Durham, N.C. — For four decades, Kisan Upadhaya searched for the mother and sister he lost halfway around the world.
Last month, in a tearful reunion, his mother got to say the words she had longed to say all that time: "I did not intentionally leave you."
Upadhaya, who now lives in Durham and works as an information technology specialist at Duke University, grew up in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal.
He worked hard and valued his education, attending Tribhuvan University and eventually Durham Technological Community College. He got married, got a good job and settled into life in the Triangle.
But he felt a persistent void, a void that only his family could fill. The fuzzy memories of his early childhood – the day his mother vanished when he was just 4 years old – continued to haunt him.
She told him to go into the kitchen and eat an orange. Then, she fled.
"By the time I finished eating the orange, I came back outside. I started yelling for my mom," Upadhaya said. "She was nowhere to be found."
His mother, Umoti Devi, told Upadhaya that she had no choice but to abandon him and his sister to escape their abusive father. His sister, Maya Devi, was forced into marriage at the age of 8. Upadhaya begged on the streets of Kathmandu and worked in a restaurant to keep food in his stomach. The 4-year-old eventually caught pneumonia, was hospitalized and then taken to an orphanage.
He never stopped searching for his mother and sister. On Facebook, from his home in Durham, Upadhaya met some Indian police officers earlier this year who were able to help him track down his mother, who was living in a remote Indian village. They also helped him find his sister, who was living in Nepal.
The officers contacted a Indian television station to see about setting up a reunion live on the air. The station contacted Upadhaya on Aug. 12.
Then, suddenly, the culmination of Upadhaya's 40-year journey was at last before him. He, his mother and his sister embraced on a television set, ending a long period of separation and heartbreak.
"It is amazing to get a hug from my mom after so many years," Upadhaya said. "It still hasn't sunk in me, honestly. It really hasn't."