I lived in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, for 23 years. The best part? I enjoyed every bit of it.
There is no place on earth that I know better than the young, crazy, buzzing, and the hot mess of a city that Kathmandu is. True, we have problems. True, the government was almost non-functional. True, our rate of economic progress has not been great. There is a gamut of reason why it is constantly tagged as the third world. But trust me, for a heart that knows what it truly needs to be happy — Kathmandu is a place you need to experience.
So sit back and relax — i’ll tell you why growing up in the “third world” is the best goddamn thing ever. I don’t believe in Nepal being a third world — but I will tell why growing up in a supposed third world in fact gives you an upper hand in life.
To give you a bit of context, I’ve been living in Sydney for 3 years now. If you’re reading this in Nepal, it may not make a lot of sense to you. It took me a while to make sense of it myself. While it may sound emotional, I’m writing this with logic backed up with experience.
Before we begin, I should tell you that life is good. I’m studying, I’ve got to get to work tomorrow, and there is dinner on table tonight. Sydney is good. And this post isn’t a rant about how much I miss Kathmandu. But sometimes, on days like this when I like to write — I like to compare and tell the world what needs to be done. I’m no legendary genius, but neither was Zuckerberg before he typed his first set of code for Facebook.
Kathmandu — A city that’s Young, Wild and Free like you should be
Kathmandu has a sense of freedom. It is a city where you can say whatever you have on your mind, to whoever you want to, without having to worry about embarrassing someone, being racist, or unearthing a sensitive issue.
You can ask someone about the well-being of their partner, without having to worry if they’re divorced. These things become the least of your worries when life is simple.
In Kathmandu, people make time for people more than they do for money. Money is more secondary than ever and people invite you to their homes even if it’s their 2nd time meeting you. It took me a while figure out how uncommon it really is.
You will feel more at home when in Kathmandu, regardless of the color of your skin, the structure of your face, the sound in your accent, or regardless of whether your actual home is next door or a thousand miles away. Because we have a phrase that goes by “Atithi Devo Bhava”, meaning “The guest is equivalent to God.”
When you grow in a place such as Kathmandu, you learn to do things your way. There isn’t a structured way of doing things. In fact, a lot of times you’ll find yourself making way for things to happen. This teaches you a part of self-leadership. This inspires creativity from the ground up and infiltrates you with a sense of freedom for when you do things right.
At the end of a storm is a Golden Sky
And just as they say that diamonds are made under immense pressure, Nepal as a country has suffered. And as densely populated capital with focus of the nation that Kathmandu is — it suffered as much as the country did. I won’t go into details but here is a list of key events in a span of 16 years.
· 2001 — — The Royal Massacre ; case unresolved
· 2005 — — State of Emergency Declared
· 2006 — — The Democratic Movement ; Monarchy Abolished
· 2015 — — Power-cuts for 16 Hours / Day at peak
· 2015 — — The 7.8 Richter Scale Earthquake ; 8000 People Dead
· 2016 — — India Seals Border ; Supply of Fuel, Food, Medicine Disrupted
That’s a lot of stuff to go through in 16 years.
But what’s my point here?
These events taught us the moral art of adjustment. The nation was failing, but there were fathers who went to work every morning, but not for themselves. There were mothers eagerly helping children finish their homework so that their children excel at school. There were children going out every evening of the year to play football with their neighbours at the local park. Yes, children of Kathmandu still play with each other at the park.
All of this happened, and life went on — as if nothing ever happened. People in Kathmandu are still very happy. But why are they still happy even when life there needs so much adjustments? Because the nation lived with hope. Hope that one day Nepal will succeed and that one day it will all be fine. That one day, the Golden Sky will appear and make everything alright again. I was too young to process everything as it should be, but I still remember conversations entirely surrounded with political discussions when the elders met. It was like living in a movie. You can have a happy ending, a sad ending, or an unforeseen twist. It was exciting.
The Best of Both Worlds
If I have already painted a picture of Kathmandu to you, I encourage you to look even further. If you were to do a quick Google Maps street-view of Kathmandu, there is a chance you’ll land in the view of a street covered with thick dust or a street littered with rubbish or you’ll see centuries old monuments being supported by logs of wood instead of being rebuilt / repaired by the government even after 3 years of the massive earthquake.
But that again is not the point of this article.
Each city has its own beauty. I’ve never seen a place as aesthetically beautiful as Sydney is. The people are friendly, and there is nothing short here. And honestly, I have never found myself in a situation where I had to hide my identity in order to blend in. The only difference I find between Kathmandu and Sydney is Kathmandu is a hot mess. Sydney is sophisticated. Sydney is where you’ll taste the best coffee, visit the best bars, take pictures of bushy suburbs from atop big buildings. Kathmandu is where you learn to live in the face of difficulty. Kathmandu is where one could inspire the next Slumdog Millionaire. Kathmandu is where you learn the ethos of life — to be happy with what you have, but never to settle for less.
Manners Maketh Man
There have been moments here in Sydney where surprisingly I have excelled in certain aspects of work and pleasure. I link it back to those humble days growing up in Kathmandu. Because when I started off with $450 in bank, a rented room for $150 a week, an empty fridge with no groceries and no job — I didn’t call home for help. I did what every Nepali would do — hope that everything will be better one day, and smile in the face of difficulty.
Today while I type this to you, I have a job to support my livelihood in a land where I was once alone. I can buy the gadgets I couldn’t get growing up and organize them in my room and actually get to use them because, well, no 16 hours/day power-cuts. I do not feel fulfilled and grass still looks greener on the other side, but boy, do I feel appreciative of the present. Growing up in a constantly tagged “third world” has also made me more compassionate.
We have a culture in Sydney of politely asking everyone where they’re from. I personally find it thrilling because we as humans profile people. I love people-stories. And every culture has a story. Those few seconds after I ask someone of their background and before they say it gives me a moment to validate my assumptions; to learn how wrong or right I was. And every time I tell people I am Nepalese, I get told how kind we people are. I also do get these:
Oh wow! How long have you been here for?
It must be a huge leap for you to come here!
Have you climbed Mount Everest?
But then how do you speak English?
Do you have TVs?
It must have been hard!
And to that, I say, “Ma’am, I would do it all over again.”
This article was written by Saheel Baral, and was originally published on Medium. Few additional photos were added in this version of the article for Nepalisite.
In addition to writing, his interests include public speaking, gaming and watching Liverpool FC play at the EPL.