And We’re Back

After almost 40 hours traveling, we made it Nepal! Trilok’s dad has actually been in the US for the last few weeks for work. We weren’t able to make it down to New York or DC to see him, but we knew we’d be meeting soon in Nepal. He flew into Kathmandu the same morning as we did (on a different flight), and Trilok’s brother, uncle, aunt, and cousin were all there to pick us all up.

I still can’t believe that we’re back. It seems so strange but entirely normal at the same time. In some ways, I feel like we never left Nepal in the first place, but, of course, things have changed. The city feels just a bit more crowded, and Trilok’s brother has been telling us that the government has been busy building new roads around the valley. Bua’s home is also different now. Things have been moved around and there’s a new room that’s been added on the roof. We also have a new member in the family since Trilok’s dad remarried last year. She is a wonderful women who is doing so much to make us feel at home.

I expected changes in Nepal and in our home life here, but what I didn’t expect was the flood of emotion I would feel after arriving in Kathmandu. For the last year or so, I’ve tried so hard to put Nepal out of my mind. I think that part of that has been a desire to mitigate the pain I felt about leaving, but it got to a point where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to come back this summer. However, since Tri was traveling here and I wanted to be with him, I knew I would go. I expected to feel sort of indifferent when I arrived, but instead I have felt incredibly relieved. I had forgotten how much Nepal feels like home to me. Of course I also have a home in Philadelphia, where I’m from, and now a home in Boston, where I live, but I can happily say that Nepal is on that list.

I had also forgotten how much meaning Nepal brings into my life. I can’t say for sure whether it’s the family that we have here, the people in general, Nepali culture, or the physical beauty (maybe a combination of these things), but there’s something about this place that makes me feel content and at peace and loved. I am very happy to live in the US, but after being in Nepal for just a day, I feel like I have a renewed vigor to work towards a life that allows us to live in Nepal for a month or two out of the year. I don’t want to get my hopes up! But at the very least, it’s nice to know that I will always have a second country to come home to.

For the next few weeks, Tri and I will be meeting up with friends, visiting our old haunts, and spending lots of time with family. We’ll be jetting off to Thailand for five days in the middle of our trip, and my parents are coming to visit us here in late July, so it should be an interesting month 🙂

Breaking the Ice

I keep starting blog post after blog post, trying to figure out exactly what I want to write, but I seriously don’t know where to start. So instead I’m just going to say that it’s been way to long since I posted last! I’m going to try and post a bit more for at least the next few months.

Partly because…we’re going back to Nepal for a month in July! I’m super excited to see friends and family and eat a TON of Nepali food while I’m there. Thinking about going back to Nepal is bitter sweet because I know that we’ll only be there for a few weeks, but alas such is life. Tri thinks that after our short visit, I’ll be ready to come home to Boston, and I kind of hope he’s right so that it’s not too painful to leave.

I can tell you a little bit about what I’ve been up to for the past however many months. Since last summer, I’ve been working at a learning center, mostly helping kids who have dyslexia. I’ve also been applying to and getting into grad school and taking classes that I needed to get out of the way before I start school in the fall. For the next two years, I’m going to be studying communication sciences and disorders so that I can become a speech language pathologist. As I’ve written about before, my interest in language and communication all started back in Nepal when I was first learning Nepali. In college, I became more interested in communication disorders when I got the chance to shadow a few speech language pathologists. While I was teaching in Kathmandu, I kept asking around to figure out if anyone knew of any speech language pathologists there. Although I did hear of people in Kathmandu hospitals who work with stroke patients on language skills, I don’t think that any of the schools in KTM have speech therapists. Anyway, I’m kind of hoping to do some more sleuthing while we’re there to see if I can meet a Nepali SLP.

For the month of June, I’ll be finishing up my last prerequisite classes and getting ready for our trip. I’m so excited to be posting again. I had forgotten how much fun it is to blog!

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!

Sherpa Sister

A while back, M from nepaliaustralian asked if I would like to submit a story to the Nepali magazine she writes for in Australia, and they published it in the Sept-Oct issue.

I’ve mentioned my Sherpa host family a few times on this blog, but I never really wrote about the experience in detail, so for the article, I wanted to write a little more about it and the impact it had on me.

Here is what the story looks like in the magazine..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FYI, for this post, I abbreviated my host family’s names and the name of their village:

TS = my host sister

PD = her older daughter (3-years-old when I lived with them)

PL = her younger daughter (7-months-old when I lived with them)

SG = their village

 

I planted one stiff foot in front of the other as I struggled along the sandy, narrow path. Ahead, a donkey rounded the bend. Then another and another. They walked with their heads down, the bells around their necks tinkling, as they lugged large sacks of rice. I moved quickly towards the edge of the path to avoid them. The commotion set something off in my stomach because yet again I bent my head over the hill to relieve my clenching guts. I was sick with vomiting and diarrhea from eating god knows what, and the timing was awful. The teachers and students in my study abroad program were on the second day of our trek to SG, the village where we’d be staying with Sherpa and Tamang host families and finishing up our Nepali language classes.

Finally, after a long day, I made it to camp in the graying light. We pitched our tents on a grassy spot between a high cliff to the right and a whooshing river to the left. The next morning my stomach pains had eased, and I set out with the other students and staff on our last leg of the trip.

After two hours of hiking up a steep route, we stepped out onto a flat field of green grass. I soaked in the lavish sunlight. As I looked up, I could see a hill dotted with houses bobbing in a yellow sea of millet. Up we went.

As we hiked, I had time to think about the coming weeks. Was my Nepali good enough to be traveling to a village? My teachers had admonished me for not speaking enough Nepali, not practicing in class. As a shy, quiet person, it hadn’t come easily to me. Although I didn’t know my host family yet, I knew the cultural barriers between us would be great. How would I bridge them without the proper linguistic skills?

After trudging up that last hill in anticipation and trepidation, we all went to one of the host family’s houses for a big lunch. Although I was delighted to be eating solid food again, the heaping mound of rice didn’t sit well with my roiling stomach, so I stepped outside onto the courtyard to get some air. A little girl, about three years old, walked across the uneven stones towards me. She looked at me with a bright smile, eyes full of curiosity. I smiled back. When our meal was over and we were paired with our host families, I found out this little girl was my host sister’s daughter. After I had gathered my belongings, we walked up the incline to my family’s house. When I first saw her, PD had been too shy to say anything, but after we sat down inside her home, she burst into speech, gurgling to me in a mix of Sherpa and Nepali. Although I had just met her, she quickly felt like a younger sister to me. Her sometimes shy but strong-willed nature reminded me of my own.

A few days later, after class was over, my host sister, TS, asked me to come with her to the water tap. She wanted to wash her hair but needed someone to watch her youngest child, PL. Once my didi had nursed her, she lay the baby down on my crossed legs and went off to wash her hair. I had only ever held a baby once or twice before. As her breathing settled, she drifted to sleep, and I felt a growing connection to PL.

The next morning, before class started, I asked TS if I could help her out in anyway. She told me that she was headed out to her fields and that I could come along if I wanted to. I grabbed the scythe she handed me and walked down a little slope from her house to the fields. We worked quietly among the tall stalks of millet, her experienced hands quickly outpacing my clumsy ones. Every once in awhile, she would look up and smile. In the quiet and peace of the early morning, as I worked hard to keep up with my host sister, those barriers of race, culture, and religion seemed distant.

As the days passed in SG, I felt closer to my sister TS but farther from my own family back home. I was only able to talk to my husband twice in the near month I was there, through a crackly and unreliable connection. I knew that after a few weeks in SG, it was time for me to leave for Kathmandu and soon after for the US. But in the time that I lived there, I realized that the distances between us weren’t unbridgeable, and working beside her and being with T and her children made me realize that we didn’t always need words to connect. I had worried so much about what I would say to her or how I would say it, but it, in the end, it didn’t matter.

On the last day of my stay in their village, my didi took out a khada, a yellow scarf given as a blessing to those who are about to travel. As she placed it around my neck, I gave her a big hug. Public displays of affection aren’t very common in her village, so she hesitated, but then hugged me right back.

During the months that I studied abroad, I learned so many new words. Initially I had hoped those words would allow me to become closer to the Nepalis I know. One of the main reasons I went to Nepal in the first place was to learn my husband’s native language which, I hoped, would help me bridge the divide between me and his family. Although words are, undeniably, an incredible means of communication, and they did help me reach out to the Nepalis I’ve come to call my friends and family, words aren’t the whole story. Sometimes they fail and sometimes they’re just not needed.

This past year my husband and I were back in Nepal to be with his family after his mother died suddenly. There were no words in English or Nepali to communicate my husband’s family’s loss. Like I learned with TS, just being there with them, grieving in person, showing them I cared was all I could do.

More Outdoor Adventures and an Amazing Sunrise

This past weekend we went to Acadia National Park, a large forested area on an island in Maine. It took about 6 hours to get there, and the night we arrived, we weren’t even sure where we were going to stay. Thankfully we were able to find a spot in the park, so at about 9pm at night, in the dark Maine night, my brother, his friend, Tri, and I pitched our tent.

Maine Coast

Our weekend included lots staring at the vast, beautiful expanses of coast, introducing Tri to his first s’mores (not sure if this is a tradition outside of the US, but a s’more is basically roasted marshmallows stuck between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate thrown in–a camping tradition), and hiking up a nerve-wracking but really fun trail called the Precipice.

But by far the best part of the weekend was the gorgeous sunrise we experienced on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it was preceded by the worst part of the trip: the rain.

On Saturday night, we had to move to a different campsite that was a bit further from the park. After having a big Maine lobster dinner on Saturday, as we were heading back to the campsite, we heard the pitter patter of rain on the roof of the car. uh-oh. When we got back to our campsite, the rain was still only an infrequent drizzle, so we set up the tent quickly, making sure to secure the rain tarp over the top.

Unfortunately, my brother and I put the rain cover on upside down…which you think wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the cover had a couple of vent holes in it that were facing the wrong way, so the drips and drops of rain made their way into the tent all night. And since the tarp was already soaked on its exposed side, turning it right-side-up would have just made us more wet. It was a bit of a downer, but I have to admit that falling asleep to the pounding rain above me was a lot fun, and the reward was a clear sky the next morning, perfect weather to watch the sunrise.

I was skeptical about waking up early, especially after I knew our night in the tent would be a damp one. The next morning, however, I woke up on my own at about 5am and went out to use the bathroom. While outside, I looked up and saw the bright, clear stars. Although all I wanted to do was roll back into my sleeping bag and dream of my warm, dry bed at home, I knew I had to go see the sunrise.

Luckily we didn’t have to do any hiking at 5am in the morning…the mountain we were going to (Cadillac Mountain) is accessible by car. Once we got to the top, after we stepped out of the car, Tri and I took walked about 10 feet and started to shake from the cold. Fall weather definitely is settling in around here, especially in the Northern state of Maine. We hurriedly turned around and went back to the car which had our clothing in it. We each wore every shirt, hat, and piece of long underwear that we had brought and then waddled out, in our thick layers, to brave the cold and witness one of the most graceful sunrises I’ve ever seen…

This shot was taken about 45 minutes before the sun rose

This one was taken shortly before the sunrise

And here you can see the first piece of the glowing sun

The Story of Hing

I’ve been trying to do a little more Nepali cooking lately and have been venturing down the road of Nepali spices. Before I knew anything about South Asia, whenever I heard the word “spices,” I thought of back pepper and maybe paprika. But when I got to know Nepal and Nepali culture, I became aware of things like turmeric (besar), cumin, (jeera), hot pepper powder (khorsaniko dhulo), and my all-time favorite: timur, which doesn’t have a direct equivalent in the West, although people say it’s related to Szechuan pepper.

A bottle of hing from the Indian store down the street

Although I’ve gotten to know and love many of these spices, one flavoring that still remains elusive to me is Hing. Hing is a very unique-smelling white powder that is used in South Asian cooking. I’ve actually never seen any Nepalis add it into their food, but I learned about it a few years ago when my mom brought a little bottle home from the local Indian store. I didn’t know anything about it, so I asked Tri. Apparently his mom used to put it in cooking when he was younger, and he has very distinct memories of its pungent flavor and odor. Hing has an intense smell to it, that’s both slightly sulferous and (this may sound bizarre), similar to the smell of gasoline. As I was looking it up on the internet, I read that some people think it tastes like leeks, and I do taste that in there. You can imagine this mix of flavors and smells brings out strong reactions in people.

Hing in its powdered form

Even after Tri told us about his experiences with hing, I was still mystified by this spice, especially when my maternal grandmother told us her story about hing. My grandmother grew up in a small town in Missouri, and when she was a kid, her grandmother made my grandmother wear a little pouch of hing around her neck, apparently to prevent sickness. She didn’t call it hing but instead called it by it’s Western name asafoetida (asa in Persian means “resin” and foetida in Latin means “stinking”). Since my poking around the internet told me that asafoetida originated in Afghanistan, I wandered how and why hing had become part of my grandmother’s heritage.

I found this website that describes how hing is cultivated and what it’s used for. It also includes a bit of it’s history. While reading this source and others, I kept finding information that suggested asafoetida was introduced to the Western world during the time of Alexander the Great through trade routes that ran from the East to the West. In fact, this website gives a great description of asafoetida’s ancient history. Through further reading, I found that although it was used in Europe for a period of time, it became a less popular addition to food during the middle ages. But Europeans continued to use it for medicinal purposes. Which is, I suppose, how it ended up in a pouch around my grandmother’s neck. Apparently there’s even a story called Penrod Jashber written in 1929 by an American author named Booth Tarkington that tells the tale of a little boy who is forced to wear a bag of asafoetida around his neck to ward off sickness.

Although I’m still not sold on its ability to keep the germs away, hing is apparently very healthy for you. WebMD mentions that there’s evidence that hing can help people with IBS and can also bring down high cholesterol. So despite its intense smell, I think I might try to eat it more often.

Blueberry Pie

We’ve been talking about going blueberry picking all summer but got caught up with other things and just couldn’t make it happen. Finally, after the move, we found a day to go. Although Boston is a beautiful city, and right on the water, which I love, it’s quite flat. You have to drive a ways before you can find any mountains, so we decided to go to Mount Major, a small mountain in New Hampshire.

We first heard about Mount Major when we were visiting NH last spring. What I loved most were the dogs! Both times we’ve been to this mountain, there have been a ton of people on the trail, and a lot of them bring their dogs along. Tri and I are still hoping to get a dog, maybe after a year or so, and we love being around them.

So with dogs as our companions, we started to climb the mountain. Here we stopped at one of the first clear views of Lake Winnipesaukee. We were hoping that we would start to see clusters of blueberries on bald patches of the mountain like this one, but there were none to be found.

However, there were gorgeous views of the lake. This is my favorite photo. The half ring of clouds around the outer limits of the sky looks so beautiful…

As we climbed up higher and higher, I had a chance to really enjoy the feel of fall. It was so hot last year at this time in Nepal, and Nepal doesn’t really have an autumn, at least not like the East Coast of the US does. I remember we went out of the valley for Dashain (I think in early October) and when we got back, the weather was suddenly much cooler. It’s different from the North East, where things change gradually from summer to winter. I’ve always felt the changes in the air first. It gets breezier, and starts to smell slightly different, the temperature changes slowly, and then come the beautiful colors of fall. On the day we went hiking, although the leaves were still dark green from summer, the air and temperature were different, and I could feel it on the mountain.

As we neared the top, even as the blueberry plants started to appear, there just weren’t any blueberries around. But finally, when we had nearly reached the peak, we found a few…

Alas, not the freshest looking blueberries. Apparently it was really too late in the season for blueberry picking.

We all left Mount Major a little heavy-hearted, our hopes of fresh blueberries dashed, but, in the end, we did get the blueberry pie that we had been hankering after.

My brother bought blueberries from the grocery store and made us a piping hot, gooey blueberry pie…

Yummy!