Gori Watching Part I

During the Bratabandha weekend P and I spent two full days hanging out at his relative’s house. The first day was more of a “prep” day. Nepali friends and family members were frantically cooking; there was a group of women monopolizing the kitchen—cutting cauliflower and onion, tossing fried noodles, and peeling potatoes—while a second group was stationed in the garage making stacks of beautiful sel roti. I was the sole Caucasian guest mingling in the crowd, and although I offered to help cook, or even just chop vegetables, there were too many seasoned experts and eventually P and I found ourselves on kid duty, playing tag, “duck, duck, goose!” and “Go Fish!” (which we Nepali-fied into “Macha!”)

Confession time: I have to admit that I have grown very comfortable being the only Caucasian around. Being the resident “American” has kind of become my niche to the point where sometimes, while in a group of other Caucasian-Americans, I feel a little lost, like I’ve lost my “specialness,” my major point of identity. Perhaps that’s why I feel myself playing up the Nepali side of me in an American crowd, so I can feel different and comfortable again. Does that sound weird? Do others sometimes feel the same way?

The following day, I figured that I might meet some non-Nepali friends of the family at the Bratabandha/after party, but I was a little surprised to see other Nepali-American couplings. By day’s end there was a total of four.

Other South Asian-Western couples I’ve met online have discussed “the Gori Gaze” before. Perhaps you find yourself at a restaurant, and a few tables away you spy a South Asian-Western couple, or maybe you bump into one on an airplane or at a shopping mall. You imagine what their story is—perhaps projecting on the westerner parts of your own experience. You can’t help but size the other couple up—does she look more “into the culture” than you? Can she speak the language? Part of you wants to walk up and introduce yourself, swap phone numbers, facebook names, or give them a high five. Maybe another part of you just wants to keep to yourself.

The morning of the Bratabandha was chilly—only about 40 degrees (F), and I had packed a thin sari expecting better weather. Groups of people stood together in the garage where the head shaving was due to take place. We watched as P’s cousin razored the two Bratabandha boys down to a clean, close shave. A few moments later I noticed a white woman dressed in a warm coat and a pair of slacks—smarter than me, since I was shivering in my sari—walk up the drive way holding the hand of what I presumed to be her eight year old daughter and ten year old son. They mingled in the crowd as well, checking out the puja staging area and chatting with the women who were putting the finishing touches on the cauliflower curry dish for lunch. The woman looked about ten or fifteen years older than me, light brown hair, and fair complexion, while her kids had brown hair had a tanner skin tone. The little girl was dressed in a salwaar kameez. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were Nepali-American.

The woman moved around like she was familiar with the house and the cooking women who were local Nepali, so I was hoping she might approach me as the out-of-towner, but instead she moved into the house. A few minutes later I went inside to grab a cup of steaming chia to thaw and saw her sitting on the couch with her daughter, looking through a coffee table book about Nepal, and talking about the pictures with some authority. I lingered on the edge of the living room, hoping to catch her attention, but she didn’t acknowledge me, so at first I thought that maybe she wasn’t interested. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was put off by me being trussed up in a sari, tilari, and bindi?

I moved outside and wandered to the second puja staging area under a tent in the back yard. The pandit was preparing the wood for the small fire under the mandap, and another Nepali man was helping him make the arrangements. The white woman’s son was hanging around too, asking questions to the man, before scampering off. After a few minutes the Nepali man looked up and smiled, “You look very nice in sari. Is your husband Nepali?”

He had picked up on my wedding tilari, a clear signal that I wasn’t just a friend dressed up in a sari to watch the event. I nodded yes.

“Have you been to Nepal?” he asked.

“Yes, three times.”

“Nice.” He said, “My wife has been too. She lived there for four years.”

“Is that your wife inside?” I asked, and he indicated yes. “I wanted to talk to her, but she looked busy.”

“You should go talk to her, her name is Jenny*.”

*name changed, for privacy.

9 responses to “Gori Watching Part I

  1. What is Bratabhanda.. ? I’ve been hearing about it all around.. even got a glimpse peak of the ceremony. I still don’t know what it is though. Something to do with little boys and girls and shaven heads.. some help C?

  2. Although a different situation, I can totally relate to feeling like you’ve lost “specialness”. One of the hardest things for me to adjust to after my Peace Corps service in Nepal was what I refer to as my “loss of status”. Everywhere in Nepal that I went, and especially in my village, I was like a rock star. I was always the center of attention – this very pale, red-headed Nepali speaking, independent woman. And then upon return to the US, I was just another [unemployed] schlub. Everywhere I went, I wished for everyone to know about my time in Nepal, how I could speak Nepali, how I was special. But no one, even family/friends, really seemed to care that much, or want to hear me go on and on about Nepal.

    • Thanks a lot C! :)

    • I totally agree. I think some of my colleagues at work probably think I’m the “weird Nepal-loving woman”… the topic of feeling special/loosing that feeling of “special-ness” depending on the crowd could totally be a post on it’s own one of these days!

  3. What a good post. I can relate so much.Whenever Rabindra and I are out in public and I seen a brown/white couple, I say to him, look there is a another couple like us!” THey are usually Indian/Australian. I am aways interested to know their story but unless they come to me, I never approach them.

    Another thing I can relate to is that feeling of uniqueness amongst the Nepali crowd. In Australia and Nepal, lots of Nepalis pay special attention to me and are always trying to get to know me. It’s nice to have people so interested in getting to know you. I actullay wrote about the reasons behind this sense of attention In a new Nepali youth magazine which is being released in Aus. I was approached to write a column about being a white Australian woman in the Nepali community.

    Lastly, Although I don’t feel likeyou when you say you’ve lost your ‘specialness’ (nice term by the way). I understand that feeling but it doesn’t really bother me. When I’m among other caucasians although I do feel they probably think I’m that “weird Nepal-loving woman” :)

    Lovely post as usual

  4. Interesting! Out in Ethiopia, there was a kind of odd etiquette amongst white people that you didn’t speak to eachother. I think it was kind of because we didn’t want to show how excited we were to see another white person (along with everyone else; it’s pretty rare you see, they usually speed through small towns or villages in jeeps without stopping!). Also you attract so much attention as an individual I think that it’s a worry that the attention would increase if you look like a small group?
    Fortunately my husband went up to a white girl at the British Council. I had been too shy. Now our only English friend met out in Ethiopia. My school year so the same age too.

  5. I completely relate to the only Caucasian at parties and events. Thanks for stating it so eloqently. I attend a lot of my nepali girlfriends parties and family functions, so I know how it feels. The Nepali people are the most accepting people I have ever known. Two of my friends wives have gone with my girlfriend, dancing, as recently as the Nepal Nachcha event. They were the only two, at least that they saw, caucasian women there and they were accepted and treated great by all and they had tons of fun. Nepali’s know how to party!!!
    I like my role as the “Caucasian”, I love her family and friends and always have fun when I am with them and they treat me no differently. By the way, your site is great and so informative!!!! Thank you.

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