The benefits of being ill (for a while).

Sometimes life travels at lightspeed for some. The reasons why are usually a totally unpredictable combination of events, challenges, situations and probably more known factors like character, emotion, personality, ambition and health. For me it’s not difficult to attach something personal to all of these words but the last one has, for the time being, become like the sand in the machine. And that was about time.

There’s no need or ambition in me to go through that whole string of words but a few things are at this moment determining my life in the short term. That is until expectedly the end of this year.

So I fell ill. An intense flu crossed my path and although that is no drama at all for me it meant that I for the first time in many months was forced to take a break. If only for a week or two. And taking a brake from work, obligations, efforts and ambitions forces one to think. Usually.

In the coming months is a lot of work waiting for me and with a lot of luck I’ll be able to get it done before summer. The long awaited novel is getting printed and so are two photobooks. The latter two however still have to be produced from ground up and that is quite a job even for someone like me who is able to make beautifully layouted work in a relative short timespan. And then of course there’s the big one. The film. Still so much to do and so much of it only possible to be done by me. It was, is and will be the biggest time consumer for at least another couple of months. That isn’t everything on the agenda. Because I am turning this work of writing, filming, photographing and publishing my profession rapidly. I know exactly what I want to do in the next part of my life and in fact I have been doing that already since about two years. It feels good, it is me out there doing what I love.

But there’s also the demonic shadow of the past preventing me to build a business of it in my home country because of a business past gone bad (nothing special there either but the left overs are still quite unmanageable). So if I want to do what I do on a solid basis I will have to work internationally. The good news is, I love that. Still, being stranded by illness for a while does force me to revise plans. Not in the least because when out of the performance loop the mind starts asking questions. Making reality checks. And so plans change.

Sure, I still will start to work from abroad for a large portion of the year as soon as it can be arranged. Economics will decide when, I decide if. But the timelines and the way this will happen shift, turn and change. It is not realistic for me to work from Nepal as a home base. I will however keep visiting the country I love so dearly and keep following, filming and reporting the fate of my Bhutanese friends in and around the refugee camps. Not because I promised but because I see that as an obligation to do so. There are more angles to the Nepalese society and the developments of Nepal that I want to report about. But it will never be my only world.

I am still a novel writer and that will not change, just like my love for writing poetry and songs for entertainment. So there will always be times when I am not in Asia or anywhere else for local reporting or filming but in stead I’ll be somewhere, anywhere, writing a novel. And the topic will not necessarily be connected to previous work because my very being as a literary artist doesn’t allow fixation.

So what does all of this mean for the plans I had and for a part still have?

Well, I am the journalist writer, photographer and filmer interested and focussed on human and women rights in South Asia. No doubt about that. But maybe after finishing the film not for this year anymore. Probably if not almost certainly next year again. But I am also the heremit writer in a soft spot somewhere writing that next novel. The sort of novel is already decided and quietly I am starting up research for it already. It is going to be very different from previous work, a challenge to write (that’s never a surprise) and a very special book. And I will also every now and then take the stage with a song or a short story in whatever show with dear theatre friends.

It will mean that I will not leave my country permanently. It will mean that I will leave my country intermittently, sometimes for long periods. But I’ll always be back for long periods. Like this year. Because this year, after the dust has settled of the books and the film and the two years of work involving the Bhutanese exiles issue, I will take a break for something very different, to keep myself in shape and not loose myself in one topic to work on and to take care that my mind stayes free. (I will not drop the topic of the Bhutanese, I can’t but it will be not the main focus for some time.)

Sometime this summer the real work on my new novel will start in traditional writing style. Designing the essence of the story, the plot if there is one to be, the characters, events, images and emotions. It will be England from roughly the end of the 19th century until the 1930’s. It will be distiguished romantic painters and one specific exquisitly beautiful model. A girl who became a model by fate and lost that work also by fate, never known by the public by her real name because she was not so high class savvy as that other famous painters model in that time but by the names of Greec goddesses or biblical Heroïns and who faded away in history but by her image remained unforgettable. I long to write about the life and loves of that woman who was once ‘Flaming June’. And this novel is one that will take quite some time to write wether I am in the flow or not. But it is a certainty that this will be my next major work.

Alice © 2012

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Another step on Nepal’s long march to peace.

In between 1996 and 2006 Nepal was caught in a civil war. The Maoists euphemistically named it the Peoples War. It was a medium scale civil war which started with the aim to overthrow the Nepal monarchy. It was started and led by Maoist insurgents and forces within Nepal. When unexpectedly the royal family assassination took place in 2001 (many blame the former crown prince but the cause of the event was never completely unveiled) the country was brought into further turmoil. It ended with a peace accord on November 21, 2006. The then king abdicated and Nepal became a federal republic. A democratic republic also as a parliament was instated and efforts started to draft a new constitution. In 2012 the country still doesn’t have a completed draft for the new constitution let alone an installed one. It still lives under parliamentary supported government guided regime and is still in the process of becoming a peaceful democratic country. The good thing is that Nepal has been able to rebuild society into a more open and democratic one and many Nepalis are actively involved in constructing their nation.

Maoist forces in training (photo courtesy of Khairul Today)

Still, a lot of problems, challenges if you will, exist. Crime rate is high especially concerning trafficking of women and children, drugs trafficking and domestic and gender based violence. The Maoist forces have still not completely integrated in the Nepal society and the level op corruption although being the glue in society is very high. Nepal is for all intents and purposes a very complicated country. Poverty is all around but at the same time Nepal has become one of the most attractive tourist countries in South Asia. After all, Chomolungma (‘mother of the universe’ as the Tibetan’s call her) is overlooking the country and with the name Mount Everest it attracts large number of western tourists to the country. And because of that attention and the mystification of the former Hindu kingdom many westerners are confronted with the vast amount of problems that Nepali society faces. Resulting in an extreme large number of NGO’s working in the country with volunters from all over the globe.

What’s lacking is a strong connection on political level with the international community. Reasons for that being that the international community is pre occupied with Africa and the Middle East and everything in the Himalayas seem to be under control. But is everything under control?

Nepal is walking the tightrope. Just today the Nepali army finally took over the maoist army camps which is a major step towards lasting peace. The Maoist are a force to reckon with. They have a formal position in Nepal’s parliament, just as the other communist parties have. The current governent after all is a Marxist/Leninist led government. The Congress Party with it’s traditional India link is currently not in the government seat but has been there for long. None of the parties have a majority. New elections are still not there because there is no new constitution as the drafting process is continuously sabotaged by some of the political parties involved and because of that it is unclear how the democratization and constitutional processes in the country will evolve in the coming years. Which is a pitty as they started off so well in 2006. The drafting process of the new constitution involves a couple of revolutionary novelties in South Asian politics and rule, like the formal dismissal of the caste system that has held the whole population captive for hundreds of years, the introduction of third gender as a legal and equal foundation for lesbians, gays and transgenders and the rights to education and health care for all citizens. Those are few of the amazing changes that this newly drafted constitution will bring to beautiful Nepal. When it gets there and if it gets there.

In the meanwhile the world economic crisis has hit the country hard. Energy is problematic as 100% of the oil reserves are managed by India and the production of electricity is way below the needs of the country. These two resulting in a hampering of economic activitities to an unacceptable level and gross unrest under the Nepali population. This, in combination with strong corruption and a weak and instabel government is continuously leading to bandhas (strikes) in the country. Especially in the densily populated and economic all important south of Nepal. The number of undisturbed working days available to build the economy is terrifying low. And then there still is that silent force of Maoist forces that has its position and power in the country and still has the risk of resurrecting itself if the political situation becomes undesirable for them. They have laid heir weapons down and are being integrated in the Nepal armed forces, their camps are now being taken over and at Thribuvan Airport there now is one checkpoint and not two (one of which was a seperate Maoist checkpoint). Their visible role in everyday life is decreasing fast and the Maoist veterans are slowly becoming part of the greater Nepal society. At least, that’s how it seems. But there are still political killings in the country and press freedom is threatened by continuous attacks on journalist. The government, being not very strong, is unable to dismantle the Maoist forces as they are in fact part of the current political system. And maybe they shouldn’t even try.

The good news is that today the Maoist army camps are no longer Maoist army camp but army camps from the Nepal army. That at least reduces the number of different armed forces in the country. The bad thing is that it didn’t happen voluntary but because of unrest in the camps making the handover of the camps two days earlier than planned to prevent outbreaks of violence.

Still, it’s a small but important step on Nepal’s log march to peace.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Headwind and bad times.

Within a couple of weeks my world has turned for the worse. I experience a shitload of headwind.

For whatever reason my love left me, the exact reasons are still a bit unclear although some hints are there. No one to blame. After that came creative crisis. Poetry is far away, theatre performance went well but the videorecording failed tragically (can’t do camera and perform at the same time) and a few days ago my allowance was decreased with more than 30% leaving me with not enough money to live. Rent, health care and normal dayli things leave me without enough money for food. Hard times ahead. And to top it all the effort of finishing Headwind is for whatever reason anyone has until now still more than 90% depending on me. Too little support, to little progress, too little co-operation. It is so clear that if I would stop working on this film it will never hit the screens. That alone makes that this is essence a film made by with. With some support but not enough by any length. Financially this film project has made gone all the way into post production with a reasonable balance sheet but also with ruining my personal economic life. Productionwise it still is mainly me effort, no matter what has been tried so far to expand that effort and have others become co-creators. Currently I am doing camera, audio recording, soundtrack building, audio and video editing, directing and 90% of the producing, writing and financing myself. That is not a good feeling at all.

So I have to get back in fighting mode but somehow I really can’t. Too damned tired of it all. Because doing this all on my own is just too much. But ok, I’ll put up another fight, like I’ve always done but there is little pleasure left in my life especially as I feel so very much displaced with my heart and emotions left in Nepal and my body in this cold, grey and cynical country. From whatever perspective my personal life is a total shambles. Single, desolated, technically bankrupt and creatively worn out. This time the fight is extra tough and I have no idea how long it will take to get on my feet again.

A few things are clear however.

I will finish my film no matter what happens and my finished novel will be published. No idea where or how to get thefunds for it, but it will certainly be finalized in the coming two months. After that all I do will be connected with making my personal life manageable, because at this stage it certainly isn’t. And when that point is reached I will be gone. Leaving this country for as long as possible beause I do not want to spend the rest of my life in this land. I cannot survive here and I feel out of place an useless. I hope that some time soon I will be able to go and place my life in the hands of whatever God / Gods and dedicate what’s left of it to writing, filming and showing the western world the gravity of life in South Asia. Because it is high time that that region with all it’s challenges becomes more known to the west.

I feel I am finished here and as always before in my life I know that this means I have to go elsewhere. And no matter what, I will be able to finish what I started and what I love to do when I feel a bit better: finishing Headwind and bringing my work to the screen. And that is not easy, not easy at all. But it certainly is worth all the crap that is happening to me. Because there are people waiting for that film to come to their screens. Unfortunately in the west most people don’t give a damn about knowing the reality of forgotten exiles let alone support the making of a film. In the end it is like with most guerilla filmers: you make it because there is no way not to do that, wether anyone is interested or not.

Alice © 2012

Eve teasing.

It’s fairly common in South Asia. Due to the changing society and increase of women’s liberties it is all to common now in countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal for women to travel without male company. Many men in those countries cannot handle situations where women prove to be independent and some of these men (and boys) become harrasive. Eve teasing is the term used for their sexually abusieve behavior.

Eve teasing relates of course to the Biblical Eve and the word teasing to a playful thing, which it for obvious reasons is not. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working in Nepal, in the southeast Terai and due to the way we work we often used public transport. Two western women, one of them dressed European style and the other dressed Nepali style but still very obvious European white women. Most of the days and most of the travels are without incidents and also most of the days and travels men noticeably observe and watch. Not much ado about anything.

And then, one day, there’s a local bus ride from a provincial town to a refugee camp. The bus is crowded, over crowded as the busses always are. It is by all means the quickest way of transport in that location although one would probably not think so according to the speed of the vehicles. It’s the big bus, not one of the small ones and after a few stops the thing is completely filled with people standing against each other, leaning over and trying to grab anything that can hold them upright while the bus bumpes it’s way along te road. And we are of course noticed.

Most people don’t even react, some of them look at us and children gaze. Older women smile when they see us and younger women look curiously. Old men have no interest but the other man gaze. Except for one. The guy starts throwing remarks. Friendly at first as if he’s trying to charm us but after a while he continues with his remarks in a flirtatious way. Some people laugh. Some remarks are in Nepali and not in English, presumably he thinks we do not understand his Nepali. He is right as far as my European dressed curly haired companion is concerned but I do understand some words. They are sexually loaded remarks.

No one interferes and he seems unable to get more attention than a few laughs from other young men and a couple of giggles from teenager girls. Still, his remarks were pretty indecent as the whole of his behaviour was. The only reasons for it being two western women traveling in the same bus he was in. He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.

This time there were no others to jump in on his attempts to be ‘funny’. This time there were many women on the bus and only few men. So this time it all stayed at a harmless level. Quite different from another instance earlier last year when I solely walked the streets of a little town during a bhanda, a general strike. At that instance I came into a situation where young men in their early adolescense started throwing remarks at me. Mind you, I was dressed Nepali style as usual at the time. Still they started of from the other side of the street making remarks. First it were words but within minutes some of the were shouting remarks at me. A few of the remarks I understood as I do understand some Nepali. I was being ‘Eve teased’. Not in a ‘funny’ way like on the bus but in a more agressive and intrusive way. I didn’t quite understand what happened at the time but now I know that it was one of those examples of harrasment that many women in South Asia experience when moving in public without male company.

Both instances of Eve Teasing were relatively mild but both of them unwanted. Both instances were sexually loaded and directed at me and both instances were examples of sexual harrasment as in both cases it wat unwanted and intrusive.

Now, after months living and traveling in the region I know more and now I realize how deep the unease of a lot of men is when they see women in public without a male companion. I also understand now that social change and women liberation in countries like Nepal and India has come at a consequence that society has not been able to handle. Men simply seem not able to accept women being emancipated.

Now ofcourse this all is quite different from the experiences we’ve had in working with the great guys who were helping us with our work. They are the modern guys. The ones who act normally and do not fool around. They support and enjoy working together and gender is not an issue with them. But outside this amazing group of guys there are so many men in Nepal and India who seem sexually frustrated. Harrasing women is an evil in society that is unfortunately all to common. Bollywood enforces that as society is constantly flooded with gender traditional images on television. Films, commercials and even music underline an overly heterosexual and gender biased mentality in a culture that is changing rapidly but does not yet understand the importance of female independency and emancipation. Eve teasing is just part of that. It should be fought against as much as possible.

Alice © 2012