Bridging U.S. and Nepalese Operations: My First Day at the Office

by Laura Schmitz, VP of Operations


One of my favorite things about being out of the country? The news.  That’s right, it occurred to me this morning that exactly 20 years ago, on election day, I was in France watching the news regarding the 1992 election and the predictions, etc. related to it.  It had been the first presidential election I could vote in, and I did so via absentee ballot. Then, 20 years later, here I am in the same boat, my absentee ballot safely sent in over a month ago. Without getting political (those of you reading that really know me probably just choked, or are in a state of shock right now), the best thing about the news outside of the U.S. is that it’s actually NEWS, meaning  they’re reporting the facts so that you can form an opinion and learn about things, or judge for yourself.  Here, there aren’t any partisan talking heads giving their “expert” opinions, or interpreting the facts for you as though you’re such a lemming that you wouldn’t know what to do with facts on your own if you tried. It’s a refreshing elixir to the soul to be treated like a thinking being.  It’s also quite interesting to view something as big as the election from afar to get some perspective of what it looks like to the outside world.  In addition, here you actually hear news about other countries, economies, elections etc. There’s not one word uttered about Kim Kardashian or what kind of shoes the candidates wore to tour the Sandy devastation.  I hope you voted on 11/6; it’s what makes a country like ours work.

Yesterday, I took it easy and stuck around my hotel neighborhood to try to relax and get to know what’s there. I ended up at a cafe up seven flights of probably the narrowest stairway I’ve ever seen for some lunch on the rooftop garden. This was definitely a place for locals; you could tell that tourists never really made it this way because no one spoke English. I hate that we always expect people from other countries to speak English even when we’re in THEIR country…but it is convenient when they do.  Anyways, after some hand gestures, odd sounds and pointing, I thought that I had ordered a grilled cheese and some tea. What I got was some dry toast and water. I tried again and got a very tasty meatball (I gave up on the grilled cheese) and Nepali tea, which was delicious! As I’ve found everywhere here, the staff and the other patrons were very warm and friendly, even for an ignorant American like me.

So after a crazy, and then finally relaxing weekend getting used to my new surroundings here in Kathmandu, I was ready to get to work. I am fortunate to have met three members of our Nepal team in person when they worked for a while in our Eagan office, so I was looking forward to seeing Pradip, Sanjib and Tinu again. I have also worked with other veteran members of the team via ‘GoTo’ in training sessions and meetings to discuss tickets and other processes throughout the past four years, so I was really looking forward to meeting them in person. On top of that, we had some new hires and I was going to be able to meet with and train them too.  Ram, my new hero, showed up promptly at 8:30 a.m. to drive me to the office. I can’t even tell you how awesome this guy is; he showed me some sights as we drove past them and he navigates like a cross between an Indy car racer, smooth sailor and miracle worker. We picked up Sunny and were on our way. And I had the opportunity to see more of the residential side of Nepal, where people actually live, work, shop, etc. 

Construction is everywhere here!  Apparently the government has decided that they need to expand the roads to accommodate the growing traffic and population, unfortunately with no concept of lanes, traffic lights or traffic rules in general, they decided the only way to do this was to start just ripping stuff up and chopping houses in half! So you see piles of bricks, fronts of stores and houses lopped off and endless sifting and moving of all this stuff around while supposedly a road will be laid someday…with no word on exactly which day. Finally, we pulled up to a pretty cool looking building, all windows, pretty much like anything you’d see in any regular down town area.  This was where our office was, on the sixth floor. Having been to a couple of places on the fifth, sixth and seventh floors over the weekend that included steep staircases and no alternatives to climbing them,  I was a bit tentative, but pleasantly surprised, to find a elevator! 

I was immediately and warmly greeted by the whole staff, and the introductions were fast and furious. Everyone was so nice, and I was reminded just how great the Avionte team is in general, no matter which continent you’re on. Our office is sleek and modern and definitely bustling between conversions, e-document creation, report making, developing new features and everything in between. I started by training our new hires on the ins and outs of staffing and how laws, taxes and HR Compliance work in the U.S. There were a lot of raised eyebrows and disbelieving faces over some of the crazy compliance hurdles that our clients face. We then applied this information to how the work flows in Avionte and how all of the items we work on daily relate to making things easier and more automated to accommodate our clients’ needs. Everyone breaks at one p.m. for lunch, so Samar, Sunny and I headed out to the popular restaurant chain next door. All of the wait staff is deaf, and this is true of all of the locations for this particular restaurant, who offer work to people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to do so. It was a great meal and the service was awesome. I tried a Lassi, a yogurt shake, which was definitely yummy and took Samar’s advice and had the sizzling chicken. It’s kind of like a sizzling plate similar to Fajitas, but that thing sizzled for about 15 minutes and the plate weighed about 30 lbs! 

Back to the office: Samar took over training to focus on the technical aspects, and I walked around to see what everyone was working on and tried to help where I could. I was able to explain some of the more murky tickets with limited descriptions, which were actually much more involved and complex then the request suggested. One of the top reasons I’m excited to be in Nepal is to improve the communication between our two offices and further solidify processes, so this was a great opportunity to use real life examples to do just that, right off the bat.

By now you are aware of my fetish  for, and seeking out of, smoking areas, and the Nepal office has the best one yet! It’s on the roof and you can see the whole city in all directions, including the hills and Himalayas surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. It’s really quite amazing; the pictures I took don’t do it as much justice as it deserves. Of course below is the construction and madness of the non-stop traffic, incessant honking and bustle of shops, shoppers and multitudes of people going about their day. The day was definitely rewarding for me and I hope that our Nepal team will find my presence here for the next month useful.  At four p.m., everyone broke for some Nepali tea. I was given a tutorial on just the right measurement and ratio of tea, milk  and sugar for the perfect cup. This is definitely a recipe that I will be bringing back with me…it’s delicious! After a quick break, everyone went right back to work.

At about six p.m., Ram came back to get me to take me to my new home in Manaslu. By this time it was getting dark, and I had my first venture on the roads at this time. How there isn’t a consistent and persistent case of road rage in Kathmandu is beyond me. There isn’t just tailgating here; it’s literally on your bumper, brushing the side of your car or motorbike and when it’s dark, not everyone sees the point of turning on headlights, even when they’re driving on the wrong side and headed right for you! Everyone just honks their horn and there’s no yelling or swearing or even getting frustrated. Streetlights are few and far between as those that exist have been disabled by the construction, or in the interest of power saving, just never come on. Needless to say, I was praying to every god that I could think of and wished that I had spent some more time at the temples a few days before. Ram was nonplussed, he just laughed and kept going, taking whichever side of the street had an opening in the direction he wanted to go. I definitely think that I will learn from Ram and others that I have the chance to meet here to be more patient, appreciative and laissez-faire. I’ve quickly grown to admire the Nepalese way of just taking what comes at them and just moving forward without complaining about it, getting angry or feeling sorry for themselves, even when their house just gets lopped in half one day or they get cut off in traffic about 1,000 times a day.

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