Nepalis in America have created a miniature Nepal in their homes and hearts, while still participating in the mighty American dream
The airplane cruised steadily at an altitude of 38,000 feet. Monitor screens in front of passenger seats displayed the jet flying along the craggy coastlines of New England states. Below us were the choppy waters of Boston Harbor, where rebels had thrown crates of taxed British tea into the sea. The ‘Boston Tea Party’ in 1773 had heralded the American freedom movement.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and President of the United States, beautifully said “the republic is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.” We in Nepal are blessed to witness the birth of our own republic, and join that noble league of states that proudly choose a common citizen as the head of the state.
The saga of another American President, Abraham Lincoln, depicted in a biography as ‘From Log Cabin to White House’ parallels that of our nation’s first President Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who revealed that he rode buffaloes as a farmer’s son before studying medicine, and later on joining politics.
The plane descended into Dulles International Airport on a cold, crisp December afternoon. The airport was abuzz with activities of officials representing the diverse American spectrum of colors, creed, and ethnicity. Only 26 hours ago, the range of airport personnel here in Nepal was a far cry when it came to reflecting the diversity of our population.
Impressions of America
The US capital, with its ‘capitol’ hill, was a revelation. There was a flurry of meetings, one after another. The good thing about American officers is their humility. In Nepal, most officers in the high ranks of hierarchy deem visitors to be lowly and unworthy of attention.
The visit to Martin Luther King Jr memorial was remarkable. That was probably the only monument to a colored American in DC. Dr King’s movement in the 60s was a precursor to the first ever non-white President at the oval office today.
The US, like Nepal, stands at a critical position today. For the first time, in 2012, there were more non-white babies born in American hospitals than Caucasian babies. By 2040, Hispanics are projected to be the largest ethnic group in America. The Judeo-Christian social values imported into the new world by its founding fathers in the late 1700s are facing tectonic shifts due to an ever evolving demography fueled by migrants from all corners of the globe. Nepal too is gradually coming to terms with the creation and acceptance of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, secular republic.
Small town America has its own charm. New Hampshire was much quieter and open than Washington DC. The low key rural scenery was compensated by lavish pancakes served with maple syrup in warm and friendly diners. American businesses, from markets to night clubs, are remarkable for their utmost respect to customers and consumers. In comparison, just the other day in a public bus here in Kathmandu, the ticket collector treated a female passenger rudely and even intimidated her. What’s even worse, the bus service happens to be invested in and owned by some of our powerful politicians.
Young college leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties were bubbling with zeal and enthusiasm. They spoke passionately about their party’s stance on issues ranging from health reform to gun ownership. Although differing in their opinions, they were civilized and sober towards each other. The encouraging fact about American college leaders was their primary focus on academics rather than on politics throughout their college years. It was sad to compare them with student leaders here, who have made their learning institutions a breeding ground for hooliganism. In Nepal’s colleges, unionized students and lecturers both suffer from dual personality disorder. The students don’t know whether they are scholars or leaders, and the lecturers cannot identify if they are teachers or politicians.
As we were leaving New Hampshire, the barren, naked woods along the highway reminded me of Robert Frost, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet who lived and wrote in this part of the country.
The East and West coast of America are almost 5,000 kilometers apart. Sunny California and its arid vegetation make it hard to believe that you are still in the same country as the wet and cold Mainz or Delaware. America with its vast territory liberates your soul, it soars when you gaze at endless horizons. Sitting behind wheels and travelling in inter-state highways seems to be a joyful experience for Americans. Golden gate bridge in San Francisco welcomed us, as it has welcomed since ages the Asians and Pacific Islanders who sailed across the ocean towards freedom. I feel that this romantic landmark is the answer to New York’s Statute of Liberty that welcomed Europeans who arrived at the East Coast. The city of Harvey Milk is so pretty that you can’t help humming Scott McKenzie’s song ‘If you’re going to San Francisco…’ as you stroll along its terraced alleys.
When we met LGBT activists in San Francisco, we were proud to inform them that Nepal had in fact hosted South Asia’s first LGBT games in 2012, and Gregory Louganis had especially flown in from the US to inaugurate the games in Kathmandu. This was one of those rare occasions when we were not in awe of Americans, instead it was the Americans who were in awe of us and our country.
The other remarkable experience in San Francisco was the opportunity to do volunteer work at a homeless people’s shelter. We were orientated and dispatched to the dish-washing section behind the dining hall by our jolly and portly Italian American host. It was heartening to observe the public’s sense of volunteerism and charity in the US. We were amazed to see stalls in every nook and cranny with appeals for help to Army veterans and victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Our last stop was in Austin, the capital of the southern state of Texas. The city was fascinating, with its music culture and IT parks. If you are in Texas, you are bound to come across Nepalis. When you meet your relatives and friends in America, you get a chance to peek at their aspirations and apprehensions. They have created a miniature Nepal in their homes and hearts, while still participating in the mighty American dream.
My last impression of America and its people was their adherence to system and rule of law. Their commitment to transparency and accountability is worth a mention. Our American escort officer handed $ 10 bills to each of the participants on the last day of the program. Before we could ask why, he revealed that it was the amount left over from what was given to him by the government to spend on us, for example, to tip valets or drivers throughout our travels.
As I bade farewell to America from the airplane’s window, the city of Houston was overcast. I tried to doze in the marathon flight back home, but flashes of Grand Canyon landscape, Hollywood hills on an atypical rainy day, Lincoln memorial in the chilly capital, Bruno Mars and his number one hit song in US FM stations kept popping up in my tired brain every now and then.
The author participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program conducted by the US Department of State in December 2012