KATHMANDU, June 27: My first rural visit and fieldwork in Nepal was in Gorkha and Lamjung where I was sent as research assistant for an interesting study on the effectiveness of community electrification.
I began my journey with a positive attitude to learning about the rural ways of life in Nepal. But I believe that the important lesson that I learnt, besides the research and its findings, was how imperative people’s perception and opinions affected oneself.
There were two incidents that made me question myself, and most importantly, my identity.
As I was struggling my way up to what seemed to be my Mt. Everest, the Gorkha Palace, with a water bottle in my hand, a middle-aged woman was marching her way up the palace. I assumed that she was having a “hard” time walking up the stairs with her huge baggage of goods.
After a while, my frantic breathing took over and I gave up. That lady surpassed me with a smile. While she was gliding past me, she made a comment that made me realize that my struggle was obvious.
She said, “You’re having trouble walking. You should be from Kathmandu.” I replied, “Yes.”
And then she said, “I’m used to climbing these stairs. I do it everyday since I have a small makeshift shop up in the palace.”
She would wait for me while I would take a break from walking. While resting after reaching the top, I contemplated on what had just happened. What did I do that made me seem a not-so-Nepali?
The reason for this introspection, I believe, was a subtle haughtiness in that lady´s act of kindness. Living in a difficult terrain in hardship of village life, is this the meaning of being a true Nepali?
Another incident in the field that hit me hard was when a counterpart asked me why it sounded like I was having a hard time talking in Nepali. He said that it sounded like I was struggling to talk in Nepali and that it seemed to be an issue with the people of “your generation.”
Again, like the lady from my hike, I sensed a subtle pompousness in his concern. To this, I told him that I spoke a combination of Nepali and English. And the fact that it seemed like I was struggling with my Nepali might be because I was trying my best to speak proper Nepali with no English here and there.
I didn’t know if my answer satiated his queries. Every generation has its way of communication. My father articulated things differently than how my grandfather would have done. Therefore, should one be judged on how one is communicating or on the point that one is trying to communicate?
These soul-searching incidents reiterate the fact of how a “city dweller” is perceived by a “villager.” This consciousness made me quite observant about my surroundings.
There were girls aged as young as eight years waiting on the unpaved roadside for water, which, I was told, is available only sometimes, and that too from 6 until 9 am.
Does living in scarcity of basic necessities like drinking water and electricity certify one of being a true patriot? Were the people I encountered in the aforementioned incidents “more Nepali” than I was? Does the fact that I wasn’t born in a village make me less of a Nepali than anyone who is born in a village?
Visiting one of the most rural places in Nepal and being treated as a "delicate" obligation by my counterparts made me feel like a burden to my team. In the field, I was trying to learn the “Nepali” way to life. But instead, I was scrutinized for not knowing it in the first place.
Making a mockery of the fact that I looked like a “foreigner" – because of my "fair" complexion – and being charged money for using a public restroom wasn´t very uplifting or encouraging for an amateur researcher like myself.
There are people in Nepal who were born in villages and have positively contributed to the society. Their struggles in life are praiseworthy and indubitable.
On the other hand, I’m trying to contribute to society, however tiny it may be, by participating in this research conducted by my organization. Therefore, when I have similar interests in mind, why am I being judged for everything else other than my work based on my background?
If being born in the city and in a family that tries to provide me with the best amenities that they possibly can make me "different," I don’t believe I should feel remorse about that fact.
On the contrary, I should be grateful for all the opportunities that I get and utilize all the available resources to the best of my abilities and apply it to the good of the society that I care about in my own way.
Therefore, evaluating one by one´s accomplishments and potential, and not otherwise, I believe that I’m a true Nepali at heart and no one can rescind my patriotism.
The writer is a returnee from the US after completing her Bachelor’s in 2010 and currently works at Niti Foundation as a Program/Communications Associate.