We are not naive. We know that we are tourists, not guests. We are aware that for many people we are nothing special, that tourism is their business and that foreigners are their daily bread and butter. Not surprisingly, in all countries we have been to so far, at the tourists hotspots people were less friendly and more prone to cheat you. However, Nepal differed in two ways: where there were tourists, in general people were much more awful than anywhere else, and more important, it was a lot more difficult to escape from those areas. Whereas in China walking two blocks further is enough to get in normal and human contact, in Nepal you better cross the whole country for that.
Nepalis can be so charming, but whenever money is involved, things become complicated. And Nepalis almost always find a way to involve money. Our first guess to explain our different experiences was referring to the ubiquitous poverty. As mentioned, Nepal is among the 10 (!!!) poorest countries in the world. It still suffers from the civil war which ended in 2006. It is one of the very few countries were school is not mandatory at any age, resulting in sad levels of child labour. And just in case we forget the underdevelopment, the exhausting bus rides on terrible roads and in vehicles you can find in European museums will remind you.
That does not mean that every Nepali is poor. For instance, government imposes a 200% tax on foreign cars. Nonetheless, in Kathmandu’s chaotic traffic, you can discover many of them, implying that every 20 seconds, you see a Nepali who can afford spending more than 30 thousand Euros on a vehicle. But for most locals, we must seem incredibly rich and a great opportunity to earn a huge amount of money. We do not want to judge anybody in a desperate situation, but we do not think that this can be the only reason. We have been to other poor countries, e.g. Bolivia, which is a bit richer but still the poorest country in South-America, and there people were not like this.
But we also have seen that you always have a choice: especially annoying was the fact that, when Nepalis were friendly, it was often a calculated friendliness. To give you a typical situation, in the bus on our way to Bakhtapur, the ticket collector smiled at us and pulled faces to the music. When it came to pay the 70 Rupees, we gave him 100 but he just returned 25 Rupees. After we kindly asked him to correct the change (we do not appreciate the 5 cents so much but we appreciate sincereness), he did so rudely – and the friendliness vanished never to return. On the other hand, we also experienced the opposite. While buying a bottle of water during another bus ride, we gave the boy 25 Rupees, as 20 is the fixed price for water and the 5 Rupees were for the special service of buying in the bus. The boy looked at the money, took 5 Rupees and gave them back – and that was definitely not because he was richer than the other.
Also thanks to Tamara, we have learnt that there may be other reasons for our experiences. Mainly due to the caste-system, Nepalis are used to judge people by the color of their skin and treat them accordingly. For most of them, this is simply normal and they do not feel anything bad about it. Of course, we cannot complain about being in the wrong “caste”, but being the “tourist” makes conversation unnatural. Second, they behave not very differently among each other, for many people pure racism is part of their culture. To see how reckless they can be, consider what they call a “banda”, which happens quite often. It is often translated as “strike”, but this is not accurate. Actually, during a “banda” a certain interest group does not only refuse to work themselves, but forces EVERYONE not to work. And hires some violent gangs of thugs to beat up everyone who is outside or – according to mood – execute them. So “curfew” might still be the better word.
Further, we have heard from many people that they do not like Pakistan, Iran or even China, due to the situation of women there. Seldom such objections are risen against Nepal but for comparison, that’s how it is here: nearly all marriages are arranged, at least this is the traditional and still widely practised way in the mountains. Wedding day is a sad day, especially for the very young girls who usually see their family for the last time, because under any circumstances she has to move to the village of her spouse. Her rights are rare but her duties abundant. She has to care for her parents-in-law and for the family in general. Often, we saw women carrying dozens of kilos of stones while the men were playing cards. According to the most conservative studies, at least 80% of Nepali women are victims of domestic violence. To enable their daughters such a life as servant, the family has to pay a high marriage-portion. Therefore, daughters are considered as financial burden and Nepal is one of the very few countries where life-expectancy of women is below that of men. This is not just due to bad health-care, but also to the fact that they are not seldom neglected and die much more often than boys in early childhood.
Having said this, it could seem we do not like the country at all. This is by no means the case, quite the opposite is true, we feel pity for Nepal. We have met so many nice Nepalis and also had so many good experiences, especially at the remote areas, with young persons or people who had lived abroad. For all of them, and partly for the others, who are prone to bad behavior caused by their poverty, we really wish that things in Nepal change. That the countries enjoys economic growth, a better working democracy and above all, that they change their way to treat each other. The younger generation is usually better educated (if the parents can afford it), more open, informed and they should be the ones to change the country. But given the wide-spread corruption, the extreme population growth of 2.5% per year and the power of the Maoists, there is not much room for optimism. And sadly enough, this view is shared by the best in the country.