Torrential rain produces a 50 centimetre sheet of water which cascades down a gravel race finding its way between flattened rocks. This gravel race is also the road we are travelling upon to Nagarkot, Nepal. The Nepali driver carefully picks his way along the ‘road’. His driving skills are akin to a slalom white water paddler as he avoids the larger rocks and the parts where the road is completely washed away. I’m on route to Nagarkot with Jenn Weidman to facilitate a resilience retreat for a group of Rotary Peace Fellows. Jenn has visited Nagarkot on several occasions. For me it is my first time. Jenn is certain this is not the route she has travelled on prior visits. It's not; because that route no longer exists as a result of the 2015 earthquake.
All Nepalis have an earthquake story. Many are filled with tragedy, personal loss, and grief. But listen deeper to these stories and you also hear the powerful stories of resilience and recovery. You hear the stories of how an individual, a family, a village, a community, and the country recovered. How they have drawn of their experience, innovation, and creativity to recover.
Hearing these stories is humbling. It makes me feel like a fraud, travelling to Nagarkot to facilitate a resilience retreat for humanitarian aid managers and community development managers. Outside the window of the car in which we travel hundreds of personal case studies of resilience walk by. I need to remind myself of my role. It is not for me to story tell from my experience, it is for me to assist the individual and the group to reach in and draw upon their own experience, stories, and mechanisms to remember what makes them strong and keeps them strong and connected to the difficult work they achieve in some very difficult contexts.
Post retreat, Jenn and I spend some time with a Nepali tour guide friend who shares his story. Starting as a porter, he crammed outside of porter duties to learn language, tourism, and business. He went from porter to guide to tour operator. He has built his business to the point of owning his own hotel, completing a masters, and is starting his PhD in tourism. He has held the chairmanship of the representative group for tour operators. A highlight for him was moving his extended family into a four-story house in Kathmandu. The four-story house is a long way from the family’s humble origins living the village life in the Ganesh region of Nepal.
This tour operator was travelling on his motorcycle to the cinema to catch a new release. He thought he had a ‘blow out’ as his motorcycle became uncontrollable. He found himself on the ground under his motorcycle. As he lay there he realised it was not the motorcycle that became uncontrollable, it was the whole landscape as it bent and buckled in the grips of earthquake. His mind turned to his family back at home in the newly completed 4-story house. He got out from under the motorcycle, got it going, and was determined to get home to his family. The journey was interrupted by numerous aftershocks. Fallen debris, falling debris, and evacuating people impeded his path. Eventually he abandoned the motorcycle as the road became impassable. As he walked into the area that was once his street he could see that his 4-story addition to the skyscape no longer existed. His newly completed house had fallen. Fortunately, all his family survived. Some were injured but none fatally. He considers himself one of the fortunate.
His family’s village back in the Ganesh were not so fortunate. Earthquake and landslide took a significant tool. Parts of the village had been engulfed by the shifting landscape and no longer existed. Many lives were lost but it could have been far worse. As the quake struck in the middle of the day, villages were working their fields. A night time earthquake would have extracted a much higher death toll.
Overnight, tourism ceased in Nepal. Along with it the important capital that tourism brings to the Nepal economy. This tour operator saw the opportunity for the tourism industry to take leadership in a tourism supported recovery. Not some form of ghoulish post apocalypse tourism, but sensitive supportive tourism for well meaning travellers prepared to support Nepali communities. In a time of adversity this tour operator and industry leader relied on what he knew best. He was creative and innovated solutions to return tourists not to impede but to support Nepal’s recovery.
Our retreats don’t look to give you the how too or the formula for resilience. We look to reconnect you with what you know best; yourself. What is it that you can rely on to get you through difficult periods? How do you remain connected to your creativity? What is it that sparks your imagination and innovation? If your personal or professional earthquakes have crowded out your ability to think through, then maybe it is time you joined one of our resilience retreats.