Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Organized Crime in Nepal


Hello all, I'm getting behind on blogging! I'll might even have to leave out our bike trip from Kathmandu to Namo Buddha. But enough moaning, it’s time for another unfocused, rambling and poorly written update of The Strangest Dream, otherwise known as my life :-). One of my favorite movies is “The Strangest Dream.” Actually it’s a true story about how a group of scientists bridge the iron curtain and work to prevent nuclear war during the Cold War. The theme song of the movie is the peace anthem, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream”.

“Last Night I had the strangest dream
I’d ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again
and when the papers all were signed
and a million copies made

They all joined hands and bowed their heads
and grateful prayers were prayed
and the people in the streets below
were dancing round and round
and guns and swords and uniforms were scattered
on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I’d ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
to put an end to war”

I love songs like this. Taking a line from it to describe my life is a bit of a leap of logic since the context doesn’t really fit but the first line of the song repeatedly occurs to me and seems like a good sub-title for my life :-).

I’m living in Nepal at the moment, at a sort of luxury resort (to the left is a photo of my cabin). They grow a lot of their own food so I am here to work on the farm. I want to do some experiments, work on the farm design which means some record keeping and planning and learn lots about the permaculture re-design process. There are lots of odd ideas floating around to explore like entirely new theories of medicine, questions about whether AIDS really does exist, and new, odd ways to make rain. Having been deported from India I have been induced to change focus from studying Gandhi to studying Permaculture as a way to live.

I'm going to skip most the routine crap about how I got here, how long I plan to stay and other boring introduction details. Let's go to some interesting conversation instead.

I’ve found that working in a place gives a very different viewpoint than being a tourist. It’s hard to realize what a rut the tourist track is, and the effect is probably especially pronounced in Nepal. It’s more of a trench than a rut actually; too big to properly see out of!

One day in particular stands out when Jack and I went to the welder to put together the seed ball rolling machine. Standing there gesturing and trying to explain our ideas to a guy who speaks only Hindi and watching him weld together our thing piece by piece was so strange. We were both struck by how our experience in India was so different compared to a normal tourist.

Or there was that time in Chama near the apple orchard when I was trying to buy a handle for a pickaxe. “These are tools for Indians” the shopkeeper told me :-). As if Europeans and Americans never use tools! It’s hard to imagine what Nepali or Indian people must think life is like in materially richer countries. The only people they ever see from these countries spend all their time just hanging around, eating, taking photos and traveling a bit. No wonder they view people from the West as having unlimited time and leisure. Not only does this leave them free to rip you off as much as possible because you obviously have unlimited money, but it fuels a huge desire to move to Canada, US, Germany or wherever to obtain this unlimited money and leisure time.

At Namo Buddha Resort (NBR) I’ve had an unusual look into the world of organized crime in Nepal. The usual tourist trench contains only relics of nice things; ooh, look at the nice Buddhist paintings. Beautiful mountains. The curious habit of eating dhal bhat every day three times a day. A civil war just ended in Nepal but you wouldn’t know it from trench side. A lot of people try to rip you off but it’s almost all low level street crime, no indication of anything larger is visible. And it makes sense for Nepal to show you the best of what they’ve got. But it’s a bit eerie also because you know that there must be more going on. Tourists get hints of this, for example when they try to take a photo of the soccer field that it turns out is a military base inside the city. The military doesn’t like photos :-).
NBR is located in Kavre which is actually one of the most crime ridden areas of Nepal. When I was at HACERA I didn’t notice this. But since I’ve started working here at NBR it has become an issue. There are stories flowing frequently about the local organized crime agents using violence and threats of violence to pressure the owners to purchase land at inflated prices, hire certain people especially for contract work (forcing NBR to use the incompetent local contractors instead of qualified ones from elsewhere), stealing vehicles, threatening workers to the point that they leave the resort and frequent assorted demands of the most unreasonable sort. At the moment they are trying to work their way into the company by pressuring one of the workers who used to be a manager. He appears to be working with them so it looks like he may be fired to protect from further infiltration. The organized crime folks want their man to be the guy in charge of bookkeeping, of all things!
Even the Lama from the nearby famous Buddhist Stupa dips into the pot. Actually his thing is being a money shark; charging 30% interest or more on cash loans.

Some people in this photo are involved in organized crime. Can you tell who? Others are honest people running the nearby school.
All of this is in addition to the usual corruption in the government with bribes left, right and center.
I hesitate to call the local criminals Mafia because their style is very immature and stupid. They don’t have the idea of replacing the government or having any sort of justice or fair system. They are just out to grab whatever they can however they can. Yet at the same time they are different from the guys (yes it always seems to be guys) who show up at night with masks and sticks to demand 500 000 NPR (about $7 000). They are career criminals.
Perhaps the best hope is the Maoists. When they were in charge of the area apparently this organized crime stuff was very much less. The Maoists installed a court system that actually took cases to completion and did serious investigation. They reduced public drunkenness. They built roads. Actually it sounds like things were much more promising when the Maoists were in charge. They are inspiring for me because it seems like they set up a parallel system of government, circumventing the dysfunctional and corrupt version that exists now. Even still in Kathmandu you can observe that the Maoists have their own car license plates. This makes so much sense to me to simply side-step the government and start organizing on your own.
Another option, or rather something additional, is to give money to the schools, get involved in the festivals etc. In this way the community likes NBR and organized crime has a more difficult time making threats since they do not have community support.

Until next time,