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Nepal Newsletter

March 10, 2007
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
NSI, EPC 1813,
PO Box 8975,
Kathmandu, Nepal

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice,
the earth melts.”
Psalm 46:6

10 March, 2007

Dear Friends,

“Did you see that house on the corner?  That’s where they killed the policemen.  They were so young – just 13 or 14 – but they did it like in the movies:  Came in relaxed, and just chatted for a while.  Then they shot them and left.”

We drove across the mountains of far west Nepal, six of us heading for remote Bajhang District.  The government hospital there was struggling and we wanted to investigate starting a program to support the medical staff there.  As our vehicle rumbled along the dirt road, over steep hills, out of forests and through small, poor villages – our conversation careened from one Maoist story to the next.  ‘Right down there the army came to drop bombs from helicopters, but the Maoists quickly covered their whole camp in bamboo, so it looked like the rest of the forest.’ And later ‘Here’s their headquarters, where they have their own jail and courthouse.’

We passed under a number of roughly made Maoist arches, constructed to emphasize their authority.  Some of the comments in our car conveyed a certain respect for what the insurgents had done, and this annoyed me.  There were also the posters of the Maoist Chairman Prachanda (actual name Pushpa Dahal), stuck on every wall, pole, and available space – fleshy face with his Stalin moustache and tinted glasses, assuming a familiarity with us all.

We from NSI were accompanied by some colleagues from TEAM mission hospital and Rato Bangala School – our potential partners in this support project.  We reached the district center of Chainpur, Bajhang and stayed the night in a hotel.  Early the next morning, while I was waiting to make a call on the only telephone in town, one guy on our team poked his head into the phone shop.  “The Maoists have called us for a meeting.”  Within 5 minutes, our group had assembled in the courtyard and was walking down the street to the hotel where the district’s Maoist commanders were staying.

In a chilly upstairs room, there were three of them sitting on a bed with a common blanket draped over their laps and legs.  We shook hands, sat down, and introduced ourselves.  They sat quietly.  I explained to them about NSI, about our coming to Bajhang to see if we could help the hospital.   Their leader, who called himself ‘Atom’, sat in the middle, a cherub-faced young man who listened intently while absently chewing on the zipper of his jacket.  After we had said most of what we had to say, Atom began to speak.

“Support for the hospital is what we need.  That place is useless.  If you’re sick, you better go far south, because you won’t get much care here.  So, sure: someone should help.  But let’s be clear on some issues.  One, we don’t want anyone converting our people to Christianity; that won’t be accepted.  Another is, why are you working with this private school?  You know that we blow up private schools, don’t you?  As far as I know, we may have put a bomb in Rato Bangala at some time.  And being an American is not a positive factor here.  The other day we had your U.S. Ambassador down in Kailali, giving a speech, screaming about this or that.  Whose country does he think this is?!”

The man on the left was named Arjun.  He was the district second-in-command and appeared to be more senior, maybe 40, with a goatee.  His scowl looked unforgiving, which fitted my Maoist stereotype.  His talk covered similar territory and he occasionally deferred to his boss beside him.  Several times he used the English phrase ‘no objection’, which seemed to be as positive an affirmation as they would give our proposed work.

Then I told them about Nick.  How his working in Nepal had changed his life’s ambitions, and then about his dying.  I told them about Nick’s parents, their repeatedly coming back to Nepal and wanting to set up something long-lasting to help Nepali people.  For Arjun, this seemed to make a difference.  His pinched face softened and he began to ask personal questions, letting go of the political jargon.  I felt that if we met again, we’d greet each other warmly and continue a good chat.  At least it seemed that way.

The next morning before breakfast, while I was taking a walk along the stone path of Chainpur, a man came up and asked if I could take a look at his son.  He pulled down the collar of the boy’s sweater and a dusky red mass bulged from the right side of his neck.  Kiran was 7 years old and his father had spent 8 hours the previous day carrying him down through the hills to the same district hospital that we were visiting.  For 2 weeks the boy had had a high fever and this swelling had grown.  The man handed me a paper from the hospital, where he’d sought care the day before.  On it was written, Refer to higher center for treatment.  “They don’t usually do this type of operation here,” he told me, “but I don’t have the money to travel further on to a big town.”

In fact, what this boy had was a large skin abscess, and all he needed was to have it drained.   We walked with the boy and his father over to the hospital.  The doctor was not on duty and the other staff said that they didn’t usually do operations.  On top of that, they had no anesthesia or pain relief medicine.  Dr. Davey, a Canadian GP who works at the TEAM mission hospital, was in our group.  We held the boy down and Davey lanced the abscess.  The boy screamed, as thick, blood-streaked pus poured from the surgical wound.  Davey dressed it with gauze and taped it up.  In less than 10 minutes the treatment was complete.  The relieved man carried his son out onto the hospital porch and laid him to warm in the winter sun.

Here, in a scene that plays out over Nepal every day, is the reason for NSI’s work.  Procedures like this (and most other treatment as well) can be performed by a local medical team without high tech facilities – if only they have appropriate skills and confidence.  The staff of a hospital serving a population of nearly 200,000 should be able to practice competent, compassionate medicine.  Through training and support, we in NSI are working to build up the staff of remote hospitals like Bajhang so that they can better take care of their patients.

In 2006, after ten years of insurgency in which they attempted to pull down the Nepal government, the Maoists laid down arms and joined the political mainstream – at least this is what we hope.  The seething conflict is slowly draining.  The UN is monitoring a process of disarmament while sequestering Maoist and government armies in cantonments.  We still hear of armed extortion, which makes us wonder if the behavior of Maoists in the villages matches the talk of their leaders, now basking in Kathmandu’s media glare.  In any case, leaders of all eight major political parties are for once trying to move in the same direction, towards elections to determine a new constitution – when the role future of the King will be determined.  The road towards a working democracy in Nepal appears rocky, but for the most part the killing has ceased.

After taking off 2 years to care for our growing boys, Deirdre has resumed some office work.  She’s part-time with the Nutrition Programme where she used to work, helping them to refine reports and plans.  She also supports an organization called Serve Nepal, which works to bring former prostitutes back into society.  Zachary and Benjamin grow like beanstalks.  We plan for Zach to join kindergarten this year and Benjamin is coming up right behind him.  Though their play sometimes includes simulated road blockades and jailings, and their conversation regularly includes “protest demonstration” and “strike”, they seem to be unfazed by the politics that surround us here.

Yesterday, I drove across town on my bike in the grayness of early morning.  When I arrived at our church, a faint, yellow glow came from the windows.  It was 6 o’clock and inside 7 members of the church sat in a circle, praying together in quiet voices, something that they have been doing every morning this year, following our church’s split.  I joined them in prayer – for our church, for someone whose arm hurts, for someone’s 10 chickens, for this country – placing ourselves in His Presence, where our hope lies.

May He bless you this year.
Mark, Deirdre, Zachary and Benjamin


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