03 December 2012

Some Nepali Advice on Changing the World

Social customs in South Asia can be baffling. When I arrived here to Kathmandu a couple of nights ago I strolled into the lobby of the Siesta guesthouse and after chatting for a few minutes I asked for my room key. This request was met with admonitions to "sit down. You take rest. You take tea? Nepali tea?"

"Taking tea"is a huge part of Nepali daily life. No social interaction or business transaction can occur without hot steaming cups of masala chai, a delicious blend of milk, black tea, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. It tastes like magic and Christmas and I can literally drink pots of it each day. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by hotel staff and trekking guides, all of us taking tea and chatting. For all intents and pu
rposes, my room key was a thousand miles away.

Paul stood out, but not by stature. He stands a mere 4 foot 10, but he makes up for this in charisma.  A member of the Gurkha caste, he hails from a small village at 3500 metres, but has made a life for himself both in Kathmandu and in Melbourne. He lives in Australia for half the year, where he owns an adventure travel company that arranges trekking trips to Nepal. After we talked for about an hour he offered to take me out for beers in Thamel, and I gladly obliged.  

Over an Everest beer (for me) a banana lassi (for him) and some chili chicken (the favourite Nepali non-veg snack) we talked about meditation, volunteering and cultural differences. I was struck with awe at all that Paul has been able to achieve in international business, despite his parochial childhood high in the Himalayas. He started as a porter at the age of 14, yet he managed to escape the fate of most crippling fate of career sherpas. He learned to speak English and became a guide, and he has summitted Everest twice. Twice!  

After guiding professionally he founded a small trekking company based in Kathmandu and as the word of mouth spread and his booking increased he decided that in order to take his business to the next level he needed to go international. He knew that the big money - the big mark ups - come when people book their treks from the West, and so he moved to Australia, a country in which adventure travel is a national obsession. Now he is the CEO and Guide Director of Discovery World Trekking,  a company that has rave reviews and a swish Docklands office.

"When I was first in Melbourne, I worked in a kitchen. I started dishwashing, but I took every extra shift and worked extra hard, and they promoted me to line cook. Then I was promoted to chef, and then I worked in some of the best kitchens in the city. I always want to be the best at everything I do." I clinked my glass to his. 
"Amen!" I hollered. 
"Pyunu Hos!" He exclaimed in return. (*please drink)

Paul told me that in order to be successful, everyone needs three things: planning, hard work and dreams.

"If you have big dreams and good planning, but no hard work? No success. If you have lots of plans and are a strong worker, but no dreams? Nothing happens. Tons of work and lots of dreams, but no plans? Nope. I need all three to be a success."

And he is a success, by anyone's standards. Paul is 29. He employs his siblings. He has offices in two countries. He has been able to fly his parents to visit him in Melbourne - they don't speak a word of English (or even Nepali!), they had no idea how to use a fork or knife and car rides gave them motion sickness. But none of this mattered to them - they positively beamed with pride.
Despite her culture shock, Paul said his mother wept with joy at what he has been able to accomplish at such a young age.
I was humbled by Paul's story. I come from such an advantaged country, with resources and grants and Western privilege galore, and sometimes I forget what is possible with a little  - or a lot - of work. A few dreams. And a lot of planning.

We have one brief little firecracker of a life, and it is over in an instant. It's a shame to not push it to its limits.

So, Violet Dear, are you up for it? Making change and doing big-ass things in this world is hard.  It's fucking hard. But it is possible. Everything is.

Just ask Paul.


Lorraine O'Neill said...

I know how his mother feels!

Love Mom

Lorraine O'Neill said...

I think I may know how his mother feels...

Love You!


Amanda said...

Both of you are inspiring. Glad to see you are able to speak again!

Landon said...

Feck, I love you. =)