So let’s start at the beginning: returning to Nepal. Why did I do it? I wasn’t sure of what I would do or what I would become after coming home. To tell the truth, I still don’t think I’ve figured that out completely. What I did know back in the summer of 2010, though, is that I no longer wanted to be working in the United States. There, I came to question not only myself, but all of my colleagues as well: all of us, that is, who were working hard to get a job, keep a job, get an H1B visa, get a green card, etc. What was the purpose of it all? Why were we so desperate to leave home and work/live in a foreign country? Why am I paying taxes that, in part, help take care of an older American generation that didn’t help raise me? Why am I contributing to the economy of a country that doesn’t need my help at all, and ignoring my home country, which could benefit tremendously from what I have to offer? I don’t mean to sound overly confident (in thinking that Nepal will benefit enormously more due to my return), but I do believe that my contribution does, and will, make a participatory difference.

Every high school reunion, I find myself and my friends struggling to figure out who all out of our batch are here, and who is abroad. When we do realize that someone’s come back-and especially when we meet them the first question that comes to our minds concerns when they’re going to return. We automatically assume, in other words, that they’re not staying here. This is a problem. If you ask someone if they are coming back to stay and work here, their first reaction is, “Nepal ma ayera k garne? Kaam nai chaina? Desh ko haalat pani khattam cha.” They’re quick to point out the mistakes and flaws of this country, and they show the slightest interest or sense of responsibility in lending a helping hand to fixing the problems. This, I think, is the real problem: a lack of participation from the people that we need the most.

Return to Nepal
Photo courtesy: Michael Foley

We can all relate to this: over 75% of our friends, the ones we graduated high school with, are no longer in Nepal. Where are they? Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they aren’t here. All the students who got good grades in school, good SAT and TOEFL scores, got into an American college, got a degree, a job, a work visa, and maybe even get a green card, were all good students. They were the students who were told they were the future of this country. They were given confidence and assured that they would someday become successful leaders of this community. I think it’s safe to assume that no parent, no teacher, no counselor, or no principal ever told any of those students that they would grow up to be the working horses of some other country; that they would bear the burden of developing further a country other than their own, and one far less in need of development. Every student capable of getting a good job and performing well enough to make progress in their field has left Nepal, and most of them don’t ever want to come back. So who is left? Who are the people here, those given the responsibility of upholding the future of Nepal? The people who didn’t have the ability or resources to leave the country? Well done Nepal… well done.

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When I was in the US, there was a popular phrase used by Americans partially to blame their financial meltdown on someone else – someone other, that is, than themselves. They used to say: “the immigrants are stealing our jobs.” I guess they were right (to a certain extent), but I don’t really know if the saying, or the blame, contributed all that much to the overall unemployment rate, much less to dealing with the financial downturn. However, I can confidently say that they (the USA along with other developed nations) are stealing the future and development of our country. They have been successfully tempting the future generation, the one that we depend on, to come work for them, to pay them their tax money, and to posses no electoral voice whatsoever regarding how that tax money should be spent. Actually, no, let me correct myself: I don’t think that they’re stealing our future generation. Instead we are gift wrapping it, and sending it overseas ourselves. I mean, the guy at the US embassy asked all of us if we were coming back after our studies in the US. We all smiled, nodded our heads, and answered with the most patriotic ‘yes’. No, they are not stealing our able youth or the light of our bright future, we are giving it away for free – actually we are paying them to take it away from us. Thousands of dollars are spent on a child’s preparation to go to a US college, on embassy interviews, plane tickets, college tuition, room and board, food, entertainment, and other miscellaneous spending. Need I remind you of the exchange rate? These are millions of hard earned Nepali rupees being transferred from one of the poorest and least developed countries to one of the richest and most highly developed ones. And what are we getting in return for these insane investments? Abandonment!

Why is everyone so excited to abandon his or her “developing” country and move to a “developed” one? Maybe they are under the assumption that a developed country has more opportunities to offer them than a developing one. To tell you the truth, my life wasn’t all that different in the US than it is here. I wasn’t eating off of a golden plate, showering in a golden bathroom, or driving a gold car. I was eating similar food, worked similar hours, slept in a similar bed, and made a comparable amount of money (except that I was earning and spending in dollars, of course). I barely had any money left to put into my savings after spending it on rent, food, petrol, health insurance, car insurance, clothes, and whatnot. So it’s safe to say that I wasn’t a part of the group that sends remittance money back to Nepal either. Those I’ve been discussing in this article are like me in this regard too: they don’t belong to the remittance group either. So what are the benefits of living and working in the developed world? Honestly, not much. Nevertheless, there are innumerable benefits of working here in Nepal. First of all, the difference is now I work for myself, for my people, for my country, and for the future of the place that holds the roots of my past. Everything I earn and spend is poured back in to the local economy. Going back to the reference of calling Nepal a “developing” country, this is an economy with endless opportunities. This is an unsaturated market for new ideas, and even old ideas recycled with a new plan. This is a market where you can experiment and implement your ideas. I see the developed world as a saturated market that asks you to follow the path that they have created to generate the optimal return. Deviation will not be tolerated.

Actually there is a bigger and more significant difference between my experiences in the US and those I’ve had over the past few years in Nepal. This difference is the enthusiasm and interest of people who want to help me, and see me succeed. Working in the US I had to perfect what they call “elevator speech”. Basically I had 15 seconds to convince a person that what I had to offer was beneficial to them. Those 15 seconds would determine if I would get a meeting or not. Those people didn’t owe me anything, not even 10 minutes of their time, and it was up to me to convince them otherwise. Clearly those people never felt like they needed to support me. Why would they? I don’t blame them for thinking that way. Who was I to them? What was our relation? No one, nothing. My experience in Nepal has been the exact opposite. The majority of people have provided me with nothing other than their full support. It seems that I belong to a very limited and endangered species: the farkeka nepali. The generation that controls the present seems to be more than merely interested in our business. Every person I’ve approached, for example, has agreed to a meeting after a quick conversation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that people in Nepal don’t want to be impressed, they ask for the 15 seconds elevator speech too; it’s just that they are more willing to give you a chance. I did still have a compelling and impressive project that got their attention. It’s just that I did not have to bend over backwards and then some more to get their attention and their time. This was the first step: getting my foot in the door. Once they heard my ideas and felt my determination, they overwhelmed me with advice, suggestions, and, perhaps best of all, vote of confidence.

It didn’t take much time to create a network of successful businessmen and women who were willing to help me pursue my goals. Why is that? It didn’t take much to realize that I already had a pre-established network in this city. This network came from my family and the friends that I had made throughout my life. This is the network that I will never be able to find and replace in any part of the world. This reliable and supportive network isn’t just unique to me. I am confident that audience that I refer to in this article has a pre-established network like mine, if not better. That ladder to success is steep, and filled with enough hurdles anywhere you are. However, the climb becomes easier when there are people at the top, throwing you a line and directing your ascent. This opportunity, I’ve come to realize, is virtually impossible to find anywhere else in the world.

Everybody helps his or her own kind. It’s a natural bias we have to learn to take advantage of. We all have ideas and plans; what we need are people with experience who are willing to listen, and people who genuinely want to see us succeed. The older, successful generation here wants to help us, and show us the right path. They want to believe that there is a new generation worth passing the torch to. They want to believe that we will achieve greater heights than them, and further develop the community we all belong to. So why don’t we take advantage of a generation of leaders who care? I definitely do not suggest that we need to be spoon-fed and carry on what they have already established. However, there is no shame or harm in accepting their support and knowledge to better your project and refine your ideas. This is why I decided to start my own company and pursue my own goals. I decided not to walk on pre-existing paths that were laid out by my parents, but instead create my own path. Nevertheless, I was never too proud to ask for guidance from the experienced. This has been undoubtedly the most important and beneficial decision that I have made yet. I chose to start my own company as an entrepreneur; however, I don’t think that the scenario will be much different for someone who wants to find a job and work as an employee instead.

In conclusion, what I am trying to say is this: in the past few years I have come to believe in this country, and the endless opportunities that it has to provide the next generation. I’ve also come to realize the extremely costly resources we are continually losing to foreign nations. We worry that we’re not using our natural water resources to their fullest capabilities, but fail to understand that we’re losing our most precious resource of all: our educated youths. So, if anything, our responsibility is to protect this resource. I don’t mean to say that our young people shouldn’t go abroad to study and gain work experience. However, I am saying that they should all return after a certain period, and work towards the development of our country. It’s our responsibility to understand this, and to make our friends realize it as well. If each one of us could successfully convince 4 or 5 of our friends to return and work here, or to start a business, then we would surely be on the fast track to a better future. I don’t intend to give my friends a long patriotic speech, nor do I think that’s the best means for convincing others. Instead, by achieving more here than I would have been able to in the US, I want to prove them wrong, to show them that all hope isn’t lost. Show them that we, in fact, are the hope. My own success will certainly change the perception of those closest to me. My younger cousins will then say that they too want to return home after their education and work training abroad, to follow in my footsteps. In this way, we can be an inspiration to our friends and families abroad, and those here who plan someday to go abroad, and know, ourselves, that we are doing our part for the development of our country.

Author’s Pen Name: Bal Baahu

Since the author wanted to remain anonymous, SarSallah (सरसल्लाह) cannot reveal author’s name.

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