Nepal is a country of many layers. Tiny streets with tiny arches for tiny people to go through, but once you enter, another dimension opens and you can see there is still much more to discover. An alley isn’t just an alley, it’s suddenly an open-air mall four levels high, with pedestrian bridges overhead. This describes the tourist area of Thamel, where we became regulars since our hotel was right on the perimeter.
In the streets of Thamel, we blended in with the many other Westerners. Well, we sort of blended in. Most of the Westerners on the streets of Thamel were decked out in hippy clothes from head to toe, outfitted by the many shops that catered to these kinds of vagabond travelers. The smell of incense wafted through the air (along with lots of dust) constantly. On our nightly stroll to dinner, we turned down the locals’ generous offers for hashish at nearly every street corner heading to the plethora of restaurant options that appealed to the mainstream tourists in the area — a corner shop that made falafel wraps and also served watered-down espresso, “expensive” espresso shops, one authentic brick oven pizza place, and our favorite, an open-air romantic dining experience where you could be serenaded by local Nepali musicians any night of the week and have nearly any style of food you could ask for, our favorite being Mexican. These streets in Thamel became our nightly outing, our only break from long editing days.
We never made it to the two main tourist attractions in Nepal — Mt. Everest and Monkey Temple (so I guess we’ll have to go back) — but we did see quite a bit of the country. As you might have seen from our last post, we experienced many culture trips and took pictures and video at countless temples and stupas and our first day on assignment for Free the Slaves started with a domestic flight. We headed in the opposite direction from Mt. Everest, but we still flew along the Himalayan mountain range — and we had a window seat that faced the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. Eventually the mountains disappeared and we arrived in Nepalgunj, a much hotter area of Nepal that sits on the Indian border. We actually walked to two different border crossings while there.
There we documented the work of Free the Slaves and one of its local partners, Shakti Samuha, an anti-trafficking organization that works with women trafficking survivors. Shakti reintegrates survivors, provides legal support, repatriates and protects survivors and works to stop human trafficking. Similar to the many layers that we saw in Thamel, human trafficking is a huge “invisible” industry thriving on the lack of oversight at the border, a false hope of making money abroad, and fear. We hope to shed a bright light on slavery and trafficking, which exists both abroad and at home.
We created two videos around the work of Free the Slaves and Shakti. The first is the story of two women who were trafficked, survived and are now activists bringing awareness to the issue. The second video highlights the partnership between Free the Slaves and Shakti and goes into more detail about their strategies and techniques to combat trafficking and slavery in Nepal.
To produce these two stories, we spent two nights in Nepalgunj and then returned to Kathmandu for editing. Our filming days in the backcountry of Nepal were long (waking up at 4am to get to the villages an hour away by sunrise) but they were productive and beautiful. The villages we visited outside Nepalgunj were far from the busy streets, honking cars and motorbikes. We took footage of villagers doing their daily chores like feeding livestock. Two cute goats were born just the night before we arrived and looked so soft, but we didn’t dare touch them — one even still had its umbilical cord attached. A woman cooked off of a gas stove that her husband fueled from buffalo dung. They are still poor by Western standards, but after their trafficking experiences, they now know how rich they are to be at home with their families.
We met men and women who were tricked into slavery and trafficked over the border. Most had hoped to find foreign employment to earn money to send their kids to school. Instead, their stories — all different but the virtually the same — take turns for the worst. Somehow, they managed to escape from their situation and are now anti-slavery advocates, vibrantly sharing their stories and creating local committees to keep a close eye on villagers and surrounding areas.
The flow of people enticed by foreign employment and being tricked into slavery by false promises is a huge problem in Nepal and we hope that our documentary work with Free the Slaves will shed light on this issue. If you feel motivated by our documentary work and the work of Free the Slaves and Shakti Samuha, we encourage you to educate yourself through their websites, get involved, and offer your support.
On a lighter note, we compiled a helpful list of third world interview interruptions during our time in Nepalgunj, though I’m not sure how you can prevent these things from happening.
- cellphones ringing
- babies crying
- goats bah-ing
- roosters crowing
- well pumping
- crowds gathering
- bystanders hocking loogies
- flies on the mic
- pigeons on the roof
- power blowing dust and rocks off the street
- person going through a purse in the shot
- boy tapping camera person on shoulder
- people walking behind the interviewee
To top off our time in Nepal, we led a training workshop on photography, video production and web design for Free the Slaves’ local partners. It was our first experience as teachers, but it was fun and the response from the 15-20 people was positive. They especially enjoyed snapping photos of each other and us as they put their new knowledge to use. It was as much of a learning experience for us, and hopefully we’ll get better and better since we’re leading more trainings in three other countries where Free the Slaves works. We got to premiere our video about the slavery survivors too. By the end of the training, the weather dramatically changed and resulted in golf ball-sized hail, rain and lightning — an interesting end to our 20 days in Nepal.
Goodbye hotel room with the balcony we hardly ever got to enjoy, and goodbye window with the best bed-side view of the Himalayas from the heart of Kathmandu.