Posts Tagged ‘sustainable development’

Paragliders float towards the ground against a backdrop of a dark hill, like a descending flock of colorful, lazy birds. Kayaks and rowboats glide along a lake fringed with pollution, but good for swimming at the middle. Shaded shops stuffed with North Face gear, hiking poles, and hippie clothes line the main street along the lake. Pokhara has all of the marks of a well-visited tourist town, but the muggy pre-monsoon air reflects a truth that’s easier ignored than faced.

Although she’s a Tibetan refugee, Lhopsa has never seen Tibet. Her Tibetan mother died when she was young, and Lhopsa began to wash clothes in a hotel in Phokara. Now she comes into town everyday to sell trinkets to tourists, carrying her business in a backpack that looks like an overachieving middleschooler’s. If she sells something, then she gets to eat. Food is expensive in Pokhara.

There are so many injustices that I would hear about in the news or read about in books. Talking to Lhopsa made them real for me. Although born in Nepal, the refugees are not Nepali citizens, so they don’t have a citizens’ rights. And how can I say that they should be made citizens when there are so many refugees (aka illegal immigrants) in my own country who are only slightly better off? She can’t eat. She doesn’t own the land she lives on. She can’t afford to.

So many times I would argue about the problems of international sustainable development- first world organizations going into developing countries to help them meet their basic needs. I was always against it. The more I learned, the more I saw organizations like the World Bank wrecking people’s lives in an attempt to control their resources, all under the guise of sustainable development. But there was Lhopsa, sitting in front of me in her tourist hand-me-down Victoria’s Secret T-shirt, fully aware that she’d received a low lot in life, telling me about her impossible dreams of coming to America.

I wanted to know what she thought. I explained the idea of a self-sustaining community; that she’d be able to grow her own food and generate her own electricity and clean water, and not have to rely on money from tourists. That she and the other refugees would design the community and make all of the decisions. Her answer?

She chuckled and with a smile, said, “Me, I have no education. I know only a little English. Only a little Nepali. If you want to do that, then you come up and see it. You do that.” I don’t think she believed that it was possible.

And so, as she dreams about marriage to a westerner as a ticket to freedom, Lhopsa will continue to come into Phokara every morning to scratch by a living. Sometimes she’ll eat, sometimes she won’t. Her mother left Tibet because she had no freedom there. Lhopsa, too, is now enslaved.

But what can we do? More than anything, we can look this problem straight in the face. We can recognize that a similar problem is happening in the U.S., only we call it by a different name. Maybe, if done properly and by the right people, sustainable development is the solution. I can’t think of any other ones. And as frustrated and angry as I felt, I knew that at least I could write about this. Even though there’s nothing else I can do right now, at least I can listen to Lhopsa’s story. And share it.


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They say that smell is the strongest trigger of memories. Lately I’ve been having flashbacks of my trouble-making youth, when I went through that phase where you like to light things on fire and see how they change. Today on the bus to Allepey I remembered my Grandmother’s damp basement and me and my sister and two of my cousins striking matches and then burning the end of a ballpoint pen. Little black globules floated in the dim lit air like drugged-out fruit flies. My heart raced from the thought of our Grandma catching us. We knew what we were doing wasn’t allowed, but back then curiosity was the excuse that made allowances for everything. I smooshed the melted pen onto a piece of paper and smiled; it looked like a royal seal.

Sitting alone on the bus this morning I found myself holding my breath more often than usual. Every few minutes my lungs would feel the faint contraction that comes from inhaling dirty smoke. Most of the time it was just a pile of old leaves and garbage that was burning- it’s the dry season in Kerala and thinks are getting brittle. But every now and then I’d know that I was smelling burning plastic and my mind would go back to that brown house in the country, the last on the left on Green Grove Dr.

There are some things that I know I will never take for granted again. In the U.S. I can turn on a tap and know that I can drink the water without having to worry about getting hepatitis (I can get this water basically for free, unless of course it becomes privatized and corporations get to charge whatever they want so that they can make a profit from it).  In the U.S. there’s this idea that people have a right to clean air (unless, of course, you’re a poor black kid living in the South Bronx. Or a poor white kid living in Scranton next to Route 81). In the U.S. anyone can get a great education, so long as they study hard (and are already in the middle class so that they have the money to afford skyrocketing tuition).

Something I’m starting to realize is that there are things in this world that are universal.  Everywhere has its mischievous children and scolding grandmothers.  But when it comes to shaping the world that we live in and the way that we’re influenced by it- a.k.a. when it comes to pushing for environmental change- whether it regards health or aesthetics or infrastructure, there is a lot that the U.S. has already been done.  There isn’t trash on the side of our roads and our air isn’t clouded with the toxic fumes of burning plastic.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left to fight for.  It’s the things in the parentheses, the people in the parentheses, that we need to make sure don’t go unnoticed.  This is why activism is so necessary.  When there’s someone in the U.S. pointing out how clean our air is and how free our people are, someone else needs to be there to point out that actually the cleanliness of one’s air and the freedom that one has depends on the size of one’s wallet.

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