Baking as a metaphor for lifeFinding work overseas has been the icing on the cake for this passionate Nepali baker
This is the 24th instalment of Diaspora Diaries, a regular series in Nepali Times with stories of Nepalis living and working abroad.
One of my earliest memories growing up in Butwal is my maternal uncle coming home with cakes on our birthdays. He ran a bakery and his arrival with cakes and other tasty pastries during festivities made me associate the profession with joy and good memories.
Perhaps this is what instaled a passion for baking since my early childhood. Like my uncle, I also wanted to bring joy to others.
From Butwal, I went to Kathmandu for further studies and an undergraduate in hotel management was a natural choice. My uncle had taught me things practically and a formal education pushed me to understand the theory behind what I had seen and learnt in his bakery while growing up. I chose baking as my specialisation.
When Covid-19 hit, I immersed myself completely into the art of baking, and kept myself busy. I had moved back to Butwal and worked at my uncle’s bakery. The lockdown and closing of the world had made time available in abundance and I found ways to stay productive.
From a loyal customer in my uncle’s bakery as a little girl, I had now transitioned to become his protégé, baking cakes in the mornings and bread in the evenings. It came naturally to me, and I realised that this is what I want to do all my life.
Baking is exciting because it combines dedication, creativity and patience, and can transform seemingly familiar household items that are lying around in the kitchen like flour, oil and sugar to rise into mouth-watering delicacies. I particularly like preparing birthday cakes because it allows me to indirectly contribute to and become part of peoples’ lives and celebration.
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When things started getting repetitive at my uncle’s bakery, I moved back to Kathmandu and took up internships at Yak & Yeti and the Marriott. These short-term stints were enjoyable, but what I really wanted was an actual job, and like all Nepalis, I was faced with the dilemma of staying back or leaving.
Having worked in Nepal in different places already, I felt like an overseas job had more to offer by way of learning, and would give me exposure. A job advertisement for a vacancy at the Atlantis in Dubai in my college social media group caught my eyes.
The ‘free visa free ticket’ scheme as advertised felt like a scam, since most recruiting agencies falsely advertise such offers despite charging workers exorbitantly. But when I asked around, I found out that the job facilitated by my recruiter, Vision and Value Overseas, indeed was free and the aspirants were not charged a single penny.
This was too good to be true. Perks like these and the possibility of working at a luxury hotel made the choice to try for an overseas job easy and exciting.
I applied, and the recruitment fair was conveniently held at the Yak & Yeti, the hotel where I was working on a temporary contract. But my heart sank when I did not see my name in the list of selected candidates. Two months later, however, I successfully passed the interview round in another ethical recruitment drive for the same hotel by the same recruiter for which I had prepared more seriously.
Until then, I had not told anyone that I had applied for overseas jobs. My baker uncle was the first person I consulted with when I had the offer, and he encouraged me to pursue my overseas dream.
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It has been four months since I came here to Dubai, but I have already learnt a lot. I get to work with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, but it is also humbling to know that despite the language and cultural differences, we are all the same.
Whether from Mexico, Ukraine or Nepal, we are here in search of better learning and earning opportunities with hopes of improving our lives and pursuing our passions. There is a strong emphasis on soft skills like team work and communications.
While there were language barriers initially, I think my English has now vastly improved. As someone new here, I am still in my learning phase but then again, when does learning really stop?
I may have learnt how to make bread in Nepal, for example, but am also exploring new methods to do so in the UAE as there are differences in the ingredients used and procedures followed. Hygiene, in particular, is of incomparable standards in the kitchen here.
I also have it easier than many because my own brother and a cousin also work together in another hotel in the UAE as bartenders. Having a support system of family members overseas has definitely helped me adjust here. I earn six to seven times more than what I did in Nepal, and am able to send support to my mother and sometimes, even to my grandparents, even though they are reluctant to accept what I send. At this luxury hotel, it is common to see high profile visitors, even though waiters and those in customer facing roles get to interact with them more than we in kitchen who are behind the curtains. But I was fortunate enough to watch a Beyoncé show during our hotel opening. It was exciting beyond words.
My ultimate dream is to become a Pastry Chef, but as a Commis III, I still have a long way to go. My journey has just begun.
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Translated from a phone conversation with the author. Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform for Nepalis to share their experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to ed[email protected] with Diaspora Diaries in the subject line.