The Summer of 1997, I came to Nepal with plans to spend a year in the country having deferred my enrolment at Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York City. I ended up spending a little more than a year-and-a-half and going to Australia instead.
Living in the country for the first time in nine years and working in the country for the first time EVER, I found both to be very very challenging.
One of the challenges had to do with the culture. I did NOT experience so much reverse culture shock as I did reverse reverse culture shock. Basically culture shock. With the recent introduction of satellite TV, mobile phone etc., commercialism and western pop culture had taken a strong hold in Kathmandu within a certain section of the population, for instance. Nepalese households were consuming soap operas and MTV beach parties!
I discovered a lot about the city and the country I didn’t know. There was lots I needed — and wanted — to learn as well…about the economy, about the society, about social norms and protocols, about the political, social, education and other systems etc.
To that end, I did everything I could to bring myself up to scratch and to keep myself informed. I would read papers pretty much every single day, for instance. I kept a record of a some of my experiences and observations etc., sharing many of them as commentaries on the Kantipur FM radio program I hosted the Spring of 1998.
Here, for instance, is a list of observations of the city in the nineties.
Only in Kathmandu, the capital of a developing country…
- can these constitute a status symbol:
- the number of wives
- the number of mistresses and/or extra-marital affairs
- driving around in 4-wheel drive vehicles and talking on cell (mobile) phone AT THE SAME TIME
- school fees
- friendship with a white person
- having an immediate member of the family in the US
- having an immediate member of the family who is a Permanent Resident of the US (Green Card holder)
- can you get picked up at night by the police for questioning for just being out late, the likelihood increasing in the company of…foreigners
- can you get frisked, your money and wallet seized, or beaten up by the police for consuming alcohol
- can a man get picked up by the police and harassed (if you are lucky) or beaten up (if you are unlucky) for sporting long hair or sporting earrings (or studs) or for some other stupid reason such as wearing cowboy boots
- do you have to pretend to be a foreigner (by speaking English only) so as to NOT be picked up by the police for questioning
- do you have to pretend, to the police again, to be a foreigner (by speaking English only) to be able to stay in a bar until late
- do you have to pretend to be a foreigner (by speaking English in one of the native speakers’ accents) when calling a hotel to inquire about anything, such as the whereabouts of a guest for example
- can tourists/foreigners flagrantly break rules, regulations, social protocols and norms
- do you have “Tourist Police” for the protection and the security of foreign visitors (in a country where crimes against foreigners are rare)
- do you have establishments (such as hotels) where the locals (Nepalese) are not allowed in, even to visit guests who are your personal friends
- do you have a beer commercial promoting drinking and driving (that of Real Gold Beer)
- do you find media carrying advertisements for slimming products when about 50% of the population live under the poverty line
- do half a dozen families control most of the economy of the country
- are beauty pageants — for little kids, for young women, and married ladies, yes mostly for females — the “in” things
- are some of the wealthiest individuals politicians
- do you have lawmakers who are the prime lawbreakers
- is honest living practically impossible for the average Joes and Janes
- do you have provision for civil rights and many other freedoms in the constitution but not the environment to exercise them freely without fear of reprisal — yes reprisal! — from the connected and powerful who benefit from having a weak judiciary etc.