Read through the Nepal Diaries, you could reach the end thinking I hate the place, presenting as they do an endless parade of poverty, frustration and half-empty glasses. But it’s a cracking country, a ramshackle would-be paradise packed full of friendly, generous people, packed full of culture and tradition and cracking food, packed full of energy and activity and ambition. It’s just a shame so much of it gives me the shits.
There are reasons to despair and feel hopeless here, and I’ve had my share of feeling both. But there are reasons to feel hopeful and optimistic, and every so often I give them a bash too. There’s discrimination against women to make you sick but women and men fighting it. There’s a caste system and prejudice like a localised racism but people saying it’s a pile of bollocks. There’s poverty like you wouldn’t believe but people figuring their way out of it, people working to change the systems that keep them poor.
In my last week in Nepal I visited Mahaguthi, a Fairtrade shop in Lalitpur. Here we have some nice stuff and the usual tourist dreck you’d find anywhere but no workers screwed over, no people kept down and poor. It sells handmade paper through a UNICEF cooperative in Bhaktapur that pays its workers a decent wage and counts women as more than 50% of its workforce. It sells bags, purses and camera bags from the Women’s Skills Development Project in Pokhara that employs disabled, divorced, abused and low-caste women. It sells nettle cloth from the Allo Cloth Production Club in the remote Sankhuwasabha district and Mithila paintings from the women of the Southern Terai, and all under the watchful eyes of the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Group Nepal. This is how the world will right itself: people working together as opposed to people screwing each other over. This is how Nepal will progress. This and a shitload of aid.
So there’s Nepal for you. You should visit. You’ll have an amazing time, see amazing things, put money into a poor economy and experience what amounts to the most prolonged enema of your life. I’ve offered that as a slogan to the tourist board. Just waiting to hear back…
Photo credit: The Zero