“Where are you from?” is the most frequent question that I get when meeting new people. Since I am now on the second semester of Erasmus exchange program here in Poland, everyone sort of gets that question. It’s always intriguing to see people’s reactions when I answer them that I come from Nepal.
The reactions of people depends on their nationalities. Most Turkish people to whom I’ve answered had no idea where Nepal was, and once or twice I was even asked whether Nepal was in Africa. People from countries such as Kazakshthan, Uzebekisthan, countries in Africa, let’s all group them to the less-popular countries categories, usually also have no idea where Nepal is. People from Europe, depending on where in Europe they are from, are more familiar with Nepal, and know at least its approximate location.
I have been asked whether I hailed from Brazil, Spain, India or Ethiopia while I was in Finland. Due to the presence of many Nepalese students in Finland, a lot of Finnish people and the foreigners residing in Finland know about Nepal. In fact, they know more than they should know, because they already have this mental picture of Nepalese people on their head. The pre-impression that the Finns gathered in their head about Nepal and the Nepalese seems to have come from the types of Nepalese individuals they had met. One guy in Finland once asked me, “How did you parents send you to school? I heard a lot of girls cannot go to schools in Nepal”. Another guy, “Do you have to climb through the mountains and walk 3 hours a day to reach the school?”. Another question, “How come you listen to all this Western music? How could you access that in Nepal?”. News to all, Nepal is no longer the mysterious Himalayan kingdom cut off from the rest of the world. It is very much the part of today’s globalization and we (not all of us though) do have access to internet, good schools, English education and such.
It’s always a delight to meet someone who knows about this tiny country of mine. I think it’s even great when I am the first person they’ve met from Nepal and I can solely be the ambassador. The proprietor of the company where I interned during summer was greatly interested in Nepal and told me that he had always wanted to go to Nepal due to this long fascination with Himalayas and Buddhism. It was nice to talk with someone who knew where I was coming from and yet didn’t have pre-cultivated stereotypical impressions in his head. I met my lecturer at the university last week and upon hearing that I was Nepalese, he told me how interested he is to go trekking near the Himalayas once in his life. To say the least, it is very flattering to hear somebody wants to go to your country and thinks it is exotic 😀 I have observed that many Polish people, especially the mid-aged ones, are interested in mountains and trekking. Apparently a lot of Polish climbers go to Nepal every year for mountain expeditions. Sadly, along with 3 Poles, a lot of foreign and Nepalese lives were lost in the deadly avalanche on Annapurna (10th highest peak) circuit last week.
I try my best to give the accurate description of my country as it is. I am honest about the aspects such as deep-rooted cultural superstitions and patriarchy that I despise. I once went to a Polish high school to talk about Nepal for 1 hour. In a class full of curious young Europeans, it wasn’t very easy to explain the reasons for poverty and backwardness that prevail in Nepal. But the colorful culture, food and the contrast with the Western world seemed to have engaged the attention of these young students and at the end, I was told that this was the most unique presentation they had. (Previously they had presentations about Spain, Italy, Germany etc.)
And I do think that, despite many shortcomings, Nepal is an exotic and fascinating country for culture, nature and adventure lovers.