a sabbatical rest, day 127
The government in Nepal has placed limits on the movement of people and goods because of a spike in Covid-19 cases. They don’t want to call it a lockdown, because of how devastating the lockdown was last year. It’s called “prohibitory orders.” But everyone knows it’s a lockdown.
We came back a day early from a trip to the Annapurna conservation district because they had announced a one-week ban on travel into or out of the Kathmandu valley where we are living. We got stuck in a 6-hour traffic jam, as people tried to get into or out of the city before the restrictions were imposed. Mostly out of. Imagine you work in a shop or restaurant. You won’t be able to work or pay rent. And the last time the lockdown lasted almost a year. It has already been extended for another week. Why not just go back to your village in the mountains? Over 200,000 did, in one day. This is out of a population of about 1.5 million.
Crowded buses, vans, trucks, and cars were streaming out of the valley. People were standing in the aisles on the buses. I saw one van with five people crammed into the front seat and who knows how many more crushed together in the back. One woman told a local newspaper she paid three times the normal price for a bus ticket, and considered herself lucky to get it. This is how it started last year, and many people leaving the city assume it would be extended again and again, as before. There is a family garden in the village somewhere. There are people you love.
Not everyone who left the valley were struggling, however. With schools closed indefinitely, some people with more money just went back to their homes for relaxation. Other think they will be less likely to contract the virus outside the city. (According to the BBC, in India, the outward migration from the cities has actually spread the virus.)
Meanwhile, here in Kathmandu, you can be out in the morning to buy groceries. But you will have to walk, since public and private vehicles are banned, except for a few categories of essential services, such as delivering food or medical supplies. No taxis. Few motorcycles. Police checkpoints. Lots of sirens. When we go out for food we see areas roped off on the streets where police have confiscated vehicles, about 2000 a day. You can call an ambulance, however.
Restaurants and shops are all closed. I wrote about how bad the traffic was when we got here, but now the streets are eerily empty. Nepal is reporting about 7000 new cases a day, just a little of over half of them here in the valley. The number of new cases has tripled in the last two weeks. About 50 a day are dying. Last week we went out twice a day; grocery stores and vegetable markets were open from 6 to 10 am and 5 to 7 pm. One day, we walked to a supermarket about a mile away without any trouble. But the hours people can be out were just reduced to 7-9 am, and police are asking pedestrians to explain their reason for being on the street. So, we are staying closer to home and avoiding checkpoints. Fortunately, there are fruit and vegetable markets within a block, and a decent grocery store about 100 yards (ca. 91 m) from us. But next week, I think, exercise will be mostly walking up and down the stairs in our building.
The situation in India, Nepal’s southern neighbor, is much worse, and there appears to be some effort here to get in front of it. It may be too late. The government is scrambling for more oxygen cylinders and vaccines, and trying to contain things at the border where Nepali’s citizens who went to India for work are trying to get home. The army has been dispatched to build a 2000 bed isolation unit at one crossing point.
We are fine. There is a lot of uncertainty, especially since the airport has been closed for this current phase of the lockdown—excuse me, prohibitory order. But we aren’t particularly anxious, safely tucked into our 6th floor apartment. We’re still taking our Nepali lessons, on Zoom. And our return flight is not for another six weeks.
The pre-monsoon rains have begun, and, with so little traffic, the air is clearing. For now, our heart is here in the valley, with people we love and work with.
Plus, we’ve figured out where the checkpoints are. And the U.S. ambassador’s house is only a block away.