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August 7, 2000 (Email)
Tell Us How You Really Feel

Recap of the bus ride.

7:30 I leave home
8:20 My bus leaves Janakpur
9:20 Loud obnoxious Hindi film begins

3:00 I wake up with muscle cramps to find the bus stopped in the road
6:00 I wake up with more muscle cramps as the bus resumes moving
6:05 I wake up with more cramps as the bus again comes to a stop
8:00 I wake up to find we still haven't moved
6:00 The bus turns around and heads back to Janakpur
7:00 We stop in Mugling for dinner
9:30 We leave Mugling for Janakpur

4:00 I wake up with muscle cramps to find the bus stopped in the road
6:00 Men arrive and fix (bang with a wrench on various parts of) the bus
8:00 I arrive in Janakpur
9:00 I arrive at Necon Air office, attempt to buy a ticket to Kathmandu.
9:30 I arrive at the airport and put my name on the standby list (#49)
10:50 The plane leaves for Kathmandu with passengers #1 - #48
11:00 I buy a plane ticket for Kathmandu - leaving Friday
11:30 I fall asleep in my house
8:00 I wake up and eat dinner
10:30 I go to bed

8:00 I wake up
9:30 I receive a call saying the 10:30 flight is postponed until 2:00
2:30 My plane takes off
3:00 I arrive in Kathmandu

I really don't mind that we couldn't make it to Kathmandu on Tuesday night. It's monsoon, there are only two roads into Kathmandu, there are landslides all the time and everyone knows it.

What I do mind is the total lack of any communication or organized response after the landslide blocked the road. Where were the repair crews estimating how long it would take to open the road? It eventually took three days to repair the road -- couldn't someone have told us it might be pointless to wait within the first thirteen hours? Where were the police explaining what had even happened? Why did the bus company insist that the riders pay -- not just for their ticket to Kathmandu, but also an additional fee for the return ticket from the site of the landslide to Janakpur?! And why was this state of affairs so common and acceptable to my companions on the bus that they didn't expect anything different?

I can forgive Nepal a lot of things due to its poverty, lack of infrastructure, and other difficulties... but I can't put up with the constant and blatant examples of personal, individual inefficiency, inconsideration, irresponsibility, and unfairness that I see everyday. This bus ride was just the most inconveniencing and aggravating example - but there are so many more. And these behaviors I see don't exhibit problems with the government, the economy, or the geography -- they exhibit personal decisions and cultural norms upheld by individuals everyday. Decisions and norms which, when added together, are the primary reason why the country's extreme and well-known problems (corruption, lack of infrastructure, joblessness, poor education, overpopulation, poor use of resources, etc.) haven't been remedied after 30 years of work. Ironically, these are the very "country-wide" problems which everyone blames for their personal poverty, unhappiness, frustration, inefficiency, irresponsibility, and unfairness, fatalism, etc.


That bus ride really made me need to complain.

I came to Kathmandu primarily to meet with Claire Burkett. Claire was, by far, most responsible for the establishment and early development of the Women's Center in Janakpur. I've been looking forward to meeting her since I first saw the center. It was great to exchange thoughts with her about the future of the center - especially while the insights we (Satyam, Shradha, Susie, and I) gained during the Peace Corps workshop a couple weeks ago were still fresh on our minds. We met on Sunday with Mary Lou (Peace Corps Country Director) and again today (Monday) with a business consultant from the HURDEC (Human Resource Development Center) organization - who has a long history of working with the center and with Claire. With grant money Claire brought to conduct financial/activity strategy and planning meetings with HURDEC, and with so many great new ideas flying around among the people working at the center - I finally feel like positive things are happening in Janakpur. I sometimes just wish I didn't have to teach again this year. School (although officially open from yesterday) begins on Sunday the 13th.

That's about it. I won't bore you with the precise details of the problems and proposals being discussed at the center. I can say that I'm spending a lot more time thinking about real "business" concepts and strategies here than I ever did at Andersen Consulting.

I better stop now. If I write any further, I'll have to start complaining vehemently about what's been on my mind all afternoon - the policies and bureaucracy in the Peace Corps office. I've been really upset lately by the way the administration seems to perceive their role in the day to day affairs of the volunteers. The reality of how Peace Corps volunteers are managed is certainly different than people back home would expect. I would 
have expected the agreement forged between volunteers and the office to be sufficient as: we, as volunteers, promise our supervisors to always be honest with them about our activities and whereabouts and we, as supervisors, trust the judgments and intentions of the volunteers as long as they stay on task and do not behave inappropriately. I think it would be a fair assumption that anybody who joins the Peace Corps is doing so because they want to try to identify and do good work in their host country. Why else would anyone do this to themselves? But it's gotten to the point for a lot of us that we are reluctant to go to the office for assistance because they are such a difficult, mistrusting, overbearing, and unwieldy organization to deal with. This is a shame since assisting and watching out for the well-being of the volunteers ought to be the primary focus of the  work being done in the office.

Oh well, I guess I complained about Peace Corps after all.

Hope all the complaining in this letter doesn't make it sound like I'm unhappy. Things are actually going great (and I'm healthy!). It's just that the few not great things here have been very pronounced over the last week.


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