You can smell a delicious mixture of aromas the moment you enter Samiksha Ghimire’s apartment. The 25–year-old student from Nepal has been in the kitchen for more than two hours. ‘Lentil purée, roti, chicken curry and pickled vegetables’, says Samiksha. ‘Do you mind if I don’t eat with you now? I prefer eating just before going to bed.’
It’s one of the customs that Samiksha – or ‘Sammi’ as she is called by Dutch people who have difficulty pronouncing her first name – has brought over from Nepal. While I’m eating, Sammi starts talking about Nepal and how different it is to Holland. ‘Nothing here can be compared to what we have back home’, she says as she watches me eating. ‘There are differences in infrastructure, equipment, technologies and advancement. Actually, everything is so, so, so different!’
Samiksha was born to a Hindu family in Biratnagar, the industrial capital of Nepal. Every other year, though, she moved to another city because of her father’s work as a government officer. In Nepal, government officers are not allowed to live in one place for more than a year, so they rotate. Samiksha travelled with her father until she was 14. From that age she stayed in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, with her mother and brother in order to attend private school there while her dad was travelling the country on his own.
After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Nepal, she began her Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences Master’s at the University of Groningen. ‘I arrived here in August. Initially, I tried to get a scholarship, but I was unsuccessful. However, by the time I heard, I was so excited about the course that I decided to pay the fee – almost €13,000 a year. My mother sold a piece of land to pay for the first year.’
Samiksha’s family belongs to the upper caste. Although the caste system has officially been abolished in Nepal, it still dominates people’s daily lives, according to Sammi. ‘It’s so deeply ingrained in people’s minds and in society that I don’t think it will ever be totally abolished. If I, for example, want to marry someone from a very low caste, my family wouldn’t accept it.’
The caste someone belongs to largely determines their personal life, including their profession and position in society.
Samiksha feels privileged that she grew up in the upper caste, in a relatively rich family. ‘I don’t represent Nepal’, she says. ‘I’ve always lived in urban areas, where the higher castes live. Everyone around me was able to attend school and I didn’t notice that Nepal was so poor. I learned that from books at school, but I wasn’t really aware of it. I couldn’t understand what it really meant. However, before I came here, I had the chance to work in a hospital in a rural area. When I was there, I saw poverty that didn’t exist in my part of the city. People were so poor. The only thing they did was grow their own food and that was not even enough for two meals a day. Children suffered from poor health and they didn’t have access to any healthcare or education. They do not even have clean drinking water. That’s really painful and hard to see in your own country.’
When I ask Sammi how it feels to be privileged, her eyes grow sad. She looks down at a book with 100 typical Dutch traditions lying on her desk and sighs: ‘I feel lucky and sorry for them. Working in the hospital was one of the turning points in my life. Before that, I must admit that I wanted money and status. Now, though, I want to do something for the poor people in Nepal. My dream is that once I’m educated, I will return to Nepal and initiate, for example, the development of drugs in the hospital where I worked, especially for women and children. Our county is very male-dominated. Even if a man is poor, he doesn’t suffer as much as women and children. He’s boss of his house. You notice it everywhere.’
There were even differences in the upbringing of Samiksha and her younger brother. That is also a cultural thing, she says. In Nepal it’s normal that when a girl marries, she moves in with her husband’s parents, to care for them. ‘If my brother marries, his wife will do this, so my mother knows that her son will stay with her forever. However, when I marry, she knows I will leave home. My mother was scared of my brother. She wanted to impress him. If he asked for something, for example to go out, she would never say no – but she would say no to me when I asked the same thing. We are used to it. It’s normal in all layers of society.’
While Samiksha walks to the kitchen to prepare the main course, kheer (rice with warm milk and dried fruits), she says: ‘That’s what I like most about Dutch people. I can see that they have respect for everyone. Last week, for example, I was talking to a friend about homosexuality. I asked: “So guy and girl is normal?” She replied: “No, everything is normal for us.” I was so impressed by that attitude. In Nepal there are no people who are openly gay. In Holland everyone’s the same. I think that is how it should be.’