23 May 2009

Characters >> Kamal

Kamal was our guide on our recent trip to Langtang and the Gosaikunda. Kamal is one of the most relaxed people I have ever met and a truly skilled, ingenious and resourceful human being.

Before becoming a guide, Kamal went to work (as many Nepali's do) abroad. He hoped to make enough money to send home to his wife so they could live a good life. He signed a contract, and had to pay a fee to the agent for finding him the work, along with his airfare, visas etc. He went with a bunch of other guys all committed to the same thing. They were going to be labourers on a worksite to build a new hospital in Saudi Arabia.

On arrival however, they were forced to sign new contracts, for less than half the pay and poorer conditions than they were expecting. Working it for a few weeks it became clear that Kamal was not going to be making enough money to feed himself, let alone send money home to his wife. He decided to take control.

He started making whiskey and rakshi and selling it on the black market. "I just buy the water bottles, refill them with rakshi, and no one know". Although he probably didn't make mint, he was doing well for himself and was happy that he was able to send money home. I can't remember how long he was at it. His biggest comcern seemed to be getting caught for working illegally, not for selling alcohol. Apparently he got away with that rather easily. "Oh, I am new here, I didn't know". I don't exactly buy that part, but that's how he tells it.

Eventually, that is what he got busted for. He was thrown in jail, and from what I have read, getting a trial or even someone to pay attention to you can be very difficult. "So I grew long beard, very long - I didn't like it". "I tell everyone that I am Muslim, I am not, but they called me the Nepali Muslim! The guys in there looked after me". He made money selling cigarettes and other things people needed (the Morgan Freeman of the Shawshank Redemption) - i have always wondered how someone goes about getting stuff to sell inside a jail, but he didn't really explain. He was still able to send money home apparently, and made more money on the inside than he did selling booze.

After three months, he was released and hightailed it back to Nepal and his wife Laxmi. He worked as a porter and using his ability to raise the best out of any situation worked his way to being a guide and now seems to live quite a comfortable life. He is very proud that his wife runs their tea shop and makes enough bank to look after the daily things while he makes enough money for school fees and books for their beautiful children. He and Laxmi make an odd couple, as they are from different castes, and he constantly fights a battle for acknowledgement with her father. Probably part of the reason he ventured abroad to try and make money.

I've been meaning to tell this story for ages, but was out at their tea shop today and it all came flooding back to me. His daughter Kiran tried to tell me a story, but there were far too many gods for me to keep up with, and she quickly gave up. She did tell a joke that she was very proud of, "there was a patient who loved a nurse. And then the patient gave the nurse an apple. But the doctor also loved her. But the nurse not know the men love with her. And then she asked why the patient gave her apple. He said, 'an apple today make the doctor go away'".


po said...

Great story, and he is so lucky he got out of that jail and back home! With no one to bail him out or anything, he could have still been there!

David said...

Well, I got over the initial "kamahl" disappointment pretty quickly - that was an awesome story.