We left London yesterday on route to Nepal. We stopped over in Doha airport where we were greeted by a pristine transit lounge packed with luxury goods and stylish if a little over-designed cafes. I stopped to drink coffee in one and couldn’t help enjoying the comfort of the large, reclining chairs, the perfectly adjusted air conditioning and the fragrant smells of cardamom and coffee. There were plenty of immaculately dressed staff ready to serve but the one that happened to come forward was a man from the plains of Nepal. He smiled as he quietly took my order. Something about him felt very familiar. I told him of my family connections with Nepal and the places I had visited there. He was amused when we discovered that I had spent time in the village where he grew up. He was young, good looking and laughed easily. The conversation moved on to the coffee he had just served me. He told me that it was made using freshly ground Arabica coffee beans and that it was stronger than European coffee. I wondered what he knew of European coffee. I was pretty sure he had never tasted any kind of coffee before coming to Qatar. I was also near certain that when the time came for him to return home, he would not miss the coffee or the pastries he served daily.
I knew enough Nepalese that had worked in Qatar to know that at some point they always returned home. They were there because it was one of the few options open to them to earn money to support their families. They lived in self-contained dormitories and did not mix much with the locals. Instead they worked hard and sent almost every penny they earned back home. Young, able-bodied men were Nepal’s biggest exports. They leave in search of work usually before marriage and then return home to marry. After marriage or after the birth of a child they leave again. Many set eyes on their children only a handful of times throughout their childhood and sometimes not at all. I wondered if the young man from the café had a wife and child or if he was saving so he could return home to find himself one. Either way Nepal was his reference.
As I boarded the plane for Kathmandu I thought about how lucky I was to be able to travel for pleasure and not because I had to. This freedom was something most of us in the West took for granted. Not that life was all bad for the Nepalese economic migrant. My Nepalese friends had many tales to tell of fun and adventure during their time working overseas. Parties and live music sessions were common and the relationships they forged during their time working overseas were formative and long lasting. The work was hard and they missed home but they sourced joy where they could. This was a habit I was still learning.