Sitting at the airport waiting for our flight on the last leg of our journey, I have time to reflect on our visit to Nepal. While India left me feeling confused and unsettled, Nepal left me with more optimism. There was still plenty of poverty, way too much litter, and many social issues to be addressed, but there was not the squalor and chaos of India.
The air was cleaner and we enjoyed a lot of the natural beauty, wildlife, and mountainous splendour of the country. Our flight over the Himalayas, seeing the massive ranges, deep valleys and long winding ridges, was a highlight of the trip and is a memory that will stay with me for a long time. Seeing the tiny remote highland villages scattered along the way gave me some understanding of how difficult it must have been to reach some of those people after the earthquake. I wonder what life would be like to live so remotely and so simply, for the confines of your village to be the extent of your life’s experience. The contrast between that and my life’s experiences and opportunities hit me starkly. Many times on this trip, I have looked at women of similar age to myself and been confronted by the reality that the reason my life has been so different is that I was born in Australia and these women were born in Nepal or India. Nothing that I have been or done has earned the enormous privilege I enjoy. This is a chastening thought.
Our G-Adventures tour has provided me with lots of opportunities for optimism. Our organised transfers to and from the airport have been through companies that advance opportunities for women by training and employing them as drivers. One of our favourite stays was at a Homestay project in a village which buys land from women who then operate the tourist facility. Their hospitality was heartwarming and it was wonderful to see people in the village greet us as we cycled or walked around. Tourists are clearly welcome and the benefits flow to the community. There was a lot of building happening, with people upgrading their straw and cow dung rendered homes with more substantial brick and cement dwellings. The colours and decorations on these homes were a complete delight! Many were two or three stories high with access to the rooftop. Those which were one storey only had metal reinforcement protruding above, in anticipation of adding another floor. I loved the houses in Nepal!
We were confronted by the reality of the people trafficking which is rife in Nepal. Every day, 58 women and girls disappear from the streets of Nepal. Men and boys are also trafficked and many people are sold more than once. Our visit to Sasane, a project in Pokhara, brought us face to face with some of the women who have been rescued. This project trains some to be paralegal workers who work to get freedom and justice for other women, some to be tour and trekking guides, and others to work in hospitality. They also work to raise awareness of the situation in order to reduce the likelihood that girls will be tricked into believing the lies of the traffickers.
Most families in Nepal have at least one member working overseas and sending money home to support their family. There was a story in the Kathmandu Times of one woman who has invested that money into buying some small businesses and was now earning enough money that her husband could return home.
Do I love Nepal? Yes I think so.