With just less than a week until we meet with our respective partner agencies, time to reflect and take stock of how much distance has been travelled in terms of understanding Nepalese language and culture. With language, the foundations have certainly been laid, and I feel reasonably confident in some aspects of day to day conversation. But now the ante is about to be upped as technical language relevant to my role becomes ever more important. It has been impressed upon us that many of the meetings are likely to be held in Nepalese and in my case some of the language necessary for day to day work in the field of HIV/AIDS is not in the core syllabus….
“How many sexual partners have you had, and do you usually use a condom” is not necessarily something you can ask the local fruit vendor as you negotiate the price of a hand of bananas…
And so to the context of development work in Nepal, and a few of the underlying issues. The country remains one of the poorest in the world, with a per capita income of $250 per year, ranking 143 in in the Human Development Index. Life expectancy, at 59 years is lower than its neighbouring South Asian countries, and with infant mortality amongst the highest in the region. Only 42% of women are literate, as compared with 65% of men. Inequality, poor governance and discrimination are generally seen to be the root causes of poverty in Nepal.
Source: VSO Nepal. Country Strategic Plan 2005-2009
Religion (Dharma) is a key feature of Nepali life, with its attendant beliefs in duty, ethics, morality, rule, merit and pious acts. At its most fundamental, the daily greeting of namaste when Nepalis meet can be translated as “I greet the divine within you”; a sentiment which seems entirely appropriate within the context of society here. Although Hinduism remains the country’s ‘official’ religion, there is good deal of synthesis between Buddhism and Hinduism. The physical manifestation of this is the vast array of Buddhist stupahs and Hindu mandirs interspersed with many smaller shrines and places of worship. The routines and rituals of worship are inextricably bound up with daily life, and there is far less (or so it seems to me) separation between the secular and the spiritual. Temples are places for children to play, for washing to be hung, for people to gather, as well as places of devotion.
Nepali society remains a highly stratified patriarchal society with persistent feudalistic patterns dictating social and economic relationships. Women in particular are disadvantaged by laws and social norms which reduce their right of access and participation in society. In addition, despite the Constitution of Nepal since 1990 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of caste, a significant percentage of the population come from the ‘untouchable’ or Dalit castes. (There are more than 20 Dalit caste groups, and it has been estimated that of the total population some 15% is Dalit).
“The most important effect of this has been the absolute belief in fatalism: that one has no personal control over one’s life circumstances, which are determined through a divine or powerful external agency. This deep belief in fatalism has had a devastating effect on the work ethic and achievement motivation, and through these on the Nepali response to development”.
Source: “Fatalism And Development: Nepal’s Struggle For Modernisation”; Dor Bahadhur Bista (Orient Longman: 2001: p4)
…and as the weekend approaches, the issue of the new constitution still remains unresolved, with little sign of clarity from any of the parties involved.
Ke garne? (What is to do!!)