The recent inaugural NRN and PNO conference was a strictly business affair. People of Nepali origin mingled with Nepalis of Nepali origin, non-resident Nepalis rubbed shoulders with resident Nepalis, and they all talked give-and-take. If we give you this, what will you give us?
Some of the deals struck:
Nepali Passport and Free Visas = Rs 25 billion in investment
Tax-free imports = 1 Home for Elderly
This bartering was serious business. You give us passports and tax subsidies, and we will invest in the motherland. The government echoed it: only if you invest not less than Rs 1 billion. Still, it was a bargain and deals were struck left and right.
There were some transactions that weren't quite heard on the floor of the Soaltee ballroom. We understand that it is natural to get slightly distracted while wining and dining with the movers and shakers of the home country, and saying cheese with stalwarts from various political parties.
Here are some deals that didn't quite make it:
Cashing in on Nepali exoticism = Ten large-scale hydropower plants in Nepal. While foreigners in any country have their share of difficulties, they also have the sheer benefit of being able to exploit their unique identity. Being an NRN till recently myself, I can tell you how we Nepalis don't need icebreakers. Whether it is a job interview, dealing with clients or even a casual conversation at a bar, mention the word 'Nepal' and the conversation jump starts itself wandering from spiritual to mountaineering and (more recently) to the royal massacre.
Being originally from Nepal immediately separates an NRN from the rest of the hordes of migrants from South Asia, all desperately engaged in the pursuit of liberty and happiness. It often translates into an automatic push up the career ladder. It even works for male NRNs to pick up girls at the bar.
"Where you from?"
"Reeeeeealllly, wow, that's so coool!"
I must admit, this exoticism gave me unprecedented advantage over a lot of my business associates in my days in exile. When 10,000 people in a corporation are struggling to be unique, being from Nepal has its perks. But this was nothing compared to the superb marketing skills of some of the NRN hoteliers I knew who created empires by selling skinny chicken and calling it 'Special Drumsticks from the Land of Everest', or even: 'the last thing the Buddha ate before renouncing materialism'.
Sure, exploiting cultural exoticism isn't exclusive to Nepalis. Just look at the Irish, who have been spectacularly successful at it. But, in Nepal's case, what does the mother country get in return? Isn't it worth at least 10 large-scale investments in joint venture hydropower plants?
How about other forms of compensation? Every time a Nepali footballer or government official decides to overstay their visa and work in a gas station in Seoul, and technically become an NRN, what does Nepal get in return? OK, let's agree on a compensation package for the motherland:
One disappeared footballer = Two hospitals in Syangja
Then there are the hordes of Nepali students who stay on after college and join the brain drain. What does Nepal get out of investing in their high school education? Here is one possible barter arrangement:
One state educated brain that drains = 1 school in Tehrathum
Neeta Pokhrel is a water and sanitation engineer who is still trying to find her bearings back in Kathmandu.