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Mt. Kanchanjungha (28,169 ft)

Mt. Kanchanjungha (28,169 ft)

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

and.. off we go, or do we?

A few days before our trek we went up to meet a prominent leader from Nepal Communist Party, Maowad (also known as Maoists in pop culture). The plan for the meeting came about as a consequence of scattered bits and pieces of unreliable information that was relayed to us via not-so-authentic sources. But given that all our knowledge on the place we were going to was based on such information, we thought it was only fair that we treat this new data as seriously as all the rest. In short, we’d assume it to be true. The information was that a branch of Maoists (YCL and Limbuwan) had been carrying out notorious activities in the region for quite some time. A few tourists (on their way to Kanchanjungha) had been asked for donations (euphemism, of course. I personally don’t think it counts as a “donation” when you have a gun pointed at your head…but then again, that’s just me) some years ago, when the Maoist insurgency was on its prime, and after that this route pretty much saw no tourists. Even Dorche apparently had to flee from the village when he was last there for the fear of being made an offer which he couldn’t refuse (Godfather, anyone?). So, long story short, we wanted to meet this leader and have him assure us that should things go wrong he’d have our back. Mind you this is no ordinary leader. If you make a list of top twenty leaders for the Maoist party, he’ll make it. We will not reveal his name, just to be all secretive and cool.

It was dark by the time we went to his house. The conversation with Anil took longer than expected, partly because the man was overly nice and sincerely wanted us to know what we were getting into. So, instead of reaching New Baneshwor (the place we were being picked up at to meet him) at five, we arrived there at around six. In other words, we were an hour late to meet the leader of the Maoists! Not a position you want to be in, especially if at the back of your head you hear yourself saying that YOU are the only one who has to/can do all the talking (with no prior experience to count on). At a shady looking corner in New Baneshwor, someone came to receive us. I could hear my heart beating.

We were taken to a standard building. It looked like it was all Maoists living there- standard strategy. What followed was unexpected. A lean, frail and amicable figure greeted us and invited us in. I stole a quick nervous glance at his face. It was the face of a man who had seen enough of the world to know what he was doing. You could tell, he was in it because he believed in it (unlike most others who are there for obvious reasons). I, for all my efforts, could not figure out how to start small talk and be comfy with a Maoist leader. So, I started off with a sense of business and urgency. I conveyed our stance and what we were doing. I told him why we were in it. And then I found myself struggling hard to not let my frustrations with the party show in my tone. I mentioned the ever widening gap between the intellectual portion of the party and the on-field portion. He smiled. I did not know what to make of it. (On hindsight, I think he smiled at my naivety). I quickly steered myself on track and told him that we were not here to affiliate ourselves with any political party, but to make sure that no political agenda gets in the way of people who want to do good in this country. [Lemon tea was served.] I think I ended my speech with a question asking if he could guarantee that we would be allowed to do the work that we were here to do. And then he spoke.

He thanked us for taking the initiative to do such work. He told us that he was aware of the general sense of frustration within the public about the state of the country. But he cited examples from history to highlight that the transition from a civil war to peace is a gradual one and takes time. He asked for patience and belief. He also told us that he was aware of the activities in Taplejung area; apparently a group called Kirat (something) was creating some problems too (unaffiliated to the Maoists). He gave us his business card and asked us to call him should we be approached with evil intent. He also told us he would call the head of the Limbuwan group and make him aware of our presence. At the end he asked us to not be afraid and go in with the attitude that should things go wrong, we were smart enough to find a way out. That was the line of the day for me. We thanked him and disappeared.

The next day, nothing really happened. We saw a friend off at the airport. The day after was a bandh. On the eleventh, I passed my written exam for my license. We got ourselves PSDP t-shirts (pictures to be posted). We mostly shopped around for trekking equipments and such. At this point, we were set on leaving on the twelfth.

The day started all wrong. I hit the last possible pole in my driving test (had to pay a “fine”), was denied a visa to Brussels (because I applied in the wrong embassy), and I had no idea whether to leave with the boys or to wait and sort my visa stuff. Twenty minutes before we were supposed to leave, I decided to start packing- hoping that things would be alright, somehow. A few goodbyes, smiles, tears, and we were off. Dorche and Dawa were waiting for us at the bus stop. Instead of the scheduled time of 2 pm, the bus left at around 4:30 (not bad). Little did we know what we had embarked on was to be the most painful journey of our lives, yet. David will fill in the details as he knows the pain better than any of us. 

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