One thing is for sure. There isn’t the same work ethic here in Nepal as there is back in the US. It’s difficult to understand. When the third carpet installer came to put carpet in yet another apartment for me, I thought I was finally prepared to deal with the Nepali worker. When I asked how much it would take to get the man to do a ‘really good job’ no one could say. I offered 500 NRs. if the man did a good job. It was horrible! As the man was leaving he held out his hand for that 500 rupee tip. I simply asked him, “Do you think you did a really good job?” He just turned around and left. In reality, he would have been home much sooner if he had just taken a little pride in his work. I have to admit I was like a crazy person following behind him and actually playing ‘supervisor’ for work I have never done and don’t even know how to do.
Then I started looking at the labor situation here in Nepal. Perhaps I found a little understanding under all the frustration. I see the workers working so hard for so little, I can understand how they could become discouraged.
I see the very hardworking, unappreciated Nepali worker who struggles with little training and few tools. Painters and curtain hangers, for example, do not have step ladders. They need to rely on the customers’ chair or table. I can look out my window and see people cutting wheat with simple hand tools and as I walk to the old city I can see people working so hard thrashing the wheat like it’s been done for thousands of years, no tools at all. I am amazed at house painters and construction workers that climb up barefoot on bamboo ladders, trekking porters wearing flip flops on the trekking trail and the entire society functions without a welfare or social security system of any kind.
Then, they show up drunk and take as long as they possibly can to complete a job if you promise per day pay. I even had a man work as slowly as he could and finally fell off the table he was working on. I took him to the hospital and stayed with him only to learn that he was actually drunk and hadn’t eaten all day.
They smile and you think they are being friendly, which may very well be true. But it becomes obvious at some point that they are only happy because one of those money trees just walked into their life. There doesn’t seem to be any social taboos associated with lying to a tourist. How can it be wrong when there is nothing they can possibly do to harm us. We have so much money we could never run out, so any lie is just harmless and therefore cannot be wrong. From my prospective, that is the belief that allows them to lie and cheat anyone that’s fairer skinned then they are. It just doesn’t seem wrong to them.
So how do we come to terms with this dichotomy? I love Nepal and the Nepali people. I respect them and their culture. I enjoy sharing their country with them. I feel a bit maternal about it at times and maybe that’s what is at the root of this dilemma for me.
People are the same everywhere. We justify our actions after the fact. We excuse ourselves as if it is we who are in charge of making up the rules. I do believe it to be true that it is them, the Nepali, who gets to make up the rules on this part of the planet. These rules have been in place for a very long time.
Now I have found some honest people to help me. I have an assistant that I’ve seen refuse what isn’t his and I know people enthusiastic about working to help Nepal. I know many people here are just discouraged. Giving them the confidence that there will be enough is difficult. I know the underlying beliefs are that there isn’t enough and life is hard. Both of these beliefs are difficult to overcome because the evidence to the contrary can be so clear. But, for many, they can see opportunities in Nepal for a better life and a middle class is emerging. I feel confident that things are only improving in Nepal. I love living here and actually respect the Nepali workers. How they get up in the morning to do a day’s work for an hour’s pay is beyond me. I guess that is the reason they move so slow.
No, it isn’t America. It’s so different in so many ways, lovely ways and some not so lovely ways. But it’s great if you know what to expect. If I wanted it to be America I would simply go back home. So I enjoy many of the differences and tolerate the others. Life here is amazing when I slow down enough to actually enjoy it.
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It is truly an honor to have Amanda write this as part of the HoboTraveler.com network of Expat sites, 100 great places on the planet to go hangout. I have been to Kathmandu a few times and miss people and culture, I need to return.
Andy Lee Graham CEO / Editor
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