Coming from AmericaLife in Nepal is imperfect, yet vibrant—unlike like the sanitised, optimised existence of the US.
I used to call my mother in Nepal every other day from the US, and each time, we followed the same coaxing process when she had the inevitable mental slip-up. This time, it was inspired by popular journalist Rabi Lamichhane. ‘Oh gosh, his personal life is a mess, but I like him. One of our relatives’ teenage son died in a bike accident. Our neighbour’s son flew to Japan to work...’ Her voice trails off. Then comes the deep, guttural sigh. ‘Mom, it’s okay,’ I tell her to take her off the ledge before the eventual meltdown begins. And then she goes on about her headache, backache, tired legs and poor eyesight. She complains every time she uses her iPad, which seems to run slow and has a low battery life, for her. She tells me about her new found skills in using Facebook, and the list goes on.
Certainly, we need to make money and achieve our dreams. But we are constantly bombarded with this notion of more, more, more. More fame, more money, more success. We put off spending time with friends and family because we are attacked with stimuli on social media. We prioritise spending time with our screens to build our follower counts to the thousands, or millions. With all these images of what success is, and the poor comparison to our own lives, we can feel like happiness evades us.
Such is the conversation with my mother, which made me feel guilty, making me think I should be with her in her old age. So I decided to pack my bags, with my kids in tow, and return to Nepal with a little bit of unsurety and lots of excitement. It’s been more than a week since I returned from the US, and there are so many things to write about.
Crowds everywhere. When I moved to the United States, I was so shocked to see so few people on the roads. Eventually, I got used to seeing few people outside, indoors too. No crowds anywhere, unless you are visiting a tourist attraction during a long weekend. Now after coming back, I realise how densely populated Kathmandu is. So many people everywhere. You go to the office, mall, local market, vegetable shop, park... every place is full of people. Sometimes, it feels suffocating. I haven’t been able to gather the courage to take the bus or micro bus so far due to this fear of suffocation.
Pollution and dust. I miss that clear, blue sky. After almost a decade, it has become even more horrible. So much smoke coming from cars and buses. Comparatively, honking has lessened, but why do we need to honk unnecessarily? Does it even make sense if everyone is honking? Your honking will not clear traffic, if that’s the agenda. In the US, it is so hard to find dust inside the city, the ground is covered with grass everywhere. Even house owners are supposed to have a lawn over unbuilt areas, as per the law.
Lack of civic sense. Oh my God, I can write a long essay on this topic. No respect for others’ personal space, cutting queues, people taking pride in breaking the rules, coming late to appointments, forgetting meetings and not apologising, and so many more. The traffic deserves a separate mention. We don’t follow lanes, I can barely see the stop lights. We drive on one-way lanes, from the wrong side, and honk as if traffic coming from the right way have to make room for us. We don’t care for pedestrians, and we drive so close to each other (no personal space for vehicles either).
Okay, enough. Now some good things. Certainly, Nepal is moving forward. The roads are not that dirty now. There is less smell of garbage on the roads, and people are more aware about cleanliness. So many start-ups, so many opportunities. Lastly, to top everything, it’s my home. Even if I am struggling a bit right now, I will be all right in some time. It feels good to be back. I had basically taken a decision to uproot myself from my roots in Nepal and had tried to create for myself and my kids a life that’s completely alien. In the United States, kids usually have no one but parents for support. They do not have the comfort of the family group, the neighbourhood that raised you. They are alone and, before you know it, dissolve into the anonymousness that is the truth of life in the US.
Growing up in Nepal was a joy by every measure. Everyday was different from the next. There was purposefulness, deep friendships, and the joys of nature. Monsoons, travelling by bus, winter vacations, family reunions, treasure troves of stories, relatives, gatherings, bhoj, festivals—so much colour, so much vibrancy. Nepal epitomises rhythm of life, not the sanitised, optimised existence that defines life in the US.
Shrestha is a blogger.