Accessibility in Tourism and What Airlines Can Do Better
Inclusivity is key, otherwise, travel remains elitist — a privilege for the able-bodied only.

Accessibility in Tourism and What Airlines Can Do Better

I’ve never experienced a flight during which I worried the whole time if, upon the plane’s landing, my legs would be broken. Or my arm. I pretty much expect to get out of there in one piece except for the extreme unlikelihood of a serious crash. But for people who use wheelchairs, their chairs are parts of their bodies. Separating from a wheelchair while flying can cause anxiety because the reality is, airlines break thousands of wheelchairs per year; while in tourism in general, accessibility is often an afterthought at best.

And like much of the world, aeroplanes aren’t spaces designed for people who use wheelchairs.

Narrow aisles, only one accessible space per flight, teeny-tiny bathrooms, and seats only remotely comfortable when sitting up straight; the lack of accessibility in tourism — specifically on flights — doesn’t just begin and end with the breaking of wheelchairs. 

But the breaking of wheelchairs is significant, problematic, and the symptom of a larger issue in travel. If a wheelchair is an extension of your body, if it’s the thing that helps you move, then a broken wheelchair at the end of a flight is nothing short of a devastation.

Where do you go from there? What do you do?

“Unless you have a very compact chair that can fold and fit in the one very small on-board closet, your chair goes under the plane with the rest of the luggage,” Alivia Holmes explains. Holmes has used a wheelchair since her teens.

It’s an issue most able-bodied people don’t think twice about because they don’t have to. The world is designed for them because it’s often designed by them. But the consequential breaking of wheelchairs isn’t one person’s issue: it’s everyone’s.

It’s also the airline’s responsibility. Wheelchairs are broken — an average of 28 per day in July 2021 alone — when they’re not handled correctly. Since there is very little training dedicated to teaching airline officials how to properly care for a wheelchair (sometimes none), chairs are often thrown. In a plane’s undercarriage, there is no designated space for valuables or breakables and a wheelchair is both. They’re often chucked in with the rest of the luggage and their users have to pray that it doesn’t break.

Accessibility Tourism : Back view photo of old woman moving in wheelchair in the lobby at airport.

“I’ve watched, from the plane window, crew members literally throw my chair onto the luggage belt,” Holmes says. “I’ve seen videos of my friends’ chairs being treated similarly. I personally think everyone’s belongings, including luggage, should be treated with care, but especially peoples’ mobility devices.”

Holmes adds, “Mobility devices are not luggage. They’re extensions of our bodies. They are the tools we require for any sort of independence or life.”

Airlines are supposed to be held liable if responsible for breaking a chair. The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights states, “Airlines must also provide for the checking and timely return of assistive devices at the gate for use in the terminal. Should an airline lose, damage, or destroy the wheelchair or other assistive device, the airline must provide compensation in an amount up to the original purchase price of the wheelchair or device.”

But according to many anecdotal accounts in various forums and in other reporting, this doesn’t always happen. Often, the airline will “pay” for broken wheelchairs by offering credits but the amounts can be as small as a couple hundred bucks. By comparison, some motorised wheelchairs can cost thousands. 

“Arriving at my location without my chair being usable would mean using a transport wheelchair (which is both incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe for me to use) to get to wherever I’m staying, and then sitting in a bed or a couch, stationary, stuck,” Holmes says. “Until I can return back home. Then going through the process of getting a new chair, which would take months. Even a simple manual chair costs thousands of dollars. If someone uses a power chair it could cost close to $20k. They are custom made and the process of getting a new one is long and rigorous.”

Holmes adds, “That’s on top of not having your ‘legs’ for months, completely altering your life, independence, and freedom.”

Plus, money hardly replaces the time and effort it takes to have a wheelchair fixed, repaired, or replaced. It doesn’t replace the after-effects of such a trauma either. Because it’s not just an “inconvenience.” It quite literally is a trauma.

Despite certain laws and steps taken to ensure people with disabilities are protected in the air (and at the airport), it’s not always enacted on-site. Sometimes, flight attendants, TSA agents, or airline employees don’t even know what rights a person with disabilities even has. And so they’re ignored.

Emily Levy is the founder of Mighty Well and a Cartier Award recipient for her work as a social impact entrepreneur and accessibility advocate. Levy has been living with vascular access devices since becoming disabled at the age of 19.

“Flying is stressful for the average person, so imagine also having to navigate travelling with physical medical devices, medication, and medical supplies,” Levy says. “This is an organisational challenge, and it often requires additional luggage, the ability to advocate for yourself or travelling with someone who can help support you.”

Accessibility Torurism, wheelchair in airport hall

Not to mention additional invasive procedures, like increased TSA inspection.

Levy is not the owner of her own wheelchair, but has often flown while needing wheelchair assistance. Each time, she has used an airport-provided wheelchair but every time, Levy has experienced some sort of obstacle due to her chronic illness that requires vascular access devices and medical equipment.

“[With] medical devices and liquid medications, such as IV bags, it can be challenging to get through TSA — even with Pre-Check,” Levy says.

Anyone who’s used an airline-provided wheelchair will tell you: They’re not comfortable. In fact, comfort isn’t even half of it; they’re not always even safe.

“Most wheelchairs do not fit in the plane aisle. That means I have to transfer to an ‘aisle wheelchair’ provided by the airline,” Holmes explains. “It is probably half the width of my chair. I’m a very small person and I barely fit in it. The back is at a 90-degree angle so anyone with limited upper body strength, including myself, could easily fall forward or to the side. The footrest is also poorly designed and my feet constantly fall off it so most of the time someone has to literally just hold my legs up as we’re rolling to my seat.”

Holmes continues, “They strap you in but it still never feels secure or safe and they make you cross your arms or keep your hands on your lap so you can’t even hold onto anything. They usually send one or two people to help with this but if I’m with my boyfriend I just have him carry me to my seat because it’s so much faster, easier, safer, and a whole lot less stressful.”

How people in wheelchairs are treated in the air is a crucial human rights issue that needs — and deserves — to be addressed as soon as possible. But Levy, who is not a full-time wheelchair user, is proof that the problem of accessibility in tourism is of much greater scope.

“I know many [members of the Facebook group] Friends in the Fight with disabilities who choose to drive everywhere they need to travel because of their fear, anxiety, and the cost of mass travel — planes, trains, and cruises,” Levy explains. “Unfortunately, these factors limit the places they can travel to, and there can often be a sense of missing out or needing additional time to get to the end destination.”

Accessibility Tourism: Elderly woman is using a wheelchair in lobby before flight

At the end of the day, inclusivity is key. Otherwise, travel remains elitist — a privilege for the able-bodied only.

“It boils down to insufficient time or special care given to the boarding and onboarding process for folks with disabilities. When there are time constraints on the team member whose job is to load and unload the equipment, that is when steps are going to be missed,” Levy explains.

In terms of what can be done, training isn’t the only step but it’s one that would pave the way for a more inclusive, accessible experience for all. With adequate training, the number of wheelchairs broken would decrease. The rest, disability advocates hope, would likely be part of a domino effect.

“[We need] increased training for all employees to know how to interact with travellers who have medical devices, disabilities, and [those who must] travel with medication,” Levy says. “TSA Cares [a helpline that provides travellers with disabilities and medical conditions with additional assistance during security screenings] is a good start, but rarely have I seen this mirrored by airline employees across the board.”

Another key part in moving the needle is the plane’s design — making it more adaptive and overall accessible.

“People should not have to check their adaptive equipment below the plane where there is the risk of breakage,” Levy says. “My dream would be that aeroplanes allow people to have a secure place for their wheelchair to be their designated seat on a plane and that bathrooms on flights could better accommodate medical devices such as wheelchairs, canes, and other mobility devices — similar to how many flights now accommodate baby changing stations.”

A more inclusive experience in the airport and on a plane would contribute to less flying anxiety all around.

“The one anxiety I’m sure we all have in common is not knowing if our mobility devices will be intact when we get to our destination,” Holmes explains. “So much of what causes these anxieties can be fixed. The disability community has been making it clear that we want and need changes. I don’t know how much the airlines and airports are hearing us.”

For now, Levy wants readers with disabilities to be aware of their rights: You are entitled to board early, entitled to a free medical carry-on in addition to regular carry-ons; the flight has to carry free snacks and drinks for diabetic patients; the airline also legally has to remove an able-bodied passenger to accommodate a passenger with a wheelchair; and airlines cannot limit how many disabled passengers board one flight as per the Code of Federal Regulations.

Stephanie Osmanski


Stephanie is a freelance writer who writes about health, the planet, and being a woman. She has almost a decade of experience writing with bylines at INSIDER, Parade, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and WebMD. She lives in New York with her pomsky, Koda, and writes a Substack newsletter for publicists called Pitch, Please.

Time to Read:  8 Minutes
Activist: Stephanie Osmanski
28 February 2023
Burning Issues

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Meet Uri Araki Oyarce, a Rapanui Man Opening Up Outrigger Canoeing
Through shared learning, a local leader brings people together. | Photo: Joliene Adams

Meet Uri Araki Oyarce, a Rapanui Man Opening Up Outrigger Canoeing

A dozen or so people in flip-flops and aqua socks line the small bay’s shore in Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Kids with zinc oxide residue on their faces squish shoreline silt between bare toes. Some adults chat. Others gaze out at the canoeing on the bay.

Uri Araki Oyarce, an early 40s Rapanui* man and experienced ocean paddler with the boundless energy of a late 20-something rookie, stands waist-deep in the water. He’s demonstrating to a vaka full of first-timers how to hold their hoe [for terminology, see the note which follows the article below].

Everyone does their best to replicate Uri’s instructions as he offers gentle corrections, supplies positive reinforcement, and cracks the occasional self-deprecating one-liner to help them loosen up. Muffled hoe vaka commands travel across the bay as another vaka circles inside it. Soon, the shorebound group will have their turn too. It’s a typical Saturday in Haŋa Piko (hang-gah-pea-koh, “hidden bay”).

Paddling for beginners: picking up the fundamentals. | Photo: Joliene Adams

Overlooking the scene from the shore, up on a knoll of dehydrated grass one of Rapa Nui’s moai statues stands sentinel. Pre-pandemic, thousands of tourists flew over five hours from Santiago, Chile every year to see these monolithic moai. But the Saturday folks in aqua socks are island residents; they’re here to paddle. Five years ago, they might not have had this chance. It wasn’t until 2017 that Uri founded the island’s first and only inclusive hoe vaka club.

Hoe vaka is as much a Rapanui cultural legacy as moai. Before aeroplanes and modern ships, Polynesian sailors traversed large ocean expanses in vakas. In fact, the navigation routes of trans-Pacific ancient voyagers first ‘drew’ the lines of what’s now called the Polynesian Triangle.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) sits at the eastern tip of the Polynesian Triangle. | Map: Creative Commons

Designed for long-distance ocean travel, vakas connect Polynesians geographically and culturally. This draws Uri. It’s a direct link to his past, and “how [his] ancestors arrived to this remote [one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world] and beautiful island.” Despite this pan-Polynesian cultural legacy, there was a centuries-long pause between distance voyages and on many islands, local hoe vaka too. Until the 1970s that is: some were practising hoe vaka on Polynesian islands before the ‘70s, but 1974 was a milestone.

In that year, the double-hulled voyaging canoe Hōkūle’a, ‘Our Star of Gladness’, successfully travelled to Tahiti using ancient Polynesian wayfinding techniques and without the aid of modern navigation instruments. Putting to rest questions of whether this type of travel was possible, a renewed sense of Polynesian pride and revitalisation of traditional voyaging practices rippled across the Pacific Ocean.

Rapa Nui is still riding this wave. Now with approximately 20 teams, 10 annual competitions, and teams travelling overseas to compete, hoe vaka made a comeback on this 163 sq km speck of island. Its most recent innovation is Uri’s inclusive hoe vaka. For residents of Rapa Nui, Team Varua may be their only viable option to share in this. In addition to its open-armed policy, Team Varua provides essential equipment — paddles, canoes, life vests, and bailing buckets.

Outrigger Canoeing Panamerican Competition
Uri (left) and members of Team Varua in spirited form: the canoe name, Hahave, means “flying fish”. | Photo: Joliene Adams

What inspired Uri to create Team Varua? For him, the “considerable and principal role of this team is to incentivise people to enjoy hoe vaka [and] give people the chance to practise this incredible sport.” He also sees how “sports bring people together and give them a chance to socialise,” that they might not have otherwise. If more people thought this way about sports — as a way to enjoy, interconnect, and pursue social, emotional, and physical well-being — we might have healthier outcomes on a larger scale globally.

Like many of its members, Team Varua continues to grow. When asked how the team got its name, Uri explains that “Varua [means] spirit in the Rapanui language,” and at the beginning of Team Varua, those few who did show up used to joke, “it’s just us and the spirits.” As of January 2023, the team is approaching 90 members.

Team Varua’s core values reflect core realities of Polynesian voyaging. Successful paddling of a multi-person vaka doesn’t lend itself to individualism. The better paddlers work together and synchronise movement, the more efficiently and safely the vaka advances. Yet many contemporary teams may seek new members for their individual competitive edge — based on strength, speed, bringing something new to the table, or a relationship to someone in the canoe.

Through Team Varua, Uri mentions, creating a team based on sharing the beauty of this sport in a community, has made it possible to “teach [and work with] a large quantity of people of varying ages,” and to “help out children who are vulnerable and adults with disabilities.” Hoe vaka, for everyone. The young, the old, the differently abled. For the love of it. And community.

Easter Island Outrigger Canoeing practice
The swiftest progress comes through moving together in harmony, as a community. | Photo: Joliene Adams

With continued growth in participant numbers, the acquiring of equipment has struggled to keep pace with the onboarding of members. Dues from Team Varua club members help cover equipment costs but often fall short. Vakas aren’t cheap, and dues are kept low so as not to be prohibitive. Even used six-person vakas run £4000 minimum. That’s ten months of Chilean Rapa Nui’s average minimum wage (£400/month). Team Varua recently bought their third canoe, but they’re already in need of another. That’s the top challenge. 

Skills get passed on through the club as team members who advance in knowledge help train newbies. This shared learning and collaboration adds joy, strength, ownership, and vitality to the experience. Once one has the techniques and safety understanding for the open ocean, they can advance to join six-person paddles during the week.

There are, of course, some wonderful competitive and outcomes-oriented teams on Rapa Nui too. For example, the November 2022 Hoko Mai challenge, in which 12 crew members (nine Rapanuis, two Chileans, and one Hawaiian), covered a 500 km voyage to raise awareness about the importance of women in the world, urge for the protection of the environment, and celebrate the union of the islands of Polynesia. But hoe inclusivo opens doors for island residents in a way that no other team has. While Team Varua may not be for everyone, it is for anyone.

*A note on language: Uri’s quotes were translated from Spanish to English by the author. In honouring the local customs and language of Rapa Nui, words and spelling of locations, items, and concepts associated with hoe vaka (Polynesian outrigger canoeing) have been retained —

Rapa Nui: the island
Rapanui: used as an adjective, ex. “Rapanui man”
Hoe (ho-ay): paddle
Vaka (vah-kah): canoe in Rapa Nui in the Marquesas; wa’a (va-ah) in Hawai’i; va’a in Tahiti
Ama (ah-mah): outrigger
Hoe vaka: Polynesian-style outrigger canoeing

Joliene Adams


Joliene Adams is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, USA. She covers travel, the outdoors, arts, and culture for a variety of international and local USA/Canadian Pacific Northwest publications. She’s an advocate of multilingualism and has a background in language education, global literature, and supporting heritage languages as well as languages-in-revitalization. You can find her as ‘Joliene Carolina’ on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. She takes promoting accountability in the travel industry and educational sector seriously, but also believes in deep joy and can frequently be found having a good, hard laugh at just about anything.

Time to Read:  5 Minutes
Storyteller: Joliene Adams
27 February 2023
Game Changers

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Disasters and How the Travel Community Can Help
Thoughtfully putting intent into action can make all the difference. | Photo: Ian Taylor, Unsplash

Disasters and How the Travel Community Can Help

The recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria remind me acutely of 2015 and the devastating earthquake of similar magnitude that hit Nepal that year. The current crisis recalls feelings of the energy in the country at the time as everyone joined hands to help, of the outpouring of generosity from around the world — and also of the confusion it created around who to support.

It always happens. We want to help financially and with in-kind donations, and there are inevitably several issues that throw up obstacles — like customs regulations that block in-kind support in Nepal. Government regulations thwart financial support as the government rightfully wants to control the rescue and rehabilitation works. Then there is the uncertainty around knowing who is trustworthy and can be relied upon to receive and distribute this support. Funny: we want to help, but it’s difficult to do.

Here are some thoughts I compiled based on my experience. It might be useful — or not, that depends on individual countries and the type of disaster — but it does put some factors into perspective.

1. Ignore the media: find someone reliable on the ground to speak to, and learn about the situation directly from them.

The media only leads when it bleeds. They pounce in when it’s fresh and gory, and then disappear, leaving the image of the country in shambles. The only reliable information comes from people on the ground — especially those involved in the concerted efforts that usually happen through government and civil society during disasters. They will guide you on what is really required, and precisely how to help. Remember, however, that the number of spam requests grows exponentially when disasters strike. Turkey is already facing spammers trying to utilise the disaster to gain financially.

2. Be careful of what you send, especially in kind. It might not be what’s actually required on the ground, and may just cause more problems than it solves.

In Nepal, we received tonnes of in-kind contributions that could not be used, some because they were just not practical — e.g. supplies of toilet paper rolls in a country that uses water instead of toilet paper. Others didn’t suit culturally, like second-hand clothes in a place where people are so proud, they rarely wear something that someone else has worn before. It did not help that in Nepal donated goods still have to go through a government process, to prove that they are not arriving for sale. Due to well-meaning missteps and red tape, piles of donated items stood at our airport for months, unutilised.

Remember also that unlike a flood, or a hurricane, the belongings are still there in most cases — just buried. Dig enough, and you can get to it.

How Travel Community can Help in Disasters
Photo: Ahmed Akacha, Pexels

3. When sending funds, find out who can be counted on to utilise those funds efficiently to actually deliver on the ground instead of using them for disproportionate administrative costs.

In Nepal, we found that citizen initiatives were one of the most direct and fastest responses. As an adventure tourism operator, I also realised that adventure companies are uniquely placed — they usually have trained manpower, necessary equipment and the nature of the business means they have the reach and expertise to go into difficult areas and quickly deliver what is required.

4. Do not share news without carefully vetting the story (and the source).

There is so much out there, sometimes we are not even sure whether it comes from the right area, or is the relevant news, and sharing on auto-pilot does not help at all. It amplifies false information and creates an inaccurate impression, which then becomes really difficult to set straight — distracting from the clarity and focused response that’s required.

5. When the time is right, travel into the country.

Tourism is a great way to lend support — as money goes into the hands of small businesses, and the government makes the much-needed foreign exchange. Remember that when there is a natural disaster like an earthquake, the effect is localised, and does not condemn the whole country. You have to time it right, and not immediately go while the focus is on response and recovery. To choose the best time, again, contact people on the ground who know when it’s opportune to arrive. Countries that have recently had disasters have incredible energy fuelled by people working together to solve a common problem. It’s a great opportunity to learn and have hope in humanity, again.

To qualify my thoughts on this burning issue, each country is different, and each disaster has its own nature — so everything I’ve noted here has to be carefully analysed and put into perspective.

My only hope with this article is to get you to think and hopefully help put good intent into positive action, using some guidance coming from actual experience.

The recent quakes that have struck Turkey and Syria were utterly devastating; we feel it’s our duty to help in some way.

The adventure travel community is rallying together via the Adventure Travel Trade Association, where we are a member. Our friend and Adventure Champion, Hike’n Sail Turkey, has been sharing tragic updates, including the loss of many adventure guides who had gathered for training in Southern Turkey.

Tour operators often have the equipment, personnel and medical training to help in a crisis. They are sending volunteers to the disaster area with winter gear and tents, and could use help purchasing desperately needed supplies at cost.

💗 If you can, please donate or share the GoFundMe link… or both. 💗

Raj Gyawali

Resonate Team

Based in Nepal, Raj Gyawali is one of the driving forces behind Resonate and Ethical Travel Portal. He has over two decades of specialist knowledge of responsible tourism in practice and ground-level experience building, developing his company socialtours as the first in Asia to be sustainability certified. Working in Ghana, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and India, he's kept a finger on the pulse of developments around the world of tourism. Raj consults on responsible tourism for organisations, especially on destination development. Through consultation, he helps governments and communities create more sustainable practices. He is the expert Dreamweaver for Asia and adventure-related experiences, drawing from his passion for soft adventure. Raj loves most to be in the mountains, leading a multi-day hike or on a bike trip, or researching new experiences!

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
Resonate Team: Raj Gyawali
23 February 2023
Responsibility in Focus

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Meet NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, Nepal’s Festival Director Tackling Issues One Visual at a Time
Diverse public programming creates a conversation between a city and its people. | Photo: Chemi Dorje Lama

Meet NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, Nepal’s Festival Director Tackling Issues One Visual at a Time

Every two years, Photo Kathmandu – Nepal’s biggest photo festival – breathes new life into the city of Patan, turning streets into exhibition spaces and passersby into spectators, with festival director NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati at the helm of it all.

It was in the autumn of 2015 that we were first introduced to Photo Kathmandu. Nepal was in the midst of an economic crisis, while still struggling to find its feet in the aftermath of a massive earthquake that had shaken up the entire country that April. Things were looking grim for many Nepalis.

In such sombre times, Photo Kathmandu, an international photo festival, took to the streets of Patan and breathed new life into the city. A photo festival taking place in the heart of Patan, where many of the old, traditional buildings and temples lay in ruins, was a little unexpected. But in retrospect, that is exactly what the city and its people needed: to fall back on the arts to make and create meaning, to share a common purpose, and to become a community that stands together.

NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, the director of the Photo Kathmandu festival.
NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, the director of the Photo Kathmandu festival. | Photo: Sagar Chhetri

“The idea of a photo festival was in the works for a while. But we chose to go ahead with it in 2015 during such a tough time, because it felt like an important moment for something positive to happen,” said NayanTara. “For us as photographers also, we needed something hopeful to work on. In our own small way, we wanted to do something to bring people together and re-instil in them that community spirit we all needed at the time to rebuild.”

And that was exactly what it did. Since it started in 2015, Photo Kathmandu has created a sense of community among people from all walks of life by harnessing the transformative power of the arts and creating a space for conversations between the city and its public, its historical legacies and its aspirations for the future.

Through NayanTara’s vision, the festival has also been able to make art and information accessible to as many people as possible by fostering an environment of direct community interaction. To do this, the festival has always made a conscious effort not to be limited to the walls of galleries and to exhibit artists’ work in public spaces across the city.

Photo Kathmandu not only brings together lens-based artists from around the world in Nepal but also local communities. | Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai

“The visual culture is very much ingrained in the way we exist and respond to the world.  And the festival has become a chance for all of us to pay attention to these visuals and how we are living in this world,” says NayanTara, who is committed to building and expanding a thriving community of visual storytellers. In 2007, she co-founded, an independent artist-led platform that facilitates learning, exhibition making, publishing and a variety of other trans-disciplinary collaborative projects for Nepali visual practitioners. In 2011, she co-founded Nepal Picture Library, a digital archiving initiative that works towards diversifying Nepali socio-cultural and political history.

During the time the exhibitions are on display, the city of Patan is abuzz with undeniable energy. Many streets, squares and other communal spaces become exhibition areas where the public is free to come in and interact with the artworks that are exhibited. In addition to the exhibitions, the festival also organises various other public-engaging programs — all of this adding to a sense of community among everyone who participates in the festival.

In an effort to engage and educate the public on different social, political and cultural issues, the photo festival also takes on different themes every year. This year, the festival’s fifth edition, which is scheduled to be held between 25 February and 31 March, is addressing a deep, gnawing issue: our relationship with the natural world.

Every year, Photo Kathmandu has a different theme; in 2018, the festival highlighted issues of gender and sexuality. | Photo: Chemi Dorje Lama

The various Nepali and international artists showcasing visual projects in the festival will question our common understanding of current environmental urgencies, our history with the natural world, and how we view it.

“The theme came about because of the pandemic. I think for many of us, the pandemic brought an unimaginable stopping of time and in many ways, that jolted us to think about the world beyond us. It made us feel like human beings are only a small part of the world; there is a much larger non-human world, which we often overlook,” she said.

NayanTara went on to explain, “Our main hope with the festival too has always been to give space to issues that are not spoken about. And to encourage people to interact with art, and feel a sense of ownership with it. We want people to look at art not as something that is incomprehensible or inaccessible, but as something that brings all of us together, to make meaning as a community”.

Marissa Taylor


Marissa Taylor is an environmental journalist based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Taylor has been working as a journalist since 2013, and has been a part of newsrooms of The Kathmandu Post, The Himalayan Times, and, most recently, The Record Nepal, where she was assistant editor. Although she covers a wide array of environmental topics, she focuses on writing on the intersections of climate change, poverty, inequalities, and public health. She was among the grantees in Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Climate Change Reporting programme in 2020 and in the British Council’s Women Reporters on Climate Change programme in 2021.

    Time to Read:  4 Minutes
    Storyteller: Marissa Taylor
    21 February 2023
    Game Changers

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    Tradition, Love and Laughter at a Nigerian Wedding
    Traditional Nigerian wedding dress features distinctive and meaningful garments for both bride and groom. | Photo: Tope A. Asokere, Unsplash

    Tradition, Love and Laughter at a Nigerian Wedding

    It was Peju’s special day, and a flurry of activities was underway. In the backyard, I could hear the wedding caterers — referred to as “olopos” — pounding the yam. The sound ‘kpom-kpom-kpom’ resonated throughout the compound as the pestle made contact with the wooden mortar.

    The make-up artists were in the room with us, helping out with our looks and our geles (shaped and folded headpieces). I was doing mine by myself: because I could, and also because I didn’t want to wait any longer. I already wore my gown, and the other bridesmaids were changing.

    We’d had a bridal shower the previous day and everything was going just fine — till the bride’s mother and some older women began offering up their pieces of advice. It dampened the mood but we got to dancing, playing games, and drinking the wine we sneaked in after they left.

    The door creaked open as the mother of the bride peeked her head in. “Ahn ahn, are you people not done? It’s time to make an appearance.” Choruses of “We are sorry, ma” and “We are almost done, ma” met her complaints. Ten minutes later, everyone was ready and it was time to head outside.

    Storyteller Oluwaseun Famoofo dressed in a vivid purple dress and gele, ready to celebrate a friend's wedding as a bridesmaid.
    Dressed up and ready to celebrate on my friend Peju’s wedding day. | Photo: Oluwaseun Famoofo

    “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” I whispered to Peju because she looked nervous. She’s been in my life for as long as I can remember, her family and mine always remaining cordial — our mothers having been friends and colleagues for years.

    The DJ welcomed us to the wedding grounds with Flavour’s hit Ada Ada. A red carpet stretched from the entrance and we swayed gracefully along it to the stage. Everybody was seated under the tents in the bride’s compound and they were all smiling and cheering as we danced. 

    We jiggled our backsides and grinned as we held the hems of our dresses and surrounded the bride, fanning her face. The scent of petrichor was heavy in the air; the sun’s rays were mild, breaking through the pale blue clouds softly. It had rained lightly some hours ago and I could still see dew on the leaves, rose bushes, and palm trees surrounding us. 

    A gentle breeze blew as we all settled down, and then the officiant — Iya Alaga — started the ceremony. She was beaming, her gold necklace and bangles jangling as she moved. Her gele was small and round, and she was wearing the same aso-ebi ‘family cloth’ attire as the bride’s family, in a deep sea blue. Decorations were everywhere: taking pride of place was a gorgeous sky-blue cake in the shape of a gift box.

    Palm trees with orange fruits under a pale blue sky.
    The weather was fine, with dewy palm trees under a pale blue sky.

    Iya Alaga began by singing joyful choruses that made the bride blush, melodious songs that reminded us all of the significance of that moment. After expressing gratitude to everyone for attending, she then thanked the bride’s family for doing such a wonderful job of raising her. Iya Alaga told Peju to go and thank her parents; an emotional tune played as the bride went to kneel in front of them. 

    Regally sitting, her mother was dressed in iro and buba (blouse and wrapper) while her father wore an agbada and fila (a gown and cap). Their necks and wrists were richly adorned with red, royal beads. Together, they placed their hands on their daughter’s shoulders, closed their eyes, and prayed for her. Afterwards, Iya Alaga asked Peju to stand up and dance toward her husband-to-be. 

    It was the moment the drummers had been waiting for. They beat the drum as if their life depended on it, cheering on the bride and calling out her praises. They gave her a fila to place on her groom’s head, to symbolise crowning him. She accepted the fila, and danced gracefully to where her groom was seated.

    Drumming was in full throttle as she started dancing closely, rocking him while smiling as the groom held her waist. Their parents looked on in amusement, finally realising that their children are truly grownups. Rising from his chair, her groom started spraying the bride with 1000-naira notes, motivating her to dance more.

    Drum and pan full of jollof rice.
    The air was filled with the sound of drums and the aroma of foods like jollof rice cooking.

    “Whoo!” The crowd rejoiced and there were shouts and whoops of encouragement from every corner of the room. After some time, Iya Alaga politely asked the bride to kneel before the groom and make positive affirmations as she then rose to set the cap on his head, before taking her place at his side. “Mummy and daddy,” she said while looking at both parents, “I hope you are ready for your grandchildren!”

    Laughter erupted from everyone assembled, and Peju giggled in an almost childlike fashion before calling everyone to order. The engagement items brought as a show of goodwill by the groom’s family were then presented to the bride’s family; palm wine, bottles of wine and soft drinks, tubers of yam, bunches of plantain, an umbrella, a box of jewellery, a bag of rice, bitter kolas, and a goat. 

    Iya Alaga then asked the couple to cut the cake in unison and the guests applauded. The ceremony now complete, the bride and groom hit the dance floor. Food whose aroma has been steadily wafting into the tents appeared; as dishes like pepper soup, gbegiri, amala and ewedu, jollof rice with coleslaw, fried rice, ofada rice, moi moi, and asun were served. 

    As bridesmaids, we joined the newlyweds on the dance floor — along with the groomsmen — to celebrate this union. Friends and family sprayed money, and I did my best to collect some of the notes to give to Peju later. The merry-making continued as the DJ dropped hit song after hit song. I smiled, held the hem of my dress and danced to honour the happy couple.

    Oluwaseun Famoofo


    Oluwaseun Famoofo is a passionate narrator. A lover of comedy shows and wine, you will mostly see her glued to her laptop revealing one story or another. Creating her novels and building their characters gives her the utmost satisfaction. She has written for publications like Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women and Shado magazine. She hopes to shed light on issues in her society by any means possible.

    Time to Read:  5 Minutes
    Storyteller: Oluwaseun Famoofo
    21 February 2023
    Local Stories - Customs and Traditions

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