Nepal was Wonderful! -- The Story of my First Trip
“How was Nepal?” people ask me.
“Wonderful,” I say, knowing that my life will never be quite the same.
Before I bought Didi Bahini last summer, I couldn’t have found Nepal on a map. I wanted to make a difference by supporting Fair Trade initiatives, and when I met Jane Gragtmans and heard about her company, I knew in my head, heart and soul that buying Didi Bahini was right for me.
But to really *own* this business and the work it will do, I needed to travel to Nepal to see the country and meet the supplier-partners, artisans and my consultant.
When I arrived in Kathmandu, I felt overwhelmed and insignificant. How was I going to make any kind of difference in a country with so much poverty? From the window of my taxi, I saw dilapidated homes, vendors selling wilted vegetables on the sidewalk, a slum built of corrugated metal and so many stray dogs.
Arriving in this noisy, smoggy, frenetic city was an intense experience my jetlagged brain wasn’t prepared for. Kathmandu is a cacophony of sights and sounds – women in colourful saris riding side-saddle on zooming motorcycles, cows aimlessly wandering about and men in intricately-woven topi hats chasing away ever-barking stray dogs.
The streets were lined with tiny stalls selling everything from cell phones to bed linens, and vendors with large wire baskets full of oranges and grapes outfitted on their bikes. Cute three-wheeled tuk tuk buses, roaring motorcycles and tiny taxis all jockeyed for position on the narrow dusty roads, so close I could reach out and shake hands with the rider on a motorcycle. And car horns, always car horns.
We passed street-side shrines to Shiva, Ganesh and other Hindu gods, Buddhist stupa temples adorned with colourful prayer flags. There were abandoned lots with mountains of bricks, possibly remnants of the 2015 earthquake that devastated the country. Narrow bustling streets full of souvenir shops, mountain trekking outfitters and street vendors running after me trying to sell me scarves, singing bowls, necklaces…”only one doll-ah!!”
My snapshots are inadequate to illustrate the beauty and complexity of this place so I have borrowed some free images from Unsplash.
The people of Nepal are truly lovely. They are warm and friendly, greeting each other and visitors with a smiling “Namaste” with a bow of the head and hands held in prayer position. Most people speak English well, and those who don’t try hard to communicate as best they can.
The purpose of my trip was to meet the supplier-partners who create the handicrafts Didi Bahini sells. The managers, artisans and workers were welcoming and helpful. I was there to meet them, and see and buy their products, but also to remind them about Fair Trade and ensure that they are committed to the principles. I found the business leaders were eager to support the artisans in receiving a fair wage and creating sustainable lives for themselves.
I met Shyam and Maya at Nepal Knotcraft, who work with women to transform native plant fibres into baskets, placemats, furniture and more. They were so committed to creating systems and training for the artisans throughout the country.
I was fortunate to join in a party planned by the employees of Everest Fashion to celebrate their recognition as the largest exporter in Nepal. Owners Rabin and Maheswor employ hundreds of women in the production of felt products – but this large factory feels more like a family than a workplace. The photo below shows women making samples of felt ornaments.
I was invited to lunch with Padmasana, the pioneering chairwoman of Manushi, which employs women artisans in making a variety of products in their own home workshops. Manushi also helps women thrive by offering artisans microloans to help them create successful livelihoods.
You will hear more about these partners in future posts.
In answer to the question, “How was Nepal?” I say, “It was wonderful. Nepal is a developing country with a beautiful heart full of loving, joyful, sweet people. To be sure, there is poverty. But it seems to me there is also hope and ambition and clever people who are making a difference and striving to do more in the future. And there are talented artisans who make beautiful products that North Americans will buy and cherish."
I really *own* Didi Bahini now. I have met the partners who make the products, as well as Dibeev, the wonderful man who serves as my consultant in Nepal. I’ve had a glimpse at the need for Fair Trade. And I have seen the potential there is to work with the artisans.
So, now the work begins. It will involve introducing Didi Bahini to new people, telling the stories of the women who make our handicrafts and showing off the beautiful new products we have to offer. Please follow our progress by subscribing to the mailing list and share our posts and progress with your friends.
Thank you for your support of Didi Bahini and Fair Trade. Together, we can make a huge difference for the people of Nepal.