"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.
* 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