By contributing author and photographer, Michael Restivo
5/10 – Mike in Nepal – The big event of the last week was the strike. Currently the country of Nepal is in a state of political chaos, worse than before. Following the death of the prime minister a few weeks ago, the Maoists, a neo-communist party except more extreme and likening itself to China, have been seizing the opportunity to gain complete power in Nepal. It should be noted that the United States government considers Nepalese Maoists a terrorist group, following a 10 year civil war that killed over 70,000 Nepalis ending only a couple years ago. The fear is that the same cycle of protests, violence, and fighting that sparked the civil war is repeating itself.
Two weeks ago, the Maoist party demanded the resignation of a minister (which one is not clear to me) and when they refused the Maoists shut down the entire country. Trucks were stopped, buses were stopped, tourism basically shut down, trapped trekkers had to be rescued and overall chaos has been affecting the country. In Kathmandu the Maoists made no discretion between volunteers and anybody else on the streets. We’ve heard stories about volunteers being intimidated, locked in Internet cafes for their protection from Maoist gangs, and restaurants filled with tourists being overrun with gangs throwing bricks and rocks through windows. The tourist buses to the airport are now given armed escorts and the airport itself is being guarded by the Nepalese Army.
Here in Padam Pokhari the effects of the strikes were less felt. We had volunteers who were trapped at the safari resort and others trapped in Pokhara, a weekend trip turning into a week long “cage” with no internet, no shops, and no restaurants. It was especially frustrating to feel like we were completely cut off from the world, but even though we were trapped, we spent our time watching movies, playing cards, reading, and teaching. The strike has also crippled the kids schools. The Maoists, believing that people pay too much for private schools in the country, shut them all down and sent the children home, making them our responsibility. As far as we know, they don’t want western volunteers doing the teaching either. Personally their habit of “speaking for the people” is infuriating, and following the private schools, the public schools were shut down as well, putting students without education and teachers without paychecks.
The strike has now “ended” (I’m using that term extremely loosely) after a 40,000 strong anti-strike protest by the people of Kathmandu. After a week without shops, water, or fresh produce, the Maoists were literally strangling Kathmandu to death. The fear is that the strike could now resurge and I’m staying optimistic that it won’t but extremely wary that anything could happen in the next week.
I’m heading back to Kathmandu tomorrow, I’m staying in the Tibet Peace Guest House in the tourist neighborhood of Thamel, close to the trekking shops, and internet cafes. I’m supposed to be heading for Mt. Everest starting next Monday so the hope is that the situation can be calmed down by then. My worry is the deadline for the Nepali constitution on May 28th. Nepal has been held together by a very loose charter up until now that expires on that day. Should it fail to go through (and this date is a day I’ll be in the Everest region) the fear is that it might cripple an already fragile nation once again.
I want everyone to know I am safe and I’ll keep everyone notified about the situation should anything improve or degrade. The tensions at the moment are extremely high and having two major parties fighting each other in public view isn’t the most welcoming feeling, but i’m keeping myself safe and if I am cut off from internet communication I will try to get a message through as soon as I can.
So thats it for now, lots of ups and downs, and a rather dramatic exit from Nepal but I’ll be home safe and sound in just over three weeks. So until then, Namaste everyone! … Guest contributor for Miami Real Estate Cafe