GUEST POST: I’ve been living in Nepal for over a year now in the hectic city of Kathmandu alongside my partner who is Nepali and two of our dogs. As our relationship became more serious it was time for me to finally meet his family for a house pooja in the rural town of Amardaha within the Terai region. Having only visited places outside of the valley such as Pokhara and Chitwan I was extremely excited to see another part of Nepal. Yet I was also extremely nervous as I was not the same caste but I was someone of a different race! I did not know how his family would react.
I flew with Buddha Air to Biratnagar and despite their reputation, I arrived on time! This was my first glimpse of the eastern side of Nepal. As I departed the plane and just before I walked to collect my baggage I’d notice men taking photos/videos of me on their phone from above like I was an alien. Having experienced similar in India, I tried to ignore it. However, I was already a little upset as I’d just landed into an industrial city of Biratnagar, I thought surely residents had seen other foreign females before?
Next, I got an auto to my partner’s sisters’ house. I met her for the first time and it went extremely well, better than either of us had expected. We decided to stock up at Bhatbhateni with supplies like coffee, cereal and toilet roll (basic amenities) as his home was in an extremely remote place with the nearest town being 30-40 minutes bike journey away. His sister was more concerned about what I was going to eat, suggesting bread for sandwiches, prepared frozen food like french-fries and even burgers.
I shook it off, little did she know that I loved to dine on dal bhat and preferred to eat that over junk food. I declined, somehow I was already matched to the junk food filled comfort eater stereotype of a westerner. After that, we went shopping in the central mall. I needed some kurtis as I did not want to disrespect any locals in the town of Armadaha. It was all good until, when shopping I noticed middle-aged men and women start videoing me in the shop.
Yet again, I felt super uncomfortable and upset. I walked straight towards the changing rooms. I understand that in the U.K my country is very diverse in terms of ethnicity however we respect others. I was still shocked that in a city like Biratnagar I was being treated like an exotic pet. I became so frustrated with the videos/photos and calling them out that I stopped shopping.
I mean, if you’re not used to seeing a foreign female, that’s fine. But, please have manners and think carefully about how you approach her. We are humans at the end of the day, we won’t bite if we look different or are part of a different gender.
That afternoon we rode via scooter for 90 minutes reaching the remote town of Armadaha. Upon arrival into the town, people were staring at me as I assumed I may have been the first foreign female they’d seen but apparently I was the first one ever in their village!
The next few days were awkward as such. Neighbours and everyone in the village would walk into my bedroom in the morning. Just to get a look at me who they referred to as “The American”. I felt like a goldfish in a fishbowl. My hair is blonde and at one point I was even told I should have black hair as the blonde hair I have makes me look old.
I shrugged off and tried to involve myself with his family. Luckily, they all approved and welcomed me in. However, I was still a guest and restricted in participating in activities even if I tried. An example was that I tried to help out with moving housework. Straight away, they got frustrated not only due to the “guest culture” but immediately assumed I was not used to this type of labour.
I could not walk down to the local market without a family member. It wasn’t that I felt unsafe, it’s because locals would come up and just stare at me for five minutes. Some took photos as it was the first foreigner they’d seen in their life.
My experience of living in a multicultural London and quite a diverse Kathmandu did not prepare me for visiting my partners’ hometown. How do we bridge the gap so females like myself, if they visit remote regions in the future, don’t feel uncomfortable like this? Should we educate others more about other cultures to extend their world knowledge? If so, how do we do this, as we see so many of the younger generation trying to embrace western culture through social media neglecting their own beautiful Nepali culture? How do we facilitate both so females don’t feel uncomfortable and locals don’t are not in shock seeing someone of different ethnicity.