P and I just got back from a lovely weekend in Vermont. About a week and a half ago we got a call from P’s cousin MK asking if we could come up to Burlington. She was planning to get married, and wanted to have her American-based family with her. Albeit last minute planning, it wasn’t something that happened spur of the moment, instead it was an event many years in the making…
I’ve mentioned MK and MS before, but usually in passing. Let me rewind and flush out their background a bit.
MK is J Phupu’s eldest daughter, and P’s first cousin. She grew up a few houses away from P in KTM, and after her father died of a brain hemorrhage about fifteen years ago, J Phupu and her daughters (MK and SK) moved in to P’s parents’ house.
MK is the same age as P’s younger brother U, and the two of them were sent to the US for university together in 2004. U went to a school in Pennsylvania, while MK went to a university in Vermont (coincidentally the same university my sister K went to). While at the university she met MS, and the two dated for several years. MS graduated in 2006, but stuck around Burlington. He majored in music and was connecting into the local music scene, playing in bands (he’s a gifted guitarist), and doing equipment and stage set up for programs around the area.
The first time MK told her mother about MS, J Phupu cried. The family had already dealt with P introducing the idea of marrying an American, and even though they accepted me, I’m sure deep down inside the family was hoping that P was an anomaly—that P’s brother and J Phupu’s two daughters would at least end up with Nepalis. The last thing they probably expected or wanted to hear was MK saying, “Actually… I am seeing an American.”
Right away P’s mom made U swear he would marry a Nepali… but you never know.
MS finally met J Phupu in 2008 when the family came for MK and U’s graduations. Their first interaction was rocky. J Phupu was still not happy with MK’s choice. Ideally she wanted MK to be with a Nepali, but MS probably made the whole “Hi, I love your daughter” situation a little worse with his first impression… he looked like a hippy Western tourist from Freak Street in Thamel—he had dreadlocks that reached down to his waist, and the wardrobe to match his hair. His appearances and her disapproval were roadblocks which inhibited J Phupu from seeing that MS was very hard working, devoted, caring, organized and came from a loving and supportive family; that he had a lot to offer MK as a life partner. Instead, J Phupu spent the week at MK’s apartment (which MS temporarily moved out of so as not to scandalize J Phupu any further) trying to convince her that MS was a bad idea, and even told MS that she didn’t think their relationship was a good choice.
It was a difficult period in their lives. I’m sure it was frustrating because the family seemed to be ultimately accepting of P and my relationship, while MK’s own mother wouldn’t budge on her relationship. The family didn’t say anything about P and I living together, while MK had to pretend that MS didn’t live with her. I didn’t really get it, but our friend R explained that expectations were different for sons and daughters. Although a family might not approve of a son’s relationship, families are often more flexible for a man. I think this could be a whole separate post topic for the future.
MK graduated in 2008 and like almost all international students in F-1 status in the US, she had to apply for OPT work authorization to be able to stay in the country and legally work. She only had twelve months to find something where she could earn money and hopefully be sponsored on an H1B (work) visa which would allow her to stay in the US even longer. She found work as a teacher’s aide at a local elementary school, a job that helped pay the bills, but not something that would sponsor a visa. At the end of her 12 month work permit the US government dictated that it was time for her to leave.
Obviously MS didn’t want her to go. He loved her, and asked if she wanted to get married. They could do a simple court marriage to keep her in the country, and if she didn’t feel ready for “real Marriage” yet, they could pretend like their legal marriage was an engagement until they had a “real” wedding with friends and family a few years down the road.
Ultimately MK decided to leave. She packed up her stuff and left it with MS’s parents, and flew back to KTM. Her family started pressuring her to study for the GREs and apply to graduate school to get back to the US, but I think she wasn’t really interested in that path. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, and eventually found a position working at a research institute in Kathmandu.
It’s tough to be apart from the person you care about most, and MS was no exception. After being separated by half the world for a year, he decided he had had enough. During the months that MK had been away, MS worked as much as he could, picking up jobs here and there and saving until he had enough to leave the US for a while. He departed for KTM without much of a plan, excited to see MK, and hoping he didn’t have to leave the country until she could leave with him.
MS stayed with P’s family for nearly seven months, and I think it was often difficult for him. Not only were there periods of culture shock (Nepal was his first trip outside of the Western world), there were social expectations that frustrated him. As he told his family back home, “I’ve missed MK for so long, and now that I’m here I can’t even hug her!” since public displays of affection are frowned upon. Unlike P and I, they insisted that MK and MS sleep in separate rooms. When MK would go on field expeditions for her work, MS was left alone with the family, trying to fit in and learn about the culture.
After a while MS’s extended visit became awkward for P’s family. Whereas my shorter previous visits could be explained away to nosy neighbors as a “good friend” visiting from abroad, MS didn’t want to leave after a month, and it was harder to explain why he was living with the family. In a country where family is generally centered on the man’s side, it is already awkward for a son-in-law to spend extended periods of time with his wife’s family, but now we are talking about a couple that’s not married, and the boyfriend is from America! J Phupu started pressuring MS to start thinking about leaving, but MS was adamant that he didn’t want to leave until he could bring MK with him. They started paperwork at the American embassy for a K-1 fiancée visa for MK, but the process was still taking months.
Eventually J Phupu changed her tactic and started pressuring MS to return to the US so he could find a job and start saving to build a more solid financial foundation for when MK was able to come back and the two were to get married. While in Nepal he had connected with several musical groups, and found gigs playing guitar for a few hundred rupees at bars in Thamel. It gave him some pocket money, but he wasn’t earning anything substantial, and he had used much of what he had saved getting to Nepal and living there for so long. After seven months MS eventually agreed that it made sense for him to go back first and start “setting up” their new life.
P was in Nepal at the time, and took pictures of his departure. That particular day there was a city wide bandh (strike), so there were no cars or taxis on the road. The city tourist council arranged for a tourist bus to leave from Thamel to bring foreigners to the airport, one of the few authorized vehicles able to drive that day. The family garlanded him in the living room, and said their tearful goodbyes (I think MS and J Phupu were the most emotional), and walked him to the bus in the tourist district. His last glimpse of the family was from the dusty bus windows. Once he arrived back in the US, he headed to Burlington to set up a place for when MK joined him.
We invited MS and his parents to our wedding over the summer. It was nice to see him, and our first time meeting his mom and dad. During the Nepali Wedding-after party MS bought me a drink and gave me a hug. I told him we were happy to have him, and he said he was happy to be there. “Without you guys leading the way, I know it would have been much harder for us. I’m glad I could see this all happen.”
MK’s fiancée visa was finally approved in September, and she elected to stay in KTM through the holiday season of Dashain and Tihar, and arrived in the US in mid-November. They spent their first night back together at our apartment in Massachusetts before heading back up to MS’s family home in New Hampshire, and then up to Burlington, Vermont.
One of the requirements for a K-1 fiancée visa is that the couple has to be legally married in the US within 90 days of the visa holder’s arrival in the States or the visa is nullified. We knew the wedding would be happening soon, we just didn’t know when…
I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow…