The first time I visited Nepal I was in Kathmandu for four days. There wasn’t really time to meet anyone, only a neighbor’s daughter who needed to practice speaking with an American to prepare for her US visa interview, and we visited Mamu’s brother’s clothing shop where I was barely able to fit into any of the pants because I was too tall. Other than my stay with the immediate family, my visit was largely unnoticed by neighbors or extended family, so little explanation was needed as to who exactly I was or why I was there.
The second time I visited we stayed for three and a half weeks. By then P and I had been dating for nearly six years and we were engaged (his family didn’t know, although they figured we would marry eventually). For the first part of our stay, our friend RH was with us, and we went hiking in Solukhubu, so having two white foreign friends at the house, probably made it easier to explain to the neighbors that we were “just friends” visiting P for the hiking trip.
I stayed on after RH left, and we even went to a neighborhood wedding ceremony. As with many close-knit South Asian communities, people “talk,” so taking me to a neighborhood wedding was opening the family up to lots of “talk.” As we were getting ready, P’s aunt J Phupu said, “It anyone asks who you are, you are P’s ‘very good American friend.’ Okay? They do not need to know our business.” That trip I was always introduced as P’s “saathi” [friend].
Even though I kind of understood the logic—in a country where arranged marriages are still rather common, there was no need for the neighborhood to know that their son was with an American before we were married—but I was still hurt. I didn’t want to be P’s “good friend.” I thought after six years I could be considered at least a little more than that.
I even noticed that the Nepali papers referred to one of the American casualties from the Buddha Air crash as a “saathi” of one of the other Nepali passengers. If you read about the crash in on American online news source they explain that she was the Nepali passenger’s fiancée, and had come to Nepal to meet his mother before they married.
So this time it is refreshing to be here with P as a married couple. Instead of being the family secret or the “very good saathi” I get proudly introduced as the “naya buhari” [new bride]. Mamu is not ashamed to walk me by the local shops, point and smile, “naya buhari.” While the neighbors smile back, “ramro cha.” [she is good/nice].
Now if I could only speak proper Nepali back to everyone, I’d have it made.