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TIDINGS OF JOY
                                                                By Diana McLeod

        Dear Readers, There are ominous changes that are happening in our country. The Russians are meddling in our elections. There is a town in Greece whose main source of income is selling fake news stories to American websites. American-grown hate groups, radio shock-jocks and others have added to the miasma of misinformation. Propaganda is disguised as news, while legitimate news sources are accused of being propaganda.

       When Americans are swayed by lies, our basic freedoms are at risk, including voting rights, the right to privacy, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and womens’ rights. Patriots on both sides of the aisle are concerned, and they should be. I hope we will all guard our freedoms and the integrity of our democratic institutions. If we don’t, we might eventually lose them.

        To remind us all of how important freedom is, here’s a story about a country that had no freedom at all, and what courageous people were willing to do to get a constitutional government...

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        March 1990 was a terrible time of strife in Nepal. People demanded democracy, but the King and his corrupt family refused to give up power. Violent clashes between police and civilians rocked the streets of Kathmandu, and the situation was building to a head. The population had no weapons to fight with, only the strength of their own convictions.

        Protesters gathered in the capitol, vowing to storm the Royal Palace and scale its thirty foot fences by the thousands. It was announced that anyone attacking the compound would be killed by the army, who were pledged to defend the Royal family. Undeterred, two hundred thousand unarmed men, women, and even children, prepared to march straight into the guns.

        Horrified by the coming bloodbath, Dave and I fled the Capitol, two days before the threatened massacre. Together with our chosen trekking companion, Jody, we went to Pokhara, the starting point for the Annapurna trek.. If we had had any medical training, we would have volunteered to tend the wounded, but our presence wouldn’t aid the protesters. Feeling like helpless bystanders, we headed for the mountains.

        In Pokhara, the situation was equally tense. Insurgents had been rounded up and jailed, or worse. At our guest house, the manager was frantic with worry about his brother, who had gone “missing” for months. We talked all evening, anxious about the looming disaster in Kathmandu.

        Late that night, only hours before the deadline, the King decided to back down. He agreed to the formation of a democratically elected Parliament and the writing of a Nepalese Constitution. Nobody truly knows what happened to change the King’s mind. Did his conscience prod him towards justice? Or did his army commanders simply refuse to execute his orders? Did they lose heart when confronted by the prospect of butchering innocent civilians?

        Whatever happened, it worked. The population went wild with joy at the news. There was rejoicing in the streets like never before. In Pokara, the police, many of whom were rooting for the protesters anyway, opened up the jails and freed all the political prisoners. We witnessed the estatic reunion of our new friend and his brother, early that morning.

        By nine A.M., as we headed through the city of Pokhara, celebrations were whipping up into a frenzy. The streets were jammed with singing, dancing people, all wearing red pigment on their faces. (Red is the festival color in Nepal.) We inched our way through the throngs while shaking hands and hugging total strangers. At one point Dave joined a spontaneous dance party. Soon, we were decorated with red ourselves, and there were huge grins on our scarlet painted faces. It was such a relief and joy to know that the violence had been averted, and that thousands of sincere, honest, hardworking Nepalese were not going to get mowed down just for asking for a few basic human rights.

        Eventually, we found our transport up to the trailhead. It was a jeep, which, at that time, was the only motorized public “bus” available. I was “lucky” enough to score the passenger’s seat on the driver’s side. (I felt privileged, until I discovered the broken spring, which constantly threatened to impale my tender flesh quite deeply.) Poor Jody did far worse. She had to climb through the window into the squirming pigpile of humanity in the back seat. There were about eight or nine women and children squished in back there! Dave had the most interesting ride. The jeep was equipped with makeshift metal handholds and footholds all the way around. All of the men rode clinging to the outside of the vehicle. There were even people draped over part of the hood.

        The jeep carried twenty one people and their luggage for two hours, straight up the streambed of a mountain creek. It was one rough ride, let me tell you! The guys got pretty wet whenever a wheel sank into loose stones and sand. A couple of times we were driving in gushing whitewater up to the tops of the wheelwells.

        At last, we reached the trailhead.Everyone unloaded and we began our hike up into the hills. The mountain trail was highly scenic and the countryside was pristine, dotted with tiny little villages and terraced rice paddies. Stone and wood farmhouses were built much like they must have been a thousand years ago, with were few signs of modernization.

        When we got to the settlement where we intended to spend the night, locals stopped and asked us about the red paint on our faces. To our surprise, we soon realized that they hadn’t heard the monumental news. They had no idea what was happening in their own Capitol city!

        Luckily, our companion, Jody, spoke excellent Nepalese. We called the villagers together and she told them the dramatic story of what had happened. It was amazing! In a land where there were no wheeled vehicles past the river, nobody had yet told the people that their country was going to be a brand new democracy.

        It happened the same way in the next village, and the next. We were the bringers of good tidings wherever we went. From town to town, Jody spread the news, explaining to the people what a Constitution was, and what a Parliament was, and what it would mean to their country. What a magical experience to have on our first trip to Nepal!

        Thanks for reading, Diana McLeod


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