The lock on Navraj Lamichhane’s green rollerboard suitcase wouldn’t open, no matter how many times he tried the code. It was Lamichhane’s second day in the United States. He’d hopped four flights from Nepal taking more than 20 hours.
But it had taken him much longer to get to Vancouver.
Years, in fact.
What brought him from Kathmandu was a friendship with Dr. Beverly Questad, an English teacher at Skyview High School; Richard Lu, a Skyview student; and Samir Sen, a Skyview alum.
Questad and Lamichhane met at Bright Horizon Children’s Home in Nepal. Lamichhane, now 23, had lived there since he was 6. He met Questad in summer 2013 as she was teaching through the nonprofit Helping Hand for Nepal.
“I needed help and she was there,” remembers Lamichhane, who asked Questad for assistance with preparing for the SAT.
Through Questad, Lamichhane also eventually met Sen. But it wasn’t until after the devastating April 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed and injured tens of thousands that he was introduced to Lu.
In the aftermath of the quake, Questad hoped to offer some kind of aid. After consulting with friends in Nepal, Questad attempted to order tents from a Chinese company for the survivors. But language barriers made the transaction difficult.
Fortunately, she knew a student who spoke Chinese at home: Skyview senior Richard Lu, her classroom assistant.
Lu and his father contacted the Ningbo Zhenhai Jingxing Import & Export Co. The company donated 10 tents with capacity for up to four people. Questad purchased another 10 at cost and paid the shipping costs on the entire order.
When the tents arrived in Nepal, officials prohibited Lamichhane from distributing them. But Lamichhane is hopeful that they made it to people in the Dhading District, his birthplace.
“The tents couldn’t have gotten anywhere if not for Richard,” Questad says.
Negotiating international aid isn’t Lu’s only talent. A student in Skyview’s Science, Math and Technology magnet program, Lu is a semifinalist in the National Merit program and an accomplished musician like his brother, Fred Lu.
“The way he talks—gently—is the way he plays,” Questad says of Richard. Outside of school, Lu entertains patients, visitors and staff at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center with his own piano renditions of pop songs. He hasn’t taken a lesson in years and plays by ear.
As talented as he is on the piano, however, he’s equally if not more skilled at the cello. Lu performs as a co-principal cellist with the Portland Youth Philharmonic. That is, when he’s not busking on the streets of Portland with friends.
Lamichhane, who plays guitar, thinks it was a shared love of music that struck an enduring chord among Lu, Sen and himself. The trio continued to talk even after the tents were dispatched. With Questad, they call themselves the Four Musketeers.
“It was a great experience for me, to meet people from other parts of the world,” Lamichhane says.
And in Questad’s Skyview classroom on Dec. 15, Lamichhane’s suitcase finally opened as another Skyview staff member sheared the lock. Dressed for the Pacific Northwest in a gray down jacket and shoes that looked capable of withstanding a hike up Hamilton Mountain, he presented Lu with a Nepali T-shirt. He’d also packed a gift of prayer flags.
Lu thanked him.
Now Lamichhane is enrolled at Washington State University Vancouver, where he will study business beginning in January 2016. “Coming to the U.S. was so important for me,” he says. “I worked so hard.”
Lu is considering medicine for his own college studies. He’d like to minor in music. He’s eyeing Stanford, Harvard, Yale or perhaps another school in the Ivy League. “Dream schools,” he says with a humble grin.
In the coming week, the group will hold a reunion of sorts as Lamichhane, Questad, Lu and Sen all finally meet in the same room at one time. Lamichhane plans to cook a Nepali dinner.
Their association may be the most important outcome of the past eight months.
Says Lu, “Even though the tents didn’t get to Navraj, I got to meet him through this process and develop a new friendship.”
Pictured above, from left: Navraj Lamichhane, Dr. Beverly Questad and Richard Lu. Second photo: Navraj Lamichhane, left, presents Richard Lu with a gift.