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.