I am honored to be asked to write a series of articles here on Nepalese tea. This request also creates an equal, if not greater, feeling of responsibility to the Nepalese tea growers, producers and manufacturers and frankly, the people of Nepal. You see, I have quite literally fallen in love with this country, her people and its TEA! My singular goal is to see this country achieve its rightful place in the global market thereby creating long-term, economic sustainability for a country that is one of the poorest in the world – economically speaking, certainly Nepal is one of the richest in terms of people, their character and its natural beauty. In my series on Nepalese tea, I will focus on each of these concepts more in-depth.
However, for today’s article, I would like to start at the beginning…those first stages of love when your heart stops, you cannot catch your breath and you would do anything to be near your heart’s desire. Yes, this is the story of how I ended up in Nepal and became a fierce advocate for the tea of Nepal.
At the 2011 World Tea Expo in 2011, I was first introduced to Nepalese tea at the World Origins Tasting Tour. I was mesmerized by the unique flavor of the white tea and had to know more. I requested samples, but they did not come fast enough – when cupid’s arrow strikes, you cannot wait months for satisfaction.
Fortunately, an opportunity arose…the USA Tea Association would be taking a group of tea professionals to Nepal to learn more about tea in Nepal. I signed up immediately and also planned a preliminary visit Nepal’s next-door tea neighbor Darjeeling on my own.
I made arrangements for the tea estate in Darjeeling to drive me to the small airport in the eastern part of Nepal, so I could find my way to Kathmandu quicker. However, when we reached the border, my Indian driver said he could no longer take me into Nepal because of a strike banning Indian vehicles in Nepal.
I was frantic…what was I going to do? My Indian driver said he would make other arrangements. About 15 minutes later, an old car, with tires about 2 inches wide, showed up being driven with a man in reflective aviator glasses. Why do aviator glasses make everyone seem nefarious? But, I felt I had no choice, I had a flight to catch. So, I got in the car and waited…
I could not figure out what we were waiting for until another man in aviator glasses jumped into the passenger side and we took off. Of course, I started to really panic. This is the biggest NO for women traveling alone…never get in a car with two men who are complete strangers.
As we were driving, I thought wow, these roads are really good but there are no cars. Is this country so poor no one has cars and if no one has cars, why would they build such nice roads…all of this was going through my head until we turned onto a dirt road. Then I really panicked. No way would we be going to an airport on a dirt road…I was definitely being kidnapped.
Just when I thought things could not get worse, we were stopped by some men. Money was exchanged between the driver and the men who stopped the car. At this point, I just knew I had been sold into slavery. I didn’t know where I was, my blackberry had no signal and all I could see around me were huts made from straw.
So, my new plan was that even though I knew I could not defend myself against two men, I was hoping I could at least injure one of them really badly. As I was trying to figure out how to make this happen, I saw a concrete structure in the distance that had to be the airport. At least now I could at least run somewhere. No need, we drove right to this structure.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed my bags and ran into the building feeling like I had just survived imminent death. I boarded the plane and arrived at the swank 5-star Hyatt in Kathmandu.
The next morning as I was leisurely enjoying milk tea and reading the Himalayan Times, I found out the entire country was under a ‘bandh’ or strike – a tactic employed by a political party to affect the impending ratification of the country’s new democratic constitution. The enforcement of the bandh meant no moving vehicles were allowed on the roads. If a moving vehicle was found on the road, it was being torched and the occupants harassed.
So…those two men who drove me risked themselves and their car to take care of me, a complete stranger. They were my heroes and I didn’t even thank them. It was this realization that made me fall desperately in love with the people of Nepal, as well as the amazing tea.
Since my first introduction to Nepal, I have been returning around four times a year. I keep an apartment in Kathmandu and have been shown time and time again the same level of devotion, love and care that these two men showed me that first day. Each time I visit, I fall deeper in love with the land, the people and the tea.
And this is why, I have no choice but zealous advocacy for Nepalese tea. I love the tea and I love the people.
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JENI DODD, a certified tea specialist, born and raised in America's heartland, has journeyed far from the plains of Kansas to remote tea-growing regions throughout the world in search of the perfect cup of tea. The owner of Jeni Dodd Tea, a company dedicated to importing hand-crafted, unique specialty teas and offering tea education for groups and events, Jeni seeks to expand the public’s awareness of the specialty tea market and lead consumers to discover the exquisite joy of the leaf.
Jeni Dodd’s extensive knowledge and experience coupled with her unique sensory perception have allowed her to create and lead various vibrant experiences across and between communities. She is a thoughtful leader, expert and enthusiast that offers her insight as a guest lecturer at several different events, including large tea expos and conferences. Currently she is a closely advising with Government Authorities in Nepal.
Jeni Dodd Tea in partnership with Horizon Bardu Valley Tea continues to empower the local communities directly by setting up factories and supporting schools in the local community in Nepal.
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