This Easter I took my two children (aged 12 and 14) on a two-week adventure trip to Nepal. It was meant to be the stuff that childhood memories are made of: a year in the planning, we crammed the trip with mountain trekking, white-water rafting, an elephant safari, jungle walks, crocodile-spotting, cycling, cultural tours and middle-of-nowhere star-gazing. Smiling, wind-swept (and wearing unwise harem trousers) we flew back into Heathrow just before a huge earthquake shook Nepal killing an estimated 8,000 people.
Since the news broke, my feelings about the trip have been very confused. I feel incredibly lucky to have got out in time. I feel privileged and grateful to have seen this amazing and inspiring country before the earthquake destroyed historic sights and devastated the infrastructure. I feel shocked to the core knowing that people we met have lost everything and villages we visited have been levelled. And underneath it all is the horror that my children were there, that it so easily could have been them.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think about the risks – on the contrary, the trip was carefully planned to minimise the chances of misadventure. We used a tour company specialising in family travel to organise the activities. We chose a trekking route that would not take us above the snow line (where avalanche is always a danger) and avoided altitude sickness by sleeping low. Daily and weekly malaria tablets covered the (minuscule) exposure of two days in a region that has not yet been formally recognised as free of malaria. I prepped the kids on how to survive if confronted by a rhino/tiger/sloth bear/marauding elephant/rabid dog. I carried an all-scenarios first aid kit everywhere we went (despite cursing the extra weight on the mountain climbs). We used water purification tablets when in doubt and vigilantly rubbed our hands with anti-bacterial gel to combat the lack of sanitation.
So when news about the plight of foreign nationals caught up in the quake filtered through and my husband furrowed his eyebrows at me in that alarmed “I told you so. Why can’t you just be sensible and do a beach holiday” kind of way, I just couldn’t agree. Reeling from the awful accounts of distraught relatives whose family members had not been in contact, he did what we all do and imagined himself in the same situation waiting days for news (good or bad) about me and the kids. Not a nice place to take your headspace. His clear (if unspoken) message was that I was unwise to have taken the children there in the first place and I ought to learn a lesson from this lucky escape.
But I don’t think it was the wrong thing to do. Despite the risks, I won’t regret taking my children to Nepal.
The reason I took them there was to inspire them – to inspire them with a thirst for travel, with an interest in other cultures, with a love of mountains – and to build their self-reliance, that fundamental belief in themselves that they can face and overcome difficult situations, that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. I took my children to Nepal to see Everest and come away knowing that, if they wanted to, they could climb it.
I don’t think those were bad ambitions. And I do think they outweighed the risks, though I realise I might not feel the same if the earthquake had happened just a few days earlier. The fact is that children are exposed to risks every moment of their lives: crossing the road, riding their bikes, walking home from school, hanging out with their mates. Every week I hear of friends of my children who have broken bones or seriously injured themselves playing sports or jumping off climbing frames. Children run risks daily and fear for them is woven into the very fabric of being a parent. As parents, we need to learn to manage that fear and live in a way that manages danger but still enables our children to have all the opportunities we wish for them.
Since we returned from Nepal, both my children have asked me, separately, “What would we have done? What would have happened to us?” We have talked through the different scenarios we might have faced depending on where were when the earthquake struck, hypothetically problem-solving how we would have got water, how we would have got help, the coping strategies we could have used. And I think both of them went away understanding that when bad things happen, no matter how difficult, it is possible to get up and keep going and find a way.
You may think (like my husband) that I am just stubborn and refuse to learn from experience. But on the contrary, experience is exactly what I wish for my children, and the lessons that come from experience. In the end, we can only learn life by doing it. And helping children venture into the widest possible horizons (in as safe a way as I can manage) seems to me not to be a bad ambition for a parent.
Please help Nepal rebuild by making a donation at www.dec.org.uk
We booked our Nepal Family Adventure through www.nepal-uncovered.com part of Uncover the World Travel Limited. This is not a sponsored post, we paid full price for our holiday!
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