I’ve been back in Nepal for nearly two months now, eager to write about what I’m seeing and hearing but reluctant to come to any premature conclusions.
So instead, I’ll present some impressions, like this photo (above) of a bridge over the Rapti River in Dang district, which I took last weekend. On the same trip I was lucky enough to travel a very, very dusty road to villages high up in Kavre VDC, from where we had magnificent views as far as neighbouring Rolpa and Pyuthan districts and the Himalayan range beyond.
The preoccupation in those villages was getting enough water to meet daily needs. A 12-hour drive away in Kathmandu one ongoing concern for at least the past dozen years has been ‘loadshedding’ – scheduled power outages to conserve electricity. When I last lived here (2005-10) it was lights out (or a few bulbs powered by a generator or huge batteries) as much as 16 hours a day; today it’s gone. Kathmanduites are extremely happy, and singing the praises of one senior bureaucrat who apparently simply had the guts to confront an entrenched system of corruption that provided power to the highest bidders and left the rest of us in the dark.
Speaking of which: political gamesmanship continues, seemingly with the same players moving the same chess pieces, recycling the same old divide and conquer tactics. I’m trying to resist the easy trap of cynicism – in part by avoiding the daily machinations reported blow by blow in the country’s many media outlets – because the current impasse over a second amendment to the new constitution does seem to represent a pivotal moment: either the country will be reorganised to provide its many excluded communities with a fair share of the pie, or Nepal will revert to a society where a small minority controls far too much.
Other changes – or statis – I’ve noticed, or heard about, just a few:
- Road construction everywhere (including multiple backhoes working in places like Ghorahi (Dang district) and Bhairahawa (now named Siddhartanagar in honour of the Buddha, who was born in the same Rupandehi district). As much as we in Kathmandu complain about the dust and traffic jams – and the fact that more roads leads to more vehicles, more traffic jams, etc etc – road construction must be a positive sign for a developing country;
- A proliferation of coffee shops and restaurants in the capital;
- Agonisingly slow relief for victims of the 2015 earthquake, many of whom are spending their second winter in makeshift housing because the government (and, I’ve heard, some INGOs and NGOs) has failed to deliver on promises of aid;
- A huge drop in the number of mothers dying from childbirth (and an impressive decrease in child mortality, though persistently high rates of malnutrition. This I would like to explore further).