Dashain 2012

The last month has just flown by. With the tropical storm that hit the east coast, the presidential election and the holidays, it’s gone by so quickly! But before the start of these busy last few weeks, we celebrated a quiet Dashain.

This was my sixth Dashain. I can’t believe it’s already been six years since I met Tri and started to get to know the Nepali community. The first year I celebrated, we didn’t have a traditional celebration, but I did go to a Dashain party on campus. The next year was pretty much the same. Dashain didn’t take on much meaning for me until I studied abroad.

A Dashain swing made from Bamboo

One of my most memorable experiences with Dashain involves watching my host family slaughter a goat while I was abroad. I wrote a little bit about it here. I had never seen an animal killed before, especially not with a knife, and I wasn’t particularly pleased about watching the goat die, but I guess it was kind of educational.

Although the extensive meat eating isn’t my favorite thing about Dashain, one of the things I’ve always loved are the blessings. Older people give younger people tika and often money or presents. I’ve always liked getting and giving tika because it’s a nice way to connect with others. The games are fun too. Card games for adults and kite flying and swings for the kids.

In Nepal, Dasain is celebrated over the course of 15 days (with certain days being more important than others), but in the US, a lot of families do most of their celebrating on one day. For the main tika day this year, Tri and I went over to a family friend’s house to get tika, have delicious food, and play games.

Tri giving me tikka

Since I still haven’t learned how to play Nepali card games, I stuck to the simpler game – lungur burja. There are six different symbols on the board game. The dealer has three dice, and when he rolls them, if the picture on one of his die matches the picture that you put your piece on, you get your points doubled.

Although Tri and I have celebrated Dashain together before, this was the first time that Tri gave me tika. Husbands usually give their wives tika, but it’s never the other way around. I feel a little bit ambivalent about the patriarchal tradition, but nonetheless, I am very happy to get a blessing from my husband.

Happy late Dashain, everyone!

The Move Is Finally Over

The move is finally over! Moving is such an exhausting process, no matter how much practice you’ve had. These last three months we were living in a sublet but started our year-long lease on Saturday. It’s incredible how much we’ve collected these last few months. We came to Boston with a couple of suitcases and a bed frame, but this summer we added to that three dressers, a mattress, kitchen supplies, and a bike.

Because we had a fair amount of stuff to move, Tri and I decided to rent a small van. In Boston, most leases don’t allow tenants to stay in their old apartment on the night of August 31st, so we had to have everything out by August 30th. Luckily my brother agreed to let us store some things in his basement last week. We decided to try and move most of our stuff by last Wednesday, so that afternoon Tri went to pick up the van from the rental company. About half an hour later, he pulled up to our apartment driving a 16 foot truck! Their website claimed that they rented out vans, but apparently the rental place only has trucks.

When Tri rolled up to our apartment in that truck, my jaw dropped. How were we going to drive this monster to my brother’s apartment? Despite our apprehension, we filled the massive truck with all of our stuff, closed the back, and started on the slow journey. As we were leaving the driveway, Tri kept telling me to look out my window to make sure he wouldn’t hit anything. Everything seemed fine, so I told him to keep going. As he turned right out of the lot, we heard a screeeeech, what sounded like metal against metal. I had failed to inform him about a randomly placed poll sticking out from the curb, thinking that Tri would be able to dodge it, but as we turned, it grated against the side of the truck. When I heard the screech, I freaked out and decided that we had to return the truck immediately. We couldn’t back the truck up into the lot, so we spent the next five harrowing minutes going around the block to get back to our apartment building. Once there, we unloaded everything and went to return the vehicle. Maybe I overreacted and it would have been fine, but I’d rather not take the chance.

We ended up taking everything over in our car, which took about 4 or 5 trips. Despite the inconvenience, the peace of mind was well worth it 🙂

Every time we move we end up reminiscing about the other moves we’ve done. This time we were remembering the one last winter, which was way more complicated but in the end, a little more peaceful.

For the first 6 months in Nepal, we lived in a rental house while the new home was being built. Then, last January, we moved to the new place. The first day that we moved into the new house, there were about 20 people going in and out. There were construction guys finishing up extra work, there were movers, and then there were aunts and uncles who came over to help. That morning we had to eat our meal of daalbhaat in the new house, and a few of Tri’s aunts from his dad’s side came over to cook. After we had done a good chunk of work, we sat down for our meal. In addition to daalbhaat, they cooked khir (rice pudding), which is supposedly important to eat on the first day in your new house. The cooking added to the commotion in the house, but it was a nice way to settle in.

The huge job of moving a house full of stuff made the move in Nepal much more hectic, but after most of the work was done, we had a puja, which kind of calmed everyone down. When moving to a new place, puja is supposed to be performed in the new house to bless it. Since we weren’t allowed to be part of pujas last year, someone else had to fill in. One of Tri’s aunts did the job. The priest started by lighting some incense and setting out flowers and fruit in front of the doorway after which he chanted some prayers. Then people in the house gathered and a procession started that went around the house into every room and up to the pujagarne kotha (the small room where the puja is done). There the priest set out more flowers and fruits in banyan leaf bowls.

We didn’t have a puja for our new apartment, but we did have our first home-cooked meal in the new apartment last night. Thanks goodness the stress of the last few weeks is over and we can settle in to our new place!

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.

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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!

One Year Ago…

One year ago Tri and I got a horrible phone call in the night. It was his cousin. “You’re mom’s in the hospital,” he said to Tri. “Come to Nepal now.”

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.

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’s 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 reën 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 (viúva) 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 Kenyahyenas 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’s 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.