A place like no other

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Juliana Machado Forero, Colombia
London School of Economics and Political Science 

 

Nepal has been a baffling place to me. It has been exhilarating and frustrating; it has been just as amazing as it has been confusing. I spend a couple of weeks getting adjusted to dusty Kathmandu with it’s crazy traffic and changing weather. After being here a month, I still think I’m not qualified to cross streets alone! But what has been most surprising of all, what keeps me guessing and what has made me love Nepal more and more, is the kindness of its people, the openness of their homes, and their continued effort to make sure you have an amazing time here. From the family that takes you in, to the street vendor--everyone has a smile for you. Everyone will try to help even if they can’t, and everyone that I have encountered holds a lot of pride in their work. 

As you can imagine, doing a western-style internship here is not exactly easy. From the moment you get to the airport you are received by signs that say, “In Nepal things take time… So just relax”. It can be frustrating to combine the desire to help and work with the slow pace of Nepal, but for anyone interested in working in development, peacebuilding, or any kind of fieldwork in the developing world, learning to adapt to diverse environments is an informal education that cannot be obtained in a classroom. 

Once you get over the initial culture shock and understand the pace of the country, people are very willing to help you, receive you in their offices, and share their stories with you. For example, we have been fortunate enough to interview the family members of victims from both the Maoists and the State. In every interview we were gifted with tea, or any hot beverage, and a lot of hospitality and openness with our sometimes ignorant questions regarding the socio-political environment of Nepal. It is inspiring how victim’s families from opposite sides have united to fight for their rights, overriding their ideological or personal differences and understanding the sanctity of life and the shared pain of victims.

There are many development issues facing Nepal, from its crumbling infrastructure, to the need for reform in education and healthcare, to the endless struggle with corruption. These issues continue to resurface in Nepal’s history. The Maoists came up in arms after a petition for more egalitarian rights got shot down by the Monarchy. Now, victims and victims’ families ask for more education and healthcare. They ask for the government to take care of its citizens and make sure they render a life with dignity and to provide them with enough education to make informed choices about their lifestyles. These decisions not only affect the individual, but also the community that surrounds them. 

 

My impression is that victims’ families ask the government to not just give handouts, but rather offer continued support to those less privileged and effected by the conflict. This points to the minimum commitment a government should have towards their citizens. This is a long due unfulfilled promise the political elite has with Nepali society. Coming from a developing country myself, I can relate to the frustration the people often have with their governing class when a substantial portion of society has so many basic needs unmet. Having said that, being from Colombia gives me no context on what it means to be Nepalese, and as such I have learned that no matter how much I think I know or how much I believe I’m qualified to help, I’m not. What I am qualified to do is listen and learn. After my time here I am truly convinced that the key to having an impact as an individual in Nepalese society, and the key to help and to make a difference, is very much the same as the key for any international interventions to be successful: time, time and more time. If you don’t have the time to stay and really help, it’s better to sit and listen.

I have been startled at the similarities I see in Nepal with Colombia. Both counties have been in conflict and struggle with similar issues, development challenges, and post-conflict struggles. But unlike Colombia there is a subtle sense of peace here; a sense of safety and harmony that challenges a lot of my beliefs and images about post-conflict societies. I know that despite this sense of peace there are many tensions cooking, and my hope for Nepal is that the pleas of the victims will be heard, and that the government gets over their stagnation to addresses the multiple issues that haunt this beautiful country. I don't think development has to look like the developed world. Development can come in many forms. For instance, the encouragement of the ownership of local solutions to local problems. Developing countries have the opportunity to learn from the developed world, instead of repeating their mistakes. For example, creating sustainable, fair-trade solutions to common issues. In order for a more egalitarian economic model to arise and gain momentum, good quality and accessible education is most paramount. 

Today I get to take a hot shower thanks to solar energy, while at the same time struggling to post this due to constant irregular energy cuts. I'm dealing with innovation and necessity all at once. That is Nepal for me: exasperating yet amazing; precarious but so rich. Experiencing this place is something no one should miss. 

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