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Monday, April 13, 2020

Nepal 2020 - Lockdown Experience - The 3 Year Recurrence

The 'Work-In-Progress' lockdown.


Nigeria 2014 - Lockdown Experience - The 3 Year Recurrence

Cote d'Ivoire 2017 - Lockdown Experience - The 3 Year Recurrence

Nepal, in 2020

Joined a new organisation last year. Been deputed to Nepal, since then. Work profile has also undergone some changes. Rather than doing things right, I'm ensuring that things are done right. Most importantly, to some detriment, no longer travel to site as part of a crew. Depending on the type & stage of the project, have been my Company's only Engineer.

Lockdown - Nepal 2020 - 01

Been at this plant since early January this year, overseeing the client's capacity expansion. Then, the Wuhan Coronavirus was just that, a novel Coronavirus affecting people in Wuhan. Through February, work paced normally, though numbers were moving North & spreading wide. Nepal, too, reported a case, back in January, that was treated to complete recovery. Nothing since then. Material dispatch had gotten affected, though. Shipping traffic reported curtailments. The Procurement team expressed inability to secure vessels to dispatch sub-assemblies produced in China, Japan & Poland.

In March, we suffered a double whammy. The Contractor's workers, most of whom were from UP & Bihar, left for their villages to celebrate Holi. As a result, work came to a near standstill, at the beginning of the month itself, with no extraordinary measures announced. By the time they were to return, things had gotten worse. The Government announced closure of most border crossings.

Lockdown - Nepal 2020 - 02

Early March, the Company announced halt to International travel. Those already at site, were asked to stay put & exercise caution. Received a package, containing wet wipes, hand sanitizers, soap bars & masks. Work at our sites, across Nepal, had slowed down, with most workers not having returned post-Holi. Mid-March, we learnt that Co. was contemplating a pull-back.

On March 18, early evening, while video-conferencing with the client, suddenly, everyone got pinged. An email had been sent across the highest levels, informing the client of my immediate withdrawal, requesting their cooperation in facilitating it. The client, though, initially tried to plead retention, assuring arrangement of all requisites, eventually acceded.

Some of our guys at another site here, however, faced a harrowing situation. Client first refused to provide the obligatory vehicle to take them to the airport and, when they arranged a vehicle themselves, refused to let it in. After much delay, they managed to leave just in time to catch their Kathmandu flight. The matter was, subsequently, reported to the Embassy in Nepal, of the Co.'s parent country. Guys at a site in Kenya, troubleshooting an equipment, worked through the night to complete the job, before heading back to their rooms, pack up & leave for the airport, in less than 2 hours.

Post-meeting, booked mine. Tickets for the Kathmandu-India leg were unavailable for the next day. Booked one for March 20. We generally spend a day in Kathmandu, before catching a return flight. Serves two purpose. Domestic flights in Nepal are unpredictable, getting cancelled on short notices due to inclement weather. With a day in hand, one can plan travel, either by the next available flight, or an 8-10 hours road-trip. The Travel Safety people don't recommend it, calling it's security situation as fragile. The country feels no more unsafe than India.

Lockdown - Nepal 2020 - Pashupatinath Temple - 03

Curiously, a domestic flight ticket costs less than a taxi hire. Reaching Kathmandu a day ahead also gives you time to spend there. A visit to the Pashupatinath Temple, followed by an evening listening to a Rock Band perform live at Purple Haze, in Thamel, makes for an evening well-spent. Thamel, a colourful place, serves as an anchorage for the melange of backpacking tourists passing through.

A little after booking tickets, the HSE guy called. Insistent that I return to India next day. Explained to him about ticket non-availability. Breaking protocol, he recommended that I travel back by road.

The client sent over an India-registered vehicle. Leaving in the afternoon, I reached the Sunauli border-crossing. Had to have myself temperature screened & photographed. All measure in place, they could be bypassed, if desired. As is the norm, you open your luggage for inspection - involves a cursory, disinterested glance. While carrying my luggage for scrutiny, post-screening, a policeman asked to me go & have myself checked first. Told him that it was already done. Simply took my word for it & let me pass.

Reached Gorakhpur in the evening. Checking into the hotel, as I switched on the television, news flashed that India would be ceasing all International flights from March 22. Counted my luck, to be back before that. As I left my room to explore the city, being my first visit, things appeared too normal. Lots of traffic, shops & businesses, all lit up. There were also noticeable police presence on streets.

Lockdown - Nepal 2020 - Tribhuvan International Airport - Kathmandu - 04

At the Airlines counter, next morning, I mentioned to the Ground Staff of my return from Nepal. No additional scrutiny happened. Never ever boarded an emptier domestic flight. Very few rows had more than a single occupant, each side. Transit through Delhi's T1 was a sight in unintended minimalism.

Finally, reached home on the 20th. Parents too returned home that day. What started as voluntary self-isolation turned into a 21-day Govt.-imposed lockdown. Venturing out minimally - once a week while, becoming a parent to my parents, ensuring they leave house never, for now. Receiving some major grief from them - incorrectly identifying dry ration & fresh produce, buying brands they don't prefer, or buying stuff, not realising it is overpriced.

Lockdown - Nepal 2020 - 05

Chronologizing my lock-downs experiences, the trend presented itself. It has now been recurring every 3 years - 2014, 2017 & now 2020.


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