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Inside Nepal's Revolution
NOVEMBER 2005
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Slide Show: Nepal's War
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph courtesy Ed Douglas



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On Assignment
Inside Nepal's Revolution

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    You'd think spending a few weeks living alongside a rebel army would be a nerve-racking business, and occasionally it was, but mostly it was a great adventure. Nepalis are welcoming people, even under the dreadful conditions of their slow-burn civil war, and they're remarkably resilient. I won't forget the kindnesses shown us as we traveled around. 
    Working with photographer Jonas Bendiksen and our Nepali team was also a great pleasure. Jonas is hilarious and incredibly dedicated. We all slept in one room, without electricity, and water came from a hosepipe in the village square. After a week, our clothes stank of wood smoke. Jonas and I struggled to cope with a diet of mostly rice, but we just didn't have the digestion for it. I couldn't physically eat enough before I felt full. And with the tough trekking in Nepal's middle hills, I ended up losing around 20 pounds (nine kilograms).
    Soon after we arrived in the village of Babiyachour, we heard there'd been a murder at a farmhouse on the edge of town. We rushed over to find a young man lying dead on the packed earth outside his family's home. His wife was weeping nearby, and his relatives were looking on. In a fight over the rights to the water flowing through the irrigation ditch that ran between his and the adjacent property, a neighbor had stabbed him in the heart in the early morning and then fled. 
    A growing population has stretched resources in rural Nepal to the limit, exacerbating tensions between ethnic and caste groups. The murder was a big test for the Maoists, but they tracked down the man who did it and brought him back to the scene of the crime. He was then questioned in front of the villagers, who sat patiently watching and listening. He admitted his guilt but tried to claim it was self-defense. The widow was immediately paid compensation, and he was taken off to a Maoist prison that afternoon. An entire criminology Ph.D. could have been earned right there.
    Toward the end of our trek, we reached an Achham village regarded as the Maoist district capital. The district commander was a nice man, professorial and earnest, with a detailed knowledge of the life and sayings of Chairman Mao. One evening he invited us to see his home movies. Alarm bells should have started ringing immediately, but we patiently followed him to his house, 20 minutes down a steep hill from our lodge. 
    In his room, he had a computer holding days' worth of movies showing Maoists imitating the style of Bollywood blockbusters. Girls and boys brandishing M16s danced and flirted with each other through a series of costume changes at local scenic spots for the benefit of our Maoist friend's rather shaky digital camera. Each time we tried to make our excuses and leave, he would find another of these movies. Jonas and I had to avoid looking at each other so we wouldn't start laughing. At around 1 a.m., we finally escaped to start the long climb up to bed.
 
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