“You look like a Nepali”. I have been in Kathmandu for about 3 days now, and have heard this phrase about 18 times. (Honestly, I take it as a compliment because Nepal is full of good-looking people!) My immediate response, after thanking the person who made the observation, is to explain that I am South Indian American. Most of the time this response is a reflex – I don’t even think about what I am saying as I say it. But after a while, I began to question why I am so quick to reference my Tamil heritage. It’s almost like I am distancing myself from Nepal a bit; like I am actually emphasizing my foreignness.
Last night, I thought about it for a while and I still can’t pinpoint my exact motives for playing the foreign card this early in the game. There is always the hope that I can use both my American and South Indian background to provide a unique dimension to the constant cultural exchange that I take part in with my new colleagues and friends. But in the back of my mind, I am afraid that I am using my foreignness as crutch to justify my ignorance of this country – its culture, history, and even more specifically, the current political situation. There is so much happening on Nepal’s political and social front and it’s difficult for me to even articulate what I know and what I need to learn. I have been reading the papers daily, gathering bits and pieces of information, but at the end of the day more questions arise than answers.
Luckily, I have some helpful people surrounding me. Yesterday, some of the other Fellows in Kathmandu and I had an informal Q & A with Bijay, one of the founding members of the Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP). The session was beyond informative and just began to open my eyes to some of the challenges that come with change in Nepal. We covered topics that ranged from Nepal’s political and economic relationship to the U.S., India, and China to comparisons of private and government education systems in this country to the reasons why the elections are continuing to be delayed over here. While I can safely say that I know a little more about current events and political situations in Nepal, I realize that I am currently at the steep end of the learning curve. It is a bit overwhelming, but also exciting.
As for my twinge of self doubt and the possibility of my “crutch”, I am just going to have to give myself some time to assimilate – after all I’ve only been here for 3 days.
Posted By Ted Samuel
Posted Jun 8th, 2007