The blockade continues

This is another insightful update from Kelly, resident of Kathmandu for over a decade.  Used with her kind permission.

“At work we had their annual Christmas lunch party this week. It was a wonderful lunch with an amazing amount of dishes all cooked over fire.

We each are to bring a gift with a cost limit. Many of you have probably played this game where each one gets a number and then when your number is called you can either chose a wrapped gift or take one from someone else who has already chosen a gift. Because more than 40 were at the party the gifts were allowed to change hands only twice.

It is always interesting to see the gifts that are brought to the party. Yearly, the most popular gifts are warm hats, gloves and socks. In past years when the scheduled power cuts were up to 14-16 hours a day, rechargeable lights were rapidly exchanged.

This year it was liters of petrol and small electric kettles.

With so many trying to cook with electricity, the Electric Authority has changed and increased the power cut schedule. Now in all zones there is no electricity during meal time which means most are forced to cook over fires. Some Nepalis are getting around this by changing their meal times. The problem with this is that so many are using electricity for cooking, the transformers can’t handle the loads and are blowing up. Some areas, such as Bhaktapur and Sanepa, have been without electricity for about a week. This means a lot of food wastage for those who have refrigerators and freezers, shops that have food coolers and freezers. It also means that there is no way to pump water from the underground storage tanks up to the water tanks on roofs, so all must use buckets to take water out from the underground tank for cooking and bathing (brrrr), along with the usual lack of lights, computers and phone recharging. The electric authority does not have the manpower to fix all of the transformers at once so repairs are very slow. Added to that, the damages from the earthquake in electricity generation.

There have been some optimistic news reports, lately, that the end (temporarily) is near. It seems through much negotiation with India, if all parties ( Indian government, leaders of the Madesh movements, and the Nepal government) can work out a way to save face ( saving face here is extremely important), i.e. not seeming to back down to each other, we may soon see the borders open up and free flowing essentials coming through.
It looks like the Madesh will get the amendment for proportional representation, but will not get redistricting. Instead it will be put off for 3 months. If the leaders can convince their more radical violent members to accept this, then the Indian gov’t can say the Madesh now have equality we can open the borders. The Nepal gov’t can say, the Madesh have backed down from all of their demands, we can now say we have been successful. The Madesh can say they got one of the most important demands and will take a break before they go after the other important demand.

I sincerely hope this will happen. It will give all of us a break from the daily living demands, children can return to school, hospitals will get supplies and can start doing surgeries and vaccinations, rebuilding earthquake damaged structures can begin, the list goes on and on. It will most likely be at least 2 months before the lines at the petrol pumps normalize and people have at least one cylinder of cooking gas.

People will want to hoard in preparation for the next turmoil which most likely will happen in three months, when the gov’t tries to work out federal districts that all will accept. An almost impossible task. If the Madesh don’t become more realistic in their demands, the borders will once again shut down.”

Speaking to my friend Neecol, daughter of Lok where I stay in Banepa, she gets up in the middle of the night whenever the electricity comes on to cook a meal for her family and her in-laws.  Whenever the electricity comes back on throughout the day, she has to be at the ready to cook the family’s second meal of the day.  She lives in Kathmandu and her balcony is not suitable for cooking on an open fire, and in any event it is difficult to source wood in Kathmandu.  Here in Banepa, open fires are the norm as many folks are burning the shattered timbers from collapsed homes as their wood source.

Everyday, we walk the 40 mins or so to and from SIRC to Banepa.  We could catch one of the infrequent local buses that are still running, but I draw the line at hanging out of the side of the bus or climbing onto the roof for a ride.


I took this photo the other day, a bus leaving Banepa for the 1.5 hour journey that is only 30km to Kathmandu.

The road is lined for days with trucks in a queue for diesel.  This limits the width of the road for two-way traffic, there are times we have to jump off into the ditch to avoid getting shaved by vehicles as they go by.  We have however figured out some trails through tiny hamlets of homes that follow the road, and despite a few nasty-looking dogs and curious ducks, we manage to get to and from work with relative safety.


This really does not do the experience justice as there is no traffic on the road …… I only had the guts to pull out my camera when the road was quiet. Just imagine two lanes of traffic converging onto the ‘free’ lane while walking on the dirt verge. In some areas, there is no dirt verge, only a wet and smelly ditch – that requires a bit of finessing to get by. You definitely do not want to fall in!



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 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 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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