Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ayo Gorkhali

Ayo Lumley
'I didn't expect such a hateful reaction' read the headline in Saturday's Daily Telegraph. The article in question featured an interview with Joanna Lumley, a name now intrinsically linked to the Gurkha's and 'that' campaign in 2009 that saw Gurkhas who retired before 1997 with 4 or more years service win the right to settle in the UK.

The 'hateful reaction' refers to the public's annoyance at her actions, specifically the public of Aldershot and Farnborough. They are upset at the sudden influx of Nepalese in their towns and are voicing this through facebook groups. Arguably, though, this 'hateful reaction' goes further than just their feelings towards J-Lum and in fact points at a deep rooted xenophobia found in British communities. Aldershot and Farnborough are simply bringing to light Britain's fear of the unknown and dislike of foreigners that threaten to bring change to their daily routine.

I would suggest that Ms Lumley was naive to think that Britain, insular on many levels, would welcome the Gurkhas with open arms. Once the energy of her campaign faded after such a public triumph, it was the people of these towns that were left with the reality of what was about to happen. This misplaced naivety, though, was not meant to cause harm to either party but was simply because she is one of the lucky people who know and love the Gurkhas and perhaps she assumed that her love for these people would be felt by all who met them. I understand her love for the Gurkhas because I am also one of the lucky people who know them. We had a posting in Hong Kong where the General commanded a Brigade of Gurkhas in the early '90s and since I was 4, they have been a big part of our lives. Familiar Gurkha faces coming and going over the years and always associated with some of the best times of my growing up,; plates of Aloo Dum, trips to Nepal, big smiling 'namaste' greetings. They are, without a doubt, some of the kindest, most generous people I will ever come across from one of the poorest but most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I feel a great sadness to think that their arrival is met with negativity.

Proud to have been a Gurk
But what of the Gurkhas who have now settled in the UK? Certainly, many came quickly and slipped through the net the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) was hurriedly putting into place to ensure that they understood the impact of this huge life upheaval. Pre 1997, the Gurkhas were based in Hong Kong and Brunei so would never have experienced life in the UK. Suddenly, the door was open and a better, though unfamiliar, life beckoned. It seems to be assumed that they are happy to be here but in reality, the opposite is true. Few speak the language, they are in an alien country with a totally different culture, they have been out of the Army for years and times have changed from what they knew. Many are now not sure why they came in the first place. In Nepal, the pensions they recieve make them kings in their generally poor villages and those who joined post 1997 and are no longer in the Army only remain so their children can recieve a better education. They will eventually return to their home country once that has been completed.

These elderly Gurkhas and their families, the bravest of the brave, who have fought for our country, could well see out the rest of their lives in these towns, surrounded by resentment. They don't necassarily want to be here and Lumley pushing to change the resettlement rules might not have been the right thing to do. We shouldn't forget, however, the sacrifices they have made for us and perhaps, in return, should afford a little hospitality towards them  because, as Ms Lumley correctly points out, 'the bitter irony is that, if these protesters ever went to Nepal, they would receive the warmest welcome and the best of everything from some of the poorest people in the world.'
My family and I experienced true Gurkha generosity when we went to stay with Capt Deb Saheb in his village, Ghermu, in the Lamjung district of Nepal, Nov. 2010
The view from the village
Breakfast Nepali style

Deb Saheb with the family

You can find out how The Gurkha Welfare Trust helps advise on resettlement here in particular, the information regarding the Residential homes that are planned for parts of Nepal, with one already running very successfully in Pokhara.

Some of the residents at the Pokhara residential home

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