Perils of prejudice

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For a large number of Nepalis who have spent many years in foreign land, homecoming is more about an internal contention between many things they detest and a few things they cherish. This is nowhere more apparent than at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Holding a foreign passport and queuing for visa at immigration along with foreigners, they immediately get reconnected to the almost forgotten recollection of the country's (presupposed) chaos and unsystematic affairs. Indeed, for many, it is the same experiences of pessimism and cynicism that such haphazard state of affairs elicits that at a point drove them away from the homeland.

Their construction of what Salman Rushdie terms 'Imaginary Homeland' is the amalgamation of what they carry with them when they leave – the obscure traces of memories that are mostly about their despair with everything back home and their mental construct on the basis of  news supplied by media that rightly reinforces their beliefs. And for the 'born in the foreign land' generation, it is the homeland 'myth' supplied by their parents- the tale of sluggish bureaucracy, suffocating pollution and disordered democracy.

A few days ago, a Nepali-American teenager violently reacted to an Immigration officer when she was told to move to the next counter which was the right one. She swore at the officer using all the words, too indecent to be spelled by 'civilized' mouth. Her parents encouraged her, boasted of their daughter's American upbringing and reminded the officer that she deserved it. Together they swore at the procedure-oriented bureaucracy, the disorder, the lack of signs at the airport and left, perhaps, to return in a decade or two or never. Their prejudices kept them from reading the clear signs and acknowledge the presence of young bureaucrats who could argue with them in their language.

Airport often becomes the first point of contention for this group of people. Ironically, the officer they swore had returned after spending more than half a decade in the US. The next immigration counter had returned from Norway, and the next from South Korea. All of them had come back to embrace the disorder the 'the family' detested, acquiring the knowledge and skills of the 'orderly land' and strive from their level to do away with the disorder back home.

Scores of people who flee the country everyday in search of greener pastures have the same logic – Nepal is a hopeless place to survive. Those from the educated and well-off class wear the lenses of pessimism and fly westward; those who grew up with less or no education opportunity and/or from low economic background fly to the Gulf. Those who return from the Gulf, usually back home after toiling abroad, have their luggage tied in rope-woven trap so that things are not stolen at the airport. They wrap their suspicion about the country's system as they tight-wrap their luggage with multiple layers of plastic no matter how safe the luggage delivery at the airport has become. Tampered luggage is all that they have heard of during their stay abroad. So when they come back, it is to the same 'hopeless' place that they have at the back of their mind.

We are brought up in a culture where, by default, opinion means criticism and pessimism. For the country scarred by a decade-long insurgency, with its economy limping for decades and dependent on foreign aid and its struggle to emerge out of poverty and illiteracy, and recently pulled to rubbles by a massive earthquake and slammed by blockade, even minor positive changes should be appreciated and built upon. However, we are often inundated by the pessimism and criticisms in all the public spheres and this is what we communicate to the Nepali diaspora that relies on the 'overheard' half truths. Eventually they come back to interpret everything with the same prejudiced lens.

We cannot weigh Nepal against all the developed countries with flawless orders. We have our limitations. In fact all the struggling third world countries have. We should assess our improvement against what we had yesterday. Definitely things are better than yesterday. All we need is to pick up the sparse 'good news' available and collect them to create a bundle of optimism that is inculcated by Nepalis.

(Poudel is Immigration Officer at Tribhuvan International Airport. She tweets @aryataara)

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