Sunday, 29 November 2015

After the Earthquake

Yes, the ebook is nearly ready. Mark has designed this lovely cover:

And where there is a cover - the book can't be far behind!!

A copy editor is doing the necessary nit-picking and once that is done all that's left is my final read-through and then a battle with the technology to get this onto Kindle.

I've never written anything as quickly as I've done this. Generally, when I get back from my journeys, I spend time going through my notebooks, reminding myself of sundry adventures and the wonderful people I've met. Only then can I begin to tease out the story of a trip and shape it to make an interesting story.

This time has been different. This little book is to raise money for the house in Nepal (if you've no idea what I'm talking about, check it out here) - and so the sooner it comes out the better. At least - with travel writing - I'm not making anything up. I know what happened - but the task of framing it and making it interesting can be a challenge.

I've had some wonderful readers - and the reactions have been encouraging. With so little time to reflect these readers have been essential. And now the copy editor is checking for seriously wobbly sentences and spelling (to my shame my spelling of place-names is notoriously careless - I scribble them in my notebook, copy the scribbles onto the computer and then believe myself).

So - the end is in sight. And then, dear readers, I'll need sales, and reviews. Not because I want wonderful Amazon statistics. Not because I get a warm fuzzy feeling when people say nice things about my writing. But because there is a family in Nepal that needs a roof to their new house.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Trying to do everything at once.

It's that time of year again. So you've probably only got time to skim-read this. But what choice do we have?

Well, I'd argue that we do have choices. We don't have to be swept along by the Christmas greed-feast that is promised in the media. We can stand back and notice the hype and select the aspects of the whole performance that matters to us as individuals.

On top of all the seasonal mayhem, I'm working hard to get After the Earthquake (my little ebook about my last trip, to raise money for the house) ready for the off - I've never written anything quite so quickly. I knew the story, of course - I've not had to make anything up. Even so, it's been a challenge to make sure I unpicked the drivel from my notebooks and found the core of what I really needed to say.

It's been through readers and an editor, and is now with a copy editor who is nit-picking anything that still doesn't make sense. I'm stocking up on coffee for the day I have to play with the Kindle site and get it on Amazon. 

At the same time, of course, I'm still in touch with friends in Nepal who struggle with the impact of the blockade. They survive from day to day. But what else can they do?

Plus - early in the New Year - I'm off to Ecuador. (Did you really think I might spend the winter in front of my own fire?) So there are the unavoidable hours curled up with guidebooks working out where I might go, and how I might get there. And trying to learn Spanish so I don't get into the pickles that I landed myself in in Cuba.

It's almost too busy. I feel as if I'm wearing too many hats - the writing hats, the travelling hats, the getting-ready-for-Christmas hats (which involves the annual pondering about what the season actually means to me and to those I love.)

I feel a bit like a duck - appearing to swim with the tide but paddling like mad under the water. And you? You sailing serenely into the Christmas mayhem?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The blockade of Nepal.

I wrote this before the horrors of last Friday night in Paris. I've wondered several times whether to postpone posting it. But my point - that there are struggles in forgotten corners of the world we know almost nothing about - still stands. And so here it is. It doesn't mean I don't grieve for Paris too.

I wonder how many of you know about the blockade of Nepal's southern borders?

Why would you - it's relegated to footnotes in the western press. For two reasons, I think: Nepal has no resources, no oil or gold or uranium, and so the developed world forgets about her. Plus - we do not readily upset India: they are important trade partners, and losing their goodwill is unthinkable.

So let me tell you what has been happening.

As you may know, Nepal has a new Constitution, reached democratically after lengthy negotiations, and welcomed with fanfares and parties.

India was one of the few countries that didn't immediately welcome the changes. Why? Well, it's not quite clear. My friends in Nepal believe that India feels put out because Nepal has dared to make these decisions all by herself without asking permission from her bigger and more powerful neighbour. They also point out to significant unrest in India at the moment, to Modi's unpopularity, and diverting Indian attention away from internal difficulties suits the government right now.

But why blockade the border?

There is an ethnic group that straddles the Indian - Nepali border that has protested against the boundaries of provinces in the new Constitution. It is a common problem for minority groups around the world. Sometimes not everyone can get their own way - and those in power need to work to understand and ameliorate the worries of those who feel marginalised. Nepal has done her best to build in as many checks and balances as possible - and talks continue.

But there has been significant unrest in the south in the past. Demonstrations have got out of hand, and strikes have gone on for weeks.

India has claimed that this unrest - which is far less violent now than it has been at times in the past - makes life so dangerous for her lorries that they can no longer travel north.

But - this group doesn't occupy the whole southern border, yet India has closed all the border posts. This is illegal - there is an international agreement that land-locked countries have free access to the ports. But Nepal has no money to take this to an international Court.

China has opened border posts in the north - but cannot provide for everything Nepal needs, and roads through the mountains are treacherous.

So what is the international community doing? Not a lot. The level of hardship is such that UNICEF has talked of a humanitarian crisis. But the eyes of the world are elsewhere. And the people of Nepal are surviving, just, without fuel or cooking gas. (People are gathering wood from the forests and cooking on open fires in the street.) Medical supplies are running short. Only time will tell if China can stop the people starving.

This will end, of course, as these things do. India will find a way of climbing down without losing face. Fuel and cooking gas will reach the cities and villages. And few people in the west will have the faintest idea that this has ever happened.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

So, tell me about the crocodile, you said.

The appeal - for those who are following my efforts - is doing very well. In addition to the GoFundMe site, I have been given significant sums to add to our efforts. We need a few more bricks for the walls, and then all we have to do is keep them dry!

Maybe the ebook will raise the roof (so to speak!) And so here is an excerpt from the ebook - one I've been asked to blog here. (It comes with an apology to my daughters. After the tiger I promised I'd never walk in the jungle again. Foolishly, I forgot about crocodiles in the rivers!).

So - here is what happened:

I have to hurry back, for Mahendra is taking me out in a canoe this afternoon.
I find out exactly what this involves when we reach the river bank. First – life jackets. Then a boatman leads us down to the water, where dugout canoes, about three metres long, each with a heap of little wooden seats, are lined up along the shoreline. Wood is unforgiving to sit on. But at least this canoe won’t jolt me like the elephant did. The canoe sitting so low in the river I am tempted to dangle my fingers. The water is dark, mysterious. And some of it is in a hurry after recent rains.
Once settled, we push off into the river. We are heading downstream, and so the boatman has to do little more than steer us towards the clearer water. Scrubland reaches far beyond the river banks, rough grasses and small trees, the arch of vast afternoon skies. It is blissfully quiet, just the shush of the water and regular plash of the paddle. Mahendra points out ibis, and egrets, and tiny plain martins diving in and out of little holes in the mudbanks. He speaks quietly, as if not wanting to disturb the river.
Or the crocodiles. Some are barely visible, just snouts peering above the surface of the water. Others lie in the sun on the banks. None of them move. It is hot, and sluggish; not a time for anyone to be hurrying. How wrong I am.
‘They eat people,’ Mahendra reminds me. Not these crocodiles, I think. They are having too much fun lying in the sun to think of eating anyone.
We pass one, about two metres long, sunning himself about three metres away from the canoe. He is a fine crocodile, eyes barely open, flopped full length on the sandbank. An egret hops beside him.
A sudden splash. A spurt of water.
The biggest croc I’ve even seen. Leaping from the river beside us and launching himself at the neck of the one on the bank. All those teeth. The scaly skin. Terrifying eyes. A terrible snapping of terrible teeth. A thrashing of tails and teeth and the flash of glittering eyes.
Within seconds both crocodiles are in the water. Fighting.
Then, as suddenly as it all began, the splashing is over and they are gone. They could be anywhere. The water is quiet. It is like nothing happened. Except we know it did. Somewhere in these depths are two crocodiles with a score to settle.
It takes a moment or two for me to realise what has just happened. That one huge crocodile materialised from this deceptive river and attacked another. That they can’t simply have disappeared.
Mahendra’s hands are tucked under his legs, well away from the side. He talks to the boatman in Nepali, his voice unusually high, and I suspect he says something along the lines of, ‘oh shit.’ That’s when I know for sure that this isn’t part of the usual itinerary.
I follow his example and keep my hands well away from the sides. I dare not rock the canoe to turn my head and gauge the boatman’s reaction. I only know that he continues with his peaceful rowing, splish splash, as if there could never be a gigantic crocodile swimming somewhere under the boat.
I’m not sure what else we see on our trip down the river. I seem to have lost the capacity to think. I know it’s hot, but my palms are unnecessarily sweaty. We climb out downstream, and I tip the boatman well, for now he has to row back upstream, past the egrets and the ibis. Past the crocodiles.
Mahendra and I sit with a drink to recover. By the time we have finished talking, it has become a funny story and both crocodiles are as big as dinosaurs.

And this is what the river looked like when it was all over:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

This house-build - How it's going to work.

This is a post for anyone who is wondering how the money we're collecting for the house in Nepal is going to get where it needs to be. Maybe you're convinced some of it will line a pocket or two along the way.

I understand your concerns. We've all heard tales of backhanders, of men and women siphoning off a little bit here and a little bit there, leaving the families in need - still in need.

So - here are the logistics.

I'm not going to give you any identifying information - because the family at the end of all this don't know I'm doing it. They don't need to know - all they need is a new house. It doesn't matter where the money comes from.

I am paying the money into a small charity, based in the UK, that pays for the health centre in the village and contributes to the school. Anyone in specific need in the village can ask for help. So if someone needs to get to hospital in Kathmandu, or a disabled child needs equipment, then the charity is there to help.

But someone has to administer that? There must be pockets that could be lined along the way?

The charity is founded by a woman I know - I met her on my first visit to Nepal. She has her own reasons to be grateful to the people who live here, and has been unstinting in her efforts to raise money for them, to get to know everyone in the village, and to help identify needs. She visits regularly - she loves them and they love her. I have no doubt that every penny donated in this country ends up in Nepal.

But she doesn't have the final say. There is a small committee, in Nepal, which oversees the distribution of the fund. Another pocket-lining opportunity? Well, it might be, if the faithful Tika weren't on that committee. But he is - and anyone who has read my little books, or recalls the way I've talked about him here on the blog, will know that he is totally trustworthy. If he tells me the money will go where we want it to go - then it will.

So there you have it. I hope those who needed reassurance are comforted. And if there is anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, you can find the appeal page here.