No News Is Good News?
If you've been following this web page regularly, you've seen Mark occasionally criticize the Peace Corps bureaucracy. We're beginning to feel the same way...
Christmas. We expected/hoped for Mark to call on or around Christmas. No call. We figured he must have been traveling, or busy celebrating, or perhaps the power was out (again). So this was unusual, but not disturbing by itself...
I received the following email from a family member of another PCV in Nepal.
We are hearing distressing news of unrest in Nepal. ***** has been moved from the west into the east. He is spending a few days in Kathmandu now for Christmas.
How is Mark doing? Is he worried? I have read
Mark's journal entry of April 2000 about Maoist unrest and don't want to
overreact and cause a general evacuation but wonder about the safety and
security of the situation. Please let us know what info you have
and how you feel about the situation.
Now, at this point we had not heard any distressing news (nor
any other sort of news whatsoever) from Nepal. Nothing from the Peace
Corps; certainly, if there were some sort of imminent danger, or even the
possibility of increased danger, the Peace Corps would let us know, wouldn't
they? Obviously they should, so we felt pretty sure
they would. But, this email was (also) peculiar, and so we became
a bit concerned...
Was our concern warranted? As I mentioned, we had very little information to go on; far less than we should have had. We therefore decided to search the internet for recent news from Nepal.
Our first stop: www.nepalnews.com. Before long, we found:
The Kathmandu Post, December 27. Read it now before continuing.
(Click on the link; this page will open in a separate browser window.)
The first story on this page was quite enough. (It didn't take long to find confirmation, and some additional information. on a few other sites.) What do we make of this? Note the student protests, which became riots and caused five deaths in Kathmandu -- the capital city of Nepal. And we knew that Mark had planned to be in Kathmandu at that time. Plus, these riots were disturbingly reminiscent of, and seemed to us to be connected to, the ongoing Maoist violence we'd already heard about. And one may easily infer the political motives here, in the form of obvious anti-Indian propaganda designed to inflame the existing racial tensions in Nepal... finally, based on our interpretation of the available information, it seemed possible to us that a nationwide communist uprising (revolution?) was brewing; meanwhile, the capital city was being crippled by political turmoil and violence, and there was Mark right in the middle of it. And we'd heard nothing from him (although we'd expected to) and nothing from the Peace Corps. And other families, who had also heard nothing (reassuring or otherwise) from the Peace Corps, were apparently beginning to worry as well.
(You may infer a lack of objectivity here; a thought process favoring the worst-case scenario. Well, obviously. When you're worried about a family member, you always fear the worst. I'm not presenting a calm, studious analysis of Nepal's political climate here; rather these were our quite natural thoughts at that time. Although, in retrospect, I still wonder just how stable Nepal really was, or is today. Calm and objective or not, I'm not sure we were wrong...)
Due to the troubling nature of what little information we could find, we became frustrated and far more concerned for Mark's safety than we otherwise would have. This is why our dad called the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. To their credit, someone there actually did take the time to talk to him; in their view it was not yet serious, but they were "monitoring" the situation. (What a relief?) They played it down, making it sound far less serious than the news articles we'd found seemed to indicate. (Whom to believe? Online news services, or the Peace Corps?) Dad asked the Peace Corps to immediately locate Mark, confirm his location and his safety, and have him contact us ASAP...
[Those of you who read this page regularly are aware of Mark's frequent
frustration with the Peace Corps bureaucracy; now, we'd had enough as well.
We should have heard about the political turbulence, and the subsequent
potential danger, right away, from the Peace Corps -- not
from another parent, by pure chance. Back in April, when we first
learned about "Maoist Protests," we should
also have heard about that from the Peace Corps directly.
I can't help but wonder how many families of current and prospective PCVs
are learning about these problems, not from the Peace Corps, but exclusively
through this web page? I can understand that they don't want
to alarm people unnecessarily; however, they have a responsibility to keep
us informed. Wouldn't it be absurd -- and certainly unacceptable
-- if this web page in fact does a better job of keeping the families of
Nepal PCVs informed than the Peace Corps itself?]
Mark wasn't exactly supposed to be in Kathmandu; the Peace Corps had, in fact, instructed the PCVs not to travel at this time, due to the widespread protests taking place. (At least they'd notified the volunteers.) Of course, Mark went to Kathmandu anyway, and they found him there. So we may have gotten him in a bit of trouble, but oh well. The important thing is that he was alright.
In fact, he didn't quite seem to understand why we were so concerned. He was fine, of course he was fine, why shouldn't he be fine? The city's shut down, but it's not so unusual, not a big deal, nothing to worry about from his perspective. From our perspective -- well, you've already read about our perspective. I guess it all depends on your point of view... and the amount of information you have to go on.