Historic election underway in Nepal

Local elections are underway in Nepal today, the first in over 20 years and the first under the new 2015 Constitution.  A momentous day for Nepal!!

Not everyone was happy with the new Constitution however.  The Madhesi community felt the new Constitution left them politically side-lined and threatened to boycott the elections unless changes were made to the Constitution.  The Government has promised to make these changes  in the next month or so, and this has forced the elections to be split into two phases.  Unsure how the results of Phase 1 will not influence the outcomes of Phase 2, but there you have it.

Voter turnout is looking good thus far with no disturbances reported.  According to the Kathmandu Post, there was on average a 50% turnout across all polling stations as at Noon today.  Polls close at 7pm.  Kavre, the district where I live when I am in Nepal, has a 70% turnout!

Photo credit Kathmandu Post

I’m not surprised voter turnout has been strong given over 9 million Nepalis will be voting for the first time in their lives!

Total registered voters total a little over 14 million and there is an even enough split between males and females.  Interesting to note there are 143 registered as a third gender.

Photo credit Nepali Times

Postscript:  Further comments from Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks (SpiNepal) who are in Nepal and ‘on the ground’ as it were with more detailed observations of the election:

Hi Kate – nice note about the elections. We just came out from our Mardi Himal/Ghandruk trek and saw many voters walking, often many hours, to Ghandruk. While there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm to vote, bear in mind that the 1.2 million plus Nepalese living and working abroad and contributing actively to the GDP have no vote. There are many long term ‘Nepalese’ residents who cannot get citizenship to vote and many Nepalese-born people who must own land and prove birth to get citizenship documented and vote. There are no absentee or advance votes in this fledgling democracy – those working away from home in or out of the country cannot vote. As we understand it, one must vote in one’s home-registered place even if it takes 20 hours by bus. Perhaps increasing computerization will remedy this in the future.
It is ironic that we are just picking up the results of the BC election – our advance votes may make a difference!
P and C

Peter also reminded me that there are 858 candidates in total running in Kathmandu.  I found a photo of the ballot sheet – its huge!! What’s the betting there will be lots of spoiled votes?!

Photo credit: Kathmandu Post

The biggest issue that the people in Kathmandu are concerned about is the level of pollution in the city.  The quality of air and water pollution in the city is very high, in fact Kathmandu is the 7th most polluted city in the world.  I kid you not.

Photo credit Nepali Times

As a result of these elections, it’s expected local decision-making will improve the conditions of villages and towns, where decisions will no longer be dictated by Kathmandu.

Essentially, each town and village council will be self-governing with powers of law-making, taxation and licensing.  It’s supposed to facilitate quicker decision-making where things can happen quicker.  To my mind, this will all depend on what kind of human being gets voted in!

Results for Phase 1 should be available by next weekend … stay tuned for the results.

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Nothing like it in my life!

It’s been festival after festival of late in Sri Lanka, and here I thought Nepal had the most.  Vesak is under way currently and oh my goodness, is it ever a beautiful festival.

One of the many thoranas (electrically-lit pandals) we saw tonight

What is Vesak you ask?  It happens on the May full moon and celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha in one bumper festival.  It’s known as Vesak here in Sri Lanka, and as Jayanti in Nepal.

Vesak is celebrated across Asia and besides paying homage to Buddha by decorating the city with an array of light displays and lanterns called kuudu, devotees are also required to bring happiness to others by wishing one another well and offering dansalas (free food) to passersby.  You could eat your dinner with the volume of free food if you were so inclined!  It’s a time of joy, of being with family and here in Sri Lanka, it is celebrated not just by the Buddhists, but by most Sri Lankans, irrespective of their religious leanings.

I am told the celebrations in Colombo draw people from all over Sri Lanka, arriving by truckload after hours on the road.  It’s true, I saw many trucks loaded with people coming into the city earlier today.

It’s a pretty big deal here.  India’s Prime Minister Modi will be Guest of Honour at tomorrow’s opening ceremony and none other than The Right Honourable Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal will be the Guest of Honour at the closing ceremonies in Kandy on Sunday.

I’m fortunate that most of the festivities are right on my doorstep.  Fellow volunteer Joe and I headed out for a few hours tonight and we were like kids in a sweet shop, in awe with all the lighted displays.  We wandered around for a couple of hours and took a ton of photos.  I usually trim the number of photos for blog posts, but this time, they are so impressive I will show you most of them in this slideshow.

Enjoy!

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It is now a little after 1am and there does not seem to be any let up with the celebrations, it’s like rush-hour outside my balcony that unfortunately faces the street.  There will be more celebrations again tomorrow ….

Happy Vesak everyone!

 

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Getting around in Sri Lanka

I have been living and working in SE Asia for quite some time now, so I get used to what is considered unusual back home.  With Rita’s recent visit, I was reminded how the modes of transport here in Sri Lanka can put the fear of God in some, and in particular Rita who loves her car and making her own way around!

First up is a quick video of travelling on a Government-run bus between Mirissa and Galle in the south of Sri Lanka.  Bus was more empty than is the norm, but the flashing lights and blaring music entertained us.  Unlike Nepali buses, there is no chance of chickens or goats on Sri Lankan buses.

We caught the train back to Colombo from Weligama.  Second-class travel only was available which means we got the opportunity to get our own seat (not guaranteed) and the air-conditioning was by virtue of an open window, complete with exhaust from the train’s diesel engine filling the carriage periodically.  We were lucky our station was the 2nd stop, so we did indeed get a seat.  Anyone paying for second-class with stops beyond Weligama, did not get a seat.

Rita feeling lucky in her seat. Later the aisles were completely jammed with travelers.  Sorry for the fuzz, the train was fiercely jolting!

These two seats need to be vacated if a member of the clergy climbs on board. No discrimination, it applies to the clergy of any religious group!

And then there is the three-wheeler, the cheap and quick mode of transport that whizzes thousands of people from A to B throughout every urban community across Sri Lanka.

The three-wheelers drive in between trucks and cars, and squeeze themselves along sidewalks (if they exist).  Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

We also traveled by air-conditioned car with Sameera, who managed to avoid any tips or crashes in the over 20 hours of driving over the course of a few days.  No photo of the car but this is Sameera with Rita and I at the side of the road, introducing Rita to the health benefits of king coconut water – delish!

Sameera (l) before we said farewell to him in Mirissa

And this little puppy’s mode of transport is his owner’s bicycle.  No, I did not take this picture, it has an animal in it after all – photo credit for this one goes to Rita!

Cute puppy at Peacock Villas, Mirissa

A big regret we have is not having a photo of us with the jeep in Yala National Park, darnnit.

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Animals animals everywhere

For those who know me well, you’ll know I am not an animal lover.  Pretty much every friend I have on Bowen has at least one dog and when we go hiking, the dogs crowd around me, get under my feet, eat my lunch and grab a slobbery kiss when they can.  Arghh!  For many years, Emily next door had a hamster that used to follow me around their house whenever I popped in next door for a drink.  Judi, the one person I thought would never get a dog, sneakily welcomed Missy into her home a few months back.  Had I been there I would have had something to say about that!

So you can imagine how amazed I was to find myself making plans to head out on a one-day safari in Yala National Park.  I only did this because my long-time friend Rita was visiting Sri Lanka for the first time, and she is an animal lover through and through.  My heart was in my mouth from 5am when we set off, to 2pm when we left the Park.  But I must admit for it to be pretty cool to see the array of animals up close and personal.

The sun rising at Yala National Park upon our arrival

We were lucky with our driver who was really knowledgeable on birds, plants and animals and really only spoke when he needed to.  He also did not follow the other jeeps, but instead made his own way around the park, visiting remote watering holes and taking his time for the animals to come to us in the quiet of the park.  It’s this kind of patience that got us to catch our first sighting of the elusive leopard by 7.30am.  We were stoked!

The leopard, about 30 feet away from our jeep.  It did not help my nerves when Rita wondered what would happen if the leopard put it’s paws on the bars of our OPEN jeep.

After our sighting, word spread pretty quickly and by the time the other jeeps had arrived, the leopard had skulked off back into the jungle.

Check out the slideshow below for many other animal sightings, including many elephants (Amira you would have been in heaven!), water buffalo, wild boar, crocodile, deer, numerous types of birds including peacocks, bee-eaters and eagles (much smaller than the Canadian ones), monitor lizards and many other kind of slinky things – shiver!

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We had a break right by the ocean, gorgeous beach but hot hot hot there – we stayed under the shade.

The most worrying part of the safari, was how dry the park was.  Monsoon in the south-east of the country happens October to February every year, check out how dry it is after monsoon.  There is a anxious time ahead methinks.

A very dry riverbed that should be brimming with water at this time of year

 

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Nepali Night in Sri Lanka

It’s all thanks to Gayathri who spent a little time in Kathmandu a few years ago, and her scrummy memories of Nepal’s infamous mo:mo.

Gayathri (m) who spawned the whole Nepali Food Night with Tharshini (r) and Shamali (l) – all making perfect mo:mo

Mo:mo are little dumplings stuffed with meat or veg, and served steamed with a chilli/tomato achar.  They can also be fried or prepared as one of my favourites, chilli mo:mo where they are smothered in a chilli sauce.  Man!  My mouth is watering.

They are usually eaten as an afternoon snack and shared with a few friends.  I must admit to having trouble sharing mine, I’ll only really share with those folks who are extra special to me.

I haven’t made mo:mo too often but promised to teach Gayathri how to make them.  Then the offer grew legs and I ended up with six ladies in my Colombo kitchen last Saturday, all interested in learning how to make mo:mo and a few other Nepali snack-like dishes.

I think this might have been the only time Debi was NOT crying.  Onions and chillis make her cry … lots!  And Firasa gets the sniffles too.

And we had yummy snacks!  From left:  Gayathri, Devi, Firasa, Debi, Shamali, Tharshini & I

We had a blast actually, it was the second time most of us cooked together, the other time being when we prepared the food for BIZ+ volunteer Maheshie’s birthday – that was when the men were NOT invited.

Word spread around the office that the food was good and Yohan then threatened to wear a dress so he could be invited to the next soiree.  That might have been a sight for sore eyes so us ladies decided to include the men, only if they brought dessert – which they did.  It was even homemade!!

Pretty much everyone on the BIZ+ team came, plus Michael’s two girls and wife Anne who fell in love with mo:mos during their Christmas trekking trip to Nepal.  John, the newly appointed head guy at Land O’Lakes International Development who happened to be in Sri Lanka, touring the project’s businesses with Michael all week, also came to the party.  Bet he didn’t think he would be eating mo:mo of a Saturday night in Colombo!  My long-time friend Rita was also in town, she had the good sense to go shopping in the afternoon and enjoy the get together and food later that evening.

And some random photos of the fun throughout the evening.

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It was a lot of work to prepare over 200 mo:mo and just a little work for the guys to make dessert and buy the parathas, but it was well worth the effort, thanks to everyone for making it a great night!

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Twenty Years a-Growing

On Friday April 18 1997, I left Ireland with a rucksack on my back having jacked in my job, sold my house and given everything away, and emigrated to Canada.  That was 20 years ago today.

[End of post for Simon and Gary, everyone else can read on!!  Inside joke.]

The story has already been told of what has gone on since, but you might be interested to know what it was like in the Ireland I left twenty years ago.

My nephew and godchild Harry had just been born in West Yorkshire and later that same year his cousin Billy was born in Cork.  They are all grown up now, studying complicated topics in university and drinking pints – whaaat?!

The same day as I left for Canada, my sister Sinead left for Edinburgh.  Earlier that very same week, friend Mary K had left for London and later in April friend Rita moved to Glasgow … despite the beginnings of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish were still doing what they know best – emigrating.

The Number 1 song in Ireland that week was a song to be honest, I have no memory of!  It’s called I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly.

It was the theme song for the movie Space Jam starring Michael Jordan and the animated characters from Loony Tunes.  Another thing I have no memory of – ha!  It won the 1998 Grammy Award in the ‘Best Song for a Movie or TV Show”.  Must have been hard up for talent that year.

The formidable Mary Robinson was the President of Ireland but by September of the same year, she had given up her post to take on the role of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which she later relinquished in 2002, a tad frustrated with how the UN operates.  Another strong, intelligent Irish woman took her place as President of Ireland, the indomitable Mary MacAleese – the first women in the world to succeed another woman as head of state.

Mary Robinson (l) and Mary MacAleese (r).  Photo credit The Journal.

Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer for his book Angela’s Ashes – a book describing the horrors of life in the slums of 1930s and 1940s Limerick.  A claim my mother strongly disputed as being totally untrue.  I think this probably had something to do with the fact that she did not grow up in those very slums.

After previous attempts at negotiating peace between the Catholic and Protestant groups in Northern Ireland, a credible ceasefire was agreed to in July 1997.  A brave move by the opposing leaders in the North.  These negotiations set the pace for the negotiation of what was to become the Good Friday Agreement that eventually became a reality in April 1998.  Both George Mitchel and President Bill Clinton had a hand in guiding those negotiations.

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (l), George Mitchel (m) and Tony Blair (r).  Photo credit The Irish Times.

Kerry dominated in GAA Football (beating Cork in the final.  Sigh) and Limerick won the All Ireland Hurling Championship.  At least the victorious teams were from Munster (the province I was born in).

Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest that year in Dublin.  It’s the contest we all love to hate.  To the relief of everyone, we came second in Eurovision 1997.  You see, Ireland has this nasty habit of winning the contest frequently.  In fact I think Ireland holds the record for the country with the most wins.

The Canada I arrived to saw Jean Chretien as Prime Minister and Glen Clark as the controversial Premier of BC, the province that was to become my home.

The Red River in Manitoba flooded badly and did $500 million worth of damage.  A reminder, once I arrived in Canada, I traveled across the country by train from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, and was supposed to spend a few days in Winnipeg.  Because I was not a resident, I was not allowed off the train due to the rising river.  I remember seeing the floods barely two feet from the track.  I think my westbound train was one of the last trains to get through before the flood subsided.

This is a photo of the town of Morris, south of Winnipeg which was protected from the 1997 floodwaters by a ring dike surrounding the town.  Photo credit:  CBC

The Confederation Bridge was opened in May 1997, connecting Prince Edward Island to the New Brunswick mainland by a fixed link.  The bridge is 12.9km in length and takes about 12 minutes to cross.  Wintertime sees the Northumberland Strait waters that flows underneath the bridge, completely frozen.  The ferries that for generations had connected the island to the mainland, were put out of service soon after.

I remember the people of Prince Rupert, BC had quite the interest in the opening of the bridge and how the people of PEI would lose that sense of remoteness from the mainland.  I get that, living on an island myself.

Confederation Bridge connecting PEI with New Brunswick.  Photo credit:  Attractions Canada

The winner of the 1997 Giller Prize was Canadian Mordecai Richler with Barney’s Version and Canadian filmaker Atom Egoyan’s fabulous movie The Sweet Hereafter was released. 

The Canada I found was far more relaxed and peaceful a country than Ireland had ever been, and the diversity of it’s peoples and cultures astounded me.  It really was the beginning of something beautiful … and the party ain’t over yet, not by a long shot.

All I can say is, it has been a superb 20 years!  It’s a beautiful country there is no doubt, but what makes it home for me is my diverse groups of friends who love me, warts and all.

 Canada, my home and native land. Irish to the core, always.

PS  For those curious why I used this title, it refers to a memoir Fiche Bliain ag Fás written by Irish writer Maurice O’Sullivan and tells the story of his upbringing on the Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Dingle in Co Kerry.

 

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New Year celebration at the office

It was a fun start to the week this morning where a few of my colleagues decided to throw a New Year breakfast for everyone.  As usual, the homemade food was delish and we ate like kings.  But before we tucked into the feast, there were a few customs to get through first.

A new earthen pot is bought and filled with milk.  A fire is built and for the coming year to be a good one, the milk must boil over, showing an abundance for the coming year.

With Gayathri’s magic touch, a fine fire got going and the milk boiled over!

It will be a prosperous year ahead for us all because the milk did indeed boil over.  It took a woman’s touch to get the fire really going.

The kolam designed with coloured rice. The green signifies the paddy (rice) and no one could remember what the purple stood for.

Once back inside it was time to light the oil lamp on the beautifully designed kolam, delicately prepared by Gayathri.

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Michael, Prakash, Tharshini, Debi and I got the privilege of lighting one of the six wicks and we got a round of applause for our talents.

Then it was time to feast!

Kiribath (milk rice) served with fish ambulthiya and many sambols:  seemi, red chilli and coconut.

These savoury dishes were followed by an array of homemade sweetmeats:

From centre left clockwise: butter cake, chocolate brownies, kokis, konda kavum, min kavum and asmi.  I forget the name of the bowl of sweet things in the middle, but they were very sweet, crunchy and of course deep fried.

  • kokis (rounded star shaped biscuits)
  • konda kavum (muffin-like oil cake)
  • min kavum (folded leaf shaped mung bean dough filled with jaggery)
  • asmi (deep-dried rice strings drizzled in treacle),
  • My contribution was chocolate & cashew brownies and Savanthi also made a butter cake.

It sure was a feast!

New Year’s Breakfast was delicious with lots of leftovers for lunch later today, and probably lunch again tomorrow.

Yum!

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