Nepalis in Portugal

One bed, a wardrobe, three chairs, a small desk and a low table are a lot of furniture for a room of approximately 16sqm. Every seating surface, including the bed, is occupied and in total there is nine of us in the place. Shiva’s picture is hanging on the wall and a Nepali flag flies on the desk. All this could well be a scene in my favourite Asian country, but instead we are in a residential neighbourhood of Lisbon, some five minutes walking from Intendente metro stop.

The whole team has been invited for dinner, which – what else could it really be – is home-cooked Dal Bhat. We arrive at around 19:00 and, given that Nepalis eat rather late, are left with ample opportunity to exchange stories about people from back home. Apparently half the room has its origins in a small village somewhere between Bhaktapur and Nagarkot.

In general there are lots of Nepalis in Lisbon. I don’t have exact numbers but I think somebody mentioned 5,000. Which for a city of 500,000 is quite a few.

Not all of those residing in the country are doing it legally though. First I heard a story in regards to that on Sunday. Saroj and Hari had left early that day to take a bus to a small town 2.5 hours from Lisbon. In that town they hoped to meet a cousin of Saroj, who had dropped of the map a few weeks earlier.

The young boy had originally received a student visa for Poland, but, shortly after arriving, had left that country behind and made his way to Portugal, turning himself into an illegal alien. The exact reasons for that I couldn’t figure out. That’s a general problem though, figuring out Nepalis and their motivations is not only hindered by a language barrier.

During the get-together, more stories were shared, and even though most of the discussion was in Nepali, I got regular translations to English from the bilingual attendees. The common narrative is this: A hopeful young Nepali is baited with stories of a rich life in Europe. Monthly incomes of €4000 seem to be promised. The poor soul and his family then take up a mortgage on anything they have in their name, in order to gather the $15,000 to $20,000 that are required for the journey to the land of low-hanging fruit.

Not a strictly legal journey I assume, considering the price tag. But no details were given on that.

Once the hopeful young reaches European soil, often via Russia apparently, the brutal realisation hits. If there is any money to be made, it is close to €500 and miles from the dreamed-off €4000. Deducting the cost of living, it leaves so little that simply paying off the loan will take a decade. Returning early is all but impossible, not only for economic reasons, but also because the loss of face would be insufferable.

The myth of Europe as the promised land is widespread and probably there to stay. One of the Nepalis came to the conference on a proper visa and his whole village (except for his wife) told him he’d be mad if he returned to Nepal voluntarily. He hopefully has seen enough to know better. And maybe he can tell a different story at home. The traffickers certainly won’t.

Looking at the truly legal immigrants, life is not all peaches either. Among us was a woman a few years younger than me, who is now in her eighth year abroad. She told a story of a young woman, married way too early to an older man, and some incident that resulted in the husband pretty much forcing his wife to leave her country and young child behind.

In her mid-twenties, her first port-of-call was Israel. There she worked as a care-taker for seven years, before moving on to work as a waitress in Lisbon. I couldn’t figure out why she had switched countries and professions. Again, that’s not really because of a language barrier…

All-in-all, my stay in Lisbon had an unexpectedly heavy Nepali touch. Which was fine with me – never gets boring with these guys. Plus who can say no to home-cooked curry and rice at seven in the morning!

Web Summit: Wrapping it up

We spent Wednesday at our small stand, pitching the project of career counselling in Nepal to hundreds of visitors. The aim was not only to find investors, but also to attract additional developers who could support me in building the platform.

It is difficult to say now what kind of impact that will have mid- or long-term, but I was pleasantly surprised about how many people were interested in the project.

In the evening I attended a developer meetup and got in touch with a couple of other techies who had come to Libon from across Europe. It was interesting to hear that many had the same impression of the talks at the conference as I did: prominent names but unexciting content.

The conference is slowly coming to an end now and in summary I have to say that it did not meet my expectations. Two years ago I visited a TEDx event in Munich and half of the talks there were inspiring or though-provoking. Web Summit under-delivered in both regards.

But Lisbon was not all about the conference. I also got a chance to meet up with the Nepal-crew again and that was as good as I hoped it would be! They are an incredibly cheerful and laid-back bunch, and the home-cooked food makes my eyes water with joy.

Tomorrow I have a late-afternoon flight and will probably spend the day catching up on work and organising furniture for my new home.

Web Summit

The opening night yesterday featured some rather prominent names from major international organisation, i.e. the UN and the World Bank. Naturally politicians lie the moment they open their mouths, so not much was to be expected in regards to content. What was interesting though was to hear politicians talking to an audience that is highly educated and independent.

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Once an outlook on the future of the EU and worldwide employment markets was done, Holloywood’s Gordon-Levitt stepped in for a few words on creativity and delivered a plea for doing what one likes, instead of focussing on what makes money.

The first night was concluded by the night summit, which is just another way of saying “after work drinks”. Lisbon’s Bairro Alto teemed with summiteers and provided plenty of opportunity for networking.

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Today was the first real day of the conference and I spent most of the time attending various talks.

Again the talks featured an abundance of prominent names, and most topics sounded interesting, but the actual content was almost shallow. I learn way more if I spend 2h on youtube, watching educational videos.

Tomorrow we have a stand, and with that an opportunity to present the organisation to the attending world.