Student’s amazing trek from Nepal to Rappahannock leads to Botswana

Amrit Tamang’s remarkable journey continues unabated.

“Plucked” at the age of 9 from a tiny mountain village in Nepal and “dropped” into Ms. Wharton’s 4th grade class at Rappahannock Elementary School — going on to graduate with the RCHS class of 2014 and in the coming weeks from George Mason University — Amrit is now bound for Botswana.

On a visit to the Nepalese village of Kalche several years ago, Surja Tamang and wife Medge Carter flank Surja’s mother, Ama. Courtesy photo

“Amrit is joining the Peace Corps — three months of training and twenty-four months of service, so a total of twenty-seven months,” says a beaming Medge Carter, who has every reason to be proud.

For anybody not familiar with Rappahannock County’s Environmental Health Specialist, Medge and her family’s individual journeys are nothing short of extraordinary.

“A friend of mine and I decided to go trekking in Nepal 2004 and my [future] husband was our guide,” she begins her own amazing story. “That’s how I met him. We did just a little section of the Everest Base Camp Trek.”

National Geographic Expeditions is not so modest: “Everest’s daunting summit soars so high that trekking to its base camp — 17,590 feet — is still an adventure of the highest sort.”

Medge’s adventure almost didn’t happen. The Nepalese Civil War was in one of its bloodiest periods, with the Maoist Communist Party fighting the Nepalese government. More than 13,000 people died in the decade long conflict, with thousands more injured and missing.

“We read the State Department stuff and they said don’t go,” she recalls. “And here’s the funny thing: they had just pulled the Peace Corps out of there, out of Nepal. Which is one of the reasons we almost didn’t go.”

But Everest called, and as it was the only menace to rear its ugly head upon arrival in Kathmandu was a gastrointestinal bug.

“Right off the bat,” says Medge, “and he took such good care of me.”

Not the bug, mind you, but Surja Tamang, Amrit’s dad and Medge’s friendly Sherpa guide. And by stroke of good fortune her husband-to-be.

So was it love at first sight?

“I really wasn’t up for falling in love at first sight with anybody at that point,” she laughs, “but after I started feeling better then it was love after the fourth or fifth day.”

Medge and her traveling companion would stay in Nepal for a few weeks, enough time for she and Surja to share stories of their lives. And to her delight they would continue to communicate through cyberspace after her return to Virginia.

Amrit Tamang hauls rice to his family’s earthquake-damaged village in Nepal. Courtesy photo

“We emailed back and forth for about six months,” she says. “This [relationship] would not have happened if not for the Internet.”

Spring of 2005 was on the horizon and the couple decided to take their budding relationship one step further: it was agreed that Medge would travel the 7,644 miles back to Nepal to meet Surja’s family. Any such trip surrounding an evolving romance comes with its risks, but Medge was determined to give it her best shot.

As she put it, I had find out “What is this?”

Then there was the Civil War to concern herself with (at that point 20 months shy of a peace accord).

“It was kind of scary,” she remembers. “Amrit came down from the village, he was only 9, and he kind of just casually mentioned that a couple of his teachers had been kidnapped by the Maoists the weekend before. So they decided it wasn’t really safe for me to go up into the village.

“But I met a few of his relatives who were in Kathmandu,” she says. “And it was the first time I met Amrit.”

It was during this second solo journey to Nepal that Medge and Surja were able to discuss marriage face to face. They even had “promise rings” handcrafted by a roadside silversmith.

“He [Surja] has one just like this,” Medge says, raising her ring finger, “and they’re made out of the same piece of silver. We had them made on the side of the road in Katmandu for like $2.50 for both of them, and we watched them be made.”

Medge soon departed for Rappahannock, and “on the way back I got another GI bug,” but this trip home had new purpose.

“In June I filed the first section of the fiancé visa petition,” she explains. “And our immigration journey was lightning fast, really quick. I submitted an engagement announcement in the [Rappahannock News], which I used as evidence in our visa process.”

And before anybody knew it “when I went back [to Nepal] in October 2005 they came back with me.”

In other words, Surja, Medge and Amrit were on their way to becoming a family. They would live in Rappahannock County, where Surja would become employed and Amrit would attend school. But before everything was put into motion Medge insisted there be one stop upon arrival in the United States.

“We flew into JFK and I took them immediately to the Statue of Liberty,” she reveals. That important day was October 21, and the couple would be married by then Rappahannock Clerk of Court Diane Bruce on Nov. 14, 2005.

“You have ninety days to marry after you arrive here,” Medge notes. “We got married within the first few weeks. We just knew.”

As for a 9-year-old boy suddenly leaving a remote mountain village a world away for Rappahannock County, it certainly presented its share of childhood challenges.

“Of all things, can you believe they were learning about the land bridge, about how people from Asia came over to this country and became our Native Americans. That was one of the first lessons Amrit had,” Medge recalls. “He did really well [acclimating to his new life in America]. His entree into the social world at Rappahannock Elementary School was that soccer ball, because he was really good at soccer, and that made other kids want to play with him.”

When he graduated RCHS the handsome Amrit had all the friends in the world. And then came April 25, 2015, when he was wrapping up his freshman year at George Mason and a catastrophic earthquake struck Kathmandu and surrounding mountain villages, including his own. At least 9,000 people were killed, thousands more injured, and more than 600,000 structures damaged or destroyed. For some time the family had no word on the well-being of Surja’s elderly parents, who fortunately would turn up safe.

Amrit Tamang (center, light-colored shirt) poses with family and village residents before putting to use some of the earthquake relief supplies Rappahannock residents helped provide. Courtesy photo

From so many miles away the family began to help the survivors, and in doing so they would appeal for assistance from Rappahannock County residents, who responded generously. And as fast as he could get through his exams the athletic Amrit made his way to his relatives’ devastated villages to lend his hands to the relief effort, often traveling by foot.

Today, as Medge describes it, Surja “is your friendly Amissville landfill guy.” And every two years he and his wife and their son return to Nepal to be with family. As for Amrit, he will graduate in May from George Mason University with a degree in Global and Community Health. And soon thereafter he will set off for Botswana.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at