There's nothing quite like traveling in the “third world” to put one's own situation in perspective. I like to flatter myself by thinking that I live a fairly spartan lifestyle, and in the context of the United States it's true. While I try to avoid the conspicuous consumption that often seems to define American culture, and to limit my use of non-renewable resources, these are conscious decisions that I make. Not everyone in this world, however, is so lucky as to be able to get to choose to live on less. Many people are just forced into it.
Nepal is currently experiencing a blockade of it's southern border by India, whose leaders are upset by clauses in the country's new constitution that will limit India's political influence on their northern neighbor. As a result of the blockade there are now shortages across the country of gasoline, diesel fuel, and the propane that most people use to cook with. The Arniko highway--usually packed with buses, trucks and motorbikes--is eerily quiet. Women have taken to preparing meals over makeshift fireplaces on rooftop patios or by the side of the road.
And all of this, of course, while people are still trying to recover from the massive earthquakes that rocked the country earlier this year. It's a wonder that the whole country hasn't descended into a collective depression. Most people, however, seem to be facing the mounting difficulties with considerable aplomb and their distinctly Nepali sense of humor. In the tea shops people laugh and joke even as they wonder aloud when the blockade will end and take jabs at the corrupt politicians who seem not at all concerned by the plight of the country.
The fuel shortage has definitely put a kink into my journalistic plans, as the only readily available transportation is currently hidera—by foot. I'm trying to follow the lead of the Nepalis though, and not let it bring my down. So I compile my list of cooperative enterprises to visit once we can put a few litres of petrol in the motorbike, have another cup of milk tea, and contemplate how lucky I am to get to choose to live on less, rather than being made to.
Update: it looks like India is ready to let up on the blockade soon, following the appointment of the new Nepali Prime Minister. Gas stations today are allowing people to put a few litres in their private vehicles. The line at the nearest gas station right now is, literally, a mile long.