“I went to earn and learn”

Former policeman seeks his fortune in the Gulf and returns to Nepal to start a business

This is the 30th instalment of Diaspora Diaries, a regular series in Nepali Times with stories of Nepalis living and working abroad. 

For a young man like me during the Maoist era, it seemed like those of us who were staying behind in rural Nepal only had two choices: join the Armed Police Force (APF) or the Maoist militia. 

I used to be a social worker in Tanahu, collecting data on visually impaired locals and connecting them to health camps. The job was neither easy nor financially rewarding. But it was meaningful.

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However, travelling became too risky because of the conflict, and I had to stop the work. I chose to join the APF because my brother was in it.

I remember feeling out of place at the barrack. I had grown up reading and writing literature, but suddenly it was not words but bullets that I learned to use. My true passion lay in pens, not pistols. Death felt even closer when 82 APF personnel were killed in Shamsherganj in Banke, the same place where my elder brother was stationed.

This terrified my mother who would tearfully insist that we quit the police. I had just completed my training and was not enjoying this new stint. My brother, however, was too attached to the job and could not quit despite the danger. He did advise me to resign so our mother would not worry. I joined an undergraduate course, but as family responsibilities took over I decided to travel to the UAE for work as a security guard. It would be my home for the next 12 years.

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DD 30

It was a higher salary that brought me to the UAE. But soon enough, I realised it offered a lot more than just economic stability. As I often tell my friends, if you have gone to the UAE, you have travelled the world because you meet people there from all over. I remember exchanging a few words with a New Zealander who had paid AED21,000 ($520) for a ticket at a VIP booth at a Formula 1 race where I was stationed as a guard. I was shocked at the ticket rate, but was pleased with myself that I was getting paid to watch the same race while at work. 

I have been stationed at other high-profile places: guarding Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, which I had previously only read about. During New Year, I got to see great extravaganzas while on guard duty. I was focused on crowd management and ensuring people were safe, of course, but I also got to witness many historic events.

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These are neither desires nor expectations that people from simple backgrounds like me have. I was there just to earn, but I also got to learn. I gained exposure to what the world has to offer, even though I was just a poor guy in a guard uniform. I now know that no matter what corner of the world you throw me in, I will adjust and make a decent life for myself.

But I also know not everyone is as lucky in the Gulf. I landed a good employer and made up to $900 every month as my security company got contracts with the best employers. But others in my position have it much more difficult. My biggest fear was losing the job that I had, and this kept me on my toes at all times. Neither my family nor I could afford to lose the job and salary, and at my company, even a small mistake could be costly. I had bought shares in a transportation company back in Nepal. My research showed that it was a promising firm that was going to break the syndicate in the country. After leaving the UAE, I joined the company as an operations manager but soon realised the job was not for me.

I was used to order, rules and working within a system, but in Kathmandu, I found it difficult to adjust to the chaos. So I quit and sold my shares for a loss from my hard earned savings. It was literally down to my पसिनाको पैसा (savings from my sweat).

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DD 30

Back home in Chitwan, I could not stay idle for long, and I could not bear the thought of going overseas for work again either. After 12 years away, I treasured the time with my family. A little bit of research taught me that there is potential in cleaning products so I took two short-term training sessions on how to make them. 

I started a small production and supply outfit in Chitwan. YouTube is also a good place to learn for someone like me without a good background in business.

For a new company that started after Covid-19, we are doing pretty well financially, selling cleaning products for toilets, marble and glass, as well as hand liquid soap. We have 21 clients including hostels, hotels and resorts and often struggle to keep up with the rising demand.   

Read also: Adventures of a Nepali coffee aficionado, Laxmi Prasad Timilsina

I have plans to expand my company. It would be good if the government provided some support to us returnees, especially business grants or soft loans, keen on doing something in Nepal itself. 

We contributed so much to our economy during our years abroad, working silently in the desert heat, away from family and sending home money every month for over a decade. But we arrive here, and even though it is home, spend years struggling to find a footing in an environment that feels entirely new after many years away.

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Translated from an interview with the author. Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform for Nepalis to share their experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected] with 'Diaspora Diaries' in the subject line.

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