Travelog | Nepalis abroad are well-informed, angry and frustrated with politics back home

Rarely do the political actors in Nepal talk about the welfare of Nepalis living and working in foreign countries. Rarely does the subject of migrant workers become the election agenda.

Mahabir Paudyal

  • Read Time 6 min.

I would probably not have written this if these were no election times in Nepal. The election is at the doorstep. The same leaders from the same political parties which promised to transform this nation economically for decades and who failed to do anything substantive for those decades are again competing to promise the people that things will be different henceforward if they are elected again. Few independent candidates who made it to the top during the local elections have either failed to keep their momentum or they are slackening.  Hope is disappearing. Nepalis are angry, frustrated, at home and abroad.

If you travel outside the country and meet Nepalis working in foreign lands, who are sending their hard-earned money home to their families and thus making a greater contribution to Nepal, you probably understand what I mean.

During my trip to Helsinki in Finland in mid-October, I had to stop in some places along the way by necessity and all Nepalis I spoke to had only anger to express against how the politicians are running this country. 

In Doha, Qatar, you bump into a Nepali worker  in every single corner. If you call somebody in Nepali or ask for flight information in Nepali, you would probably be given a response in Nepali 90 out of 100 times. 

If politics has to be about accountability, good governance and development Nepali politicians will  also have to listen to the large majority of Nepalis working abroad and sustaining the livelihood and economy of the country.

 It is here that, if you have more transit time and talk to them, you would hear the voices of rage against the political leaders. “If they were honest, if they cared a little bit about us struggling in foreign land, we would not be working  here for half a thousand dollars per month,” a worker, who said he was originally from Baglung, fumed when I initiated the conversation. So that he would not mistake me for a political cadre, I agreed with whatever he said. “Ho ni (you are right),” I said.  “They have not done anything good for the people like us.”

“As long as the current crop of leaders rule, nothing good will come about in Nepal. It’s no good returning home,” another youth, who said he was from Bara, told me. “First there is no job, then even if you have one, you cannot provide for the health and education of your children and livelihood of your family with what you earn.”  I nodded.

Then there was a man who has been living and working in Madrid for the last 33 years. “Thirty three years!” I exclaimed. “Yes, thirty three years.  I, along with my family, live there. I come to Nepal every year to meet my ailing parents whom I would not be able to take to Madrid or who would not agree to come along with me.” 

This middle-aged man from Gorkha said every time he comes to Nepal he comes with a plan to do something in Nepal and not return to Madrid. “I come home with the thought that I would not return to Spain but then I stay here in Nepal for a month or two and my hope turns to complete despair,” he said.  “The same old way of dirty politicking, the same inflation, the same lack of rule of law and the corrupt system and the same lack of service delivery. Then I get sick about my own country. I begin to feel suffocated.”

Back to Madrid, he begins to miss home and then he returns in a couple of years and the same story repeats.

You only have to shed your inhibition, give up your attitude and be able to see the Nepalis as your brothers and talk to them. They will open their hearts to you.   Probably they will share with you their sorrows and frustrations because they have not been able to do so with anyone for a long time.

These brothers from Baglung, Bara and Gorkha would probably share more of their stories with me if I had more time to listen to them. I would get to understand the Nepal view of these migrant workers but I had to catch a flight to Helsinki.

By chance, I met a youth in Helsinki airport.  We were at the baggage claim zone and I overheard him talking to his friend in Nepali.  “Tapain etai basnu hunchha ho (do you live here in Helsinki)?” I asked.  “Ho, tapain pani etai ho (yes, you also live here)?” He asked. I explained that I was in Helsinki only for a couple of days to participate in a program related to Finnish education system and that I was a teacher and a journalist.  His generosity: “So, who will come to pick you? Where are you staying? I will give you a ride up to your hotel or you can come to my place.”

Saroj (by then we had exchanged our introductions, he was Saroj Giri from Chitwan) took my number. The next day, it was raining bringing chills to an already cold city. It would be Saroj, accompanied by his friend Susmita, to come up to my hotel and give me company, and have lunch with me despite their busy schedule. 

Saroj and Susmita have been living, studying and working in Finland for quite a long time. They, whom I had met only that day, gave me such hospitality as if I were their own long lost brother. They told me to contact them if I needed something, or if any trouble befell me during my stay, if I ran out of money or something. These reassuring words were a help in itself.

If this is the Nepali spirit, my country is safe, I thought.

Like the Nepali brothers in Doha airport, Saroj and Susmita too follow politics back home closely and are angry. “They [politicians] have ruined our beautiful country. Who would return to Nepal, when everything is going downhill?”

The biggest sense of Nepalipan (Nepaliness) I felt was when I was returning home. I had a very short transit time in Frankfurt airport (just an hour to be honest).  By the time I landed there I was already ten minutes short of my transit time. The fear that I could miss the connecting flight to Doha (therefrom to Kathmandu) drove me desperate.  But Frankfurt airport is not like Doha airport.  You do not get airport staff to ask for information every here and there. I was beginning to miss my flight and I was running to find my gate number. When I found where I had to go the queue was too long.  

My flight time was almost approaching. I then began to go hopeless (if I missed that flight I would probably be wasting one more day). Then I saw a man with tuppi, tufts of hair, who incidentally was the airport staff too. “Tapain Nepali ho (are you a Nepali)?” I asked. He said yes. Then I told him of my situation. “I will do whatever I can for you, whether you will be able to catch your flight is totally up to your luck.” Then he  sent me to the queue of business class  passengers so that I would be able to cross the immigration desk faster.  

When I reached my gate number, the crew was still waiting. The plane flew five moments after I boarded.

If this man with tuppi was not there to help me I would miss the flight. I don’t know what he would say if I could talk to him about politics in Nepal.  He would probably share the same sense of frustration like other Nepalis had shared. 

Rarely do the political actors in Nepal talk about the welfare of Nepalis living and working in foreign countries and sending their money home to sustain their wellbeing. Rarely does the subject of migrant workers become the election agenda in Nepal.  Despite promises now and again, they have failed to make legal arrangements for Nepalis abroad, many of whom have a better sense of judgment, to vote

But the political parties should not ignore this sizable population, over two million according to the 2021 census report but this is said to be a big undercount, who are winning bread for this country. How long it will take for the political parties in Nepal to realize this is anyone’s guess.  But if politics is ever to be about accountability, good governance, service delivery and development they will have to take into account not only what the people at home are saying and thinking but also about a large majority of Nepalis working abroad and sustaining the livelihood and economy of the country back home, many of whom would return to the homeland if politics here were about people and their welfare. 

They are watching what is happening here. They are angry and frustrated with politicians but they have a deep sense of respect for their home and Nepali people.