13 May 2016

Narayan Shrestha

I don't know where to begin with this one. I'm trying to write just a few pages about someone who deserves an entire biography. Although not well known in the United States, Narayan Shrestha is renowned across Nepal for his philanthropy and eccentric-rich-guy antics. In Sankhuwasabha, people talk about him all the time, even when he's not here. When he comes, the army and police both send escorts, and people start gathering at his office before he arrives. His typical day in Khandbari starts with meetings from seven until lunchtime, followed by some public function, inspecting his projects at our school and elsewhere, and then wining and dining some local official - not out of gluttony, but for bringing them under his influence. In Kathmandu he does the same thing with congressmen and ministers. He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he drinks Tuborg, because it's the only imported beer that's widely available in Nepal. He's the most interesting man in the world. He's also my employer, friend, Nepali grandfather, and teacher.

In the words of a friend, all that's missing are a few explosions in the back
Narayan grew up in a village close to Khandbari, at a time when there was no electricity and no vehicles, and when Khandbari was little more than a village itself. He got a job at Tumlingtar Airport, which was only a dirt landing strip, and he rode a horse one hour each way to reach there. By meeting and helping foreign trekkers at the airport, he got connections and assistance in the United States and was able to hop over for college. That was about forty five-years ago. After graduating, he got an office job and shortly thereafter opened Old Tibet in Boulder, Colorado, the first kitschy Nepal/Tibet tourist shop in the United States. Anyone who knows Boulder can imagine how well that went. Riding on his success, he opened many other stores and restaurants across Colorado, and gave most of them to his Nepali friends and relatives. He has helped many more Nepali people come to the United States for studies and other work, along with helping refugees of Nepal's civil war to get asylum. The number of Nepalis legally residing in the United States due to his intervention is about three thousand now. However, I'll be the first to say that the solution to Nepal's problems is definitely not having everyone leave, so let's talk about what he has done on his home front.

Total baller
Some of Narayan's early antics include bringing the first land vehicle to Sankhuwasabha, via helicopter, no less, in the '70's, and founding our school, the first private school in Sankhuwasabha, in 1989. After creating Helping Hands Health Education, he began bringing countless medical professionals, both American and Nepali, to provide a caliber of healthcare far beyond what was available locally, and built Sankhuwasabha's first hospital. He was also involved with the building of Sankhuwasabha's only major paved road, which is considered a rare success story among Nepal's government-led projects. At one time he owned a sizable proportion of the land in Khandbari, but he has donated most of it to people in need and to various development projects. Just about every public building has a plaque in it thanking him for his contributions. Everyone in town has a story of how he helped their family.

Lately he's been expanding outward, giving particular attention to Chainpur, a lovely little hill town nearby that has gone unnoticed by the outside world despite its natural beauty, remarkable cleanliness, and unique enterprises such as a fantastic winery and traditional metalsmithing. He's sponsored an ongoing series of free medical clinics, and is working with the town's committee to create and promote tourism. In Bhaktapur, which is perhaps the greatest cultural and historical treasure of Nepal, he has built two thousand temporary houses for those who lost theirs in the earthquakes last year.

Outside of Nepal, he's building a school and hospital in Nicaragua, following the successful model used in Khandbari, developing trade and educational relationships between Nepal and Bhutan, and bringing the Japanese NGO Shumei to create a permanent presence Khandbari. In the typical month, he spends ten days in Colorado, ten days in Nepal, five days in Japan, and five days traveling. He also has a wife, two kids, and his very successful business. I don't know how it's possible.

The dark side of all this is that he attracts greedy, selfish people like a magnet. Even in the face of this and the seemingly endless corruption of the developing world, he forges ahead, sometimes drawing criticism and intrigues disseminated by those who have failed to abuse his kindness. The thing that is really incredible about him, though, is that he finds ways to improve the lives, and minds, of even the people who are trying to take advantage of him, and he does it without ever losing his temper or good humor.

I could go on and on telling stories, like the time that he called the Prime Minister to un-cancel a flight to Tumlingtar during last autumn's fuel crisis, or the time that he came with a battalion of soldiers to retake our school from Maoist guerrillas, but I'll leave it at that. We may soon be hearing much more about him in the United States, as the Democratic Party of Colorado is conspiring to have him elected to a significant local office, followed by a potential Senate run. I have a general distaste for politicians, but I'd have to make an exception for him. He's shown me nothing but kindness and I'm honored to work in his shadow.

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