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Parshu Visits The U.S.

November 11, 2013

in Other Travel, Philanthropy

me and parshu twin peaks

Part of our philosophy at Changing Lives Nepal is to find highly motivated and effective local individuals and support them in their efforts to create change in their own communities because they are committed for the long-term and are best positioned to have a profound and positive impact. After 13 years of working with Parshu Dahal, one of our program directors in Nepal, we invited him to the US for a 3-week exposure visit to learn more about organic farming, to present his work, and to hopefully be inspired with all sorts of new ideas!

When Parshu landed in San Francisco, one of the first things that struck him was that there were more cars than people on the streets.  “Who do all these cars belong to? Where is everyone?” he asked in uncomprehending surprise. The whole first day, he marveled at the number of parked cars lining the streets and the few people on the sidewalks–a level of calm and order so familiar to me that I had only ever thought how Kathmandu’s streets are teeming with life, not how the U.S. streets are relatively empty. Parshu asked me more than once if he could really drink the tap water, and he immediately wanted his photo taken standing in front of a 20-story building. As I took the picture, I assured him we’d go downtown to the skyscrapers in a few days…and to see the ocean for the first time!

Together in California, we visited urban rooftop gardens, organic farms, organic almond orchards, beekeepers, and much more! Parshu stayed in San Francisco for a week with me, visited Nancy in Tahoe for a week, and then he and I traveled through central and northern California on a farm tour. We attended a friend’s wedding, and drove home along the California coast. Parshu also gave talks at the University of San Francisco, UC Davis, Sierra Nevada College, and Parasol Foundation to share his work.

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The trip proved to be a great balance of sharing and of learning. Parshu talked with agricultural specialists about how he thought seed suppliers were like drug dealers—giving away their product to get you hooked so you then have to buy it. He offered first-hand examples of the problems this had created for farmers in Nepal. He talked about how technology is implemented in the developing world, sometimes effectively and sometimes not. He asked questions about every aspect of almond production (our newest cash crop in Nepal) and about the yield of farms. Parshu also tried driving a car for the first time, attended a wedding, ate Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean food happily (because they all involve RICE), suffered through sandwiches and pasta, and pretty much refused salads. He immediately liked good beer—and we have a lot of that around here.

For a rather quiet, academic man from a traditional culture, I think the whole experience of travel was somewhat of a shock. One thing I learned is how much I take for granted the whole notion of travel—that I am going to be out of my element, uncomfortable at times, eat strange things, understand about 20% of what is being said, and occasionally long for my own bed…and that I readily accept all of this for the inspiration, learning, and excitement that comes with it. I know all of this going into any trip, and I didn’t ever think too much about it–until I watched Parshu go through it. He didn’t know what was coming when he got on that plane, and he hadn’t already accepted the idea of being uncomfortable in exchange for the experience.

Parshu certainly knew at some level that this culture would be different, but he was genuinely surprised by how different it is. He told me that he expected the buildings to be bigger and nicer and the people to look different but he didn’t have any idea how completely different things would be here–from spacious sidewalks, to people kissing in public (he noticed we Americans do a lot of that), to informal social norms (like my cooking dinner with friends–instead of the host cooking everything). People (women!) kept hugging him, which he and I would joke about in private, but which I knew was terribly awkward for him nonetheless. Welcome to California–I figured it was all part of the cultural experience, and while I did some things to set him at ease, I also just let him exist in this awkwardly different place.

me and parshu on the coast

Parshu went on to visit his brother in Texas for a few weeks and a friend in Georgia. I think it was a relief for him to suddenly talk Nepali most of the day, eat dal bhaat twice a day, and not have to be quite so deeply immersed in American culture. I’m pretty sure no stranger hugged him for the rest of the trip.

Out of this experience has already come new project ideas (coming soon: urban rooftop gardens), new relationships for technical support, and a heightened world view that I’m confident will strengthen Parshu’s ability to develop programs, find outside funding, and build his vision of economic development through organic cash crops in Nepal.

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