Isha Mehmood

Isha Mehmood (South-Asia Partnership in Nepal): Isha graduated in 2007 magna cum laude with a BA in communication and a BS in sociology from Virginia Tech. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in Cambodia where she met children who lost limbs in landmine explosions. This inspired an interest in conflict studies and human rights law. Isha interned at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. At the time of her fellowship, Isha was studying at American University’s School of Public Affairs, pursuing a Master’s degree in justice, law and society.



First Encounters

14 Jun

Namaste.

This word, derived from Sanskrit and used to express the greatest form of respect, is the most common greeting in Nepal. It translates to something similar to, “I bow to the divine in you.”

It is the only Nepali phrase that, as of now, I know by heart.

Armed with my Nepali pocket dictionary, I expected to be more than confused when I got off the plane. Surprisingly, it seemed everyone in the airport spoke English. Taxi drivers called to me from the sidewalk, “Hotel? Where are you going?”

Two young men, close to my age, approached me.

“Do you need a ride?”

No, I politely informed them, my friends would be picking me up. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that clear on the plans. Through email in Doha, another Advocacy Project fellow had offered to meet me at the airport so that we could take a taxi together. Meera, who is working with the Center for Eco-Agriculture Development in Nepal this summer, has been in Kathmandu for the past two weeks. Her first experience with a taxi cab driver was interesting. So instead of me trying to negotiate a price alone, she and another AP fellow were to meet me when my flight landed.

I didn’t have a contact number for either of them and I wasn’t really sure where we were planning to stay. But I had an idea. At any rate, I knew I would be able to recognize them. I had never met Meera before, but Jess and I met at the AP training in May. Jess had arrived last night and will be working this summer with the Jagaran Media Center.

So, when my flight landed in Kathmandu, I was expecting to easily recognize, at the very least, her long, blonde hair.

I didn’t. I peered through the swarms of people hanging out at the arrival gate. Some of these people were greeting passengers. Most of them were not. Young and old Nepali men were everywhere. It was loud, it was chaotic, and everyone wanted to offer me a ride to a much better priced hotel. After waiting ten minutes, I sat down on a bench outside.

“Are your friends Nepali or foreigner?” asked one of the young men, who told me his name was Romeo (“You know, like Romeo and Juliet?” he said. I didn’t believe him.)

“Foreigner.” This led to a long discussion between him, his friend, and me. They asked me about where I was from, what I was studying, if I was married already, and told me how much they liked our president, Barack Obama.

Romeo offered to buy me a cup of coffee. I said no.

“I’ll pay.”

“Now why would you do that?”

“Because,” he told me. “We’re friends now.”

I still said no. He asked again. And again. And after a few times, I said, “It’s okay, really.” Apparently, he only heard the okay. He sprung up and ran into the airport, emerging a few minutes later with a coffee. By this time, it was 6pm. I had been waiting for an hour.

“I don’t think your friends are coming. You should just go to a different hotel.”

They’re coming. At least, I think so. I was determined to wait a little longer. Around 6:35pm, I saw Jess and Meera walking through the parking lot. Romeo’s friend ran to greet them.

“Are you waiting on Isha?”

We all walked to the car like one big group of friends. Jess and Meera were in the front guiding the pack, me in the middle, and Romeo and his friend in the back. When we got in the cab, Romeo asked for money.

“But I bought you a coffee.” I groaned. I should have seen this coming. I didn’t have any Nepali rupees on me, so Jess and Meera covered it. They gave him twenty rupees. A little less than fifty cents.

Just like that, I remembered what it was like to be in a foreign country. Fortunately, I was able to share the cab ride with others. On the way to our guesthouse, they told me stories about why they were late, attempting to meet each other at the local “MC Donell’s” (of no relation to McDonald’s), and of the apparently popular “milk scam” Jess fell victim to. I am sure it will make it on her blog in the future. On the drive, I suspected that we would have many more interesting stories by the end of summer.

Posted By Isha Mehmood

Posted Jun 14th, 2009