In class, we have been talking about sustainable development and the use of standards and “labels.” Throughout Nepal, being surrounded in the sublime of the Himalayan Mountains, we have been awestruck at the wonders of nature. Thus, we found Pokhara and Dolaka so appealing because the lodges thereÂ accommodated to our comfort and our desire to experience the mountains of Nepal. And of course, their sustainable practices and eco-tourism labeling has given us the greater comfort and has helped to soothe our consciences.
I’m not saying that these practices are bad. On the contrary, I greatly appreciate it and hope that they continue. But the issue that was raised in class was that eco-tourism is drawing nature-seekers from all over the world. Now, people are travelling thousands of miles on huge boeings to participate in this eco-tourism. That is a significant carbon footprint.
Having said that, you cannot simply uproot these mountains and let each continent have their turn. There is really only one way to see these mountains. But is eco-tourism really sustainable if it brings more travelers to come to these mountains attracted by the labeling of “eco-tourism”? Maybe, maybe not.
Sitting in an American fast-food joint, I take a bite of the mundane calorie-saturated burger and I am taken aback at an unusual wave of nostalgia of the Nepal trip. Wait. Hold on. What? Did a cheeseburger just remind me of Nepal? The juicy bite of the burger, the crisp of the french-fries and the smoothness of the Coca-Cola worked in unison in stirring up my experiences in Nepal. The obvious question now is: why?
In Nepal, our group looked for the most sanitary restaurant available in any particular location we happened to be at. These restaurants, more often than not, were Americanized restaurants that were geared towards tourists and foreigners. These relatively clean restaurants seemed like an oasis amongst the unkempt shacks that served the ethnic foods. Looking at the menu, I found myself ordering items like burger with fries, club sandwiches, andÂ CaesarÂ salads. At first, my excuse was that I did not want to risk getting digestive problems by eating something wrong. But deep inside, I knew there was another reason: comfort.
Why is it that we take comfort in seeing something familiar in a foreign place? Why is it that we tend to gravitate towards it and feel “safe”-er? George Ritzer coined the term ‘McDonaldization’ under the definition: “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.” We are so accustomed to things being predictable. When we order a burger, we know more or less what we are getting. We know what to expect and we take comfort in that.
Now let us apply this in a cultural setting. Things are becoming standardized. People wearing jeans, satellite televisions, potato chips. We see less of the traditional dresses in the streets. Things that were once normalÂ has become ethnicÂ and is now displayed on stages or shopping carts for tourists to enjoy.
Globalization has unified the world. For the better or for worse? I leave it up in the air.
Technically, it is impossible to measure the absolute temperature of a medium. As soon as the thermometer is placed within the sample in question, it will have an effect on the outcome.
As a group of researchers, we were very aware of our presence and conscious of the effect of our be-ing on the outcome of our research. Although we could not fully grasp what kind of distortion we were causing as foreigners, we were quite sure that the answers we were getting from the people that we have met were tainted by our very presence. Weâ€™ve discussed this issue countless times and to talk about this further would be to beat a dead horse.
But an interesting thought is that we have to be aware that the opposite is true as well. Often we worry about the sample being corrupted by the thermometer, but we rarely consider the effect of the sample on the measuring tool. I can confidently say that I have been changed by my experiences in Nepal. For starters, I have learned to appreciate basic hygiene measures taken by our municipalities. Public bathrooms never looked so clean in my eyes. Tap water never looked so fresh. The black and white stripes of a functioning crosswalk never looked so beautiful. The silence of the streets never so calming.
Yet we have to be aware that there have been negative influences that we need to be careful of. Iâ€™ve found myself attempting to bargain the price of a particular good in a designerâ€™s store. The store clerk gave me a polite â€œno.â€ I am pretty sure I caught a flicker of disbelief in her eyes. Likewise, there are things that are acceptable in one society and not in another. We knew this coming in, we need to be aware of it coming out. We must carefully shed some of the habits that we have become accustomed to during our two weeks there.
Friends, remember: we drive on the right side of the road.
My good friend (letâ€™s call him Joe) and I were having a good discussion one day. The discussion was based on the causal relationship between development and a stable government. Does a stable government pave the way for good development? Or do you need the support of a strong economy and effective infrastructure to have a stable government?
We have learned that one of the biggest causes of the Maoist insurgency was the economic disparity of the people. Without development, people are going to remain restless. Not many people are going to care about good governance when their stomachs are growling; and, without the support of the people, good governance is moot. Also, we have learned that there is a severe lack of communication between the people at the grassroots level and the central government. Much has to do with the deficiency of infrastructure. Not only are roads needed to facilitate the movement of the government officials to the rural regions, better quality of life in these regions are needed to attract these government officials to stay. Apparently, none of them want to go to the marginalized regions of the country, creating a vast void of political communication in these regions. Wow. I mean, I completely understand their feeling but really? I want to say â€œsuck it upâ€ but I feel I am not eligible to make such comments, as I was one of the many who roared a victorious cry when our â€œhipsterâ€ bus rolled into Annapurna Hotel in Kathmandu.
Then again, we have also got the sense that in order for these multi-billion rupee development projects to occur, there needs to be governmental support. Not only that, stability is likely to allow foreign investors to flood in the country with the much-needed money.
So what comes first: development or a stable government? My friend and I came to the lazy conclusion that they need to come together. There is no set starting point in a circle. One or the other needs to just step up, and hopefully, the other will follow.
Having asked questions about justice and the role of compensation in seeking justice, we received many answers along the lines of â€œpeace is more important than justiceâ€ â€“ that they do not want to provoke the peace they have now in order to seek justice. It reminded me of stirring up dirty residue in stagnant water. Of course, the majority, if not all, of our group recoiled in discomfort. Coming from a liberal education where liberty to speak our pains and seek complete justice are revered, we could not stand to hear these ideas of meek compromise.
But it occurred to me that I was dismissing forgiveness altogether. What is the role of forgiveness in post-war Nepal? I am a firm believer that there is a capacity in everyone to digest situations and conjure forgiveness towards others. Were we discrediting the Nepalese peopleâ€™s ability to forgive? I do not know. Hearing the horrors caused by both the Maoists and the Government I would imagine it is very difficult. Also, not having experienced such crimes such as killings, rape, abductions, I do not have the authority to say whether these incidents can be forgiven or not. But it is uncanny that the NGOs and the groups we meet throughout this trip have been created because of peopleâ€™s inability to digest such horrors of war. These groups are working to provide due justice for people who are seeking reparations. It is unfortunate, however, that we are not talking to people who have chosen to forgive â€“ not forget â€“ the crimes done in war. Perhaps none exists. But I still am a firm believer in peopleâ€™s capacity to forgive and will hold on my rosy hopes that there are people out there who have forgiven the crimes of war done to them and who are choosing to move forward.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
and so deprive the innocent of justice â€“ a Proverb
When you throw away your trash, where does it go? In the United States, more often than not domestic trash is collected in landfills. These dumpsites soon become overfilled and are abandoned. Instead of leaving the mountains of trash as an eyesore, many municipals cover the dumpsites with soil and plant grass on top, creating artificial hills that are pleasant to look at. At the surface, these knolls seem to be the perfect solution to the overflow of garbage in our consumer society today. But, time brings forth the truth. After a while, rainwater trickles through the dirt, flows through the garbage and comes out as toxic sludge. Moreover, methane collects in the hills under the dirt dome and creates pressure until it is released unpleasantly as gaseous bubbles in the mud. The gas is highly flammable and can cause landfill fires.
Trying to satisfy the victims of war with compensation under the excuse of â€œpreserving peaceâ€ is simply covering the problem with a layer of dirt, leaving the suffering to fester. Sure, it may be a quick Band-Aid method of alleviating the pain, but sooner or later the grievances are going to ooze out more toxic than before. Moreover the lack of a channel to express these injustices is going to build up in pressure, waiting for the right spark to ignite it violently. Nepal has seen it before, when the Maoist provided the spark a decade ago. History is known to repeat itself, but people have the right to fight the injustices and correct the wrongs of the past. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
During the colder seasons, it is very easy to catch frogs. Near a freezing cold pond where there are numerous frogs getting ready for hibernation, all you have to do is start warming up some water in a good sized pot on a portable propane stove. When the water is lukewarm, frogs will start jumping in in search of warmth. As they enjoy the warm water, you simply have to raise the temperature of the water slowly. It is quite entertaining to watch as the frogs begin to stretch out their legs in comfort as the water becomes warmer and warmer. Soon warm becomes hot but the frogs do not notice due to the gradual increase in water temperature. Only when the water starts to become boiling hot frogs become alarmed and squirm to get out; however, their prolonged stay in the hot water has loosened their leg muscles to the point of dysfunction. No matter how hard they try, all they can do is struggle and accept their handicap.
In my observation the people of Nepal are like these amphibians. They seemed to have been culturally taught to suppress their experiences, emotions and opinions towards the sufferings of the war period and accept it as a norm to hide the scars. Denial (in a sense that you do not freely express what you are feeling inside) can be comfortable at first. I completely understand that it is not easy to stir up painful memories, provoking the scabs from war to bleed again. Suppression also may seem like a measurement to oneâ€™s ability to â€œsuck-it-up,â€ and may be laudable to a certain extent. But once this mentality slowly became ingrained, it seems as if these people have become more and more comfortable and accepted it as a social norm â€“ a cultural identity.
Starting to feel the rising temperatures, some are trying to speak out and seek justice; yet, it is so difficult to break the status quo. Their voice seems to have been quieted to the point of dysfunction. Now, as researchers we try to ask questions in order to gain a fuller understanding. But I am finding research more and more difficult because of their unwillingness(?) to share.
This blog post is simply my observation of the Nepalese people. I have talked to a few Nepalese people about this mental-dynamic and they seemed to agree that yes, the people of Nepal seem to culturallyÂ suppressÂ their painful stories. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: the people are not speaking up.
It was a beautiful sunny day in Pokhara on the 14th of January. The group rose up early in the morning to go hiking with the Three Sisters Company. The Three Sisters Trekking Company is extraordinary on so many levels. It has found a way to dovetail both women empowerment with Nepalâ€™s greatest industry: tourism. The greatest aspect about this coupling is that the company has managed to do this sustainably. First they train the women of Nepal under the organization Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) to become competitive tour guides. The organization understands that tourism is an international business and it is more complicated than simply guiding tourists on trekking paths. The girls learn English and various other languages, learn mannerisms and the values of understanding different cultures, as well as the importance of ecology and environmental sustainability. These well-trained guides then work for the Three Sisters Trekking Company for six months with free lodging so that they can save up money to move out, making room for new trainees to come. With the profit made from these tours, the company is sustained, while being able to run this trek guide â€œmanufacturingâ€ system operational for a long period.
So during the hike, I happened to notice more than ample amount of garbage lined up along the path. The little preservationist in me started to become irksome. Sure, the amount of garbage was less than what we have seen in the villages, and yes the locals that live along the path than the trekkers themselves probably littered the garbage; however, these sisters were practicing eco-tourism were they not? Eco-tourism heavily depends on respecting the ecology of the touristy area to maintain the environment that people come to experience. (Plus, the argument that we should not impose the value of tourists that want to see garbage-free environment upon the locals hold no ground here because environmental stewardship is a universal responsibility.) Therefore I asked Lucky, one of the Three Sisters, if the organization participated in any clean up projects. She started to mention a few successful projects that the girls have undertaken, such as cleaning up the lake right in front of their headquarters. But what followed really surprised me: she said, â€œEnvironmental protection is very important and there are environmental NGOs that are willing to support us; however, to focus on the environment will divert our efforts of women empowerment. Right now, we want to focus on one goal.â€ After learning about the comprehensiveness of this organization, and groveling at the multi-faceted approach of empowering women through the tourism business, I must say that the simplicity of her vision was astonishing. I realized that it was because the organization had such a clear-cut and simplistic goal that allowed them to stay on track despite the complexity of their operation.
I wonder if this can be applied to the government of Nepal. I wonder if what Nepal needs right now is to dumb down and simplify their objectives to streamline the development process. They do have a deadline to meet for the constitution. But then again, is rushing it the right approach?
On the fourth day of our trip, we had the opportunity to explore the Bara region. Amongst many NGOs that we met during that day, one stood out: Rural Region and Agro-Forestry Development Center. The works done by the center was quite impressive. In general, the organization raised awareness of the importance of forestry stewardship and made huge headway in achieving success stories regarding proper forestry management.
Because they seemed to be quite knowledgeable in agriculture, I tried to relieve my curiosity by asking some pressing questions. I first asked the president of the organization what he thought about free trade. I asked this question acknowledging that Nepal was a developing country. Developing countries tend to open their borders to benefit from free trade in order to kick start their economy. Moreover, as they open their borders and earn respect from countries involved in WTO (World Trade Organization). Now, being in a landlocked country, the agriculture industry of Nepal is going to face competition from the surrounding countries: China and India. So, regarding this dynamic I wanted to see the presidentâ€™s opinion on free trade and its impact on the agriculture sect.
In respect, he was quite enthusiastic about the whole ordeal. He says that the agriculture of Nepal is quite strong. As long as the country remains loyal to the agricultural sect, the people are not going to have problems competing in the market. In fact, he was hinting that Nepal could outcompete its Chinese and Indian competition. The only thing hindering this is governmental aid. He says that once the money is properly channeled, Nepalâ€™s agriculture can modernize and be competitive.
Oh. Now we have a whole new problem. I really wonder what he means by modernization. The word can have numerous meanings; however, in terms of agriculture, it usually means industrializing the agriculture sect. This means mechanization of agriculture.Â Would this not decrease the demand of labor? Knowing that 80 percent of Nepalese are involved in agriculture, and knowing that unemployment is always a pressing concern, is modernizing agriculture really the answer? Perhaps this is a stupid question. Of course the Nepalese need to modernize their agriculture in order to compete in the markets, as well as provide food security to their people. Then, maybe the right question to ask is: how are they going to facilitate the transition from traditional agriculture to a modern one? What kind of jobs is the government going to create for the young workforce who will be forced out of agriculture? I am hoping that both the government and the local level communities are thinking holistically about modernization.
Good morning. Good night? I have no clue. I have been travelling for the past two days, from one airport to another, across numerous time zones. The bright sky outside tells me that it is mid afternoon, but in reality I should be well asleep. My legs, from countless hours of idleness feel swollen and weak from disuse. My head aches from constant change or atmospheric pressure and air quality. Airline food has not been helping my apatite either. Physically, I am wasted.
But despite the circumstantial negative attributes to travelling, I â€“ like many others who frequent such voyages across the globe â€“ am filled with excitement at the prospect of enlarging my scope of worldview and experiencing new cultures. Nepal, the land of natural beauty yet so scarred by history. I must confess. I knew little to none about Nepal except that it was a landlocked nation to the west of China, hosting the renowned Mount Everest. The wonderful images of the grandeur of nature, the great mountains and its verdant plateaus, terrain specific animals and the indigenous locals living in harmony filled my mind at the thought of Nepal. Yet perhaps I was too naÃ¯ve.
From the little pre-practicum research I have been doing, I found out how continual neglect of the rural regions by the central government and mismanagement of the agricultural systems have eroded away the pristine ecosystem of Nepal. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the origins of certain environmental problems such as climate change lie beyond the scope of the Nepalese government; however, the air pollution of the cities, and the erosion of soil, deforestation and water pollution in the rural areas could have been managed domestically. These environmental issues accrue to exacerbate the increasing poverty in rural areas due to lower agricultural returns, putting the local farmers at a heavier disadvantage from the liberalizing markets than ever before.
But these ideas and concerns originate from readings. As often it is in the case of academics, I feel a disconnect between myself and the ideas I formulate through readings. And this is exactly why I am here, suffering through hours of painstaking travelling. I really feel that in this Nepal Peace Building Practicum, I will get a hands-on experience that students thirst for in the cubicle of the college library. But often, people crave what they do not have, only to realize they like what they had better once achieved. I have yet to figure out if I like the filtered version of learning through reading better than raw face-to-face material. Only one way to find out.