This was published in Kantipur
“Namaste! Welcome to Nepal.” These were the first words I heard from my host upon arrival.
They have stayed with me every day. Every time I leave the house or when I start comparing Nepal to Kenya, I remind myself that I’m in Nepal and Nepal will never be Kenya or vice versa. We are both be developing countries facing different challenges. A country is more than the technology. A country is about people, people and their cultures, people and the struggles, people and their victories, their values and principle.
On my first day, I had dinner with my host organizations father. He is a professor and a prolific writer and artist. He had been told that my father is also an artist and he was interested in learning about Kenyan Art. His story is quite fascinating. He used to be a university lecturer but he resigned. He is well read about ancient history, philosophy and just about any subject you can think of. However, he hasn’t left his compound for the last 20 years in protest to the multiparty system in Nepal. When I ask him why he doesn’t support this system? His says -You can’t have too many people preparing one cup of tea. He spends most of his day reading in his garden. But he is always willing to share some nuggets of wisdom.
“My only regret in life is not visiting Africa,” he says.
My first impressions of Nepal were a mix between culture shock and fascination. Maybe be little bit more of the culture shock…On my ride to the airport, I couldn’t help but notice how different the things that were different from home. First was the size of the taxi. My suitcase could hardly fit in the back of the taxi. Second was the noise. Private cars, motorcycles, the Tempo and micro or all seemed to be hooting at the same time. Everyone seems to be in a hurry. No one seems willing to give way – whether motorist or pedestrian. There are zebra crossings but they seem to have little or no meaning. It is scary for us pedestrians. Yes, this Bideshi walk or take a micro more than she uses taxis.
Maybe. Maybe is a word that I have become accustomed to in Nepal –you can never quite get a straight YES of NO. It can be frustrating…so one day I asked a friend what they mean when they say maybe and they said it means I don’t know. Back home we have a saying Ku uliza sio ujinga which can be translated to mean it is alright to ask for an explanation if you don’t understand or know something. When I told her this – she shook her head from left to right. I understood her.
There are traffic police everywhere. Thrice they have stopped me to offer assistance to get to my destination. Though they don’t speak perfect English, at least they are willing to assist. I’m happy about this. There are some beautifully designed buildings here – I love the balconies. Back to home I ’m short, but here, I’m quite tall and must look almost herculean to most.
When walking in the streets we hear people calling us Khalo Khalo all the time. When we get into some shops, some attendants laugh and giggle ,some do it when pointing at us and look away when we turn. We have approached a few and asked them Kina Seko ? ( Why are you laughing? ) Most times we just ignore the stares because we understand that it is out of curiosity while the insults may be born of ignorance. We take no offence.
Once we were in a micro chatting and laughed and somebody told us to shut up! We were so shocked we laughed louder. Another time we were leaving the studio a child saw us and started crying. The mother told us to g away but instead we approached the child and mother and greeted the child to let it know we are human. it stopped crying and waved goodbye to us. We hope the mother learnt from that.
While the staple food here is Daal Bhat, the staple food in my community is Ugali with some vegetables like spinach and fish. The first thing you get when you arrive in every office here is an offer for tea. This is much like back home in Kenya.
The wedding ceremonies are quite similar to those back home – It’s all about Family, Food and Fun. The religious observance may differ but in both countries a wedding ceremony is incomplete without your close family (and friends) , the fun and yes a feast always crowns the occasion. I call it extended Love. Okay, add gifts and tears … and you have a wedding. The difference from Kenyan weddings is that there are no set wedding seasons. A couple and the family decide on the wedding day based on convenience.
Speaking of weddings, my host’s nephew based in Australia recently got married. He met his bride a month to his wedding. The parents identified the bride for him and introduced them through facebook. She was the fourth of many selections they had for him. It’s been a year of facebooking but the two love birds are now married.
I get a lot of stares from people here. Most are just curious and have never seen Africans before. Those who have seen Africans are from South Africa… We gather it’s because of football and the world cup. The few who have heard about Kenya, only know about it because of cricket. Some see us and start singing Zaminamina Waka waka eeh eeh -the 2010 World Cup promotion song. We smile. Some just want to touch our hair ….
The one question I am asked is where are you from , Africa? Yes I am from Africa; Africa is continent with 54 countries. Kenya is one of the countries found on the Eastern side of Africa. Besides re-known long distance runners, Kenya is blessed with the most beautiful beaches and landscapes.We have a national park with plenty of wildlife right at the capital city – Nairobi . We are also home to the big five – Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Leopard and the 8th wonder of the world – The wilde beast migration! We are home to the great Rift valley and have seven lakes ( Turkana, Naivasha, Nakuru, Bogoria,Baringo, Magadi and Victoria) and four Mountains ( Mt.Kenya, Longonot, Elgon and Kilimanjaro). But besides all this wonderful wonders of nature, the most beautiful thing about my country is the warmth of the people. We are a happy people who like to have visitors and can really give a good party!
With guidance and support from Nepal tourism board, I visited Pokhara. There I enjoyed a wonderful view of the Machapulche ranges ( I have never seen so many mountains in my life –Like an endless string of beautiful pearls - after the mountains were more mountains! We trekked to Dampus, went down Davies falls and Caves , witnessed the most breathtaking sunrise at Sarangokt , a wonderful drive to Bandipur and visited the Elephant sanctuary in Chittawan. There have also been some many first’s for me in Nepal…like watching a live a football match in a stadium, riding an elephant in Chittawan – can’t do that in Kenya- and the most recent and definitely most scary one is experiencing an earthquake!
I have learnt a lot about Nepali values by attending their weddings riding in their micros, visiting their countryside and living in their neighborhood. I have also had a chance to share my culture through participating in the first ever African Film festival in Nepal held in early May and co-hosting a radio show about Africa at CJMC FM.
Still …there is a lot that I look forward to learning about in Nepal in my last two months here!!! But for now all I can say is Nepal bhanepachi bhuttukkai hunchhu ( I am crazy about Nepal )
This blog was featured in Foreigner’s Eye [विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- ] The Foreigner’s eye is a column in Kantipur newspaper, Nepal’s top daily in which foreigners who have lived or visited Nepal or are living in the country write about their experience with Nepali society. The original version appeared in Nepali on Saturday 24, September 2011. You can access the Nepali version HERE
Read columns by other foreigners in Nepal HERE