I said my goodbyes to the Canadian volunteers last night over a hot chocolate and cake with ice cream at a local jazz restaurant. The rest of the night was spent packing my newly acquired “stuff” that seems to build up over time back into my bags before I retired around 1:30 am. I needed to set an alarm, but I lost my watch at Everest, so I had to download an alarm program for my computer.
Up early the next morning, I showered until the hot water woke me up, then threw the last of my things in to my 45 liter bag, trying to sort through what was clean and dirty as if it mattered. The bag, which used to be a white and green Sierra Highland Bag, is now a semi brown / gray semblance of something once in much better shape when I bought it from REI clearance in 2005. The internal frame, which started off as a curved, ergonomically correct, flat metal support beam, is now a wooden dowel. The outer clips which hold ski or hiking poles are ripped off. The internal backing is coming undone, and the padding is all gone from the straps.
Still, it is holding up remarkably well considering what I have put it through over the years. I slung it over my back once more, fastening the waist strap around and pulling it tight. I picked up my fake NorthFace backpack and put it on backwards, as if I was carrying a child in front of me. Standard backpacker style. I am actually able to carry quite a bit of stuff this way, even if I wish I didn’t have to. At this point I am carrying around gifts from all over, and an assortment of random trinkets and things I have picked up along the way. Chopsticks from Vietnam, silk scarves from the local families in Nepal, a broken digital camera from Thailand, and a hammock that I used to sleep on the beach in Mue Ne and am planning on using at the beaches in the next week. I also had a shoulder bag I purchased just to hold some of this stuff. It is neon orange, made of a rubberized plastic, and waterproof. Great for rock climbing gear back home.
I walked outside – looking like some awkwardly balanced turtle carrying its home on its back, and started the trudge to find a taxi. I still had not seen anyone awake. The volunteer house is not right in the center of things, but it is pretty close. I flagged a guy down and worked out the price for the taxi. Since gas (sorry, PETROL for the rest of the world) is expensive here the prices are a little inflated.
I was unprepared for what I saw at the airport. Let me preface this with a very short explanation of the current political situation in Nepal: NOT GOOD.
There are general elections coming up on the 10th, and the country is shut down from today (April 7th) to April 12th, when the ballots will have been counted. People are returning home to their birth places to vote, and there is a notable attitude of tension. The opposing party, the Maoists, have essentially said that they refuse to lose this election, and yesterday they injured 70 people, killed 12, and kidnapped one of the main party (NC – Nepali Congress) candidates. Two bombs were set off in the city, but they were considered minor by recent standards. 500 Maoists surrounded a section of houses where candidates lived and attempted to set them on fire. A week ago, riots caused the destruction of a police building by arson. There are routine police check points everywhere, and rumors that all road transportation is going to be shut down to curb roadside attacks. Rumors are also floating around the closing of borders to India. Today might have been the last day I could have left Nepal, I just didn’t know it.
The airport was a mad house. It is small, very small. I remember going to Peachtree Dekalb airport with my dad when I was a kid and watching the planes take off and land there. Just little local planes, flying from Atlanta to Athens, or Alabama. This international airport was like that, except it had been quickly, cheaply, and completely without thought to aesthetics, been turned into Nepal’s gateway to the rest of the world. People of all nationalities were leaving the country. Many westerners who were hoping to avoid the potential fallout from the election, Nepalies who had enough money to leave for a while, and resident Asians of other nationalities were headed back to India, Thailand, China, and all other destinations. I saw a few people who were obviously getting on an escalator for the first time in their lives. The hesitant stumble step before they regain their balance on the moving steps gave it away, and the look of awe as they are carried up to the next level of the building. People leaving a country is normal, but to have so many people crowded around, frantic to make sure they made one of the few flights out was nerve racking. The atmosphere was not one of expectant travelers anxious about arriving at their next destination, it was a palpable “Get me the hell out of here before the shit hits the fan.”
There is only one terminal, and there are only two lines to get to it. One for women, and one for men. I saw very few women. After passing through the security gate I was subjected to my third full body pat down since entering the airport. Put your hands out to the side, spread your feet, and explain every lump, bump, and package in your pockets. Sometimes they waved me through because I was a foreigner, sometimes not.
Sexually Segregated Lines (The one on the right which is empty, is for women)
I am currently on the plane, half way to Bangkok, and I can’t help but think – What if I was still there? Could I leave? Would I leave? Part of me wants to stay and photograph what is about to happen, for better or for worse. To write about it, explain to the rest of the world how this country of 17 million could collapse into civil war in the next week if things go just wrong enough. Families are divided on who they want to win. Many say let the Maoists win, so the violence will stop. What state is a country in when that becomes justification for electing a government? Elect the ones causing the problem so they will stop causing it? Maoists base their governing philosophy on that of Mao Zedong. His methods were shown to falter then, and have little, if any bearing on an emerging economic society now. Granted, the Maoist politicians have promised full reform in the next 10 years, but what are the chances they stay in power that long? I think they will quickly realize that running a country isn’t as exciting as taking it over, and all the 15 to 18-year-olds who are the main force behind the party will slowly disappear back into the hills.