In this blog, which is celebrating its seventh year, I love to talk about the work I’ve been doing for more than 30 years; my job is my passion. Part of the joy comes from sharing it in situ with my colleagues at Palais des Thés and showing them what I do every day. They accompany me on tours around the tea fields and I share with them the time I spend with farmers and planters, which is so important in my view, learning about every aspect of their work and their life. Here, from left to right, are Benoît (poor framing on my part has deprived him of his right ear), Audrey, Sylvie, Frédéric, Constance and Linda, who don’t look unhappy to be on the trip.
Divinities differ from country to country, and while some people are celebrating Christmas, on other continents they worship Shiva, or pray to Allah, or follow the words of Buddha. Through my work I’m lucky to come across people from different cultures and religions, and I love this variety. Happily, we don’t all think the same way yet; our customs and rituals change and we speak different languages depending on where we’re born, and I hope this continues as long as the world exists. It makes travel more interesting. Some people follow a religion, others don’t – although the latter are rare in the parts of Asia and Africa I visit. Among them, I find a multitude of different rites. People pray before a wall, from a pulpit, at the foot of a minaret, or around a stupa. They pray to the wind or fire, they place offerings at the foot of simple statuettes. Whoever or whatever you pray to, and even if you don’t pray at all, I wish you all happy holidays!
I like silence. I hate it when people make noise for no reason. I don’t have a television. I don’t see the point of listening to music constantly. I’ve noticed that many people are afraid of silence. They go around with headphones on, they talk even when no-one is listening, their thumb constantly swipes their phone screen. They are filling a void that feels threatening. But what is there to be afraid of? I’m happy with silence. I’m happy surrounded by nature, away from human noise. It’s the same with photos. A good photo needs no commentary. No noise. You can just look at it.
During a recent stay in Ilam Valley, I took the opportunity to meet several Darjeeling planters, and talked with them at length about the situation in the district. This is the latest news I can bring you, as well as a few figures to help you understand. In 2017, 80% of the Darjeeling harvest was lost. Ninety percent of the autumn harvest alone was lost. The separatist leader is now in hiding, and 105 days of strikes have resulted in no concrete gains for the population. They don’t know who will pay for the massive financial losses suffered by the tea plantations, of course, but also by everyone whose business relates to tourism. Then there are the shop-keepers who had to remain closed for more than three months. Throughout this stand-off between the autonomists and the government of Western Bengal, many people who were living in the mountains left to find work elsewhere. Now, 30% of this population have gone, and we don’t know if they will return. And most people who live in the mountains work in the tea fields. Despite this set-back, the herbs that had grown over the tea plants have been pulled up. There’s still a lot of work to do to cut back the bushes, though. Normally they are cut back every four or five years, but this winter, because the plants were left to grow for three months, they must be cut back to form what’s known as the plucking table. This winter pruning will delay next spring’s Darjeelings, which are usually harvested from the beginning of March. Darjeeling’s planters are unanimous in their view that there won’t be any teas in 2018 before around 20th March, and even then, only a few. The harvesting period will be shorter, the quantities smaller, and the prices higher. Another subject all our planters agree on is that if the separatists go on strike again, they will allow the tea plantations to operate normally so that people don’t suffer any more than they have to.
A few days ago, while walking in a remote part of Nepal on a track that winds through hamlets and tea fields, I remembered my first trip to this country a little over ten years ago. I remembered the curfew, the war, the ban on driving at night, the fearful army who pulled your vehicle off the road, made you get out and pointed an automatic weapon at you. I remembered the Maoists who held villagers to ransom, who took their belongings if they couldn’t pay their taxes, and sometimes even one of their sons. I remembered stories of executions, a father or mother in tears. I remembered all this pain, and now, on this little path surrounded by glorious nature, I thought that sometimes we forget to be happy, we forget to see the good things. It’s easy to spend your life lamenting, as if everything was so much better before, as if everything is going to ruins, when sometimes the world is improving. It’s a shame not to think about this, to forget to be happy. So I stopped walking, looked all around me at the incredible landscape in this peaceful country that has put war behind it. I took my time to appreciate it and to feel thankful. Sometimes the world is beautiful.