Reflections on Nepal

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I spent a week in Nepal recently and I've now had a bit of time to reflect on my trip. I was in Kathmandu for a few days and I also had a chance to visit Morang and Sunsari districts in the eastern part of the country, near the Indian border.

Morang, Nepal

The most striking thing for me was the Nepali people, who were shy and reserved to a fault. One of the most interesting parts of travelling is observing how people respond to you being there. In Bangladesh, for example, people are very forward with their curiosity. Wherever I went, be it in Dhaka or one of the outer districts, I had a sizeable gang of followers watching me perform such tasks as eating an apple or writing in my notebook. At times this was overwhelming as I made my way around alone by CNG.

In Nepal, however, people barely seemed to notice my presence. I walked around, often by myself, and received very little attention. Sometimes I'd say hello to people or give them a smile, but for the most part, I felt like I had a lot of “space”. When I chatted to people they were open to an extent, but they weren't falling over themselves to make my acquaintance.

Taking photographs of people was interesting. The standard pose most assumed – even the children – was standing up straight, arms hanging by their sides, eyes looking off into the distance. When I tried to get people a little more relaxed by asking them to smile, they usually fell about in fits of laughter, which made for some fun moments out in the field.

Morang, Nepal

Another aspect of Nepal that stuck with me was just how colourful the country is, from the dazzling pinks and oranges and reds put to use to make women's sarees to the creative colour choices made by villagers when painting their houses. There was colour everywhere, in the hills, at the top of the mountains, in the markets. It was really quite wonderful.

The food was also excellent. I got to try all kinds of curries, dumplings, fried fish, mutton dishes and sweet desserts. The tea was also top notch and I was lucky enough to enjoy five or six cups a day depending on how many people we visited and how many rest stops we incorporated into our travels.

Nepali rice dish

Back to business though, I was in Nepal for work, there to see how Plan International does what it does in poor communities. It's all well and good working in the regional office and reading about all these projects we do, but wasn't until I saw it for myself that I understood a little more about the impact of Plan's work and about how that work is done. The other reason for visiting Nepal was to get photos, video and interviews that I can turn into content to use on our web and social media platforms.

The visit was fruitful and I got a huge amount of material that I'm only just beginning to put together. I got some good footage from a deaf school Plan supports in Morang. Actually, visiting that school was probably the highlight of the trip. Impact-wise, the school gives deaf students in the eastern part of the country somewhere they can learn without automatically being at a disadvantage compared to other students. It was a really positive thing to see.

Deaf school in Morang

There were lots of other projects where I could see an impact. More children are now having their births registered, which means they get all the benefits that come with being recognised citizens of the country, so that's things like access to education, healthcare and other basic services. There are lots of pro-active children's and youth groups that are taking a role in shaping the opportunities on offer to young people in their communities.

There's also been a lot of progress on seemingly simple things, like getting villages declared open defecation free, which is exactly as it sounds: people doing their business in latrines rather than out in the open, creating all sorts of health problems for children and their families.

Sunsari, Nepal

But there is a lot of work to do in Nepal, which is one of the world's poorest countries, still putting the pieces together after a 10-year Maoist insurrection. The political situation appears rather fragile. While I was in Morang there was a bandh (strike) called, which meant we had to go around by motorbike as the strikers had announced that there were to be no cars on the roads. My trip to the east was actually cut short because of the strike, but this was only a precautionary measure and I didn't witness or experience anything negative related to the strike.

Poverty in Nepal is evident everywhere you go, even in Kathmandu, the capital. A lot of children work, a lot of girls are married before they are 18 or even 16. Most people make a living from agriculture and the few signs of industry I saw in the east appeared to be for the benefit of only a small part of the population. There is a sizeable divide between rich and poor that needs to be addressed.

Nepal left a lasting impression on me for many reasons and I would certainly like to go back and visit some other parts of the country.

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