A Nepali Girl's American Experience

By Kanchan Burathoki
Saturday BlogDiary of a Nepali student

Every now and then some girls who take politics classes ask me about Nepal and express their sympathy, but I wonder if they really care…. On a recent bus ride, an American asked me, “I know you think we are dumb because we don’t know anything about other countries.” Sick of being undermined just because I am from a poor country, for the first time I dared and said, “Because you are.”

I work in the dining hall of my college twice a week on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8. On Tuesdays I am the checker and the job is easy; just sit and swipe the students’ cards for two hours and at the end, clean up the salad bar and sweep the dining hall. Wednesdays, I clean up the “Pots”—literally huge utensils used for mass cooking. It is the most dreadful work, but well, I get paid.

Last night, May 4 2006, it was my turn to scrub the pots again and for the first time, those three hours of rigorous scrapping and stacking seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. I had started to count the 3 by 4 feet sheet pans that I had to wash, but lost count after 31. Even the staff in the kitchen were apologizing for give me such a huge load. But, I was neither tired nor annoyed. All I had on my mind was regretting the fact that I had not stayed throughout my macro economics class that afternoon.

……………..

Amanda is white-skinned and her accent is British. She loves to play squash and hopes to major in Architectural Studies, like me. With six of us, she too works in the dining hall on Wednesday nights. But she also works on Monday evenings, the whole of Sunday and probably for rest of the week. We all gazed at her punch card. She’d almost done every shift available.

One of the American girls asked, “You must get a fat check?” I work only six hours per week and get an eighty dollar check at the end of two weeks. It was a solemn stare. “I have to take money back home,” replied Amanda and added with a forced smile, “Wish I was going to spend it all on myself.”

I knew too well what she was going through, although she went on giggling, “My mom wants me to get her toothpicks and razors from here, you know. It is so expensive at home.” Her words have been recurring in my mind since then. All I could say was, “Yeah, I know. I am taking drawing classes next semester and the pencils are so expensive here; I’ve asked my mom to send me some from home.”

Home for me is Nepal. Home for her is Zimbabwe.

……………….

There are five Nepali girls in my Intro to Macroeconomics class, including me, and in total about 40 students from different countries, backgrounds and ethnicities. The diversity of my class does make it very unique but if I ponder more, I see why international students are stereotyped as Economics and International Relations majors. More than half are international students.

As a part of our assessment for the finals, we are required to submit a six page report on the economy of the country of our choice. At first, I was hesitant on doing about Nepal because I feared I wouldn’t have enough data and material to complete a substantial six page paper. But when was the last time I’d ever checked on that? I needed to challenge myself.

Yesterday, I had to make a presentation in front of the class and as a huge procrastinator; I only began the night before. I got to the library after my checker job at around 10 pm and unwillingly fiddled with the mouse and googled, “ministry of finance Nepal.” One after another, I went on searching and was overwhelmed by all the articles that I had dug up. I read every business report, on the online archive of The Kathmandu Post, for the last 30 thirty days. It was 3 in the morning when I went to bed, unable to handle all the information. I pitied myself for having underestimated.

……………

“Nepal is sandwiched between India and China and it has its own disadvantages and advantages,” I began my presentation. I knew the girls were already impatient but I also knew that half the class had no idea where Nepal was. It reminded me of replies such as, “What’s Mt. Everest?” and “I went to Springfield once. It looks like a third world country; it has no direction boards on the road sides. Does Nepal look like that?” What is comprehensible to most Americans is incomprehensible to me and vice versa.

“It’s smaller than a sausage,” I explained and there was a huge roar of laughter, but I went on, “I mean the breads are bigger than the normal ones.” Okay, so much for the Americans who invented “hot dogs?” My mind was racing. All I was trying to do was say something that would remind my classmates about Nepal. I don’t know if they know now where Nepal is, but since then, my classmates have been smiling at me outside of the class.

I discussed the Maoist problem and was carrying on how the inflation had reached 8.8 pc in the first quarter of this year, how interest rate was recently raised to 6.5 pc to control the inflation by checking money supply. If necessary the CRR also might be manipulated in banks. “So, what are your suggestions for Nepal?” my professor asked me, indicating that I was running out of time.

“Umm…Well, I believe that one of the components that Nepal can work on to pull up its aggregate expenditure is via exports. Its exports have increased with India but it really can do more by constructing a new international airport that is more centralized.”

I myself didn’t know where that came from and all I could add was, “It might sound as a joke but we have only one international airport.” I felt like a fool even in front of my Nepali friends, who though, made no comments about my rather incongruous suggestion instead of addressing poverty and other major problems. I did not stay in class for the rest of the hour.

……………

Amanda’s presentation was last, out of all Asian and African countries being presented yesterday.

“I made a fool out myself today. Anyways, how’d your presentation go?” I asked her that evening at work.
“Not good, I cried.”

I stared at disbelief. “What? You’re joking, aren’t you?” I yelled so that she could hear me through the loud running water on the stainless sink. “Why did you cry?”

She didn’t answer at first. The water stopped and she took a deep breath.

“I said that the inflation in my country is 913.6 pc and nobody in the class reacted. People are so insensitive here. That is my home, I was born there. You know how it feels when you have to listen to such news; my family is there. And people in class were “the inflation is very high, it is 4.5 pc as of last month”.”

It all came rushing out. Amanda and I had talked about this before. We’d sit outside the classroom not wanting to go in at all because all we were taught was about the U.S. economy.

Greenspan’s exit and Bernanke’s announcement to raise the interest rates by a quarter point. It was always The Fed this and The Fed that and how the cheap currency of China is a problem for dollars.

One dollar is equivalent to 101,195.54 Zimbabwean dollars while we complain about 70 rupees. A “single” two ply sheet of a toilet roll costs 417 ZWD. The inflation is predicted to soar up to four digits. All that is being done is print more money to meet hire wages than really solve the problem.

To my American classmates these are things way beyond their heads. “They haven’t been anywhere than this continent. Every hour a child dies of AIDS in my country,” Amanda was almost in tears. According to what we are taught in class the only economic problems in the world appear to be inflation and unemployment, which this country seems to have tackled all so well. They do not know what poverty and hunger are, what it is to stay weeks without water, to have load shedding for hours in a day, to see people dying in the roads each day?

“The people in the class didn’t even budge. It’s emotional for me. What’s wrong with them?”

My brother’s email flashed into my head.

Well, there’s gas shortage…fuel shortage..and bread shortage…sugar shortage…Sana ama’s are worse off than us rite now..coz they don’t have gas left…

oh…one very interesting thing..hehhe…haha…we actually found out that we’d all be drinking, eating and bathing water contaminated with feces… haha..it sounds funny rite now…tara when i saw the leakage from the sewer to the main tank i nearly puked… and coz of bandh no repairs in progess…i think it’ll cost around 90,000 (for tank repair-expansion and garage repair too). ama’s office is also opening, closing…like that…no vehicles…

It was hard for me to imagine how my family was living in Nepal and I cannot even put myself in Amanda’s shoes. It’s ironic that my brother was laughing about it. What else could he do?
Every now and then some girls who take politics classes ask me about Nepal and express their sympathy, but I wonder if they really care. They are busy thinking of the party this coming weekend and wondering what to wear. On a recent bus ride, an American asked me, “I know you think we are dumb because we don’t know anything about other countries.” Sick of being undermined just because I am from a poor country, for the first time I dared and said, “Because you are.”

………….

Amanda and I stood in silence because there was nothing to be said.

“I’m sorry Amanda, I should have stayed in class.”

She just smiled, “It’s not your fault.”

Former Kathmandu Post reporter Kanchan is undergrad first year student at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Published by UWB

Pioneering blog from Nepal...since 2004.

71 thoughts on “A Nepali Girl's American Experience

  1. Very nicely written article. At the end I was relieved to see that you were a reporter. :). Otherwise I would curse myself saying why can’t I write such articles.

  2. Impressive…nice outlook and approach…will be looking forward to more articles like this one.

  3. hi, kanchan
    first of all I want say that I m indian n very simillirities between the indian n nepali like cultural political, prfossesional etc.
    I have visited nepal thrice as a student. my some relatives lives there in the city viratnagar, virgang, khathmandu.but I went viratnagar, n virgang. these cities n peoples r very nice.everthing is allright, u r also right n I m also i MEAN TO SAY THAT u can develop urself in nepal.only amerika is not the boss of all world.Iwant not do comment on ur thought n america. but Ioves nepali n spcly, nepali girls bcz she looking very nice.

  4. why were you feeling fool and shame of telling the truth about your country?? ( no matter how small and pity it sounded, I never felt myself fool telling a thing or two to Americans about my country)

    What do you expect to learn within the premises of United States University? Do you want them to teach you Nepalese Economy?? The one big problem of the most Nepalese in US is they try to Nepal in here, they are fool to compare Nepal with US.. if you do/act that way, you are fool. who cares

    and Why are you generalizing All Americans with the bunch of young twisted American minds that you are dealing with??

    Whatever, I know You guys are notorious in pouring down bad stuffs/experiences whereas the good times you spend, you never care to express them, cos, if it would have been such, may be your articles wouldn’t have been published here. And, I know you must have scrapbooks filled with fun-filled moments.. dare to show that too??

    I also wonder why people try to find their country in USA. It really bothers me.. thats why I never deal with these (Nepalese)people even if I’m living in United States myself(I’m Nepalese too). Contemplate about my country, that’s it.. afterwards, be immersed in American Air.

  5. hey kanchan please dont mind. the words which that guy from india used at the last sentence of his sentence was absolutely meaningless and shameless. these dhotis have no respect for their mothers as well as sisters thats why they use such a language to attract nepali girlas attention. but they are unaware of nepali womens strength and capability. after all we are the proud gorkhalis, isnt it kanchan?

    my name is akash giri , i am from biratnagar, nepal.
    i live in sanjose, california
    if you have any further questions please feel free to contact me, my number is 4085128598

    and my email id is akashgiri@hotmail.com

  6. Simply inspiring … I think it is not the people of America but it is the international policy of US which can really influence the economy of poor countries. Whether people really care or not, they can only play supportive role not decisive.
    …….looking forward for your next article

  7. I’m an American who cares about Nepal. Marie, while technically correct, sounds like she hasn’t been out of the country. If she has been to Nepal, I doubt she really knows what’s going on there. We have definitely have our problems in the U.S. But, by comparison, our life is extremely easy.

  8. Hi all,

    Nice to see Kanchan’s article beside I enjoy reading readers criticism. It’s not good to blame others and backbit but that’s what Nepalese are good for. For kanchan it’s obvious to feel sad when someone doesn’t know about Nepal, but it’s not necessary that all Americans should know about Nepal. Let me tell you my experience, I never felt bad or being discriminated when my prof. read the handouts saying that Nepal is one of the poorest country in front of the whole class. That was the fact though its hard to digest. Later everybody showed their concerns and took interest to know whats going on in Nepal. Should I be humiliated to see their sympathy on me? I strongly disagree with it!

    Instead we should take measure steps to make rest of the world to know about Nepal.. It all lies in our hands to think about it. Also I totally agree with freedom writer… If we don’t know ourselves what’s going on in our own country, we shouldn’t blame foreigners for this. Instead of pulling legs of each other, it will be beneficial for all Nepalese to think how we could improve our economy and country.
    Anyways nice effort Kanchan …. Keep going!

  9. She just got carried away I guess..and no American education(pedagogical approach) is not good….it is the educational resource they have that sets them apart…

  10. Landed on this article a little late i should say…very interesting (and emotional) article but i must say I agree ‘w some of b pandit’s comments…If an avg. Nepali doesnt know about Fiji or Sudan or elsewhere…OR try this: when was the las time, YOU genuinely cared about an environmental issue in US, the veterans, the homosexuals,… and helped at least with a petition…Now, who are we to expect anyone else to know about us (genuinely!?)

    And yes, one thing that people don’t point out a lot is what the US education system teaches you: power of critical analysis and questioning the authority! That should be the ticket to all that we wanted to ask/think/discuss about in our country or the world.

    Perhaps it’s the dull,sickening environment at work that has emotionally driven these two hard working women (Amanada and Kanchan) to feel inferior about their identity and expect to be genuinely loved (can’t blame them). But, heck, i used work in that ditch called dining services, too (paycheck was the only think i liked) and I felt totally inferior in the class, at work, with the constant feeling of: “God, you have no idea what my life’s like,” until I taught myself the ‘ass-hole’ on the outside and a genuine character(i hope) on the inside personality. At the same time, always remember your roots and when the time is right, you can help in whatever way you can (for all Nepalese in US) if that’s your intention/concern. And stop expecting others to lend you a hand, their shoulders to cry on, etc.. just stay strong and believe in yourself. Trust me, this helps you! that’d be my suggestion to the writer and thousands of lives that the writer represents.

    And, if you are still hoping to find people who really care about Nepal..get this…there are ppl who do and others who dont (they’ll sound polite either way)…sad but true…those few brave souls have been in Nepal and helped out through study abroad programs…others prefer: Prague, Sicily, Paris for the study abroad…can’t blame them. Lastly, I think it’ll be enough when WE all as Nepalese care about our country and if this ANA convention could become anything more than ..for a lack of better words..’boka-fest and nakkali-hungama’…we can be doing better things here…now let’s(including myself) stop whining and get to work.

  11. Thank for your presentation. It will help to prove that Nepalese are capaable to handle any challege.
    keep on giving information about country to other country’ s student. ok bye

  12. Kanchan, I dread having to say this to a fellow Nepalese but man, you are one bitter woman. And seriously naive and judgmental. There are a number of reasons why I wouldn’t be interested in your economics presentation. For one, I could be an English major who just does not share your passion for economics. For all you know, I could be in your class because it’s a general requirement- in most liberal arts colleges like the one you attend, introductory economics classes are a general requirement. That could explain the lack of response to the alarming inflation rate. You just don’t know. So just don’t jump into concluding that your American peers are dumb.

    Second, you admit you did your research the night before the presentation. I think that’s enough information for me to assume that you didn’t do the best work you could. Perhaps your presentation was sloppy, as most are when completed in a haste. The few hours you put in tells me how much you really cared about your own presentation. And don’t give me the bull that you didn’t have time because you had to work in your dining hall because that’s a lame excuse. So if you don’t care enough about your own presentation, why should they? You cracked a joke, and they laughed, didn’t they? It’s not their fault that that was perhaps the best part of your presentation. Live with it. Next time you have to get out there, don’t procrastinate. If you do, make sure you are loaded with good jokes.

    Your bitterness towards the Americans is kinda sickening, to be honest. I don’t know who or what experience made you feel so insecure and inferior about your identity. Remember, you don’t have to make Nepal your only identity. It doesn’t ALWAYS have to be “Hi I am Kanchan, I am from Nepal”. It’s okay to sometimes end it at “Hi, I am Kanchan” and then let your personality take over. Allow your personality to speak too. They will ask you about Nepal if you just sit there quietly and expect them to strike up a conversation. Of course they are gonna ask you about your country. What do you expect? A conversation about Tom Brady or St. Louis Cardinals right off the bat? Since you seem so upset that the Americans don’t know much about Nepal, why don’t you, because you are apparently so smart, learn about Gray’s Anatomy and Family Guy and Red Sox and let them talk to you casually and treat you like one of them? Look, the truth is: if they treat you differently, you will get upset because they treated you differently. If they treat you like any other American, you will think they are insensitive. Cut them some slack, alright, they are in a lose-lose situation here.

    Just revisit your complains because one more look might reveal just how petty they are. You want a class that talks about AIDS and starvation? Go take Sociology or Health. Sorry, but in macroeconomics, you will learn about inflation and interest rates. In an introductory economics class in an American institution, you WILL learn about the American economy and the Greenspans and the Bernankes and the like. If you took higher level economics, you would know the choices stretch beyond the Goldilocks.

    My hope is that you will shed your bitterness and begin thinking anew, and resurrect a personality that commands respect and casual interaction, not one that suggests you want to be treated or talked to differently because you are so clinging to your identity as a foreigner. And you’re right, some Americans are dumb, as are some Nepalese and British and dhotis and chinese and mexicans, you name it. But some Americans are also very smart. In fact, so smart, you’d wish you knew the fraction of what they knew.

    Who then is the dumb one?

  13. Hi Kanchan,

    My name is ganesh. I am from one of the breads in the hot dog story , India. I was trying to help one 18 year old from your country to get back to education (she is 7th school drop out) and then to a normal life. Read your article so that will try checking your thgts.

    I am open to funding/encouraging/facilitating any course which can help her get some decent employment in your country in a span of 3/4/5 years.

    Rgds,
    Ganesh

  14. hi may name is kosis ale i am from now in u k bu t u know me berdads is in the hots dogs story but be i like this a narmata i am 5 yaer world ok how u know ok nice to meet u bye

  15. Man… bairagi kaila… I don’t know what to say!! I loved reading your comment more than Kanchan’s post. Her style of writing, I’d say, is okay but YOU… have style and substance. I totally agree to what you say. Hypocrites we are! If we can’t be like Americans and have no compassion for them, why should they?

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