Impossible, nay improbable head-on colision.

At approaching midnight the roads of Kathmandu are dark and quiet. The quietness is good: less dust, less choking fumes from ancient engines, and none of the just-bearable decibels from impatient motorcyclist’s horns. The darkness is bad: potholes become invisible and, occasionally, wandering people appear out of nowhere.

I am still trying to comprehend how the accident happened last night. The road along Ratna park in the heart of Kathmandu is as wide as a racing track, four lanes wide, although the concept of organised lanes doesn’t apply here. And like a racing track, the road is one way. Out of the blackness and into the weak beam of my headlight came another cyclist, head on, moving. At 30km/hr, the time between seeing him and collision was less than a short swear word in length.

As a few passing pedestrians formed a crowd around us – us, the two participants in this unlikely stupidity – we sat on the ground trying to understand what had just happened.

The prevailing opinion was that it was my fault as I had a light (so should have seen him coming) and was travelling too fast. This perhaps gave me an insight into the Nepalese view on fault attribution in traffic mishaps (the word the English language press choose for ‘accidents’). I was not happy and delivered my tirade to the uncomprehending audience.

“Sir, you maybe give him 1000 Rupees.” “Sir, you take to hospital.”

“Well, does he have insurance?”

Of course not. I explained once again that this stupid idiot was riding unlit, in dark clothing, the wrong way down a one way street, more or less in the middle of the road, saw me from a distance and still hit me. And now you want me to take him to hospital and pay for treatment?

I was ready to leave the scene, to go home and clean up my bleeding hand. But then if his wrist was broken, as he seemed to be indicating, the boy sitting on the ground would be in deep trouble.

We got up, straightened handlebars and drifted towards Bir hospital, coincidentally less than 200m away.

While it had a similar strained and exhausted atmosphere of other accident and emergency departments I have visited late at night, it differed in that it looked threadbare, sorrowful and dirty. We sat on a bench and waited. A cleaner came by and we lifted our feet so that she could mop the blood stains from the floor. I asked what work he did. He worked as a cook in a place I didn’t know.

“Do you have a ticket sir?” Before being treated it was necessary to be registered and so I was directed outside to the window where name and age were recorded in a computer and 10 Rp charged. Then back inside I was asked to repeat the process as I was not the patient of course. A young doctor in jeans and a hooded top, with a stethoscope around his neck to confirm that he was a doctor, looked at the boys wrist. An x-ray would be required to check, though he was sure it was not broken.

We followed the green arrows to the x-ray room. We were seen immediately by a friendly (in a lukewarm way) radiographer. While the hand was x-rayed, I was directed to the pay the 300 Rp that it would cost. Along the way, I passed a person on a bed in the corridor who was either sleeping deeply, or dead. A blanket covered the face so it was hard to tell.

I returned to the x-ray room to see that the boy was having his head x-rayed for good measure (the collision was not strictly head on as his forehead hit my now swelling shoulder). Would be interesting to have a CAT scan too see if there was a brain in there.

We waited again on the bench with the clean floor underneath our feet and the boy fell asleep. I witnessed a thin and frail man on the bed in front of me having his genital region exposed and examined. Three policemen walked in and out again with a handcuffed pair of drunken youths.

After 15 minutes we returned to pick up the still-wet x-rays. Behind the counter most of the doctors were sitting huddled around an electric heater. I asked one doctor, probably rather abruptly, to please dry an x-ray for me. “Dry it yourself sir,” came the reply. I can understand that it must have been difficult and frustrating for the doctors to do this work in such conditions and I could hear this in her voice.

Now it was over and we could return home. The hooded doctor gave the all clear, prescribing only strong pain killers for the wrist. Forty minutes in all, which was very speedy in comparison to the war zone of any English A&E department on a Saturday night.

We shook our uninjured hands and parted. I continued back along the road where we’d collided and reflected: tomorrow it would be perhaps a little funny and that it could, of course, have been much worse.

Cultural Studies Group Nepal: Kanak Dixit

… at a lecture held by the Cultural Studies group Nepal. Interesting lecture if a bit unclear for someone not up to speed with the turbulent political process in Nepal.

For more information about CSG and the lectures and activities they host, email: csgnepal [at] yahoo [dot] com

Hunger in Mugu & Humla

Photo by Frederic Lecloux

From the Nepali Times Oct, 2006:

UNICEF last month celebrated Nepal’s progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. However, the goal of cutting malnutrition from around 50 percent to 25 percent remains a daunting one.

These photos from Humla and Mugu are a reminder that all is not well.
Taken by an independent photographer documenting the work of French NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) in August, they show that last winter’s (2005-6) drought is having a major impact in some areas.

Humla is very remote and, as you can see from the article, in great trouble still. Food production falls way short of demand and is being supplemented by the world food program. There is a great need for basic education, hand washing programs (more than 40 percent of kids under two years of age had diarrhoea, fever, or a cough), sanitation programs and the list goes on.

Still with all these tools in place, with a healthier population, food shortages will continue unless improvements in agriculture are made. Only 2% of land is available to farm and in such a mountainous region, growing seasons are short and subject to harsh weather ‘accidents’.

The Nepal Trust, who have been working in the region for 13 years, are at the forefront of developing tourism in the area.

Visions aside – it is clear that a sensitive and controlled tourism is one major vehicle through which economic advances will be made to raise the standard of living and the quality of life for the people of the forgotten valleys of the world’s highest mountains.

While the infrastructure remains poor, without doubt tourist dollars will make a substantial difference to families along trekking routes. Given the crowding of some of Nepal’s well trodden trekking areas, maybe this is an option for the truly adventurous. A truly remote area, the “Hidden Himalaya”.

Read more:

Can you smell the death?

“Can you smell the death?”, asked Abdullah as we passed by the apartment on the first floor. My first reaction was slight fear that you can have in moments when your brain hasn’t quite grasped what is going on but is concerned that it could be bad. It was dark as the lights were not working in the stairwell of these so-called student dorms, and we continued to the second floor, apartment 203.

We’d just come to stay with Ammar as the room in Abdullah’s house was just to hot due to the combination of weather and the sesame seed roasting business downstairs below Abdullah’s family’s house.

“We’ll go and take a look tomorrow, you can take some pictures”.

So this was the location of the most recent IDF assassination in Nablus which I’d heard about a few weeks ago (‘2 militants killed in Nablus’) and it turns out I am watching TV, sleeping, dreaming, waking up, brushing my teeth, sitting on the toilet in the apartment above it.

Details are vague but it goes something like this. The guy in apartment 101 was a member of a threatening organization. He is high enough up in the organization, perhaps the top, to be on a hit list. An operation was then mounted by a unit of the Israeli army to liquidate him and the evidence of this was plain to see in the apartment below.

Although how it actually happened is anyone’s guess: there is the 1m diameter hole in the external wall made to avoid doors and thus booby traps; the strange blast lines on a wall from a grenade or small bomb which is used to stun or kill humans (and bend ceiling fan blades) through the powerful pressure wave created on explosion; and then the follow up gun shots evidenced by the numerous holes in the bathroom and bedroom walls. Probably about 30 seconds work all in all.

So that was one of the two.

Equally guessable was the fate of the second assasinee. According to Abdullah he was a regular, non-political student, much like Ammar, living in his own apartment but which shared the same front door as the first. He must have woken up to see what on earth was going on as his door was kicked in. His body was found in the doorway of his bedroom, shot in the chest, blood spattered up the wall. Ammar casually showed me a dark and blurry picture of his body taken on his mobile phone camera.

Buy nothing day: 29th November 2008

So make sure you shop extra hard on the 28th and 30th, right?

Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of nature… fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low?

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

Perhaps we should consumer less every day? Only trouble with consuming less is that consumption keeps the engine of the economy turning, keeps us employed and wealthy. But continuous consuming can’t and won’t last forever.

I don’t have a solution: perhaps consuming shares in companies developing renewable energy technology? But buy nothing day might not achieve anything more than giving people time to plan their shopping extravaganza on the 30th.


Bottle collectors revisited

I passed by the home of the seemingly happy bunch of plastic and cardboard collecting kids who roam the Thamel area looking for the waste they can turn into money.
Still we can’t really communicate too much with the 20 or 30 words of each others language that we know. So not much to say, other than that the eldest guy’s Nokia camera-phone / MP3 player was pretty amazing.

‘No more reports’ – less typing, more doing

So says the pragmatic ARTHA BEED in the Nepali Times.

Nepal has received billions of dollars in donor assistance in the past five decades, but when one looks around, apart from introducing workshop-seminar habits, paid junkets, cocktail receptions, report-generating and SUV driving habits, the impact vis-a-vis the costs has been minimal. One may sound cynical, but it is difficult to pinpoint 10 successful interventions that have really altered Nepal’s future.

For full article, see:

Everest trek? Try somewhere different perhaps

BILLI BIERLING in the Nepali Times.

if you have ever tried the trek to Everest base camp or Kala Patar you’ll know that it is not quite the wilderness you might have expected. In October this year over 9200 people passed through the gates of the Sagarmatha National Park – all of them sharing, for some of the way at least, the same narrow footpath. If bumping, queueing and occasional bouts of path rage are not for you then try a different area. And there are many other less crowded areas to visit: try the Langtang trek – a bit easier, much less crowded; the Annapurna circuit – a great fitness adventure into lower Mustang and past the holy pilgrimage site of Muktinath; Dolpo – see the film ‘Himalaya‘ for a taster; Kanchenjunga – wild and remote; or, for the really adventurous, ‘The Great Himalayan Trail‘. Read on here: