P and I were talking the other night and I said that Mamu had told me that P had “been ‘crying’ a lot lately.”
“That’s Mamu-speak for ‘complain’” I added.
“Are you some sort of ‘Mamu expert’ now?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think I speak enough ‘Mamu’ to get by.”
When one first meets Mamu she comes across as very shy and quiet. She will sit in a chair and smile (she smiles more with her eyes than her lips) and nod, but won’t say much. Either that or she will busy herself in the kitchen, out of sight, preparing snacks and drinks for guests.
But once she feels comfortable with you, she can really open up. She is one of those people who are pretty funny and memorable, not intentionally, but just by the noises she makes and the things that she says.
Mamu and I have been speaking largely in English during her visit. Short sentences with simple words, often repeated, slowly spoken, with an occasional Nepali word mixed in. If only more people would speak Nepali to me in a similar way (instead of rambling or fast sentences), I might be more successful.
It’s not just the words she uses, Mamu often accompanies her expressions, stories and questions with sound effects. Even when speaking Nepali. This adds to her funniness.
For example, there are several trains that go by our apartment in the evening and the first week or two she stayed with us the sound of the passing train would often wake her up and disturb her in the night. In the morning after I’d asked, “Mamu, how did you sleep?” she would answer,
“Ehhh, tam tam tam, grrng, what to do?” (‘what to do?’ is often accompanied by a hand gesture where she straightens her thumb and index finger and curls her other fingers and rolls her hand palm down to palm up)
Or, mistrustful of dogs, at the beginning of her stay she would warn us about our dog Sampson, “wild animals, arrr arrr grrr, poison teeth, never trust” (also accompanied by hand gestures of claws scratching or fangs biting).
With P’s parents’ departure date nearing, I thought it would be fun to list some of her most often used sayings:
Numbers 1 and 2 almost go without mention—
“What to do?” and “Not our habit”
“What to do” is pretty self-explanatory. “Not our habit” means “I’m not used to this” and is used as an explanation or excuse as to why she doesn’t like something (usually food). It’s become useful because now I can also pull out the, “not our habit” in defense of my rice intake.
3) “I eat everything” (sometimes, “My Mudder [mother] say, ‘I eat everything’”), her way of saying “I’m flexible, I won’t be picky” even though it’s not true in the slightest. It can be quite tough to feed Mamu at a restaurant on the road. On her “not our habit list” I have–all salads, most uncooked or not fully cooked vegetables, marinara sauce, cheese sauces, cinnamon, celery (even if fully cooked), food made with eggs (like cakes, breads), pizza, coffee, things with “a Chinese smell,” most cold foods and ice cubes.
We took her to a Vietnamese restaurant over the weekend and she was shocked that the waitress served us cold food, never mind that summer rolls are always cold. She touched each roll with a shocked expression, “chiso, chiso, all are chiso?”
“I told you they wouldn’t like them” P said.
“But Mamu… they are so good! :(” –C
4) “What you eat?” As soon as I walk in the door from work everyday I encounter Mamu in the kitchen, ready to feed me a snack. When I wake up in the morning Mamu asks, “What you eat?” (on a weekend morning she will add, “Maple?” which is what she and Daddy have started calling waffles because of the maple syrup I like to put on them), she asks me, “what you eat?” when inquiring about my lunch at work, and will ask “what you eat?” to see what my thoughts are for the dinner menu. Last night I heard she and Daddy on the phone with P’s brother, and the first question they each asked when they put the phone to their ear was, “Ke khane?” which is the same question in Nepali. Not eating in Nepali culture is akin to blasphemy. I worry someday my kids will be as large as an apartment block.
5) “Sufficient?” I try to use small simple words when talking with Mamu, but sometimes she busts out with more complicated words (like last night she asked, “Duplicate?” and I thought, “woah, where did that come from?”) But “sufficient” is one that she uses a lot and she usually uses it to mean “enough?” as in “did I give you enough rice?” or “do we have enough potatoes?” (as she puts two heaping spoons of rice on my plate and asks, “sufficient?” or picks up a five pound bag of potatoes at the grocery store and asks, “sufficient?”)
6) “Ehhhh,” Mamu uses this enough as well that I had to make it an expression. It’s a way she shows disappointment, like when I respond, “oh Mamu, too much rice for me” and scrape some of the two heaping spoons of rice back into the rice cooker, she will in turn respond by scrunch her face and saying, “ehhhhh.” She says “ehhh” to loud trains, “ehhhh” to people coming over without being invited, and “ehhhh” to other general frustrations– like Daddy wanting to stay in the US until the last minute before Dashain, and she wanting to go home early to clean the house and prepare food for the festival—“ehhh, Daddy does not know. He play cards for Dashain, I cook. A lot of work.”
7) “Crying” as I said earlier, this generally means “complain” or “asks for a lot” usually accompanied by an “ehhh.” Often she says, “Ehhhh, Kaka Bua [P’s grandfather] is crying crying, ‘Where is buhari [daughter-in-law]? Where is son?’” (Mamu is P’s grandfather’s main caregiver in Nepal, and he is missing them a lot while they are here with us in the US, it’s another one of the main reasons Mamu is ready to go home, and has been pushing to leave for some time now). She also says it when talking about Daddy, “In Nepal, no roti… Daddy is crying every day for rice” (Mamu likes making the two of us frozen roti from the Indian grocery store, because she also likes roti and they are cheap and quick to make here, but often in KTM in a house of rice eaters– Daddy and Kakabua– she doesn’t get the chance.)
Recently she mentioned that relatives back in Nepal have been “crying” since our wedding was in the US, they want to know when the wedding party will be for those back in Nepal.
8) “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow” in Mamu-speak these words mean the opposite. Daddy used to correct her, but she consistently makes the mistake so often, that now when she says “yesterday” we know she means tomorrow and vice-versa. She often also confuses “he” and “she” and will sometimes refer to P as “she.”
9) “Your favorite?” is Mamu’s way of asking if you like something. To me it means something you like the most—as in, “my favorite color is green” but to Mamu it means something you enjoy such as, “I like this salwaar kameez”
10) “Oh-kay” Is something Mamu says that doesn’t really mean anything. Often I’ll ask her to do something and she will say “Oh-kay” and keep doing something else. For instance, every night we sit down to eat dinner, and Mamu and Daddy eat so quickly, I’ve hardly started by the time they are done, and Mamu is quick to jump up and take the dishes to the sink and start cleaning. Every night (literally) I have to tell her, “Mamu no, please leave the dishes. I will do. You cooked, let me clean up.” She will call out from the kitchen “Oh-kay, oh-kay, oh-kay” but will continue cleaning. So I have to call again, “Mamu, come please, come sit with us, we miss you.” And she calls back “Oh-kay. Oh-kay com-ing” and still doesn’t come. I’ll get up and go to the kitchen and say, “Mamu leave that, please, come.” “Oh-kay, oh-kay” but still nothing. So I try to pick up the extra dishes and gently nudge her aside and start cleaning myself, and she says, “Oh-kay, you eat, I finish.” So I sit back down, there is only so much one can do.
There are plenty of other interesting things Mamu says, but these are the only ones that stick out in my mind at the moment. They give you a nice flavor of what taking to Mamu is like.