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AND THE BANDH PLAYED ON

It’s a nasty stretch of road from Thamel to Dhulikel, a pot-holed, pock-marked plod of a highway that stretches from Kathmandu to China. The air is filthy, the traffic is vile, horns and screeches, belching fumes warn the incoming of more hell to come, console the outgoing with thoughts that there must be somewhere better than this. A wise punter would just wind up the windows and think of home.

Stick with it. After about an hour of this, just as you get to Dhulikel, if you dare open the windows, you’ll find yourself breathing in real, live air. It’s no illusion. One side of this horrid Nepali tourist town is open to the valley below. Tourism has built a row of hotels pointing at the non-existent view of the Himalayas in the distance. This is the raison d’etre of Dhulilkel – the view.

‘Ptooey,’ you can say, as your car takes a mysterious right, just before the Bus Station Square. In a blink you’re off the bitumen and in the hills. Hardly a house, just a brief Bhutan of jungle, a Darjeeling of descending slopes, a Bali of rice paddies etched layer by layer in curves down the steep sides of the mountain. Yup, you’re climbing through a mountain, curving along the ridges, up, up, up from Dhulikel. The odd person will pass you on the road. Watch their expression. See that double take, that ‘what on earth are foreigners doing here?’ expression?

That’s when you know you’re in The Land of Dog.

Stay focused. When the big views swing from the right-hand side of the car to the left and get bigger… you’re nearly there. Well, kinda. Now is the time to offer soothing words of encouragement to your driver. The road hasn’t just got worse; it’s just got worse than that. If you can’t see anything out the window, don’t fuss. That’s not blind panic; there’s a shower coming through.

Everything goes white. The road turns to river, the rivers turn to mud. You’re driving up a mountainside in Nepal and you can’t see a thing. If you could see the view you’d be gasping. You’re gasping anyhow, but that’s just sweet Nepali fear – you ain’t stopping till you get to the top.

Note your driver’s body language. If his head is swiveling from side to side, if he’s muttering ‘no-o-o-o, no-o-o-o…’ you’ll know you’ve almost arrived. Right at the peak of despair you’ll come to the next turn off. This one goes left.

Well, what’s left of the road goes left.

*

Phulbari? Phulbari?’

‘Five minutes!’ waved a hand.

The scenery is glorious. Grey mist parts to reveal luscious green fields, terraced, abrim with produce. A conga-line of houses snaking up a hill, a glimpse of gold, a clump of damp bamboo. The road is mud and river, mixed thick with dirt-brown green.

‘Phulbari?’ Phulbari?

‘Five minutes!’ waved a hand.

‘Phulbari?’ Phulbari?

She looked at us with an expression of utter confusion. What on earth are these foreigners doing – here?

Double-Dog-world.

You’re on top of a mountain somewhere strange in Nepal. The rain has stopped, the mist has cleared. There’s a track, a farm-house, some chai, a kitchen full of gentle locals, a host: a Govinda, a welcome-back smile, that gate…

Phulbari.

Fool-bari.

*

NO ADMISSION

WITHOUT PERMISSION

says the gate.

*

In 1967 a young German graphic designer set out in a VW bus and drove from Europe to Asia; a brave thing to do in those days – but very apropos. The whole world was changing and Hans Hoefer set off to see it before it was gone. His timing was perfect. He was especially intrigued by Bali, where he earned a living selling his photographs and sketches. It didn’t take him long to see a gap in an emerging market.

It was the right idea at the right time in the right place. In one brilliant move he tied together all his passions; design, photography, words and travel. Young Hans Hoefer made a guidebook.

Insight Guide: Bali was published with the financial backing of a local hotel in 1970. With superb photography and text on the history, culture, cuisine and special topics of the destination, in one sweep it transformed and influenced the publishing scene of travel guides forever. I bet it changed Hans’ life, too. Twenty five years later, when he divested the title in 1997, Insight Guides was one of the biggest companies in travel publishing, having sold over 20 million copies on over 125 destinations, and the only guidebook series available in 10 languages.

By the sound of it, our not-so-hippie Hans ended up a squillionaire.

He was in his early fifties with too much money. He still carried a mindset brimming full of counter-cultural ideas. Those formative teenage years in the Sixties re-emerged with a vengeance; Rich Van Winkle woke up in a Nineties cave.

I don’t yet know the circumstances that led a man with too much money to a green dot on a map of Nepal in 1993. I don’t yet know what prompted him to buy the top of a bare mountain and start building an organic farm; I’m lost in confusion – but dreams can come true. This magnificent obsession slowly took shape.

Fifteen years ago it was finished. Fields were planted, the first crops came through. Hans kept adding to his cave house. By 1996 things were ticking over very nicely. Ever the businessman, Hans made Hoeferworld available to the cashed-up cognoscenti.

*

The hilltop farmhouse Phulbari or “flower garden” is situated on the loftiest point at 1800 metres in the district of Kavre, southeast out of the Kathmandu Valley. Our unique estate lies at the end of a ridge bordering a forest reserve and surrounded by cascades of valleys, rising terraces and hillocks. The Phulbari farm lies on 10 acres of organically prepared land strewn with marigolds, dahlias, rhododendrons, wild weeds and orchids. In and around the hill are five ponds, fruit trees and plots that yield a mixed variety of radish, pumpkin, carrot, leeks, eggplant and more. Farmers, animal herders and their families populate the area and the local schools lie at the bottom of our hill. Nearby, a Tibetan monastery and important pilgrimage site.

A bare hilltop at the time of our purchase in 1993, the land has turned into an oasis of greenery and vegetation by applying perma-culture techniques. We introduced water harvesting and contoured landscaping with five fishponds, followed by careful inter-planting of diverse trees, shrubs and bushes. Conceived to follow the traditional spirit of Nepali country life where the outdoor is the actual “living room” and the house is the cave for the privacy of storing, eating and sleeping, the garden represents the home without a roof. There’s a Bougainvillea arbor on the east side for tea or light meals, the smaller shaded pavilion on the north face reached from a winding Philosophers Path, the courtyards facing each house, the twin pavilions by the big pond – even a circular open fireplace to linger beyond sunset. Each spot is a niche to relax, play or read or contemplate the fascinating work of man and nature.

www.villa-srilanka.com

*

*No sooner was it finished than the Maoists swept into violent opposition to the Nepalese government and, in effect, closed Phulbari down. Phulbari has remained, preserved in political aspic for the decade since – maturing, lovingly maintained by his staff. Profits from the flourishing organic gardens keep it ticking over.

Few, including the Hoefers, come to stay.

‘This’d be a great place to drop acid!’

Well, that’s a line I haven’t heard since 1975. It was delivered, in all seriousness, by a forty-one year old Social Studies teacher from Washington. He has a prom-book haircut and must have looked great in a shirt and tie, a kindly Matt Damon teaching thinking to teenagers.

I thought he was being facetious and rambled on:

‘Yes, this place has that rock-star look about it, eh? I can imagine Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful here in the Seventies…’

‘No, I mean now.’

‘Now? Do people still take L.S.D.? Hasn’t it been replaced?’

‘Oh, yeah, there’s MTP and CIA and Extasy and Chopped Liver and Kyabsote,’ he said – something like that, anyway. Whatever it all meant, it all meant mind-altering substances that were probably bad for you.

The old man in front of him hesitated for a moment. It hadn’t occurred to him that there was generation after generation emerging, had emerged, would emerged that might career headlong into the same, melting psychedelic brick wall that he had, so many, many years ago.

I really had no idea who this fellow was.

*

Fate brought us together – that’ll do. Sometimes people collide in Kathmandu – before I knew it my accidental American was tagging along. Fine by me. I’d warned him.

He looked the very model of a modern Social Studies teacher, short back and sides, clean-cut and collegiate; perfectly normal in every way – He looked like everybody, as if someone had taken a gene from each reality show in America, put them in a blender and bred him. He was forty-one and looked twenty-five, married for twenty-two years, fit and healthy. He was in Nepal, alone.

Alone, that is, save for his constant companion; a heavy bag of rolled up material.

‘Show me,’ I said, knowing I had found a candidate for ‘most stupid man in the world’,

The brown bag weighed a ton. He pulled out the contents; three rolled up sheaths of material. One was surprise pink, a diamante stretch fabric covered in sequins that I had truly never seen before. One was a lurex with diarrhea; swirling psychedelic globs of shining plastic velvet – orange, monsoon green globbing into red, neon yellow and luminous grey. The third was a return to the diamante, sequined, astro-pants; iridescent purple, this time.

‘Looking for an Indian tailor…’

‘But you’re in Nepal.’

‘Never did find one in India,’ he said with what might, for a blond Californian lass, be a disarming smile. This man had been lugging a five kilo bag of material around for a month – looking for a cheap tailor.

‘Gotta look good for the Burner Girls!’

I had no idea what he meant.

*

‘Burner Girls! Burner Girls!’ The chicks who hang at Burning Man!’

Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday evening. The event is described by many participants as an experiment in community, radical self-reliance and radical self-expression.

So that’s what that material is all about. Radical self-expression. Obviously he thinks of himself as pink and sparkly.

‘Yes, some amazing women, Dog. Drugs and sex, drugs and sex for days.’

This seemed to be a good time to quiz him in his missing wife.

‘Oh, we have an open relationship,’ he said blithely, ‘I told her about five years ago that I couldn’t go on being faithful. There were too many women in the world.’

I liked his blissful candor. We were just men on the top of a mountain. No need to lie.

‘She’s my high-school sweetheart; I love her to death – but after fifteen years…’

Luckily his wife felt the same way. It was a modern marriage. Together they stumbled into the sweet embrace of free love. ‘Sex Radicalism,’ he preferred to call it.

‘I don’t own her, she doesn’t own me. She can use her body any way she pleases.’ Fortunately for her randy husband, this interesting concept gave him permission to use his body in any way he pleased.

‘We screw around. Sometimes we screw around together, sometimes we don’t. It’s cool. We’re Sex Positive.’

Noticing the blank look on my face, he added, ‘it’s a philosophy.’

I had no idea there was a Sex Positive movement. I think we must have called our shagging something else.

In his particularly Californian way, my Social Studies teacher had conjured up a dream that actually encouraged him to be as dirty as he liked. With the enthusiasm of the new convert, he was shagging his way to salvation.

*

That night Dog sat on a crisp white pillow in the window of his mountain retreat in deepest Nepal. Three Nepali gentlemen sat around outside. One was thirty-five; he’d been married for eighteen years: one was forty-five; he’d been married for twenty-five years; the last was fifty-five, married for thirty-five years. We were having a cross-cultural men’s moment.

‘How old are you?’

‘I am one hundred fifty years old,’ I replied, my traditional answer.

‘Really?’

Dogster nodded seriously. Now he was one hundred and fifty-one.

‘Where is your wife?’

‘No wife.’

‘Why not?’

‘She die,’ I lie.

It’s easier this way, trust me.

‘Sorry.’

‘No problem – is good.’

‘No baby?’

‘No baby.’

‘You come alone?’

‘Not alone. I am free.’

Here was a concept we could all agree on – the universal notion of unencumbered flight. Three Nepali heads nodded in unison. Between them they had thirteen children.

‘Travel all everywhere, everywhere?’

A week ago I was in Phnom Penh, about to fly to Australia – then I thought of Phulbari. The combination of my birthday and the mountain in Nepal seemed too good to miss.

‘Anytime you want?’

I nodded.

‘You don’t have phone?’

‘No.’

‘Just one small bag?’

He was referring to my shiny silver Rimova cabin bag on wheels with built-in jet propulsion and magical powers.

‘Yup.’

‘And the computer?’

Dogster’s slim, sexy black Sony VAIO was a particular hit in Nepal.

‘That’s all,’ I said as coolly as I could muster,’ I don’t need anything else…’

Govinda smiled sadly.

‘Ah-h-h-h…’ he said, ’you are a sadhu.’

There was a hint of fear in his soft Nepali eyes.

*

Govinda was my conduit to the world. His English was way better than my Nepali so, in effect, he was translator, guide, host and life-line – my Phulbari fixer. Life was easy between us.

‘I will collect thirty or fifty children,’ he said one day, apropos of nothing at all, ‘make children house.’

He gestured at the valley below. Handsome poverty-stricken hamlets vied with lush, terraced fields, the land curved away under us like slices in a bright green mango.

‘Many problems down here. Look pretty but many problems.’

I always rather had the feeling that Govinda’s grand and noble ideas needed grand and noble amounts of my foreigner cash.

‘Drink problem. Drug problem. Poor problem. Dead father problem. Too many children problem. Sometime all problem, all-together, every time.’

His face darkened. Govinda didn’t really like to talk about bad things to a foreigner.

‘One boy, I have him here – her mother was burned alive.’ He paused and twitched his head; ‘she was a witch.’

Which boy?

‘Yes,’ he said, nodding wisely.

*

Raj Kumar was sixteen and still at school. He supplemented his income working at night as my security guard. At eight-thirty he and his mate would appear, torches in hand, to peer into my room, observe every minute change since they last peered, shine halogen spotlights on me if I was sleeping, whisper loudly and crash around in the gravel.

‘Is it a tigah-h-h? Is it an elephant? ’

There was high pitched giggling.

‘I think it is a monster,’ said Dogster dryly.

More mirth from the mist.

‘Mr. Raj Kumar! Sir!’

His torch clicked on.

‘No monster.’

‘Everything is good, Mr. Raj, I am safe. Goodnight.’

‘I am going.’

‘Sleep well.’

Raj hovered in the doorway.

‘I am going.’

‘O.K. Raj, goodnight…’

A pregnant pause…

Two bright eyes lit on the shiny black Sony on the desk.

‘No, you can not watch movies.’

Crash, giggle, clump through darkness. I see their torches wobble off along the path.

‘See you!’ shouted over a young Nepali shoulder, ‘I come tomorrow!’

*

‘Mr. Raj Kumar! Sir!’

‘Everything is good, Mr. Raj, everything is good – just talking to Mr. John. Goodnight.’

‘I am going.’

‘Sleep well.’

‘I go, see you. I come tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow one movie, Raj…’

*

The Sex-Positive movement is an ideology which promotes and embraces open sexuality with few limits. The terms and concept of sex-positive and sex-negative are generally attributed to Wilhelm Reich. His hypothesis was that some societies view sexual expression as essentially good and healthy, while other societies which see sex as problematic, disruptive and, dangerous take an overall negative view of sexuality and seek to repress and control the sex drive.

‘Sex-positive’ isn’t a dippy love-child celebration of orgone,’ says sexologist Carol Owen, ‘it’s the cultural philosophy that allows for sexual diversity, differing desires and relationship structures, and individual choices based on consent. It respects each of our unique sexual profiles and understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, a simple yet radical affirmation that we each grow our own passions on a different medium – that instead of having two or three or even half a dozen sexual orientations, we should be thinking in terms of millions.

Which all makes perfect sense to me – but then where my loins are concerned I’m articulate enough to justify almost anything. I just had no idea there was a Sex Positive movement. I think we must have called our shagging something else.

In his particularly Californian way, my Social Studies teacher had conjured up a philosophy that actually encouraged him to be as dirty as he liked. With the enthusiasm of the new convert, he was shagging his way to salvation.

*

Out of the blue and the darkness, in the black of an August Nepali night, a bespectacled organic farmer from Cleveland appeared at my door. The poor chap looked miserable – his laptop, thin cotton shirt, shorts and flip-flops were not going to help him now – only stupidity kept him warm. He was lost.

His appearance was so unexpected it was almost surreal. Once the sun goes down in the Nepali mountains a blanket of deep black covers the world. We were seriously isolated – yet somehow this student fool had found my door.

Young, thin, serious and probably very smart where organic farming is concerned, little else of life had yet filtered through. He was probably twenty-two with thin gold glasses and a Bill Gates stare – but an interesting refusal to admit that he was in any trouble at all. The poor fool had turned down an invitation to stay at Namo Buddha, an hour or so up the road and decided to return home to his own bed down in the valley..

‘Maybe I should’ve asked a few more questions,’ he said blithly, ‘it was light, the guy just said go down, go down, go straight and down. If you get into trouble just ask for Govinda.’

The meek young farmer headed off into the gathering clouds of his own stupidity. Of course, once the Nepali night fell on him he was stranded. Eventually, walking along a lonely road, he met a man and asked for Govinda. The man bought him miles through the rain to Phulbari. Raj Kumar escorted them both to my house. With me was Govinda. Now Bill Gates was saved.

One problem. He had the wrong Govinda.

A new candidate for most stupid man in Nepal.

We let the organic farmer stew outside while we decided what to do with him.

Dog wasn’t going to help him. He just didn’t like the guy.

‘He’s not sleeping here.’

This weedy college punk was far too stupid to help – he was a young man who needed a good dose of consequences. A night with the chickens will smarten him up.

‘He can sleep in the cave house, I don’t mind,’ John said, ju-u-u-ust a little bit too eagerly.

‘Why not,’ I chuckled. That would be a dose of something more than consequences.

The newcomer didn’t look like a sex-radical kinda guy, more a sex-you-mean-me? kinda guy. Unaware of the political agenda about to be unleashed on him, the poor sod even looked relieved.

‘Yes, please…’

Cleveland lamb to the Californian slaughter.

*

‘Yes, we have tigah-h-h,’ said Raj Kuman, his eyes shining brightly in the morning sun. ‘And bearrr-r-r-r. Rr-r-r-r-arrrr.’

I’d had a disturbed night.

‘Have you ever seen a tiger, Raj Kumar?

‘Yes,’ he said, all the certainly of his lie staring excitedly from his face.

‘Rr-r-r-r, I hear big tigah-h-h-h shout, rar-rrhhh, big enormous tiger shout, explodering. There,’ he gestured to the other side of the pond,’ two big tigahh-h-h.’

Was this a real tigah-h-h or dream tigah-h-h, Raj?’

‘Little bit real, little bit dream,’ he shrugged.

‘I heard a horrible howl last night,’ Dogster nodded,’ and then a splash as something fell in the pond. I heard it swimming towards me, sobbing. Everything went quiet after that.’

‘Tiger-fish-bear-monster,’ said Raj Kumar wisely.

He knew. He was the son of a witch. Such things were possible.

Perhaps it was the organic farmer.

*

Hoefer sent me this curious E-mail after my first visit:

‘Since you left, 30 years have passed. Govinda and his family where attacked at night at their homes ransacked all valuable taken. The Maos came back in. While playing city politics in Kathmandu, they come and occupy the top pavilion for a night and a day to demonstrate their power to the villagers in-between. Anarchy sneaks in overnight, and we are planting trees around it…’

*

Two years later it all looked exactly the same – only heavier, more permanent; mature. That it was overgrown and would remain so till the monsoon was over only added to the faded glamour; the Miss Haversham of it all. I was back in the dream place. Mist drifted through the fol-de-rols and salas; trellises and walkways sprawled empty across the property – all waiting for the guests who never came…

Govinda introduced me gently to his son. Last time I was here the lad was just a kid, shyly posing for pictures beside his dad. Now he was taller than Govinda. While the boy went off for chai, his father whispered urgently;

‘He want motorbike. I tell him no. No motorbike. No money. He cry. School finish this year. He want Hospitality College in Kathmandu. Soon, I have to tell him no. No money…’

The kid returned. He was bright and friendly, respectful and shy, all at once. He sat down next to me, smiled and handed me my chai. Of course, I had been set up.

‘Tell me about when the Maoists came.’

‘They came all at once,’ he said, ‘in the night. They crashed in and broke things and wanted Daddy.’

‘Were you scared?’

He nodded.

‘Did you cry?’

‘Yes,’ he said in a little voice.

Govinda-lite was waiting for me to have the ‘what are you going to do now that school has finished’ conversation’ but I wasn’t biting. I know that the next step is the ‘oh dear poor lad so sad how can I help you’ conversation. Dad was probably filling out the adoption papers now.

At very least, I could pay for his tertiary education.

‘Govinda, I’m not going to pay for his college fees, you know that.’

Govinda smiled and shrugged. Tomorrow he would sell me someone else’s land.

*

In the mountains, things move slowly, seasons come and seasons go; life beats to a natural drum. But inside those picturesque houses, in the dark of a winter night, it’s a battlefield of superstition, religion, politics and sex. Gossip fuels the faintest flame, anger and alcohol turns to madness, witches are burnt and children killed – ignorance and culture dance a secret gavotte. This sleepy Shangri-la seethes with secrets.

Politics and poverty have always been powerful friends – add stupidity, self-interest, greed and corruption; add a red flag, a hammer and a sickle, an inept power elite and stand back – you have politics in Nepal. When the Maoists began their struggle in the Kathmandu Valley, the house of a rich man on top of a mountain must have seemed like a logical place to start. Just as Phulbari can see everyone, so everyone can see Phulbari. There he was – the foreign capitalist sitting in his castle in the sky. Demands were made. Demands were ignored. Hoefer refused to deal with the Maoists. Maoists refused to deal with Hoefer – an epic stand-off ensued. It’s been going on for a decade, igniting every two or three years in a show of force.

‘Boof!’ he said, miming punching his face. ‘Boof, boof! Boof. Ow.’

Then Govinda laughed and clapped his son on the shoulder.

‘Everything fine now. Sometimes I in the middle. Mr. Hoefer one side, the world other side. Everybody here now Maoist,’ said Govinda eagerly, ‘everybody same. Me too – Maoist. All finish.’

Of course, this being Nepal, merely winning the war didn’t mean the battle was over. Following massive popular demonstrations and a prolonged “People’s War” against the monarchy, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) became the ruling party during the election in 2008. During the last election, Maoist elements in the village won a majority of votes and overtook the policies of village life in a runaway situation that left the innocent and uninformed too caught up to protest. Now they are at war with themselves.

And the bandh plays on.

*

POSTSCRIPT MARCH 2011

Just to want to keep you abreast of the events in Phulbari farm. We don’t know when we are able to set foot again. Latest news and photos from Govinda is the vandalism – small steps to intimidate us. Someone or a group burnt the “holy” tree on the island of the pond at summit of the hill. What can we do but to detach ourselves from the farm? Somewhat difficult for those of us who love the place.
Best regards,
Cynthia
*

Here’s an edited version of her attached report.

On February 2nd, Hans was visited by a party of Maoist leaders from the district of Kavre with a demand of one million Nepali rupees (approximately S$18,900) as “a contribution to the party.”

He pointed out that over the last 18 years of our presence in the farm, the company had not made profit to begin with. Secondly, as a foreign investor he emphasised that he had no intention to side with any political party and chose to remain neutral. As the negotiation appeared futile, the Maoist group stepped down the sum to 800,000 rupees which was again politely refused. The last blow is the insistence of one Maoist group to hand over the farm keys to them. They left and were loudly abusive to the farm staff with a last word that the farm was to be closed and to await further “big Mao action.”

Hans decided to stay and face the consequence. Ten youths visited the next day and stated that they were able offer security services to resorts and that they are already engaged by the nearby Namo Buddha Resort. Again, their offer to look after the security of the farm was rebuffed. We do not intend to pay three thugs a monthly ransom of 10,000 rupees (S$188) each. The same request was repeated in successive days with the same answer “No.”

After years of quietly minding our own business, supporting at one stage 11 workers and maintaining the pump and supply of water to the villagers, we were suddenly confronted by the villagers led by a leader, again a Maoist party member, for an unspecified “tax.” The most perplexing thing is that the villagers decided to double lock the pump house gate thus depriving themselves and our farm of water supply. We reciprocated by asking the villagers to take back the pump house and the running of the diesel generator, petrol and wear and tear. That was the last direct talk we had with the leader who replied that he would have to call a meeting with the villagers to discuss our offer.

By this time, the aggression increased several notches directed mainly on our staff. Three staff members resigned and are now demanding gratuities and back-dated double pay for 24-hour guard duty. labour laws heavily favour the workers. No amount of negotiating and counter offering could persuade them to reason with common sense and rule of law. It seems that they are empowered by the Mao Bhadis (as the card-carrying members of the Maoist communist party) are called. Just moments before our departure, the depraved ex-worker showed up with a few of his Mao Baddies in front of the gate he had locked to prevent Hans from getting his hired motorbike.This was clearly and a physical threat which could potentially be a time bomb. A phone call to the company lawyer explained the gravity of his action and reluctantly, the man unlocked the gate and allowed Hans his passage out of the sticky situation.

When Hans left the following day for Kathmandu, Govinda was physically threatened. He decided to flee to the town of Banepa and resigned from the company telling us to close the farm and wait another year. Our day watchman has quit after about 50 rowdy men or “muscle power” threatened him violently. A second watchman is ambivalent about his position and told us to wait for a month or so. We left the farm with a saddened heart not knowing when we can return. Three years ago I visited the farm after eight years of absence due to the army fighting the Mao insurgency. This time I await this madness of rampaging groups to dry up like the approaching parched season. But in this case, this is no longer a political group versus the army but an uncontrollable situation of roaming grabbers with or without the blessings of their leaders.

As the van wound its way down the hillside the peaceful scene of children walking home from school and women tending to the goats and  hay belies the smouldering unrest and helplessness that many are facing.

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