Dristi Angdembey pointed at an old photograph of her chubby baby self crawling on a bed, with her father, Dhana, reclining next to her.
“This was the apartment we lived in before moving to our house in Kathmandu,” Angdembey said. “You see the map on the wall? My parents have always put up a big map in every place we’ve lived.”
When I asked why that was, she paused briefly.
“I don’t know. I think to them, a map represented opportunity. Reminded them that there was a really big world outside of Nepal, you know? I think they’ve always known that they would be leaving the country,” Angdembey responded.
She then flipped to a photo of her parents’ wedding, great smiles plastered on both of their faces.
“This is the third time they had ever met. When I was little, I asked my mom why she wasn’t crying in her wedding photos,” Angdembey said. She looked up from the picture and laughed at my confused face.
“I’ve seen a lot of photos of Nepali brides on their wedding days who are crying, because they are sad to be leaving their family to live with their husband,” Angdembey explained. “But my mom is smiling in each one of them!”
Tika, Angdembey’s mother, was unusual — she married Dhana at age 27, when all of her older sisters had been married off as young as 14 years old.
“My mother saw her sisters being married off and becoming entirely dependent to their husbands,” Angdembey said. “She didn’t want that for herself. She wanted to be self-sufficient and succeed without the help of anyone else. She wanted to keep going to school to work and earn money.”
Dristi was born in Kathmandu in 1993, and her brother Darshan was born three years later. Her family’s one-story house in Kathmandu is the epicenter of the memories of her childhood in Nepal.
“Even though the house was one-story, it was always so full of people. My cousins and my uncles and aunts were always around, we had multiple people sleeping in the living room,” Angdembey said.
That beloved house holds a special place in Angdembey’s memories — in particular, the roof.
“We would always climb up to the roof with fruit and sunbathe and talk,” Angdemby said. “So much of my childhood was spent with my family up on that roof, just laying around and talking about anything,”
When asked about Kathmandu, Angdembey describes a bustling city that smelled strongly of exhaust and was crowded with both people and vehicles.
“There were so many people just walking around, shopping, going to eat, but I didn’t mind it at all,” Angdembey said. “That’s just the way it was in Nepal.”
The Angdembey family moved to Tampa in January 2006, and Dristi had great difficulty adjusting. They moved to Cypress, where they still currently reside, in 2007.
“In Tampa, most of the kids I went to school with were white. It was hard for me to fit in, to find friends, because I was so clearly ‘different,’” Angdembey said. “In Cypress it was easier. Because the students were mostly Korean, I felt more comfortable — these people looked more like I did!”
While Angdembey struggled to make friends, American life wasn’t too bad. She commented that back in Nepal, milk came straight from the cow and they ate meat only on Sundays. In America, she loved the car that her parents used to transport her back and forth to school, and she noted that they now eat meat for every meal every day.
“The American TV shows they showed in Nepal were very dated, so I thought all the ‘cool’ kids in America were doing things like roller skating,” Angdembey said. “I spent a lot of time by myself when we came to America. I watched a lot of TV… a lot of “Friends!” I cried so much and begged my mom every day to let me go back to Nepal.”
But Angdembey noted that she knew that her mother and father had brought them to America for a better life.
“She told me all the time that America would give me and Darshan opportunities that [she and my dad] never got in Nepal,” said Angdembey. “My drive for success, the pressure I feel comes from me knowing how much my parents have done so that I could be here.”
Angdembey noted that now she can say with confidence that she is American, just as much as she is Nepali.
“When I went back to Nepal [for the first time since moving to America] two years ago, I was disappointed,” Angdembey said. “Everything had changed so much. It wasn’t the city of my childhood. I didn’t feel ‘American’ when I moved to Tampa, but after living in America for so long, I didn’t feel Nepali when I went back to Kathmandu. I longed for home, which was Cypress.”
Angdembey noted the strange duality that comes with having two homes, the longing for one when she is the other. She knows without a doubt that Nepal will be a part of her future, but she’s still not sure about how big a role it will play.
“Will I raise my children there? Will I retire there? Will I live and work there? I don’t know,” Angdembey said. “I don’t know if I’m going to marry a Nepali man, but I know whoever I end up with must love Nepal as much as I do.”
When asked to recall and describe Nepal, Angdembey smiles.
“It’s green. So so so green and so beautiful. So full of culture and life and tradition. It’s my home.”