By James Sharrock
[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye]
I have come to Nepal many times since 2004. I have worked, volunteered and been a tourist here. I came here last week as a tourist and will stay around two weeks more. Nepalis ask me all the time about ‘how do you like Nepal?’, which is a natural question but does eat my head sometimes! It is usually followed by the question of whether I have married or not and then when I answer ‘no’, why don’t I marry a Nepali girl?! My usual answer to the question “how do you like Nepal?’ has been to say that Nepalis are generally very friendly, the country is beautiful but politics seems to be a bit of a problem.
That is the short form answer of a much longer, in-depth reply. I keep coming here because I now have many good Nepali friends, I enjoy travelling to new areas of the country and I find Nepal interesting as the society is always changing in new and unexpected ways. I am originally from the UK which, to my native eyes, doesn’t seem to change. Like lots of the West, the UK is also facing an uncertain economic future and its citizens do not seem to have the ability to cope with this. Many Nepalis, on the other hand, seem to have much better coping strategies in dealing with fast changing social, political and economic situations and can fit themselves into new realities much more easily.
So my perspective on the ‘how do you like Nepal?’ question is different because I keep coming here. However my perspective has also been different recently as in the last two years as I have been working in Sudan with the UN, in a disputed area on the north-south border called Abyei. The two countries can’t really be compared. However a simplistic comparison would say that Nepal’s political problems appear like an internal family dispute which is resolvable through talking while Sudan’s problems appear like completely different families who have fought – with brief pauses – since 1956. The current answer to their difficulties has seen the creation of the world’s newest country – South Sudan – but many of the problems inside both Sudan and South Sudan remain.
When I first came to Nepal to volunteer in a school in Danda, Nawalaparasi I was confused by many things. On my first day here I thought that all the red paan marks on the street were blood and thought to myself that Nepalis must enjoy fighting! During my time in Nepal I have made lots of jokes about things kuires find funny about Nepal and my Nepali friends have of course made a lot of jokes about kuires too. I have joked a lot about the sound some Nepalis make in the early morning when coughing half of their lungs out very, very loudly (which is also a great alarm clock). I love the way that some Nepalis skillfully point with their lips, which is much more efficient and less rude than our finger pointing. All kinds of social habits seemed strange at first but now I’m used to most basic things, although surprises still happen.
I think we kuires are seen by Nepali eyes as being skilled diplomats, a bit selfish, less family orientated than Nepalis, rich and quick to divorce every year! Stereotypes exist on both sides (that is if you think that kuires and Nepalis are on two different sides, which I do not). I don’t see the culture or society in England or Nepal is better, they are only different. However, that doesn’t mean everything is relative and equal. The way that many Nepalis care for their elderly parents – for example – seems, for whatever reason, objectively better than the treatment many older people get in my country. On the other hand the way that some of my former colleagues from Africa were treated by Nepalis was not always positive.
Most Nepalis have at least seen kuires now although some people still look at me like I’m an alien from Mars! When I was working in some remote areas of Panchthar or Taplejung young children went wild when they saw me, shouting ‘gora aiyo gora aiyo’ while jumping up and down! Braver children often grab my red cheeks and say ‘syau jastai’. I feel like I do have a duty to explain what is theUK really like to Nepalis who ask me. My job to convince some people that it is not a ‘sapana desh’ was made a bit easier by the recent riots in London and other cities, including my home town of Manchester. The UK, is obviously more developed than Nepal, but obviously has many problems too. To survive there is difficult. Anyway, I hope to come back again and again to Nepal and enjoy the confusions, contradictions and jokes that arise between bideshi and sodeshis.
jpsharrock (at) gmail.com
(28-year-old unmarried James is looking for a right life partner who, he thinks, could be from Nepal or the UK. But this email is not provided for that purpose!)
[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).]