What happens when a Nepali teenager who has lived her earlier lives in Nepal goes to a foreign land.

It feels so long ago when on 31st December, 2010, I was fidgeting with my lucky necklace – yes I wore it for just that occasion – while I waited for the American VISA official to declare my verdict. After examining my file for what seemed like eternity, he looked up and smiled and said “You are qualified to get your VISA.”, and I was so excited I wished him “Happy New Year!” and ran out the embassy to my dad who had been waiting outside all morning. Then started two weeks of shopping and packing and repacking and meeting everyone I knew to say my goodbyes. With all the commotion, I didn’t ever get time to think about how it would be like to live away from everyone I had known on the other side of the world.


I was going to study in America, to get my Bachelor’s Degree, to be away from home for at least 4 years. I, who had never stayed away from home for more than a sleepover. Of course, there was a tearful farewell. As I walked into the Departures area at the airport and turned to wave goodbye at my family and friends who had come to see me off, I felt a turmoil of emotions: sadness, excitement and panic. I was walking away from a world where I was comfortable to one where I had to take care of myself and not just run to my parents for help. It was a scary yet a thrilling thought.


How can I forget traveling for 30 hours straight to get to Santa Fe – where St. John’s College is – and sitting all alone in an uncomfortable airport plastic chair for hours during transit? One particular incident I remember vividly: my port of entry to America was in Washington, and when I landed there, I took a moment to marvel at this special moment. I was in America! While I was so awestruck at the thought, one of the foreigners – yes, for me they are the foreigners, not me! – passing by stopped and said “Oh are you from Bombay?” Oh god.
Santa Fe, people here tell me, is a place really different from the rest of America, more of an artsy tourist town. My college is surrounded by hills and has a pleasant climate, and it reminds me of home. Somehow I expected America to be very different from Nepal. I can’t explain what I was expecting, but I always got excited about Pepsi, or curry powder or geraniums in the windowsills. Well, I got excited about everything. There were so many things here that I hadn’t seen or used in Nepal. I was excited about vending machines, which I hadn’t seen a lot of and never used. My new friends were highly amused about my fascination with snow. I was highly amused by everyone being so passionate about the Super Bowl.


And the food! It was fun to discover new foods or taste ones that I’d heard of. My friends would bring me their favorite snacks just to see me sample things that they were used to for the first time and see my always-enthusiastic reaction. I discovered my love for Doritos and Starbursts and tacos and mashed potatoes and broccoli soup of all things, and my hatred for celery and Dr. Pepper. I went to McDonalds for the first time and was surprisingly underwhelmed. I was overjoyed to see cucumbers in the Salad Bar, which I somehow believed could be found only in Nepal, and was horrified at the sad, frozen “mangoes” they also served, which I believe can be grown properly only in South Asia. My taste buds were puzzled by pickles and Pepper jack cheese. I had mixed feelings about the abundance of cheese here, because I love cheese and I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself.

 

Remember how they say you’ll gain weight in America? I got to experience that firsthand. Oh the joy. There are just too many snacks and junk food to choose from here, and the serving portions are ginormous. And as a foodie, I have suffered much temptation and much defeat.
Of course, nothing compares to Nepali food. There is no day in which I don’t pine for momos or chowmein or even saag. I miss sukuti, aloo tama, daal bhat tarkari. I miss my mom’s delicious chicken. I miss Wai Wai! Ramen noodles come nowhere close. The cafeteria serves lentil “soup”, or “fried” lentils, or jasmine rice with potato curry and they make me despair. But my friends took me to an Indian restaurant for my birthday and my taste buds’ happiness was restored with spicy currylicious food and kulfi and lalmohans. And the few Nepalis there are in college – there are five of us, and together we are the Nepali family – get together often to talk in as much Nepali as we want and cook delicious rice and chicken.
Last but not the least, the people here – how can I describe them? They have such different points of views, so different from that of Nepal. I have found them more friendly and approachable and more ready to smile at you. But people are more individualistic and independent here, which is hard to deal with a person who is used to living in a community where it is good manners to think of others first and looking out for each other. But in general they seem very liberal and friendly and fun to hang out and do crazy funny things with, and very accommodating. After all, there are a lot of international students in my college and they have welcomed us all, even if we love to tease them by talking in our native languages in front of them to make them think we were gossiping about them. Random, slightly relevant fact: only once I came here and met Pakistani and Indian friends did I realize how fluent I was in Hindi.


Of course, my American friends are as curious about Nepal and myself as I am of their world. Boasting about my culture is always fun to do (“Living goddesses? Ten-headed demons and elephant gods, you say? Whoa!”). And there is always that inevitable question that they delight to ask, “Have you climbed Mount Everest?” And I invariably reply, “Of course! I climb it ten times a day; it’s in my backyard!”