Foreigner’s Eye: An African Experience in Nepal

The experience in Nepal has not always been always good. When walking in the streets we hear people calling us Kale/Kali all the time. नेपालमा सबै अनुभव राम्रा छैनन् । बाटोमा हिँड्दा सधैंजस्तो मानिसहरूले हामीलाई ‘कालो, काली’ भनेर चिच्याएको सुन्छौं ।

Yvonne Otieno for Kantipur
Yvonne Otieno

By Yvonne Otieno
[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye]

“Namaste! Welcome to Nepal.” These were the first words I heard from my host upon arrival.

They have stayed with me every day. Every time I leave the house or when I start comparing Nepal to Kenya, I remind myself that I’m in Nepal and Nepal will never be Kenya or vice versa. We are both be developing countries facing different challenges. A country is more than the technology. A country is about people, people and their cultures, people and the struggles, people and their victories, their values and principle.

On my first day, I had dinner with my host organizations father. He is a professor and a prolific writer and artist. He had been told that my father is also an artist and he was interested in learning about Kenyan Art. His story is quite fascinating. He used to be a university lecturer but he resigned. He is well read about ancient history, philosophy and just about any subject you can think of. However, he hasn’t left his compound for the last 20 years in protest to the multiparty system in Nepal. When I ask him why he doesn’t support this system? His says -You can’t have too many people preparing one cup of tea. He spends most of his day reading in his garden. But he is always willing to share some nuggets of wisdom.

“My only regret in life is not visiting Africa,” he says.

My first impressions of Nepal were a mix between culture shock and fascination. Maybe be little bit more of the culture shock…On my ride to the airport, I couldn’t help but notice how different the things that were different from home. First was the size of the taxi. My suitcase could hardly fit in the back of the taxi. Second was the noise. Private cars, motorcycles, the Tempo and micro or all seemed to be hooting at the same time. Everyone seems to be in a hurry. No one seems willing to give way – whether motorist or pedestrian. There are zebra crossings but they seem to have little or no meaning. It is scary for us pedestrians. Yes, this bideshi walks or takes a micro more than she uses taxis.

Maybe. Maybe is a word that I have become accustomed to in Nepal –you can never quite get a straight YES of NO. It can be frustrating…so one day I asked a friend what they mean when they say maybe and they said it means I don’t know. Back home we have a saying Ku uliza sio ujinga which can be translated to mean it is alright to ask for an explanation if you don’t understand or know something. When I told her this – she shook her head from left to right. I understood her.

There are traffic police everywhere. Thrice they have stopped me to offer assistance to get to my destination. Though they don’t speak perfect English, at least they are willing to assist. I’m happy about this. There are some beautifully designed buildings here – I love the balconies. Back to home I ’m short, but here, I’m quite tall and must look almost herculean to most.

The experience in Nepal has not always been always good. When walking in the streets we hear people calling us Kale/Kali all the time. When we get into some shops, some attendants laugh and giggle, some do it when pointing at us and look away when we turn. We have approached a few and asked them kina haseko ? ( yhy are you laughing? ) Most times we just ignore the stares because we understand that it is out of curiosity while the insults may be born of ignorance.

Once we were in a micro chatting and laughed and somebody told us to shut up! We were so shocked we laughed louder.

Another time we were leaving the studio a child saw us and started crying. The mother told us to g away but instead we approached the child and mother and greeted the child to let it know we are human. it stopped crying and waved goodbye to us. We hope the mother learnt from that.

While the staple food here is Daal Bhat, the staple food in my community is Ugali with some vegetables like spinach and fish. The first thing you get when you arrive in every office here is an offer for tea. This is much like back home in Kenya.

The wedding ceremonies are quite similar to those back home – It’s all about Family, Food and Fun. The religious observance may differ but in both countries a wedding ceremony is incomplete without your close family (and friends) , the fun and yes a feast always crowns the occasion. I call it extended Love. Okay, add gifts and tears … and you have a wedding. The difference from Kenyan weddings is that there are no set wedding seasons. A couple and the family decide on the wedding day based on convenience.

Speaking of weddings, my host’s nephew based in Australia recently got married. He met his bride a month to his wedding. The parents identified the bride for him and introduced them through facebook. She was the fourth of many selections they had for him. It’s been a year of facebooking but the two love birds are now married.

I get a lot of stares from people here. Most are just curious and have never seen Africans before. Those who have seen Africans are from South Africa… We gather it’s because of football and the world cup. The few who have heard about Kenya, only know about it because of cricket. Some see us and start singing Zaminamina Waka waka eeh eeh -the 2010 World Cup promotion song. We smile. Some just want to touch our hair ….

The one question I am asked is where are you from , Africa? Yes I am from Africa; Africa is continent with 54 countries. Kenya is one of the countries found on the Eastern side of Africa. Besides re-known long distance runners, Kenya is blessed with the most beautiful beaches and landscapes. We have a national park with plenty of wildlife right at the capital city – Nairobi . We are also home to the big five – Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Leopard and the 8th wonder of the world – The wilde beast migration! We are home to the great Rift valley and have seven lakes (Turkana, Naivasha, Nakuru, Bogoria,Baringo, Magadi and Victoria) and four Mountains (Mt. Kenya, Longonot, Elgon and Kilimanjaro). But besides all this wonderful wonders of nature, the most beautiful thing about my country is the warmth of the people. We are a happy people who like to have visitors and can really give a good party!

With guidance and support from Nepal tourism board, I visited Pokhara. There I enjoyed a wonderful view of the Machapulche ranges ( I have never seen so many mountains in my life –Like an endless string of beautiful pearls – after the mountains were more mountains! We trekked to Dampus, went down Davies falls and Caves , witnessed the most breathtaking sunrise at Sarangokt , a wonderful drive to Bandipur and visited the Elephant sanctuary in Chittawan. There have also been some many first’s for me in Nepal…like watching a live a football match in a stadium, riding an elephant in Chittawan – can’t do that in Kenya- and the most recent and definitely most scary one is experiencing an earthquake!

I have learnt a lot about Nepali values by attending their weddings , riding in their micros, countryside and living in their neighborhood. I have also had a chance to share my culture through participating in the first ever African Film festival in Nepal held in early May and co-hosting a radio show about Africa at CJMC FM.

Still …there is a lot that I look forward to learning about in Nepal in my last two months here!!! But for now all I can say is Nepal bhanepachi ma bhuttukkai hunchhu. (I am crazy about Nepal‌.)

Yvonne Otieno is a Communication professional with an INGO and is currently in Nepal under Fredskorpset Norway Exchange program representing the Association of Media women in Kenya (AMWIK). In Nepal she is hosted by the College of Journalism and Mass Communication where she co-hosts a radio show on Africa with a Colleague from Uganda every Monday and Wednesday from 2.00pm to 3.00pm on CJMC FM 106.MZ. She blogs here

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[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).]

Earlier columns here:

An African experience in Nepal: article by Yvonne Otieno in Kantipur
An African experience in Nepal. Click to enlarge ठूलो पार्न क्लिके हुन्छ

नेपालमा म एउटी अफ्रिकी

‘नमस्ते ! नेपालमा स्वागत छ ।’

नेपाल आएपछि मेरा आतिथेयबाट मैले सुनेका प्रथम शब्दहरू तिनै थिए ।

त्यसयता ती शब्द सधैं मसँग रहेका छन् । प्रत्येकपटक जब म घरबाट निस्कन्छु या नेपाललाई मेरो देश केन्यासँग तुलना गर्न थाल्छु म आफूलाई सम्झन्छु कि म नेपालमा छु, नेपाल कहिल्यै केन्याजस्तो हुँदैन र केन्या पनि नेपालजस्तो हुँदैन । हामी दुवै फरक चुनौती खेपिरहेका विकासोन्मुक देशहरू हौं । देश भनेको प्रविधि होइन, जनता हो । उनीहरूको संस्कृति, संघर्ष, खुसीहरू र उनीहरूका मान्यता र सिद्धान्तहरू हुन् ।

नेपालबारेका मेरा सुरुवाती धारणाहरू सांस्कृतिक स्तब्धता र गहिरो उत्सुकताका मिश्रण थिए । बढीचाहिँ अघिल्लो नै होला । एअरपोर्टबाट निस्केदेखि नै मैले नेपाल केन्याभन्दा कति धेरै फरक छ भन्ने अनुभव गरेकी थिएँ । ट्याक्सीको आकारकै कुरा गरौं । डिक्कीमा मेरो सुटकेस अटाउनै मुस्किल । अर्को कुरा होहल्ला । कार, मोटरसाइकल, टेम्पो र माइक्रो सबै एकैपटक चिच्याइरहेका । मानौं सबैलाई हतार भएजस्तो । अरूलाई एकैछिन बाटो दिउँ भन्ने नै छैन, न गाडीवालालाई न पैदलयात्रीलाई । जेब्रा क्रसिङ त छन् तर त्यसको खासै अर्थ भएजस्तो देखिँदैन । हामी पैदलयात्रीलाई त निकै डरलाग्दो । म पनि ट्याक्सीमा भन्दा बढी पैदल या माइक्रोमै यात्रा गर्छु ।

होला, त्यो शब्दसँग म नेपालमै आएर बानी परेकी हुँ । हुन्छ या हुन्न भन्ने उत्तर पाउनै गाह्रो । कहिलेकाहीं त्यो दिक्क लाग्दो हुन्छ । त्यसैले एकदिन मैले साथीलाई सोधेँ ‘होला’ को ठ्याक्कै अर्थ के हो ? उनले भनिन्, त्यसको अर्थ ‘मलाई थाहा छैन’ हो । केन्यामा एउटा भनाइ छ, ‘कु उलिजा सियो उजिन्जा’ । केही बुझिएन या थाहा छैन भने त्यसबारे प्रष्टीकरण सोध्दा हुन्छ । मैले त्यो कुरा मेरी नेपाली साथीलाई भनेँ, उनले टाउको दायाँ-बायाँ हल्लाइन् । मैले कुरो बुझेँ ।

काठमाडौंमा ट्राफिक प्रहरी जहीं तहीं छन् । उनीहरूले मलाई मेरो गन्तव्यमा जान सहयोग चाहिन्छ कि भनी सोध्न तीनचोटि रोकेका छन् । राम्रो अंग्रेजी नबोले पनि उनीहरू सहयोग गर्नचाहिँ तयार देखिए । त्यसले मलाई खुसी तुल्याएको छ । सहरमा केही घरहरू कम्ती सुन्दर ढंगले बनाइएका छैनन्, बार्दलीहरू मलाई खुबै मन पर्छ । केन्यामा म होची केटी हुँ तर यहाँ म अग्लि र कतिपयका लागि त निकै नै अग्ली लाग्न सक्छु ।

नेपालमा सबै अनुभव राम्रा छैनन् । बाटोमा हिँड्दा सधैंजस्तो मानिसहरूले हामीलाई ‘कालो, काली’ भनेर चिच्याएको सुन्छौं । पसलहरूमा जाँदा पसलेहरू हाँस्न थाल्छन्, कोही हामीलाई औंल्याउँदै त्यसो गर्छन् र हामी उनीहरूतिर फर्किंदा उनीहरू अर्कैतिर फर्किन्छन् । त्यस्ता केहीको नजिकै गएर ‘किन हाँसेको ?’ भनेर पनि सोधेका छौं । जब कसैले हामीलाई घुरेर हेर्छन्, धेरैजसो समय हामी तिनीहरूलाई बेवास्ता गर्छौ किन कि त्यो हामीप्रतिको चासोका कारण त्यसो भएको हुन सक्छ । धेरै नेपालीले अफ्रिकीहरूलाई नदेखेकाले बढी चासो भएको हुन सक्छ । तर रंगकै आधारमा हामीलाई जब बेइज्जत गरिन्छ त्योचाहिँ अज्ञानताका कारण भएको जस्तो लाग्छ ।

एकपटक हामी माइक्रो बसमा थियौं, गफ गर्दै र हाँस्दै । कसैले हामीलाई चुपलाग्न भन्यो । हामी त छक्कै पर्‍यौं र झन् धेरै हास्यौं ।

अर्को पटक हामी आफूहरूले काम गर्ने एफएम स्टुडियोबाट बाहिर निस्कँदै थियौं । एउटा बच्चाले हामीलाई देख्यो र रुन थाल्यो । आमाचाहिँले हामीलाई भाग्न भनिन् । भाग्नुको साटो हामी बच्चा र आमाको नजिकै गयौं, बच्चालाई हाँस्दै ‘हेल्लो’ भन्यौं र त्यसमार्फत, हामी पनि मान्छे नै भएको जानकारी गरायौं । बच्चा रुन छाड्यो र हामीलाई गुडर्बाको हात हल्लायो । हामीले आशा गर्‍यौं त्यो घटनाबाट उसकी आमाले केही सिकिन् ।

अरू त त्यस्तै हो, यहाँको मुख्य खाना दालभात भएजस्तै हाम्रो चाहिँ उगाली हो जसमा माछा र केही तरकारी हुन्छ । जसरी यहाँ जुनै अफिसमा जाँदा पनि चियाको प्रस्ताव गरिन्छ, केन्यामा पनि त्यसै गरिन्छ ।

विवाह उत्सवहरू पनि लगभग उस्तै हुन् । परिवार, खाना र रमाइलो । धार्मिक प्रक्रिया फरक होलान् तर दुवै देशमा परिवार, नजिकका नातेदार र मित्र आदिको अनुपस्थितिबिना विवाहै अपुरो हुन्छ । अनि रमाइलो पनि । त्यसमा उपहार र आँसुहरू पनि जोडिदिनुस् । विवाह भइहाल्यो । एउटै फरक के भने यहाँ जस्तो केन्यामा विवाहका लागि निश्चित सिजन/समय हुँदैन । आपसी सहजतामा जोडी र उनीहरूका परिवारले विवाह मिति तय गर्छन् ।

हो, धेरै नेपालीले अफ्रिकी देखेका छैनन् र देखेकाहरूले दक्षिण अफ्रिकाका नागरिकलाई बढी देखेका हुन सक्छन् । फुटबल र गत वर्षको विश्वकपले पनि त्यो भएको हुनुपर्छ । केन्याबारे सुनेकाहरूले क्रिकेटका कारणा थाहा पाएका रहेछन् । केहीले चाहिँ हामीलाई देख्नासाथ विश्वकप गीत वाकावाका गाउन थाल्छन् । अनि केही चाहिँ हाम्रा घुमि्रपरेका कपाल छुन चाहन्छन् ।

धेरैले सोध्छन्, कहाँबाट ? अफ्रिका ? हो तर अफ्रिका ५४ देशहरू भएको महादेश हो । केन्या पूर्वी अफ्रिकामा पर्छ । लामो दूरीका धावकहरूबाट चिनिनुबाहेक केन्या सुन्दर भूगोल र समुद्री किनारको पनि धनी छ । जनावरको कुरै नगरौं ठूला भैंसीदेखि गैडा, हात्ती, सिंह र चितुवा । अनि जंगली जनावरहरूको वासस्थान सर्ने विश्वका आठौं आश्चर्य मानिने प्रक्रिया पनि त्यहीं हेर्न पाइन्छ ।

नेपाल पर्यटन बोर्डको सहयोगमा म पोखरा गएँ । माछापुच्छ्रे हिमाल शृंखला देखेँ, त्यस्तो हिमाल कहिल्यै देखेकै थिइनँ । सराङकोटमा सुन्दर सूर्यास्त हेरेँ, चितवमा हात्ती चढेँ जो केन्यामा गर्न पाइँदैन । अनि रंगशालामै गएर फुटबल पनि पहिलोपटक नेपालमै हेरँे । अनि पछिल्लो पटकचाहिँ मैले भूकम्पको डरलाग्दो अनुभव पनि नेपालमै गरेँ ।

नेपाली विवाह समारोहहरूमा गएर, माइक्रोबसमा यात्रा गरेर तथा गाउँ र नेपालीहरूको साथमा बसेर मैले नेपालकोबारेमा थुप्रै कुरा सिकेँ । गत मेमा नेपालमा आयोजित पहिलो अपि|mकी फिल्म महोत्सवमा भाग लिएर र सीजेएमसी एफएममा अपि|mकाबारे कार्यक्रम चलाएर मैले आफ्नो संस्कृति पनि साझेदारी गर्ने मौका पाएकी छु ।

तै पनि मेरा अन्तिम दुई महिना नेपालमा बिताउँदा अरू थुप्रै कुरा सिक्ने र अनुभव गर्ने आशा गरेकी छु । अब त म नेपाल भनेपछि भुतुक्कै हुन थालेकी छु ।

एउटा अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय गैरसरकारी संस्थामा सञ्चार अधिकृतका रूपमा कार्यरत इभ्भोन नर्वेको एउटा आदानप्रदान कार्यक्रमअन्तर्गत केन्याका सञ्चारकर्मी महिलाको संस्थाको प्रतिनिधित्व गर्दै दस महिनाअघि नेपाल आएकी हुन् । काठमाडौंको कलेज अफ जर्नालिजम एन्ड कम्युनिकेसन्सले उनलाई आतिथ्यता प्रदान गर्छ । त्यही कलेजको सीजेएमसी एफएम १०६ मा उनी युगान्डाकी साथीसँग मिलेर अफ्रिकाबारे कार्यक्रम चलाउँछिन् । उनको ब्लग यहाँ छ ।

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42 thoughts on “Foreigner’s Eye: An African Experience in Nepal”

  1. A very compelling account of an African (Kenyan) woman living in Nepal. नेपालमा बस्ने एउटी अफ्रिकीको सोचमग्न तुल्याउने अनुभव जो आजको कान्तिपुरमा प्रकाशित भएको छ । केही नेपालीहरूले उनी र उनका साथीहरूसँग गरेको (दु)र्व्यवहारबारे थाहा पाउँदा मलाई आफैसँग लाज लाग्यो । हामी नेपालीहरू पनि कम्ति रेसिस्ट छैनौं । I felt terribly sad and angry while reading this account. Nepalis should learn to treat people of all colors, nationalities and races with dignity and utmost respect.

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  2. There are some racists in every country I think, we just need to tackle the racism head on wherever it exists in whatever form!

    And can I just say I prefer Ugali to Daal-Bhat, and although couldn’t actually visit Kenya, enjoyed every day in neighbouring Uganda (and enjoyed posho and kalo very much!). Few Kenyans I know have always been fun to be around, and Kenya is definitely on my list of ‘to visit/work’ countries 🙂

    And Yvonne, don’t let few racist Nepalis get at you! Cheers.

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  3. Aadaraniya Sister Ebhbhon Tapaiko ” Nepal ma m yeuti Africi” lekhale man chhuyo, sayed m jasta dherai aru nepaliko pani man chhuyo hola ra chhunchha nai hola. Hami nepali haru prati tapai bhitra bhayeko mahan hridayeko ma sradhdha le jhuker samman gardachhu, badalama tapaile hami nepali bat paunu bhayeko aatmasamman ko chot prati maphi chahanchhu, hami sanga agnyanata chha, tar tyo swikarna pani najanne chhau, bhanna pani sarma lagchha, tapaile aaphulai pugeko aatma sammanko dhakka lai jasari samanye ra sahaj tarikale pachaunu bhayeko chha, yesaima maile tapaiko mahanata paye. j hos mero anurodha yettinai ho ki nepal basai ma bhognu pareka apthyara ra katinai ani tito anubhab lai KENYA ma lager nasunai dinu hola. ma pani saubhagyele karib 2 barsa Africa ka deshharuma basne mauka paye, ma ta sadhai yahaka manisha haruko mugda kanthale prasansa garirahanchha, tar yo tapaile nepali haru pati dekhayeko sa-hridayita ko badala ma nasamjhinu hola. kathmandu ko kura chhader nepali gaun ko kura garne ho bhane ta kati payelai kala ta k gora manchhe hunchhan bhanne kura pani thaha chhain, hamro desh bhanda aarko pani dherai dhesh haru chhan bhanne nai thaha chhain. kalo ra goro manis ko sabal ma talla ghare mailo bhanda mathla ghare kanchho kalo bhaner kalo goro manchheko tulana garne saskarma tapailai dekhda aswabhabik byabahar dekhaunu kunai anautho thandin ma. tyesaile nepalma baser nepal ra nepaliko jati prasansa garnu bhayo kenya gayepachhi yo bhanda badi garidinu hola. yetharthata ta tapaiko najarma chhupeko chhainanai hola. Kenya ma mero sathi haru chhan ra ti sathiharuko byabahar bat malai kenya mero desh jasto lagchha, jyada k bhanau. sister pheri pani ma sarmale mareko kura abagat garaudai ti tamam mera dajubhai didi bahiniko tarpha bat maphi chahanchhu. see you

    Karki g
    hal West Africa

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  4. I don’t think Nepalis come from a position of racism in calling you black. It is just sheer ignorance about black people and we even tease our own friends for being black though it has a very slight negative ring to it. but i think it is not the sort of open hostile racism that you find in the west. hope the rest of your stay is enjoyable.

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  5. From my stand point; Vonne Otieno is absolutely right, she has brought up very logic points and they are meaningful. I am in Africa from last 12 year mostly in Uganda and Tanzania though i have been to Kenya for a little while. Let us learn how to respect African peoples, they are friendly and helpful; after all they are really good.

    Jas Rai
    Kampala-Uganda

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  6. Thank you very much Yvonne for sharing your feelings on Nepal and Nepalese. It is great opportunity for all Nepalese to know how are we in the eyes of an African. It also help Nepalese to broaden their understanding of people from a different perspective. Naming by color is almost an old fashion and almost offensive in the civilised world. Moreover, the writer is not only black women but she also has got a beautiful name Yvonne which would be very nice to call her. Nepalese must learn this, not only to foreigners but also among them as the composition of their own population is colorful too. All of us know.. that an individual’s quality is not measure by color or race but by the deed. Please think and apply it in your personal life.

    I am not very surprised to know a baby’s cry on a black person’s presence since they are not get used to see or interact with the blacks.It was good in writer’s part that she approach the baby ..so from the next time the boy will have a good feelings towards the black. It is great to know that the writer still want to stay more….Namaste again, and Nepal will love you as you love it.

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  7. Namaste to all my sisters and brothers

    I want to say thank you very much for your encouraging words and kind comments. I take no offense in any unkind behavior I may have faced and I understand that it could happen to any foreigner living in another country. I am grateful to Dinesh for encouraging me to share both sides of my experience as initially I had only shared the good part.

    It is my hope that others will be sensitive not to discriminate against others because of race, religion, gender or disability. We don’t expect special treatment, just fair treatment.

    I assure you that I know there are more kind than unkind people in Nepal. I have very good Nepali friends and so I am very positive about this country and will keep sharing about the good experience.

    Let me also apologies to all Nepalese who may have been mistreated in foreign countries.

    Cheers,

    Y

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  8. it would an utter lie to say nepali aren’t racist. we are sneaky racist people. some of us may cover up our act by calling it “sheer ignorance” – that’s just a feeble excuse for insensitive, pathetic and miserable attitude and some of us might label it that our “sense of humor”. nepali eyes have sensitive photoreceptor – the more light-colored a person the better they are.

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  9. Most of the Nepalese are racist; one reason is, our thinking are limited. we don’t have a broad concept about humanitarian, the world and its people. we don’t have something like Sunday church, where children learn about moral values and other good things.

    i believe most of the Nepalese are shy in nature. we fancy seeing African black people or any other ethic people,its a unique thing for us. we also have loads of Nepalese version of black people . However we don’t hate them but we make fun of them, some thing to laugh at. i know its a bad things but its just the way the concept of society holds. At the end of the day, our heart is always open to be friends with all kinds of colored people….well ! no marriage what will my mom say? what will my dad say? LOL.
    Enjoy the rest your stay. You should reach out to people and make them realize that everyone is just a human no superior than God.
    Cheers

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  10. Im really sorry to hear that they called you ‘Kale or Kali’ but do forgive my Nepali brothers and sisters….someday, i will help my country,my motherland Nepal turn into greener country,,,,in which i saw one in my dream….

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  11. Jambo ! Karibuni Nepal. :). I have spent sometime in Mombasa and Nairobi and currently in Uganda. I have also experienced such types of stares and people, specially kids calling us Muzungu (White People) and China man, “NIHAU” I don’t know what that means. Just because I have Mongolian face I am not Chinese and let me tell them, specially the Africans, that not all Asians are Chinese. I hate the most when they call me China man. Anyways, Kenya is very nice, beaches in Mombasa, Malindi are wonderful. The food I like the most are Nyama Choma, sukumawiki, Mahamri…..

    Asante Sana.

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