Submitted by Ben Ayers on Fri, 2009-05-01 07:28.
The southern belt of Nepal – the Terai – has been closed for a week now by a political group advocating for the rights of ‘Madeshis’ or Nepalis that live along the Indian border and who often have closer cultural and social ties to India than to the middle-hill dominated political scene in Kathmandu. The Madeshis have stopped all motorized transportation along the major highways in the Southern third of the country, effectively sealing off the entire country from any goods and stranding thousands of people.
This is an increasingly common phenomenon. Our financial officer at lunch said today, “They’ll close the roads now during marital disputes!” But the difference with this blockade is that it is indefinite. And among the goods that now cannot reach Kathmandu (or the rest of the country) is Petrol. This has created lines that stretch for miles around the government pumps, and a complete shortage of the stuff elsewhere. The average Nepali with a motorcycle has, really, no choice but to either wait in line for six hours (at a minimum) or to walk. Unless, that is, you know the right people.
Which I happen to. My motorcycle was dangerously low on fuel on Wednesday when I turned in to the Headquarters of the Nepal Police. I gave my friend at the gate a wink and he quietly slid the blue door aside and let me enter the compound. Once you’re in, you can sneak around the back to where they keep the fuel for all of the police cars and municipal use and pay a bit extra for it there. Except this past week, the shortage has been so acute that I was greeted by a massive line of motorcycles who had also snuck in through some sort of shady contact and were hungry for petrol.
The police were a bit nonplussed. They had an issue on their hands – too many people were there for fuel to really justify giving fuel to from the government stock, yet on the other hand this was a great earning opportunity. The solution, then, was to make sure that we were in two orderly lines instead of the swarming mass of motorcycles that surrounded the pumps. “Get into two lines or we won’t give out any petrol!” one of the commanders shouted. Nobody moved. He shouted again. Still nobody moved. The officers decided to go get tea and see if we could get our own act together. A half hour later, they came back – nobody had moved an inch. A few more motorcycles, even, had joined the melee. The police officers decided that the fight was futile and turned on the pumps to give out petrol.
We all sat in our swarm for another forty-five minutes waiting for them to go get the generators working and only then, slowly, reluctantly, did the knot begin to untie as they gave out petrol. The whole adventure took me two and a half hours, and that was two days ago. I’m almost out of petrol again…