Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts

May 22, 2017

All is fair in love and elections...


And so the historic local level elections took place on May 14th, 2017 in the newly-fledged democracy of Nepal. These were the first local elections in 20 years and the first to be held since the promulgation of the 2015 constitution. The second phase of local elections is due to take place on June 14th of this year. This first phase of election was largely peaceful but there were some unfortunate instances of violence. 


Security was heightened across the nation in the days previous to the elections as well as the day of the elections. Local police were on guard at every polling station. The army was on stand-by in case of emergency. Army helicopters were buzzing in and out of our local airport continuously. The Nepali Army did some exercises in our district with live ammo. (I suppose that was to let everybody know they're ready for business if need be.)  I really wasn't too thrilled listening to gunfire and helicopters every morning. Russian-made helicopters are NOISY!


Here's a list from a local newspaper of all the known groups and individuals threatening to destabilize the elections. These are the usual folks who believe the end justifies the means here in Nepal. And threaten they did. Taunts of strikes, boycotts, arson, bombings, abductions, mob attacks, and even murder or assassination were heard throughout the land. After the decade long Maoist uprising most Nepalis are fairly jaded about this sort of animosity. 



Some of those folks made good on those threats. A number of improvised explosive devices were found in various places across the nation on the days leading up to and on the day of the election. Above you see the Nepalese Army’s bomb disposal team detonating two explosive devices on election day. They were planted across from a candidate’s house in Bhaktapur. A Maoist cadre planted a pressure cooker bomb and several other suspicious devices along the main East-West Prithvi highway the day before the elections. Citizens who were heading to their home districts from Kathmandu to cast their votes via the highway were stranded for three hours until the devices were removed. One person was killed while 20 others were injured in the Powati Polling Centre in Dolakha district when police opened fire to control a mob that tried to disrupt the election. In Kalikot, activists of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal seized a ballot box and set it on fire at Naraharinath Village Council on the evening of election day. The National Human Rights Commission stated that ward chairman candidate of the CPN (Maoist Centre) Prem Bahadur Rimal was abducted by an unidentified group. Minor clashes were reported also from eight other polling stations in Gairimudi, Marbu, Jhule, Jafe, Shahare, and Melung. 

Photo: Rishi Ram Baral
Despite all the ruckus most Nepalis seemed really excited, unafraid, and proud to vote. An amazing estimate of 71-73% voter turnout was witnessed during this election! Above you see citizens of our town at a poll station in a local secondary school. Everyone waited patiently and eagerly in line to vote. Army helicopters were used to carry ballot boxes from the country's remote northern regions to the nearest towns.

“The election was largely peaceful and people voted with enthusiasm,” the National Human Rights Commission said in a statement on Sunday evening. The NHRC had deployed 42 monitoring teams in the districts. -The Kathmandu Post

I'm not certain most Westerners would agree with the NHRC's assessment of a largely peaceful election. Nor would most Westerners dare to venture out into such potentially hostile environs to vote willingly. Western media would most likely be screeching and howling about this 24/7 for a month. Here in Nepal it's just business as usual.


The votes are still being counted as I write this. Vote counting stopped at Ward 32 in Kathmandu Metropolitan City due to dispute between election employees and representatives of political parties yesterday. Political parties at the vote counting center accused the employees of writing down different numbers than what was announced while counting. Ayodhee Prasad Yadav has given assurances that final results of the first phase of local level elections held on last Sunday will be published within one week. Mr Yadav went on to say-

“But why are not the people who stayed silent when the elections did not happen for 20 long years showing any patience for one more week now,” he questioned, “I am surprised.” -onlinekhabar



Us foreigners stayed locked within the compound for a few days. Most businesses were closed and strikes/bandhs were being called on and off repeatedly right up to election day. All our vehicles were locked up inside with us lest anyone decide to enforce a strike by torching. Nothing exciting happened in our neighborhood though. As you can see in the above photo our local Communist party headquarters was rather festively decorated yet sedate. In fact the streets were empty as most of our neighbors had returned to their villages to vote.


Lastly, a fearless fashion-loving ingenue looks out perplexedly upon her brave new democracy. That's right little one, it's all yours!

Some parting words of wisdom,

A fool and his money are soon elected
-Will Rogers
Calmly currying on,
Bibi

May 8, 2017

Of the People, By the People, For the People...


The Himalayan nation of Nepal will hold it's first local elections in 20 years on May 14th. This is quite the milestone in Nepal's long and difficult transition from monarchy to democracy! The local campaign trail came right to our door as you can see in the above photo. Trucks with huge loudspeakers spouting slogans, catchy jingles, joyous hymns of comradery, and numerous promises have been cruising every street and neighborhood here for the past week.


The banner on the truck with the portraits of candidates in the pending election is called a "hoarding" in South Asia. I had never heard that term before living here. But we don't see these sorts of group portraitures advertising political parties in the US. About eight trucks from different parties have been coming by our house daily. Those loudspeakers are LOUD. They do play traditional Nepali music for a few minutes between bouts of rhetoric though. That's a nice touch.


I thought at first these were just party supporters following the campaign truck. Upon closer inspection I noticed these were the candidates pictured in the hoarding! No wonder they were so thrilled to have their picture taken. These Communists don't have horns and aren't waving AK-47's like my dad said. They sort of look like upstanding, middle class, middle aged folks.


Most of the equipment for the elections is being supplied by China and India. Nepal bought the 30,000 ballot boxes you see in the above photo from China. China is also providing stationery, pens, markers, thumbtacks, clips, staplers, staples, scissors, glue sticks, calculators, ink pads, punchers, and stamp pads. Motorcycles and curtains for the polling booths are being brought in from India.

Not everyone is happy about the elections though. Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic in 2007, ending it's 240 year-old monarchy. The interim constitution of 2007 had provisions for 10 to 14 states to accommodate all the various ethnic, indigenous, and caste groups in the structure of power. But the new constitution passed in 2015 reduced the number of states to only seven. 

Madhesi protestors in Saptari
Under these new boundaries it is claimed the upper caste Khas Arya will have the majority in 6 out of the seven states. The Madhesis, the Tharu, and the Kiranti are ethnic groups from Nepal's southern plains region that have been protesting the new 2015 constitution. Since 2007 the Madhesis (who are more than one-third of the country's population) have been demanding political and economic representation in proportion to their population. Although Madhesis make up  more than one-third of the country's population they only hold 12 percent of government positions including the police and army. The Khas Arya question the loyalty of the Madhesis to Nepal, on account of their proximity to and close relations with India. The Madhesis and Tharu accuse the hill people of economic and political domination. According to Deependra Jha, a Supreme Court lawyer based in Kathmandu and a Madhesi, 

"The hill-dominated political class has gerrymandered on boundary issues to ensure that Khas Arya [the upper caste hill people] remain a majority in six out of seven federal states." (Al Jazeera)

(The Himalayan)
Madhesis have vowed to boycott and disrupt any election in their region unless their grievances are addressed. Above you see a Madhesi protest in the southern district of that took place last week on Monday, March 6th. On September 23rd, 2015 the Madhesis led a 2 month blockade of the Indian border that caused a huge shortage of fuel, cooking gas, cooking oil, medicines, and other supplies in landlocked Nepal. Prices still haven't come back down on cooking gas. 

 President Bandari of Nepal and PM Modi of India   via
Experts are hopeful that these local elections will create a government that is more accountable to the people. The new local governments will be responsible for administering schools, health posts, and basic infrastructure. The Nepal Election Commission was given under three months to prepare for this vote and is racing to prepare ballots and enforce rules. The NEC must also educate the people on which jurisdictions they live in as the boundary lines were redrawn by the new constitution.


The atmosphere in Nepal is charged these days! Politicians are making inane and inflammatory remarks, riling up the base constituency, and salaciously skirting election rules. I am proud to report that democracy is alive and well in Nepal!


And of course His Imperial Majesty the Baacha Khan and his mama Chinger aren't too concerned about anything. 

So it's sunny and steamy up here in the Himalayas. The weather forecast warns of stray thunderstorms which is certainly better than last month's continual barrage. Oh wait, it's pouring buckets again!

Anything you'd like me to write about in regards to Nepal? I was thinking of doing a few posts about the different ethnic groups here like the Tamang, the Gurung, the Sherpa, etc. Most people mistakenly believe Nepal is one single ethnicity. There are actually over 150 different languages spoken and several different cultures in this tiny nation.

Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), Hansard, November 11, 1947


Calmly currying on,

Bibi

May 3, 2017

And now for something completely different!


What's that you say? 
Bibi needs to get to a threading parlor SOON? 
Or perhaps an endocrinologist?
You're not impressed by my hipster 70's 'stache? Well, gawrsh. These silly glasses are Sun-Staches. I think I bought these at Spencer's or some cheapie mall place. They're kind of rinky-dink as far as quality goes but they're a great ice-breakers. In case you're wondering moustache is junga in Nepali and moonch in Hindi. (No, I am not advertising for Sun-Staches.) My paternal grandmother used to wear huge RayBans like this. (Un-mustachioed of course.) I'm amazed at how much I look like her.


Ganga, our neighbor lady had to try them on too. And of course the look wouldn't be complete without Bibi's garden hat. Take these with you on your next trip to South Asia and hilarity will surely ensue!


So, last week we were sweltering in the pre-monsoon sunshine at about 93F/34C and the Accuweather prediction was for more heat and a 4% chance of precipitation. Then out of nowhere gale force winds began whipping around our valley, the sky grew black, and the temp dropped to 87F/30C in an hour. According to the Kathmandu Times this is what happened:

"A low pressure system developed in the areas around Haryana of India due to the influence of the Westerly wind and a low pressure belt from Bihar to Odisha triggered rainfall in Nepal, the system that began Sunday is moving towards east and an improvement in the weather system is expected from Wednesday," meteorologist Samir Shrestha said."

I think that translates to: a hot and humid wind from the west was drawn into a low pressure belt in the north that careened into the cold air of the Himalayas and WHAM! THUNDERSTORM! I know we had a slew of derechos a week ago but this was the granddaddy of all thunderstorms. For 14 hours it sounded like we were under artillery siege and the sky was lit up like a disco. I am of the opinion that if a butterfly belches in South Asia they should issue a severe weather alert.


For about 20 minutes we were pelted with walnut sized hail. I checked the Accuweather site and the forecast had miraculously changed to a 41% chance of precipitation and thunderstorms. So much for the "accu" in Accuweather, eh? It poured after that. Five people died yesterday and last night in Nepal from lightning strikes. A local 14 year-old boy just up the mountain here was struck by lightning and died returning home from collecting fodder for cattle. A 23 year-old man in Gadhi Rural Municipality died on the spot after he was struck by a bolt of lightning at around 11 pm while sleeping. A 46 year-old woman died while cooking with her daughter-in-law when lightning struck their house in Sindhupalchok. Two teenaged boys were killed by lightning strike while taking shelter under a tree in Parbat. At least 14 other Nepalis were injured by lightning and one house caught fire. On average about 60-70 persons die yearly in Nepal from lightning strikes. Mother Nature was cranky. 


Of course that didn't stop the neighbor kids from having fun! Rain, hail, and lightning strikes be darned. That cart with bicycle wheels was deserted in the neighborhood vacant lot. You know they say the safest place during a lightning storm is in a moving rubber wheeled vehicle, maybe these kids are on to something?


Famed Swiss climber Ueli Steck (aka the "Swiss Machine") fell to his death near Mt Everest last Sunday too. The 40-year-old veteran climber died when he slipped climbing a slope on Mt Nuptse and fell into a 6,600 meter crevasse. Amazingly his body was recovered and airlifted to Lukla. The mountain gods were not happy this weekend!


On a cheerier note a 21-year-old Taiwanese man was rescued last week after disappearing for 47 days in remote northwestern Nepal. Mr Liang Sheng-yueh, who just turned 21 went missing with girlfriend Liu Chen-chun, 19, in early March while they were trekking in the remote Ganesh Himal. The trekkers lost their trail after a snowstorm. They had no local guide or porter. Liang and Liu survived on snow, water, and the salt he was carrying. Unfortunately, Ms Chen-chun died from starvation just 3 days before the rescue. Mr Sheng-yueh was found riddled with lice, 30 kgs skinnier, and suffering a maggot-infested foot. I don't know about you, but Bibi would be eating those maggots and lice before they ate her. Just sayin'.


Seeds, glorious seeds! Before the storm we had houseguests all week. Both family and friends. That was a lot of cooking and laundry. Our relatives brought me spices and foodstuffs from Kashmir. Our friends brought me seeds. SWOON. All sorts of flower and vegetable seeds. Chilis, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, radish, marigolds, salvia, petunias, celosia, gomphrena, haak, and kohlrabi. I planted the eggplant seeds already. Most of the flowers will have to wait until September to be planted. 


These are kulchas from Kashmir.  My family brought these on their visit. Kulcha means 'fat one' and their shape is decidedly plump. They are simply ghee and wheat flour made into pastry which is topped with white poppy seeds and baked in a tandoori oven.


Kulchas are quite flaky and crumbly much like a well made savory pie crust. They are a little bit salty and not at all sweet. Kulchas are one of the traditional breads baked at local tandoori bakeries called a kandar or kandhur in Kashmir. These typically would be eaten fresh out of the oven with noon chai (salt tea) in the afternoon. Rice is the staple carbohydrate in Kashmir, these Persian-inspired wheat breads are generally only served for breakfast and afternoon tea time.


And lastly, this is the Sheikh's (my husband) gift to me. Eight glorious bags of cow manure. That's a lot of poop! The gardener and I have been kvetching at him for ages for fertilizer. I've made do with the chemical stuff and the compost heap won't be ready until the next 6 months. The Sheikh has really gotten to like having flowers year 'round in the garden and fresh veg too. He doesn't really participate in the gardening except to stroll about and admire though. ;)


And as I sit here typing on Tuesday evening it is pouring rain again. It started clear, sunny, and hot but with nightfall came more rain. (That ought to get those eggplant seeds sprouted.) As you can see above the kitties lounged on the patio table as usual. Tikka is the grey striped tabby using her mama the black cat (Chinger) as a mattress. The kitties look a bit green as the new patio umbrella they are sitting under is green - the old one blew away in the storm. We have been without power for 2 days and without internet for 4 days. I do have recipes ready to go though! Yippee!

Calmly currying on,
Bibi

Apr 24, 2017

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...


That's right April through June is Summer in South Asia! There are actually 5 seasons on the Indian Subcontinent: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer and the Monsoon. What is called Spring and Summer here is really alternating bouts of pre-monsoon heat and pre-monsoon rains until the Monsoon starts in late June or early July. It took me like 2 years to figure that out. Above you see our kitties relaxing on the patio table during a bout of pre-monsoon heat last week. It was gleefully DRY after 3 weeks of continuous thunderstorms.


Caterpillars cavorting in the winter vegetables are a sure sign that Summer is here. This was the last of the Kashmiri haak or collards. The entire winter garden is now on the compost heap now. Corn, chilis okra, and tomatoes are the only veg I'm growing this Summer. Corn and okra will survive the Monsoon, the chilis and tomatoes will probably turn to mush about mid August.


The neighbors had a Buddhist house blessing for the new year. They do this every year and it is quite intensive. The lamas bless each room and area of the house. In the above photo they are on the roof finishing the blessing. Each room is purified and blessed with chanting, drums, horns, and incense. Lamas go door to door at the beginning of year signing up patrons for house blessings. They usually have a plastic laminated list of fees, photos, and copious documents verifying their authority from a tulku. The ceremony started at sunrise and continued 'til sunset. They used rose scented incense, I would have preferred nag champa but whatev's.


Our local vacant lot was host to some sort of district wide volleyball tournament. This went on for about a week and required micromanaging by no less than four men with LOUD bullhorns. No women's teams played. What's up with that?


The cha-cha convention started up at the local secondary school bus stop again. Some of the old uncles observed the volleyball tournament and some chose to watch the new momo stand being built behind the bus stop. The cha-chas will not take their coats and scarves off until it is at least 32C/90F. The topis (traditional pastel colored ikat Nepali caps) never come off out of doors.


Love was definitely in the air as this reptilian Romeo wooed a lady lizard on the garden wall. Romeo didn't seem to be having much luck as his potential paramour fell off the wall trying to evade his advances. True romance, eh? HIM the Baacha Khan (our tomcat) caught the unfortunate damsel when she fell.


I immediately rescued Ms Lizard from HIM the Baacha Khan. I am holding her by the tail because she will bite. It can be quite a nasty bite too. One of the neighbor kids developed a golf ball sized abscess full of vicious anaerobes after being bitten by one of these things. They are about a foot long with that whip-like tail. The orangey-red coloring on her head is brightest during mating season. The males sport a similar coloring, are slightly larger, and have a spiny lion-like ruff on their necks. These things are like mini Monitor lizards. Ms Lizard was safely released in the corn field. HIM the Baacha Khan was miffed.


Here's the neighborhood police kiosk with our local boys in blue. Nepal will be having it's first nationwide elections in 20 years next month. There are all sorts of rallies, speeches, and marches going on around town in preparation for the election. Everybody I've talked to seems really excited about implementing the new constitution of this fledgling democracy. Unfortunately some Madhesi groups along the southern border of Nepal are already refusing to participate and making threats. For this reason security is on high alert! Well, at least they're awake. (That isn't always the case.)


In other news, Kashmir is on the boil again. The photo you see above is a young Kashmiri man tied to the front of a military jeep by the Indian army as a "human shield" against protesters throwing stones. It is from a video that was allegedly taken on April 9th, the same day as an election for a Srinagar parliament seat. The vehicle the Kashmiri is tied to supposedly contains poll officials who faced a mob of angry stone-throwers. The army states the man was a protestor, the young man says he was simply returning home after voting. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, the Indian government's chief legal advisor stated:

"The recent report about a stone pelter tied to an Army vehicle, it helped contain stone pelters and saved the poll officials. Why so much noise? Everyday people are dying. It's a surcharged atmosphere. The Army is dealing with terrorists not with protestors, so they will have to be dealt with...everyone should look at the Army with pride, they are doing a great job."

That about sums up the situation in Kashmir. Both mobile internet and fixed line broadband connectivity have been suspended in Kashmir but authorities refused to confirm the block on record. Am I afraid for my Kashmiri family? Yes.


I love this baby's expression. Baby is like "Yikes!" or "WTH!?! Seems a truly fitting meme for the 21st century. Mom is carrying her baby and hair clip with a shawl tied around her shoulders in typical Nepali fashion while shopping.


Lastly, here's the grand and glorious Mt Machapuchare aglow in the Sunday sunset. The sky was absolutely black and it poured and thunderboomered all day and then !!POOF!! at 5pm sharp the clouds parted. Out peeped the gorgeous Annapurna mountain range for a spectacular grand finale. I took this photo from the northeastern corner of our backyard. You can see our scraggly banana patch in the lower left. Mt Machapuchare is also nicknamed the "Matterhorn of Nepal" based on this view. The mountain's name means fishtail. (Macha means fish and puchare means tail or butt if you were wondering.) As you go around the peak you can see the double summit at the top which does indeed resemble a forked fish's tail. It stands at 6,993 m (22,943 ft) and is about 25 km/16 miles north of our house. The mountain is revered by the local population as sacred to the god Shiva, and hence is off limits to climbing.

So, that's all that's going on around here this Summer, what's going on 'round your neck of the woods?

Are the fish jumpin' and the cotton high?

Is your mama rich and your daddy good lookin'?

Oh hush little baby, don't you cry,

Bibi ;)

Apr 3, 2017

Well, it just goes to show you, it's always something - if it ain't one thing, it's another.

 "I know what you're talkin' about, because, I, Roseanne Roseannadanna, once had the same thing happen to me."
You said it Roseanne Roseannadanna!  Whether there's a toenail in your hamburger, toilet paper clinging to your shoe, a little sweat ball hanging on the end of your nose, no electricity, no internet service, or your computer is displaying the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH. It's always something. (For those of you unfamiliar with Ms Roseannadanna, she was a rather tactless character played by comedienne Gilda Radner from 1977 to 1980 on an American television show called Saturday Night Live.)


We've been having a lot of weather like this for the past week and a half. It was actually this dark at 3 in the afternoon! It started out a steamy 30C/87F but now we're down to 16C/61F. These pre-monsoon squalls are called Kalbalshakhi or mango showers. Sometimes they are derechos or straight-line wind storms associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. This was definitely a derecho with a fast succession of severe thunderstorms, capricious gale force winds, torrential rains, and walnut-sized hail. This weather pattern is caused when the broiling heat of the Indian plains rises to meet the cold air of the Himalayas. That's a lot of wild weather for this California girl. Anywho, usually during thunderstorms I unplug the computer. The storms were nonstop this week so I went ahead and left the computer on. BOOM! Lightning struck. Everything went dark for 30 minutes. Even the invertor that supplies us with backup electricity was out. When I started the computer up again I got this:


Yup, the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH. Now the pic above is the PC BSOD, I have an iMac so all I got was a blue screen and an unresponsive cursor. It wasn't even restartable either Drat. The iMac had to be hauled away to the Apple hospital in Kathmandu. This was not the first time something like this had happened. About 2 years ago the same thing happened and my hard drive was destroyed. It took a month to get that hard drive replaced.


So, off went the iMac via courier to Kathmandu. Hopefully. These Himalayan storms can quickly turn to flash floods as you see in the above photo. What was a tiny trickle of a creek a few hours ago might become a raging river in minutes out here. I actually called the Apple repair shop to make sure my iMac got there safe and dry.


I tried blogging on my smartphone. Forget it. Too hard. I played with the photo apps instead. "Bibi Goes Warhol" is what I've titled the above masterpiece.


We went shopping downtown and saw a $100USD frozen turkey from Utah. That's a 12lb/5.4kg bird which works out to a little over $8 a pound. How it got from Utah to Nepal just boggles my mind.


Here's a photo of the snapdragons along the driveway BEFORE the storms blew them to bits. They were absolutely stunning at almost a meter tall. That was actually the second set of blooms after I rigorously deadheaded their initial spires. Now they are in shreds from the high winds and hail. Those magenta petunias are goners too, all the petunias are khattam as they say here in Nepal. Wah.


As I sit here on Sunday evening typing this post the next storm in the derecho is beginning to hit with walnut-sized hail again. Above is a weather map of the heatwave in India that has been fueling this storm system since early March. For Americans 40C is 104F and 44C is 111F, it is HOT. if the Accuweather extended forecast for our area is to be believed we are going to be hit with temps in the 90F's/32C's by next Sunday. Mercy.

NEVER MIND!
Yesterday morning my iMac came home from the hospital all fine and dandy. Apparently it suffered a trivial bit of amnesia from the ECT induced by the lightning. A rep from the internet service came by and rebooted my WiFi 'device.' We've had electricity for 8 hours straight. YIPPEE! I'm ready to start blogging again. Sheesh, it's been like 2 weeks since I've put up a recipe. Come hell or high water I'm getting a recipe up this week! Oh wait, we've already had high water and a hellish heatwave is on it's way. Anywho, whether it's banning muslin, endangered feces, presidential erections, conserving natural racehorses, or making Puerto Rico a steak, as Ms Emily Litella would say, "Never mind."
I miss Gilda Radner. 
Which of her characters was your favorite?
Any wacky weather out your way?

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