Print Edition - 2015-03-15  |  Free the Words

Taste of freedom

  • Nepalis have a lot to be thankful even while comparing their lives with people in the West
- NIKLAUS SALZMANN
Taste of freedom

Mar 14, 2015-

It has been two months since my internship at The Post came to an end and I returned to my home country, Switzerland. I enjoy drinking tap water, taking a hot shower, running electrical devices whenever I want, and having my insurance pay back 90 percent of the expenses incurred for my son’s broken leg at the Ciwec Clinic back in Kathmandu. In general, life is quite convenient back here.

Still, I don’t know if I and my fellow citizens are happier in Switzerland than people in Nepal. I won’t even try to answer this question, neither in general nor personally, but there’s one thing I know for sure: I miss Nepal. So let me just tell you some reasons that made me enjoy my stay in Nepal.

Food and the sun

For one, there is a simple physical need: food. And I mean: fresh food. My wife and I, we enjoy preparing food, we cook every day and bake bread once or twice every week. But still, most bread consumed in Switzerland is bought in the supermarket and produced on the production line of a huge industrial bakery whose quality is never up to homemade bread mark. On the other hand, I daresay each roti I had in Nepal was handmade and usually prepared right before it was served—pure freshness. The same goes with other food. You simply cannot compare freshly prepared momos to canned ravioli. And if you ever want to eat handmade ravioli in Switzerland, you will have to go to quite an expensive restaurant. Pasta, we buy packed in plastic. While in Bouddha, I had the thukpa manufactured right before my eyes. Most Swiss restaurants that have mashed potatoes on their menu never mash a potato but instead just mix potato flakes from industrial production with some milk and salt. Freshly prepared handmade food in Switzerland is an expensive luxury. A luxury, which is so self-evident in even the most remote areas of Nepal that most people never think of it, it is just natural.

Another even more natural thing that you have and I miss is sunlight and its warmth. We do have heaters in every house and even in the trains, but still while I write these lines, it is well below zero outside, snow covers the ground and it’s getting dark even at around six. That’s why you hear us complain about the weather all the time and many Swiss people head south for their holiday. Well, even if you probably think of Switzerland as part of the west, it is also situated much further to the north than Nepal, about twice as far from the equator. The rain (or snow), fog and short days account for many suicides in Switzerland, which occur more often in winter than in summer. The same goes for many other western countries. Again and again, I heard foreigners in Nepal raving over the climate and sun in your country.

I feel free

While this is a natural advantage of your country, there are other aspects rooted in society. In the first days after my arrival in Switzerland, my diary was filling up rapidly. If I want to meet a friend, we both have to check our diaries and then hopefully, find a mere hour next week or the week after that. In Nepal on the other hand, when I went to interview people, they always found time not only to answer my questions but also to drink tea with me. It might have had to do with my personal situation in Nepal too, knowing less people, not playing in a band, not having swimming lessons with my boy. But all in all, I had the impression that people in Nepal (including westerners living there) tend to take just the time needed for everything they do instead of doing everything as fast as possible. And this is certainly a much more healthier lifestyle, both for your mind and body.

Finally, let me mention one more non-physical good: freedom. I am well aware that I enjoy certain types of freedom you don’t have, mostly to do with the social and economic situation of my country. I can travel abroad, choose between many professions and choose to marry whomever I want. But then there are those little freedoms in daily life I miss very much. Flying to Pokhara on three seats with my four-person-family. Taking them on a ride in one scooter for which I don’t even have a valid licence. Having my boy sit on my lap on the front seat of a taxi. Buying cheap copies of the newest Hollywood movies on DVD.

For some westerners, freedom is even their reason to stay in Nepal for good. When I wrote an article about Europeans working as entrepreneurs in the food industry in Nepal, I spoke to a French cheese-maker François Driard. He told me, he could never have opened up a cheese factory in France as he would have had to take several years of training before being allowed to sell cheese. ‘Liberté’ is part of the national motto for France. However, this Frenchman finds much more liberty in Nepal. From a European point of view, Nepal is a land of unlimited opportunities. Of course, some of those opportunities are linked to having financial means. On the other hand, the lack of regulations in some sectors also opens up opportunities for poorer people. For instance, a taxi driver in Nepal can ride his car until it breaks down instead of having it taken off the streets by some official as soon as there are some rust stains. In a country like Switzerland, we have innumerable rules aimed at granting security at the expense of our individual freedom.

Take time, enjoy

Therefore, my final advice for all those people who have a faint dream or even plans to make it to the west: Take your family on a ride on your scooter, don’t hurry, enjoy the sun, have some fresh handmade momos. These are things you can’t do in many western countries, including in  Switzerland. And you might even as well make plans for opening up a business in Nepal—it’s certainly easier than in the west.

Salzmann is a Swiss journalist who interned for The Post in autumn 2014

Published: 15-03-2015 08:46

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