Monday, March 2, 2009

Get set


The Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL) will deploy 10 long-term observer teams all over Nepal, with two international observers for each team. I will be sent to Lumbini Zone, the lower half of the Western District of Nepal (the upper half--where Tenzing will be deployed--includes Pkhara, Mustang, and Gorkha). The Lumbini Zone consists of six districts: three in the hilly areas (Arghakhanchi, Gulmi, and Palpa), and three in the Terai area (Rupandehi, Nawalparasi, and Kapilvastu). I'm very excited about this assignment because it means I'll be able to go to Lumbini, one of the most important religious sites in the world being Gautama Buddha's birthplace. Looking at the map, the Zone is also a stone's throw away from the Royal Chitwan National Park, known for its elephant safaris and rhinos.

My teammate for this mission is Air, the Thai observer who gave me the map to Thamel. She is only 22, and this is her first mission as a long-term observer (she served as interpreter in ANFREL's mission in Thailand in december, to which I was invited but I declined as it coincided with Christmas.) Air and I immediately hit it off, and together we've started preparing for the mission. Our team will be based in the district of Rupandehi, specifically in Bhairahawa, several kilometers away from Lumbini which is also part of Rupandehi. When we arrive in Bhairahawa, our interpreter and driver are supposed to meet us at the airport.

More stuff to bring. Aside from the two folders, we were given maps, forms, vests, caps, stickers and flags for our vehicles, SIM cards, flashlights, raincoats and medicines. I was reminded of the kit given by the Carter Center a few years ago. Inside an Eastpak backpack were not only the usual stuff, but also chocolate chip cookies and chocolate bars!

* * * * *

The morning of our flight to Bhairahawa, I made a dash to Thamel around 8:30 to buy a digital camera. Make that two dashes as I had to go back to buy a Sony memory stick because the storage card from the old camera wouldn't fit in the new one, and I also found out they forgot to give me the instruction manual! It was quite stressful because it meant I had to negotiate with taxi drivers four times, and to finish packing everything before 11 am when we're supposed to leave for the airport.

Yep. I finally reached Thamel, not only twice but four times as Air and I had dinner there last night and did some shopping. I'm going to write about Thamel later. Right now, let's go to the Terai and get things going.

But what is the Terai? From what I've gathered so far, the Terai is the lower part of Nepal bordering India. Unlike the rest of Nepal -- the Nepal the world knows, which is hilly or mountainous and cold -- the Terai is mainly plains, where 50% of Nepal's population live, where most of Nepal's food come from, and an area that is very very hot. Reading some of the materials in our folders, and through the briefings, we learned that the Terai is a very problematic area when it comes to peace and order. There were reports of murders, a lot of them. Some Indian terrorist groups supposedly operate in the area. Most interesting. Where's the plane?

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