Moving to New Zealand last year, my personal reality warped and shifted. I functioned efficiently enough, cleverly masking my unfamiliarity with everything from push-button pedestrian crossings to obscure Kiwi slang.
If nothing else, growing up in a bi-cultural, trans-national family in Kathmandu-with its own heady mix of ethnicities, histories, religions, languages, classes and realities-teaches you how to adjust and cope. Inwardly, however, I longed for my home. I still find myself biting my tongue when tempted by comparisons and fear boring people with the never-ending commentary on life here that runs through my head.
More complex still is coming up with suitable responses to the questions people ask about Nepal. Of course, I'd expected it to be obscure, a bit of a novelty, but nothing prepared me for the fact that for many people here, where I come from-and every other country like it-simply doesn't exist. "Kathmandu" is an adventure brand, Asian means Chinese, Nepal could be somewhere in the Middle East and Everest is a mountain that a New Zealander climbed.
There are no comparisons, no points of reference. Every comment, explanation or anecdote I tried only made me feel worse, knowing how completely misinterpreted it would be. How do you explain, in what is an essentially a middle-class, developed, easygoing island, another country that has a 45.2 percent literacy rate and over 40 percent of its 27 million people living under the poverty line in a landlocked area smaller than the South Island alone?
Statistics like these mean nothing in the 'Pavlova Paradise' but neither do my bumbling attempts to sketch a true sense of my life at home. Here the concept of having household workers equates with being filthy rich. 'Poor' means a broken down car, the unemployment benefit, beer bought with student loan money and clothes from The Warehouse.
Kathmandu, with its bowl of old carved wood and new plastic waste, its hordes of people at rush hour and the eerily empty streets during violence-tinged political strikes is far away. I find myself unable to even explain pollution here, where the famous wind blows air so bracingly clean that my lungs feel scrubbed raw.
Equally alien is the concept of a place with old social traditions still dictating arranged marriages, taboos, beliefs and superstitions around every conceivable issue and yet no drinking age, no smoke detectors and future elections that are 'not applicable'.
A story about a bomb scare at my former workplace is too dramatic, implying an all-out war zone. My friend's traditional parents sound too repressive, echoing Saudi-style restrictions, my work in the local media too impressive connoting levels of celebrity and pay that simply don't exist in Nepal.
I have found it easier to revert to a simple, "Well. It's certainly different." and try to leave it at that. Still, everyone needs their fix of home and Wellington's miniscule Nepali population has caused me to seek communities and connections of a different sort. Like many young educated Nepalis abroad, I find myself escaping regularly into cyberspace to ease bouts of homesickness and reassure myself of Nepal's existence.
Most days I ritually check the local news sites and then scour BBC and CNN for mentions, before logging on to the various forums and chat programs where others like me seek common refuge from all over the world.
Here I keep old friends and sometimes make new ones, most of us united only by our alienation. Against a backdrop of bytes and pixels, I trace people's lives as they crisscross the globe. Linked in a common beginning, I hear impressions of places I will probably never see.
Bangkok, Delhi, London, LA, Utah, Chile, New York, Sydney, Canada. and still we talk, of life and love and losses, in a strange new language of Nepali words typed in English and interspersed with the instant messenger smiles and frowns and tears. For now, I suppose, that's as close to reality, and home, that we're going to get.