Please indulge me as I navel-gaze briefly.
I last worked full-time as a journalist in 2007, but I’m proud to tell people that I think I’ll always be a journalist at heart. One implication is that when I visit a place like Binauna VDC*, in Banke district in south western Nepal, I am automatically sniffing for stories. And I find many:
- Electricity in only 3 wards in Binauna and 8 neighbouring VDCs. (Each VDC has nine wards.) There are electricity poles, new-looking concrete ones, but they are bare of wires
- A health post missing essential equipment – besides the electricity – including an autoclave (for sterilising) and drugs that are on the list of 38 free, essential medicines
- Women who are told to take their malnourished children to Nepalganj for nutritional feeding but decline because they say it’s too expensive (to get there – the treatment itself is free) and they can’t afford to be away from the rest of their family – who will work and feed the other children?
And many, many more for a ‘development’ journalist like me.
And then there are the other stories, like:
- The love story. One woman we filmed in Binauna was nine months pregnant with her second child. (We were filming her as an example of a ‘beneficiary’ of an INGO project on mother and child health). As we talked with Meena we learned that she had had a love marriage – as opposed to one arranged by her family – which is unusual in villages. On top of that, her husband is seven years younger (and in fact looks at least 10 years her junior), which is very unusual not only in rural areas but anywhere in Nepal.
It’s a great story! And who says rural villages in Nepal can’t have great, love stories? And that I can’t write about them?
Beyond this particular tale, there are all the everyday stories that the women gathered for the Mothers Group meeting told one another as they sat in a tight circle, laughing and gossiping. They are not all victims or examples of under-development, representatives of a problem that needs fixing: at least I’m sure that’s what they would say. But too often that’s how I – dare I say ‘we’ journalists – think of them.
There’s the story of the project volunteer who treated us to lunch at her relative’s house – all eight of us, as a beautiful, blue peacock perched on a low branch of a nearby tree – and as we were eating patiently led a brittle-looking old woman, who took small, careful steps, across the courtyard to lay down on a bamboo ‘lounger’ in the next yard.
And I can only imagine the story behind the image I saw as we drove back to the Banke district headquarters city of Nepalgunj: a young man and woman riding bikes side-by-side, talking and smiling, diverging on either side of the road to make way for our vehicle but continuing to smile at each other as they did so.
So what are the stories that I should tell? Do I fall back on a technicality: ‘I tell stories for my audience’? Tell the stories that I can sell? (I’ve never tried to sell a love story, so who knows how I’ll do?) Or can I work love into my development stories?
* Nepal just reorganised local political structures, but I don’t know the details of the new system so I’m still using the old VDC (village development committee)