Tuesday, 24 November 2015

When writers might take some of the blame - Jo Carroll.

As many of you know, I've been to Nepal.

It was evident, within a few hours of my arrival, that many tourists have deserted Nepal. Talking with friends there, it seems that cancellations began the day after the earthquake. One big quake, it seems, is enough for most people to believe the country is shaken to the core - and will carry on shaking. While a few backpackers are making their way back, the big tour groups are still staying away. Without tourists - and their foreign money - Nepal cannot earn the income she needs to rebuild.

'It's the journalists' fault,' Ajay told me. 'They were here for two days, took plenty of pictures of the earthquake damage, and then left us to it. No one has come back, seen how things are now.'

He's right - anyone who saw those images might think that the whole of Kathmandu was flattened.

I took this picture from his balcony, looking over the rooftops of the city:

Does this look flattened?

Disasters make good stories - I get that. And sometimes stories can be a way of making sense of disasters - I get that too.

But maybe writers also have a responsibility to rewrite some of those stories to remind the rest of the world that life has gone on. I'm a travel writer, so you can expect me to tell it as it is. But fiction writers? Yes, even fiction writers.

In spite of anything we might watch on Saturday night television we don't believe that everyone in Scandinavia is a murderer. Nor (regrettably) is every Sicilian as beautiful as Montalbano. Yet how long will it be before we have books or programmes highlighting the beauty of Tunisia? Or the welcome that one can find in Iran (my neighbours have just returned from a wonderful, safe, holiday in Iran)? Or in Sharm el Sheikh? Or even in Paris? Will I be a lone voice reminding people of the wonders of Nepal?

I don't suppose those journalists feel that they have abandoned Nepal, or any other country touched by disaster. They were simply doing their jobs. But my friends in Nepal have reminded me that we can - and I think we should - also tell stories of recovery and of hope.

If you want to read some of my hopeful tales, there are links to my books on my website here.


Wendy Jones said...

Nepal is a beautiful country and, I agree, the economy is totally reliant on tourism. It is such a shame that people are still staying away

Sandra Horn said...

Thank you for this, Jo.

Andrew Crofts said...

Writers so often want to write positive, life-affirming stories. We want to put things into perspective, see all sides of every story, but that is never what the editors and publishers want to print. They want tales of shock, horror, corruption and disaster. They will say that they are just giving the public want they want - and I have a horrible feeling that there is an element of truth in what they say. Many millions more people will watch a news item about a city being attacked by terrorists than they will a balanced documentary about every day life in the same city. We are all hooked on drama and constantly searching for thrills.

Lydia Bennet said...

I'm afraid Andrew is right. Though I think it's fair enough to cancel a trip for a holiday to an earthquake zone - we can't expect tourists to go where needs them the most for a hard-earned fortnight's hol. Apart from the risk of another quake, people feel they can't inflict themselves in an emergency area where they might have trouble feeding and watering the residents as it is. Note the horribly sneering comments aimed, on social media and from here, at British tourists in perfectly normal Med holiday places, taken aback and dismayed by refugees piling up around them en route to what they hope will be safety. People will be slagged off both for going to and staying away from troubled regions which are becoming so common, it's getting hard to find somewhere to go.

JO said...

Thank you all. And Lydia - I take your point about people not wanting to inflict themselves in an emergency area. But the earthquake in Nepal was six months ago, the land is more or less still (there's the odd shiver but no more that you get in Sicily) - and the country is dependent on tourists to get the economy up and running. I've seen a few travel pages in the broadsheets begin to suggest it's time to go back, but guides and tour operators are starving because the industry is still so sluggish.

Elizabeth Kay said...

So many developing countries rely on tourism, and it can disappear overnight. A very interesting post. I normally travel with Exodus, and they were running a trip to Sri Lanka when the tsunami of 2004 hit the east coast. Exodus offered all the tourists a return flight, but they opted to stay and spent the rest of their holiday raising money at all the hotels along the west coast. Exodus then matched what they raised with their own contribution. What they then did with the money was even better - they built 25 tsunami houses inland, and rehoused displaced families, giving them a means to earn a living as well - such as a tuk-tuk cab - because most of them had been fishermen. I believe Exodus raised more money for Nepal than any other travel firm.

JO said...

Thank you, Elizabeth - wouldn't it be wonderful if more travel firms followed Exodus's example!