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Feeling at home? Upendra Mahato chills out away from home.

"What time is it in Nepal?" the passenger in front of me asked the flight attendant an hour before we began our descent to Kathmandu. She wanted to confirm that the entertainment portal in front of her hadn't gone haywire. GMT+5:45 didn't make sense.

Nepal's integration with the global economy is as remote as the ability of the average tourist to comprehend Nepal's unique time zone. Of late, I have been wondering whether my decision to return, after living in the US for 16 years, was a wise decision.

Sixteen years ago, I was a rebellious
17-year-old student in search of opportunities and freedom away from the confines of Nepal. Sixteen years later, I was living the American dream: a good career, a house in the American suburbs, and the rest of the pieces slowly falling into place. The one thing I knew was that I had to work hard and pay my taxes, and the promise of America was there for the taking. So why did I return?

Most Nepalis of my generation in the US are preoccupied by a conflict that involves a tug of war between two cultures. It's a constant pull between the conveniences presented by the affluence of America, and a longing desire to come back home to contribute to our own country. Each step towards assimilation into the American culture, it seems, means losing a bit of our identity as a Nepali. We are equally part of both cultures, but truly belong in neither.

We compare every convenience in the US Ė responsible public policies, transparent bureaucracy, home deliveries, well-paved roads, good hospitals, courteous customer service, and clean public toilets Ė to the innocent memories of home: the smell of morning fog, the gossiping over tea, the taste of momos, the cows on the streets, the gallis in which we sweated over makeshift cricket matches. It is always a dream that we will one day return. But for most of us, this powerful longing remains simply that, because it is not easy to uproot ourselves from careers and mortgages, and because of kids who are American by birth, and for whom Nepal is as alien as Haiti.

But I took the plunge. Not only because I wanted to contribute to Nepal, but also because I wanted my children to admire Nepal's heritage. I wanted them to know what Dasain and Tihar mean, and I wanted them to build a perspective on third world hardships that is real rather than viewed on TV. These are things that cannot be purchased in the US.

So here's what I've learnt in a year. If you are a returnee, the first thing you need to do is to internalise the Bikram Sambat calendar system in reference to the Gregorian calendar. Use of this calendar, along with the time zone factor, are two obvious deterrents for anyone abroad thinking of making a smooth transition to Nepal.

* Do not attempt to change the way things work immediately. It is simply impossible and will only invite aggravation. Hold on to your habits and set personal examples instead. Understand that when a meeting is scheduled to start at 10am, it may start at 10.45am, or it may never start at all. Also understand that mobile phone interruptions are very much part of meetings, and that it is perfectly OK for people to be holding side conversations on their phones while meetings continue, except when foreigners are involved.

* Get used to working without deadlines. Even if deadlines are set, they are rarely met, and are mostly extended. The politicians are the best examples of this phenomenon, and their craftsmanship has been extended to the private sector seamlessly.

* Keep references to wherever you have returned from to a minimum. People will perceive you as a misfit. Create a social network. It's not about what you know, it's who you know in Nepal. Actually, it's more about who knows you. You may work hard and put in 14 hours a day in the office, but don't neglect building up a social ecosystem. People need to know you if you want them to get things done your way.

* Accept that corruption, traffic violations, loadshedding, littering, and spitting are part of the Nepali everyday. These things are bound to raise your blood pressure, but if possible, use some of that energy to focus on why you are here instead. Focus on the opportunities at work; if you have returned, more than likely, you are at the frontline of a new industry.

* Take this as an opportunity to rediscover yourself. Don't compromise on the core values that you've operated by over the years, but understand and accept that things often work differently from what you are used to. Be optimistic that someday, things will be different. Believe that someday you will be sitting next to a tourist travelling to Nepal who knows exactly what time it is there. It's far from easy, but it is possible.

Not tolerating tolerance, INDU NEPAL

1. sameer
Ok, fairly engaging piece. Welcome back home and I hope you kill your temptation of working for that HQ of Losers called the UN. 

2. sk

A sorry article.....

Forget about the bikaram sambat and time zones... if you   want to come back to Nepal..forget comparing Nepal with Haiti .. and so many other..things listed in your articel..

Simply, ask yourself: Can u contribute to Nepal. Or you want to be some another guy, a returnee, with loads of complain, and nothing to offer. Nepal doesn't need bunch of losers, kicked out of job, and nowhere to go people.

Problems are everywhere, and also in every corner of so called developed ones.

Nepal doesn't need  need people with American dreams.. thats for sure..

3. sr
good article.

@sk, I think you missed the point. The article is not so much about complaints but about actually accepting reality.

4. Praval Ghimire
Good article, I personally do not think the time difference and BS calendar are not a big problem, however I do believe that for people who have seen the system in foreign countries find the corruption and traffic jam very depressing.

5. Rambhakta
Not quite sure why Upendra Mahoto's photo is there with this article.

6. tp
Good article. This guy truly inspires other Nepalis abroad. After all, your true identity is un-break-ably linked to your motherland.

7. Ashay
A great article. Love the dilemma shown in the Statue.
The shift to Gregorian Calendar has to happen; no disrespect to Nepal Sambat, but moving ahead is essential. The 15 minute timezone shift makes things weird when working with people abroad. They are used to 30 minutes changes!
Those two aside, the realities that the article allude to are simply depressing. The state of affairs is such that you need to learn to live in an inefficient system. The problems are manifold and etiquette comes in fairly low on priorities. Hope that we get to a point where talking time to a global citizen is easy.

We need to learn to respect time. Deadlines, Calendars, can come second.

@sk: Nepal does not need American dream. Do you realise what the dream is? Freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. Now what is so American about this dream that it hurts your sensibilities?

8. BS
Liked it all... whoever says its full of comments I would ask the person to go to US and then make a bold decision to come back home after 16 years and don't complaint...

9. BKT
Excellent article. However, when I saw the second comment - for a moment I felt very sad for not appreciating about the decision of the writer to come back and  making negative comments on those issues which the article has not mentioned about. It was just a comparison - which is no harm at all.  I think this sort of attitude is another challenge in Nepal.

Your article has given a good message to the persons  who are in dilemma of looking for permanent opportunities abroad that just clean road, tall towers can not provide inner satisfaction. I have also stayed many years abroad and realised that we have so many  good things  in Nepal such as-warmth of the people, simple life style and as writer says- the taste of momos, gallis that we do not find in western countries.

I think the suggestions given by the writer to those who come back home
after many years are good ones -because knowing these truth or realities might will help them reduce their frustrations during the transition stage.

10. Sargam

This astute way of portraying the Statue of Liberty with the silhouette of a Nepalese woman is simply genius in itself to accompany this quick rundown of who may involve.

Once more let us remember the unforgettable words of Emma Lazarius engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty in NY.

√Į¬Ņ¬ĹGive me your poor, tired ones.

Who in intensive files aspire to live free.√Į¬Ņ¬Ĺ

Nothing is superior to the will and moral courage of free men and women. The rest will for sure come and follow as long as there are free men and women in this country..

One day Nepalese also certainly will reach such heights of generosity and compassion in thinking as well as in deeds as did the heterogeneous denizens of the USA.

Fair enough, any time soon the officials in the future Governments to succeed wouldn't be bragging to be the leader of the least developed countries (LDCs).

Any way, I hope that my compatriots needn't be dragged kicking and screaming into this year 2011. It is the least-worst one can expect.

11. Anu
Nice article! Well written and good content.

12. desideratum
I think each and every comment on the Nepelese society made by the author is right on the money and should be thought of eligible of COMPLAIN.We should complain and NOT accept the reality of late comers/ bad mouthers/ garbagers/spitters/corrupt/violators. Since when did these undisciplined acts became acceptable. I dont think they are acceptable. It is this very attitude that has landed us here..

13. U S Nepali

A Nepali living in the US

The articla does an excellent job describing professional behaviour in Neapl e.g. behaviour in meetings.  I also think the comments on time-zone and calendar is also very appropriate.  With the world so "globalized" there may be value in adoping time zones and the calendar compatible with rest of the world.  India has benefitted immensely through the use of the English language -- it gives them an upperhand in working in industries where English is an advantate e.g. both software outsourcing and back office outsourcing.  Nepal could benefit much by adopting global practices.

With regard to whether one living in the US wants to return or not, it is a very personal decision.

US Nepali 



(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)