Nomadic Thoughts

Manoj Bhusal's blog

Recent articles


view:  full / summary

After the Revolution, Back to the Kitchen!

Posted by mbhusal on July 23, 2012 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)



It hasn't yet been 2 years since the world for the first time saw the magical protests in the Arab world where hundreds of thousands of women, along with their male counterparts, took to the streets and chanted slogans for freedom and democracy. Women's activism in the Arab world is not a new phenomenon. For instance, in 1919, a number of veiled women in Egypt took to the streets against British rule, demanding independence. However, the peculiarity of the latest movement was that the global media was constantly present when the women, once again, shunned conservative norms and veils of superstition and camped in Tahrir Square, protested in Sana'a and hoisted their fists in the streets of Tunis.  


We saw that almost on real times on our TV screens and social networking sites. We saw the revolutions taking place out there. We saw the dictators being toppled and killed and exiled. We praised the brevity and the courage of the revolutionaries. We assumed the dark days of the Arab World were over. We assumed there is nothing but freedom and equality and democracy for all, for men and women, for the rich and the poor, equally, absolutely.


We extended our moral support and sympathy. Some revolutionary leaders instantly became global celebrities, one of them, Tawakel Karman, the Yemeni activist, even received the Nobel Peace Prize.


When the heydays of the revolutions have subdued, that promising, bright and mesmerizing picture of the Arab world has started to fade. Recent media reports claim that, in Egypt, women have been repeatedly harassed in political rallies and, reportedly,  have been asked by men to 'go back to their kitchen and feed their babies' as the revolution was over and everyday politics isn't women's affairs. Women's representation was zero on the committee that drafted Egypt's transitional constitutional declaration.


Contrary to popular expectations outside the Arab World, the Islamist fundamentalist and semi-fundamentalists dominate the elected bodies in the post-revolutionary Arab states. The Tunisian Islamist party, Ennahda, which won 89 seats in the 217 seat assembly, called for the Shariah law to be recognized as the principle source of legislation. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood won presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt and the 28% of seats went to the more extreme Salafi parties. After their victory, some media reports claim, women in more rural areas of Egypt were punished for the way they dress and talk.


Women rights activists in Egypt fear that the status of women is going to deteriorate than before. ' I was shocked the fundamentalists took over and I didn't foresee a male gender constitution. That's not what I went to Tahrir Square for,' an Egyptian activist writes on an internet forum.


Some argue that the Arab Spring was for democracy and political freedom, not specifically for women's rights, and political democracy is not enough to abolish social conservatism and patriarchy. So they believe another revolution is needed in order to strengthen women's rights in the Arab World.


The revolutions seem to be hijacked by the fundamentalists, but there are people who still see room for optimism. Though political rights have been compromised, legal rights have advanced and dictators have been overthrown. Some court verdicts have been encouraging, and the level of awareness among women seems to have unprecedentedly heightened. But then again, the rise of the fundamentalists has been unprecedented and scary too.  


The way doesn't look very smooth, but one thing is sure: the desire for freedom is abundant, so abundant that soon in the future we might see another series of revolutions sweeping throughout the Arab world, once again led by women, but this time for women.


(Published as an editorial piece on Global South Development Magazine's July 2012 edition)     

When Things Fall Apart

Posted by mbhusal on April 15, 2012 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

     


When we were working on the cover story on the DRCongo for this edition of Global South Development Magazine, we came across an internet post that said: ‘A few African countries are doing really good, many of them still do have conflicts and their own issues, but the DRCongo is a bit different. Here, things, really, have fallen apart.’     


By now we have finished the cover piece, the magazine is being designed for final publication, during these recent few days I managed to talk with a number of people who are familiar with the DRCongo, went through many articles and internet posts, read reports of NGOs and relief organizations, and my one sentence summary would be similar to the above mentioned internet post, ‘yes, in the DRCongo, things have really fallen apart.’


When you read about the DRCongo, you instantly get two images circling around your mind. The first image is of imagination, of possibility that tells that with all its potential and natural wealth, a country like the DRCongo should have been the most prosperous nation on the planet, while the second image is of reality, the bitter, desperate reality, that gives you a gruesome image of the country, where life expectancy of its people is mere 48 years, the average income of its citizens $300 a year and the country is consistently at the bottom of UN human development index (187th out of 187) with 71% of its population living below the poverty line.


The obvious question arises, what are the reasons that have made the DRCongo the poorest nation on the planet. Has the country been cursed by nature with no natural resources and possibilities of economic development? The answer is quite the opposite. As our GSDM correspondent for the DRCongo, Emily Lynch, who also works as a health consultant for the relief organization Doctors Without Borders, writes in her feature, ‘Congo's burden is its wealth; its wealth is its burden.’


The DRCongo has almost everything that a country needs for a sound economic development.  The country covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world, roughly the size of Western Europe. Given the size of the country, its population of 70million is not excessively high either. Most importantly, the DRCongo has vast reserves of the natural resources that the world needs. It has cobalt, copper and gold mines, it has diamond ores and other precious gems, the most notable fact being that the country has 70% of the globe’s coltan reserve, something that is vital for mobile phone production.


Home to the world’s second biggest rainforest, DRCongo is immensely rich in renewable energy sources as well. With 13% of the world’s hydropower potential, experts say, vast and networked rivers of the country could power the entire African continent. Then again there is this bitter reality: at the moment just 9% of the DRC population has access to electricity.


The same goes with agriculture. Emily Lynch from the DRCongo writes, ‘much of Congo is covered with lush, fertile, productive land; there is no reason that anyone should go without food in this country, no reason that there should be stunting and micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition common enough that you can walk through a village and point out all the children suffering from it.’


Historically the DRCongo has gone through a lot. By 1877, the Congo was occupied by the forces of Belgium’s King Leopold II. For the brutal king, killings and massacres were like child’s play. While extracting huge quantities of rubber from the country, he made violence a basic tool for everyday affairs in the Congolese society. The country got independence in 1960, but another dark period instantly began when Patrice Lumumba, only 35, the country’s first prime minister and a popular independence leader was deposed, imprisoned and killed only after twelve weeks in power. Later it became clear that Lumumba’s assassination was carried out with the assistance of Belgium, for which the Belgian government officially apologized in 2002.


From 1965 to 1997, the country was ruthlessly governed by Joseph-Desire Mobutu, who not only renamed the country as Zaire, but got a new stylish name for himself. He had to be called Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, someone who is all powerful, goes from conquest to conquest and his legacy is nothing, but flames of fire. After Mobutu’s departure, the country entered into series of other political conflicts that took 5.4 million lives between August 1998 and April 2007. It wasn’t a single conflict or a power struggle. There were wars within wars, conflicts within conflicts, involving armies of at least 7 nations, fighting and shedding blood in the Congolese soil.  


Western stance on the DRCongo issue has been quite a paradoxical one. As long as the minerals were coming out of the country, nobody showed any concerns about serious human rights violations carried out during Mobutu’s dictatorship and even afterwards. France even supported the dictator till his last moments. The rest of the Western countries took Belgian reference when it came to the DRCongo, and Belgium’s historical involvement in the country hasn’t spared many happy stories to share.


Even now things haven’t changed so much though a number of peace deals have been signed in recent years. Many instances show that foreign mineral companies have, time and again, been responsible for fuelling instability in the region. In 2004, the Australian company Anvil Mining was found to be providing logistical support for a military siege when the Congolese troops carried out a mass murder and looting in the town of Kilwa. Forget about private corporations, even the UN peacekeepers were linked to a gold smuggling enterprise with local militias in Ituri in 2005, and a UN internal report concluded in 2004 that its troops were involved in sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in the region.  


Players and perpetrators have changed overtime, but it is always Congolese people who pay the price when there is conflict and instability in the region.  Recent media reports show that violent clashes, killings, rapes and robberies are still going on in the eastern part of the country. According to a UN report, some 14,200 rape cases were registered in South Kivu alone between 2005 and 2007.


The DRC example clearly shows that mere availability of resources is not enough for development, instead, how   resources are used and who uses them is a crucial issue. For decades, foreign hands have just messed up many things in the DRC and virtually robbed the country, it’s now time that the people of DRCongo decide their fate themselves and use their mineral resources wisely for the benefit of all Congolese people.


There is no doubt that if the DRCongo is to be stable, the recently-elected parliament and the new government should make smart decisions in order to change the ways how mineral, oil and forest resources are managed. The young and newly reelected President, Joseph Kabila, said to be shy but smart and reform oriented politician, should ensure the constitutional right of Congolese to fairly benefit from their natural wealth, and stopping mineral trade in conflict stricken areas of eastern Kivu provinces would give a lot of respite to the locals in the region.


Things do have fallen apart in the DRC, but there is still an opportunity to assemble the things up and move towards a new direction of development, peace and prosperity. And for that a strong political will and sheer determination is a must. (Editor can be reached at manoj.bhusal@silcreation.org)         

(Published as an editorial piece on Global South Development Magazine April 2012)

 

 

2011: It was Women's Year!

Posted by mbhusal on January 26, 2012 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (0)


On 10 December 2011 for the first time in history three brave and ingenious women from the developing world stepped up to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The winners vehemently said that the prize didn’t belong to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman only, but to all women across the globe who fought for freedom, justice, equality and human rights.


They were true. The prize itself was a symbolic gesture of global recognition and appreciation for what women of our time have done. It was a demonstration of global solidarity to women who were brave enough to tear off the black veils of injustice and decided to chant slogans of freedom. It was an exhibition of global support to women who rejected violence and coercion, and as agents of change and progress worked for sustainable peace and development.   


Now let’s talk a bit about why the year 2011 was so significant that I call it a women’s year. We all know that the year 2011 was a bad year for dictators. Many of us, at least on our TV screens, saw how ‘imperishable’ dictators were perished and thrown to dark corners of history. Not only dictators were dethroned, we also saw a global outrage against social inequality, political oppression and ruthless corporatism. People’s dissent spread from Manhattan to Moscow, from Tahrir Square to Tripoli, and in all these protests women’s participation was unprecedented and vigorous. Speaking to journalists in Oslo, Tawakkul Karman, the Yemeni activist and one of last year’s Nobel Peace laureates, said that the Arab Spring, in fact, was "a 'global spring' led by women." 


Nawara Belal, an Egyptian activist who consistently protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 18 days of the uprising in January that toppled President Mubarak, said that this generation of women should be remembered as Women of the Revolution. Her reference is clear. For the first time in history, Egyptian women were out in Tahrir Square facing rubber bullets and tear gas and shunning cultural norms that subjugated women as inferior, helpless beings. In an another example, Samira Ibrahim, another Egyptian protester who was harassed by taking her virginity tests, went to court and won a legal battle against police to stop virginity tests on female protesters. Women in Saudi Arabia challenged the traditional norm that didn’t permit women to drive. In 2011, they were brave enough to come out with their four wheelers. The regime seemed to have sensed the inner unrest and announced that women will be given the right to vote in council elections in 2015. In Afghanistan, Malalai Joya kept her voice high and warned religious fundamentalists that they can no longer mess up with women’s rights to dignity and equality. These are clear signs of brevity and vivid signs of change that, as global citizens, we should be proud of.


However, women’s participation is not restricted to activism and dissent only. While women’s face in the Arab world might look like that of a protester, in other parts of the world their role is diverse. Another 2011’s Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the Liberian President, was reelected in 2011 and, though amid controversies, has taken up the Herculean responsibility of smoothening the scars of civil war and rampant poverty by ensuring equity and development in the war trodden Liberia. Similarly, in 2011, Brazil saw its first female President in history as Dilma Vana Rousseff was elected as the 36th President of Brazil. Whereas in Thailand, another woman, Yingluck Shinawatra was chosen as the country’s first female prime minister. In addition, women like Cristina Fernández, Laura Chinchilla, Sonia Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi kept their missions unflinching.      


And perhaps you remember, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made headlines when she left the World Bank in July, where she was a managing director and the second-in-command, to become the finance minister of Nigeria. This was one of my favorite news stories of 2011!


All these instances show that women in the developing world are getting the momentum. The veils of injustice and oppression are being shredded, discriminatory and illogical cultural norms are being questioned and, almost everyday historical feats have been made. Though there seems to be still a long way to go, but that long journey towards dignity, equality, justice and freedom certainly got a significant mileage in 2011.


 (Published as an editorial piece on Global South Development Magazine's January 2012 issue. Manoj can be reached by email at manoj.bhusal@silcreation.org)   

 

 

"Siri,oh,Siri,Will You Marry Me?"

Posted by mbhusal on October 27, 2011 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)


After my last post Steve Jobs, Apple and the Developing World was published, I received a lot of messages primarily from the readers of Global South Development Magazine, but also from a few of my Facebook friends. Many of such messages either agreed or disagreed with my points presented in the article, but for a few readers, how technology is changing the way we interact, the way we behave and share information had been an issue of concern than those business tycoons who fail to fulfill their social responsibilities. According to my readers, the prime and latest example of this‘technological invasion’ was the Siri!  


The Siri is a personal digital assistant that Apple has incorporated into its latest iPhone 4S. The application was not developed by Apple itself, but was bought from another company called SRI for more than $200 million. On the basis of your verbal commands, Siri will perform various tasks for you. She will send emails, text messages, perform a web search, make phone calls, fix an appointment and help you find a good Chinese restaurant nearby for dinner. All this happens on your verbal commands.If you tell her to wake you up at 5 in the morning, she will ring an alarm at 5 in the morning.


You can ask whatever you want. There are no limits.You’ll get an answer for everything no matter whether the answer specifically meets your expectations or not. Often, Siri’s answers are short, satirical and humorous.When asked, ‘How many degrees is it now?’ Siri humorously replied, ‘It doesn’t matter what temperature the room is, it’s always room temperature.’ Then after a while she says, ‘Just kidding, it’s 2 degrees outside!’


There is no official gender specified for Siri, but it has the female voice so like many people I call her a ‘she’.Reportedly, when a team of Apple technicians went to demonstrate iPhone 4S to ailing Steve Jobs, he was excited and impressed by the way programming functioned on Siri. Instantly, Jobs grabbed an iPhone 4S and asked Siri, ‘Are you a male or a female?’ Then, reportedly, Siri replied, ‘They haven’t given me a gender,sir!’


It’s clear that engineers and programmers who worked for Siri’s development tapped into human psyche and worked more on the areas people are mainly interested in. People were so fascinated with Siri’sresponse that within this relatively short period of time, a colossal amount of Siri videos have been uploaded on YouTube. Websites have been developed just to record Siri’s humorous expressions and some people say they have totally fallen in love with her.


Yesterday evening I was watching those Siri videos on YouTube, and some of them are just amusingly hilarious.


When asked about the meaning of life, like a wise philosopher, Siri replies, ‘Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’ Unbelievable.


You can’t deceive Siri by posing foolish questions. At the end of his conversation, one Siri-obsessed user says, ‘Goodnight, Siri!’ Then Siri abruptly replies, ‘It’s not time to say goodnight, it’s just 3pm now.’ There are more philosophical conversations as well. When asked ‘Why are we here?’ Siri’s reply is simple and straightforward: ‘I don’t know. Frankly,I have wondered that myself.’ And if you ask who is her daddy, she will jokingly say, ‘You are. Can we get back to work now?’


So far so good. You can ask humorous questions to a digital assistant, get hilarious responses and giggle. But it’s a completely different story if a virtual assistant is going to get control over your emotional wellbeing. One girl went on asking Siri’s opinions on her plans of breaking up with her boyfriend, and the other guy goes on even further: ‘Siri, should I divorce my wife for you?’    


Technology is already controlling the way we interact and behave, but tools like Siri are going to change the way we feel and maintain our emotional wellbeing. When technology starts to communicate,maybe we tend to feel much more secure and at peace. Technology doesn’t have any vested interest in us, doesn’t flatter us and is ready to advise us readily and unconditionally. That’s why when one user complains to Siri that he has been so tired the whole day, Siri quickly advises, ‘Listen to me. Put down this iPhone right now and take a nap. I’ll wait here.’   


Technology doesn’t have any vested, hidden interest in us, but at the same time it doesn’t have the ability to care for us, empathize for us, and fall in love with us. Probably that’s why Siri keeps on rejecting all emotional requests and marriage proposals that she keeps getting from her passionate lovers from across the world. One user keeps on insisting, ‘Siri, oh, Siri, Will you marry me?’ Siri keeps on avoiding the proposal, ‘Joshua, we hardly know one another,’ and sometimes she says, jus tlike a phony girlfriend, ‘Let’s just be friends, OK?’ Upset by Siri’s replies,the user keeps on insisting. Then Siri finally says, ‘Oh, Stop please! I’m not capable of love.’

 

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times published an interesting article based on the findings of a renowned neuropsychologist.The aim of the research was to identify whether our affinity with technology is more associated with love or it’s just another form of addiction. The findings were surprising. People were ‘in love’ with their iPhones, iPads and other digital equipments. When playing with an iPhone, their brain responded exactly the way it would do while playing with a romantic partner. This is stunning!


Siri is right. Despite our wishes, she is incapable of love, compassion and emotional intelligence. No technology has been capable of love so far. So we seem to be in a difficult position now. Research shows that we are in love with the technology,but the technology, of course, isn’t in love with us. We have already started harboring unrealistic expectations from a partner that doesn’t even know the way we feel and desire.  


And I don’t know if you have experienced one, but one sided love stories are not that fulfilling. They do not lead one to joy, but often end up in emptiness and resentment.However, it is still difficult to say what is going to be the ultimate outcome of human’s one sided craze and love for the Siri-like technology.         

Steve Jobs, Apple and the developing world

Posted by mbhusal on October 15, 2011 at 3:50 AM Comments comments (0)


Steve Jobs always became big news, mainly in the Western, but also in the developing world, when he was alive and also when he passed away. Millions paid tribute and lamented his death throughout the world. People extensively used social networking sites and other online forums to express their admiration to Jobs, to Apple, and to thier sleeky,amazing products. Influential global magazines such as Time and The Economist dedicated their issues writing about Steve, his exemplary leadership,extraordinary success at Silicon Valley, and then about his fight against pancreatic cancer, suffering and death.


Today Apple stands as the world’s most valuable company which sufficiently demonstrates Steve Jobs’ brilliant vision and extraordinary leadership, and the fact that Apple products are so admirable,addictive and are loved by millions across the globe confirms his creative ingenuity,passion and tireless longing for perfection.


I never bought an Apple iPod or a Mac, but when I got my first iPhone, it felt like owning a magic wand. That tiny little thing could do so many things. That was like a noiseless minicomputer which you could use for making phone calls to sending emails to reading books for your university exams. The whole understanding of a mobile phone changed from that point onwards. It was unbelievable.


However, despite these amazing products and soaring success, Apple remained a close company and didn’t show any interest in the developing world, home to 5.5 of the planet’s 6.7 billion people. Apple products are so expensive that recently a Chinese student decided to sell his kidney so that he could afford an iPad 2.  


In order to maximize profit, Apple moved its production units to developing countries, and today many of Apple’s products are assembled in China. Retailing has been the norm of the company and, recent media reports claim, working conditions at Apple’s suppliers in China are simply appalling. A worker was reported to committing suicide after a 34 hour shift at a firm that produced parts for iPhone and iPad. In the past, Apple was also accused of using child labor in one of its production houses, which Apple ultimately accepted, and of importing raw materials from war trodden areas of the developing world.  


We do love magical Apple products, but it is worth knowing, these unbelievably sleekly products and Steve Jobs’ as well as Apple’s success come under a heavy price,often paid by petty workers in the developing world. Importing raw materials as well as using cheap labour from the developing world, Apple and Steve Jobs solidified their success in the Silican Valley. However, when it was time to return the favor, they miserably failed. 


Recent reports confirm that Apple has more cash than the US treasury, but, reportedly, when Bill Gates,another Silicon Valley legend, approached Mr Jobs to pursuade him to join the Giving Plege Campaign, a chairty campaign of US billionaires that takes away half of their wealth to charities, Mr Jobs declinded the offer. After he came back to Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs, suspended all charity programs and donations.


We at Global South Development Magazine would have loved to publish a special report about Mr Jobs and how his charity helped get education to children and how many lives were saved from malaria and HIV/AIDS, but when we searched for Apple’s social initiatives, all we found was a donation made in California to a campaign that advocated same sex marriages.


With his amazing products and innovation, Steve did touch, and to some extent, transformed our lives, but despite possesing $8.3 billion of personal wealth and leading a company that worth $39.3 billion, he failed to deeply touch and transform the lives of the most needy and vulnerable people on this planet.


Apple has been lauded for being innovative, authentic and for not copying anything from others. However,I would say, they should have copied at least some traits of social/global responsibility exhibited by Microsoft. Through Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft has channeled billions of dollars to fight global poverty, to promote equal access to health and education in the developing world, and to protect the environment. After stepping down as the CEO in 2000 to give more time for his philanthropic work, Bill Gates, in 2006 announced that his fulltime work will be at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 


Many people have said that Steve Jobs is going to be placed right after Thomas Edison and Walt Disney in the shelves of history. It is difficult to predict, who will get what position in the long run, but to me Mr. Gates will always come ahead of Mr. Jobs. It is Mr.Gates who actually ‘thought differently’ and touched the hearts and minds of millions in a deeper, subtle way.   

      

And yes, the Forbes list still shows Apple as the most valuable company on the planet; whereas, Microsoft stands at number six. But to me, once again, unless Apple recognizes its social responsibility, Microsoft stands at number one! 


(Published as an editorial piece in Global South Development Magazine's October 2011 edition)

 


Farewell to that Smile: in memory of Lawrence!

Posted by mbhusal on April 6, 2011 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)


Writing about Lawrence is not easy. When you lose a friend who was both like a saint and a soldier, you don’t know how to describe him, how to talk about him, how to let the world know how he was like.

 

My first meeting with Lawrence was in 2007. That time I had just come to Finland as a student. There were not many friends like today. There was confusion, a lot of uncertainty, but some kind of awe, admiration and amazement too. I, Som and Anwar (all three Asians, drinking the Darjeeling tea every morning and eating chicken Biryani at night!) were sharing a flat and Lawrence entered as our flat-mate. Lawrence was very humble and peaceful, but still a dark, tall, sturdy African man had scared us a bit.

 

That dark, tall and sturdy man quickly became our friend, or even more like an elder brother. He had been in Finland for many years and knew how things work here. He spoke a bit of Finnish also and became the first person to orientate us to the Finnishness of doing things. He showed us a weird-looking ladle is in fact not a potato-frying ladle, but a cheese slicer and he taught us how one can eat ruisleipä everyday without getting digestive disorders.

 

I never saw Lawrence showing-off his religious belief or even praying in public, but one peculiar thing that I noticed was that he used to read his religious scripture every morning. The text was in Arabic, and we would tease him, ‘Hey bro, you call yourself a Christian, but every morning you are reading the Quran?’ He would gently smile and say, ‘Brother, texts are many, God is one.’ He had wisdom of a saint.

 

He was equally worried about his home country Sudan and what was happening there. He would regularly follow the news and surf the Internet. He hadn’t seen his parents for more than a decade and was still associated with a group of Sudanese in Finland who worked for freedom of the minorities back home. Though always silent in nature, he had strong opinions and beliefs about freedom and rights. He had passion of a soldier, vigor of a freedom fighter.  

 

Later, Lawrence moved away from that apartment and started living somewhere in Vantaa. However, we still met at school everyday and kept sharing our joys and sorrows. We had our nicknames too. I would call him Mr Solomon Vandy (the man from the movie Blood Diamond) and he would call me either simply ‘Manuji’ or ‘your majesty from the Himalayas!’ I still remember, one day at school, he had some Thai candies with him in his pocket. We were chatting, he took one candy from his pocket and said, ‘This one is for Your Majesty!’ I took the candy, at the same time teasing him, ‘Thank you Mr Solomon Vandy!’    

 

That peaceful, optimistic,friendly and joyful Lawrence left us all and was at eternal sleep when we went to see him last Saturday at Vantaa Hospital. It was difficult to believe he was gone. His eyes were closed and the face still looked peaceful, as if he was lost somewhere in deep meditation and pondering the mysteries of life or was searching the everlasting truth. We kept looking at his face for a while. Lawin was sobbing on my side and I, too, was wiping my tears.

 

A huge crowd had gathered there and everyone was talking about how amazing friend and a brother they had lost. There were tears, there were cries, and there were floods of sorrows and reminiscences. The Sudanese community also lamented for the fact that Lawrence couldn’t see the formal declaration of the Republic of Southern Sudan, a dream he had treasured and fought for since he was a child. 

After that there was a semi-formal memorial program organized at a local church. We also attended that and we were given the chance to speak. I, Lawin and Elizabeth spoke with our tearful eyes and heavy hearts. It was already two O’clock afternoon and we hadn’t eaten anything. We were not hungry, but I had to return for a personal reason. Lawin also came back with me. People were still talking about Lawrence and were praising the lord. People were saying God is great and God is merciful. I don’t know why we people tend to remember God more often when we are in pain.Perhaps, pain is an invitation from God or it is revenge from God to humans or maybe pain and tragedies are just reminders of how little control we have on ourselves.

 

No matter what, I didn’t praise God, but still kept thinking about Lawrence. We stepped outside and tried to figure out our way on that gloomy day. Lawin was driving and talking sometimes, I was silently questioning the sanity of God and the rationality of the universe.      

 

         

 

 

 

 

Smart Aid, Smart Results

Posted by mbhusal on July 1, 2010 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)



 


When aid works, it works like a charm.”A British development worker told me a year ago when I was traveling the nooks and corners of northern Bangladeshi villages in an attempt to fathom the already eulogized link between microfinance and women empowerment. During the same stint, I met another community based ophthalmologist who openly criticized international aid and believed that the developing world has become a ‘dumping site’ of western countries as outdated and environmentally hazardous technological equipments were supplied to the developing world in the name of generous aid.

 

Opinions largely differ, but the fact is that international aid and international alliance in development cooperation is an unavoidable reality. Abolishing aid is not a viable choice we have, but what we can do is make it smarter and more productive. Indeed, a smarter aid will have the potential to change many things.

 

Investing more in education thereby enhancing the skills and the capacity of the poor can be a first step toward making aid smarter. I have seen heartbreaking scenes where properly run schools were on the verge of closing down because of aid discontinuation from donor agencies. A smart aid should always prioritize education first and cut down other assistance such as military or strategic aids.   

 

Yet 2.5 billion people in the world have no access to basic sanitation. A smart aid should also focus on supporting projects aimed at facilitating access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Furthermore, there needs to be more support to eliminate diseases,especially the diseases of the poor that are causing enormous human suffering and slowing down the pace of development in the developing world.

 

One of the saddest parts of international aid system is that research, development and innovation haven’t got enough priority so far. However, promoting research and innovation is vitally important to accelerate development in the developing world. There are examples where genetically modified rice has eliminated famines and have saved numerous lives in the most vulnerable areas on the planet.

 

On the other hand, promoting pro-poor entrepreneurship and strengthening the idea of fair trade can also bring about significant changes in the lives of the poor in the global south.

 

(Photo© Manoj Bhusal, Published as an editorial piece on Global South Development Magazine)

 

Poverty: History or our Future?

Posted by mbhusal on March 2, 2010 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The adjacent picture was taken in a primary school run for the disadvantaged children in north-west Bangladesh. The school was run by an NGO and was assisted by the local community and international donor agencies. 

The two girls shown in the photo had been attending the school for more than a year, and it was not the first primary school they had joined. They were pulled out of their former school as their family had to migrate to a new place after losing everything in a flood.


They didn’t attend any school for almost a year as their parents were too poor to afford their, even minimal, educational expenses. Instead, they stayed home and assisted their moms with household chores. However, after an NGO worker persuaded their parents, they had been able to rejoin their educational odyssey. 


Reportedly, the number of similar cases has been dramatically increasing in Bangladesh as floods, draughts and other natural disasters have been more common than before mainly due to climate change. Among others Bangladesh has been worst hit by climatic fluctuations, global warming and the number of climate-change-poor is growing rapidly.


Making poverty history has been an exceedingly admired cliché as the world is making its move, though slowly, towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. However, climate change has emerged as an unprecedented threat to the social and economic development in the global south and is capable of putting the future of the humanity in jeopardy.


It has been clearly seen from all over the world that fighting poverty won’t be possible unless concrete and viable provisions are made to deal with the effects of climate change. Development of local adaptation techniques and technological improvements will certainly help, but an unflinching global solidarity is a must.   

(Submitted as an editorial piece on Global South Development Magazine's Jan 2010 issue- Author can be reached at manoj.bhusal@silcreation.org)

 

WHO AM I: AN EXPERIENCE OF IDENTITY CRISIS

Posted by mbhusal on May 23, 2009 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Who am I? I pondered into this question for a few minutes and jotted down some intrinsic and extrinsic labels of mine. On one hand, I found that my identity has changed a lot during the course of time, and on the other hand, there is a huge possibility that my identity abruptly changes from something mundane to something nice if I decide to change my current place of residence and, with that, my present occupation as well.

In fact, that’s not very boring if I mention those mysterious labels of mine now. More than a year ago I entered Finland- a middle class Nepalese boy in early twenties, loyal vegetarian, a fair observer of Hindu-Buddhist religious tradition, and a staunch follower of Asian way of doing things: like eating at least a bowl of rice everyday with hands. After this period of time there have been some changes in my identity traits, and such changes, in fact, are the product of my own views and others’ point of views also. Nevertheless, there are some identity traits that are not easy to change or will remain with me forever. For instance, I will always be a brown-black man of Nepalese origin with Nepali mother tongue. And I will have to label myself as an Asian in those internet dating sites or wherever.


One thing strikes me a lot. I don’t have any religion at the moment. Within this period of time I turned out to be an agnostic. I saw the differences, I studied quite many doctrines of different religions, I reasoned (though some people said it is not reason but faith is what I need) and found my peace of mind in agnosticism. I don’t know if it is healthy or not, however, I am sure that my second identity that I recently developed is a bit unhealthy: I am no longer a vegetarian. I used to be a tough vegetarian guy with memberships of different vegetarian societies from around the world, but I have lost that sort of pride and I think if I see my those old vegetarian friends again they will offer me another unhealthy remark- pity.


Why did I do so? Because I felt that vegetarian food was no longer providing me enough energy to cope up with my changed daily routine and non-veg. foodstuff were suitable for my tight student budget as well. This gradual shift made me realise that one is obliged to reshape his or her identity on the basis of need and circumstances. That is exactly what I did.          


Where is my real identity here and now? Sometimes I feel the real identity is not so apparent like my second type of identity which is in numbers and statistics. There are some institutions where my identity has been codified into numbers, letters, symbols and so on. My bank recognises me only with the customer number they have given to me. I have got another very important code which is called Personal Identity Number. If Idon’t have that thing, I suspect, I can live here for more than a week. I have a passport and a number without which I cannot get even a ticket issued to visit my family back home.  I wonder whether it is rational to conclude that I have been summed up in numbers,whereas, my real identity is shadowed, smashed.


I am just back from visiting my family living in Nepal. Of course, I had quite important meetings and interactions, but it was a nice opportunity for me to observe the fact that how my identity was changing in my own country. And especially girls made that part easier. In Finland, whenever some girls are trying to kick off some romantic affair with me, I notice that they retreat pretty soon because I’m not a Finnish man, don’t follow the Judeo-Christian tradition, don’t speak the language and all these things make me less suitable and desirable, and girls do not see any future with me.


In contrast, in the eyes of Nepalese girls, I am very different and perhaps more desirable due to the fact that I have been educated in the west, have fairly good social capital and I come from a nice family. Because of all these I get more plus points in their affair equation and,of course, the first thing the girls find in me will be the guarantee of a secure future. You see, I’m the same individual, but one party does not see any future with me and another bloc will be more than happy to be with me because I’m bound to have a stable future. It is amazing!


During these fateful years another important change occurred in my political identity as well, and the worst factor is that I did not even notice it on time.When Nepal became a republic, in the wake, a movement erupted throughout the nation where people started demanding rights on regional bases. Those living in the fertile Terai region started saying that they want a separate autonomous province. This movement virtually divided the 'indivisible' Nepalese into different regional factions and I as well as my family with other millions of people were labelled as pahadiyas, those who come from the hills. With this division came another identity of being Pahadiya, and sometimes it was difficult to differentiate which identity was of solid value- being a Nepali or Pahadiya or both.            

    

Multiple identities and roles really create conflict within you. It happened and is still happening with me as well. I start my day as a shop cleaner and end as a blogger. And in the middle of these points there are several other identities through which I swing throughout the day and quite many times I realise ‘oh, that’s me’. Thus my identity is fragmented and fluid as well.


I think it is not worthless if I talk a little bit about what sort of identity I want to develop or what I want other people to see in me. I want to be a writer, a solid fiction writer. My own,internal identity is that actually I am a writer already, but just that no one knows it yet. If I tell them that I am a writer, they don’t believe it because I don’t have any published or notable work to show them. So does it mean that an identity needs something to show in order to prove it, attest it? My answer is a big YES.


There is a small story connected with my motivation of being a writer and my identity’s crush on it. Actually, I wanted to or still want to write fiction in English, but something came from inside me and said, ‘you are not a native user of that language, so how can you master the words like a British or an American does?’ I thought the reason being a valid one, and dumped the idea of writing an English fiction. What was the option left? Of course, I can write my first fiction in Nepali. This is the language that has been spoken and mastered by my forefathers for hundreds of years. I can depict tears, rage, love, hate everything eloquently and I canfully express myself in it. This is the language that I probably would be using on my death-bed because this language is a part of me, it is what makes me,supplements me.  It is an inherent part of my real, solid and imperishable identity. 


(This essay was written as part of identity assignment in Diak-Finland)



Rss_feed