Nepalis, like many in other developing countries, are very good are copying and imitating others’ ways.
Until a generation ago, birthday celebrations with a cake and wax candles were a rarity. Now, the celebration have evolved into birthday cake with Roman candles! Sometimes the celebrations come with aerosol sprays. That, in the presence of open flames, if you have learned even just a bit of high school Chemistry, you would know is dangerous!
Here’s one such celebration I came across at a night club in Kathmandu. The voice you hear in the beginning is mine and the person I am talking to is a bouncer standing next to me. I am basically telling him that there could be an accident.
Anyway, if you watched the video till the end, you know what happened when I went up to the group and tried to talk to the birthday woman about it all.
But sadly, what struck me at the end of all that was that my doing so could have ended with a major disaster…for me!
Luckily though, the group didn’t have a very drunk, testosterone-driven, angry young man or men, prone to jealous rage when strangers approach the girls or women he/they are with at the club! Apparently, most fights or assaults at bars and clubs, or those arising from incidents at such joints, in Kathmandu are over girls and women.
Following that bomb of an attempt, I shared the video with two other bouncers at the club. Again, I explained how, firstly, the celebrations could have ended in tears. Secondly, how the Roman candles have toxic chemicals which likely fell on the cake all the participants ate. I told them to share that information with their superiors. One said he would but I doubt he did.
If the management had any sense, they would ban these kinds of birthday celebrations.
What saved this birthday celebration? The space!
The room, being a dance hall, was huge. Had they been in a small room in a residential house, the results could have been disastrous. Here’s what can happen.
Now to step back a little from it all…yes, I am aware of and totally accept that going to talk to the birthday woman probably was not the smartest thing to do and talking to the bouncers was probably a waste of all our time.
What I was trying to convey to them was most likely far from their minds. Who in a group of young, middle-class, urban adult Nepalis in Kathmandu could give a sh*t about what some stranger thinks of what they did at their birthday party…when they were just having fun?! Sure, there is the issue of them setting off Roman candles in an enclosed public space which could affect others present there! But that’s probably even further away from their minds. Young Nepalis, as many young elsewhere, especially the middle-class, upwardly mobile, and privileged in developing countries, at times CAN be self-absorbed and uncaring of the effects of their actions on others, especially strangers.
Would the bouncers have thought, “Hey, I just learned something new I didn’t know!” or “What a smart alec — he thinks he knows so much?!”? I suspect the latter.
However, when I see stuff like that happen, my protective instinct kicks in.
Like when in a crowded bus I see the clearly uncomfortable face of — but silent — girl or woman pressed against the side of a seat from behind by a man clearly taking advantage of the situation, I have to offer her my seat. Like when, late at night on the streets of Thamel, I see a young boy-child in the clutches of a drunk man and talking to him threateningly, I have to butt in and “rescue” him. Like when I come across a little girl in Bangkok selling chewing gum at two in the morning, I have to find out her story and help her by buying all her chewing gum and even coaxed into doing some food shopping for her. Like when I come across a diabetic man desperate for help with getting back home to his family in the East, I hand him a couple of thousand rupees to pay for enough insulin to last him a week and a bus ticket. Like when I see an ambulance stuck in traffic, I have to help it get out. Like when I see or hear women on the streets apparently being harassed, I have to stop and inquire. Like when I learn about the plight of young Nepali children, I have to try to help, try etc. etc. etc. (Click here, here, here, and here for some those stories.)
It’s also for similar reasons that I write — both on social media and in my blog — about issues that aren’t “popular”, about issues and topics that many in Nepal don’t want to be reminded of or don’t want to confront etc.
After all, one of the reasons I returned to the country was to do precisely that. I came to share my very different knowledge, understanding, and experiences with fellow Nepalis, with hopes of raising awareness, changing attitudes, and in turn changing behavior to contribute to social progress etc.
But I have also begun to question it all.
Am I actually doing more “damage”? Am I creating more rift, inducing more bad feelings than building power and community? That is partly why I have massively scaled back on my activities on Twitter. On Facebook too, I have culled my friends, turned my profile private, and scaled back on my activities on it. Furthermore, one of the reasons for quitting my job four months ago was precisely questioning what I was doing.
So what have I been doing lately? A lot of soul-searching.
Something I discovered a while ago, validated again and again, is that doing the right thing in Nepal does not necessarily mean that things will go right for you.