The scenic district in western Nepal is undergoing changes – some more desirable than others – that more or less echo activities in the capital.
The sounds of Jumla are perhaps the best indicator of change here. One look at brochures of Jumla and most will expect to be woken up by roosting hens and the cackle of daily village life. This is still true although it comes with a few other sounds, new sounds, sounds of a town in transition, the sounds of change and perhaps the end of one era and the beginning of another.
If the first car coming into the Kathmandu valley, in pieces and on the sturdy shoulders of young Nepalese amazes you, the story of how the first motorbikes came to Jumla will sound too ‘out there’ to believe: the first two wheeler arrived on a helicopter. Result: more followed suit, as the road came up and now fancy, new Indian motorbikes zoom around Jumla bazaar, honking their horns and growling at lazy pedestrians.
Tractors snake in and out of town too, as do trucks, some with daily supplies such as rice, flour and noodles, but most with construction material to meet the needs of the many, many new houses
being built here. Add to this the drone of new houses being built, something that has become a part of their aural landscape. The annoying ubiquity of Hindi film music and Nepali pop blare from roadside speakers. Change is here and from what any layman can see, the Jumlis are loving it. When asked how locals felt about about the road getting here and also so many new people now making Jumla their home, most said it was a free country and anyone could live anywhere they wanted. Obviously, no one complains about the road as it came with supplies and ease in many areas.
Change is apparent at their ‘janaral’ (general) stores too. Their staple diet of rice and fhapar is now punctuated by noodles and biscuits. Apples are Jumla’s most popular export but juices of fruits that grow nowhere near here fill store shelves. Also sharing shelf space are western clothes: jeans, t-shirts, jackets and leggings. Medicine is aplenty too.
One glaring absence is of newspapers and magazines, which perhaps have taken second place to more immediate news sources such as the radio or even their mobile phones. NTC and Ncell both work here, perhaps even better than in some parts of the capital. The architecture is another indicator, both of change and of adapting to new demands. Jumli style houses are crammed in between modern buildings, some even with etched glass and vertical blinds. For the most part however, the architecture is the same. Stone replaces brick here and partitions are of wood. Ceilings are still low but the roofs, thatched before are now made of corrugated iron sheets.
Some of the changes are more welcome than others, at least for visitors. Shri Shambhunath Gyanakunja Nimna Madhyamik Bidhyalaya in Shriduska, about 30 minutes by car from Jumla Bazaar is a school with possibly one of the most scenic locations. Sprawled out in the shadow of gigantic, barren hills, with a roaring river running just beyond the school’s stone boundary walls, the students scramble into their classrooms at the sound of the class bell. The infrastructure is sturdy and young local teachers are helping educate and equip a sizable population of Jumli children.
The school is in Talium Village Development Committee (VDC), one of 26 other VDCs in 12 districts who have adopted the Ministry of Local Development’s Child Friendly Local Governance Initiative(CFLG), a program that helps bring attention to children and their rights. In April this year, Hanaa Singer, Country Representative for UNICEF/Nepal also a partner agency for the initiative, observed and interacted with the school’s management committee to get updates on their progress.
Hearing of problems here, amidst such dreamy environs makes for a rude wake up call. Government apathy allows textbooks making do with worn out, old textbooks borrowed from seniors, an otherwise not-so-bad example of reusing supplies except were it not for local vendors who get these books for free from the government and apparently sell them in the market.
As a target district for UNICEF, Jumla has been making leaps and strides in many of the UN body’s agendas, sanitation and hygiene being one of them. Working with the local government, there are some creative ways in which the community is being involved. Take the ‘Name and shame’ game for example where the locals are grouped around a schematic map of their VDC. Any house without a toilet is marked with yellow paint, symbolizing open defecation. Logically, much to the dismay of other villagers who ‘have’ toilets, the amount of feces that can actually get back into our environment and even our food is calculated. Out of ‘shame’, many of the locals commit to making a toilet in their homes right away. A direct and effective method, the campaign has actually helped the area become an Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone.
A few days later, basking in the warm sun on the banks of Rara Lake, a three-day trek from Jumla, I wondered about all these problems and programs, the people working to provide sustainable solutions and it’s transformation from a small town to a major one.
Scale that to city proportions and you get a pretty good representation of the scene in Kathmandu today. The problems might look different but at its most basic level, the intrinsic nature of the problems, the struggles for identity, the need and want for solutions and the presence of both good and bad parties (depending on where you stand) is the same.
My thoughts then turned to what was almost my first thought when I saw the ‘Name and shame’ game. I wondered who home could gather the 601 Constituent Assembly members and shame them into cleaning up their act.