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Nepal Newsletter

January 1, 2005
Patan Hospital
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
United Mission to Nepal
P.O. Box 126
Kathmandu, Nepal

1 January 2005

I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit...
He set my feet on a rock and gave me
a firm place to stand.
Psalm 40: 1,2

Dear friends,

The day before Christmas Eve, I had lunch outdoors on the fifth floor of a restaurant in Patan Durbar Square. Rising before me, above the surrounding rooftops, lay a series of ridges and peaks that form the southwestern rim of the Kathmandu Valley. Although a breeze came down off the 'hills', the sky was clear blue and the sunshine hot enough to have me rolling up my sleeves. Off to my left, silhouetted against the bright sky, a group of men were moving around on scaffolding made of huge lengths of bamboo doing restoration work on the pagoda roof of an eight-storey temple. Their 'protective headgear' consisted of traditional Nepali cloth hats and I was sure that most of them were wearing either flip-flops or soft canvas shoes on the ancient clay tiles. In the shadows I could see that two of them were dressed in the all-white that indicates a period of mourning for a close relative. Several of the younger men jousted with one another playfully as they waited for huge beams of wood to be swung up using a rope pulley. They seemed oblivious of their precarious position, balanced on the bamboo stilts almost 50 feet off the ground; I wondered if it was confidence or ignorance.

The stillness and beauty of the hills spread out before me belied the political situation in Nepal. The roads leading into Kathmandu had actually fallen silent that day - not out of a sense of peace, but because the Maoists had called a blockade of this city where many of the well-off and comfortably in-power continue to show little concern about the state of virtual civil war beyond the valley. Within hours shortages of sugar, kerosene and other fuel were reported, and soon the prices of fruit, vegetables and meat began to soar. This situation however only hurt the poorest and most vulnerable (as is usual in this conflict), as dealers and wealthy residents began to hoard stocks. After 8 days, for unclear reasons, the Maoists abruptly lifted the blockade. Life in Kathmandu quickly returned to normal, and life in the rural hills continued with the daily killings and kidnappings, 'encounters' between security personnel and Maoist soldiers, travel restrictions, forced indoctrination camps for school children and teachers, and refugees crowding district headquarters as they flee their villages. Nepal's human rights situation is at an all time low, politicians continue to squabble amongst themselves and there are suggestions that the king may assume further control. The security situation offers little room for optimism for the country in the coming year.

As I sat eating lunch, the midday flight to Bangkok roared overhead and made its sweeping circle above the city, causing me to consider our own position here. Many of you will remember that last year we had serious problems getting a new visa (the government permission for us to continue working here). Through the prayers and efforts of many, we finally secured a 2-year visa (starting November '03) and looked forward to a straight 16-month run when we returned from furlough last August. We were therefore caught somewhat 'off-guard' when we were informed that the routine procedure of having the second year of this visa stamped into our passports this November past had stalled. With requests for an explanation being stone-walled, just a few days before Christmas we were recommended to leave the country temporarily in order to re-enter as 'tourists' until the situation was sorted out. We had reservations to be on that same flight to Bangkok in 3 days time, the day after Christmas.

This situation arose in the midst of feeling that we were pretty much settled back into life here. After a fair amount of moving around during our furlough, we all looked forward to moving into our own home in Kathmandu. Our desire to move further out from the city did not fit well with our need to be close to work, other Mums and children, shops, etc. but we found a very good compromise. Just 5 minutes walk from our old flat (walking distance from Patan Hospital), a narrow path leads off the road, between old brick houses and vegetable gardens, to a large green house. There, in a spacous compound where Zachary can play safe from motorbikes and street dogs, we found a bright flat which wonderfully manages to catch both the breezes during the monsoon heat, and the sunshine during the winter chill. From our open rooftop we look out on the same sweeping hills at the edge of the valley, and turning north also have good views of the snowy Himalayan peaks. Hawks roost in the tall lopsi tree that drops its hard, plum-sized fruit onto the roof of our guestroom. The boys and I take short walks out to the local 'chowk' (crossroads) where we can get our milk and vegetables, and a dirt parking area there always has a keen supply of taxis to take us farther afield to playgroups and other outings.

Mark was quickly back in the thick of things at the hospital with the issues of finding a new governance structure and the possible development of a medical school soon taking up a lot of his energy. Amidst the work of investigating options and coordinating with various stakeholders (not to mention day-to-day activities of the hospital), other new opportunities have arisen. In September, Mark and colleagues were invited to develop a proposal for a multi-million dollar project to improve rural healthcare in Nepal with Patan Hospital as a key component. This has huge potential for the future of not only Patan, but several other outlying mission hospitals as well. The final proposal is currently being considered by the donor. The importance of these activities is highlighted by the amount of politics and power-mongering currently swirling around the hospital, including the efforts to block our visa. A serious campaign to remove Mark from the hospital (and the country) included letters of false accusation being lodged with government ministries; these (unsubstantiated) reports were also published in a national newspaper. At the same time, allegations of corruption were made against the hospital leadership in an effort to intimidate them through the subsequent legal investigation (which has just started). But we look to the One who is sovereign over all powers and authorities and once again, through the prayers of many supporters and the tireless efforts of colleagues at the hospital (who spent literally days at government ministries), the visa situation was resolved in our favour. On Christmas Eve we got final confirmation that the required letter had been written to authorize the remaining year of our visa, and I phoned the travel agent and cancelled our air tickets. We consider it a great privilege to be able to continue here at this critical time in the hospital's history, and hope that we can be faithful to the opportunities given to us.

Meanwhile, some of you may have been wondering where the Zimmerman Christmas card is this year ... well, I will advise you now to stop waiting! Taking two boys through the preparations and celebrations left less time than ever for basic correspondence, but we had a lot of fun. Benjamin at 7 months is sitting up, happily engages with a piece of wrapping paper for a very long time and learnt to clap just in time for the Christmas service at Nepali church. Zachary, of his own volition, committed the angel's announcement to memory, to be repeated at any opportune moment, such as when car headlights appear from around a dark corner ("A bright light, Mama! Do not be afraid!!"). Despite this, he actually maintains a rather biblical fear of angels and had to be removed from the audience of one nativity play because of this! On that note, I will end by wishing you His special love and blessings as we enter the New Year, with thanks for all your ongoing love and support.

Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin

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