Lessons from Nepal
I’ve just come back from Nepal. I have friends there and needed to know how they were after the earthquake. Given the pictures of devastation that were spread across our newspapers for a couple of days it was hard to imagine anyone still had a home.
But I found a hotel, still standing, in Kathmandu, without a problem. I went out to look for supper. And there, in the chaotic streets of Thamel, were many other hotels. And countless restaurants. And even more small shops selling pashminas and singing bowls and music shops piping On Mani Padme Hum into the streets.
Incense still wafted from the temples. The occasional cow still straddled the walkway.
So, where were all the fallen-down buildings I’d read so much about?
Yes, they are there. Durbur Square is difficult to look at. The eyes of the Boudhnath are hidden behind scaffolding. Many people have survived the recent monsoon in temporary shelters. There is still a huge need.
I met up with friends: everyone has tales of people who have died, or lost loved ones. "But," she said, "most of us are fine. Our homes are fine. We go to work and our children go to school. The international media would have the world believe we are on our knees – when really all we need is tourists."
"Yes, tourists. They are our one source of foreign money. If the tourists come back then we can rebuild the country for ourselves. But they aren’t here, because nobody has told them that we are open for business. They believe the media and believe that everything has fallen down."
She’s right. The hotels and restaurants are ready for visitors. The mountains are still there – and all but one of the big treks are open. The culture and food and trinkets have not changed. The Nepali are as welcoming as they have always been.
Which left me thinking about the role of the media – how I read it, how I try to work out what I believe, and how, too often, I fail to think beyond devastating headlines to wonder how life goes on once the journalists go away. I have seen, for myself, the damage done to tourism in Nepal. And now wonder about those in Tunisia, and Chile, and the Philippines.
Next time I go away I shall make a point of looking behind the headlines. For real people in other countries – people like you and I, and who simply want to feed their families and live in peace – can be affected by the decisions we make, such as where we choose to go on holiday.
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