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Nepal became life-long interest for Fisher

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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The world has gotten smaller in the last 50 years.

One first-hand witness is James F. "Jim" Fisher, a Sedona resident who has spent a rough total of 10 years of his life in a part of the world few could find on a map five decades ago.

Fisher has recently published a book, "At Home in the World: Globalization and the Peace Corps in Nepal," which chronicles not just his journey, but some of the other Peace Corps volunteers who stepped off small DC-3s airplanes in Kathmandu, Nepal, and helped make a smaller planet.

"This tells the story of how I got interested in Nepal," Fisher said. "It's not a memoir, it's a story of the group of people I went with — there were 70 of us. It's as much about them as it is about me."

In 1961, newly-inaugurated President John F. Kennedy called on his fellow Americans to ask what they could do for their country rather than what it could simply do for them.

Among those who answered the call in 1962 was. Fisher, then just 22 years old. He signed up for the Peace Corps, which Kennedy signed into law in September 1961.

The first Peace Corps volunteers effectively started from scratch. In Washington, D.C., volunteers underwent several months of job training, from construction to health to teaching, so as to have the skills to help the Nepali.

Knowledge of the Nepali language in the United States was rudimentary, taught by four Nepali embassy employes, three Nepali students on summer vacation and the two daughters of Nepalese Ambassador Matrika Prasad Koirala.

Volunteers also underwent an extensive FBI background check, to avoid any potential international embarrassment of the new program which many in the U.S. considered a foolish, idealistic adventure.

After arriving in Nepal, the American volunteers began their work, building schools, teaching the Nepali English, treating illnesses and other health issues, and learning about the country. Fisher himself took an interest in the Nepali language and culture, which didn't end after his two-year stint in the country.

"I came back from my two years over there and I began studying anthropology and did a Ph.D. in that. My special area of the world, anthropologically, has always been Nepal, or the Himalayas more generally. It all started with this," Fisher said.

In 1965, Fisher published his first book, "Introductory Nepali" through the University of Missouri. He has published eight books afterward, ranging from anthropological studies of trans-Himalayan traders to the Sherpas, an eastern Nepali ethnic group most commonly associated with assisting Western moutaineers ascend Mt. Everest and other Himalayan peaks.

The book also explores "globalization," but not necessarily in just its economic sense, but how the world has became a global community.

"We no longer think it's unusual for Americans to go to Nepal. But at the time, most of the people had never heard of Nepal," Fisher said. "Most of them had to go look it up. They got a telegram from Washington and some people thought it was 'Naples.'"

"Similarly, people in Nepal didn't know anything about the U.S.," Fisher said. "It was a reciprocal ignorance."

Fisher has since returned more than 30 times, sometimes only spending a few days in the country; other times spending several months. In total, he said 10 years of his life have been spent in Nepal. He said he still learns new things about the country every time he returns.

The biggest changes have come in making the world smaller and easier to reach. Some of the Sherpa villages he visited in 1962 took two weeks to reach by foot. Now with small airstrips, they can be reached in only a few hours. The villages have solar power panels and many rural Nepali also have cell phones, powered by the solar panels.

More than 4,000 Peace Corps volunteers have visited Nepal since Fisher's Nepal I team in 1962. Worldwide, more than 210,000 Americans have served Peace Corps missions in 139 countries.

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Original Publication Date: April 10, 2013

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