Life post-blockade in Nepal

My friend in Kathmandu sent another update on the joys of full tanks of petrol, and tribulations of sourcing cooking gas and a regular supply of electricity.  Oh, and the concept of “11th hour syndrome”.

Here’s her story copied here with her kind permission.


Last weekend I scored, big time! I received a text message from a friend who lives near the petrol pump (6 kms from my house) around 7 am that the pump was open and only a few cars in line. Throwing on clothes, throwing in my jerry can (just in case, although I had been told by others they were not filling jerry cans) I drove down to the pump. Only 10 cars ahead of me. Hope rose as the Mercedes in front of me received a full tank of petrol AND an extra 2 liters in the driver’s container. After filling my car they were more than willing to fill my jerry can. 45 liters of petrol!!!! Sunday I went down again an hour later, no line and they refilled my car and my jerry can. I now have 100 liters (25 gallons) of petrol. In August I started using my 130 stockpiled liters for emergencies (there is a one to two month fuel shortage annually usually due to NOC not paying its bills to the Indian oil company) and it has lasted me 7 months, minus the 20 liters I loaned out to friends. I was so happy, I wanted to drop to the ground and kiss the owner’s feet. At a party a couple of nights later, a friend was recounting her experience in being able to fill her car. She said she kept bowing in the Namaste prayer stance to the owner for her gratitude.

Now that the lines are very short and, because most have managed to fill up their vehicles and stockpiles, the pumps are staying open longer. At the beginning of the reopening of the Indian border, the pumps would run out within two hours. Two weeks ago the pump in my area would close by about 9 am, having opened at 5 am.
Yesterday they were still open at 1 pm, and I managed to get another 25 liters.

How does this affect me? Now when someone has a party in town, I will be able to attend. Talking with a friend the other night on the phone she said she realized she hadn’t seen me for 6 months, the duration of the Madesh protests and closed border. My precious fuel has only been used for commuting for work by scooter and for the house move. It means I can shop for more than what fits into my backpack. I can drive my car into town carrying my garden tools and lawnmower to be repaired and sharpened. I can go the the lumber yard and purchase wood to put on the floor of the leopard proof dog cage so that I can stay out late and not worry about a leopard getting my dog who chews on furniture if left inside the house. I can purchase curtains for the Ranaesque doors of my new house. I can now bring the cane furniture repair man and his supplies to my house to repair the dog chewed furniture. It means that if I can not find a repair person up here, I can bring him up from town to make the necessary repairs to this “new” old house. It means that next time any of my dogs need surgery or have health issues I can take them to the best vet in town and not the closest one. Basically the world has opened up for me.

There is a severe shortage of diesel, however. This affects buses, trucks and shops that depend on diesel to run their generators during the 9 hours of power cuts during office hours. The Nepal Oil Company (NOC) states that they had to use the trucks that usually carry diesel into the country for petrol and that is the reason for the shortage. No one is now allowed to fill jerry cans, which means businesses dependent on electricity are hard pressed to stay open. There was a full day’s queue of trucks and buses and a few cars in front of my pump station on Tuesday. By evening the pump had opened and hopefully all got the diesel they needed.

The Madesh are threatening to strike again for 6 months if need be, if their demands are not met by the end of this month when the gov’t promised to make its decision on the delineation of the state borders. And this may be a serious issue for those of us who are still waiting for cooking gas. My distributor keeps promising me I will get a full cylinder in a few days, in a couple of days, in four days, but he still hasn’t called. My gardener suggested we try another distributor a few kms away. We caught him as he was just closing his shop. He has 700 people on the wait list and the Nepal Gas company (the first LPG company in Nepal) is experiencing a severe shortage so it will be at least two months before my name would be at the head of the queue. I just finished my third cylinder yesterday. I still have two left which will last me 6 months but at the end of 6 months where will I be on the waiting list? I put my name on the waiting list back in August when my first cylinder ran out, but I suspect that waiting list got thrown out or lost over these past 6 months. I’ve now been on the new waiting list for 2 months, and if the borders close once again, what will happen to this waiting list?

Cooking with electricity is difficult. We get from 0-3 hours of electricity from 6 am to 10 pm. So how can one cook on electricity? With the pollution increasing daily, due to the increase of the availability of petrol, cooking over fire is not helping our air “quality”.

The Nepal Reconstruction Authority announced awhile back that no one could start rebuilding until they received their first installment payment. They have yet started to distribute this promised “rebuilding” money. Raju’s family who have given up in disgust waiting for this promised fund have not stopped their construction. If they have to sell some of their farm land to rebuild, they will do it, they simply do not want to spend another monsoon soaked to the skin living under a tarp. One of my patients who works for a very large INGO said they, along with other INGOs, protested so much about this delay in distributing the funds and preventing people from rebuilding until the distribution, that the Nepal government has recanted (although there has been nothing about it in the English dailies). This means those that have already started building their homes, will still receive this paltry sum. The amount of this payment is about 25% of the cost for building a simple earthquake resistant house.

The NEC (Nepal electric company) with much fanfare announced that we would have one extra hour of electricity a day. Whoopee! Instead of the power coming back on at midnight it now comes back on at 11 pm, or 10 pm or the time most Nepalis go to sleep, 9 pm. But soon we should start getting more electricity as the snow melts and swells the rivers which generate quite a bit of power. But the days of 24 hour electricity are a thing of the past, stories to tell our children at bedtime or over the cooking fire.


11th hour syndrome

When I moved house last month, I noticed a 2.45 number painted in red on the outside of my compound wall. This number means that the owner has to “donate” 2.45 meters of his land to the government for widening this 2 km long road. The owners on the other side of the road also have to give up about this much. It seems senseless to make this road so wide considering it doesn’t go anywhere. Just yesterday, as an afterthought, I sent an email to my landlord’s assistant letting him know that this would happen sometime in the future ( it could be months or years) and that he should prepare to make a new wall and gate for his property. Little did I know that it is happening now! The loud noise of a tractor outside my wall on the street got the dogs howling. I finally looked to see what was happening and realized the tractor was not going anywhere. It was tearing down compound walls. By the time I got to the gate they started on my wall and I panicked that the collapse of the wall would injure my dogs. Trying to round up three hysterical dogs with no leashes on hand…..It was a warning. They only broke the top part of the wall. I was told by the police I had 8 weeks before they would tear down the whole wall. Nepalis have what is called the “11th hour syndrome”, they do nothing until the 11th hour. I have no idea how long this red painted number “notice” has been on the walls of this road ( most likely over a year) having lived on a side road up to 6 weeks ago. All, along this 2 km road, have ignored the “notice”. Now the gov’t has given its final warning. We are all going to be hard put to find enough wall builders and engineers to get it all done within the 8 week period.

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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