The latest on life in KTM

This post is being reproduced with the kind permission of the writer, who has lived in the western part of Kathmandu city for some decades and provides us with a log of life in KTM from her perspective as we near the end of monsoon and the festival of Dashain.

September 2016

The monsoon is drawing to a close. We are experiencing more sunny and hot days with some rain in the late night. The nights are beginning to cool and up here on the hill. The leeches are receding so I ventured forth with the dogs along overgrown walking trails. For the past three months the dogs have been kept to the roads to avoid picking up hitchhiking leeches. I was shocked to see that most of my favorite part of the walk, a small ravine shaded by multiple trees and bushes, has been clear cut to make way for a drivable road.

A number of parcels are being sold and houses that have been on the market for two years are finally being sold. One large tract of land with a lovely A-frame house has recently changed ownership. The new owners have torn down the house and for over two months have had a large machine pummeling the huge boulders into manageable sizes, one hears rat-a-tat-tat all day long from this machine. I wonder if the owners realize that by digging up these boulders they are destabilizing the ground and any structures built on this land will more likely experience earthquake damage. A majestic old deciduous tree has had half of its roots cut and now people are starting to chop it down. I am so sad at the loss of this beautiful tree.

Petrol is free flowing now, however there were two times when there was a shortage. The depot for the Valley is being enlarged and is out of use, so trucks are delivering directly to the petrol pumps. There was a three day holiday and many were filling their tanks for a holiday trip and this created a small line. People driving by seeing the line began to panic that there was a shortage so also lined up to fill their tanks. By the end of the day the pumps were empty. The next day no trucks arrived because the truck drivers decided they were also on holiday, and no fuel was coming up from India. It took almost two weeks for things to normalize. Everyone still has a knee jerk reaction to fuel shortages.

When I returned to Nepal I found that I had a full stock of cooking gas and was told there was no longer a line to get the refilled canisters. Sometimes when I drive down into town I will wave at the owner of the local cooking gas shop. He is smiling now. I can’t imagine the stress he had been under during the months of the shortage. He had to switch off his phone to avoid all of the angry calls he had been receiving. I admire him because he refused, during this whole siege, to take a bribe. There are many rich people living up here on the hill who could have easily paid a big sum for a full gas canister, but he refused to do it. I tried one time. He had called to let me know my canister was coming at 8 am that morning. I sent my gardener down to get it (I was at work). My gardener waited all day for the truck to finally arrive. I suggested he pay the owner a few dollars to call him once the truck arrived, so that he could return to work in the garden. The owner not only refused the money, but also told him that if he left I would lose my place in line and would have to wait for another 6 weeks for my refill. An admirable person in this society of bribes and favors.

A friend had been incarcerated for weeks and was finally going to go to court where we all hoped she would be released. I went by scooter, easier to park, and easier to get around in heavy traffic. It was shocking to see how extremely congested the roads have become. I rarely go through town these days so was unprepared for the present day traffic. Almost wished for a return of our past fuel shortage. It took an hour to go 5 kilometers. Over 4,000 vehicles are registered monthly now. Vehicle ownership has doubled this past year.

It turned out the charges against her hadn’t been written so she wasn’t coming after all. Two days later she was brought to court and had to sit in a van with other “detained” women in the hot sun for hours. This time the commute was half, I took a back route that is relatively unused. No one was allowed in the room except her and they questioned her for some time. Again, on another day she was brought to court, but this time her lawyer could be with her. She was finally released on bail but couldn’t be processed as it was after hours so once again had to be detained. But today she is free, out on bail. It may take up to a year before she can defend herself at a hearing. Justice moves very slowly here. But we all pray she will get justice.

It was announced in the paper that the gov’t was prepared to start distributing its first installment of money to the 250,000 households that were damaged. I mentioned this to a coworker that the amount seemed small. Wasn’t it about ½ million households affected? She is very pro government and said, no, only 250,000, that the rest were fake reports of damage. There must have been an uproar over this announcement because two weeks later another announcement was made that the rest of the 350,000 households would also start receiving money. This, after two wet monsoons of people living in tents and tarps and leaking structures thrown together from scraps. People are still camped out in green spaces in the city. The cases of cholera have doubled this monsoon (although the numbers are very low considering the conditions people have been living in over the past 1.5 years).

This month it was announced that those in the Valley would start receiving their money next week. I alerted my staff and was told that no, it will be at least another month before they get their first installment of $500. The total for each household will be $2,000, barely enough money to build a one room structure. Those that have savings have already started building, some have had to sell land to afford to build an earthquake resistant structure and many are taking out loans; although paltry, any money from the government will be welcome. Hopefully most will be living inside by wintertime. With all of the rebuilding the costs of materials have skyrocketed, doubled for some materials, and builders are booked up for months.

The 36 family member neighbors who used to run a tea shop have almost finished their extended family house (at least five family units) and just in time as the property they have been camped on for the past 1-1/2 years has just been sold and the owner is anxious for them to move out.

They have two cows and I have been getting fresh organic cow’s milk daily from them. But once they move, there will be no space for the cows so they will have to sell them. They also have a goat. The main Nepali holiday is almost upon us and the cost of animals skyrockets. In the States, we eat Turkey, here, goats are eaten for those who can afford them. This family bought their goat two months ago when prices were still normal. They are primarily vegetarian but for Desain they eat meat. I asked them if they plan to eat their goat. I was told that originally they were, but after caring for it for over two months they have become attached to it and can’t kill it. Lately the goat has been very playful. When I walk down there with one of my dogs to get my milk, the goat starts jumping around trying to entice my dogs to play. I think on some level it has realized it has a stay of execution.

We still have aftershocks but they are far and few between. Most have been around the original epicenter, although some have been closer to the western part of Nepal, nearer to a section of the tectonic plate that hasn’t moved for centuries and is overdue for a correction. The other night my side stand started shaking. My dog was sleeping next to it so I assumed he had been scratching himself. It turns out it was a fairly large aftershock, 4.5, but fortunately it was short lived.

Load shedding is a way of life now. The schedule of power cuts hasn’t changed since April, but we have been given more unscheduled electricity because the monsoon rains generate more. And one of the electric generators has been repaired so there is less demand on the national grid. But, with only a little rain these past two weeks, the hours of electricity are slowly beginning to decrease.

Life still hasn’t returned to normal for most Nepalis affected by the earthquake, and especially those affected by the multiple landslides from this very wet monsoon, but for me it has. I have a years worth of stockpiled petrol and enough cooking gas to heat the shower water and to heat a room for this winter. Food is plentiful, although more expensive; at my new residence, my new organic garden is finally starting to produce vegetables ( not much grows during monsoon, just beans and plenty of basil).

And my earthquake kit has been restocked- just in case.


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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