It has been an eternity since I've updated this blog. Shame on me – especially since these past few months have been plump with adventure. I’ve scaled mountains in Nepal and gone on Safari in East Africa. Filed some stories while I was at it, too.
I find it so interesting that in a place like Nepal cultural traditions stand so strong against the backdrop of constant political instability:
I hustled and was granted rare access to Nepal’s UN-monitored Nawalparasi cantonment camp. I interviewed former Maoist rebels who were in limbo. The Maoist PM’ s resignation primarily had to do with the fate of these very ex-combatants who were negotiating integration into the Nepali Army.
I felt strange entering the camp with only a translator by my side. And, as is expected, when I arrived I was asked: the uncomfortable question: “Oh, is it just you?” This seems to transpire each time I go to a shoot. And in an eager quest to maintain my credibility, I will often respond jokingly: “Yes, One Woman Army!” of “That’s right, I’m THAT good!” Having one person shoot/edit/produce a story solo for a major news organization is still a novel concept. Instead of it garnishing acclaim (as it should), it often implies blue-collar or low rung on the totem pole.
The real challenge for me is flying solo, yet still competing with major well-funded news operations. After getting what I thought was exclusive access to the camp, for example, I found out that BBC News went there shortly after. Before I could wrap my head around my footage and spit out a script for Voice of America, they already had a personality-driven story up and running on the network. I was bummed, but easily quelled this feeling by eating my way through a tub of peanut butter.
It didn’t help that my time had been cut short at the camp due to an “internal order.” I had asked the Commander a question that he did not appreciate and was escorted out shortly after. Namely, how do you respond to the fact that the United States still recognizes the Maoists as a terrorist group? He responded “you Americans are so quick to label groups terrorist for your own comfort and control.” He added “to bomb and interrupt stability - that is a terrorist. Our party, our army is for social transformation. “
Choice words for disarmed combatants. For reference: the U.S. definition of terrorism: … premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.
I wonder if groups are classified as terrorists if they are merely deemed “capable” of this behavior… And does that expectation end up steering them in that direction--- much like a dry alcoholic eager to suck up scotch because he can’t break free from his reputation as a vagrant drunk.
They were in their early twenties. Kids. They spent their days playing volleyball. They walked around in slip-on sandals. And look to the left, they even wore Adidas track suits with the People’s Liberation Army icon emblazoned across the right breast.
That's a wrap on Nepal, for now. Soon I will recount my experiences working in East Africa last month. Much to share about my heart-to-hearts with subsistence farmers in Uganda and chats with former FDLR combatants at a reintegration camp in Rwanda. The lack of trust for journalists in that region is fascinating. “Be careful, you are in great danger,” said one interview subject. “Don’t betray me,” said another. It has made me realize just how much faith my subjects put in me in unstable political climates. A faith I must respect by constantly seeking out accuracy.