By Denise A. Freeman
[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye]
Nepal is a country with its heart splayed-open. The massive deforestation, human and sex trafficking horrors, glue-sniffing street children and poverty are all hard to ignore. And with each problem or issue, there are hundreds of well-intentioned NGOs. Each with a mission to tabulate data, document, and or help decrease, resolve or eradicate ‘a problem’. But while many are engrossed with these various projects, others are hiking, climbing, rafting, gliding, flying or just shopping in the streets of Thamel, Jamel or New Road. But behind some of the highest peaks in the world, Nepal has without question, some of the most down to earth people in the world. In fact, for what Nepal fundamentally lacks in, such as a consistent supply of electricity and clean-water, it tries to make up for in hosting and hospitality.
My very first encounter with Nepal began when I went to Salem College in North Carolina. A group of about twenty young, bright Nepalese scholarship students took the college by storm, along with all the top academic excellence awards. They were smart, hard working, ambitious and before long, introduced Momos and Daal Bhaat into the school’s menus. More importantly, each wanted to return to Nepal, to do their humanitarian bit for the country. Over the years, as I came to know more about Nepal through the lives of my fellow classmates, it became evident that the Nepalese also have a great affinity to help and to heal.
A model and pride to the nation for displaying such charitable works and my sole reason for coming to Nepal in February 2010 is Ms. Anuradha Koirala-a formidable woman who has tirelessly helped, housed and offered hope to hundreds of needy children, women and families. My admiration and interest in her and in her good cause, led me to embark on the writing of Mrs. Koirala’s biography. As such, I returned to Kathmandu in December of the same year and found myself in the predicament that many and perhaps most visitors and researchers encounter when they visit Nepal. That is, how does one extend their visa?
How my three weeks in Nepal evolved to four months is of interest to everyone in my life-including my beloved dog that waited for me to return to London before taking her last breath. By the third time I had extended my stay, I had organized Thongba Mondays with my Nepalese mates, Jazz Upstairs on Wednesdays with the expatriates and weekends away via motorbike at Nagarkot, Pharphing, Daman, Kakani, Shivapuri or wherever else my new friends wanted to take me. In fact, at least two Nepalese families had ‘adopted’ me, and one family was ready to have me move into their guest bedroom for an indefinite time. Then there were meals with the parents of friends and their friends and a steady stream of kind and sincere offers for anything I needed, anytime. And there was nothing that was impossible or ‘out-of-the-question’ for a friend, or a friend of a friend to assist me with. Through pure Nepalese hospitality and the sheer desire to help, I was able to interview every single person on my list from former Prime Ministers to the heads of police to various persons in prison. Making my entire trip to Nepal personally and professionally, fulfilling.
In place of the darkness that blankets the streets of Nepal, there is a loving kindness that glows and shines brightly from within many Nepalese. And where there is no heat in the heart of winter, there is enough warmth and open heartedness to go around. Which is why I so easily stayed on for seconds and thirds.
[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye] is a column in Kantipur newspaper, Nepal’s top daily in which foreigners who have lived or visited Nepal or are living in the country write about their experience with Nepali society. A translated version of this article appeared in today’s issue of Kantipur (see the pic below).]