By Sahaja Pandey who is currently in Nepal.
“Don’t lean on others; you don’t need to. You were born with two feet for a reason.”- Unknown
No matter how Nepali I look, the moment I open my mouth my accent gives me away . After the initial shock, that I can look so Nepali and still be American, fades, a conversation about the United States usually follows. For those who have never been outside the country, I feel like I am their window into a different world. On the other side of that window is a life that seems so unattainable, adorned with wealth, happiness, and blissful living. But how do you get on the other side of that window, to be apart of that fairy tale life?
The school I work at has a side room that teachers sit and chit chat in during their off bells. It’s the room where homework gets graded, lunch gets eaten, and stories get told. One afternoon, it was just me and one other teacher sitting in this room when she out of the blue asked me if I had an American Green Card. A lot of people are really curious about the passport I hold, so I explained that since I was born in the United States I am automatically an American citizen. This led to a very long pause and I thought the conversation had ended. She then asked me if I could “take people to the US by marrying them”. I can assure you that was not the direction I thought this conversation was headed for. I told her that I did have that option, and jumping at the idea, she cut me off and asked “then if you come here and find a good, nice, Brahmin boy you could marry him and take him to the US?” Even though the chance I am going to come all the way to Nepal to look for a husband is as slim as a Victoria’s Secret model, I was honest and said “yes”.
Her next question had me dumb founded. She proceeded to ask me “if I could come to Nepal, get men to pay me to marry them, get married, take them to the US, and get divorced?” How was I even supposed to answer that? That’s fraud. Although I explained that that is illegal and I would never even try it, she kept trying to rationalize it by saying “but if you do it without people finding out, you could do it right?” After me insisting that I would not commit a felony to bring people to the US, she eventually stopped pressing me, but confirmed that I “can take at least one person though?” I said “yes” but it was at this point that I explained arraigned marriages are not something many people in my family have done, and since I don’t live in here I probably will not be marrying someone from Nepal. Well, she definitely found this offensive and insisted that “our Brahmin, Nepali sons are great husbands”… Our sons?
It was then that I remembered she has a son that is a year older than me. Now of course my friends and I all have the “weird guy hit on me” stories, but I never thought I would be adding the “ guy’s weird mom tied to get me to marry her son to take him to the US” category to that list.
Thinking back on it, that poor mom really doesn’t think that her son has what it takes to make his own way to America. Maybe it’s not that she has such little faith in her son. Maybe it’s that finding a door to the other side of the window just seems so impossible.
Impossible is what my last taxi drive must have thought about the journey to the US. Over the course of the ride he awkwardly told me he has no friends which has left him lonely, and is looking into getting married. This was followed with a description of the kind of girl he was looking for, which what would I do with that information? He explained to me that he wished he could get to the US because he’s heard life there is so much easier. He then turned the tables and started asking me if I am getting married soon. I am nineteen! I will absolutely NOT be getting married any time soon. When I made this as clear as humanly possible, he tried to convince me that I was at the age that my family would start pressuring me to get married and I am probably ready even though I don’t think I am. I’m not really sure how much about me he could possibly know to make that assumption, but I just tried to moved the conversation along by saying “Maybe. We’ll see”. At the end of the trip when I paid him he fumbled around looking for something. So, I got my bags out of the car and went to his window to get my change. Along with the colorful bills, he handed me a small strip of paper and said when “you get back to America can you please contact me? I’d love to be friends.” With this I said “sure”, because what else was I supposed to say, and walked into my house.
On one hand, I couldn’t stop laughing at the order in which those events ensued, but on the other hand it was a little sad. At some point during the description of his future wife he briefly mentioned he wanted to move to the US with her. But, later on he told me he didn’t think he was educated enough to get to the US. So does that mean he expects her to get him there?
That was the same confusion I felt when I recently had a 4th grader tell me she is going to come visit me in the US in seven years. When I asked her where seven years came from, she said she would probably be married by then and she’d make sure to marry and rich husband that can afford to take her to America to visit. There are several problems with this life plan of hers. First of all in seven years she will be seventeen, and she for some reason has it in her mind that this is a good age to get married. On top of that she has somehow been conditioned to think that she will not be able to get to the the US on her own and she needs to rely on someone else to get her there. Why? I challenged that idea and asked her why she couldn’t just do really well in school, study really hard, get a good job, and take herself to America. The astonished look on her face told me no one had ever told her she could be independent enough to survive on her own.
There seems to be this preconditioned mindset here making people believe that the only way to get to the US is by getting married to someone who can “take” you. Whether it’s marrying someone wealthy enough to take you there to visit or marrying someone who has at least a Green Card, marriage seems to be the yellow brick road to the United States. The road to the other side of that window where lavish wealth awaits them.
Sahaja Pandey is a 19 year old born in Cincinnati Ohio to Nepali parents dedicated to teaching her and her sister about Nepal’s rich culture and history. She studied classical Indian dance (Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi) for ten years, and from a young, age she used dance as a way to raise money for organizations that help underprivileged children get an education and work to prevent human trafficking. As a child, she spent several summers in Nepal, and this only solidified her desire to better understand it’s impoverished youth. Full of aspiration, she is spending three months this summer teacher math and dance and a government school.