Pro Divers and Goat Meat

Life has been kind of crazy these last few weeks. We’re moving next weekend to our new apartment (yay!), so this past week and weekend have been full of packing, cleaning, and organizing our stuff. Two of my classes just started, so I’m starting homework and papers again. And a lot of our friends have been driving or flying to Boston from Philly, New York, and Kathmandu.

Despite the commotion, we’ve been trying to have some fun, so on Saturday night, we decided to go with some friends to see pro divers jump off of the Institute of Contemporary Art into the Boston Harbor. We had no idea how crowded it was going to be! There were thousands and thousands of people there. With so many cars and bikes and pedestrians, there was absolutely no way we were going to find a place to park, so we had to turn around 😦

Since we had some stuff to drop off at my brother’s apartment, we drove there instead. My brother was also supposed to meet us to watch the divers, but left shortly after we did and met us back at his apartment. After we had all gathered, we walked to Market Basket (the local grocery store) to pick up some food for dinner. Then we walked over to the nearby Indian store to get some essential ingredients for the Nepali-inspired chicken salad we wanted to make, including toreko tel, mustard oil. If it’s available, Tri and I put mustard oil in anything that needs extra flavoring, and we love to make sandheko bhatmas, (soy beans that have been roasted and mixed with raw onions, garlic, chili powder, and mustard oil). So we were happy to finally have our mustard oil.

On the way back, we saw these words written across a Tibetan/Nepali store front: chala sahitko kashiko masu paincha, which Tri translated to something like, “goat meat with skin is available here.” Tri loves goat meat, especially pieces that have lots of fat and skin on them. Although the store was closed on Saturday night, we know where we’re going for goat meat when Dashain rolls around 🙂

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Up with the Morning Sun

Tri and I come from families of early risers. Both of our dads get up by 5 or 6 and have usually done a ton of things by the time Tri or I groggily saunter out of our rooms. My mom’s side of the family isn’t that different. Whenever I’m at a family gathering, if I get up by 7:30, the house is already bustling with activity. People have eaten, are dressed, and are ready to go out for the day.

I used to be an early riser too.

For most of middle school and high school I had to be up by at least 6:30 to get ready for school, but in high school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be up by 5 or 5:30am. I loved the quiet and peace of the morning, and it was an ideal time to do homework. Then college hit. In the beginning I thought that I’d keep it up. When I told a professor about my plans, she laughed at me! (in a kind-hearted way), and I soon realized she was right. Late nights took precedence over early mornings, and I could no longer hope to be up by 5:30am.

When I studied abroad, I was able to get back into the habit of getting up early and remembered how much I love it. Getting up early has always been easier for me in Nepal because it’s so bright in the mornings there. There’s also somewhat of a morning culture, especially in rural areas, that makes getting up a bit easier. I miss waking up to a rooster’s crow or the sound of people calling to each other across the courtyard. If you’re really tired in the mornings, the rooster crow does get old, but for the most part, it’s not a bad way to wake up. And after you do, you get to look forward to a steaming cup of Nepali chiya (tea) and biscuits.

In high school I was waking up at 5 O’clock with the help of an alarm, but while living in a Nepali village, I was up on my own by 5:30am. While trekking, as well, I remember waking up early on my own. One morning while camping, I woke up right before the sunrise. After I got up, I walked down to the bank of the thunderous river we had slept next to the night before and sat down to write in my journal and enjoy this beautiful, rocky spot.

I’ve thought about getting up that early again and wondered if I could hack it without an alarm clock, but I’m worried it wouldn’t happen in the US. In the village, I was going to bed by 7pm. We did have electricity at night, but I had nothing to do. My host family was in bed by that time, so I had no one to talk to, and there were no computers, phones, or internet either. I did have some reading material, but there were only so many times I could read the one book I had brought or go over my class notes from the day, so 7pm became my default bedtime.

In the US, going to bed at 7pm would be crazy and impossible for me, so getting up on my own at 5:30am is not very likely to happen. However, I am trying to get up earlier with the help of an alarm clock.

Tri left early Tuesday morning for a business trip and was away until Wednesday, so I was on my own Tuesday night. He’s not very enthusiastic about getting up early, so I decided to get up with the morning sun on the day he was away. I have to get up at 6:30 anyway to get ready for work in the morning, but I realized it’s been way too long since I’ve seen the sunrise, so I set my alarm for 6. You can see the view from our apartment is not a very good one! But at least I got to see a bit of the morning sun as it peaked above the buildings 🙂

Any other early risers or trying-to-be early risers out there? What are you tips for getting yourself to wake up early?

Still Grieving

Four months ago, on the day of the one year puja for Mamu, the priest tied red doro strings around our wrists in blessing. A similar red string is tied on during Indra Jatra, a festival in late summer, and cut off of the wrist and tied to the tail of a cow during Tihar. You only wear the Indra Jatra string for a few months, but I wasn’t sure how long we were supposed to wear these ones. “I guess until they get frayed and lose their color,” Tri told me when I asked him.

Finally, yesterday, my sting fell off. It just kind of unwound and came apart, and I started to reflect on the last four months that I’ve been wearing it.

When mamu died and I first became aware of the Hindu mourning process, I was shocked at how involved it is. 13 days of wearing white, eating only one meal a day, and seeing visitors all day long. 45 days of no meat. 1 year of no celebrations. All of that was such a contrast to the Western tradition with its one day of mourning, but I accepted it because I had to. Overtime I felt that the mourning period had its upsides, and I think we found solace in it.

Somehow, though, I thought we would be released at the end of one year. Like we had punished ourselves enough, we’d put in our time and could clock out and move on but it hasn’t been that easy. I remember during the one year puja for Mamu’s death, I felt a huge sense of relief. Getting the tikka and blessing from the priest after the hours-long ceremony made me feel like I could join the world again. But as the months have passed since that day in April, things haven’t felt all that different.

Overtime, the sad feelings and shock have ebbed, but our grief is still palpaple. For both Mamu and for my grandmother. I was looking at a pair of earings I wear that my grandmother gave me, and I just burst into tears thinking about her. I really miss her. I grieve for Mamu in a different way. I grieve for the person she was and the person I knew, but I didn’t know her for that long. Mostly, I’ve grieved through Tri and his family and for what I imagine our relationship might have grown into.

I just read this great book called Wild. It’s a memoir written by a woman named Cheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail a few years after her mom died. After she experiences the heart-wrenching, premature death of her mother, she goes way out of wack, cheats on her husband, does heroin. Spending three months hiking helps her to bring her life back into focus. I loved the author’s voice and the stories she had to tell, but by the end of the book, I felt a false sense that everything had been fixed. It’s tempting to believe that doing something crazy or intense will cure all of our troubles. From what she writes, the journey seems to have re-centered her, removed her far enough from the infidelities and drugs so that she could move past them, but I doubt that she stopped grieving afterwards.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I thought that having the one year period to grieve would give us a way to fast track our grief and move on and be okay. Part of me desparetely wants to forget about everything so that we can live our lives. But really, I don’t think there’s anything that can dull the pain and confusion and anger of death except maybe time. We just have to grieve until we’re ready to be done.

Lia Lee’s Story

There’s a riveting book I just read called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down that documents the story of a girl named Lia Lee.

Lia comes from a Hmong family that settled in California after immigrating to the US. At a young age she starts having seizures. Her parents take her into the emergency room, but because she is not having a seizure during the visit and her parents don’t have the English to explain what happened, it takes several visits before she is diagnosed with epilepsy. But even before she is diagnosed by the doctors, the Lees recognize the seizures as the condition where “a spirit catches you and makes you fall down.” In Hmong culture, it’s seen as a source of pride, and those who have epilepsy often grow up to be shamans.

The doctors who care for Lia aim for an agressive course of medicine, but there are issues that make it hard for Lia to get the doses the doctors prescribe. For one, the Lees don’t speak English, are illiterate, and there aren’t always Hmong-English translators on hand at the hospital. So the doctors have trouble communicating the complicated regimen of medicine that Lia needs to take. In addition, the Lees are wary of doctors and believe that the medicine they are prescribing might be making her sicker.

Despite everyone’s attempts to treat and care for Lia, she doesn’t fare well. Eventually Lia has a severe seizure that lasts for two hours. The doctors at her local hospital can’t stop it, and it she is transferred to another hospital with more advanced pediatric care. There, she goes into a coma and is unable to breath or eat on her own. Her doctors think that she will die and allow her parents to take her home. Amazingly, she lives, albeit with severe brain damage.  It turns out that this last seizure wasn’t caused by her epilepsy but by her body going into septic shock after contracting a serious infection. One of the doctors at the pediatric unit she is transferred to suggests that her immune system may have been weakened by the seizure medicine she was taking, which could have led to the infection. So in some ways, the Lee family may have been right, that the medicine was making Lia sicker.

As the story unfolds, the most glaring barriers that both the Lees and the doctors face are linguistic and cultural ones. One of the doctors, Neil, describes it like this,

It felt as if there were this layer of Saran Wrap or something between us, and they were on one side of it and we were on the other side of it. And we were reaching and reaching and we could kind of get into their area, but we couldn’t touch them (91)

Some of my Bhutanese Nepali friends from class

That image felt so real to me and reminded me of the refugee population that I know more about, the Bhutanese Refugees in Philadelphia. In college, I taught English as a Second Language in South Philadelphia and met many Nepali-speaking Bhutanese families who would come into class.

One of the most difficult things that accompanies moving to a new country is overcoming those cultural and linguistic barriers. With that comes trying to figure out the way that things work and learning how to navigate the bureaucratic systems. I remember one time an adult student came into class very upset. She was yelling and almost on the brink of tears. She was speaking in Nepali very quickly, so I had a lot of trouble understanding what she was saying, but I told her that I would help her out after class was over.

After class, I was beginning to get bits and pieces of her story, but I was still having trouble figuring out what was wrong. She invited me over to her apartment to talk to her husband who was able to speak some English. After talking with her husband, I finally understood they were talking about their water bill. They had recently moved to a new apartment but were being charged for both the water bill from the old apartment and for the water bill from the new one. This had been going on for several months.

It took me four separate calls to different departments in the water company to finally find a live person to talk to who was able to transfer me to somebody who could help with the problem. I told the representative what the issue was, and she promised to right the problem immediately. I felt so much for my friend and student who was overwhelmed by the bureaucratic mess. For heaven’s sake, bureaucracy is hard to deal with if you’re a native and speak the country’s language. Imagine trying to call up this organization without knowing how to navigate the system or having the needed language skills.

Although the story of Lia is a sad one, I smiled a lot while reading the book and loved all of the bits of information and anecdotes that Anne Fadiman collected. I learned so much about the Hmong that I never knew. Here’s one of my favorite tidbits from the book,

The Hmong have a phrase…which means ‘to speak of all kinds of things.’ It is often used at the beginning of an oral narrative as a way of reminding the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are; that no event occurs in isolation; that you can miss a lot by sticking to the point (54)

It just loved this 🙂 There’s a lot about American culture that I like, but its obsession with “getting to the point” is not always one of them. In school we’re taught to stick to the point, write concisely, leave out unnecessary details. Which is important sometimes! But maybe there’s a place of balance that would allow for more exploration and wandering off the path.

I loved The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It’s a captivating read that I’d recommend to everyone, especially those who work or interact with people from cultural or linguistic backgrounds different from their own.