28 November, 2008

Flying high

Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu Post

Kathmandu's annual theatre festival, started by Aarohan theatre, is awaited eagerly by theatre lovers. This year, I could only make it to one play out of seventeen. But I may have stumbled upon the one that was most different, unusual, and new to Nepal. The Circle Course, by Mira Kingsley, may have been the first time when Nepali audiences saw a female actor on stage who exhibited raw physical strength and jaw-dropping endurance along with feminine grace, emotions, and intelligence--all at the same time.
A woman moves across the stage, carrying a man wrapped across her body. Muscles tensed, she carries him across the whole length of the floor, as the audience watches in pindrop silence. The unusual scene is quickly followed by a ripple of unease as the two actors--one male, one female--take off their shirts. The feeling of sexual inappropriateness quickly vanishes as the two bodies move in perfect co-ordination, one supporting, one holding the other one up, and vice versa, through the play. Nepali audiences may never have seen a male and a female body in such close proximity, going through a beautiful dance routine without sexualizing the moment.

Amelia Earhart, a noted female aviation pioneer and author, inspired Kingsley to build the performance for the “The Circle Course.” Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. The play, built through dance, movement, sound, music, visuals and props, brings to life a world of immense altitude and ambition, a woman struggling to reach the stars while her feet are still on the ground. Kingsley's troupe, aptly, is titled “A Bit Above The Earth.” “The Circle Course” premiered in the Red Cat theatre in LA in 2005.

There is a monologue in the middle in which Kingsley reads out the letter that Amelia wrote to her new husband. Strong in tone, feminist in its orientation, the letter warns her new husband never to try and control her, and saying that she will always do whatever she wants in her life.

The delicate balance between Mira Kingsley, who plays Amelia, and Darius Manino, who plays her co-pilot Fred Nutton, was built up by the similarities that they saw in the lives of the people they were re-enacting. “Amelia was not a good pilot, people thought. It didn't come to her naturally. She had to fight hard to become who she became. And I too, when young, was not a natural dancer. I didn't have a “ballet body.” But I loved it, and I had to work hard to keep doing what I wanted to be doing. She had to do the same,” says Kingsley.

Mannino, who worked onetime at Perseverance Theatre in Juno, Alaska, says he saw many similarities between his life and Nutton (new marriages, for one), and this helped to build up the character. “I started to go on stage when Mira was doing the “Circle Course,” and I would do little improvs. And then Mira realized I should just join her in the play.” Mannino, younger and clearly less experienced in dance, complements Kingsley's role perfectly, supporting her through a myriad range of emotional and physical landscapes.

Says Kingsley: “I was fascinated by a couple of things about her. Her ambition, for one. Her ambition reminded me of America at an earlier time, when ambition still had an innocence and positivity attached to it--an innocence to doing something big. There was a time in America when a hero actually did something, instead of just being a media or pop icon. I felt a kinship with her spirit.”

The end comes with Kingsley spinning around for what feels like an exhaustingly long time. “I am getting dizzy watching her,” muttered a viewer behind me. The sheer length of time in which Kingsley spins leaves the watchers with vertigo-and by the time she stumbles out to the field of stars (made up of glasses) that her co-pilot has left out for her, we are glad to see her descend.

The audience may have benefited from knowing who Amelia Earhart was--while Earhart is a hero for American schoolchildren, she remains unknown in other countries. A rather confused explanation preceded the play, which didn't help the audience to comprehend the methodical and rich historical background research incorporated into the play. A brief contextual introduction to Amelia Earhart and her life at the beginning would have made the play much more enjoyable for Nepali audiences.

Amelia Earhart continues to be a hero for many not only because she challenged the norms and broke barriers for her own--she continues to be an icon for women and men alike because her achievement remains impressive even in this day and age. “Amelia loved what she did--and she had to fight hard for her place,” says Kingsley. This play inspires us, not only in the way it breaks conventions and norms of traditional theatre, but also in the struggle we see in the actors as well as in the ghost of the woman who inspired it.

Posted on: 2008-11-28 19:41:14 (Server Time)

21 November, 2008

Call for change

Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu Post

Education should encourage students to start their own creative and business ventures
Have you noticed how there seem to be so many qualified people looking desperately for jobs on the one hand, and businesses complaining about how they can't find the people with the right skills, on the other?” This observation, made by a colleague of mine, made me realise that the Nepali jigsaw puzzle of education and employment don't quite seem to fit together.

On the one hand, Nepal produces an stellar cast of graduates each year who are filled with enthusiasm and desperation, trying to get into highly skilled technical professions before realising that these jobs are either non-existent or so competitive its best to migrate abroad. From the rural areas, large numbers of SLC graduates realise that the Lok Seva job they hoped to get is elusive, and start slowly to think about the migrant labour route.

On the other hand, businesses in Nepal complain frequently about how they seem unable to sustain their growth and activities due to lack of qualified personnel. One answer to this paradox might be that we are missing the crucial link -- in most countries, there are employment agencies that figure out the strengths and talents of different candidates, and try to fit them within institutions who need people with the requisite skills.

The other missing link is that the education that Nepalis receive, sadly, doesn't qualify them even for the jobs in which they graduate. For instance, which private sector business in its right mind would hire an administrative assistant that came out of the staff administration college? Our educational institutions are so highly politicised that students spend the majority of their time and energy trying to survive within student politics rather than learning the skills of how to run an administration efficiently and professionally. Besides politicisation, the education in Nepali educational institutions is itself outdated and not practical.

Unlike the real life case studies and scenarios through which students in other countries learn how to run an administration, design a program or balance the budget, most of our students learn from musty, outdated theories that don't really have a great deal of practical application. These theories, memorised and regurgitated for examinations, are all but useless in daily practice. Coupled with a slavish obedience to teacher authority, our students rarely learn to question dominant modes of thought, or come up with new ideas. This stagnancy, no wonder, infiltrates everything from bureaucracy to governance.

It's not as if we can't change. Put a new graduate into an INGO workplace and all of a sudden their efficiency and their willingness to engage in productive work goes up dramatically. And many of our best and brightest people come out not from educational institutions but from the hard work they do in these institutions, from grassroots level CBOs to national level INGOs. Put a Nepali in any other country besides Nepal, and they seem to work the hardest (I have met people from Jordan to Korea who swear by the discipline and reliability of Nepali workers and who won't hire other nationalities.)

So then why do we squander our human resources by giving them an education that will drive them out of the country to seek adequate compensation and responsibility abroad, or else waste their time giving them an education which makes them stunningly efficient in the Machiavellian webs of student politics but with zero skills in conceptualising new entrepreneurial ventures?

I recently attended a session with youth groups who gave feedback to donors on how to prioritise their funding for the next few years. Unanimously, restructuring education so that it leads to the creation of jobs was on the top of the list. Vocational skills were advocated as one major need. Why should a man have to herd animals when he could make twice the salary repairing TVs in some Gulf country? A colleague asked. While vocational education is one side of the coin, business and marketing education, which requires more entrepreneurial thinking, is another.

With the growth of private sector education, it's really not that difficult to incorporate management and business skills into our curriculum. If young women schooled in ordinary Nepali schools can transform into highly efficient and international-calibre program managers within the space of a few years (and we have many examples in Nepal, thanks to the INGOs push to recruit women into their ranks), I see no reason why this sort of learning couldn't take place within schools and colleges.

The call to change education so that it becomes oriented towards jobs creation and employment is loud. How the government goes about this remains to be seen. Let's hope that the antagonism to private sector education will not hinder the growth of institutions that encourage students not just to get a degree, but also to start their own creative and business ventures which can create new jobs. Any national level program on education and employment the government rolls out will undoubtedly have to be informed by the vitality and the synergy from the private sector on this issue.

Posted on: 2008-11-21 19:52:18 (Server Time)

17 November, 2008

From the Battlefield to the Gulf in sympathiemagazin (Germany)

My article From the Battlefield to the Gulf appeared in sympathiemagazin, a German publication, in 2008. It is a brief overview of the state of women in Nepal in the post conflict moment. 

You can find the article I wrote, in English, as well as the table of contents.



Saraswoti, a young neighbour of mine, was eighteen when she moved to Kathmandu. Her husband, a twenty-year old policeman, was riding to work in his bicycle when a group of schoolboys milled around him. A schoolboy fired a shot from inside the crowd, and Saraswoti's husband died on his way to the hospital. The policeman was targeted by teenaged guerillas for being part of the state. In Kathmandu, Saraswoti lives with her extended family and has raised her son Ujwal as a single mother for the last four years. She has received 7 lakhs as compensation from the government. She says she doesn't want to get remarried.

The civil conflict in Nepal affected women at all levels. Families of security forces and Maoist combatants faced the loss of near and dear relatives, but also chief breadwinners. Many young women also joined the Maoist People's War, putting them at risk of sexual violence from the security forces. The signing of the comprehensive peace agreement brought an uneasy peace—severe shortages of petrol, gas and electricity still takes a toll on daily life. Many people migrated abroad during this period. Ganga, another neighbour, sits and watches the children play outside her small grocery store with her face drawn and blank. Her husband, one year younger, decided to go to England to work because their small grocery store did not make enough money. He sends her money but this doesn't take away her longing for his presence.

Women in cities are doing better than in the villages, although this may not always be the case. Women in rural areas work more than twelve hours everyday in house and field. But often they are also the vocal and most engaged in local politics, and in the recent elections and won many seats through the Maoists' party.

Women from different ethnic groups may also have more traditional rights and more freedom than women from Brahmin-chettri groups. Premarital sex, forbidden amongst caste Hindus, may not be forbidden amongst other ethnic groups. Tamangs, for instance, have traditionally have had freer sexual relations. Tamang women predominate in Bombay brothels—contrary to popular wisdom, many of them arrive there through family networks who respect them for their power to earn their own living as sex-workers.  Other factors also explain why this is so--the feudal ruling class of Ranas in Kathmandu also brought down Tamang women to be maidservants and concubines in their palaces, and there may be a history of Ranas taking Tamangs to Bombay for the same purpose in the early part of the century. Another factor for Tamang marginalization is the difficulty of finishing high school when education is conducted in the Nepali language, and of getting employment in a bureaucracy heavily dominated by Brahmins.

Today, civil rights groups and non-governmental organizations working in women's rights in Kathmandu and outside lobby heavily for property rights, abortion rights, laws against domestic violence and other issues. Funded by international donors, these organizations have managed to change laws through Parliament. Despite legal progress, social and cultural norms change slowly, so the laws  are rarely implemented.

In Kathmandu, women actively take part in arts and culture, and have also made significant contribution to business. But bureaucracy remains heavily male-dominated, and so does the political sphere. Until social relations and traditional notions about gender change, women's roles will continue to be restricted in the public sphere.

The one bright light in the horizon is globalization, which has forced its way into this traditionally secluded country through all the media channels and satellite television stations of the world. Women are aware, and keen to take on, the roles they see being beamed from outside. As women leave the country at increasing rates to work in the Middle East, Israel and other parts of the world as migrant laborers, they will continue to be challenged to rethink their identities as Nepali women.

2018 Note: Tom Arens, of World Neighbors, was the first to tell me Tamang women in Sindhupalchowk who returned from Bombay were accorded great respect by local communities, and they themselves viewed their own work in Bombay's redlight districts as one which gave them status. At times they arrived by helicopter, and their arrival was marked by a feast in which a goat was sacrificed. In my research in Mumbai (1998 and 2005), I also noted the women were always with men who were part of their family networks. 

 I am not sure how much this has changed since the Republic was declared and federalism implemented. With more educational opportunities and chances to migrate to urban areas and other developed countries, I am sure the women from remote areas are moving away from these networks and migratory patterns towards better work opportunities. Tamang communities have also been quick to adapt to a bustling new Kathmandu which rewards an enterpreneurial mindset, and women are increasingly finding themselves helming small and big businesses in many different fields as well.





1    Titlepage:    Portrait- Foto                        N.N.

2    Contents, Editorial by the publisher        Armin Vielhaber

3-4    Welcome to Shangri-La                    Rainer Hörig
Arrival at the airport, struggle to get a taxi, Nepal as a heaven for hippies and a paradise for tourists, different notions of time, people are more tolerant, more open than in Europe, caste barriers remain, intercultural misunderstandings, I am fascinated by Nepal’s diversity and contradictions, I learn to understand better and to be patient.

5        Poor, rich Nepal                                               N.N.
A tiny country sandwiched between two giants, China and India, some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, severe poverty, feudal politics, tourism springs development, but can be dangerous to indigenous cultures, popular movement for democracy and human rights.

6    Life in the countryside, a quote from a Nepali novel         N.N.
People and impressions from a mountain village

7      To Play around with colours                     Rainer Hörig
    Holi Festival in Kathmandu, a tourist’s account

8-13   Pictural Portrait of Nepal -  6 pages of photographs

14-15    Ethnic diversity                                N.N.
First inhabitants, immigrants from South and North, Hinduism and Buddhism shape popular cultures  

16      The historical Buddha            Hans Wolfgang Schumann ?

Visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, his life, his legacy, how did Buddhism reach Nepal? Different streams in today’s Buddhism (Newar vs. Tibetans) Buddhism in daily life

17     Shiva, Vishnu and a thousand castes                                       N.N.

Visit a Hindu-Temple, role of Hinduism in settlements and cultural developments, state religion? Interaction with indigenous cults, caste system


18    Art as a religion                           Sangeeta Thapa
The Krishna-Festival is inaugurated by a dance-drama, the roots of arts lie in religion, modern artists more secular, insights into painting and literature, into dance and music. Revival of traditional handicrafts, tourist as the new market for artisans,
Marginalie: Theft of art in temples and monasteries  

19      Portait of a Nepali artist                                     N.N.

20-21    Coming home – Nepal is in transition            Ram Thapa
Tradition and modernity, a Nepali who has lived in Germany for many years returns home only to find his country changed considerably, he is not at home any longer

22    The last King of the Hindus                         N.N.
Massacre in palace, arrogance and repression, dynasties, future of monarchy

23-24 The long way to democracy                     C.K. Lal
From protest-actions against the panchayati raj until the resignation of King Gyanendra, actors (political parties) and their goals, the difficult birth of democracy, more rights for women and minorities?

25    Revolution in the countryside - Maobandi             N.N.
People’s war in the provinces, political programme, victims and supporters, farewell to arms – but what now?

26      Dwarf between Giants                                                   Dev Raj Dahal
Political balancing act between India and China, Nepal influenced by both super powers, hot iron Tibet   

  1. The Call of the Mountain                                     N.N.
Fascinated by some of the highest peaks on earth, people from all over the world explore Nepal’s mountains, mountaneering as an economic factor, garbage moutaineering in the Everest-region,  Edmund Hillary and his social work

28-29 An Economy on clay feet                                            N.N.
Tourism, agriculture and hydropower dominate Nepal’s economy, dependencies and perspectives, remittances from migrant labourers,
Box: Energy crises in Nepal  

30    Until the end of the world                                      N.N.                
Lively account of a trekking tour, trekking provides interactions with rural life as well as opportunities to test personal limits

          Adresses, map, factfile Nepal, dos and don’ts    
39-42 Working for Development                    Publisher
Articles provided by development agencies like GTZ, Bred for the World etc. about their projects in Nepal

43      Christians in Nepal                    Raimund Kern                                                
Social and political role of the christian minority in Nepal

44-45  Large Photo „Moutainview“                        N.N.
 Citation from a nepali novel about „holy mountains“
46    „We have rights too!“                           N.N.
Portrait of a janjati family, reportage about the joys and sorrows of living in a mountain village

47       Minorities in resurgence                          Prashant Jha    
Madeshis in the Terai struggle for autonomy, Janjatis demand equal rights and   recognition of their land rights

48    Democracy and Human Rights                                       N.N.
Reports on Human Rights: political repression by the royal regime, war against Maobandi and connected violations of human rights, rights of women and children, minority rights, refugees, human rights in the new constitution

49    Dangerous journey across the Himalayas        Carey L. Biron
Tibetan refugees in Nepal, their problems and rights, visit in a refugee camp, refugees from Bhutan,

50-51 Report on Women                                           Sushma Joshi
Portrait of a struggling woman, position and life of women in different communities, abduction into Indian brothels, women’s movement,
Box: veneration of a living goddess – Kumari

52     Literacy for everybody?                                             N.N.
Education as the way to economic and social progress, public and private institutions, the lure of the foreign shore, deficits in education and struggles for equal opportunities

53    Between home and career                                  Rainer Hörig
Portrait of two young women from Kathmandu, one grew up in a village, the other still lives in a joint family, modern times confer new freedoms on both of them, but tradition is still strong and influential, both women aspire for a career in the West

54-55    Citation from a Nepali novel                             N.N.

56    Out of love for the paper – The Himal Magazine        N.N.
Himal Southasia Magazine aspires to be a critical and engaging media for the whole of South Asia, portrait of an independent news magazine and their creators, overview of electronic and pring media in Nepal

57-58 Environmental protection in Nepal         Bidya Banmali Pradhan
Air pollution and garbage management in the cities, deforestation and community forests, dams – large and small, civil society for environmental protection – a few examples     

59-60  Tourists are coming!                             N.N.   
Tourism can be lucrative, but it can also destroy nature and society, examples for positive and negative consequences, successful initiatives to manage the bad effects of tourism, alternative approaches.
Box: The Annapurna Project, The Tengboche Monastery and tourism

61      Getting out – and in again!                       Rainer Hörig
The Story of Juergen S., a German who came to Nepal around twenty years ago. First a hippie he became a trekking guide. He later married a Nepali and settled down in Kathmandu. He is still fascinated by the high mountains, he is hold back in Nepal by its people’s hospitality and tolerance. After so many years abroad he has gained a different image of his home country Germany.  

62    Ayurveda – The Knowledge of Life                Rainer Hörig
A tourist in Kathmandu suffers from hepatitis and turns to a traditional doctor, he is convinced about the powers of Ayurveda, its holistic image of the human being. Ayurveda’s strength and weakness explained

63    Biryani or Momo?                            N.N.
Nepali food is a mix of indigenous recipies with influences from India and China. For tourists they are preparing pizzas and burgers as well. Thousands of Nepali work in restaurants in India. Recipe of a popular Nepali dish

64-65 Nepal – Quo vadis?                                          Rainer Hörig
Interview with Kanak Dixit, editor of Himal Southasia magazine: chances and risks of democracy in Nepal, the future of royality, Nepal’s relations towards India and China, economic development, ecology, population development

66-67  Sympathy for the World?                                 Publisher