Archive for December 5th, 2009

Road Block

November 10, 2009,

I thought Ronald Regan, Casper Weinberger, and I put an end to Communism back in the 1980s?  Hell, Ron was the President, Cap was the Secretary of Defense, and I was a young Marine convinced I was saving the world from tyranny with my “service and duty”. When I started to see red Hammer and Sickles banners and flags, I had to admit that, like a later President,  our “Mission Accomplished” bravado may have been a bit premature and likely misguided.

Hammer and sickle emblem of the Maoist party in Nepal

Who can blame them? For the poor and down trodden, Communism sounds really good.; it just does not seem to work particularly well. Here is no exception as the word from the person on the street is: “Monarchy was very bad, Communist – very bad,  now the so called “republic” it’s very bad….all corrupt, nothing changes in Nepal“.

It had been widely reported that the Maoist were going to hold a “strike” the day of my departure back to the Himalayas and the Annapurna circuit. After verifying that these things often do not actually happen, and were typically peaceful, I decided that a private car, leaving  very early would likely be the best option to avoid any hassle.  I also wanted to begin the trek on the same day I left Kathmandu, and thus avoid a typically shabby hotel at the end of a bus line with no viable options.  Postponing was an considered as well, but perceived schedule issues over ruled good judgment.

At 5:30am we departed confident in our approach; all we had to do was get over the pass road that led out of the Kathmandu valley- easy. Stopped. The driver walked up the road to assess the situation, Angin talked to other stranded locals, and I took a pee beside the road.  Ultimately the driver came back and said “Maybe”, which should have been my first clue. We pulled out of line and started slowly driving forward up the wrong side of the road-past dozens of mostly busses and other commercial vehicles who’s occupants looked on in puzzlement. As we moved ahead , I first saw Nepali police in full riot gear (not good), then I saw the Nepali Army which was more heavily armed (more not good) but looking particularly casual.  Finally we were close to the top of the hill where the road bottlenecked and made for a perfect place for the blockade.  They saw us, and as our car was about to be mobbed.  I yelled to our driver: Turn the fuck around and get us out of here”.  To late.  Crowds of young, wanting to be upset, men  is a situation that one should ALWAYS avoid – Broke that rule.

Now Nepali’ people are typically soft spoken unless they are yelling into a phone (as the connections are always poor), and apparently unless they are trying to negotiate a car and its stupid passenger out of a potential riot. Initially I was paralyzed and sat frozen in fear.  Then I realized that this car was of no protection so I might as well do something.  So I casually put my camera under my arm, rolled down my window, put my arm on the window ledge and said “Namaste” to the first pissed off guy who got in my face.  That helped calm him down – generally the Nepali people are REALLY friendly and certainly not aggressive. “Strike, Maoist strike, you understand strike” he said.  “Yes I course” I said nonchalantly.  “Me American, strike is good, Martin Luther King is good, Che Guevara (they love this guy in Nepal but based on my inquires most do not know who he was) is good.  But blocking the road…not so good.  And I do not understand – The revolution is over, and I thought you guys won?”  My driver was still shouting with the guys on the right, and the crowd grew as people wanted to see who was tying to “run” the road block.  About that time, I saw the comforting  blaze of a UN human rights observer on the back of a vest.  He was obviously not going to intervene, but I was glad he was watching nonetheless.   Maybe he would document my less than heroic demise.

I continued to have a conversation with my guy while exposing my views on why road blocks were actually bad for the Moaist and how President Obama did not approve of them and would consider this a terrorist act at an airport when my driver started to try and turn the car around; apparently that is what he had successful negotiated. But  the military, who are not Moaist (it is really hard to figure out who is who in this decades old conflict) did not want us back and blocked our path.  Then the “Man” showed up.  While listened to a bunch of yelling from both apparently self appointed negotiators  he stuck his head in the drivers window and looked at me.  “Namaste sir” I said while chuckling at the situation while shrugging my shoulders; he immediately smiled, laughed as well, and responded in kind.  He barked a few orders, like the Red Sea the crowd departed as he walked beside the car as we moved forward up the road.

The next group, who were apparently the original road blockers, quickly rebuilt their human chain to prohibit our passage.  Wow, what an good group to get news coverage if things got ugly; maybe 40, brightly sari clad, bendi adorned, beautiful women, all smiling at me with a determined look that I was not going anywhere as they clasped hand in Communist unity. Fine, take me prisoner, abuse me.  But, the “man” raised his hand and the human chain fell apart.  I am not sure what he said to them, but many clasped their hands and mouthed Namaste as we passed.

Having the road to ourselves we made great time and startled the intermediate road blocks who quickly let us move through thinking we must somehow be important if we got this far.  We followed a powder blue SUV with giant UN blazes across the back, front, top, sides for a while on the now deserted road, then  passed on a blind corner as my driver honked his horn incessantly.  I gave a big wave as we drove past.  I paid my driver a handsome tip given I was still alive, and was heading into the mountains at 2pm. I heard later from others that they spent a dozen hours beside the road and hundreds of people simply opted to start walking in the often seen “resigned” fashion that recognizes that the system is broken but you still have to get home.

Post script: The civil unrest in Nepal is increasing again with several reported violation of the peace accord including armed clashes between the Moaist and the Nepali government (which the Moaist are now a part of).

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