I’m now back in Kathmandu, finishing up the graphic novel, my anti-trafficking exploits in comics, producing the core materials for the human trafficking vulnerability survey in partnership with Stanford and Vanderbilt (now proudly funded by Humanity United and USAID) as well as starting a fresh batch of projects – one on child sexual abuse for a swiss NGO, another on refugees in the eastern side of the country. More on both soon. I also just finished my first anti-trafficking comic in Nepali with World Education, which is printing 5000 copies in nepali to distribute to hundreds of schools around the country. For more details or an overview of using comics in partnership with NGOs as advocacy and awareness-raising tools, check out the new Graphic Voices website or follow us @graphicvoices
One of the longer, more in-depth interviews I’ve done of late, with a focus on the nature of reporting using comics and where I think the form is going. Thanks to host Marcus Smith for the engaging back and forth and producer James Perkins for ensuring it all went smoothly.
Last night I was interviewed about my work, graphic journalism, human trafficking as well as the Graphic History of the Honduran Coup (blast from the past, back from 2009) on RTV’s “Breaking the Set”. You can watch the segment here. I’m on at 14:45 mins.
Just stepped out of a mildly harrowing cab ride through the city. Little did I know when I headed to Lazimpat (north KTM) this morning that there was a massive Maoist rally happening in Ratna park, the Central Park of sorts. You get used to strikes round here as you’ll probably have noticed, but after 20mins bumper to bumper this seemed different. Eventually once we trickle past new rd me and my increasingly distraught driver see why-they’re siphoning off cabs into a different land and forcing them to pull over (after that I couldn’t see what was happening).not the best augury that as we were stuck in traffic random other drivers with Maoist flags sticking out of their trucks were shouting “why are you working today?” at the driver, or “where are you going?”. My driver does his best to argue but more and more folks stand in front of our car until we’re forced into a different lane. Eventually the cars ahead clear and we see the hold up-an impromptu checkpoint of yet more flags and red and shouting. As we pull up they see the cab and literally swarm it, shouting and hitting the car with their palms. My driver panics. All I can make out is “bideshi bideshi bideshi” (foreigner). There must be 40 people around the car at this point. The more the driver revs the engine and guns the clutch, the more they push back. A nearby smear of blue out the corner of my eye is a traffic cop who’s trying disinterestedly to hold more folks back. More banging and they’re right up by the windows, looking in and laughing. The driver slams his foot down and we’re out the other side, into a deserted intersection. “Many many problems here” my driver tells me, still sweating as he shakes his head.
At the risk of turning into the nepali equivalent of Victor Meldrew (non-Brits google him), it’s time to continue my weekly diatribe about the perils and pitfalls (with an equal if not higher number of pinnacles, fair enough) of living in Kathmandu. Today’s special? Bureaucracy. Paperwork. Dog-eared folders brimming with what looks like greaseproof paper because it’s been thumbed so many times. Staplers, hole punches, those weird sponges that are moistened so you don’t have to go to the trouble of licking your preferred digit – these are the weapons of mass procrastination that put paid to the idea of any visit to a government/commerical/private/building with a roof being a short one. In a conversation over tonight’s daal bhaat I told a friend that part of the allure of Nepal for me at the moment is that it’s like a passionate fling. Previously, life in California/London was more of the stable, you-know-what-you’re-getting-type relationship (and before you ask these are purely hypothetical relationships I’m talking about). You know, like when you arrange to meet someone and they’re there on time (or if they’re late they text/call you); or where the only disruption to your journey is traffic; or when you need petrol you drive to the next petrol station; or when you need to get to an unfamiliar place, you slap it in google maps on your iphone. No no no siree bob. (Perhaps that should be Bahadur in Nepali). Here, you’ll find yourself stuck behind an elephant on your commute to work; narrowly avoid a cow that has found its comfortable sunbed spot in the middle of dual carriageway; consider it lucky if the person you’ve travelled across town to meet is there, let alone on time; see that since last night an entire 100m stretch of road has been napalmed and garnished with a crowd of onlookers, all balding men in their 40s with their hands behind their backs looking like they lost the tender to redesign it and know they could have done a far superior job; and don’t even get me started on the petrol. (That’s a whole other post I’ll get to tomorrow). Anyway, lest I succumb to my own diversionary ramblings, 2 weeks ago I became a fully-fledged, card-carrying member of the nepali press.
The road there was long and lined with the bodies of fellow hacks, their screwed up application forms crumbled under their white knuckles, their 18 requisite passport photos spilling out of their shirt pockets. I managed to tip toe past the carrion, dodging the inky bullets (matrix-style) fired at me by an official at a certain government dept who shall remain nameless (let’s call him Mr K as there’s more than enough Kafka-esqueness to this, as you’d imagine), submitting ream after ream of published work, references, CVs, family member info, how I like my eggs cooked, etc. It also included a meandering reproach about the fact that I’m not a father: “why not kids? Here we get married for children.” Presumably here meant Nepal and not specifically his govt department. Once all my details had been cross checked and I’d duly made the return odyssey to my beaming local photocopy/passport merchant (who dutifully snapped my passport pictures on his phone, imported them into photoshop and blacked out my grey hairs without any prompt) I was dismissed to buy a 10 rupee stamp for the tome downstairs, where of course they had no change. So I bought a cup of tea next door to the stamp place and the more industrious tea seller said he’d come back with my change in 5 mins. Then on to a different office and the entrance, stage right, of two more RPs (to find out what one of them is, and their role in typical Nepali meetings, you’ll need to read this). The first looks official, the other is a woman who as far I can tell popped in to tell Mr Suit Man (MSM) something and decided to stick around and have her 2 cents. She asks about the years of specific publications as if they were the most important details in the world. Then more questions about the work I’ve done. Then I’m told to wait, and when I come back, MSM has only gone and written an entire essay on my application. Then the guy next to him starts talking (where did he come from?) and suddenly my essay is no longer a priority. Smile, just keep smiling. Then back to the woman, this time in her office, which turns out is just down the hall. Do I have more hard copies of this link? No, it was published online. Can you print it out? It’s all online! Ok, ok it should be fine. Ours not to reason why. Never before has anyone ever read my online work so attentively. At least, not directly in front of me. Come back in an hour. “Maybe have lunch” they tell me. Uh oh that sounds like a nepali hour. When I do there’s a little red book with my name on it! Back to room no. 15 (you’ll need to look on your iphone devanagari app to figure out what a “5″ looks like, as no one round here will tell you) and its MSM, who’s now taking his turn to sign it. Only he’s like an 8 year old with ADHD and any new person who pokes their head in the door is invited to come in and have a chat! as if filling out my little red book was the governmental equivalent of eating his greens. OK, it’s done – back to random woman who tells me to now sign the application BUT WAIT! Not in black. In red. (Of course). One final stamp later and I’m good to go. Then there’s the small matter of taking my new credentials to the dept of immigration across town to actually get the press visa which is the whole reason I came here. Oh and Mr K will need a photocopy of that when you get it. Thank you for your time and have a nice day.
A little late in posting this. Put it down to Nepali time, will you? I’ve realized one of the downfalls of keeping a blog current is resisting the urge to finish artwork in order to stick it up with a post, as you’ll never actually get around to it. In a lot of ways, it’s like going to any sort of meeting here: you sit down, you have your contact’s immediate attention, you bat the usual “namaste, casto chhaa…tikay chhaa (how are you, fine thanks)” pleasantries back and forth, you get to the reason you’re there…and just when it’s all going swimmingly, RANDOM PERSON #1 enters the room. Not the same random person (that would be weird – though has happened to a couple of friends of mine and is just as stalkery as it sounds). But suddenly, RP #1, a propos of nothing, jumps right into the conversation. Often this will mean the person you came to interview/have the meeting with taking their time to talk RP#1 through what you’re discussing with them. Now you might as well not even be in the room. Only frantic hand-waving a la those guys on aircraft carrier runways, or faked coughing fits have any chance of re-grabbing your interviewees attention. You might get pockets of interest back from them, including bemused looks at you, sort of half squinting, as they struggle to remember why this large white person is now sat in front of them while they’re having a perfectly nice conversation with RP #1. And so it goes. Anyway, at the risk of rambling, that’s just what my posting process has been like this past week. “Sumiya lag chhaa” as they also say – “It takes time”.
Long story short, I’m going to post more often to the site things that aren’t quite as polished so we’re a little more up to date. What percentage of blog posts, I wonder, are bloggers promising to post more often. This month in particular has been filled with visa issues (finally sorted today, only after getting a press pass, and now, finally, a press visa), bike issues (just re-fixed after only being with me a week) and starting/finishing a new consultant job. Comics, naturally, are in the works. The book’s coming along nicely, though there’s nothing like watercolouring by candlelight to do your mince pies in. Oh and lest I overlook the reason for the hilarious title post, the first of many nationwide strikes, otherwise known as “bandh” (pronounced “bund”). In which I was merrily warned that if I took my new motorbike out I’d get pushed off it and it’d be promptly torched. Happened to a friend of a friend last year. The actual day (this past tues) was remarkably low-key, featuring children playing cricket in the street, shops everywhere closed, and assorted mobs in the middle of empty intersections waving their hammer and sickles about. Turns out the only thing the Maoists are reliably good at is stopping anyone else from doing anything.
UPDATE: turns out the RP rule (see above if you’ve skipped to the end, shame on you) doesn’t apply in reverse: I waited a good 10 mins while mr important bureaucrat man talked with his pal and ate his tiffin (love the ol’ school terms that fell out of usage 50 years ago everywhere else) at the dept of Immigration. All I got was a dismissive hand wave.