A fake Nepali for two months.

No one could tell I was a foreigner. I simply blended in the environment and had what someone may call “an authentic experience in Nepal.” It is really hard to decide what an authentic Nepali experience would look like. Nepalis are so diverse on so many levels: Ethnically, religiously, racially and even linguistically. A country as big as my country, yet the notion of space is so different. It would be best to say that I did not have the typical tourist experience, looking a bit South Asian myself, thanks to my mom’s ancestors who are said to have come to Tunisia from Persia.

Growing up in Tunisia, a country of eleven million people, I thought that we had little space comparing to other countries like the United States. But there I was, exploring the impressive space management in Kathmandu, a city accommodating 1.5 million people in 19.09 mi² of land. I was based in Lalitpur which was 20 minutes south of Kathmandu. My apartment was not far from The Record, the independent online publication I was working for. My supervisors Supriya and Gyanu were Nepali who previously studied in the United States and decided to go back to Nepal and have an impact in their home country. In so many ways, they were both role models for me. I myself hope one day to go back to my homeland and contribute to building our country after all those decades of dictatorship. My role was simple, I helped improve the publication’s website by collaborating with the tech company who was in charge of building the website. I personally enjoyed my tasks, as I was learning so much about web development, a domain I was not familiar with.

Goodbye dinner with colleagues

When I first got to Nepal, I decided to build a routine that would help me have good physical and mental health. So, I enrolled in a gym nearby and in a drawing class! As a painter who has always encouraged me to give drawing a chance, my mom was so happy about my new hobby. “You are finally giving it a try, doesn’t it feel awesome when you recreate something!” My first month was focused on settling in and creating a healthy routine. In the process, I met so many inspiring people and made friends who taught me some Nepali and showed me how to use public transportation and pass for a local. I felt so honored to be treated like a Nepali and be thought of as part of the community. With the little Nepali I learned, I was able to convince the taxi drivers to use the meter instead of charging me tourist fees.

My very first portrait

The program in which I was enrolled, called 85 degrees east, provided a lot of guidance and made me feel at home. I met with Eve, the program manager, every weekend to discuss some readings about Nepal’s history and politics. Our conversations were so insightful and thoughtful. It was a sort of a seminar where we debated different notions and questioned the touristic experience in Nepal.

I also had the chance to go on a mountain flight with Anisha, my friend, and a current Davidson student, and get so close to Everest! Something, I have never ever dreamt of.

In the second month, my cousin visited me from France, and we both started a more touristy experience. We went to Chitwan, a city around 8 hours’ drive away from Kathmandu, where we walked in the jungle for hours, went canoeing, and met beautiful elephants, rhinos, and deer. We also visited my new friend Aunty Hira in Pokhara, a city that is around 9 hours’ drive away from the capital. There we visited a little island in the local lake, we also went paragliding: a breathtaking experience!

Saying goodbye to Nepal was so hard. My neighbors overwhelmed me with their hugs, Deepika the pharmacist downstairs visited me and offered me such beautiful souvenirs. Manju, the brilliant chef who cooked so many delicious Nepali dishes for me, helped discover Bhaktapur and embraced me with her love!