By M.R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: This is being resumed after about a month’s hiatus – time expended in visiting a few relatives outside our familiar stomping grounds of New York, Maryland and Florida.
Our peregrinations took us to Massachusetts, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas gave us a useful opportunity to acquire a realistic feel of America’s immensity and diversity. It also provided, fleetingly, an opportunity to update our understanding or appreciation of the status of the Nepali diaspora.
Having had the good fortune, over the years, of undertaking periodic sorties to this continent-sized land, in various capacities, one could not fail to note, first off, that in America the ‘Nepali population’ – so to speak – has expanded exponentially over the several decades since I first stepped on her shores.
That was in 1970 – as an invitee of the U.S. State Department, under its international visitors’ programme. Whereas, early on, it was virtually impossible to meet any visitors from Nepal, while caroming through America’s glittering cities, it is now almost impossible not to see, hear or bump into them, especially in the major population centres of the United States, be it in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., or Denver.
This time around, for example, I noticed a signboard – “the first Nepali Baptist church” – prominently displayed in a Boston suburb; later, its mayor, at a fortuitous meeting at a function at a public library, informed me of a recent meeting he had held with a group of Nepali residents.
It was also something of a revelation to see small groups of Bhutanese Nepalese (or, the Lhotshampas) in rather remote, exotic locations in the Colorado Rockies; as also to come across a young bunch of them taking in the wonders of the myriad exhibits of the museum of the iconic Gateway Arch on the banks of the mighty Mississippi at St. Louis, Missouri.
That splendiferous institution basically told the story of America’s expansion west of the Mississippi – a frontier that became available for exploration and settlement due to Thomas Jefferson’s landmark 1803 Louisiana Purchase (from France), on behalf of the United States.
This encompassed the western half of the Mississippi River basin – at less than 3 cents an acre! The purchase, incidentally, doubled the size of the United States, greatly strengthened the country materially and strategically provided a powerful impetus for western expansion and confirmed the doctrine of implied power of the federal constitution.
But, aside from the sheer ubiquity of the Nepali community, there has for sometime now been a steady expansion of their numbers in various professions, including many of the more prestigious. In the past, as you might jolly well guess, mostly they seemed to fill manual or labor-intensive jobs, including in the domestic, transportation and restaurant sectors.
Indeed, as much was underlined in Columbia, Missouri where we met a whole gaggle of Nepali professors, many of them living amicably – and very handsomely, indeed – within stone’s throw distance of one another.
Incidentally, that many Nepali expatriates are doing pretty well – professionally and socially – was nicely showcased at a Nepali oncologist’s mansion in Kansas City where he had thrown a lavish drinks and dinner party for a covey of resident Nepalese, including a new batch Nepali doctors doing research or advanced medical studies. There – quite by chance – one met a couple of acquaintances from Kathmandu.
In Denver, one met a former Nepali ambassador to China, as well as a former chief of police, (intelligence). They seemed quite comfortable with – or in – their new environment.
In any case, Nepal, no more seems an unknown quantity, as was the case for so very long; Nepali students, too, one is informed, are no longer rare species at American colleges and universities, though the numbers flowing out to Australian centres of higher learning from Nepal are reportedly much higher.
Notably and mercifully, most Nepalese I interfaced with seemed to have put the divisive issues of Nepali politics behind them and engaged, instead, in pleasanter topics for conversation.
Personally speaking, my jaunts in Colorado were nothing if not educational. From the magnificent Rockies and its captivating national parks, to the ski resort townships of Aspen and Vail – the playground of the rich and famous in the winter – to the quaint and attractive townships of Bolder, Breckenridge and Colorado Springs one acquired a sound grasp of the region’s immense tourism potential and its efficient management.
The fine quality of the mountain roads; the miles and miles of awesome granite cliffs and a plethora of mining townships, many abandoned; not to mention the heavy vehicular traffic bringing masses of visitors, local and well as out-of-state, made driving through it a rare, variegated and thrilling experience.
No wonder, then, most denizens of Denver have become robust outdoors types, planning the next hike, camping, rafting or bicycling trip – when, that is, they are not partying like there’s no tomorrow.
At Independence Pass, altitude over 12,000 ft over sea level, one met a motor-cycle adventurer from Wisconsin on his way to Alaska, traveling alone on his powerful Harley Davidson. Upon learning that we were from Nepal, he deplored the recent tragic mess made by the Nepali authorities in snarling up the Everest traffic.
No account of our recent travels would be complete without mention of the magnificent Missouri State Museum at the grand Missouri State Capitol, in Jefferson City, on a scenic cliff overlooking the Missouri River, which joins the Mississippi north of St. Louis.
It was edifying to see how meticulously Americans preserve remnants of their history – which, though not long, is recorded everywhere in loving and fulsome detail.
As a student of international relations, I was enthralled visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri where Winston Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech and where, at the Churchill Museum, his life and times magically came alive.
Truly, travel is the best education!