We felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety after learning the finalized details of our volunteer placement: We were to work with and learn from the Tharu people, an indigenous group who inhabited the Terai region of Nepal. Arriving after an eleven-hour bus ride to the small town of Lamahi in Dang District, we were once again reminded of the country’s spectacular geographic diversity. This land of red dust and flat farmlands, far removed from any tourist attractions, was to be home for the following three weeks. It could not be more different than the mountain vistas of the Himalayas or the congested and bustling streets of Kathmandu.Knowing next to nothing about the land and its people, we tried to be receptive and perceptive to our surroundings and our hosts. In turn, we were rewarded with a wealth of information regarding Tharu history, culture, and worldviews and how their intimate bond with place and land has profoundly shaped their past and present relationships with nature, culture, and self.
Despite its relatively small size and landlocked location, Nepal is a staggeringly diverse country in terms of geography, ecology, and culture. Six weeks are insufficient to experience everything the nation has to offer. Nevertheless we tried our best. We sampled daily life in modern Kathmandu, trekked through the intensely beautiful Annapurna Conservation area, become immersed in the culture of an indigenous people in the mid-west plains of the Terai, and explored a myriad of unique habitats within Royal Bardia National Park. Here is the first of our stories. The writing style is inspired by one of my favourite pieces of travel literature (and a future Ekostory), The Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. Like The Log, this upcoming series of essays represent a collaborative effort between my partner and I, borne out of the collective ideas, conversations, anecdotes and impressions that sprang forth from the trip. I hope they prove to be interesting and insightful.
Many deeply affective and moving narratives have their roots in tragedy; there can be no light without the dark. Stories that revel in beauty without exploring the shadow dimension of grief, death, and despair can occasionally come across feeling artificial, shallow, and incomplete. In contrast, those that accept and embrace tragedy can take on dimensions of substance, becoming deeper, rounder, and whole. They linger in our memories, and stay with us for a long time, profoundly shaping our identity and our understanding of the world. This week’s Reconnect explores three poignant and bittersweet Ekostories.
The cautionary tale is a good tool for raising awareness about serious problems. It is also a good place to turn to for inspiration when ignorance and indifference threatens. Sometimes we need a shot in the arm, a reminder of what is potentially at stake. But care must be exercised to not overuse them, lest we grow numb to their bleak messages and become paralyzed in taking meaningful and needed action. This week’s Reconnect brings together Ekostories that serve as warnings to a world wracked with ecological degradation and cultural destruction.
“Those who think Nature is a lady Misunderstand her. Those who think her graceful Have been deceived. Nature is not gentle She is not kind Or warm She is nobody’s lover….” Red, by Ronin Waters on standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com. I don’t usually get poetry – years of habitually structured thinking has left my mind too rigid to fully appreciate the organic fluidity and raw evocative power associated with most poems. But once in a while, something clicks. This is one of those welcome exceptions. Like Larson’s There’s a Worm in My Dirt, Red reminds me that nature is not humane. The poem also succinctly explores humanity’s relationship with the Other; notions of exploitation and profound alienation are conveyed in a few simple powerful verses. I would love to hear your thoughts on the rest of the poem.