Sunday, 28 June 2015

Nepal - a thank you.

I can't begin to describe how it has felt being on the receiving end of so much support following my decision to visit Nepal in the autumn.

There have been comments here, and on Facebook and Twitter, that anyone can see. But that is the tip of the iceberg (forgive the cliche) - it's private messages from people I've never met that are particularly touching. People who have neighbours who are Gurkhas, returning to the country to find out if their families are alive and their homes still standing. People with sons and daughters who were in the country at the time and have listened to terrifying tales every since they came home - the guilt of survivors. People who have asked what I need to take with me - offers of help to buy goodies.

It's been humbling. I feel as if I'm carrying many hopes and expectations with me - and yet you know I can promise nothing in return and that doesn't seem to trouble you. I carry your love as well as my own with me on this journey.

I have no idea what I shall find there - apart from a generous and resourceful people who are busy putting their lives back together again.

I can only tell you that I will write about it. I can't promise an ebook (I'll take that decision when I get home), but there will certainly be plenty of blogging (though maybe unreliable blogging, as internet connections might be interesting). There will be photographs - though I'll keep images of devastation to a minimum.

Ps - not blog next Monday. I'll be in Barcelona ... cue Freddie Mercury impressions ...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Nepal - I'm going back.

Firstly, many thanks to everyone who commented on my quandary about returning to Nepal . If you missed it, you can find it here.

I don't suppose any of you will be surprised to know that I'm going - though not until September.

Why? Because I have friends in Nepal who want me to. They don't share my concern that visitors might exploit their poverty, or see their destitution as some sort of tourist attraction. Such first world angst means nothing to them - they simply want visitors, in any shape or form, to help give their tourist industry the kick-start it so badly needs.

I'm not clear, yet, what I'll do while I'm there - Tika will take care of the details. (Oh, where would I be without Tika!!)

The biggest decision will be whether to visit a project supporting those affected by the earthquake. My instinct - at this point - is to play that by ear. I'll only go if I can be useful - and I do, given my working history, have the skills to help traumatised children. I'll not engage directly in any therapeutic play with them - such interventions need the context of a relationship with someone who can be alongside them for weeks or months and not a fleeting visitor, but I can talk with those helping such children and pass on some of the ideas and techniques that I used in the past.

(Having said that, I shall - of course - have balloons in my pocket. Sometimes having fun is just the best thing that could happen, even if it is all over in half an hour.)

I do hope to visit some of the beautiful places that have nourished me in the past - I know elephants still tramp through the jungle in Chitwan and all the temples in Lumbini are undamaged. No trip to Nepal would be complete without a beer by the Lakeside in Pokhara or stroll around the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.

And the rest of the time - I shall wait for the Nepali to tell me what they need. This may or may not reflect the appeals from Aid Agencies - but I feel strongly that we infantalise local people if we make assumptions about what they need and what help we should provide.

So there we are. I have accepted an invitation to visit. There can, surely, be no better reason for going.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Setting a bad example to the children?

Thank you for your lovely thoughtful comments on my returning-to-Nepal quandary, outlined in my last post. While I'm thinking about that - here is another, far less serious, dilemma.

Some years ago we lived in a little house with parking spaces in a courtyard at the front. It was a lovely little house, with lovely neighbours ...

... Except for the couple who lived at the end of the row. Well, they didn't actually live there. They visited some weekends, but much of the time the house stayed empty. Even so they seemed to think that they owned their parking spaces - so if they should turn up and find anyone with visitors had allowed them to park in their space they had a hissy fit.

To be fair, they had a hissy fit at everything. A child in the front garden with a ball was enough to screw their faces up till they looked like dogs' bottoms.

We never knew their names. We knew them as 'the Miseries.' Even when they were here, surrounded by these wonderful Wiltshire Downs, they grumbled. I'm afraid we laughed at them behind their backs, they made themselves look so ridiculous. 

There was a little passageway beside their garden - leading to the back of the row of houses. There was nothing but a little wire fence between the gardens, so it was easy to see the rather bland, pristine arrangement of their little plot.

Now one year we had a surfeit of sunflower seeds ... I can't remember why ... nor whose idea it was to plant them in the Miseries' garden ... though it was easy enough to slink round there at sundown. The planting involved a lot of rather childish giggling and possibly wasn't a great example to my children (who must have been in their early teens at the time). Or was it? Surely it's okay to respond to people who are terminally grumpy by planting sunflowers in their garden?

So - it is vandalism? Or a justifiable response to people who had a serious deficit in the humour department?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

When it is okay to go back to Nepal?

Here's the dilemma ...

I'll not repeat myself - you know my thoughts about the earthquake in Nepal. But what can we do - from the comfort of our sofas - to help?

We can give aid, of course - and millions have. The international agencies are all there, with their relief supplies and expertise. And they are needed - families are still living in tents and the monsoon looms. Yet the Nepali don't want to rely on handouts to sustain them for a generation or three. They are an independent people who need to reboot their own economy. Once that is up and running many of those currently rebuilding the schools and temples can go home.

Much of the Nepalese economy relies on tourists. Tourists bring money enabling people to sustain their lives for themselves. And for tourism to reclaim its place in the economy the walkers and climbers and temple-visitors and those who, like me, just love the place, must go back.

For those wondering - the sun still rises over Everest. It stains the snow pink and slides warm fingers into the dark Himalayan valleys. The air at daybreak is sweet and clear. Everest base camp is still closed, but Annapurna is waiting. Machhapuchhare (the Fish Tail Mountain) stands guard over Pokhara.

Buddhas still watch from their stupas. Kali enfolds the faithful in her many arms. Prayer wheels rattle on their axes. Monks wander in their flowing robes. Children always ready to play.

The monsoon will make things more difficult - and Nepal does not expect visitors when torrential rain brings floods and landslides. But by the autumn the sun will shine again - and the hotels and restaurants will be waiting.

But ... is it really that easy? Temples have crumbled. Some families will still be in tents. This was a poor country before the earthquake - many will be destitute now. Might tourists be seen as 'cashing in' on their trauma?

I have a problem with 'poverty porn.' I flinch at such a pejorative term, but I am deeply discomforted by those who visit developing countries and gawp at the poor. I've seen tourists taking photographs of women washing themselves at communal taps, ignoring the reality that these women would choose privacy if they could. Others smile at barefooted children, as if they are cute, as if the lack of shoes might be appealing and not evidence that the family cannot afford shoes. Destitution should never be a tourist attraction.

It will be impossible to visit Nepal and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the earthquake. Some people have lost everything. I cannot build their homes. I'm not qualified to teach the children nor administer medical help. I will not take their photographs, but if I do nothing is that no more than passing by on the other side?

I have friends in Nepal. I know they need visitors. But do I go soon, and remind you what a wonderful place this is, tempt anyone with time to buy a flight to Kathmandu and discover the place for themselves? Or do I wait until the tents are back in storage and families all have somewhere dry to live?