Bhaktapur / Pokhara / Kathmandu, Nepal and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 25 – March 1, 2013
The low-hanging sun and a blanket of yellow flowers conspired to set a Pokhara hillside ablaze. This field of gold, one of enchanting natural beauty, was comprised of mustard plants, their flowers looking every bit as bright as the sauce squirted on hotdogs. Miles away in Bhaktapur, the dusty, sunny valley was similarly touched by Midas. I was reminded that it took mustard seed faith for me to realize my dream of visiting Nepal, and that dream bloomed before my eyes like a mustard flower.
Bhuwan, our guide, pointed out that Nepali farmers implemented crop rotation. Each crop had its season, and it was that time of year when mustard bloomed throughout Nepal. Golden waves rippling through the valley beckoned us to stop the van and saunter off to the flower beds for photo ops. We could not help ourselves, leaving Bhuwan to explain to a perplexed farmer working the field.
Sadly, these golden fields did not always yield golden eggs. Poverty had compelled able-bodied Nepali men to try their luck overseas. While waiting for our flight out, my friends and I stuck out as the only tourists at the departure lounge of Tribhuvan International Airport. With sunglasses on top of my head and a camera around my neck, I felt out of place among crowds of Nepali migrant workers, their demeanor defined by a sense of urgency.
It was no different as we boarded our Air Asia flight. Save for my two girlfriends, the cabin looked like a men’s club. As I scanned the plane, faces etched with stark realities of life stared back at me. I could pick out some anxious looks and a few hopeful ones, perhaps of first-timers, while others seemed indifferent, perhaps resigned to a life of manual labor and loneliness. Their faces told similar stories as many of my countrymen. Most of these Nepali migrant workers fell victim to loan sharks and illegal employment agencies, then to unjust and inhumane labor practices in middle class countries such as Malaysia, Qatar, and UAE. Some would never see their homeland again.
I was seated beside two young Nepali men in fancy jackets. They fidgeted on their seats, not out of excitement of two friends going on a holiday together. I struck a conversation with the guy next to me. He introduced himself as Razzie. He and his friend would be working in either a clothes shop or a garment factory – I did not catch his words precisely – in Kuala Lumpur.
Pounding the pavement in Kuala Lumpur that night, I realized these young Nepalis were seeking their fortune in another field of gold, one made of enticing artificial light that illuminated the Petronas Towers. I shot a bullet prayer for Razzie and his fellow migrant workers. That they may find not only fortune but fairness. That they may build a new life, not end up broken. Better yet, that they may cultivate their own field of gold and not look far afield.
I rested assured in my mustard seed faith that we could bloom where we were planted.