In a recent longform article for The Wilson Quarterly called “Nowhere to Turn,” Northwestern University in Qatar journalism graduate J. Zach Hollo and his colleague Xiran Liu report on the several months they spent following 24-year-old Sarun Chhetri.
Chhetri is a Nepali cab driver who has spent the last four years in Qatar, working to support his mother, wife and two children back home.
Like many of his compatriots, Chhetri is proud to be able to send money to Nepal to pay for his family’s house, utility bills, children’s schooling and other expenses.
But he also sometimes regrets the life choices he’s made. Hollo writes:
After living away from his family for four and a half years, and spending much of that time gazing out at black pavement, (Chhetri) no longer thought of the world in sentimental terms.
More clearly than before, he understood the reality of his situation, that half a decade of his youth had been spent driving a cab in a country more than 2,000 miles from his home.
He had a son who barely knew him, a mother in declining health, a wife who slept without him, a family who depended on his income to survive.
“Spending your youth here and going home an old man is no life,” he told me later.
He said he regretted getting married young, that he did not process the fact that by doing so, three lives would soon be financially dependent on him.
He did not think ahead and see that farming his property would never earn enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table, and that he would be marooned indefinitely.
“I wish I would have lived for myself for a while. I could have travelled and worked somewhere I wanted,” he said. “Now, when I go home, my family is happy to see me at first. But after about three months, they get stressed because I’m not earning a salary, and they want me to go back to Qatar.”
To be sure, the money Nepalis make while working in Qatar and other Gulf countries has gone a long way in improving the nation’s economic outlook. Some 10 percent of the Asian country’s population – 2.2 million people – now live and works outside of Nepal, Hollo reports.
“The remittance pay they send home constitutes one-fourth of Nepal’s gross domestic product. Thanks in part to this injection of international revenue, Nepal is now growing at an annual rate of almost 4 percent.
Over the past two decades, the percentage of Nepal’s population that lives on less than $1.25 a day has dropped from 68 percent to just under 25 percent, according to data from the United Nations.”
But that growth appears to have come at no small cost, especially for people like Chhetri, who works for Al Afdhal Transport Co., which does not always provide a steady paycheck.
Because of this, Chhetri must think long and hard before even going to see a movie on his day off. Hollo writes:
“Movies were expensive in Doha, usually at least $11.
Whenever drivers complained of boredom, their boss chided them.
‘You are not supposed to have fun here. You are only supposed to work and send money to your families. When you go home to visit after a few years, then you can think about having fun.’
(Chhetri) knew he might never end up going to the movie with his friends. He knew it was a bad idea anyhow, since his company could stop paying him at any time, and he needed every penny he could muster.
But he liked having something to look forward to, something to plan for other than the endless destinations of customers. He wanted to escape, ever so briefly, from the road and its tendency to suck you down a drain of emotionally exhausting thoughts.”
Read Chhetri’s whole story here.