Nepalis Treat This Peace Corps Volunteer Like Justin Bieber
Being a foreigner in Nepal sometimes gives you the illusion that you are a celebrity. Children follow you down the street, women you just met tell you they love you, and everyone wants to be your friend.
I’ve been living in Nepal for ten months now as a Peace Corps volunteer. In Peace Corps years, this means I’m a baby. Even after all this time I’m still in the very early planning stages of projects that I hope will improve health, food security, gender equality and income in my community.
In the typical Peace Corps mode, my first months were spent becoming fully integrated. I speak Nepali, live and work with Nepalis, wear Nepali clothes and have adopted the culture as much as possible. Sometimes I trick myself into believing I actually am Nepali, until I walk into town and all the stares rudely remind me just how foreign I am.
Once I hopped on a passing school bus (our version of public transport) to get a ride into the market, and immediately several dozen children erupted in squeals, practically trampling each other to get my attention. It was like being on a bus of middle school girls headed to a Justin Bieber concert – and I was the teen idol.
Wherever I go, I am always an honored guest. I’ve had to turn down invitations to lecture at MBA and MPH classes (I have a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies, which is at best enough credential to speak at a cocktail party), been presented with awards for work I didn’t do, and even had high-level government officials ask me for policy advice.
I can’t tell if people respect me so much because I am new and different, or if they really think that being American, I hold the secrets to my country’s success.
By my count, I’ve been on local TV three times and in the newspaper at least four. Almost none of these media opportunities were to highlight actual work I’ve done. Just my showing up somewhere is newsworthy. My personal favorite TV appearance was when I was sitting in the audience of an event to celebrate a city ward being declared Open Defecation Free (that’s another story altogether) when the MC called me up on stage.
Photo: Hannah Marqusee taught these Nepali 8th and 9th graders to play ultimate frisbee. “Despite being terrible at throwing, they had a really good time,” she reports. Their verdict: slightly more fun then soccer but not quite as fun as cricket. Bottom row, fourth from the right, is her host brother, Sachin. (Courtesy of Hannah Marqusee)