A New Friend on the Bus

Although my ancestors all immigrated to the US at one point or another, their lives in their countries of origin are a distant memory, so my family never really had a particular connection to one immigrant group or another.

When I started dating Tri, immigration and immigrant communities were more on my mind. I also became aware of the Nepali community in the US, although it wasn’t until after I returned from study abroad that I felt like I was part of that community myself. And when I did feel like I belonged, I became much more aware of others who were also connected to Nepal in some way. It was exhilarating to meet somebody who had something to do with Nepal because we had an instant connection. It didn’t have to be people who were born and raised there. I’ve felt that same connection with people who have traveled there, lived there, studied there, or who are connected to the Nepali community in other ways.

Although I was excited to meet others with a connection to Nepal after I got back from study abroad, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do so in Philadelphia. Seeing/meeting Nepalis or hearing the language was pretty rare in Philadelphia. There were/are Nepali students at the local colleges and universities (or former students who work in the city) and there’s a population of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese Refugees and we still have some very close Nepali friends in Philly, but the number of Nepali-speakers in Philadelphia is pretty low. For some reason, not as many Nepal-connected-people ended up there.

When we got to Boston, I was surprised to see so many Nepali restaurants and stores around. I’ve also been hearing Nepali everywhere. Outside of Target, in the fitting room at Marshalls, on the bus. The other day I saw this woman dressed in a traditional Nepali lungi (wrap-around cloth used as a skirt). She had her ears pierced from the lobe all the way up to the top and was wearing a thick gold hoop right through the center of her nose. I bugged Tri to go up to her, to say hi, but he wouldn’t do it! Having a large Nepali population around (outside of Nepal) is definitely new and exciting for me and Tri, but being the semi-introverts that we are, it’s a little hard for either of us to start a conversation.

Almost every time I walk home from work, I see an older woman sitting out on the stoop of her house in a yellow maxi (a nightgown-like dress), holding a baby who must be her grandson. She looks very Nepali, and her pote (Nepali marriage beads) and tikka (bindi) are a pretty sure give away that she is. I’ve been dying to talk to her. Every time I pass her, I smile but just can’t get up the courage to say anything. What am I afraid of? Part of it is fear of judgement. Even though most Nepalis I know are very happy to learn that I’m married to a Nepali guy, some of them still act strangely when they hear about our intercultural marriage, especially those who are older. But beyond that, I think it’s my shyness getting in the way.

Yesterday I made a small step in the right direction. I was sitting on the bus headed towards my neighborhood when a very Nepali looking woman wearing tikkaย and pushing a stroller got on. She ended up sitting down right across from me. She probably thought I was some kind of weirdo because I kept stealing glances at her and her baby. I was feeling super shy, but finally I just blurted it out, “tapaai Nepali ho?” (are you Nepali?). “Yes,” she replied back with a big smile.

I told her about how my husband is Nepali and how we had lived there this past year. We talked about families back in Nepal and when she and her husband had arrived in the US. It felt good to speak in Nepali and just strike up a conversation with a stranger who turned out to be really nice!


8 thoughts on “A New Friend on the Bus

  1. That is so cool! Knowing another language really gives you the chance to be part of the larger world. I’m envious ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. that is very nice of you think that way. I am always up for talking with people from different cultures and i really hope the whole mentality on intercultural marriage will change someday

  3. In my city there are not any Nepalis Thats a pitty. But some time ago I was in Berlin by a fair for travel agencys, there was a counter from a nepali travel agency too with a Nepali citizen behind the counter. I take my heart in my hands and asked him…………tapai lai kasto chha? Ohhh he was so happy to hear nepali language in Germany ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Finding as many opportunities as I can to speak Nepali has definitely helped. It’s easier to do that while living in Nepal, but in the US too, I’ve been able to find opportunities to speak Nepali. (for instance, I used to teach ESL to Bhutanese Refugees in the US, and after class or during class-if they were having trouble understanding-we’d speak in Nepali). Another thing is that I make mistakes all the time! I’m sure I sound really ridiculous sometimes, but thankfully people are usually very understanding. Also, once I realized that even just a little bit of Nepali goes a long way, I got over my fears of speaking. So even knowing a few phrases like “what’s your name?” “How are you?” “where do you live?”, etc. can get a conversation going which will make it possible to learn new vocab and constructions. good luck!! Learning the Nepali that I do know has been very frustrating at some points, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

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