Sky is the limit for Nepali chef in Bahrain“I’ve come a long way since my days as a kitchen help but mine is a story about separation and sacrifices.”
This is the 47th instalment of Diaspora Diaries, a regular series in Nepali Times with stories of Nepalis living and working abroad.
When I first went overseas in 2005 as a kitchen help to Bahrain, I had just one goal: to save Rs200,000 so I could return to Nepal and start a small business like a cold store.
Nearly 20 years later, I am still overseas. The years have just flown by.
When I had first started applying to migrate for work, I got rejected in many interviews because of my poor English. I was close to giving up, but instead enrolled myself for language training.
And it paid off. I was the last interviewee in a recruitment drive for a Bahrain-based job, but got selected.
When I first saw the vacancy in the newspaper, I did not know where Bahrain was. I had heard of Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but not Bahrain.
After a few years there, I did manage to save my first two lakhs, but then I wanted the next two. And so it went on. As we work and earn, our dreams grow. And there are no limits to our dreams.
You buy land back in Nepal, and after some time overseas, manage to build a one-storied house. You build the first storey, and then think why not add another floor. Once the house is done, it’s time to start thinking about the children’s future. There is no end, really.
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My starting salary in Bahrain was Rs12,000. Now I am a chef earning over 33 times the amount. My specialisation is in French and Italian cuisine at a high end restaurant but with an Arabic twist for the palate of our customers. I manage over 35 kitchen staff from Asia and Africa.
At peak hours, the kitchen can get quite chaotic and loud, but I am also at my best under pressure and try to create a fun environment for my team.
My base is in Bahrain, but I am currently in Saudi Arabia temporarily setting up a new outlet for the same employer. One of the reasons for my involvement in the Saudi outlet is that many of the new staff are from Nepal so my employer figured it would be easier for me to train and motivate them.
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Before leaving Nepal, I dreamed of joining the army but it got complicated when I used to get questioned in my village, including from my friends who had joined the Maoists. They gave me a hard time.
I lied at a canteen that I had prior experience working in restaurants. I kept making mistakes and did not even know how to cut vegetables the right way. I used to say “this is how we used to do it at my old restaurant” and cut carrots without peeling them or putting random spices in noodles. I got away with it. My first mentor in one of the restaurants was a Dubai returnee who trained me.
In my years away, I have come home twice intending to stay. My sacrifices and effort working night and day has earned me the trust of my employers so I could tell them that I will go home, try out something and if it does not work out, I will return.
And I did return, and they welcomed me back. When you prove yourself at work and build good relationships, doors remain open.
Switching jobs also improves your bargaining power and employment benefits, either by your original employer who will match the new offer or the new employer who will try to attract you with better benefits. I have jumped from Bahrain to Qatar and back to Bahrain over the years, and these added to the benefits.
Despite what I have achieved, I know that I have missed out a lot in life by being away. True happiness is at home, where my family is. That will never change, no matter how much time I spend away.
I first left Nepal when my wife was pregnant with my eldest daughter. It was a time when photos were exchanged over letters and phone calls were expensive and difficult to arrange. I wasn’t there to hold my wife’s hand during those months.
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I made up for it partially when my son was born eight years later. I could at least go home for the delivery. My daughter will go abroad for her education when she finishes high school next year. By the time I return to Nepal, she will have left to pursue her own dreams. Once she is abroad, I will pass on the baton to her and she will help bring her younger brother to wherever she is.
That a family like mine can dream of sending children for overseas education is a testament of our sacrifices. But then you miss all important milestones in life.
I could have brought my family to Bahrain but my work schedule is so busy that I would not be able to give them enough time.
I have come a long way since my days as a kitchen help. But if someone were to make a movie of my life, it wouldn’t be of my professional journey but rather a story about separation and sacrifices. About not being able to give my family the quality time they deserved.
Ours is a generation of sacrifices. And we were born at a time and in a country where it feels impossible to balance time with family with earning money. There are festivals that you miss because you are away from home. But there are also times when work keeps you so busy that you even forget that it is Dasain back home.
Many Nepalis have done well across the Gulf including in the hospitality sector by proving themselves with their hard work and loyalty despite not having formal education or language skills.
Youth these days have it a lot easier, young Nepalis are better educated and have English. But it is your skills, work experience and performance at work that matters most. As an interviewer who is involved in recruitment drives now, I have learnt to look beyond English skills or CVs to identify genuinely hard-working people eager to learn and grow.
Many newcomers these days are in a rush for overnight success and promotions and get easily disheartened, but it is a process, a journey. With luck, hard work, and patience success will come.
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I do not think my story is that remarkable. I am a simple Nepali who worked hard and made personal sacrifices, and things fell into place. I was good at grabbing opportunities that came my way. I think that most people who stick to their craft continuously for years will eventually get good at it.
Everything might not work out as we plan or hope, but something or other inevitably will. That is my mantra, to give it my all without worrying too much about results. In fact, I try not to worry about anything at all.
Translated from a conversation with the author. Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform to share experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected] with Diaspora Diaries in the subject line.