Andrew Hall, who did PHD study in Thulo Syabru village of Rasuwa district in the 70s, has come to Kathmandu two weeks ago as the British ambassador to Nepal. Pic by Wagle
By Dinesh Wagle (Saturday Blog)
Wagle Street Journal
Encouraged by his grandfather’s friend in the neighborhood, the teenager flew to the Nepali capital immediately after finishing the high school. The 18-year-old Briton was more than just a backpacker. He went to Kakani and stayed in the bungalow of the British Ambassador for a few days before heading for the trek in Annapurna circuit. That was in 1969. The same boy named Andrew Hall, now 56 years, has come to Kathmandu two weeks ago as the British ambassador to Nepal.
“I have come to my second home,” Andrew said in his first press interview last week. “I will go to my village as soon as I get opportunity.” [Granddad’s friend, Sir Christopher Summerhayes, was British ambassador to Nepal in the 1950s. He encouraged the teenage Andrew to contact Major Dudley Spain who was working at the British Embassy in Kathmandu. Andrew had come to Kathmandu carrying a letter by Summerhayes to Spain.]
Andrew’s village is Thulo Syabru of Rasuwa district where, in 1977, he went to study the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in the Tamangs living in the area. His wife and three-year-old daughter accompanied. Andrew says that he has friends in the village who “regularly pass news” to him. The anthropologist, who did PHD study in a Nepali village, feels that Nepali society has opened up and become mobile over the decades. “It was unimaginable to see electricity in villages like Thulo Syabru 30 years ago and very few people traveled to Kathmandu or outside their villages,” he says. “It was very difficult to travel from one place to another. The expansion of infrastructure has made the life of Nepalis easier and brought them closer. Nepali society has become more inclusive compared to what it was in the 80s.” Andrew has experienced that Nepalis, empowered by the democracy in the last decade, are more aware about their rights then they were in pre-democracy era. “There were only a few organizations like Nepali Congress that represented people before the restoration of democracy,” he says. “Look at the increasing number of pressure groups in today’s Nepali society that are making their voices heard. They are committed to make sure their interest is represented in the upcoming election of the constituent assembly.” The British ambassador thinks that the presence of such pressure groups actually strengthens democracy.
Terming this as the historical moment for Nepal, Andrew says that he has understood the challenges faced by the British ambassador here in such time. His priority as the British envoy, Andrew says, is to help Nepal move on the path of development putting conflict behind. “It’s necessary to reestablish full democratic system,” he says.
After the first Nepal visit, Andrew started BA Sociology course at the University of Keele (Staffordshire). Some teachers at Keele were anthropologists who encouraged him to study the subject further. After he knew that Christoph Von Furer-Haimendorf, writer of the book “The Sherpas of Nepal: Buddhist Highlanders” and one of the first anthropologists to study in Nepal, was teaching in University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, he went there for Masters. “Selecting anthropology and deciding to do PHD study in Nepal happened simultaneously,” he says. “I thought about studying anthropology in Nepal in my first visit to the country.”
“There were only a few organizations like Nepali Congress that represented people before the restoration of democracy. Look at the increasing number of pressure groups in today’s Nepali society that are making their voices heard. They are committed to make sure their interest is represented in the upcoming election of the constituent assembly. The presence of such pressure groups actually strengthens democracy.”
– Dr. Andrew Hall, the British Ambassador to Nepal. Pic by Wagle
Andrew wanted to study in a village that was near to Kathmandu as he was worried about finding hospital in case the daughter fell ill. He also wanted to study such an ethnic group that was not studied by any other student before. “I found out that no study was done on Tamangs,” Andrew remembers. “Then I saw the map and decided to go to Nuwakot and Rasuwa to conduct a feasibility study. I started the trek from Trisuli River along with my wife and daughter. We stayed in a few villages just to know if the villagers were friendly or hostile.” The Half family found “everything right” in Thulo Syabru. There they met a retired Gurkha solider who had fought in Libya and Italy in the World War II. “He could understand wine and Spaghetti and understood the western culture,” says Andrew flashing a smile. “That made it easy to live in the village.”
Andrew says that he can speak little bit of Nepali but “the level goes down when I am away from Nepal.” During his field research in Thulo Syabru, he says, he managed to learn a certain amount of Tamang language. “But I never became really fluent as there were no books or teachers to help me learn,” he says. “Now I am afraid I have forgotten nearly all the language.”
It is not just those two visits because of which Andrew calls Nepal his second home. He came to Kathmandu several times in the 80s and worked as Deputy Head of Mission, First Secretary and Consul at the British Embassy in Kathmandu from 1991 to 1994. [Andrew was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in “recognition of some work” he did at that time in Kathmandu.] Every member of the Hall family has spent important time in Nepal. Andrew’s youngest daughter, who works in a tourist company in Spain, studied in Lincoln School, Kathmandu and the oldest daughter, who teaches in the UK now, was in Thulo Syabru at the age of 3.
There is some romance in the story too. The young and energetic Andrew had gone to Morocco after the first visit to Nepal to fall in “love in first sight” with a British girl who was holidaying there. The pair came to Nepal to spend a short holiday. “I wanted to show her Nepal,” Andrew, now clearly blushing, says. “Both of us went to the same places where I had gone in my previous visit.” Kathie, the girl, was so impressed by Nepal in her first visit that she would be very happy accompanying her husband in Thulo Syabru.
After studying PHD in Nepal, Andrew, the 28-year-old father of a daughter, wanted to have job in University. Because of the economic problems they faced at that time, Universities were not hiring people. He saw an advertisement in “my favorite newspaper Guardian” in which UK’s foreign ministry (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) was seeking a specialist for South Asia. He applied but “had no hope of being selected.” To his surprise, Andrew was picked up for the job. Then, he says, he started studying more about the region.
Andrew says that he has no regrets for making a career in diplomacy though he studied anthropology. “Both subjects are same,” he feels. “Both study society and try to understand. A diplomat also tries to understand people of foreign societies by living among them. Both prepare reports based on their study and observation. An anthropologist submits report to university whereas the diplomat to his foreign ministry.”
Andrew was working in Kolkata (British Deputy High Commissioner), India before coming to Nepal as ambassador. After knowing about the vacancy in Kathmandu embassy he had applied for the post. “I didn’t expect to be selected as colleagues with impressive CVs than me were also applying,” he says. “It’s a dream come true for me to be the ambassador in Nepal and I am very excited. It’s a big responsibility and we have varied interests and big operations in Nepal. I am very proud.”