Today was a very interesting day here in Kathmandu. Our tour guides (Samudaik & Siraha) joined us at 8:15 AM for a full day of talks and site seeing.
Our first stop was a meeting with Sanubhai Sunar, District President of the democratic Madheshee People’s Rights Forum. He shared his efforts in promoting dialogue with the two other political parties in an effort to meet consensus on a constitution (and ultimately on an election process). Currently the extreme left (Maoist/Communist) are in power and have no interest in an election. There currently is no Parliament. The other party is the extreme right (liberal Democrats). The Madheshee party presents themselves as in between these two and the only party where the people are not marginalized. The economy is in crisis with high unemployment and there is no law and order.
Our next meeting was a very quick visit with the People’s Rural Development & Awareness Programme Service (PRDAPS). They are a non-government organization (NGO) devoted for implementation of integrated community development for vulnerable and disadvantaged people of Nepal.
We then met with Professor Parsuran Kharel, retired Professor Prem Khatri and retired President of the Nepal Press institute Mr. Gokul Pokharel over lunch. We had some very interesting discussions on a number of fronts regarding political transition and culture in Nepal. All seemed somewhat frustrated by the Country’s lack of any form of unified leadership. The Caste System is utilized in this region only adding to their challenges.
(See more > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India)
Gender discrimination with clearly defined roles for women is common place. The logic they hold is that the women work very hard in the home and they do not have time for education or politics. The literacy rate for women in all of Nepal is 1%.
The Swayambhunath Temple is the largest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. People travel from all over the world to come see it. Lots of vibrant colors and amazing faces (see photos > http://on.fb.me/TWJ4Z0)
We spent the last few hours of daylight in or around Durbar Square. The streets are filled with colorful vendors, cows walking the streets, and more temples for numerous god s and goddesses, including one for the Kumari, or Goddess of Virginity.
The Napali tradition holds that a young girl (4 or 5 years old) be selected. Once the girl has been selected she is brought to the temple to live without her family. She is educated and looked after. She is then put on display for visitors when she is expected to sit in the middle window with all of her makeup and traditional wardrobe. The crowd then publicly worships her and pays a donation on their way out. She is kept there until she matures at which point she is considered unclean. It is at this point she is welcome to move back with her family or go it alone. (See more > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumari_(children))
What’s up for tomorrow?
Tuesday we go to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal to talk about conducting elections. For this I get to wear a tie. Oh my! In the afternoon we will meet with an NGO to talk about coping with violence against women in Nepal.