The Next Chapter
Day 1, 3 August 2020.
After holding on to this dream for almost four years, today is the day I can finally put words into action. In keeping with the Cairns Regional Council Regional Arts Development Fund grant guidelines, I have waited until this day to start, and I now have a year to complete the most ambitious project of my career to date. I do love a deadline. At times during the past six months I have felt the weight of what was ahead; can I really write a whole book? Am I worthy of being entrusted to tell this man’s story? How will I adjust to my new life as a writer, working for passion instead of profit? All the nerves have now evaporated, and I am ready and excited about the writing journey ahead.
I first approached Som Tamang about writing his biography after returning from my first visit to Nepal in December 2016. I had met and interviewed Som for the ABC shortly after the devastating Nepal earthquake in April 2015 and became interested in the work of his charity, Friends of Himalayan Children. I remember planning my first visit to Nepal in late 2016 and offering to do anything to help with the earthquake recovery…cooking, cleaning, building, but Som was adamant the best investment I could make was sharing my journalism skills. I went to Nepal a partially broken woman, who had taken a break from the ABC after five sleepless months as the Far North Queensland Chief of Staff. I had developed depression as well as PTSD from years of exposure to trauma and I would have been happy if my next job had been putting stickers on pieces of fruit, such was my loss of confidence. Nepal changed all of that, as I had hoped it would. I remember Som saying to me before I left, there were no mental health issues once people got to the village. Existence is basic. You rise early, work hard and sleep soon after the sun goes down. You use only what you need and are constantly surrounded by beautiful, smiling, humble people who would gladly share their limited supplies with you. There’s an enormous freedom in this that stays with you. I spent 5 weeks in Nepal during that first visit, including a month in Som’s village, Batase, teaching journalism to students in Years 8 to 10 and a variety of other subjects to the younger classes…as well as the occasional salsa dance lesson. Back home, a better version of myself, I continued my recovery and began planning for a different future. I had loved teaching journalism and video skills to the Nepalese students, and I had already spent much of my career mentoring up and coming reporters. I knew I had to make passing on my skills more of a full-time concern…and that I had to write Som’s life story. Thankfully, Som welcomed the partnership and put no pressure on me to get the book written within a certain time frame. A return trip to Nepal in late 2018 as part of a women-only trek to Everest Base Camp to raise money for Batase’s first community library gave me the opportunity to gather interviews with Som’s family and community members and observe how the former child slave, now mover and shaker, was regarded by his fellow villagers.
So, here we are, five years down the track, and the stars have finally aligned. I have saved up, detached myself from the 9-5 workforce and I am now launching into an unknown, yet strangely comforting space. My motivation for becoming a journalist has always been the sharing of human stories – with all their despair and joy, triumph over adversity and challenging of systems that don’t serve people.
As I reacquaint myself with the interviews and the timeline of Som’s incredible journey, it feels so right to be doing this. While I continue to be busy with my own business pursuits, I am so glad I have finally found space for this special endeavour. I look forward to sharing my own journey with you and I hope this time next year, you will all be reading your own copy of Himalayan Dreams: The story of Som Tamang.