Category Archives: Intercultural Relationship

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

What’s in a Name?

About a year ago 4B introduced me to the British comedy serial “Goodness Gracious Me” and their sketches really are priceless. Many of their sketches explore the conflict and integration between traditional Indian culture and modern British life. And some, like the following, reverse the roles to view the British from an Indian perspective or poke fun at Indian stereotypes.

“Jonathan”

I saw this particular sketch back then, but recently an acquaintance reposted it on facebook and it reminded me of a post I wrote about a year and a half ago called “Pashwa’s Name.” The writing of the original post was inspired by the fact that many of my family members were finally writing P’s name correctly on Christmas cards after 6 years of crazy spellings like: “all sorts of variations, often with “Os” and “Zs” and “Ss” and “Hs” (letters that he doesn’t have in his name at all!) … My dad used to write his name as “Pazz” for several years, while [my Grandmother used the name] “Pashwa” which [she] still kinda calls him.”

The first time my mother met him they went through this exchange:

Mom: “Does your name translate into something in English?”

P: [honestly ponders this question for a few minutes…] “Well, I guess you could say light or maybe bright light.

Mom: [looks a bit puzzled, this was not how she expected him to answer the question. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. She was thinking something like “Patrice” is the French form of “Patrick,” and “P” is the Nepali version of “Peter”] “Huh? Light? I was thinking Peter or Paul or something like that. Don’t you have an English name?”

P: “No, I guess I’m just P_______ or you can call me P__ for short.”

The “Jonathan” sketch also reminds me of my new freshmen students during international orientation. At one point we had them stand up and introduce themselves, and there were quite a few students who introduced themselves by English names instead of their original more “ethnic” sounding names.

This happens a lot with Chinese students, who are often advised by educational consultants back home to pick an English name since many Chinese sounds are butchered by our American tongues. From experience I know that Burmese students tend to have particularly challenging names—not necessarily long names like Thai or Sri Lankan (I have ten Thai students this year and the average number of letters in their last names is 16!)—but Burmese names tend to have strings of letters you don’t expect to be next to each other—this year I have one student whose first name is Hnin Pwint. I tried several times to say it properly, and the poor girl kept correcting me, and finally she said she goes by the name “Snow.” (Also kind of interesting, since I don’t think it snows in Myanmar).

One of our new Nepali students also has a challenging name—Kshitij. I had to check with some friends before I met him to make sure I was saying it correctly—it is pronounced kind of like chee-teej, but when he stood up to introduce himself to the new students he proudly told the audience his name was…

“Ken.”

When I got home that night I told the P family that one of my Nepali students didn’t want to use his Nepali name, and decided to call himself by an American one.

“Why would you do that?” P asked, “Having an ethnic name is kind of cool. It’s different. It makes you stand out.”

I was a little surprised by P’s answer, since his name can and has been butchered as well, however I also agree. My name is “ethnic” in that it is mostly used by Irish-Americans (or perhaps other Irish-in-diaspora communities*), and although the combination of my first name and last name is quite common within these communities (if you google it, you will get pages of “CCs” that are not me, and as the original C____C____@gmail.com email account I get emails for the wrong “CCs” all the time!) it’s not that common of a name in general. Whereas I had a truckload of “Jennifers,” “Elizabeths,” “Marys,” and “Sara(h)s” as friends growing up, it wasn’t until high school that I met another “C” at an event I attended. During my school age years I don’t think I could have dealt with being in a room and someone calling out “C!” and more than one of us turning around to ask, “What?”

If/When P and I decide to have kids, I think we are probably in agreement that we would want to name them something  “different” but we will have to keep in mind that it should be pronounceable by both my family and his.

So I guess no “Jonathans” or “Kshtijs” for us.

* I wanted to quickly note that all my life I thought of my name as very “Irish” not “Irish American” until our (real) Irish friend RH told me that no one in Ireland is actually named “C.” It’s a noun in Ireland, and has been appropriated by Irish-in-diaspora descendants as an “Irish” name. It really rattled my world when I found out that my supposedly super-Irish-name was really inauthentic… although I guess not really, since I am not really “Irish” but “Irish American.” If it is an “Irish American” name, I guess it actually is authentic in my case.

A “Horrible Mediator” ;)

At our white wedding, instead of a traditional guest book, P and I set up a digital camera with a ten second timer on a tripod and set beside it an erasable marker/white board. We asked people to leave us photo messages in our “digital guest book.” A lot of people didn’t notice it (unfortunately), but a few did… and at the end of the night had about 30 pictures of different people posing with messages for us. (I stole the idea from our Canadian friend–you know who you are!)

I wanted to share one of my favorite pictures. It looks a little like a mug shot, but the message is absolutely priceless and hilarious. Our friend AD made the perfect choice.

The white board reads, "I'm glad today happened despite me being a horrible mediator."

I told the story over a year and a half ago in the post “The Main 3” but it warrents a retelling in honor of the pic:

Shortly after P told his family (“He Told Them!“) about our relationship our friend AD (pictured above) traveled to Kathmandu to visit family. During his trip he was also charged with the task of “talking me up” (positive reinforcement) to the P family.

At the time P’s parents and aunt had kept P’s “I’m in love with a white American” story secret from P’s talkative Grandfather in case P was just “going through a phase” and would eventually leave me and marry a Nepali someday. When AD and KS showed up for lunch that fateful afternoon in January 2005, every time AD dutifully brought me up in conversation one of the “Main 3” (mostly J Phupu) would shut him down or change topics to deflect the “match maker/mediator” role that AD was not so subtly fulfilling.

Six and a half years later, Mamu, Daddy, and AD sat in the audience watching P and I get married. It made me laugh to think about AD’s message concerning his skills as a mediator (it wasn’t his fault he kept getting deflected!).

:)

A Message From Home

I nearly forgot to mention something very sweet that P’s family did after our wedding weekend.

P’s 87 year old grandfather couldn’t make the trip to the US from Kathmandu for the wedding (understandably), even though he really wanted to be here for the “big day(s).”

P’s aunt (J Phupu) also couldn’t make it– she was elected to stay back and watch over P’s grandfather while P’s parents were away, and then she tripped in the market and broke her knee right before they left town, so even if she was originally coming, she probably couldn’t make the journey so soon after the accident.

P’s cousin MK (J Phupu’s daughter) is stuck in Nepal waiting for her K-1 fiancee visa to be approved so she can be reunited with her partner MS in the US, so she couldn’t come. And SK (MK’s younger sister) is still in high school and doesn’t have a tourist visa, so she also couldn’t make it either.

As much as we would have loved to have all the siblings and immediate family together, having family on the other side of the world makes it difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But we know they were thinking about us over that weekend.

And then they did something so sweet– they posted pictures of themselves on facebook holding up “Congratulations P+C” signs and tagged us in the photos so we would see them celebrating from the other side of the world.

MK, P's grandfather, J Phupu and SK

Wedding Weekend Post X: “I like my American Bhauju”

Monday morning I would have paid anything to be able to sleep in. Actually ideally I would have loved to leisurely sleep in, then get up and have an entire day alone with P, perhaps open up wedding gifts on our own, go out for lunch or dinner, and just enjoy the high off the previous two wedding days, and probably go to sleep early.

Instead P and I had to get up pretty early, get ready, pack up the room and head back to our apartment where P’s family (U, Daddy and Mamu) were waiting along with a few friends that wanted to say goodbye before heading out of town.

An Indian friend from New York had stayed in our apartment that night and greeted us when we got in. After she left two older friends of P’s from Maine came to the house, and we chatted for about half an hour before they said their goodbyes. Next AS and N arrived to say goodbye before heading for the bus terminal in town, but were stopped by my mom and sisters who arrived and told them to jump in the car since all five were heading south to DC/Virginia. Finally with most goodbyes having been said, around 10:30 in the morning, the P family packed into the car to drive to the hotel to meet up with eleven members of P’s extended family.

Our wedding had been an excuse for a mini-American-based family reunion. Four families had flown in from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas and Kentucky, and had decided to spend an extra day in Massachusetts so that they could all see each other and visit.

P’s parents hadn’t seen some of them in many years—like the cousin from Minnesota. I unknowingly told a story about him once before (way back in September 2009 when I first started blogging!). The story was about how P and I wound up at the same university in northern New York (and ultimately first met), and included a paragraph about how P flew from KTM to Maine, stopping for a layover in pre-9/11 America in Minneapolis so that his cousin could pick him up at the airport, and visit with him—including a trip to the Mall of America (of all places!)—where P picked up an alarm clock, converted the US dollar price to Nepali rupees, and promptly put the clock down because the price seemed insanely expensive. His cousin scolded him that he had to stop converting the money back, because he was in America now, and he wouldn’t be able to function in our society if he always thought about what the price was back home. That was over ten years ago. P hadn’t seen his cousin since—and here he was, at our wedding—with his wife and their two adorable little sons.

I had met P’s relatives briefly (and a bit awkwardly) throughout the wedding. My first meeting was at the Nepali temple. P’s dad whispered that I should bow my head and say “Darshan” while cupping my right hand near my face/nose when I met them. I tried to do that, but it came out weird—maybe they weren’t expecting it, and thought I would be less formal. It almost felt like one of those comedy skits where an American and Japanese business man meet, and the American puts out his hand to shake and the Japanese man bows, and realizing their mistake on the second attempt they both switch and the American bows and the Japanese man tries to shake hands.

I was told at one point P’s dad wanted to organize a ritual that is done to welcome the new bride to the family/congratulate the bride and groom/respect the elders in the family. He had wanted to organize the ritual at the temple so that P and I could pay respect (touch feet) to his Nepali family and to my parents and grandmother, but with the ceremony/dinner/people heading out after, it just didn’t happen. Originally P’s parents expected me to do this ritual once we got back to the apartment the night of the red wedding, not expecting me to stay in a hotel that night, and they were really surprised to hear that I wouldn’t be around. The compromise was that we moved the ritual to Monday night after the wedding.

At the Nepali wedding after party the extended Nepali family all sat together at the bar, and eventually danced a bit, but I still didn’t clearly understand who any of them were or how they were related to P, or evenly which side of the family they were from.

At the white wedding they also hung out together, and enjoyed dancing. There were other family members at the white wedding—including a few from Boston who P and I had briefly met at another distant relative’s wedding two years before (“”Frank Uncle…”), but I still didn’t know who was who.

The four extended Nepali families at the white wedding

So even though we were both pretty tired, I did appreciate getting the chance to know these family members before they left Massachusetts. P and I, being the good little tour guides, took them to Quincy Market for lunch, brought them through the “T” (Boston Metro) to Providence Place for a Duck Tour (a little cheesy, but you get a lot of history and see a lot of the city) of Boston and the Charles River, and then a group split off to check out Harvard while a second group headed back to our apartment.

Duck Tour photo

P and I organized dinner at our place for everyone, and in the evening we sat around visiting. While the “adults” were catching up in Nepali, I started playing with P’s Minnesota cousin’s six year old son. We had quite a rousing game of “guess the picture” going on for over an hour. By the end of the night the little guy declared, “I like my American Bhauju!” (sister-in-law).

"I like my American Bhauju!"

As it approached eleven o’clock, we had not yet done the ritual (mentioned earlier), so P’s dad said it was time. All I was told was that we would be given coins, and that P and I had to pay respect to all the elder members of the family by bowing and putting the coins at their feet. Then the family member would touch my head and let me rise, and then as the new bride they would give me an envelope with money in it.

Touching P's parents feet, then paying respect to P's Minnesota cousin

First we did P’s parents. Then his cousin and wife from Minnesota, then the other people, until we had paid respect to all the older members of the family. A little after midnight the families headed back to the hotel.

Although I would have loved a day of crashing right after the wedding, it was really nice to have a chance to get to know P’s extended American-based relatives. More people to add to my holiday card list, and keep in touch with, and more destinations on the map to visit. I’m hoping maybe we will make a trip to Minnesota/Wisconsin sometime for another P family reunion.

And even though I was valiantly planning to go back to work that following day (I’m trying to save my vacation time for a trip to Nepal in December), I emailed my boss asking for a reprieve. Had I gone into work that Tuesday I would surely have fallen asleep on my keyboard. However Wednesday we were back to “normal” and the wedding weekend had officially concluded.

And thus so have the official “Wedding Weekend” posts, and just in time as well…

Happy one month anniversary to P :)

Wedding Weekend Post IX: It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding

The day was beautiful. Warm, but not a cloud in the bright blue sky.

By the time I got to the tent where the rest of the bridal party was waiting P and his parents had already walked out arm in arm. P’s brother U was already next to the gazebo playing Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring on his guitar as our processional.

P, U on guitar, S, D, RH (in height order apparently ;))

AS and RH walked out together down the stone path to the gazebo, then R and D, then my younger sister M and P’s best man S, finally my maid of honor—my sister K walked out alone right before I walked in with my dad on my right arm and my mom on my left.

I don’t really remember much from walking in other than my dad whispering, “Slow down, people are trying to take pictures.” At that point your brain kind of goes into autopilot. I think I hugged both my parents and took P’s hand and then I was there, standing in front of the gazebo, starting the wedding ceremony.

Walking in with Mom and Dad

I remember thinking silly things like—should I stand with my side to the guests looking at P the whole time? Or should I turn and face everyone and make eye contact, like a speaker in a presentation? (Which I did a few times, I’m such a nerd.) We held hands through the ceremony, and stole long smiles.

AS, R, my younger sister M, my middle sister K.

The officiant opened the wedding with a brief welcome. Then our good friend D stood up and did the first reading—“The Art of a Good Marriage” by Wilferd Arlan Peterson:

Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens.
A good marriage must be created.
In marriage the little things are the big things.
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say “I love you” at least once a day.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is at no time taking the other for granted; the courtship should not end with the honeymoon, it should continue through all the years.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy.
It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.
It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal, dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal.
It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.

He had told us in advance he was going to give us high fives after—but opted for a quick hug.

D reads "Art of a Good Marriage"

Next my younger sister M got up to do the second reading, a passage from “Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres:

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.
You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.
Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.
That is just being “in love” which any fool can do.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

M during her reading

Next the officiant asked our parents for their blessing in our marriage, asking them to “relinquish [their] claims upon [us], save those of love and affection?” while our parents responded “We do.”

The officiant asked the rest of the audience, “You are here today as relatives and friends, to give your support to the marriage between P and C, and to enter into a new relationship with them as they become husband and wife. Do you give your blessing to them on their marriage?” and they responded “We do.”

Then it was our turn, and the officiant asked us if we were ready to proclaim our love and devotion for each other, affirming to respect, care for and commit ourselves to each other in happiness and sadness. We responded, “We do.”

Then P and I read our vows to each other. I wrote my vows while P and I were driving down to Philly to help his brother move about a month before the wedding. I figured I would share my vows with P since he is less familiar with what vows generally sound like, so as to give him a baseline for what he might plan to write (it seemed only fair). I remember when I read them in the car (he was driving), that he got a little choked up. Just a little bit, but it was there, and it made me happy to know he liked them.

The officiant had P read his vows first. I hadn’t seen them yet, and they nearly made me cry. When he finished and it was my turn to speak it took me a moment to refocus so I could speak without my voice shaking with emotion. He said:

I, PP, promise to be your one true companion and partner till eternity. I cherish the wonderful days that are ahead of us. I also realize that there may be days that we would want to forget. I promise to be completely by your side in  joys and sorrows, in sickness and in health, through all these times of highs and lows. I promise that I will always respect you and I will always support and encourage you. I promise that I will always love you as you are. I look forward to our next adventures in life, and I look forward to growing old together with my best friend.

I just got choked up again typing them out.

I went next:

I, CC, promise to be your equal partner in life; to be fair, honest faithful and kind. I promise to have patience, and to listen, to be hardworking but fun loving, and to always be ready for the next adventure. I will always strive for a happy, supportive and loving home and family. And although I can’t promise that I’ll eat daal-bhat everyday, I do promise to be the best companion, wife and friend that I can be.

Even with my little line of humor in there, P won the best vows award for sure.

Reading our vows

Next I had to put my own intercultural spin on things. I can’t help myself. When P went back to Nepal in April I asked him to bring back a small vial of dirt from his backyard. Meanwhile I asked my dad to do the same. Instead of the “sand mixing” ceremonies some people are doing these days I decided to do a “Mixing of the Earth” ceremony.

The officiant said, “As all of you present surely know, P and C come from very different cultures and very different parts of the world. Their union bridges two families, two continents and two cultural perspectives. To symbolize this special bond P has brought some earth from his childhood home in Kathmandu, Nepal and C has brought some earth from her childhood home in Oswego, New York. As they combine the dirt of their homelands together, so too do they combine a life of intercultural appreciation and understanding, and many long years of American and Nepali festivals, holidays, foods and traditions.” Then P and I mixed our two vials of earth together, and I shook it for good measure, and we now have this sitting on our bookshelf at home—a little piece of both our “homelands.”

Mixing of the earth

Exchanging rings

P and I exchanged rings, and then as per my mother’s request, we did a unity candle. P’s mom and mine came up to the gazebo with us and lit candles, and then the two of them lit the larger candle together to symbolize our two families coming together.

Mothers lighting the Unity Candle

Then those famous words, “In virtue of the authority vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you, P and C, husband and wife.”—and P had to kiss me, in front of all his friends and relatives, something he was completely embarrassed to do. Later KS, a friend of ours for many years said, “It was funny to see the two of you kiss… in all this time we have never seen you do that in public!”

Woot Woot!

We finished with a final blessing, which I originally heard at my friend ArtAsana’s wedding last year:

Now you will feel no rain
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness for you,
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies,
But there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place,
To enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

At the conclusion P’s brother said, “If you know the words, please sing along” and he played us out of the ceremony with a guitar rendition of “All You Need Is Love.”

The "deed" is done... ;)

"Husband and Wife" It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

We did the picture thing with the wedding party and the family during the cocktail hour, and then the bridal party was announced and P and I did our first dance… to John Lennon’s cover of Stand By Me. P and I probably should have practiced first, we probably looked a little stiff slow dancing together, but he did manage a few spins and it was very sweet.

First Dance

My sister K did her maid of honor speech which was also very touching. Both she and the best man, S, were so nervous to do their speeches (I was surprised about S, he loves to talk!). But they both did a nice job talking about their relationships with us individually and us as a couple (including a funny line from S about how when the two of them were the only Nepalis in rural Maine and went everywhere together people probably thought they were a gay couple ;)).

Cutting the Cake... and I didn't smoosh it, like I promised. See, showing good "wife" skills already

I think generally during wedding dinners the DJ is supposed to play less danceable music so people can sit and eat. I even think some of our friends were planning to make short impromptu speeches during dinner, but then our DJ said, “The dance floor is officially open” shortly after the MOH and Best man speeches, and my mother’s family took it literally—there was pretty much non-stop dancing the rest of the night.

Other than cutting dinner a bit short, I thought the DJ did a fantastic job. I had asked him to do a mix of classic rock/rock and roll dance hits with a few modern songs peppered in, as well as some Nepali/Bollywood songs that we gave him (originally on a CD, but I think P’s brother gave the DJ his laptop to hook up to the sound system with all his playlists).

In the beginning the American hits had the Americans on the dance floor, and the first Nepali song that came on cleared the Americans but brought all the Nepalis up, which I think my American family found interesting, but as the night progressed I think the dance numbers became more integrated.

I’ve mentioned this before—but there are certain songs for which I will literally drop what I am doing and run to the dance floor for. I know I am probably super lame, but I LOVE some of those group dances, specifically “Shout!” “YMCA” and the “Chicken Dance.” I’ve written about this before, but I’m always a little sad when people put the Chicken Dance on the do not play list, and I was certainly sad when the DJ told me that the “YMCA” wasn’t popular at weddings anymore. We did all three with full dance floors. I actually wanted one Nepali friend to lead the Chicken Dance (because of a dare from a few years ago), but I didn’t get a chance to arrange it with all the dancing and socializing with guests.

Other great songs from the night—I asked the DJ to play “Kathmandu” by Bob Seger since a lot of the guests were from there, and that was really fun, especially yelling out “I think I’m going to Kathmandu!!” and “K-K-K-K-K-K-K-Kathmandu!” and of course dancing with P to “Pretty Woman,” “Sweet Caroline” (and shouting “So good, so good, so good!” would have been more fun had the song come later in the night). There were a few big Bollywood numbers of course, like “Desi Girl” (for which R yelled out, “You are officially a Desi Girl now!!” as we both spun around on the dance floor), and my uncle requested “White Wedding” and my family made sure I was on the dance floor for that.

Snap shots from the dance floor: Pic 1: Dancing with my father-in-law to a Nepali song; Pic 2: "Shout!"; Pic 3: "A Little Bit Softer Now..."; Pic 4: "YMCA"; Pic 5: The Chicken Dance, of course!!; Pic 6: More Chicken Dance love ;)

Weddings where people dance are a lot of fun. I’m not really one to go “out” to dance (clubbing, etc), but I love to dance at weddings (I think in part because I love the older music). It must run in the family, because my mother was tearing up the dance floor– even dancing with P’s dad–so much that at one point he must have tripped, because he wound up on the ground. It was a lot of fun.

The night passed so quickly. I was really glad to have two wedding days to talk with people more and have more time to enjoy. I was literally running on pure adrenaline by the end of the night, having barely touched my food. It was so much fun, I didn’t want it to end.

As the night was about to close our friends helped us pack our car with gifts and other wedding stuff (which was very helpful, that and the fact that R and AS kept asking me if I had enough water to drink, and would thrust water into my hands. Sometimes you get to busy that you forget the basics! It was really helpful of them to keep an eye on me, and I’ll keep that in mind for any future weddings I’m involved in!)

As we finished the night, the farm/wedding venue owners met P and I at the door with a basket of goodies for the morning—juice, milk, muffins, Danish, and two pieces of wedding cake in case we didn’t have a chance to eat during the reception. As the last guests headed out P and I walked across the parking lot to the bridal suite.

During the reception AS and R snuck over and decorated our bed with flowers and left us a bottle of chilled champagne. Another friend left us a “honeymoon basket” of snacks—cheese and crackers, chocolates, nuts, sweets, etc. Everything was so beautiful, and all these kind gestures reminded us of how important and special all our friends are to us.

Decorated bridal suite

With the night over, I finally felt the exhaustion of the entire week fall heavy on my shoulders, and I sunk to the floor in my wedding dress and said, “P, I think I’m too tired to get up.” It took me a few moments to finally pull myself off the floor. We put away the champagne and the honeymoon basket, and I took down my hair and wiped off my makeup. After a quick shower, knowing that the following day we would have to wake up early and get back home to spend the day visiting with P’s relatives, we promptly fell asleep. I was probably more tired than I’ve almost ever been (including international flights!)

Wedding Weekend Post VIII: Morning of the White Wedding

I took a break from writing about the wedding weekend, but I’m ready to close the series with the last few posts. Connect with the other posts starting HERE.

The morning of the Red Wedding I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling thinking, “Today’s the day I’m getting married.” But it didn’t feel like it. I was surprised at how un-nervous (if I can make up a word) I was for the day to proceed. Even getting dressed in the red sari, and arriving at the temple, and meeting the guests, and sitting up on the altar under the mandap, I didn’t really feel nervous, more anxious, maybe, that everything goes well, and that people enjoy themselves, and perhaps curious of how everything would happen, but I wasn’t really nervous about getting married.

At the end of the night our Irish friend RH said, “That was a fun day, but it didn’t feel like a real wedding. I know it was, just not the kind we are used to, but I’m glad you are doing both, I think tomorrow will feel really different.”

And it did. Maybe not right away… I didn’t really feel it when I woke up that second morning. But as the day progressed, I could feel it, a bit of nerves, a bit of excitement, a feeling of, wow it’s finally here. I was really appreciative that we did two ceremonies. I was so happy to experience the Nepali way of getting married, but I was also very happy to have my own way as well, something I didn’t expect until it actually happened.

I got out of bed and snuck downstairs to eat something for breakfast. The hotel lobby was full of wedding guests. I spent a little while chatting with different groups of people, while trying to chew a few bites of a plan bagel (without much success.) I rounded up my mother and sisters so that we could get to the hair appointments (there was a misunderstanding and the hair people scheduled us really early for our afternoon wedding) and I loaded up the car with all the white wedding stuff.

Again my “control freak” nature took over, and I couldn’t sit down and breathe until I knew everything was good to go, that everything that had to be at the wedding venue was there, and that all the pieces were in place. I finally achieved that status around lunch time and could sit for a little while. I took my turn in the hairdresser’s chair, and my sisters bought some raw veggies and dip to snack on while we got ready and waited for the wedding to begin.

P and I had found a wedding venue about twenty minutes from where we live in MA where we could get married outside and have the reception in a tent behind the reception hall. The place was a family owned dairy farm, which had been converted into a reception venue when the farmer and his wife (a caterer) wanted to retire from the daily grind of farm life. The old dairy barn was beautifully reworked into a great hall space, and the family run catering kitchen continued to use many of their farm grown produce in the catering dishes. The barn was situated on top of a large hill with a view of rolling forested hills in all directions. It was a quiet, peaceful and picturesque spot.

Across the parking lot from the barn/reception hall was the farmer’s old house, which was converted into a hair salon/spa and bridal suite. My mom, bridesmaids, and I got our hair done on premises, and hung out in the bridal suite before the ceremony, and P and I were planning to spend our first night at the suite that evening.

Perhaps it was because during all the previous days I had been going, going, going, but when I finally had time to sit on my own and breathe, that’s when I started to feel a ball of nerves in the pit of my stomach. At first I actually thought that the veggies and dip had upset my stomach, but then I realized that it was excitement, and nerves, and energy. All this pent up emotion from planning, and thinking about it, and now we were only an hour or so away.

Several of our female friends dropped in—Indian, Nepali, Senegalese—much to my mother’s chagrin. She’s not really used to others inviting themselves over and being part of a “moment” that she expected to be private. The girls were also getting ready, putting make up on, making conversation. However as the last hour before the ceremony approached my mother insisted that these extra friends head out. “Sorry girls,” she kept saying, “But it is an American tradition that no one sees the bride after she puts her dress on until she walks down the aisle, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

R, AS, K and M helped each other with their final bridesmaid touches while my mom and I headed across the parking lot to the barn to sit in the “private waiting area” until the time to walk in began. Unfortunately many of my relatives were walking in at the same time and started to say, “Oh how pretty!” so I started frantically saying, “Please close your eyes, close your eyes! You’ll see everything soon.” I hurried to the waiting room only to find the door locked.

The venue coordinator looked perplexed, “The guys aren’t in there. I don’t know why it is locked.” I knocked on the door and said, “Please open up!” and a female voice came back saying, “I’m changing! I can’t.” so I banged on the door and responded, “Please, open up right now!”

“But I’m nearly naked!” the person inside said.

“I don’t care, open the door now!”

And the person came to open the door. It wound up being two of our friend’s from our time in New York when P was doing his master’s degree. They had decided to get dressed at the venue, and found an available room. One girl said, “I’m sorry C! I didn’t know it was you or I would have opened the door right away!”

“Normally it would be okay, but everyone was outside. I wanted to keep hidden,” I said. They quickly finished getting ready so they could take their seats. My mom and I sat in the room on our own waiting for the venue coordinator to come back and get us.

My mom started to get a bit emotional. I think the wedding had finally had a chance to hit her as well, and sitting there with me reminded her of when she was sitting and waiting to walk down the aisle with my father, a relationship that didn’t last. She got a bit teary eyed and said, “I thought when we got married it would be forever. I hope this is forever for you.”

“Mom, please. If you start getting emotional now, then I will to, and we will be a wreck walking down the aisle.”

So we took a few breaths and got ourselves together.

Then the knock came from the venue coordinator. It was 4pm. Time to walk down the aisle.

Filing for a Green Card

Gori Wife Life wrote a post today about her ordeal with her husband’s Green Card application. The poor American/Pakistani family suffered through the process for about four years before her husband’s card came in the mail. Today he was naturalized as a US Citizen (congrats to the GWL family!)

It’s so challenging because some people get through the process quickly with no problems (I’ve heard the “oh, it only took me four months” stories), and some people seem to hit every road block known to man (like GWL).

As an international student advisor I’m used to working with USCIS on a daily basis. In particular I interface with USCIS’s SEVIS system almost every day, and I help students file their OPT and CPT paperwork along with visa and travel advising, etc. I am not an immigration attorney, so I am not versed in every immigration status, but I feel pretty comfortable with the student statuses and paperwork I am generally responsible for. Yet even for someone who considers themselves a “student immigration specialist,” compiling a green card application can seem daunting, heck, let’s me honest, downright scary. Heaven forbid if you make one small mistake on the form, it could hold you up for ages in red tape.

I spent the first two weeks after our wedding organizing P’s Green Card paperwork. I compiled a cover letter listing all the documents needed for the application and it was literally two pages long. I contacted my mother for an “affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides” of our marriage, and her response was, “What? What in the world is that?” I sent her my cover letter detailing all the paperwork and she couldn’t believe it… “This is to become a citizen?” she asked. “No—just a permanent resident!” I responded.

In fact, I think it is hard for us “American by birth” people to realize how complicated the “Getting to America by other means” paths can be. I was talking once to an uncle about what P and I have to do after marriage. He thought that simply marrying an American was enough, that your marriage certificate pretty much guaranteed your new American citizenship. Whaaa? Maybe back in 1850. Or my Grandmother, who used to tell me that she wouldn’t marry my Irish born Grandfather until he became an American citizen. That was back in the early 1950s. A very different,  and  a few layers of red tape earlier, time in the US immigration world.

I was nervous when compiling P’s info because I was afraid I would leave something out. Luckily I occasionally work with an immigration attorney through programming at my university, and over a dinner earlier in the year he offered to quickly check my cover letter and offer suggestions if he saw any gaps in my documentation. I was relieved to have a second set of eyes double checking my work. So I thought it might be helpful to others in a similar situation if I put my laundry list of documents here.

I have to add the caveat that USCIS forms can change, so depending on when you are reading this fees or requirements might have changed. It is always important to carefully read through the instructions for each form before you start filling out paperwork. Also, USCIS is very picky about whether the version of the form you are submitting has expired—so double check that the forms you submit are current (dates are usually in the top or bottom right hand corner– trust me, I had a student’s I-765 returned because the form expired a month before even though not a single line of information on the form had changed). Lastly this Permanent Resident Application is based on an F-1 Student to PR Change of Status, not an H1B –>PR, so your significant other’s situation might also require additional/different paperwork as well if he/she is in a different status than my significant other.

So—what applications did I need to file?

The main three are the I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), the I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative), and the I-864 (Affidavit of Support–did you know if you sponsor your spouse you are pledging to take care of them financially for ten years, even if you divorce!).

I also included an I-131 (Application for a Travel Document) and an I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) because the forms are free if you include them with your I-485 and $360 and $380, respectively, if you file them separately, plus we would ideally like to travel later in the year.

The I-485 also requires an I-693 (Civil Surgeon Medical Examination and Vaccination Record Report). This must be filled out by an approved civil surgeon and the documentation must be given to you in a sealed and initialed envelope or it will not be accepted by USCIS. You can search for a civil surgeon near you HERE.

The I-130 and the I-864 are essentially the American spouse’s paperwork, while the I-485 is the foreign born spouse’s paperwork.

The Cover letter:
(I like sending cover letters with immigration documents to keep everything organized:)

July 25, 2011
RE: P’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence
To Whom It May Concern:

Within this packet are all the documents for P (A # ___-___-___)’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence based on C’s I-130 Petition for Alien Relative through marriage.

Included here in:

I-130

  • 1 passport sized photo for C
  • 1 passport sized photo for P
  • $420 Filing Fee
  • Form G-325A (Biographic information) for C
  • Form G-325A for P
  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)
  • Copy of C’s US birth certificate
  • Copy of C’s US passport [optional]
  • Copy of C and P’s US marriage certificate
  • Copy of our joint lease agreement [optional- although they like proof that you live together or have shared financials]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from C’s mother Mrs ________[optional]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from P’s father Mr. ________[optional]
  • Picture samples from C and P’s July 10, 2011 wedding[optional]

I-485

  • 2 passport sized photos of P
  • Biometrics fee $85
  • Filing fee $985
  • Sealed I-693 Medical Examination Form
  • P’s Form G-325A
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s Nepali birth certificate and a certified translation
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of C and P’s marriage certificate
  • Copy of P’s I-94 card
  • Copy of P’s most recent Form I-20 [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Copy of P’s unofficial phd transcript [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (see below)

I-864

  • Recent promotion letter with updated salary information from C’s employer [optional]
  • Six months of C’s work pay stubs
  • Copy of C’s Federal Tax Form 1040 and W-2 (2010)[REQUIRED]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2009)[optional, but the immigration attorney said that if you don’t submit the previous three years tax forms initially, but just the required first year, they generally ask for the two previous years anyway, so better to just send from the beginning to have less delay in the processing time]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2008)[optional—see above]
  • Copy of C’s most recent bank statement [optional]

I-131

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s most recent I-20
  • Letter from P explaining the nature of his travel [phd research data collection]
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

I-765

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Copy of P’s I-94
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s previously issued EAD
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

If you require any additional information please contact P at (___-___-___) or____@____.edu or C at (___-___-___) or ______@_____.com.

Sincerely,

C & P

—–

So the forms have been officially sent. Wish us luck in the process!

Weekend Wedding Post VII: Finally… the Red Wedding

Based on the two other Nepali weddings I’ve attended, and my own pre-planning, I had a few assumptions about our ceremony. For instance: I expected both of our parents to sit up under the mandap with us—my parents on my side and P’s parents on his (we had little stools set up for them to sit on), I expected the pandit-ji to follow the program that he originally mapped out for us and later approved the draft of, I expected we would exchange rings (something I fretted about at one point, but it never happened, I’m still not sure why, I have a Nepali wedding ring), I expected people to move around more and be less formal, and I expected things to flow a bit more smoothly. But even though many of these assumptions didn’t necessarily happen, it was still a totally awesome experience that I wouldn’t trade in for the world (the whole weekend was, actually :)).

Ironically, I never really thought of myself as a girl who would get so excited over my own wedding (I know—very hard to believe after all these posts), but I think it was the allure of participating in a different type of ceremony, and having these extra cultural pieces, that really pulled me in to getting excited about the overall process.

So here we were: P and I, standing under the mandap in front of a room of about 130+ of our closest friends and family, dressed as Nepali bride and groom. At least eventually it was 130+… many of the “brown people” were still missing at that point, but slowly started to filter in to the back of the room as the ceremony went on. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I could only properly see the first few rows, and the people who decided to sit on the floor in the front or stand around the sides. I later joked that since all the “White Americans” (who arrived half an hour early) were sitting quietly and attentively (American wedding style) in the front of the room, it might have intimidated the South Asians from moving around or talking so much. I’m not even sure if anyone thought to get up and have tea and pakora during the ceremony like we had planned.

P and I stepped under the mandap, and settled into our chairs. Luckily we had appointed our friend N as the MC/narrator of the event. He sat opposite the pandit-ji, and offered brief explanations before and during various rituals to make sure everyone in the audience was on the same page.

As the ceremony went on, the interactions between the priest and N, and eventually AS and R (who came up under the mandap to help set up the various rituals—we would have been lost without them!), became slightly tense. The priest, who doesn’t speak much English at all, was Nepali, but was so used to working with Indians in the community that he kept giving instructions to N in Hindi, while N kept answering him back in Nepali. The priest also assumed that N, R and AS had a more encyclopedic knowledge of Hindu wedding rituals, and seemed to get frustrated with them if they started doing something in a different way, or didn’t intuitively know what came next. Occasionally the priest seemed to stop the flow of the ceremony to give them brief lectures or scold them, and they would take a minute or two to explain or defend themselves. Since this was happening in a different language, to the non-Nepali speakers in the room it probably looked like we were making up the ceremony as we went along (in fact, at one point my dad did ask me as we sat together under the mandap, “Is this guy just making it up as he goes along?”)

Walking up to the Mandap and getting situated

Anyway—So P and I were up on the stage. First the priest gave me a round silver tray with various (red, yellow, etc) powders and rice on it. At first I thought the priest told me to feed it to P, so I took some in my fingers and went to put it in his mouth, but P said, “No… it’s tikka” and I had to change directions and put it on his forehead. After that, I kind of stopped trying to understand what the pandit-ji was saying, and waited until P or AS/R/N told me to do something.

Next I gave P his dubo ko mala and flower garland. He in turn gave me my tikka, dubo ko mala and flower garland. Next we were each given a handful of flowers to hold in our right hand during the Ganesh puja. If you want to keep tabs–so far the first two items on our “official” program were flipped.

Pic 1: tikka; Pic 2: dubo ko malla; Pic 3: garland; Pic 4: tikka; Pic 5: garland with my sister K's help; Pic 6: Ganesh Puja

Nice pic of the bangles during the Ganesh Puja

After the Ganesh puja, my parents were invited onto the stage. Much to my dad’s chagrin, the stools were really low to the ground, and he almost toppled over trying to sit down. Because the altar was pretty crowded, he kept accidently knocking over a pot with a coconut that represented a god. AS would fix it, and then the coconut would topple again when my dad made any moves. My mother’s youngest brother—a big guy sitting in the front row, and one of the few people I could see clearly without my glasses—wound up finding the knocking-the-coconut- situation hilarious, and kept trying to contain his laughter. My grandmother and aunt kept trying to shush him, but I kept seeing his shoulders rock with giggles. Luckily it wasn’t too big a deal, but I did keep watching him wiggle.

An example of the coconut that kept falling over

My parents were supposed to feed P yogurt and ghee (as per the program), but that wound up not happening. Instead they symbolically washed his hands. While my mom was still on the altar she kept asking me, “Where’s the yogurt? When are we doing the yogurt part?” (I think at this point people started disregarding the program, although now that I look back, perhaps at this point the ceremony started to get back on track). Then P presented me with my wedding tilhari and N encouraged everyone to clap now that I had the tilhari on.

Receiving tilhari

Next my parents “gave me away” through a process of us holding out our arms with a fistful of flower petals while P held a conch shell and AS poured water over our hands. The priest chanted various mantras, including invocating our various male relatives (father, grandfather, great-grand father… it was interesting to hear the priest struggle with western names that we all deem “easy to say,” like my dad’s: “Da…da…dan…dan-e…dan-e-ale.”) The mantras went on for quite some time, and my parents didn’t have any idea what was happening, and for them I’m sure it seemed very disorganized and chaotic. My mother leaned over at one point and said, “They didn’t want to rehearse this?? But we rehearsed ours?? This needed a rehearsal!” Rehearsal or not, everyone did a good job and I appreciated their participation.

Pic 1: My parents under the mandap; Pic 2: Symbolically washing P's hands; Pic 3: Receiving the tilhari; Pic 4: "Giving me away"; Pic 5: "We should have rehearsed this!"; Pic 6: Dad receives his tikka before sitting back in the audience

After my parents “gave me away” they had the choice to continue sitting up there, or to skedaddle, and I don’t blame them for wanting to skedaddle, and get out of the limelight. The pandit gave them each a tikka before they left for the comfort of the audience chairs. I kept waiting for the moment that P’s parents would be invited up to sit with us, but they never were.

The "audience"

Next, AS and R tied some coins, nuts and rice into the folds of a long white cloth, and then tied the cloth around my waist. Of all various rituals in the Hindu ceremony—and I know that there are many that I don’t fully understand, and there are probably many symbols that a South Asian feminist could pick a part and critique, but I found this ritual to feel the most uncomfortable(? I’m not sure what the right word is… odd?)—to literally have a cloth tied around my waist and for P to hold the end of it (as one of my aunts joked, “like a leash”) for the remainder of the ceremony. It made movement a bit awkward, and I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the “white Americans” in the audience were thinking.

AS and R help to tie the cloth around my waist

The next part was a little bit comical. The priest instructed AS to go in the other room and find some camphor to light the fire. She came back with a new package with several fresh chunks. Although P suggested that she only use one, she put in about five blocks, and once AS and R lit the tinder the fire grew quite large (as indoor fires go). The vent in the room hadn’t been properly turned on by the temple helpers, and it felt at one point like the room was filling with smoke. I later spoke to an American friend who told me that once it got smoky she told her husband, “Hun, I think you need to go stand near a fire extinguisher, and be the hero if you have to!”

I felt a bit panicky too, because I could only see the first few rows of people and I was close to the fire, so it felt like the whole room was becoming gray and murky. I kept whispering to P, “Someone needs to open the vents, or the windows. I think the room is filling with smoke!” and a few family members told me later they were worried a fire alarm would go off and interrupt the whole ceremony. However eventually a temple helper got the vent working, and although the flame was still big the smoke started to clear. At this point P and I had to walk around the big fire, tossing rice and other prasad into the flames. P guided me to walk in front of him (while he held the white cloth behind me) and whispered, “Be careful so that you don’t catch on fire.” (Gee, thanks).

Pic 1: Placing the camphor; Pic 2: Lighting the fire; Pic 3: Nice shot with Ganesh; Pic 4: "Don't catch on fire"

Making the rounds

It got pretty smoky...

After the fire had subsided, P and I took the seven steps/seven vows.

Taking the seven steps...

Then came the most important part–Applying sindoor! The Nepali custom is to take a long piece of white cloth and extend it from one of the god’s on the altar to the forehead of the bride. The groom starts the sindoor at the bottom of the cloth and sprinkles it in a “continuous line” up the cloth until it reaches the bride’s hairline. This is done three times before you are officially “married.” N did a great job MCing this part… explaining the continuous line and joking (when P’s line wasn’t so continuous) that maybe he would do better “the next round.”

Marriage sindoor!

I touched P’s feet, and he greeted me as his wife, and then the pandit had us play a game. There seemed to be a bit of explanation, but I couldn’t understand any of it, and P said that the pandit gave us a few nuts and wanted us to pretend to gamble. There were friends/family on P’s side, and friends/family on my side who were cheering/tug-o-warring while P and I took turns throwing the nuts like dice. Whoever had the most nuts facing up was the winner. Someone produced money for the bet, and we kept it up until the pandit said the game was over, and that I won (although P said the pandit told him to “let me win,” whatevs, I had the money at the end).

Pic 1: P's side; Pic 2: My side; Pic 3: Gambling; Pic 4: Winner!

Then P and I shared a laddu (sweet)—technically the first thing we ate all day, and walked through the crowd as a newly married couple as people took handfuls of flower petals and threw them at us.

Sharing a laddu

P's parents bless us

Celebrating with a flower shower

The last part of the ceremony was the arti. P and I stood in front of the main temple altar to do arti and receive tikka. Unlike AS and N’s ceremony, the priest did not offer tikka to everyone else.

Arti, tikka and final blessings

The ceremony lasted about an hour, maybe slightly longer. P and I hung out in the main temple room with as many of the guests as we could gather, snapping photos with different groups of people while our friends changed over the mandap room so that there were tables for people to sit and eat. A long line was formed, and people grabbed pakora—some thinking that this was the dinner. A good number of my dad’s side of the family snuck out after pakoras to get dinner elsewhere, not realizing they missed the main dinner that was served at the temple right afterward the pakora appetizer.

The temple caterer made puris, daal, raita, mattar paaner, saag paaner, and a channa dish. I was busy walking around trying to talk to as many of the guests as I could, so it wasn’t until one of our friends thrusted a dish into my hands that I snacked on a few chunks of paaner. Some of my relatives avoided the paaner thinking it was tofu, until I said, “It’s a type of cheese. It’s good, give it a try.”

After about an hour of eating and socializing people started to head out. Since alcohol was not allowed at the temple, our friend D had organized an “after party” at a local bar where people could hang out, have some drinks, dance, and continue the celebration.

Our friends had decorated our car with red ribbons, bows, red plastic table cloths and streamers. The back of the car read “P weds C” and the sides of the car said “P2+C2.” One of P’s childhood friends offered to drive us to the hotel to change before the “after party.” We must have looked a sight driving down the street with the red decorations flapping in the breeze.

The getaway mobile

P changed out of his daura suruwal, but I was feeling so comfortable in my sari I decided to go to the after party in my outfit and tilhari (I was so excited to be wearing tilhari I didn’t want to take it off, I barely wanted to take it off for the white wedding the following day!) I was too exhilarated by the celebration to think much about whether or not it would look bad to the new in-laws or family members to show up to a bar dressed like this. Usually in Nepal new buharis are supposed to be demure and shy, and not look happy in the wedding photos. Here I was, all day, smiling like a crazy fool, and now I’m out in my wedding sari, drinking a beer with friends and dancing with wedding guests. I danced with P’s dad, and the extended Nepali family got in on the action too, so it must have been okay ;)

P, U and I at the "after party"

It was also funny because we were at a bar in the city, so when I left the back area where the wedding guests were congregating to use the restroom, the other women at the bar, dressed in short clubbing type outfits gave me funny looks. They were too polite to say, “What’s up with you?” but you could tell by their looks that that was what they were thinking! So I’d say, “I just got married, and we are continuing the party here!”

The party lasted until 2am. I started getting calls from my mom back at the hotel saying, “You should come home, you will be a wreck tomorrow for your own wedding.” Luckily I only had two beers and two shots (friends were eager to buy the new couple a drink!) but poor P was inundated with offers (especially for someone who doesn’t drink much!) I sent him home with a designated driver and group of friends who practically had to carry him up the stairs of our apartment and tuck him in to bed. He was a bit worse for wear in the morning, as you can imagine, but luckily he had most of the day to recover and was good as new for the afternoon white wedding ceremony.

That was one heck of a party– and the wedding was only half over!

Wedding Weekend Post VI: Temple Set Up, Sari Wearing, and “Where are the Brown People?”

“…The Bride Just Sits and Everyone Else Does the Work!”

I woke up on Saturday morning to sunshine (Friday rained itself out), and thought, “Today I’m getting married, or at least half married.” If there was a common theme as to how I felt, it was probably disbelief. Like, “Wow, it’s finally here. It’s actually happening. Only a few hours left. I can’t believe it. How am I supposed to feel?” What kept me going (considering Friday I was too busy to eat most of the day, and by the rehearsal dinner I didn’t really feel hungry anymore, and the red wedding day P and I were supposed to fast until after the ceremony) were all the tasks (checklists) that had to be completed before the ceremony began, at least it kept my mind distracted.

I packed my bags (I wasn’t returning home until the morning after the white wedding—so as not to see the groom the morning of the white wedding and be cursed with any other bad luck juju), and gathered any last minute red and white wedding paraphernalia.

P and I had recruited friends to meet us at the Nepali temple around 10 in the morning. We had about 130 people coming for the ceremony that afternoon and we had to set up chairs, find places for the tables and organize a “room switch over plan” between the ceremony and the Nepali dinner since there wasn’t enough space in the room for chairs and tables to be set up at the same time. We organized the plates, cups and silverware (brought from VA from my mom), the sagun bags and programs, dropped off the gallons and gallons of mango juice, milk and tea leaves, and water we had for the reception drinks, and worked with one of the temple coordinators to set up the sound system.

S-di, in between teasing P and I about not having goat served at the reception (“What kind of Nepali wedding doesn’t have goat?”) said, “C you are a hard working buhari. In Nepal the bride just sits and everyone else does the work!”

With the temple arranged and ready, P drove me to the hotel where I was staying with my mom and sisters for the night (my first night as a half married woman, how romantic) and I dropped off my stuff and grabbed my box of saris to take to S-di’s house.

“This Definitely Feels Like a Wedding House!”

P dropped me off at S-di/M-dai’s, and that was the last I was going to see him before the Red Wedding. I had previously arranged for women who wanted to wear saris but might not be as familiar with how to wear them, to meet up at S-di’s house so that S-di, her daughters, R, and AS could help people get ready. I had promised a few of my saris to people to wear and had brought a box with me, along with colorful bindis from P’s mom.

I had also sent the newbie sari wearers this Youtube video to help them get an idea of what was involved in the wrapping:

While people started slowly getting ready AS, R and I went to a local Vietnamese beauty parlor to get my hair done. AS had gone to the same woman last year for her wedding, and the hair dresser remembered us. R suggested that I get a “poof” in front (“I guess it is a Nepali thing.” R said, “The poof adds to the look.”) and I put myself at the mercy of the girls’ suggestions on what would “look good.” The final result was great—the small “Nepali poof” in front, a curled bun in back with a dori hair decoration tied around the bun and pinned to the side of my head.

By the time we got back to S-di’s the house was buzzing with people—my two cousins, my two sisters, my mother, and several friends were in various stages of sari wrapping. Make-up bags and hair curlers were out, women were walking around in petticoats and blouses, bangles tinkled.

“S-di, this definitely feels like a wedding house!” I said, while she pinned and tucked pleats for my cousin.

R helped me get into my sari, and I piled on my bangles, and posed for a few pictures under the red shiny veil. And then all of a sudden, it was time to go.

Getting ready-- friends, sisters, S-di in black in picture 1 helping people wrap up.

Arriving at the Temple

AS, R and S-di/family were still getting ready when my mom, sisters and friend left to head to the temple a little before 3:15. Because we had been running so late the previous day, P had told me earlier to be ready and there “at least by 3:30” for the 4pm wedding. The tentative plan was that P’s people (the groom side) would congregate outside the temple and maybe janthi in together, while the bride’s family was already settled inside. For all the pre-planning I tried to accomplish, I should have just realized that some things just happen (foreshadow).

I arrived at the temple just as members of my dad’s family started pulling into the parking lot. I jumped out of the car and walked over to greet them, fully dressed in my red bridal attire, forgetting that this was the first time they had seen me in a sari. My Great Aunt said, “C, I hardly even recognized you before you walked over! You look so different!”

Inside many of our other American wedding guests were already finding seats. P was inside milling about talking to guests, so I started to mingle as well. It’s exciting and a little overwhelming to see nearly everyone you are close to in one place, and they are all coming up to chat with you. I tried to explain to some of my family members that Nepali weddings are not as formal as American ones in that people can get up and move around, that we had pakora and tea in the back of the room if people wanted snacks, and they could move around and take pictures if they wanted. I sat to talk to one American college friend who said, “I’ve never been to a wedding before where the bride hangs out with everyone right before the ceremony.”

The time started ticking down—4 o’clock came and went, and it was still mostly “white Americans” in the temple. P asked me “Where is everyone?” (“The one time I want them to be here on time, they [our “brown friends”] are nowhere to be seen!”) and the Americans—who in American fashion arrived half an hour early—started to get antsy. I didn’t have a clue what was supposed to happen next to kick of the ceremony, and by 4:15, we figured we had to get the show on the road. I asked P’s dad what to do, and he suggested that P and I walk to the front near the mandap and wait for instruction from the pundit-ji.

Little did we know that several of our friends were waiting outside for the janthi, including P’s brother, and they missed part of the beginning of the ceremony because they didn’t think to come inside the temple.