The Shadow of Everest
Catherine Durand, a human rights activist and director of Women for Change’s (WFC) Nepal office, struggles to meet the goals to empower women, reduce discrimination, protect children and their rights, and fight the trafficking of women and children specified in WFC’s contract with USAID. Catherine has been a committed human rights activist since she was a young girl and is intellectually and morally committed to achieving the goals. She encounters opposition from Nepal’s patriarchal culture, Nepal’s rigid caste system, the internal conflict between the government and the Maoists, and the American Embassy’s policy of no contact with a Maoist. WFC tells Catherine that USAID believes she is too inexperienced for the director’s job and requested that WFC replace her. WFC refused but made it clear to Catherine that WFC would replace her if there were no improvement
Catherine is distressed by the disappearance of her protégé, Shanti, and fails to convince USAID to intervene with the police. USAID instructs her to drop a lawsuit to force the Chief Priest to give the Kumari Devi, a young girl believed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu Goddess Durga, the education and social interaction skills that Nepali law guarantees all Nepali children. She works with her staff to find a way around dropping the lawsuit without alerting USAID. In violation of the Embassy policy of no contact with a Maoist, she collaborates with a friend to visit a detention center for child soldiers capture by the army. She visits Nepal’s brick kilns that violate Nepali law on using children and clashes with USAID over its support of a kiln owner married to the King’s sister. She learns villagers have hanged a Dalit woman for taking water from a well forbidden to Dalits and works with her staff to design programs to reduce discrimination against Dalits, all lower castes, and women discriminating against other women.
Catherine realizes she is making no progress in satisfying the contract goals and decides she must travel to Maoist-controlled villages to get first-hand information for designing programs that will empower village women and help Maoist women fighters return to civilian life after the conflict ends. During the trip, Catherine and her colleagues are taken hostages by three renegade Maoists. Rescued by a Maoist platoon commander, Catherine continues her interviews, and the Maoists shell a village where she is interviewing. Catherine and her colleagues seek refuge in the surrounding mountains and search for a trail down the mountains and away from the shelling. Unable to find a trail, they spend a night in an abandoned hut without heat. The next day they find a trail down to a village, and Catherine sends a message to the driver waiting to take them to Kathmandu. Back in Kathmandu, USAID summons Catherine and tells her she is being replaced and to return to the U.S.
Delighted to be working in Nepal on activities she believes in, Catherine participates in her Nepali friends' traditions and activities, including Nepali festivals and hiking in the countryside. She is charmed by Nepal's beauty but dismayed by the poverty and discrimination she sees as she travels around the country. She meets and enters into a relationship with a young man she met on a flight to see Mount Everest. He accompanies her on her return to the U.S. where they plan to be married.