Kathmandu native Sangita Lama fell in love with Syrian Bassel Shreiqi while working at the clothing store H&M in Dubai five years ago. He was an administrative manager and she was a sales associate.
They had been dating only a few months before they decided to get married and move to Nepal.
“I just teased him and said ‘Let’s get married’. So, I was actually the one that proposed to him,” Lama recalls. After a week mulling over the decision, Shreiqi replied with a resounding “yes”.
Lama was raised in a children’s home in Old Baneswor because her parents (father a Thangka painter and mother a factory worker) did not have the means to look after her. She couldn’t find a job in Nepal, heard about work prospects in Dubai, and decided to take a gamble.
“Sometimes you have to take a risk – only then you can know a better life,” she says.
Shreiqi similarly went to Dubai in the hope of a better future after graduating from the Commercial Institute in now embattled Aleppo. The couple married in 2010 in Dubai, with a state officiant and two friends as witnesses because they couldn’t afford a wedding ceremony, or to fly relatives in.
The initial disapproval of their families did not stop the young couple from being together. When she told her family she was marrying a Muslim man, Lama said they were not ready to accept it. “Although I am Muslim and she is Buddhist, we decided that we can form our own religion,” adds Shreiqi.
In 2013, Lama gave birth to their daughter, Naya. But because of the strict citizenship laws in Syria and Nepal, the three-year-old is stateless.
A mother or father in Dubai can apply for a passport through their embassies, but by law a Syrian national cannot marry a foreigner abroad without the permission of the Minister of the Interior himself.
“I was not able to register my marriage there. So in Syria, I’m still officially single,” says Shreiqi who has been in the painstaking and costly process of applying for his daughter’s naturalisation since she was born, but approval has not come yet.
Lama is doing the same for Naya here in Nepal, but Nepali law also makes it difficult for women married to foreigners from getting citizenship for their offspring. According to Article 11.7 in Nepal’s new constitution, naturalisation is approved by the discretion of the state rather than given as an inherent right.
“It’s not so clear in the new constitution, I don’t know how to get a passport for her,” says Lama.
The couple was incurring fines for overstaying in the UAE while waiting for Naya’s passport. They could not go to war-torn Syria so they came to Nepal with Naya travelling on a document provided by the Nepal Embassy in Dubai.
Once here, they decided to open a Middle Eastern restaurant and were all set to inaugurate it officially on 26 April 2015 when the earthquake struck the day before. Undeterred, they repaired the damage and two months later reopened Taza in Pulchok, which means ‘fresh’ in both Nepali and Arabic. They had to shut down temporarily because of the gas shortage caused by the Indian blockade, but now it is doing well.
The future is uncertain for Shreiqi and Lama, but their plans are focused on providing opportunities for their daughter. And as long as they have each other, they’re optimistic.
“I’m thinking of living here forever,” says Shreiqi. “But if my daughter cannot get a Nepali citizenship, then I don’t know.”
Through their perseverance, Lama and Shreiqi are doing more than just serving delicious Syrian delicacies – they are also breaking down stereotypes. Lama still hopes that one day she and Shreiqi will have the big wedding celebration they never had, perhaps wearing a white wedding gown as they do in Syria.
She says: “There are lots of possibilities not only in business, but with anything you love.”
Taza is located at Pulchok next to Himalayan Bank.
A flower-less Valentine’s
Think twice before you buy those “freshly-picked” assortment of flowers for your loved ones. That ‘freshness’ is a hoax; Nepal is a heavy importer of cut flowers during the winter season. Moreover, consider the carbon footprint of those perennials that have journeyed from far away. And let’s face it, after a maximum of, say, three days, that lovely bouquet of flowers wrapped in plastic is going to be hurled into the ‘holy’ river anyways.
In all seriousness, the runoff from agrochemicals used for floriculture is a deadly contaminant to water resources, air and soil. Last year’s Montreal Protocol has codified a deadline to phase out Methyl Bromide, a chemical widely used in agriculture, due to its deadly effects on the ozone layer, especially in developing countries. Additionally, the excessive use of water to sustain the industry is running our fresh water tables dry.
So instead of spending on a hackneyed last minute gift, show your loved ones they’re special with these alternatives:
Spread the love further by donating to reputable organisations assisting Earthquake survivors
Invest in a child’s future and support youth earning their education
Give to those who cannot ask: feed the local dogs in your neighborhood
Show your gratitude and originality with a handmade card made from locally-sourced Lokta paper
Better yet, gift a half gas cylinder; that’ll be sure to score some brownie points
Surviving the fall, Smriti Basnet
Happily ever after, Sradhha Basnyat