Surya: Trekking Guide and Shop Owner
(If you dislike sad stories, then this one is not for you.)
We first met Surya (Nepalese for sun) in Namche Bazaar in October 2008. He lazed there in the warm sunshine, next to the lodge where we (and he) were staying in. He was a handsome young man, tall and thin, and sported a small beard and sleek, thin-framed glasses. Like us, he was a tourist, something that two years ago was even more unusual than it is nowadays: most Nepalese neither have the money nor the time or inclination to be tourists in their own country.
He had come up into the mountains for two weeks though like many lowland Nepalese Surya found the cold in Namche already biting enough and didn't plan to go further up, other than for the occasional daytrip. He also told us that he had a souvenir shop in Kathmandu (actually in Swayambunath, a great Buddhist centre with many monasteries and a huge stupa on the outskirts of the city) and invited us to visit him in his shop, for a cup of tea, once we were back in the capital. We promised we'd pay him a visit.
Which we did: we easily found Surya and his shop a few weeks later. The shop was much bigger than we'd thought, full of colourful trinkets and, like all these shops, very dusty. Over a cup of milk tea we talked a little about Surya's life, his business and family (he was married with two children though he somehow looked too young to have fathered two kids) and also discovered that Surya spoke French even better than English: he was soon suavely conversing away in French with Vero (most Nepalese eagerly use every opportunity to speak whatever foreign languages they understand). Being able to speak French, he explained, enabled him to take on the many French tourists who understood no English. It turned out that he sometimes would close the shop for a week or two and go into the mountains with a tourist — though not too high, given his aversion to the cold;-). Basically, he was a mixture of trekking and cultural guide. We spent a nice hour in front of his shop and even helped him to sell a souvenir to a passing tourist (Westerners in a shop help to draw in other Westerners).
This spring, we went up to Swayambunath again: it's one of the must-see sights in the Kathmandu valley and one of our favourite spots. And of course we looked for Surya and his shop. He wasn't there and at first, we were told he was away, visiting his family in the lowlands. However, a little later we met another shopkeeper, a friend of Surya's, whom we had also seen during our previous visit. He recognised us and, after hesitating for a second, proceeded to tell us what had happened.
Surya, this lively, likeable young man, was dead. He had died a couple of weeks earlier in a drab house in Chitwan, near where his family lived. He had died like rock stars used to die: in an alcohol and drug-fuelled daze. We were aghast, appalled, indeed refused to believe him. Reluctantly, bit by bit, the friend gave us the details.
Surya had been again to the mountains with a French client. When they returned to Kathmandu, the Frenchman, happy with the trip, had given Surya his pay plus a tip — and a very big tip indeed: in sum 2100 Euro, in cash. Now even for most Europeans this would be a tidy sum but for a Nepalese — who in a good month earns perhaps 15,000 rupees, about 150 pound sterling or 175 Euro — this means unheard-of (and undreamt-of) riches. It seems that with all that money in his hands, something in Surya's mind suddenly snapped. He took a bus down to Chitwan, where he briefly saw his wife and the kids, and then went on a wild drug and alcohol binge. He partied, gambled, smoked and drank for days on end… until his wife, by then in a highly anxious state, found him lying alone in a dark room. He was dead: apparently his heart had given out. Needless to say, most of the money was gone.
It seems the generous Frenchman has no idea what happened to Surya after he handed him the money. But even if he knew, whatever Surya did after receiving the cash is of course not the Frenchman's fault. However, Surya's fate shows that well-meaning and well-being are sometimes hard to reconcile. In a very real sense, this sad story can be read as a parable for the development woes of Nepal: for decades now, the place has been showered with development aid — but all too often the effect of all that money has been exactly the opposite of what was intended.
$updated from: Interesting People.htxt Fri 09 Aug 2013 14:18:03 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$