As I sat looking at the rain drenched runway and the line of airplanes waiting to take-off at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, I had a moment of pure ecstasy. It might have come from the music playing on my laptop, or maybe the fact that I just had a wonderful three days visiting with my uncle and aunt and some cousins, or that I had spent a day with some really good friends or the fact that I was heading to visit some more friends in Boulder, Colorado, my parents and my children in Los Angeles, and others in Seattle, all of whom I really love and enjoy spending time with. Maybe it was more general, just about visiting the US, where I was born and had spent most of my life, but also knowing that once my vacation ended, I would be returning to my home in Nepal. Whatever it was that I was feeling, it was a moment of bliss.
This is not to say that I usually feel miserable or unhappy. I do my best to remain consistent in my feelings, paying attention to my “internal life”, trying not to let the external and others greatly impact me. But I haven’t reached the status of or even come close to being someone exempt from the vagaries and challenges which life offers on a moment to moment basis.
What I’ve found during the past four years of living in India and Nepal is that I’ve had a number of moments which stand out where I can honestly say to myself, and feel, true happiness. It could be something as simple as walking from Thamel to Sanepa and photo graphing people and buildings in Kathmandu Durbar Square, or sitting in Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur, lounging in Boudha and then walking to Kopan or visiting friend’s homes and their families in a village. It might be about sitting with a diverse group of friends and thinking that, in this moment, this is the only place where I want to be, or seeing the smiles of children and adults participating in sports, seemingly not at all paying attention to the fact that they are playing in a wheelchair or are blind. This might also come from traveling on a train throughout India in order to see the richness in cultural diversity, food and dress. But the feeling might also come from not limiting myself and being on what I consider to be a “road less traveled” or being a “stranger in a strange land”, both of which fill me up to no end.
I know that it is easier living in the United States. The infrastructure is well maintained, things are very orderly and familiar, there is less pollution, garbage is almost non-existent and people genuinely seemed concerned about the environment. However, the US, although rich in a “melting pot” diversity, seems to lack the depth of culture, adventure, challenge, color, the unexpected and everything else that goes along with living and being part of a so-called “developing country”.
Nepal and India are the opposite of the United States. There is so much color, that at times it is blinding, the cultural differences provide so much stimulation that sometimes all I want to do is close my eyes and dream, the opportunities and challenges abound to the point where there is never a sense of “been there, done that”. The everyday way of shopping at open air markets and small family owned shops, where my communication skills might be limited, is so much more endearing than the large generic corporate stores, although there are more alternatives, found to be dominant in the US.
Of course both Nepal and India have infrastructure. The Delhi metro matches similar transportation systems anywhere in the world. Public transportation in both countries, very inexpensively, moves people, not in the most orderly fashion, but gets people to where they need to go. The development of new infrastructure, of which there is a lot to be completed, presents incredible opportunities for developing more accessibility, leading to further inclusion, enabling a large number of people to become productive and fully participating members of society.
Unlike the US, which is somewhat formulaic, Nepal and India, although much older cultures, have the opportunity to continue reinventing themselves, to be something new, to change the perception as to how others view “developing countries”. India with the world’s (second) largest population and “democracy”, huge resources and ideas has become a major player on the world stage. Nepal, on the other hand, is a small country, but due to its strategic location between two giants resulting in a major interest on the part of the US, has the capability to also be a world player.
Both countries have large masses of people living in poverty presenting huge opportunities for government, civil society and corporates to develop creative solutions for bringing people into the mainstream. There are major issues to overcome, such as caste, but when I think of the possibilities to come out on the other side, this creates a sense of unlimited excitement.
During the past four years my appreciation for differences has grown, leading me to knowing that I can adapt in a variety of settings. Given this, I’ve come to feel more comfortable living outside of the US with my perceptions of others forever changed.