Mining Minerals on the Moon and Other Fantasies of Extreme Expatriate Intervention in Kathmandu, Nepal
It took me nearly a month to fi nd where the Western engineers were now hanging out in Kathmandu. Just a few years earlier, the American Recreational Club-also known by its name as a former royal palace, Phora Durbar-with its inexpensive cans of Fosters and nearly new-release movies had been a good option, but with the increased security at the club and the decrease in number of direct U.S. government employees, far fewer people were there on a Friday night than there had been in the 1990s. I looked at the Irish Pub near ‘Embassy Row’ and the part of the British Embassy called the Sterling Club, both of which were popular in 2008 with Western expatriates because they accommodated the interests of a newly dominant population, single men, while still being separated from the chaotic tourist district of Thamel. Yet, I could fi nd little familiar from my past experiences of expatriate recreation at these sites in 2012. One Friday night when I visited the Irish Pub, I found a meager crowd: a few English teachers nursing expensive Guinnesses, two visiting philanthropists eager to describe their once-a-year adventures to a village they ‘sponsored’ and a celebrating British trekking group. Finally at The Corner Bar, a venue attached to one of the major international hotels in Kathmandu, I overheard the conversations I was seeking, discussions of tensile strength and local rebar availability, conversations that had been familiar to be from past contact with expatriate structural engineers seeking to span Nepal’s valleys with bridges. Yet now the discussion was not only about the strength of materials in the service of diffi cult geography but also about diffi cult politics and about how barriers could be built to survive not only earthquakes but also terrorist attacks. The focus on infrastructure quickly shifted on this evening to human challenges: the need to train local military personnel and the diffi culties of implementing a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in Kathmandu. The four men discussing rebar over imported beer were all former military personnel who had a very brief time in Nepal to fi gure out how to effectively implement new security strategies. In this conversation, they were trying to recollect everything they had seen from their Pajero Jeep that day that might help them to write their report on security concerns for foreign governments in Kathmandu. With only four days in the city, everything had to be mined for potential data, yet
as their driver was off now, there was little additional reconnaissance they could do this evening, and their conversation later turned to Internet videos for teaching yourself guitar, something one engineer was doing to pass the long evenings with little to do.