Tackling My Bulging Suitcase

I’ve only ever flown through Delhi before when traveling to and from Nepal, but this time around we got a great deal with Qatar Airways, so we’re flying through Doha. We’ve only got about an hour and half layover before we have to catch a plane to our next stop, but I’m excited to at least get a glimpse of the country from the airport windows.

The problem with buying cheap tickets, however, is that you end up paying the price in other ways. While traveling through Delhi, we could take two 23 kg bags each, totaling about 100 pounds per person. But with Qatar Airways and as economy class travelers, we’re only allowed one bag, each weighing 23 kg. It’s a big difference, and not only do we still have the clothing that we brought to Nepal, but we amassed quite a few things while living here.

My already bulging suitcase. And there's still so much left to pack...

Why do we have so many things? And why is it so hard to get rid of them? I don’t love throwing things out, but I do have my cleaning sprees where I’ll go through my room and chuck clothing that’s ratty and old and donate things that others might be able to use. But it’s a little more difficult when you’re part of a Nepali family and/or live in Nepal. Most people in Nepal are quite frugal, which makes sense to me, but that also means saving everything, every plastic container, ever piece of clothing, even the ones you don’t use, every gift you’ve ever been given. You can give these things out to people if you don’t want to keep them but there’s no chucking them in a dumpster.

I was about to throw out an old sweat shirt that someone had given me as a hand-me-down, but Tri looked at me like I was crazy and said I absolutely could not. I get it. It makes total sense to save things, especially in Nepal where things are expensive relative to wages earned and where there are so many people who are in need of more clothing.

But it definitely makes things difficult when you’re trying to move across the world. I think for now we’ll try to stuff our suitcases as full as we can and if we go over a few kg’s, it won’t be the end of the world.¬†Apparently they charge 13 US dollars per kg that’s over the max of 23. Yes, it’s a lot, but our tickets were such a good deal, that it’s not a huge loss.

Alright, I’m going to go and tackle my bulging suitcase. Any suggestions on packing techniques?

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D and Y’s Wedding: Mehndi, Swayambar, and Bihaa

When I was a college sophomore, Tri and I decided to go up to Boston one weekend to visit his friend (I’ll call her D) and her boyfriend Y. It was one of my first interactions with his friends from Nepal. I was happy to practice my budding Nepali skills with them, and they were unbelievably kind to me.

These last few years both of them have been living and working in India, flying to Nepal once in a while to visit family. And luckily for us, they planned their wedding for the last week of April ūüôā

The first event happened on Sunday. It was kind of a welcome event and mehndi party. Mehndi (or henna) is traditionally more of an Indian thing, but Nepali brides are doing it too these days.

Expert mehndi artist decorating my hand

The front turned out really orange!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back is more brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday night was a reception that we couldn’t make it to, but we did go to the Wednesday engagement (swayambar) and wedding (bihaa). These last three days (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) are¬†sahith, which Tri translated as “an auspicious time,” so there have been lots of wedding this week.

Tri dropped me off at D’s house before he headed off to work, and along with some other girls, I got to spend some time with the bride before the ceremonies started. She already had her hair done up when I got there…

It looked absolutely amazing, and as I was arriving, she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. There was a didi¬†helping out who tied her beaded sari for her. Brides are¬†traditionally¬†supposed to wear blood red saris, but D wanted something that looked a little different, so she chose a darker, almost maroon-red color, and it looked great on her. Mostly Nepalis had come to the wedding, but a number of Americans who work in India with D had flown in from Delhi yesterday morning, so I wasn’t the only whitie ūüôā

After D was all dressed and ready, the guests headed downstairs just as the groom, Y, was pulling up in a car. Before he got out, the men in D’s family threw flower petals around the car.

Y got out of the car with a big smile on his face and headed over to the main stage where he sat in the groom’s chair. Then the bride came down from upstairs, and the swayambar ceremony took place. This is the formal engagement. Rings were exchanged as was malla¬†(the green wreath around the groom’s neck)

The priest is to the left, father-in-law to the right, and Y is behind the orange sheet

After a slew of photos were taken, the bride went back upstairs, and the groom stayed near the mandap (a covered tent under which puja is done). His father-in-law came over and they started a ceremony with just the two of them and the priest. Usually people only take tikka from those who are older than they are; I don’t normally see people giving tikka to their elders, but there must an exception with weddings because during this part of the ceremony, Y adorned his father-in-law’s forehead with red powder and rice. Y had to take his shoes off and step up onto a little stool while he and his father-in-law were performing this ceremony, and that’s when the bride’s sisters stole his shoes. (americanepali talks about that here).

Negotiations went on for hours with the groom’s brother and friends, and the sisters even stole the groom’s brother’s shoes, but a sum of 9000 rupees (a little over a hundred dollars) was eventually settled on towards the end of the day. Seriously, kudos to the sisters. The oldest was in ninth grade and quite tough against these late twenty something guys.

The bride came back down again after some time and she and the groom started doing a whole bunch of rituals in the the mandap with the priest. Most of the guests were milling around, eating, and chatting, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing wedding. Here are some more photos from the bihaa (wedding)…

This is when the groom drew a line of sindur along a white cloth and onto D's forehead. That's me in the back holding the cloth on D's head

The car the D & Y drove off in at the end of the day

While D is Baun, Y is Newar. Although both ethncities/castes share a lot of the same Hindu practices, there are some differences. Some of the Newar influence showed up towards the end of the day. D, Y, and their parents sat on the stage around these golden bowls. D had to smell a number of things like leaves and sandalwood and then pass them onto her parents to smell. If anyone knows more about this ceremony, please comment ūüôā

Tri left his office early so that he could be there for some of the wedding. However, we left the wedding pretty soon after he arrived. I had barely done anything all day but I was exhausted. I don’t know how the bride and groom must have felt!

Before we left, we did get a photo of us by the mandap. FYI: I tied my sari myself this time. It looks a little strange in the middle because it’s tucked in, but everyone was impressed with my skills. I’m still working on making the pleats looks better (they end up sagging after a while), but it’s getting there.

D and Y looked amazing and incredibly happy. Dherai badai chha!

On Our Way Out

On April 21st it will be nine months since we arrived in Nepal. Some days I feel like we’ve been here forever and other days, I feel like these months have passed in a second. Now we’re headed back.

Last month we found out that Tri needed to be back in the US for work by summer, but we weren’t exactly sure when. Recently the date was pushed to May 1st, and our flight is in less than a week and a half.

I feel sad to be leaving Nepal. I faced some health issues here (namely asthma) and certainly dealt with culture shock but there are things about Nepal that I absolutely love and am going to miss. I’ll put up a post about that soon.

However, I am looking forward to being able to ride public transportation, have electricity all hours of the day, and buy milk in a gallon container that will last the whole week. I’m looking forward to moving to a new city and starting classes for my masters. In many ways, I’ve loved living with Tri’s family, but I can’t wait for us to be on our own.

Buwa calls the US my ama (mother) and Nepal my sanima, which literally means “little mother,” but is a word for “aunt” in Nepali. I know I’ll always have a home with my¬†sanima. Hopefully Tri and I can visit before too long, and someday we’d like to live here for part of the year. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I can dream ūüôā

The frantic search for apartments in a new city and a suitable car has begun, and there’s so much shopping to do and so many people to visit before we leave. But despite the chaos, we’re trying to relax and enjoy our last week too.

One Year Ago…

One year ago Tri and I got a horrible phone call in the night. It was his cousin. ‚ÄúYou’re mom’s in the hospital,‚ÄĚ he said to Tri. ‚ÄúCome to Nepal now.‚ÄĚ

Tri booked the earliest flight that he could and left for the airport alone. I kissed him goodbye, not knowing exactly what was going on, not knowing how long he’d be there, not knowing when I get to see him again. The next few days were lonely as hell for me. I felt lost and confused. I knew he would reach Nepal by Tuesday night while I was sleeping, and I was hoping that I would get news letting me know that he had made it to his family safely. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, groggy from a restless night, I checked my mail to find something from Tri’s friend: Tri had made it to Nepal, had his seen his mom one last time before the ventilator was turned off, and now she was dead.

Those few days of being alone and unsure and then the shock of finding out that Tri’s mom was dead were the worst days of my life, and I hope that as long as I live, I’ll never have to experience something so heart-wrenching.

Tri, his dad and his brother went immediately into the initial 13-day mourning period required of Hindus, but the next year was also part of that mourning process. This past year we’ve been considered jutho¬†(discussed here and here), unable to partake in religious holidays, weddings, or¬†pujas, except for the monthly shradda. Last week was the puja to mark the end of the year long period. It was a strange experience, both sad and uplifting, a big fat reminder of the nightmare that happened a year ago but also a time to enjoy family and friends.

The puja area with the fire in the middle. Tri, his dad, and his brother were sitting off to the right out of view

On the first day, the family priest came to our house and performed the usual shradda that has been happening every month. Tri and his brother fasted in the morning and participated in the puja. The next day, a similar puja took place at the house. Normally we would have gotten visitors for this puja, but there was a bandha in Kathmandu that day, so only a few people living close by could make it. The third day was the big puja. Eleven priests came to our house. They were required to recite the Mahabharat, a Hindu epic, but because it’s so long, each priest read a part of it so that the whole thing could be finished that day. A picture of Mamu was set in the middle of the puja area, and a fire was lit. Tri, his brother, and his dad were called over by the priests periodically to sit near them and perform certain rituals. I don’t know the meaning behind most of what was going on, but there were a lot of fruits, flowers, and water involved, and one of the priests kept pouring ghyu (clarified butter) into the fire.

This went on from morning into mid afternoon, all the while the fire burning strong. Towards the end, one of the priests went onto the balcony on the second floor of the house and unrolled a red cloth. Buwa grabbed onto it and then Tri, his brother, his dad, his aunt, and I all got under it as the priest poured water along the cloth and onto our heads. I assume it has something to do with purification.

Then a long string of dried leaves was hung across our house to keep the ghosts and bad spirits away. This was actually supposed to be hung up after we moved into our new house, but since we weren’t allow to then because we were jutho, the priest included it in this puja. Afterwards, the priests blessed us with¬†tikka¬†(our first in a year) and then tied red¬†doro¬†strings around our wrists.

Towards the afternoon, people started showing up, hanging around to watch the puja, and after everything was over, we all ate a big meal. Many people came by: neighbors, distant relatives, close ones, friends. In the evening, as fewer guests remained, we all moved into the living room, and although there was sadness, things felt a little festive with people joking and laughing. Mostly, I just felt relief. It feels like we’ve been given the go-ahead to live again, to continue with our lives.

Here are few more photos…

A diyo (candle) in our front hall that burned throughout the puja and into the evening

The remains of the fire lit during the puja

Ironically, the first day of puja fell on Easter. Tri wasn’t supposed to eat meat or eggs that day, so no Easter Eggs for us, but despite the clash in traditions, the two somehow felt similar. I’m a secular Christian more than anything else. I’ve always celebrated Easter but never attached any religious meaning to it. However, I do recognized it as a holiday of death and rebirth. According to Hindu beliefs, Mamu might be out there somewhere, experiencing a rebirth of her own. For us, this ceremony was kind of a renewal and and permission to move onto the next chapter of our lives.

Although we’ve been immobilized by grief and Hindu rules about mourning during this past year, I have to admit that this year has been filled with a lot of wonderful things too. I graduated from college; Tri and I got married. We learned a lot about each other and ourselves, and we moved across the world. I got to meet and know his family and friends better so that now they’re my family and friends too.

Despite the still tangible grief, life is looking pretty good. I recognize what has happened in the past and won’t forget it, but I feel excited for the future.

One Foot in Tibet

Friday was Nepali New Year’s Day. Most people in Kathmandu had the day off including us, so we decided to go on a trip outside of Kathmandu. Last month I wrote a post about our trip to bahra bise, which is along the road to Tibet. While we were hiking, some people had been discussing this place called The Last Resort (I love the name!), which is further towards the border with Tibet. It sounded beautiful, and Tri’s cousin knows some of the people who work there, so he suggested that we all go for an overnight stay.

Tri’s cousin mentioned that we would be sleeping in tents, so Tri and I thought that it would ¬†be a very outdorsy trip. Even though the place does have “resort” in its name, in Nepal, that’s no guarantee that there’s going to be running water or even a hot meal, but The Last Resort really was resort-like.

After driving all morning, we stopped at a long hanging bridge. Holy crap. It was quite a drop to the racing river below.

One of the major attractions of this location is the bungee jumping that they offer. No, I didn’t go bungee jumping, even though everyone was pushing me to, but we did get a video of a beautiful flying leap by one brave soul…

Once we crossed the bridge, we were at The Last Resort.

We rested in grassy common area, had lunch, kicked a ball around with the kids, and then settled into our tents.

They certainly weren’t what I was expecting. These were huge tents with wooden floors and tin roofs built over them to protect from the rain. Here’s Tri settling into our luxury tent…

While exploring, we realized how private and hidden the whole place was. From the other side of the bridge, you can only see the tip of a couple of the tents because of the abundant trees and because of the way it is built onto the hill. The area was green and breezy and nestled between two looming mountains. Quite a relaxing atmosphere.

     

Saturday morning we woke up, hung out for a while, and then decided to drive towards the Tibet border. I was reluctant to leave the resort, but I really wanted to figure out how close I could get to the border. After breakfast, we started on our drive.

It took at least another hour to make it to the small town next to the bridge to China. When the microbus we rented could go not further, we all got out and walked. We weren’t sure If I would be able to get close to the border because I’m American. Nepalis used to be able to cross freely and visit a Chinese market in the town of Khasa by showing their citizenship cards, but these days, they need some kind of permit to go. Someone told us that they knew a guy who wanted to cross, but instead of bringing his citizenship card, he brought his Nepali passport. He showed it to one of the Chinese guards on the bridge, but the guard didn’t recognize it, so he threw it over the side of bridge into the water below. Kind of extreme if you ask me.

Anyway, after we had walked a ways through the sloping town, we finally made it to the famous checkpoint. In turns out that Tri’s cousin knows someone who knows Nepali border patrol guards, so he made sure that it was okay for me to pass by the initial guards before we got to the actual line separating Tibet and Nepal. After we squeezed through a small caged in walkway, past women and men carrying Chinese goods, we walked slowly across the bridge that connects the two countries. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us take photos while on the bridge, but here’s a picture of China from the Nepali side..

While on the bridge, I walked slowly up to the line separating the two countries, and then stepped my right foot over into Tibet. There’s something about straddling the border between two countries that’s just awesome. Borders separating areas that have been traversed freely for centuries or more can be ridiculous and irritating, and without humans around, country borders are meaningless, but I still get a thrill out of being in two places at once. As soon as I stepped my foot over the line, a Chinese guard starting eyeing me and walking towards us, so I quickly pulled it back.

So I made it to Tibet. Next time I go I want to put both feet on Tibetan soil and maybe walk around a bit ūüôā

After filling our bellies in the town below the border, we went on our way back to Kathmandu.

A Fox’s Wedding

It’s been quite stormy around here. In Kathmandu, the month of Chaitra (what we’re in now) is known for it’s lightning, thunder, and rain. The monsoon doesn’t officially start until June, but if I didn’t know any better, I would probably assume this was it. Along with the storms, we’ve been getting some funny rain patterns. Sometimes it will start, stop, and then start again throughout the day, and yesterday it was pouring rain on one side of the house and brilliantly sunny on the other.

I told Buwa about it at dinner last night, and he told me that when he was a kid, they used to say that a sunshower meant that the¬†shyaal (foxes) were getting married. But it wasn’t just foxes that were involved. There was¬†a biraalo baaun (brahman cat) officiating and kukur (dogs) playing instruments during the¬†janti, a procession during the wedding where the new bride is brought to the groom’s house. I then remembered that Tri had told me this story a few years ago while we were watching a Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa called¬†Dreams.

It’s a fantasy movie composed of eight short stories. Although I didn’t watch the whole movie, the IMDb page says that the stories are mostly about “man’s relationship with his environment.” The first one, called “Sunshine Through the Rain” is about a little boy who slips out of his house during a rainstorm and goes to a forest where he witnesses a fox’s wedding. The foxes end up seeing him, which is very bad luck for the boy. He returns home and his mother tells him that a fox has left a knife for him with which he must commit suicide. She tells her son to go and beg forgiveness from the foxes so that he doesn’t have to go through with it. The image at the top of the page is the little boy walking into the forest in search of the foxes.

Now that I’m recalling what happened in the story and looking up the details I’ve forgotten, I’m remembering what a disturbing tale it is! Sometime I’d like to watch the whole movie. It’s a bit slow but its stories are intriguing. I think you can stream it on Netflix if you have it, and here¬†is a good review of the whole film if you’re interested.

Because the Nepali story and the Japanese one are so similar, I’ve been trying to find out if they could be related. The first thing I thought is that the tale might have spread to East Asia along with Buddhism. I found a page from Wikpedia about¬†fox folklore in Japan, and the page does suggest that some of the stories about foxes could have a connection to Buddhism. It also notes that many of the stories about foxes were recorded in a book called Konjaku Monagatarishu, translated as¬†Anthology of Tales from the Past. This book was written in about¬†794-1185 AD and includes tales from India and China in it.

What I love about blogging is that it gives me a good reason to go searching around the internet for interesting stuff. I especially love Wikipedia, and as I’ve been exploring information about sunshowers, I found out that a lot of different cultures say that something special happens when the rain and sun are battling it out. This page gives some examples. For one, some people in the US claim that “the Devil is beating his wife” when the sun and rain are both present, but more interesting than that, most of the cultures mentioned on this page claim that some kind of animal is getting married while it’s both raining and the sun is shining. Below I copied the sayings from the website that mentioned something about animals getting married. Look at this…

  • In¬†South African¬†English, a sunshower is referred to as a “monkey‚Äôs wedding”, a loan translation of the¬†Zuluumshado wezinkawu, a wedding for¬†monkeys.[2]¬†In¬†Afrikaans, it is referred to as¬†jakkalstrou,[2]jackals¬†wedding, or also¬†Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou as dit re√ęn en die son skyn flou, meaning: “Jackal marries¬†Wolf‘s wife when it rains and the sun shines faintly.”
  • In¬†Hindi, it is also called “the foxes wedding”.[2]
  • In¬†Konkani, it is called “a monkey’s wedding”.
  • In¬†Sinhala, it is called “the foxes wedding”.
  • In¬†Bengali, it is called “a devil’s wedding”.
  • In¬†Brazil, people say “Rain and sun (chuva e sol), Snail’s (caracol) wedding”, “Sun and rain (sol e chuva), Widow’s (vi√ļva) marriage”, or “Casamento da Raposa” (Fox’s Wedding).
  • In¬†Arabic, the term is “the rats are getting married”.[2]
  • In¬†Korea, a male¬†tiger¬†gets married to a¬†fox.
  • In various African languages,¬†leopards¬†are getting married.
  • In¬†Kenya,¬†hyenas¬†are getting married.
  • In¬†Bulgaria, there is a saying about the bear marrying.[2]
  • In Tamil Nadu, South India, the¬†Tamil¬†speaking people say that the fox and the crow/raven are getting married.
  • In¬†Mazandarani language, in north of¬†Iran, it is also called “the jackal‚Äôs wedding”.
  • In¬†Pashto, it is also called “Da gidarh wade” or “the jackal’s wedding”.

I can imagine why many areas in South Asia and the Middle East would have folklore about animals (mostly jackels or foxes) getting married. Contact among and between these places was and still is common. Of the above languages, that includes: Hindi, Konkani, Sinhala, Bengali, Mazandarani, Tamil, Pashto, and Arabic (not all related languages).

The European cultures and languages that make use of this folklore may have come up with it independently, but the wedding aspect that is associated with sunshowers seems so specific to me, so maybe the folklore about the wedding goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. Maybe it spread to areas of Europe with the spread of language (that would include Bulgarian, Afrikaans, and Portuguese, spoken in Brazil).

But I’m so intrigued by the similar folklore that has African routes, the “monkey’s wedding” that comes from Zulu and the “Hyenas wedding” that comes from Kenya. Could folklore from other parts of the world have influenced the African folklore? Or could the African folklore have influenced folklore elsewhere? Could these tales have arisen independently? I would guess they probably did, but it seems so incredible to me. Is there something about a sunshower that seems particularly matrimonial? So many questions… I don’t really know anything about the rise and spread of tales, stories and oral traditions, but the whole thing is quite interesting.

Negotiating Skin

Source: famouswonders.com/positano-on-the-amalfi-coast/

In fifth grade, my parents took me and my brothers to the rocky beaches of Italy. One day when we went down to the water, I was utterly shocked to see grown women casually going topless, lying on their blankets, sunbathing, and swimming in such a public place. In the US, from just a wee age, girls (even female babies) are often expected to cover up on top, whether there’s anything to cover or not, at least at the places and beaches I frequented. It’s silly really, but what I was used to. I remember one time when I was at my grandparents’ house as a kid, my grandmother had let my brothers take off their shirts in the hot whether while we were playing baseball outside. My feminist 7-year-old self insisted that I too would take off my shirt in the heat. And I did.¬†But really, I’m quite modest and uncomfortable when it comes to showing skin. I’ve never felt at ease wearing short shorts and bakinis, although I used to wear skirts and pants to the knee pretty frequently and bathing suits at the beach.

Before I came here, I suspected that women in Nepal would be fairly covered, but I found out that it really depends on where you are. Women in urban areas generally cover their legs, but more and more, you see girls and women wearing shorts or very short skirts. In rural areas, older women sometimes bathe bare chested, and it’s really not a big deal. Then, of course, there’s the sari. You can wear it without showing any mid-section, but many women do show at least some of their stomachs.

Some people in Nepal are able to get away with showing more skin, but I have taken a fairly conservative route while living here. Since people already assume all sorts of things about me as a foreigner, I didn’t want to give them any fodder to fuel their opinions, so I’ve always tried to wear simple and conservative pieces that don’t show a lot of skin. Especially as a married woman. If I were to go around in shorts, I would get stares and possibly scowls from those who know me (at least that’s the impression I get).

The other day we had to wear a sari to school for our class photos. I was dreading it because I don’t particularly like wearing them. I only have one, and it’s quite heavy and hard to walk in, but all the other teachers were planning to wear saris, and I didn’t want to be the odd one out. I mind saris not only because they can be uncomfortable but also because they show the stomach. I always feel very exposed in one. I suppose I could tie it in a way that would allow me to cover more of my midriff, but that’s more of a trend among matronly women, and I think people would be bugging me to tie it in a different way. In many places in the US, it’s moderately inapropriate to be walking around with your stomach showing (outside of the beach or another area where people are wearing bathing suits), so I understand where my discomfort comes from, but I’m not sure why I can’t just loosen up and not worry about it.

Where does this leave me? I think I’m caught between American customs and Nepali ones. I’m not comfortable doing it the way I used to, wearing shorts and skirts that at least come to the knee, but I can’t fully adopt the Nepali system either.¬†I don’t want to be so averse to showing my skin, especially when it’s hot out and more comfortable to wear lighter clothing that’s less prone to covering skin. Maybe I I’ll relax a bit when we get back to the US and can find a system that feels both appropriate and comfortable.