Becoming Part of a Nepali Family

When Tri first told his parents that he had an American girlfriend, they were a little worried. They had known several Nepalis who had married women from abroad, but none of their marriages had worked out.

But when his parents came to visit us for his college graduation, everything went amazingly well. I had talked to them on the phone a few times before they came over, and they were very excited to meet me. Despite initial anxieties expressed by his mom, I have always felt very welcomed into their family and now that I am in Nepal, I’ve felt very welcomed into their home. Part of the reason it’s been such a smooth transition is because of the way that Nepali culture treats married women. Traditionally, women live in their natal home (In Nepali, it’s called a maiti) until marriage and then move into their husband’s home after the wedding. Some couples now are living on their own before or after marriage, but it’s still very common for the bride to move in with the groom’s family.

Because of this tradition, it’s socially and culturally acceptable for me to be living with his family. Even people who normally look down on Nepali-foreigner marriages find it appropriate that we moved in with Tri’s dad and brother after marriage. It’s also not uncommon for women to travel great distances when moving to their husband’s homes. I’ve met a couple women who were born and raised in Western Nepal and even India who moved to Kathmandu after meeting and marrying their husbands.

If Tri were the foreigner, and I were Nepali, however, it would probably be much harder for us. Women in Nepal traditionally have less autonomy than men, so it’s often harder for them to marry outside of their caste, religion, race, nationality, etc. It would also be harder for a foreign man to move in with his Nepali wife’s family.

Certain aspects of Nepali culture have made the transition into a Nepali family much easier for me, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support that I received from Tri’s parents. They always made me feel welcomed and loved in their home and have been infinitely patient with me as I learn a new language and culture.

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Sick…Again! And on the First Day of Dashain

Today is the first day of Dashain, one of the biggest Nepali holidays. I have the day off from work, so I finally have time to write a post 🙂 In other news, I have diarrhea 😦 I promised myself when I started this blog that I would write about our nepali jiwan (Nepali life), both the good and the bad, so I guess here’s a post about the bad.

The World Health Organization estimates that diarrhea causes 4% of all deaths every year, killing mostly children in developing countries. If not treated, diarrhea can get very serious very fast. Mine has not gotten to a critical point yet, but I have started taking some medicine to get better. To deal with my stomach issues, I have to drink lots of jiwan jal, which means “life water.” It’s powder full of electrolytes that must be mixed with water. When I lived in a Nepali village for about a month, we didn’t have anything sweet to eat, so I used to mix this stuff with water and drink it occasionally when I was having a sugar craving (I know, it’s a little gross). This morning, the only problem with the jiwan jal was that I couldn’t read the directions on the packet! Here they are:

Jiwan Jhol

Tri, his brother, and bua are all at work, so I don’t have anyone to translate the Devanagari for me (the script in which Nepali is written).

It’s not that hard to make the jiwan jal; you just mix the powder in with hot water, as the pictures show. But I couldn’t figure out the proportions, so I ended up winging it. It tasted alright, though, so I think I did okay.

People are very open here about health issues, especially when it comes to stomach problems. In the US, I wouldn’t discuss the state of my stomach with anyone but Tri and maybe my parents, but here, everybody knows. Tri, his brother and father, their friends, even the neighbors sometimes know. I used to be embarrassed about it, but I realized that this information is shared for a reason. The more people know about it, the more likely you are to get the medicine and help that you need.

That’s all on my health issues for now. We’re heading out of Kathmandu next week, though, and traveling can be the easiest way to pick up bugs, but hopefully I won’t have anymore problems for a while…

A Letter from the US

Before I came over here, I got a call from the Gallup Poll. I don’t usually respond to polls because the ones who call us are often funded by the far right or the far left, but Gallup is supposed to be pretty objective.

They asked me a lot of questions about being a young person in the US, about college, about how the economy is affecting me, etc. They then asked if they could send me a follow up questionnaire. I said yes but told them I would be leaving the country. I gave them my new address but didn’t expect anything to arrive. Yesterday, to my disbelief, a letter from Gallup arrived!

They cared enough to send it over here, so I’m definitely going to answer the questions. They also sent along a little piece of home:

Someone offered me 100 rupees for it (about 25 Nepali rupees more than a US dollar), but I just couldn’t part with it.

East-West Music Collaboration

Bollywood music airs a lot in Nepal. The radio is full of Hindi songs, and the TV has several channels that show only Hindi music videos. I’m not a huge fan of Bollywood movies, and Tri absolutely refuses to watch them, but I do like some of the pop music that’s produced in India. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of Hindi songs that weave in Western melodies or combine original Hindi lyrics and tunes with Western pop songs. I’ve heard at least two Hindi songs on the radio that are sung in both Hindi and Spanish, like “Senorita” from the movie “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”…

There’s also a song that my brother-in-law really likes called “Dildara Dildara.” Some of the lyrics and melody have been taken from the American song, “Stand By Me” and infused with Hindi lyrics and some original melody…

Another one of my new favorite Hindi songs, “Tu Meri Chamak Challo,” is sung by Akon (the Senegalese-American singer) in both Hindi and English. I think it’s from the same movie as the song above…

I don’t know if Akon’s song is airing in the US, but other America-based musicians have also collaborated with South Asian musicians or used South Asian beats in their music and successfully distributed their songs in the US. So not only is Western pop music being incorporated into South Asian music, South Asian music is influencing Western songs as well. Jay-Z worked with the British-Indian artist Punjabi MC to produce “Mundian Tu Bach Ke,” featuring Bhangra tunes (from the Punjab region in Pakistan and India), and Missy Elliot (the American singer) also incorporated Bhangra music into her song “Get Ur Freak On.”

I really enjoy music that incorporates bits and pieces of many styles. It always makes for great listening.

Biggest Earthquake in 80 Years

I just experienced my first earthquake. We were all over at Mama’s (maternal uncle) house; Tri, Mama, Tri’s 3-year-old cousin, and I were on the roof, looking over the city, and the water tank started to shake. Mama yelled buichaalo ayo! “It’s an earthquake!” and grabbed Tri’s cousin.

I didn’t know what buichaalo meant; I thought it was some kind of animal, so I started looking around the roof. Then we heard Tri’s brother yelling at us from outside of the house. “Come down!” he was saying in Nepali. I finally figured out what was going on, and Tri, Mama, and I started running down the stairs.

The whole house was shaking. Once we made it outside, we saw all of the other neighbors had come out too. We stood around, shocked, but after a few minutes decided that it was safe to go back in.

When we got back inside, we turned on the news and found out it had hit much of northern South Asia. Sikkim was at the center. We’re watching the news right now, and there’s been some damage in Kathmandu, and at least three people died. It’s apparently the biggest earthquake in 80 years and lasted for about 30-40 seconds. Here’s some more information  from US Geological Survey.

Update: Here’s an article from The New York Times about the quake. It reports 6 dead in Nepal and a total of 91 people in India, Tibet, and Nepal.

Shradda

Mamu’s shradda was on Thursday. After someone dies in the family, if you are Nepali Hindu, you have a priest perform puja (religious prayers and worship) for that person every month for a year. After a year is up, you must do it once a year, on the day he or she died. This is called shradda and is done to feed the deceased.

On Wednesday, the day before, Tri, his brother, and his dad had to refrain from eating meat and eggs and could only eat one meal of daalbhaat (rice and lentils). We weren’t sure if I was supposed to fast or not so to be on the safe side, I didn’t eat meat or eggs either. And I actually made a mistake that day. Usually we have rice in the morning and roti for dinner. Because I had eaten about 6 rotis for lunch (they were really good), I didn’t want to eat them for dinner, so I made myself some rice. After I started eating, Tri’s brother told me I wasn’t supposed to have more than one meal with rice the day before shradda.

On Thursday morning, Tri and his brother had to fast until the puja finished. All of this fasting has to do with purity. To partake in the puja on Thursday, Tri and his brother had to be pure. Neither I nor my father-in-law were part of the puja for my mother-in-law because only the sons of the deceased have to perform shradda, so we didn’t have to fast that morning.

After the priest came over, he arranged some flowers, fruit, and spices in pots specially used for puja and in bowls made from dried banyan leaves. After he finished getting ready, Tri and his brother went to the roof of the house, where the puja was taking place. The priest recited prayers, gave them some special water to drink, and gave them each a new sacred thread to wear. The long white string is worn like a sash inside of the clothing. Traditionally Hindu Baun (Brahman) men were supposed to wear this sacred thread all the time, but I don’t think it’s as common today. After the puja finished, we all sat down to have daalbhaat.
            On Friday, we had another shradda for 16 generations of my father-in-law’s ancestors. This puja occurs only once a year and is also done to feed the ancestors. It reminds me of a book I read by Lisa See called Peony in Love about a young girl in China during the 17th Century. I’m skipping over a bunch of the story, but from what I remember, the main character dies and becomes a ghost. However, because her funeral rites do not happen as they should and no one in her family sends her offerings, she starves in the afterlife. We were talking about this tradition in the context of Hinduism, and Tri made the point that if your ancestors have already been reincarnated, why would you need to feed them? I’ve learned a lot about Nepali Hinduism in the last few years, but I still have so many questions.

Missing Some Things from Home

I haven’t talked to an American in weeks (outside of skype and gchat). I have been meeting lots of really awesome, friendly people around my age, but I miss connecting over American culture. I also miss food from home…My cravings seem to come in waves. I’ll totally forget about whole wheat bread or home-made cake or chicken noodle soup and then I’ll see something or smell something and it all comes back. Last week, someone with sweet-smelling perfume walked by. It happened to really smell like sticky buns, and after I got a wiff, all I could think about was those delicious gooey desserts.

A Turkish lady I know told me that it took her two years to adjust to life in the US, but it never really felt like home. When I came to Nepal for the first time, everything seemed strange and new, but slowly things became more normal, and I didn’t look on with wide eyes every time the morning meal was being cooked. But there are some things that I probably won’t ever feel comfortable with. The traffic is one thing. Other things have to do with culture and tradition. At least in the Baun and Chhetri castes, women (particularly mothers) traditionally serve other family members first, making sure they are fed, and then eat after everyone else has finished. Because of rules about jutho (where after you start eating with your hands, you can’t reach to take seconds; someone else has to do it for you), this method may be practical. But it’s never going to feel right to me.

I miss some aspects American culture, but I never have to fear that I’ll forget my traditions or that my children will never learn them. It’s different for those who move to the US. In Nepal, the channels on TV are fulls of English language programs, and cuisine from the US is served in plenty of restaurants. If I raise children in Nepal, they will learn both Nepali and English. If I raise children in the US, they might speak a little bit of Nepali but probably won’t be fluent. Not all immigrants to the US want to maintain the culture or language of the country they come from. But for those who do want to preserve these things, it can be very hard, particularly in the face of discrimination and anti-immigrant feeling.

I know that things will continue to get easier, and I’m hoping my cravings for the American food will diminish. I also have Tri! Not only does he understand my American mannerisms and culture, but he’s also really supportive, and when I’m having a bad day, he always makes feel better.