Blame the Beatles – the Yogi Chronicles
The U.S. gave $22 million to Nepal to get through its current political crisis, less than the FBI spends on armed thugs to keep the body politic away from presidential candidates.
About $5 million of the aid went for small arms and training for the Nepali military.
“The purpose was to enable the Nepali army to protect its citizens from unabated attack,” said Constance Colding Jones, a counselor for public affairs with the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu.
A bunch of American academics, whose fingers were still warm from burning their draft cards, whined about it and the U.S. government caved and cut off the funding.
We had a 22-hour layover in Bangkok, Thailand.
Thailand can be a debased Disneyland, if that’s what you’re looking for. Most places in Bangkok look like a regular city, with billboards, neon lights and traffic.
Thailand is famous for lots of things, most of them illegal in the U.S.
We spent all of our 22 hours in the Bangkok airport, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.
A man has to be unbelievably secure in his masculinity to go all the way to Bangkok and order nothing stronger than a milk.
KATHMANDU ” Nepal opened to the outside world about 40 years ago, about the time the Fab Four landed there to get two thumbs up from the Dalai Lama.
John, Paul, George and Ringo were followed by a multitude of adventurers and trekkers. But enough losers and dopers also showed up ” seeking enlightenment by staying stoned for weeks at a time ” that the Nepalese government decided they’d had enough of the Summer of Love and closed the country again.
In those ensuing 40 years, the country has opened an closed and the government has changed almost annually. Sometimes the transfer of power is peaceful. But people generally don’t let go of power willingly, unless they’re Al Gore, so usually it’s brutally violent.
In the 1990s, the People’s Movement arose. Before that were various autocratic rulers … The prime minister dissolved Parliament … the king fired the prime minister … the king reinstated the prime minister … a second cousin machine-gunned most of the royal family … in the meantime, prime ministers came and went practically with the seasons.
In the streets, where the government’s policies rarely make much difference to the people trying to scratch out a living, life goes on.
The people can see tourists come and go, especially during climbing season in the Himalayas. They see men playing golf at the royal golf course in Kathmandu.
Some see this as they spend their early morning hours picking through garbage, scrounging for something for the families to eat.
The Maoists are trying to overthrow the government, and they’re bad, says one shopkeeper selling me a Fanta, while looking at an armed Nepalese soldier hunkered down in a concrete machine gun nest across the street.
I ask which is worse. He smiles, and does not answer. The answer is pretty simple, though.
The Maoists have blockaded the city, although they’re letting almost everyone in and out, especially the tourists. They want complete control of everything, and apparently that includes tourist traffic.
If you’re going to Nepal this fall for a climbing expedition or trek, chances are the Maoists will shake you down for money, which most trekkers consider part of the adventure.
As long as you’re an American-looking Anglo, they won’t hurt you, because you’re about the only economic stimulation they’ve encountered since the soda machine broke.
A French couple were absolutely over the moon when they came in from a short trek around the valley. They were in the middle of nowhere, which isn’t far from Kathmandu, and the Maoists shook them down at gunpoint for money.
The French, who taught the world about giving up in world wars, handed over a bunch of cash. The Maoists thanked them and handed over a receipt.
From the part of the world that created mankind’s two most destructive forces, gunpowder and romantic love, we now have the tax-deductible revolution.
Burning down the house
Constance Colding Jones, one of the top U.S. officials in Nepal, pointed out that Nepal is a stunning country with unlimited potential.
Quoting a friend, she explained the political upheaval this way: “The house is burning and they’re fighting over who gets to sleep in the master bedroom.”
The Maoists are called Maoists because they think the name is catchy, Jones said, not because they can claim any connection to Chairman Mao or anything else from the People’s Republic of China.
In fact, the Chinese don’t want them using the name at all and want nothing to do with them. They don’t reflect the spirit of Mao, the Chinese say.
But then, neither do those Golden Arches on the McDonald’s in Tienenman Square.
The Maoists are the second coming of the Khmer Rouge rebels who terrorized Cambodia during and after the Vietnam War era, and with the Olympics coming up the Chinese don’t need the marketing headaches.
See no Maoists
The problem with finding and dispensing with this particular enemy is that they’re hard to identify, which is a problem with so many
enemies ” especially during an election year.
You can’t tell Republicans from Democrats simply by the minivans and SUVs they drive. And Maoists are likely to pop up anywhere.
Take the time during the summer of 2003 when a few dozen Maoists swarmed into a village, screaming at the villagers that the next day the army would roll through looking for Maoists. The Maoists ordered the villagers to declare that they had seen no Maoists, which the villagers, at gunpoint, agreed to do.
Sure enough, the next day a bunch of Nepalese soldiers marched into the village, only it turns out that a bunch of them were Maoists from the day before ” now working their regular day jobs as Nepalese soldiers and dressed in full army uniforms complete with military weapons.
As promised, the soldiers demanded to know if the villagers had seen any Maoists.
“No Maoists here,” answered the villagers.
It’s not like you need a massive network of sophisticated spies and intelligence gathering to know what the Maoists are up to.
In early August, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Nepal when the Maoists announced that in 12 days they would bomb the Crown Plaza hotel, owned by Nepal’s royal family.
The Maoists demanded that the hotel be cleared. Other hotels gladly absorbed the displaced travelers, along with their credit cards. And as promised, 12 days later the Maoists fired off four bombs in the Crown Plaza hotel.
When we told our guide Deveraj that we were a little worried, what with the bombings and scheduled Maoist demonstrations, he answered as only one can who’s accustomed to those types of absurd situations, “Why? You didn’t want to stay there, did you? It’s not close to anything!”
Deveraj had booked us into hotels where we could absorb all the Nepalese culture he thought we could handle, the Yak and Yeti and the Radisson.
Closing the Crown Plaza left more than 400 people out of work. The next day 10 other industries announced that for “security reasons,” they were pulling out of Nepal. That will throw thousands out of a job in a part of the world where there are no jobs.
As an American, steeped in Western thought and philosophy, I wondered aloud to Deveraj and a few Nepalese gentlemen: “Why in the name of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood didn’t you just frag these bozos in the back of the head with a illicitly-obtained U.S. manufactured M-16?”
They smiled, which they always did when I asked those kinds of silly American questions. When a movement had no head, and no face, there’s not a target to put in the crosshairs.
Maybe, it was explained to me, if they work hard and live a good life, they’ll come back as something better in their next life. Nodding at my new son, one said, “Maybe I’ll get to live in America, where everyone is rich.”
To someone who’s roasting corn over coals in the open, and whose family sleeps under a tarp ” that’s all they have, they’re not camping out ” it’s impossible to explain credit card debt.
Randy Wyrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org