Nepali traffic and a community visit
Today part of the group went to the outskirts of Kathmandu to talk to people from the lowest cast who were directly affected by the earthquake. After an hour in the bus, the roads become even bumpier and the space between the houses increases, making room for small fields, flowers and trees that start to blossom. From the hill we could look across the Kathmandu Valley. We were invited for tea in a rural house, sitting on small stools enjoying the warm sun. Our Nepali fellow researchers translated for us the conversation and we learned about rural Dalit life and how they were affected by the earthquake in 2015. Almost all houses of the poor build from mud and clay were destroyed and the upper casts still ignore and discriminate the lower casts as for example shops remain closed during Dalit weddings.
The encounter was stirring and left us thinking about our role and the impact our work can have. We are one of the many groups of researchers, coming to the village, asking questions, writing reports but in the end nothing changes. The social structure remains the same and the lowest cast poor. It was not easy to see the women smiling brightly while telling us about their hardship and frustration and being unable to help them. We now experienced for ourselves what we talked about in class, the dilemmas and personal challenges. What can we give in return for their stories, do we want to be researchers or activists, how do we research and how do we handle hardship.
As we travelled by bus a few words on Nepali traffic are at place here. Traffic is generally buzzy and chaotic: Cars drive on the left side, street signs are few and small, lights absent and the policemen that guide the many vehicles at larger crossings (at night with a lazor sword) seem more like a decoration. The air is polluted and masks only partially filter the mixture of exhaust fumes and dust from the roads and the many constructions in the city. There are many options to get from one place to the other. The taxis are white and usually ask much higher prices from tourists. Many locals go by motorcycles, squeezing through the many cars, buses and trucks on the dusty roads. There are buses, Mircos (which are smaller vans) and Tempos (comparable to tuck tucks) with different routes and stops. Bus "shouters" call the direction through the open door and ask people to hop on. When you want to get off the bus, especially the smaller ones you have to knock on the metal roof or side in order to make the vehicle stop. The bus stops are large, crowded and incomprehensible to us. At the station, we spend a lot of time, up to half an hour asking people for the right bus. In the end there are always some Nepalis who feel sorry for us and almost drop us off at the door of the bus we need.
So far, we were always lucky to get a seat in the vehicles which tend to get overcrowded. When you think no one fits anymore, another five people enter, standing in the room left between the seats. During the drive loud music plays through improvised sound systems, a bag with cold meet dangling next to your leg, a warm child’s hand holding tight to your knee and passengers asking questions about us and Germany.
So far, we only experienced city traffic but we already heard a lot about overland buses, the steep roads and the long distances which we will experience for ourselves when exploring different regions of the country.