Nepal is a foreign country. Of course it is, that goes without saying. What many volunteers and visitors fail to realise is just how foreign it is. In the West, we’re used to things being similar, if not the same, between different countries.
Fast food in Australia is a little different to fast food in England, but the manner in which it is prepared, cooked and sold is the same. Americans tend to drive different cars to Europeans, but whether you’re driving in Florida or Spain, you still have cruise control, air conditioning, and sat-nav.
Nepal is not like that. When you venture out of Kathmandu and visit the smaller villages that dot the mountainside, you find yourself entering another world, a world that might be more familiar to pioneers in the old West than to visitors from Sydney or London.
The picture below was not staged. It captures a twenty first century moment in a small village in the Himalayas, where an old man teaches a young boy how to plough a field.
There’s no sparkling and shiny John Deere tractor pulling an equally modern plough. What you see here is a water buffalo pulling a wooden plough. Think on that for a moment. The only other time I’ve seen a picture like this was when I used to watch black and white westerns on TV as a child. I can see Alan Ladd walking behind a similar wooden plough, pulled this time by an ox, while a young fair haired boy stands watch.
Contemporary Nepal seems at times to be on a par with the mid-nineteenth century, wild and untamed American West. There’s more to these pictures than meets the eye. Where are the women and the young girls? Are they at home preparing the food as their cowboy wives from another century might have been?
No. Nepal is a foreign country, remember. Whatever parallels may be drawn between the pictures above and the old west only extend so far. The women that live alongside the man and boy are working in the rice paddies. All day, every day, they pull weeds and tend to the rice, up to their knees in water. Ploughing a field may be a man’s work, but the rice fields belong to the women and young girls.
And when the young boy and his sisters are not working the fields, they can be found in the local schoolroom, learning from English textbooks about the world beyond the borders of the village. They’ve seen and maybe used mobile phones, they’ve probably even watched volunteers from the West playing with their iPads or reading books on their Kindles.
iPads, Kindles and wooden ploughs. If you ever get to Nepal — and you really should — remember that it is a foreign country. Foreign in a way that will continuously surprise you.
© Take on Nepal 2019