Reading the terrible news coming from Nepal in the last few days, I cannot but think at the only Nepalese person that I have ever got to know in my life so far. He was definitely one of the most interesting guests that I had the chance to host through Couchsurfing. It was a terrific experience, largely because it was his very first day in a Western country.
At the time, I was living in Brussels. I was living in the European neighborhood, and we met just in front of the European Parliament. It was Sunday morning, and nobody at all was around Place Lux. Having no mobile, finally he got someone to lend him a mobile in order to let me know that he had got into town. It was winter, and it snowed a little bit. As most people do, I had always associated Nepal with Mount Everest: mountains, tons of snow, avalanches. Instead, this was the very first time that my guest saw a snowfall – which was very surprising to me. Coming from Katmandu, he told me that the city has a tropical climate, it is always very warm and seasons are mostly marked by changes in rainfall.
While he was the first Nepalese that I met, I was somehow the first European that he met. For sure he had seen others in Nepal before, but this was for instance the first time that he got into an European flat. So he was taking my flat as a sample of a European flat, assuming that all the places where we live look like that one. And I was doing a bit of the same, taking him as a sample of the Nepalese people – which is what usually happens when you meet a person from a new and tiny country you have no direct experience of.
Being the Nepalese currency so weak compared to the euro, everything was incredibly expensive for him. But it was much colder than he had expected, so he decided to buy a woollen cap. After having a look at the European quarter, I showed him around downtown Brussels, with its cobbled streets and its Christmas markets. Seeing Brussels (which again he was taking as a sample of a random European city) through his eyes was extremely interesting. What fascinated him the most was not the Grand Place, but rather the golden house in the Grand Place where Karl Marx used to live – Nepal had undergone a Maoist-driven revolution just a couple of years earlier. The other thing that really impressed him was the number of homeless people that one could meet even in a wealthy European city, who were living outside despite the snow falling.