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 ūüôā

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!

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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.

An Afternoon in Ason Bazaar

On Sunday we went to Ason Bazaar, a market in the heart of the city. We went with Mama and Maijiu to begin buying things for the 1 year puja to mark Mamu’s death. I wrote about the Shradda ceremony a while ago in this post. It’s¬†been happening every month for the last year, and during the puja that takes place, food is set out as an offering to Mamu. During the 1 year puja, the family needs to give offerings of clothing, jewelry, cookware, shoes, and other things that will supposedly reach her in heaven. I know that Tri was feeling a little bad about the whole thing because these items are quite expensive. After the ceremony, all of the items are given to the priest’s wife; we had to buy everything in her size. It’s a little difficult to swallow that a grieving family has to shell out so much money. If it was all donated to the poor, that might be one thing, but it’s going to the priest and his family. Some people are totally fine with this, and if they really believe that the items will reach their loved ones in heaven, then it certainly brings piece of mind. But for agnostics or nonbelievers I understand why it might make them feel uneasy.

I enjoyed going out, though. If you’re going to visit Kathmandu, you’ve got to go to Ason.

The crowds are suffocating and wonderful. It can be hard to walk through the throngs of people but exciting because there’s so much to see. You can get any and everything there. Clothing, spices, jewelry, shoes, stoves, street food, and the list goes on…

The Kasthamandap temple, for which Kathmandu was named

A smaller temple

Jewelry on display

As we were walking past one section of the bazaar, I remembered something suddenly. When I was here two years ago, I went to Ason with Mamu one time. I don’t remember why we went, what we were looking for, but on Sunday, I saw one of the paths that Mamu and I had been walking down. I remembered trotting along behind her, her out-reached hand guiding me through the crowd, past the stores around the beeping motorcycles…

Pote Shops

After walking for a while, we reached a tiny jewelry shop near Basantapur (a square with many temples in it). I literally had to crouch down to squeeze inside the shop. Mama and Maijiu bought a ring and a tilhari there before we headed over to the¬†pote section of Ason. As I’ve mentioned before,¬†pote are Nepali marriage beads. The tilhari that Mama and Maijiu bought is a big golden bead that is threaded onto the middle of the pote. After we brought the tilhari to a pote shop and Maijiu had picked out a good¬†set of beads, the expert threader went to work.

Threading the pote

More pote

Thicker pote

The pote I bought

I sometimes wear pote. Recently I haven’t been doing it as much, but I do when the beads look good with the outfit I’m wearing. And since I only have one pote that I like, I thought I should get a couple more while we were in Ason. The one that I have already is a string of red beads with green beaded flowers around the necklace. Yesterday I chose another thin string of pink beads with gold beaded flowers and a slightly thicker one made of blue and gold beads. I just took a light blue sari to the tailor to be sewn, and I’m hoping the blue pote goes well with the sari fabric.

Japanese lunch, including tempura!

After our romp around Ason, I was tired and starving! So Tri and I went to the only Japanese restaurant that I know of in Kathmandu, a place called Koto. It really hit the spot.

That’s One Big Shiva

A few weeks ago, the Chinese Prime Minister came to Nepal. In Nepal, when someone big comes to visit, the government closes off the roads and puts everything on lock down, much to my irritation. Although most of the Nepalis I know just shrugged their shoulders.

That day I really wanted to go do something in the city, but alas, no access! So Tri and I decided to head in the other direction, past Bhaktapur, towards Dhulikel, a big dusty field on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. We wanted to stop by Sanga, the location of South Asia’s biggest statue of Shiva.

Although we took a few wrong turns here and there, we were able to backtrack and get up the hill to Sanga just fine. It was 100 rupees to get in, a price which included a free cup of tea.

After making it up the steep inclines, we got to the gate, bought our tickets and went inside. I was getting ready to take some pictures when I noticed my camera had lots of dust on it, so I blew on the lens to try and clear the particles away. And then this happened…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear god, I can be stupid sometimes!

I thought it was permanent, but thankfully, after a few minutes in the sun, the condensation evaporated and I could take some better pictures…

The god's foot

Me in front of Shiva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were wondering how they assembled the statue. I guess the builders must have hauled it up in pieces and stuck them together at the site. Or maybe they helicoptered them in? It’s hard to imagine the pieces properly fitting on trucks and being driven up the narrow, uneven roads on the hill.

There were a few people doing puja and getting tika at one of the mundirs (temples). Actually, the whole place was packed with people checking out the statue and taking pictures in front of a nice little waterfall to the side of it. There were also kids jumping all over the playground in the park and people eating at the restaurant. I was very surprised to see no other foreigners there. (I guess there could have been some other South Asian-not form Nepal-tourists, but it didn’t look like it). I would expect something like that to be a big attraction for tourists, but maybe it’s just too out-of-the-way to be popular.

The site also had a spa, and there was a billboard advertising some of their services. Here’s one I found kind of interesting…

I don’t know what Colon Hydro Therapy is, but it must be intense! because three people need to be present to perform it ūüôā

 

 

 

 

After we had meandered around the compound for a while, we looked to our right and saw some stunning mountain peaks…

The Himalayas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The statue and park were pretty nice. Not awe-inspiring but definitely worth visiting on a beautiful day.

A Day for Laxmi

This past week, many Nepalis celebrated Tihar, the festival of lights. It’s also called Dipawali here and in India Diwali. Tihar is a series of puja‘s (“religious worship”) that are done over the course of 4-5 days. On the first day is kaag (crow) puja and on the second kukkur (dog) puja. On the third day, there is both gai (cow) puja and Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) puja. On the fourth day, according to wikipedia, there are potentially three pujas that can be performed:¬†gobardhan (cow dung) puja, goru (bull) puja, and Mha (self) puja–performed in the Newar community. On the last day is Bhai¬†(brother) Tika, which is not a puja but a day where sisters put tika¬†(often red¬†vermilion¬†powder mixed with water) on their brothers’ foreheads.

This year, Laxmi Puja fell on a Wednesday, our fourth night in Bhutwal. The family friends we were staying with on Wednesday worked much of the day, cooking food and preparing the alter for the puja. The day before, they made some of the traditional Nepali treats that are eaten around Tihar, like celroti,¬†khajuri, and¬†goje (or bharuwa). Celroti is made from rice flower batter that’s been fried in oil. It’s crunchy when right out of the frying pan but gets stale quickly, so it’s not one of the favorite desserts. However, the khajuri, made from flower, butter, and sugar was so delicious, sweet and crumbly. I also like the goje¬†(comes from goji,¬†meaning “pocket), which was stuffed with ground coconut and sugar.

There were already enough hands in the kitchen, so I went with one of the girls to help make the rangoli. A rangoli is placed in front of the door to the house and is be made from colorful powder (avir) and flowers (often marigolds, sayapatri). I didn’t see these in Kathmandu when we returned on Friday, and Tri told me that they’re more popular in Southern Nepal. I also found out through my friend’s blog that South Indians living in Indonesia make rangolis¬†as well.

The girl I was helping bought some avir from the market. After bringing it home, she added very finely ground cement to thin out the brightly colored powder. To start, she made a rectangle of marigolds and then used the lid of a big pot to trace a circle inside of the rectangle. Then she added some designs with white powder inside of the circle and filled them in with color. To do this, she took a bit of powder between her fingers and slowly sprinkled it inside of the white lines. I thought it looked easy, so I tried it, but my work looked awful. It was clumpy and uneven, so, due to my lack of skill, I mostly just watched the making of the rangoli. After about half and hour, it was finished…

Footprints were also painted on the stoop outside of the house.

They lead up to the room in which puja was performed and are supposed to guide Laxmi into the home.

Before the puja started, our hosts lit lots of diyo‘s (small ceramic bowls with wicks)¬†and put them in front of every room in the house. They also prepared them for the puja…

Then everyone, dressed in their finest, gathered for the puja.

I like Tihar because it’s about respecting things that are important in our lives. The crow and dog are worshipped because they perform important services; they are messengers and guards. The cow and bull are respected because of the milk and work they provide. I’m not sure about why cow dung is worshiped, although it is considered a sacred substance because it comes from the cow, a representation of Laxmi. Although my family doesn’t celebrate Mha Puja because they aren’t Newar, I think that’s my favorite of the pujas.¬†nepaliaustralian describes it here. It’s an opportunity to formally show respect to ourselves. I also enjoy Bhai Tika, the last day of Tihar, because it acknowledges the important and unique relationship between sister and brother.¬†I’ve been told me that when we celebrate tihar next year, I’m going to have to perform Bhai Tika. I have to two brothers back in the US, so maybe I’ll have to give them tika through skype ūüôā