Estimated reading time: 10 minutes 15 seconds
Guest Contribution by Nishchal Banskota – Founder, Nepal Tea
I am a man of many stories and I believe everyone has a powerful story. However, we almost always fail to show or tell that story. Think about it: When was the last time you read the finely-printed story about the product rather than check multiple sites for varying prices or scrambled to find a discount code? Convenience combined with the lowest-possible prices are simply the two factors that tend to drive purchase decisions. Do we need to hear the stories behind the products and the makers of the products? Is it even important? What good does that really do? Well, I am not really going to answer these questions here, but rather I am going to talk about the daily schedule of one of my dearest people on the tea farm. I hope his daily schedule makes you reflect on some of these questions!
The story is about Dhan Bahadur Lamgadey. All first names in Nepali culture tend to have a very definitive meaning, and his name is no exception. Dhan in Nepali language means “Wealth,” and Bahadur means ”Brave.” You’ll find that these two words not only give meaning to his name, but also his aspirations in life. Dhan Bahadur is our truck driver who’s been with Nepal Tea’s family farm, Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center, for more than 20 years.
He wakes up at around 4:30 each day, just like he has for over two decades. He takes a long morning walk as the sun rises across the fields that he has seen transform over the course of more than 20 years. As he walks each day, he remembers how he got to the rural eastern part of Nepal in a village called Phidim. His father was a native of a surrounding village, called Ranitar, about one hour’s drive uphill. Dhan Bahadur’s father was a very skilled wood and metal worker.
During the 70’s, all of these tools were hand-made; so melting metal and sharpening the tools required a lot of banging and hammering metals all day long. The screeching sound of metal banging onto more metal was quite irritating and, as you can imagine, was a ton of hard work.
It was irritating enough to annoy most of the villagers who worked in this same field. So, with an offer from my father to move to the lower village and help out with the idea of a tea farm, Dhan Bahardur’s father moved to Phidim along with Dhan Bahadur – who was around 15 at the time.
Reminiscing back to how much he has grown with the tea farm, he finishes his morning walk at around 6:00 and returns back to his house where his wife Tara makes breakfast tea for everyone. Every sip of the tea reminds him how his father laid the groundwork for making that cup of tea possible. What an immense joy and meaning behind drinking a cup of tea.
At around 7:00 he goes to cut some grass from a nearby pasture for his livestock – goats and chicken. He does what he has to do to keep them in good health and care for them each morning, and then he helps the kids get dressed and ready for school. After that, he gets himself ready to go to work.
As Dhan Bahadur gets ready to leave for work, Tara prepares meals for the day, especially lunch, for her husband and children. They hurriedly eat breakfast together and talk about anything important going on in the household that day.
Dhan Bahadur reports to the factory office building every morning at around 9:00 AM. The best part is that his commute is less than 2 minutes! First, he checks in with other staff at the reporting office and gets himself acquainted with any roadblocks: Landslides that had happened the day before, any new chores for the day, and so on. Along with his helper, he gears up to check on his vehicle. If any minor repairs need to be done, this is the time he would dedicate for that.
After a thorough inspection and wash of the truck, he’s almost ready to leave for the upper valley for the collection of fresh tea leaves. However, he does not have to leave until 2:00 PM to be on time since the farmers don’t arrive at the collection centers until about 3:30 PM. With a kind heart and an experienced hands, he heads off to various different departments at the factory to help out.
Dhan Bahadur and his helper leave the factory for an hour’s drive uphill to collect the leaves that have been plucked for the day. Dhan Bahadur really sees himself in the young helper and on the drive there he tries to teach him the tips and tricks of driving in such a hilly area. The road leading up to the first collection center is not easy.
You see, it is not just a winding road, but also very rough and not blacktopped at all. The road has its own story as well: It was constructed by the villagers themselves by digging up the hill against the strict professional advice of Indian engineers. Currently, this road links our top-most garden to our farm and also routes to the city center on the opposite side.
Before this road was dug up, it took days to get from neighboring villages to the city center, now it takes just a few hours by foot. Being the kind person that he is, Dhan Bahadur picks people up and gives them a lift up the hill pretty much everyday. As you can imagine, the villagers are quite fond of him there. After about 36 years, the government has finally agreed to blacktop the road. This means the trip that takes Dhan Bahadur one hour each day will be cut in half! It will also lessen the wear and tear of the vehicle, and—the best part—the quality of the tea will be further improved.
While he is really focused on the road on his way up, he likes to think about his children and their future a lot. His oldest son Rosan is quite good with numbers and aims to be an accountant. Next are his two daughters, Rojina and Remi. Both girls aspire to be nurses and they work very hard to achieve that goal. The youngest, Remi, says she wants to become a nurse so she can take care of her mother and father as they get older. All three children receive full scholarships from our farm to go to private school in the village center. Dhan Bahadur’s ultimate dream is to see them become very successful in whatever they choose to do. Even though it is early, he wonders how his children are going to lead their lives and later, their own families.
Dhan Bahadur reaches the leaf collection center at 3:00 pm after a thoughtful drive. He engages in small talk with the supervisors and pluckers about the quality of the leaves that day, and how much they plucked. A lot of different factors affect tea, so sometimes they talk about rainfall, sometimes it’s humidity, the change of season, or sometimes they even compare against last year’s harvest. This helps expand the workers’ knowledge in the field, which is great for the business as well.
The tea starts coming in at around 3:30 PM and is continuously weighed, measured, and loaded in the jeep. At around 5:00 PM Dhan Bahadur drives back to the factory to transport the teas as fast as possible for processing.
When Dhan Bahadur reaches the tea factory, there are a few people there waiting to receive the tea leaves. Everyone unloads the tea leaves from the truck and puts it into a withering trough for further processing. With that, the work day ends for Dhan Bahadur and he heads back home after waving goodbye to everyone. At home, he is again greeted by his wife and children and they all discuss how their days went.
The whole family has dinner together and catches up with each other for about 2 hours. Before going to bed at around 10:00 PM, he thinks about how grateful he is for everything that has happened to him throughout the years and prays for optimism in the future to come. Without Dhan Bahadur, you would not be drinking delicious tea from our farm in Kanchenjunga, so we owe a lot to him.
As I was talking to him the other day, I was trying to understand more about his aspirations and what he wants in the future and I was just amazed at how content he is. He literally said, “You know what, bhai,” (brother in Nepali), “I have been very satisfied with my life here. The interesting thing is whatever I had wished for has come true and I am super grateful. First, when I moved here with my father, I wanted to drive and with everything facilitated by the farm, I was able to drive and make a career out of it. Next, I always thought I wanted to get married and have kids only after I was financially stable and I was very fortunate to get married to the woman who is now the mother of our three amazing children. So, everything I have wished for has come true and I am really glad.”
After I pressed him to think about what else he would love to do or get out of life, he finally told me two things. One, he wanted to have his own house some day. Currently, he lives in the house that the farm provides for all the full time workers who cannot afford one. He said, “It is of course amazing but in the long run, I wish to own a house by myself and I’ve been saving for that.” In about 8 years or so, he hopes to have his own property and I am now, more than ever, committed to making his dream come true.
The second thing he wants to do is to travel to the furthest Western part of the country. He has been in the eastern part his whole life, and he wants to be able to drive from east to west and see what life is like there. After hearing that, I made a mental note to myself that one day, when I am successful with my company here in the US, I will personally make his dream come true and finance his whole trip from east to west. Even better, I would want to join him on the journey as well.
Not just for him, I am on a mission to also uplift the living standards of the tea farmers in Nepal and around the world. My vision is to get at least a million farmers out of the vicious cycle of poverty within their own generation and along the way be able to fulfill their small sincere wishes of life just like Dhan Bahadur’s trip from east to west.
That is the story of one of my dear workers in the farm. I have so many other similar authentic stories from the farm: The story of our cook, Pharsu; and Puspa, the story of our youngest supervisor in the tea garden; the story of our first employee who is almost 90 years old. There are so many of them and each person is incredibly inspiring.
My ultimate wish is to connect the consumers of tea like yourself, to the primary producers in the farm like Dhan Bahadur. We do it in many different ways, for instance, our immersive tea tourism. We take tours each year and within the course of 3 days on our farm, you pluck, process, and make the teas from start to finish with my farmers and take the tea home after.
I want you to ask yourself the same questions again and see if the answers differ:
Do we need to hear the stories behind the products and the makers of the products? Is it even important? What good does that really do?
Images provided and copyright held by author