“Won’t you scratch my itch sweet Annie Rich
And welcome me back to town….” Gram Parsons
For a variety of reasons, I’ve ben a bit tardy in posting of late. The last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic, incorporating more festivals, travel to Pokhara for a forum of other VSO volunteers in Nepal working in the HIV field, attendance at an HIV conference and the welcome news that FHI has agreed further funding for the Positive Prevention Programme, as a joint venture between Sakriya Plus Nepal & Navadeep Jyoti Kendra. I’m finally back in Banepa, so at last a decent internet connection again, and a few reflections on the past couple of weeks.
The day after Janai Purnima, I had the opportunity today to attend a significant festival in Bhaktapur with a Newari friend. The festival of “Gai Jatra”, the procession of cows, has its roots in the ancient age when people feared and worshipped Yamaraj,”the god of death”.
According to the traditions, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative’s journey to heaven.
Consequently the streets of Bhaktapur were full of people, musicians and dancers. Way too many photographs to select just one, so I opted for this one, which is a little ‘different’. I’m becoming slightly obsessed with the bleach by-pass process but I really like the collage effect that it’s given this shot..I think/hope it highlights the chaos brought about by so many people in the street.
The trip to Pokhara and the conference focussed on the fact that for Nepal HIV is not only a health crisis, but a livelihoods crisis. Here’s a link to an earlier post I made regarding my role here, but a few sobering thoughts from one of the conference key note speeches, which certainly reflects my own experience of being here:
“HIV/AIDS removes working adults (from the labour force), transforming them…into ‘dependents’ and consumers of household resources which are already scarce in poor households where manual labour is one of their few assets.
- Fragmentation of households
- Increased child labour
- Increased drop out by children from education
- Increased involvement of women and young girls in commercial sex
- Potential increase in risk of HIV infection due to engagement in the commercial sex trade”
…amongst other things.
The journey to and from Pokhara was ‘interesting’. I’m fairly certain that there is potential for a video game called “Nepali Minbus Driver” which could rival Grand Theft Auto for excitement. The premise is fairly simple. You have to transport a busload of passengers from town to town on a six hour journey through the mountains on twisting, narrow roads with perilously steep drops. In order to ensure that maximum points are scored, a number of additional factors can be introduced which heighten the experience. Along with the usual potholes and poorly maintained roads, heavy rainfall and landslides add a frisson of excitement. You can also elect to drive at speeds that are way too fast for the conditions whilst talking on your mobile phone and adjusting the radio. Driving on the left hand side of the road is not mandatory, and in fact you lose points by not overtaking on a blind bend on a particularly awkward piece of road, before swerving to avoid an oncoming vehicle. Occasionally the game introduces long traffic jams,for which additional points are accumulated if you can overtake on the wrong side of the road before forcing yourself back into your queue in order to allow the oncoming traffic to pass. An undoubted winner in my opinion….
…and so back at work tomorrow to start to look at what the revised Positive Prevention Programme might look like.
Post script: Just got news tonight that a friend of mine in Christchurch, New Zealand has finally got power back after the earthquake there, but is still without water. A reminder of what is undoubtedly in store for Nepal at some point in the future…