Showing posts with label earthquake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label earthquake. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Prizes, and speeches, and huge mountain skies.

Last week (scroll down if you missed it) I wrote about our minute’s silent reflection for those who lost their lives in the earthquake. Now to tell you a bit more about where I was.

Thulaswara is a small village, close to Chitepani (where Tika grew up). Their main school building collapsed in the earthquake and the Chitepani Trust (a small charity - more of that another time) had made a huge contribution towards the rebuilding. We (Tika and Ann - a friend who is also here at the moment, and me) went to the village to join the celebrations for the anniversary of the rebuilding. (Please bear with the brackets!)

We took a jeep up to the village. (I wasn’t sorry - I’ve walked up here many times, and it’s a long, hot, dusty climb.) The villagers were assembling as we arrived. Benches were set out in the school yard - children at the front, men behind them, and the women on separate benches at the side. I settled at the back.

But not for long. Tika was called to the front - rightly, for the administrative work he does for the Chitepani Trust that made the rebuilding possible. Ann was called to the front - rightly, for her tireless fundraising that made the rebuilding possible. Then I was called to the front - why? Because I have a white skin? I have done nothing but cheer them on. But up I went, to be given a garland of marigolds and white scarf and a tika of red powder on my forehead, and take my place at the top table. 

Then all other visitors to the village were given a comparable welcome and seats at the front - so it felt a bit less uncomfortable. But I still think my precedence over local people whose ties to this village are much stronger than mine does not sit easily with me.
Nevertheless, there I was, as the speeches began. To be fair, there were occasional breaks for children to march by with flags, or dance, or come to the front to receive prizes (writing books), and for those of us at the top table to pay our respects the education goddess. But these interludes were breaks in the main performance - speeches. Children shuffled on their benches and pulled faces at each other. People got up and went to the loo and slipped back into their seats. 

I looked around. The sky was a deep blue, the buildings low and functional, the benches resting in the dust. Small birds twittered; kites took to the thermals. Prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. (This is the view from a nearby hilltop).

Yes, this went on longer than any prizegiving I had to sit through as a child. But when I was a child we had plenty to celebrate - school sports, school plays, school fetes. Here in the mountains people have barely enough to see them through the seasons. Every achievement is precious - and deserves its moment in the limelight. And if that means I have to sit through hours of speeches, and have no idea what on earth is going on, that is fine. It was an honour to share it with them.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Rationing the news.

I have to make myself watch the news at the moment. The political shenanigans in the UK and America are painful enough (the bungling might be comic if the potential consequences weren't so catastrophic) - but they pale into insignificance in the light of the recent onslaught of ‘natural disasters’. (The ‘..’ indicates a recognition that some of these may be the result of man-made climate change.) 

As one storm followed another - have we forgotten those who died in the mudslide in Sierra Leone? The floods in Asia that I wrote about last week, and those in China? Hot on their heels came the storms and hurricanes currently battering the Caribbean and America. A huge earthquake in Mexico has been relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers. 

Everywhere, or so it seems, people are homeless. Refugees from Africa and the Middle East brave the waves of the Mediterranean. Bangladesh - those areas not under water - are flooded with Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

It’s overwhelming - all this need and trauma. But we still have to deal with the realities of life. Domestic stuff has to go on - we need to decide what to have for supper and if we have enough milk. Lawns need mowing. Children need kisses before heading off to school.

I can only speak for myself here - I have to ration the news. If I catch every bulletin I risk being paralysed by the sheer extent of it all. But that way madness lies. And failure to look after the daily trivia helps no one. But there are times, when I musing over which book to choose in the library or picking over apples in the market, that I find myself reflecting on the insignificance of such choices. 

It's a dissonance that I find deeply uncomfortable. I don't have a solution - and maybe that's fine. We should not turn our backs - nor our feelings - on the millions of people in such terrible need. But there is no point on wallowing in their reflected misery - we have lives to lead. Few of us are able to  up sticks and do anything practical to help (though we can contribute to appeals). All we can do, it seems, is notice the enormity of it all and then keep the show on the road in our own small corners of the world.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A house in Nepal - the story so far.

It's been quite a week. Last week I posted this idea with some trepidation - it seemed a slightly bonkers. But, I reasoned, the worst that could happen was nothing.

For anyone who missed the blog last week, I'm funding a house-build in Nepal. Not a city, not a village - but just one house. We need only £1500. (You can read the whole post here.)

When it's finished, it will probably look something like this, but with a tin roof.:

You can find the appeal site here.

I have been humbled by all your support. I do understand that we all have our own favourite charities. Many of us are scrabbling around trying to make ends meet. And, of course, Christmas is coming. Which makes all contributions so very precious.

On top of that - there is the publicity. I've lost count of the people who have shared this on social media. I hope I've managed to thank you all - but if I've missed anyone out, then I'm sorry. I am deeply grateful for everything you have done.

Anne suggested at 'blog blitz' - a week when as many people as possible mention this appeal on their blogs. She has agreed to post something next Monday, and I've a couple of other people with drafts in the pipeline. I'm not in a position to manage organising a blog post every day, but if anyone can drop in a word or two, next week, that would be utterly wonderful. Do give me a nudge, and I'll make sure any posts are tweeted and facebooked.

Ros has also offered a blog post when the ebook comes out, which is equally wonderful - I can't give you a timescale, Ros, but I'm getting on with this as quickly as I can.

The other prong to this appeal is the ebook. I asked for help with copy editing; I've had a number of wonderful offers. Juliet Ashwell - you can see her website here - was the first out of the blocks to offer to help. She is reducing her fee, and has been both kind and completely professional. What a star!

So there we are - and now I must rush off, I have an ebook to write. And more people to thank.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Ah Nepal - and why tourism matters so much.

I beginning to be daunted by the task I seem to have set myself. I've never believed my contribution would be any more than a drop in the ocean; but I didn't realise, till I arrived, just how huge that ocean is.

Some months ago I blogged about the ethics of returning so soon to a country devastated by an earthquake in the way Nepal as been. Gawping at people with no homes is exploitation, not tourism. It cannot be right, I suggested, to come here at a time when local people needed all their energy to rebuild their own homes - they had neither the time nor energy for tourists.

On the other hand, I posited, the country needs tourists to help the economy recover. Tourists bring foreign currency - needed here much more than sympathy and kind words.

And so I umm'ed and ah'ed about how soon I should come back. Now I'm here I can see for myself the impact that the lack of tourists has on the country itself.

I'm sure there are those, like me, who had ethical qualms about coming here.

But it seems that most visitors are put off by the thought of another earthquake. Tour groups - the life blood of tourism here - have cancelled. Chinese visitors, who are likely to spend the most, are staying away. Indian visitors are heading east, and not North this year. Australians, Europeans, everyone, or so it feels, are giving Nepal a wide berth.

An earthquake has happened once -  it can happen again. Of course it can. Yet earthquakes can happen almost anywhere. So can floods and getting run over by a bus. I understand the risk-averse sticking to places they know and love. But in previous years this country has welcomed anyone looking for the drama of the mountains or the peace of the temples.

And this year? The hotels are almost empty. Restaurants pipe music hopefully into lonely streets. Shopkeepers prop themselves against doorframes but are too dispirited to hassle anyone passing. No cries of 'I give you very good price'. Mountain guides meet by the lake and sit over tea for three hours.

Nepal can, and will, rebuild after the earthquake. But the impact on tourism runs far deeper. It is fundamental to the economy - and without it families will go hungry. Hotels and restaurants will close and those working there will return to their villages in the mountains, where they can farm enough last to be self-sufficient. Young men will leave in droves to work in India or the Middle East. The economy will implode - and who knows how long it will take to rebuild.

Right now the building blocks of tourism are here. The hotels and restaurants. The mountain guides. The scenery is not going to go away. Nor are the temples (though some need rebuilding). Nor is the kindness of the Nepali. What the country needs now is visitors.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Nepal - not long now

The summer is creeping by - and before I know it I'll be catching the plane to Nepal. It's hard to believe it's come round so quickly - just one month now, and I'll be on my way.

It's been hard to keep in touch with how things are there - reports are confusing. The British foreign office advice is to avoid most of the mountain treks, although they feel Annapurna is safe. The Nepalis insist that most treks are open (or will be once the monsoon is over) - of the well-known routes only Everest is still closed. There has also been a recent suggestion that the seismic activity has not ended, and the south-west border with India could be a bit wobbly. On top of that, the monsoon has brought storms and landslides this year.

All of which would suggest I'll see nothing but destruction. However, we all know that the media loves a trauma and overlooks the ordinary. It's hard, from this distance, to estimate the extent to which the aftermath of the earthquake and monsoon have left people struggling, or whether they have picked themselves up and I'll recognise the resilience and humour that I've met before.

As you know, I'm going because friends in the county want me to. My own focus will be on reconnecting with those I know and love. But I also know that the country needs tourists: they are essential to kick-start the economy and help get the country back on its feet.

So here's a question. What do you want me to look for?

Are you interested in the state of the temples? The mountain treks? Whether hotels and restaurants are functioning? The state of the roads? Whether people feel defined by disasters or are they resilient enough to feel they are putting it behind them?

I don't know yet if there will be an ebook, but do want to write - here, if nowhere else - about everything that tourists might find when they return to Nepal. It's my small contribution to helping the country get back on its feet. Which is why I need to know what you need me to try to find out.

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, 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?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Putting Nepal together again.

I can hear you sighing already. I'm not going on about Nepal again, am I - well yes, I am.

From some of the news coverage you might assume that everyone in Nepal is sitting about waiting for rescue. And indeed there are thousands - probably tens of thousands or more - in huge need. They are traumatised by the loss of homes, of family members, of everything they had dreamed of for their futures.

And then there are those who still have homes, who aren't waiting for the government or aid agencies, who are buying up what food and water and supplies they can, packing it into trucks and sending it as far into the mountains as they can.

Those of you who have read Over the Hill or Hidden Tiger will know of Tika. He was my guide in Nepal and North India. Whenever I think of him I smile - for his giggles saw me through some alarming times. When a man with a gun in Lucknow patted the ground and invited me to sit beside him and I lied and lied and lied about a husband waiting in the hotel for me, Tika was convulsed with laughter beside me. When I had spent hours in a taxi coming down the Siddhartha Highway after a cyclone, he was beside himself.

He was in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck. Within a day or two he had made it home to Pokhara, and had begun to organise relief efforts. He helped to mobilise anyone fit enough to help. Food, blankets, medicines - trucks were loaded and dispatched. While waiting for their return they continued to gather goods from local people.

Friends of mine can see a picture or two on Facebook here - scroll down and you'll find more about what he's been up to.

And for those who can't do that, here's a picture showing a fraction of the goodies he's gathered, to send up to Gorkha:

This is a glimpse of things the Nepalis are doing for themselves. It's not enough, of course. The rest, surely, is up to the rest of us.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Just another earthquake.

It's over a week since Nepal was rocked to its foundations. That first flush of horror has passed. The journalists are beginning to pack their bags. It is no longer 'new'.

I will not claim that this disaster is worse than any other. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides: they all leave people - real people like you and me - living in tents and begging for water. But I can talk about Nepal because it is a country I know and love.

A bit about the history - Nepal has never been invaded, because it has no resources that anyone else is interested in plundering. No oil. No gold no diamonds no uranium. (Or if it has, it is hidden so deep inside the mountains that no one knows). But this means no investment. Few foreign governments help impoverished countries unless there is something in it for them. In addition, the administration is still practising democracy after years of Maoist insurgency and the end of the monarchy so all organisations are a bit hit and miss.

On top of that they have welcomed refugees from Tibet and Kashmir - without making a performance of it. So there's no Farage-equivalent bleating about foreigners.

The lack of rural employment means that many men from the countryside have left to work in Kathmandu or the cities of north India or the Middle East, leaving the women to run small farms. Many villages are largely comprised of women, children and older people, all working their socks off to get by. They live in tiny cottages that cling to the mountainside:

The only way to reach some of these villages is paths like this:

And some are so remote that it takes several days trekking to reach them.

Meanwhile, in Kathmandu, the young men are crowded in tiny, often insanitary, apartments. If there are regulations regarding construction they don't reach streets like this one:

In the middle of all this Nepali chaos is the wonderful Durbur Square, with its temples and palaces and space for people to wander. It is Kathmandu's Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey and St Paul's and  Borough Market all rolled into one. There are small shops set into the walls:

And magnificent temples where the faithful go to pray.

I cannot bear to use the past tense for all this. I know so much of it is rubble. That these brave, generous, impoverished people are still living in the streets, dependent on the generosity of you and I.

The men will rebuilt their homes and their temples. The women in the villages will till their misshapen fields. They will send their children to school.

While we can only sit back and feel helpless.