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Poverty in Pokhara

NEPAL | Sunday, 15 April 2007 | Views [2201]

Pokhara is a beautiful little lakeside mountain town and the typical jumping off point for treks to the Annapurna Range. Located on a lake, the air is a bit fresher than Kathmandu, and at a lower altitude, its just a bit warmer temperature, and more picturesque. We noticed that there were no rickshaws and very few taxis; the roads were far less congested, although the petrol/diesel fumes from the busses and occasional car that rolls through still taint the air. Sounds of Nepali music linger in the breeze; Nepali flutes, drums, and singing are piped from the many music shops that not only sell CD's and DVD's, but also manufacture them aka - illegally ripped and burned product. It was evening, and we were famished. We eyed a trippy little Indian hole in the wall with an attached glass and bamboo cubicle to the front labeled "clay oven" which donned hanging tandoori chickens far too close to the glass windows, leaving red greasy tandoori sauce smudges. The Tandoor cook, standing in the Tandoor cubicle "sauna", was cooking up not just meats and breads (naan and paratha), but was cooking himself simultaneously. His drenched white collard shirt and beads of sweat rolling down his face were not enough to keep us away from a good Indian Tandoor meal. As we stood waiting for dinner, we watched street life go by; boys walking hand in hand, or arm in arm around each others shoulders; men making the gaging yeee-aawk noise and spitting big balls of lung onto the sidewalk where restaurant tables and guests lined the walkway, the juice-wallas wheeling their two wheeled wooden cars with decorative hanging fruits, and the fried peanut, popcorn and peas sales guy out to make a buck off of little bags of tasty treats. Dinner arrived, and not more than a minute later, a beggar in a dirty wool Nepali sweater and filthy jeans sat down on the ground next to our table, and in the only English words he know, whiles several times, crescendowing louder each time, "I'm hungry." I was also hungry, hot, exhausted, and eaten up by mosquitos. Not in the mood to nicely deal with this guy who was interfering with our dinner decompression hour. Finally, after his 6th time repeating his sad words, I turn to him and firmly say "NO!" After about 5 minutes he left, and a couple minutes after that I felt horrible. The poor guy is starving. Tourism in Nepal is very low; the media surrounding recent political rufflings between the Nepali Government and the Maoists have scared many away, if your own country embassy hasn't already frightened tourism by issuing warnings discouraging non-essential business travel over the past year or two. There are few jobs aside from those street vendor entrepreneurs, and there are 100's of the same vendor stalls up and down the street, selling the same stuff to the same small set of tourists. People here are very poor. Nearly 40% of the 26 million people living in Nepal do so on less than a dollar a day, and the per capita GNP is US $240... Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. These people are hungry, and who was I to be rude to this starving man who was just trying to find a bit of nourishment for the night. I looked around, guilt-striken, for the man I had sent away - but he disappeared into the darkness. Yes, while we're on a budget, and even after having just been ripped off by our travel agent, we could have easily forked out $5 to buy this guy dinner. The Nepali way, published on signs & menus around the town, says "don't give to beggars." It proper etiquette in Nepal, such that begging behavior is not encouraged. I again feel guilt-ridden about all we have, and how little others have.

Tags: Food & eating

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