I’m heading off later today to the second-coolest sounding city I’ve ever been to: Kathmandu (the first one is hands-down Ouagadougou). Hearing the name of Nepal’s capital as a kid instantly triggered the lyrics to Bob Seger’s ode to the fabled city:
I think that's where I'm going to.
If I ever get out of here,
I'm going to Kathmandu.
When I traveled there the first time, six years ago this week, the Maoists were still engaged in a bitter civil war with government forces. As we made our way to the workshop venue, the Maoists instituted a country-wide “bandh,” or strike, effectively shutting down the Himalayan nation. You were advised not to travel in a car that day. The hotel bus that came to pick us up at the airport had “TOURIST” written in large letters on a piece of paper taped to the windshield. Somehow, it brought me no comfort.
The travel advice dished out by the Canadian government at the time advised against any non-essential travel to Nepal. That’s the third warning level in a four-point scale (see below). It concerned me a little, but in the end there was nothing to worry about. In fact, it was my son back home who suffered a seizure owing to the heat; he was fine, but it left me feeling quite useless being so far away.
While nothing bad has ever happened to me while in Nepal (or any other country), I can’t say that the conditions are ever favourable. If the Maoists weren’t wreaking havoc with strikes, the king would sack the government (the 2005 trip), or there would be riots in the street (the 2006 trip). No bombs, though, that’s only when I travel to Indonesia. So I thought I was in fine form with this upcoming trip to Kathmandu for a training of trainers workshop for Equitas.
Wrong! The Prime Minister Madhav Kumar decided to resign 3 weeks ago. He bowed to pressure from the Maoists, now a large and powerful political party since the end of the civil war. The move is supposed to end a political deadlock that is halting the drafting of the constitution.
Anyway, comparatively speaking, this is nothing to worry about. Even the trusty and overprotective Canadian government tells me I need only “Exercise high degree of caution.”
It advises me further: “You should carefully evaluate the implications for your security and safety before deciding to travel to Nepal. Following an intense period of unrest and armed conflict, the political and security situation remains fragile and volatile. Canadians in Nepal should maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times.”
The workshop will be enjoyable. About a dozen human rights educators from six countries are reuniting for this TOT: Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The generic training manual that this TOT is based on can be found here. We’re going to be pushing ourselves to reflect on the meaning of our work, how to improve our craft as educators, and how to effectively conduct human rights education activities that lead to positive social change. The last part will be the toughest challenge, since “change” is a slow process, and not easily identifiable nor measurable.
More from the field soon, or whenever I get bored at an airport. Let the unglamorous escapade of air travel begin!