisingly, 4 companies have responded. But one has to wonder how they will get the fuel into landlocked Nepal. One is from a Chinese company, but the roads have not been opened yet from China since the earthquake.

There is a respectable astrologer here, who shortly after the earthquakes, said that Nepal would suffer more devastation than what the 2 earthquakes caused. We all thought it would be perhaps another earthquake, possibly a 9 on the richter scale, the “big” one that has been anticipated for over 20 years instead of the relatively small 7.9 we had already experienced. Little did we know it would be a consequence of the divisive constitution that Nepal’s leaders were so quick to pass.

Schools are closing, hospitals have no medicine, no fuel to run their ICUs, and may close next week, internet will be severely curtailed by next week ( and already there are outages), stores have shut down because they have nothing to sell and no way to get any available items over to their shops. The rice storage shop up here which is usually filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling is almost out of their 30 kgs bags of rice. Businesses are shutting because their staff are having difficulties coming to work, and they can’t run a business when there is no electricity and intermittent internet. The water companies who bottle and sell 50 liter drinking water containers are shutting down because they don’t have enough fuel to get the water, sterilize the water and deliver it (there is a severe shortage of piped city water and has been for years). This means that people may have to go to the dirty polluted contaminated streams for water, yet have no means to boil it to make it drinkable.

There has been no rebuilding of the country because the Rebuilding Authority still has not been formed. The money, all of the donations, sit waiting to be used. The money the government promised to all with damaged houses has yet to be distributed and the country is running out of rebuilding materials. Many are pragmatic and not waiting for this promised $1,500 “gift” from the government to repair their houses, but no materials are getting into the country due to closed borders. And those materials manufactured here have no way to get to their destinations because trucks simply can’t run on air.

It was announced in the papers a few days ago that the amendment had been written which would give the Madeshis proportional representation and a redrawing of their new district, which would not divide their population, thus strengthening their political voice. But nothing has been done about it since, it hasn’t been voted on, it hasn’t been enacted.

And what are the leaders of the three main parties doing to alleviate these situations? Riding in vehicles with an additional 5 escort vehicles to the government offices to squabble over who will be the next Prime Minister.

Reproduced with Kelly’s kind permission.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to Latest update on the continuing blockage at the Nepal/India border

  1. Pingback: Blog SCI Nepal | Spinal Cord Injury Collaboration | Nepal

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