It was my job yesterday to write to my group of Nepali photographers that are working on Everyday Nepal and remind them that we’re not a news outlet or a political forum. That was actually a really hard thing to do because the people in that country are currently writing a very important page in their history.
The good: After a decade of shuffling prime ministers and trying to organize their government, Nepal has finally written a constitution for their country. Nepal was a kingdom from 1799 to 2008. After a decade of unrest with Maoist guerrillas hiding in the hills, riots, and the country trying to figure out how to recover after losing its monarchy, it settled into a parliament and prime minister. But it’s not easy for a country that is used to operating with a monarch at their helm to fulfill such a requirement. So they kept unseating their prime ministers (because they weren’t acting like monarchs) in hopes of someone who could undertake that large task. In 2011 I met the fourth prime minister that had taken the post since the monarchy was dissolved and a democratic republic was formed. Since then there have been three others, for a total of 7 in 8 years. I remember sitting in a room full of prominent men (myself the only female) and listening to the prime minister speak slowly and carefully in English about how it was his job to write the constitution for his country. And now it’s finally been done. Parliament voted to accept it in late September.
The Bad: Not everyone is happy with the constitution, of course. There are 125 different languages and cultures in the tiny country that’s about the size of Tennessee (with China and India surrounding it on all sides). As a result, some of the cultures who look to benefit the least (or be most marginalized -the Madhesi in particular) are rioting down by the Indian border.
The Ugly: This is creating problems for supply routes and supply trucks entering the country, as Nepal is dependent quite heavily on Indian supplies like gasoline and produce. India claims the rioting groups are keeping the trucks from passing the border, but the rioters (and much of Nepal) place the blame squarely on India for blockading the crossing, to enforce the laws they believe should be changed in a constitution that isn’t even theirs. (News articles from The Times of India, another view from BBC, and My Republica/HuffPo – clearly blame is being traded far more than gas and food). As a result of the blockade, currently Kathmandu is without gas or enough food to feed the people of the city. Half the restaurants in the city are closed, as well as hotels. Many people are not working. Many don’t have fuel to run their cook stoves to make dinner for their families. And this after only beginning to rebuild from the devastating earthquake that killed 10,000 in April. Deep breath.
Now back to my little job of telling photographers what to portray on a non-political non-news site. Several of them live down near that border crossing and have done a fair job of reporting and posting photos without taking too much of a political bent, even though it most certainly affects their family and entire village. My words included ‘history’ and ‘together’. It felt really big. I was pretty nervous when I pushed the send button on that email. I waited, with a stone in my gut, to see the response. It was really refreshing to get an almost immediate note back from one of the more active photographers, “Thank you, Erika. You just spoke my heart here, I’ve thought the same.”
Shortly afterwards, one of my Sherpa friends messaged me that they were out of fuel for cooking and he had just walked from Kathmandu to his wife’s village and back (because there is no other way) and my gut tied in knots again. India and China may well bat Nepal around like a ping pong ball. So I sit on the far sidelines, cheering silently for the tiny country full of heart to make it through this piece of history: Go Nepal! You can do this.