Today I’m excited to be sharing my very first photo essay in a series on life, love and hope in Nepal. The first installment of this series is titled, “Stories of Hope” where I explore what these elements looks like in a third world country like Nepal. Being a part of this culture for 9 months was never meant to be something I “achieved”, but rather something I journeyed through. Nepal has become a deeper part of me than ever before for many reasons and I feature these photos in hopes of sharing a glimpse of what I saw along this journey. Please stay tuned for upcoming essays!
His eyes danced. They sung a message of hope. His food spoke a song of glee. Some people cook for fun, some cook to eat, and some cook because they need to make a living. Keshab Rai does a little bit of all three. And he does it like no other Nepali. What initially started as a professional painting career drastically turned in the opposite direction…a career in the culinary arts, after traveling to Bombay while 18. Though Nepal is one of the poorest countries of the world with an unemployment rate of 48%, he stands in a sea of impoverished Nepalis as one who stands for hope. Unlike many other Nepalis who look to leave the country for work, Keshab Rai decided at last to stay within his own country in hopes of helping it become a better place…through food. He has made a dangerous choice. The man was visibly here to thrive, rather than just to survive. Today he runs a booming “chaat” pushcart business in the Nakhipot neck of town. He takes great pride in it…and so does the entire neighborhood. Daily his business feeds over 100 hungry locals and monthly his net profit would easily put any other pushcart business to shame…all with one simple “thelaa” (which means “food cart” in Nepali).
While in Kathmandu on a hunger rant for something other than my usual daalbaat, I was inspired by his street style cooking. One night at 7PM a friend took me to his “thelaa” for a quick treat of “Chaat Pat” (channa, sprouts, potatoes with tasty sauce), Dahi Puri (puri with yogurt sauce), and Aloo Nim Kim (potato with Nim Kim sauce) – everyday savory and sour snacks combining puri, lemon zest, masala, potatoes, homemade yogurt, and other delicious morsels. Compared to other thelaas offering the same thing on the streets of Kathmandu, his was bustling with activity, even still at 7PM at night, late by Nepali standards.
To be honest, prior to that experience I hadn’t had much appetite for “chaat”…but that night changed my life forever. That night I was delighted to see Nepal’s version of the food truck on the scene…the Thelaa: Food served on a pushcart with four wheels. I learned an interesting thing that day. Thelaas are commonly used by the locals to sell snacks, fruits, and vegetables around town and within each village. But they are also traditionally thought to be one of the lowest jobs in Nepal – run by uneducated, low-skilled, and low-income people. It’s not exactly what you would call a “high paying job”.
Then there is Keshab Rai who has been finetuning his recipes to perfection for several years whose shop has easily has become the neighborhood favorite afternoon hangout. Impressed with the success and passion with which he works, I decided to learn more about his story.
When I sat down to ask him why he does what he does…he responded, “In the future I want to help those who are hopeless…those that have an education but don’t have a job. I want to be an example to others especially here in Nepal where people don’t like to run this type of “thelaa”. I want to show others and be an example that Nepali people can also do it. Everyone says that this job is so small. I want to say that this job is not a small job and that this job is a big job.” His hopeful outlook on life no doubt attracts hope hungry visitors. When I asked him why his food is so good, he responded with, “I make this food from my heart.”
Thanks for following along! More to come. I’m currently booking mini-sessions along the California Coast + Vegas. If interested…send me an e-mail here to get in touch!