Diaspora Diaries 2
I am not sure where to start telling you the story of the journey of my life.
I come from a very simple family. My father’s job as a court messenger was to deliver legal letters and messages. His salary was not enough to support our family, so in 1994 he went to Saudi Arabia where he found a job as a gardener, working outdoor in the desert heat.
We communicated in letters and if we did not hear from him for over two months, my mother would start crying. The letters my siblings and I wrote to him were formal, in a style they taught us in school. They all started with ‘Sri Pujaniya Baba, Shastang Dandawat’ (Respected father, I bow to you).
In all his letters over the years, my father reminded us to do well in school. One of them said:
“If I had studied, I would not have had to work here as a gardener. Even in Saudi Arabia, I would have got a much better job. I would have had opportunities for promotion. But there are no promotions for gardeners like me. This is why it is important that you study. I am working here to enable you to study hard.”
When my father turned 50, I decided it was time to bring him back from Saudi Arabia. He had worked very hard for ten years, and it was my turn to step up.
My father came back, passed on the foreign employment baton to me. In 2004, I left for Kuwait to work as a security guard. The heat was oppressive and the work was not easy. Over a dozen of my colleagues went back to Nepal one by one, either because they were caught sleeping during duty hours and got laid off, or because they just could not bear the heat.
I stayed on, determined to keep working no matter how difficult it got. I was promoted many times in the past 17 years from Shift Supervisor to Patrolling Supervisor to Operation Supervisor. Then I became the Assistant Operation Manager, Operation Manager and I am now the Assistant Managing Director.
I grew up delivering newspapers around Pokhara starting at 3AM on a rusty, donated bike for Rs1,000 Rupees a month. I used to be drenched in sweat and dizzy during my 12 hour shifts as a security guard when I first arrived in Kuwait.
The odds were stacked against me. I would have laughed if someone had told me I would have the position I am holding today. But it wasn’t my education that helped me rise up the ranks. Little things like my English skills, integrity and work ethics did.
Foreign employment worked for me. It gave me a platform. When we aspire to go overseas, we go after manpower agents. We plead with them to connect us with jobs, we call or message them desperately. But the minute we get on the plane, we start scolding them.
If I met the manpower company owner who sent me to Kuwait, I would actually thank him. My success has meant that I have been able to lift my family back in Nepal out of poverty.
I have brought my brother-in-law and his son also to Kuwait for jobs. I have connected people from my village to well-paying work here. My financial strength has spillover effects on those associated with me.
Read also: In the mind of Nepali migrant workers, Upasana Khadka
Was it the Nepal government that helped me? No. It was the recruitment agency that gave me this opportunity. They get all the blame, but never the credit for success stories like mine.
Of course, they deserve to be punished when they cheat workers, especially when they promise the wrong job or pay. But it is also true that they have done more for many than what the government ever did.
My father’s experience in Saudi Arabia ensured that our family had enough to eat and our basic needs were met, even though we had no savings. My Kuwait experience elevated my family even more. All because of foreign employment.
Luck was on my side, I realise that. There are many like me who have done well. But I must say that a large majority of Nepalis come here and leave without making much progress in their salaries or positions.
Hard work is key. So is having a vision and proper planning so you have specific goals to strive towards. Many of us do not get that kind of guidance so we do not know how to make use of available opportunities.
Soft skills like computers and English proficiency are critical to make use of available opportunities of which there are plenty but not well exploited by Nepalis. How do we inculcate that drive to keep learning and bettering ourselves so we are given opportunities to rise?
Read also: The year of migrant workers, Editorial
I started as a security guard but I relied on people around me to help me learn how to use a computer. I still remember shouting with joy when I typed a paragraph in a Word document and my colleague got it printed.
I have started getting comfortable with this lifestyle. After being stuck in Nepal for 8 months during the Covid-19 pandemic, I have changed my mind about returning anytime soon. I explored opportunities in the hotel and restaurant line back home but was unable to muster the courage to make an investment and start something on my own.
For me, foreign employment is a secure option. I have seen many friends who returned to Nepal for good, used up all their savings in some unsuccessful venture and came right back to Kuwait. After so many years away, we do not have the network, contextual knowledge or the ability to deal with the corruption that defines every aspect of life in Nepal. The idea that honest work can help us succeed in Nepal feels a bit far-fetched at the moment.
Of course you miss the little things like taking your children to school or playing with them. But having experienced both being the son of a migrant as well as a migrant father, I can say the situation is much better now for transnational parenting.
When I was a boy, the postman used to come every Thursday as we waited for our father’s letters. Sometimes the letters would be stuck somewhere and we would receive all six on the same day after six months of radio silence and panic. Now I see my children every few months in person and talk to them every day.
Despite being away from Nepal, I feel like I can contribute more from here than if I were back home. Whether during earthquake or Covid-19, we have sent a lot of support to Nepal including oxygen cylinders.
There are many Nepalis who require help in the Gulf region, and I find myself spending a good chunk of my salary and time every month helping them. I am lucky that I can do that. I often get sentimental when I go back to my apartment after dealing with people who need help. I write poetry to get the weight off my chest.
What was most distressing was having to walk out of Kathmandu airport once behind men who were pushing two coffins in luggage trolleys. The bodies had been repatriated in the same flight as mine. Later, I composed these lines:
घर गाउँमा रुवाबासि पिर पठाएछ,
सम्झनालाई अन्तिम चिनो तस्विर पठाएछ॥
खुशि बोकी घर फिर्छु भन्थ्यो परदेशीले,
कठै! आज बाकसभित्र शरिर पठाएछ॥
He said he would come home and bring joy,
But he brought back tears and grief.
He sent a photograph as a parting gift.
Alas! He sent his own body home in a box.
That, too, is foreign employment.
One of my favourite memories is when I brought my father to Kuwait in 2018. He came to my office and sat with pride behind my desk. He told me all those years of toil in Saudi Arabia had been well worth it.
What I have achieved in my life is in large part due to the motivating letters our father wrote to us from Saudi Arabia. He sacrificed his life for us. We lost him last year, and I miss him every day.
Translated from a conversation with Hom Nath Giri in Kuwait. 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.
Diaspora Diaries 1, Nepali Times
The Days of International Migration, Editorial