[Update: Read Dinesh Wagle’s American Journey here.]
UWB Note: Nepali blogging in UCLA. See this page.
After being invited by the U.S. government, UWB blogger Dinesh Wagle will go to America tomorrow in a three-week-long sponsored trip
By Dinesh Wagle
“Dear Mr. Wagle,” reads the letter signed by James F. Moriarty, the American ambassador in Nepal. “I am pleased to inform you that the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu invites you to visit the United States of America under an International Visitor Leadership Program entitled Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists in South Asia,” scheduled for April 3-21, 2006.” Because of that invitation, I am going to the United States. About 12 hours after the publications of this blog, I will be flying somewhere over the Indian Ocean heading for Washington DC via Bangkok-Tokyo-Detroit).
“I trust that your visit will enable you to broaden your knowledge of American society and help increase mutual understanding between Nepal and the United States,” James F. Moriarty, the U.S. Ambassador in a letter to United We Blog! blogger Dinesh Wagle.
I know I am not going to the Moon (Not even a trip to the NASA is in the itinerary.) America is no more an alien land for Nepalis. Thousands are living there and many others have been there at least once. But when I say this, I am not trying to underestimate the craze of America among Nepalis. The American culture has so much influence in Nepali society that it is almost impossible to live a normal city life without getting to know something good or bad about that country. So why am I talking about my U.S. trip as if it is was first time experience for a Nepali? Because, to the best of my knowledge, no Nepali blogger has visited the U.S. at the invitation of the U.S. government. They invited the founder/manager of United We Blog! And this brings me to the main topic of my this article: My blogging journey in Nepal that, without my knowledge, happened to be the first of its kind in this country.
I have been playing with news for the last 8 years and I have got two distinct titles related to my job.
When I used to cover Information Technology for Nepal Magazine, unacquainted people would always have to say something like this hearing after my name for the first time: “Oh… you write on IT, right?” And many of my colleagues would call me by IT Wagle. I used to write on other topics for the magazine as well but no one seemed to care about those stories about clothing habit of young folks to the spreading tentacles of multinational FMCG companies in Nepal. “Oh…you IT Wagle,” they used to say, “That computer thing. I do not easily understand. May be I will grasp you writings once I buy a computer for myself.” (It is a challenge for a technology reporter to present things in such a way that readers of a general interest magazine like Nepal easily grasp the meaning of the article.) And there were some who would say that they admired my reporting and were indeed benefiting from my writings. The Computer Association of Nepal (CAN) fell in this category and awarded me with their first ever “IT Journalist” recognition in May 2003. That year I felt like being a technology reporter and set up a web site that could be claimed as the first for a journalist in Nepal.
I thank star journalist Vijay Kumar who, in my first self-chosen assignment, encouraged me to write on technology. I remember when Vijay Kumar, the founding editor of Nepal Magazine, told me after rejecting two topics before finally giving his go ahead to “Youth and IT” for the third issue (my first) of the Magazine. “This is cool,” he had said. “Write on this one.” [It is indeed a pleasure for me to know that Vijay Kumar has dedicated his latest Samaya Magazine weekly column “Prasna? Haina Uttar” or “Question? No Answer” to the “generation of Dinesh Wagle, a talented journalist of Kantipur.” Oh.. I can’t explain how people reacted after reading that article. “Dinesh,” said Raman Ghimire, “It’s indeed a great thing that your former guru praises you and dedicates his column to you.”)
People used to associate IT with Wagle to the extent that I sometime used to get irritated thinking that people were not reading my non-IT stories. That may be because I did not see too much prospects in IT reporting in Nepali journalism. Too few people have computers, even less have Internet connections, no home IT industry, no good IT education. That meant gloomy days ahead for an IT reporter.
After I changed the paper nearly two years ago (to Kantipur that, like Nepal Magazine, is published by Kantipur Publications), I starting writing less on IT and more on other topics that I enjoyed writing about. By then I had already set up a blogging website. Blogging fever had caught me and, I still remember that strange look that my colleagues used to give me whenever I used to talk about blogs with them. And that happened very often. And two weeks ago, when some of them actually knew that I was invited by the U.S. government because of blog, they were more than curious to know about the blogging phenomena. I thoroughly enjoyed that one hour, peak hour in the newsroom of Kantipur, telling my colleagues at the desk the ABC of blogging. They all agreed to start their own blog that evening but I am yet to see them blogging!
Oh… I have just happy that they listened to me for an hour. In the beginning, the same could not be even imagined. After 18 months of active blogging in Nepal, I have seen a sea change in peoples’ perspectives toward blogging. In the mid of 2005, I realized people were replacing IT with Blogger and I was being called Blogger Wagle. Right from my reporting colleagues to the editor to the other prominent personalities of Nepali society. I became a cyber celebrity, though in my own way, when international media like Reuter and BBC started writing about blogging in Nepal. I subscribed an email account from an Internet Service Provider that goes something like email@example.com!
Now, again I am seeing the same problem. People have started forgetting that I work for Nepal’s largest and most prestigious daily newspaper. I am a blogger for them. (Thank god, the only consoling thing is that my editor at Kantipur still thinks I am doing okay in the paper.) I am wondering what the year 2007 (or 2063 BS that will start in a few days) has for me! Thanks to king Gyanendra’s anti-democratic takeover of Feb 1, 2005, we soon found ourselves in a changed scenario and our usage of blogging was changed: we became political bloggers with a mission of helping peoples’ movement to restore democracy in Nepal. Blog was new not only to us but also to the Nepali internet users around the world. I am elated to see many blogs by Nepalis sprouting around the Internet.
Being first in the field has some advantages and challenges as well. As a blogger of United We Blog!, the pioneer blog site of Nepal, I have gone through both of these experiences. This is the season of travel for us- the founders of UWB. Co-founder Ujjwal Acharya fly next month to take part in an international conference representing Nepal and UWB. But then I have also visited the headquarters of the Royal Nepal Army to explain the Directorate of Public Relations what the blog was and why we were not doing anything wrong by disseminating information via a new medium. Working for newspapers to earn our living and blogging in the nights to fulfill our passion. We did not expect the attention that we are getting today and we certainly did not expect the U.S. or the organizers of international conference to invite us abroad in sponsored trips. That was just that we wanted to express ourselves and blog was the perfect medium we found.
My (Impending) American Journey
Well, I am certainly thankful to the U.S. government for inviting me but let me clarify that I am thankful to them as much as they are to me for I accepted their invitation. I know they too have challenges: representing Nepal in the IVLP with good guests. So it is a mutual obligation that they found a ‘good guest’ in me and invited for the sponsored and guided tour and I accepted that. Let me put it on record that in future, if I found myself in a position to EASILY pay back the money that the U.S. government is spending for my trip, I will return that back to the American government. I am always a fan of America but after this visit, I will be extra careful not to make my writings too much pro-American and too much Americanized.
I know this is a high-profile and attractive visit package. Even an American sounded like envious when I said him that I will be going to DC to LA to Madison to New York in 24 days enjoying the free ride and staying in good hotels (one Milwaukee hotel where we will stay is in the list of a magazine’s World’s Best 500 hotels). Wow, the Californian in Kathmandu said, I would love to do that kind of traveling man! It is a fact that not all people visiting U.S. from Nepal get to interact with newspaper editors, City officials and State Department boss one after another. (Apart from the regular itinerary, I will be sharing my blogging experience with American and other international audiences in a program to be organize by AsiaMedia of University of California, Los Angeles in the second week of April.)
As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. society and the cities, I will be visiting to are not entirely new to me. I know one thing or the other about them. So what I want to do in this trip? There are formal programs, included in the itinerary, which I plan to actively participate. But more than that, my goal of the visit will be to EXPERIENCE the American life. I will try to feel the American life in those 24 days. (I will go to New York after the formal program finishes in Washington DC and, among other things, do the walking around the Times Square and buy a copy of New York Times from news stand. I am tired of reading that paper on the web.) I will go to McDonalds, buy a burger, and eat like the way Americans eat. (That is what I said to folks at the American Center when they were having discussions with us a day ago. I am sorry if they wanted me to be a bit shy and formal saying, “Oh…sir, I would be obliged to you forever for providing me an opportunity to see the democracy in action in your country. Of course, that is what I will be doing mostly in my visit but the part of eating burger in the American way is very important to me. And here burger symbolizes the Amrican lifestyle.)
Oh…by the way, did I mention that I am not going to the U.S. for shopping? That is partly right. I am really looking forward to buy a laptop computer. After all, being a blogger without a computer on the lap feels a little bit like a non-IT Wagle!
End Note: Ujjwal, Deepak and other friends will look after UWB and I just hope, but not sure, to contribute from the US in the next four weeks. It is a bit irony that a blogger from a third world country like Nepal is worried about not getting affordable Internet connections for blogging in the U.S. Yea, before I forget, let me quickly add that I also want to enjoy the experience of surfing the high-speed Internet connection. I know how it feels browsing the web in 19.3 KBPS. That is what is the speed of my UTL phone Internet connection through which I will be post this blog in a few minutes. Anyway, I will come back to Kathmandu in April 26.