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main blog0007 : felicitation of 2071 slc graduates

krishna shah august 31, 2015; monday 22:45 nst (nepal standard time)

hoste hainse produces about 50 slc graduates every year, about 40 from our high schools in sarlahi, and about 10 from our scholarship support program in kathmandu. felicitation of slc graduates is an annual tradition. a hoste hainse team travels to sarlahi to felicitate the sarlahi graduates while the kathmandu graduates are invited to our offices in jawalakhel.

this year, we wanted to coincide the sarlahi felicitation trip with a visit from one of our long-time supporters, chance for life nepal, e.v., namely guenter sprenger, his wife, meena, and daughter alisha, from hamburg in germany. from my lst blog entry, " blog0006: trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh ", it is apparent that the current political scenario is not the best in nepal, and so we were monitoring situations on a daily basis to try and determine the best days to visit sarlahi, as the terai had already been "bandha" for about a fortnight.

the original plan was to go a day after coming back from sindhupalchowk (during a bandh, like described in my last blog entry, " blog0006: trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh "), but the torching of buses and trucks in the terai made us postpone the sarlahi trip. we were taking it one day at a time, and then on august 23, sunday, we decided that we would make our sarlahi trip the next day, as the political situation was neither getting better nor worse. we would tackle the trip the same way we did our sindhupalchowk trip, i.e., stay off the main roads and city centers between 6am and 6pm. our schools are in "durgam chhetra"'s (least developed areas) anyway, and no protests would be seen there. august 23, sunday, was also the same day ex-terrorist now-politician, baburam bhattarai, posted a threatening remark on his twitter feed. it is mind boggling that the very maoist insurgents that were internationally branded as terrorists (by interpol) are now our political leaders that run the country (and empty its coffers) and have the audacity to make open threats on public domain. did he know all along what was going to happen the next day?

we decided to fly to simara, which is approximately a two hour drive from sarlahi, as opposed to drive from kathmandu to sarlahi, which would be a whole day's drive. under the circumstances, flying would be safer than driving. flying via the domestic airport in kathmandu is an adventure of its own. :)

i accompanied guenter, meena and alisha as the official hoste hainse representative. guenter in the "shuttle" waiting to be ferried to our plane:

selfie with alisha about to board our little puddle-jumper plane:

and we depart from the urban jungle that is kathmandu:

chop down trees and build houses. who needs trees anyway? houses, houses, and more houses as far as the eye can see. this is definitely not the kathmandu i grew up in. *sigh*

the urban sprawl has also reached the edges of the valley. pretty soon all surrounding hills will also be full of houses. or have we nepalese learned something from the april 25 earthquake?

an aerial view of the mountainous terrain. note the curvy roads. no wonder it takes all the extra time to drive up and down a mountain.

the tube of a plane that we were in. why i felt like toothpaste i don't know. but at least everyone had a window seat.

within 5 minutes we leave the pahad (the hills) and enter the terai (the plains). flat land with trees and huge rivers for miles and miles and miles.

our flight lasts a total of 12 minutes and we disembark on a hot tarmac. it is at least 10*f warmer in the terai than in the pahad, but more than the temperature, it is the humidity that gets you. the thermometer read 85*f, but it felt like 95*f. a disembarkation selfie with meena:

sarlahi coordinator, binaya chaudhary, is at the simara airport to welcome us. due to the terai bandh, he came to simara from sarlahi via side roads, which took him twice as much time. we cram into a small maruti van of a taxi:

it actually feels nice to get away from the traffic-jammed roads of kathmandu. not much traffic in the terai, but perhaps also because of the terai bandh:

a little stroll through simara after lunch to find highly flammable and explosive commodities, cooking gas and petrol, sold side by side, out in the open. the gas is in cylinders, but the petrol is in water bottles. this trend started in nepal only a couple of years ago. it will take a big accident for the government to ban this unsafe practice. nepalese love convenience. why go to a petrol pump/gas station, when you can buy gasoline in water bottles? simply pour the petrol into your tank and dump the bottle. *sigh*

in addition to riding a "bayal garda" (horse drawn carriage), another must-do activity in the terai is riding a "mayuri" (electric tuk tuk):

and that was perhaps all the fun we had during our trip, as shortly thereafter i received a phone call from my brother, ajit, who warned me that "something" had happened in the western terai and scores of policemen had been killed. thanks to good mobile-phone penetration in nepal, i could get 4g service on my smart phone in the terai and vehemently started checking nepali news sites. news had only begun to trickle in as the incident had happened less than an hour ago. the headlines read that an ssp (superintendent of police) who was trying to control the protesters had been killed, along with scores of other policemen. when i told binaya chaudhary, he did not believe me, and said that just the night before the political parties had signed a pact agreeing to peaceful demonstrations. binaya started making phonecalls and confirmed the incident through his own sources. nepal had not seen this kind of violence since the maoist insurgency about 10 years ago.

we were glued to our phones. when i refreshed the news 10 minutes later, the headlines read that the prime minister had called an emergency cabinet meeting. another 10 minutes later the headline read that the army had been deployed to control protesters as protests had now spread throughout the terai and was not only in the west. then, within 30 minutes of when we had originally heard the news, we read that curfews with "shoot on sight" orders had been imposed in a lot of major cities in the terai. binay frantically called ahead and found out that a curfew had also been imposed in sarlahi!

so much for our sarlahi travel plans. we stopped to assess the situation. simara is in bara district in the terai. the next district is rautahat, with gaur as the capital with a curfew. the next state over is sarlahi with mahlangwa as the capital; again under curfew. tensions were high, and we figured security personnel would be on high alert especially on a day like this when scores of their own had lost their lives.

the stress hormones started kicking in. not only was my phone busy serving news, but also with incoming calls from friends and loved ones asking me to come back immediately and that a "racial war" was starting. i told everyone that we were still assessing the situation and that we would not put ourselves in harm's way. as i read the details of the news and how brutally the policemen were killed, a mixed feeling of disbelief, sorrow and anger took a hold of me. how could this have happened? these were the very policemen that helped us during the recent earthquake; these were the first responders. and now this is how we treat them back? "we" because they were attacked and killed by fellow nepalese, although politically motivated. i am not going to write about the details on how they were killed; you can google it; but it was not in any humane way. how could the people of a peaceful country like nepal act this way?

there are many conspiracy theories out already on what happened in tikapur (that's the name of the place in western nepal where the event took place). some say, it could not have been the locals of tikapur, as they do not have any history of violence at all. others say, it was only a handful of terrorists that snuck in with the protesters. but the fact of the matter is that it did end up happening. speaking of terrorists, like i mentioned above, was baburam bhattarai's tweet a mere coincidence? why the army was mobilized before the armed police force remains to be a question. why not a single politician has accepted failure and has resigned... well, i am not surprised, since i do not think highly of the 601 hooligans, as i described in my last blog entry, " blog0006: trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh ". don't even get me started there. here is a good analysis/opinion of the 601 and army deployment in tikapur, as described by retired nepal army deputy general, keshar bahadur bhandari, which was aired on avenues tv a day after the incident (interview in nepali):

it took us another two hours to make our decision, although the knee-jerk reaction was to turn back. we were already halfway there, and we were with binaya chaudhary, a sarlahi local, who promised us security off the main streets and main bazaar in sarlahi. there would be no danger in the villages with our schools, but now with curfews imposed in the main cities, there would be security personnel everywhere. our original plan was to stay off the main roads and the bazaars and travel before 6am and after 6pm. this would mean leave at 4am in the morning. but after an incident as big as this, would we really want to travel in the dark at 4am? what if the security forces on high alert mistake us for terrorists and open fire thinking "why are these people driving in the dark at 4am in the morning?" all of a sudden, it was not only the protestors we had to worry about, but also the security personnel. we did not want to become collateral damage in a crossfire. so, we decided to turn back.

it was sad, especially because our schools remained open throughout the turmoil, and they were expecting us. and guess what? they are still open, as they are in villages that are "durgam" as described above. but not only that, our schools are "protected" by the locals, which means when political cadres come to our schools to force them to close, they are chased away by the locals. to this day, our schools are the only schools open in sarlahi. all public schools are closed, and so are private schools.

so, we decided to return. but it was not easy. the next flight was not until the next day, and our travel agent was trying hard to get us seats. we checked into a motel in simara, and at least enjoyed a good nepali dinner:

it was a good evening spent with binaya chaudhary (2nd from the left in the picture above). guenter and family were able to talk in depth about everything that was only touched upon in emails and over the phone. so, the entire trip was not in vain. guenter had brought a dozen used blackberry smartphones (unlocked gsm) and handed them over to binaya for distribution to the best students in sarlahi. guenter wanted to do this himself, but this was the next best thing. also handed over were individual gifts to some of the students that had individual sponsors. the sponsors had sent the gifts via guenter.

the next morning, we headed straight to simara airport. while the motel had air conditioning (which worked for half the night), the airport did not, and even worse -- the ceiling fans worked only 25% of the time of the four hours we had to wait at the airport. it was a sticky and dehydrating experience, to say the least. but long story short, we finally got seats on a cancelled-and-send-a-replacement-plane flight, and landed in kathmandu at 4pm.

we were not able to felicitate the students in sarlahi. but kathmandu was still left, although we have a much lower number of students in kathmandu. that felicitation programme had been scheduled for two days later, and a day before guenter and family flew back to germany. binaya chaudhary was able to send the "#1 boy" from sarlahi (back) to kathmandu, as he was attending +2 in kathmandu anyway, and had travelled to sarlahi to receive us. imagine the hurdles travelling by bus amidst all this turmoil. night buses are the only option. "#1 boy" as you can imagine, is the student that received the highest grades in the graduating class. his name is mithilesh yadav.

felicitation is performed with a simple "tika" and some "mithai" (sweets) along with words of advice by the hoste hainse board who presents the students with gifts, which this year were pocket dictionaries and general knowledge science books. we asked meena to hand out the tika and mithai:

a group picture at the end:

the slc 2071 students with guenter, meena and alisha:

and the students by themselves; from left to right - ranju, puja, akash, mithilesh, basbar, binita, and bijayata:

each of these students deserve a blog entry of their own, and perhaps you will some in the not too distant future.

at the end, a little entertainment program was organized by board advisor, rishi shah. a cultural dance was performed by two ex-students who had also received support via hoste hainse and formation carpets, and are currently employees of formation carpets, pushpa and sunayana:

thus, although guenter, meena and alisha did not get a chance to felicitate all of the sarlahi graduates, they got to at least one, and then most of the kathmandu graduates. only two of the eight kathmandu students could not make it to the felicitation.

one of hoste hainse's "problems" is that we have strong support for children up to grade 10. but after the slc's, they are on their own for +2 education and further. it not only becomes more expensive +2 and up, but also schools are only in major cities, the best ones being in kathmandu. since mithilesh scored the highest in his class, binaya sent him to kathmandu from sarlahi to start his further studies at once, although he is not financially capable. mithilesh is currently living with his uncle in kathmandu and is studying physical science to become an engineer. his tuition per year is rs. 70,000 which is about $700. there is a good chance that guenter will sponsor his studies for two years as a pilot, but at $700 per student per year, that is a high burn rate, and we need to find alternatives, as just sponsoring one student per year is not enough. but mithilesh is a start. took a picture with him:

it was a roller coaster week last week being in the terai during curfews, the week before that in sindhupalchowk during bandhs, as described in " blog0006: trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh ". i don't have any more immediate travels planned over the next two or three weeks, which is good, as i think i need the "down time." i talked about our sarlahi trip in the latest episode of my weekly electronic music radio show, pralaya sessions episode 218. check it out:

on the sindhupalchowk front, finally got numbers from our engineers at minergy, and was able to slap together the first draft of the post-earthquake school construction preliminary proposal. you can read it here:

Download • 1.73MB

although it is not final, i welcome your feedback.

for background on our efforts in sindhupalchowk, please read the following blog entries:

  • blog0002: first visit to the attarpur and thulo dhading schools

  • blog0003: attarpur makes its decision

  • blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid)

  • blog0005: almost there...

  • blog0006: trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh

okhhhhaaaay, so much for now.

if you have any questions or comments or feedback on any of the things i have written in this blog entry, please feel free to contact me: krishna.shah @ and my mobile number is +977-98080-65300.

thanks for reading. write to you again soon. namaste.

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