For the past two weeks I’ve been waking up in a tent in the mountainous jungles of Nepal. 5 am most usually, right when the sun starts creeping over the tops of horizons. It’s a slow climb into the day, the air cool and brisk and wet. By the afternoon, the sun heats up and we’re sweating our way through bamboo. Cutting, sawing, tying, building structures for all us volunteers. Compost latrines, benches, showers, a kitchen, and dining area to name a few. We’re also working on a training center, which will house a compressed brick maker. These bricks will be used to construct two schools over the course of the next two years. We’re only at the beginning stages of such an endeavor, setting up infrastructure and getting to know the surrounding villages. We’re still waiting on the compressed brick maker for one reason in particular: there was a strike at the India/Nepal border. It’s complicated and deep-rooted, having to do with ethnic groups and citizenship (a story for another time (there are many stories for another time that will come unfolding from the denseness of these travels)). What’s important right now is the training center. The plan is to build such a place in order to train locals and volunteers. Currently, the foundation is laid. Once it is finished, hopefully within a month, tens of thousands of bricks can be made utilizing local materials. Eventually, the center will be an enterprise to help grow the economy of this particular area. Almost 95% of the housing in Nepal was destroyed during the earthquakes, so it’s necessary to provide people with the means to rebuild into the future. Our goal is sustainability. For that reason, we’re also planting fruit trees.
Back in Kathmandu. The sludge of the city overtaking the purity of the jungle. A couple beers with dinner and the crickets scratching their legs is a mantra fading in memory. Even the dusting of the stars wipes away like an etch-a-sketch. All those nights dreaming on a mountainside are now absorbed by congestion and concrete. Now there is smog and the hustle & bustle of people crowding streets selling clothing, hash, guesthouses, kashmir, statues. But isn’t that the identity of this place? A dream all too soon forgotten. What news of Nepal do we see in our everyday lives? None. We have more important worries to worry about. But this place, like so many places around the world, is rife with inner struggle. The border to the south of Nepal is India, and the border is so fluid that people recognize their ethnicity and culture before they pay adherence to the fictional lines of government. In Nepal, you are not recognized as a citizen unless both your parents are from Nepal. If your mother is from India, or your grandmother, or your grandmother’s mother before that, you are stripped of your citizenship. You’re not even stripped of it, because you never had it to begin with. Unless both your parents are from Nepal, you are deemed a floating person with absolutely no rights. In the past month, the government created a new constitution which in part will allow people to apply for citizenship. But it could take ten years to process. Maybe seven if you bribe the right people. Like any disenfranchised group that is sick of being less than, they protest. The group at the border of Nepal/India is so densely populated, it maintains about 50% of the entire population of Nepal, so when they protest, it ripples. They shut down the border. Customs is cut off. That includes petrol. No more oil. That sweet, precious commodity. Oil, oh Oil! the goddess of our times. We bathe in her richness daily. She lives in the air we breathe, the commuting we do. A country without oil? The taxis are backed up for kilometers. Literally. Drivers are sitting in their cars for three, maybe four days waiting to refuel. The streets are clogged with rows and rows of parked cars. It has gotten so bad, some of the smaller airlines are shutting down. Gridlock. To make matters worse, when the earthquakes hit, international donors gathered $4 billion to give to Nepal so long as the government established a Reconstruction Authority. That has yet to be done because everyone is bickering. So the money is just sitting there. Waiting. What can any of us do? Trek to the mountains. Work with bamboo. Sleep under the beautiful chaos of stars. Do what the government doesn’t do. Participate. Practice direct action. Build the spirit of people and build your own too. Rise up. The times are ripe always.