Getting Started in Kathmandu!
Since the first entry, two weeks have passed. So much has happened, and more so on practical and research front, than the tourist. As a result photography hasn’t been my focus, though I have a few shots to share. I’ll devote this entry to an update on my activities.
So I started working in the UN-HABITAT office on February 15th with a basic idea of what I would research and who I would work with. I would contribute to research comparing sanitation programs, and I would work with my supervisor, Mingma Sherpa, a PhD from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, and Giuli, a research colleague from Utrecht. To be honest, I felt very lost starting out, even after months of literature review, and research proposal preparation, not knowing exactly what my research topic would become and why I was researching it. I came in with the goals to conduct research that was interesting, academically and personally, and also that was useful for organizations in Nepal. With these three areas covered, I believed the research could have positive results for a development context. So, although I had an idea of what I’d do, still a lot was to be learned. After 9 meetings with government and NGO officials over the last two weeks (described briefly below), I have a much better idea of what will meet my three targets related to conducting interesting and useful research. Still I have more to learn and we have more to determine about the research focus and location, but we’ve made a great deal of progress.
So what have I been up to the last two weeks in Kathmandu? The first week brought introductions to UN-HABITAT’s staff and work, 4 days of sickness (though not serious), finding an apartment, cell phone SIM card, supermarket, and basic necessities for the apartment. We also held two meetings with government officials from the Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agricultural Roads, which is responsible for supporting sanitation in communities of less than 1000 people. The meetings served as a strong intro to how the government functions in their support of sanitation work in rural areas. One notable finding was that the government is still very much recovering from the effects of the 10 year civil war between the government and the Maoists, in public service delivery and elsewhere as well. There are many improvements yet to be made, especially related to stream lining government function as it regains strength to support the population. There is lack of cohesiveness within government programs, and between the key departments, at least in sanitation work. Along with DoLIDAR, there are 3 other departments with sanitation programs in rural and urban areas, which are generally disconnected. The initial meetings with government officials helped to begin to understand how government sanitation programs work in rural areas, and what opportunities may be present for research.
Once the weekend came, it was time to relax and see a bit of Kathmandu. We spent Saturday at the Patan Durban Square (Royal Palace) where many Hindu temples are located. In the evening we found a nice jazz club with local jazz musicians playing late into the evening. Sunday brought a lunch visit to a nice Israeli restaurant in Thamel, the touristy area of Kathmandu. In the afternoon we visited to the monkey temple on a hill outside of Kathmandu. The monkey temple is a Buddhisst stupa located on one of the hills near the edge of Kathmandu. Walking up the couple thousand stairs to the top and around the stupa we found hundreds of monkeys, which live on the hill, along with many dogs. In the evening we made our way to a local cinema, where we hoped to find a local film (with english subtitles). Going in we didn’t know if the movie of the night, ‘My Name is Khan’ would be in English or if it would even have English subtitles. It had neither. The Hindi film can best be described as a mix of ‘I am Sam,’ ‘Fahrenheit 911,’ political satire and hurricane disaster. It was remarkably entertaining and not understanding the language made it even more enjoyable. Surprisingly the language barrier did not prevent understanding the film.
Last week brought 5 more meetings with one government official, and with four officials involved with the main semi-autonomous rural watsan program called the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation-Fund Development Board (RWSS-FDB). We met with the executive director of the FDB, a program manager, the executive director of an FDB supporting organization, the Environmental Public Health Organization (ENPHO), and the Nepal watsan director from the World Bank, which funds 90 percent of FDB work. All of the meetings with the FDB, ENPHO, and World Bank were very impressive, and even inspiring. As a result of the meetings we made some critical findings and have been able to better define our research focus. Some important findings were that as a semi-autonomous, politics play a minimal role in decisions and financial management at the FDB comparatively. There are no permanent positions, so unions don’t form keeping people in positions for which they are not performing. Although all governmental and non-governmental programs say they are working with participatory and demand-driven community project approaches, it is clear that each program is still very different in their approach, and that the FDB is practicing these participatory processes fairly effectively. So, we’ve learned a lot this week, and have further developed the research plan. This week we met a few more officials, and will head to the field next week in at least one district around Kathmandu, which are most ‘easily’ accessible (3 districts of Nepal have NO roads, and no automobiles, at all; 6 more districts have seasonal roads; several sanitation programs have brought projects to villages that require a 40+ hour bus ride followed by a 7 day walk from the road!). More to come soon . . .