Category Archives: Nepal

Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post recently about “The Married Look” and what expectations people in Nepal have for the look of a married women including a few social cues such as tikka, churaa bangles, pote necklaces, nose piercings (for some ethnic groups), and wearing make-up like kajol. I basically left a blog post sized comment on her post, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss at least one aspect of my new Nepali “married look.”

I’ve written about potes necklaces before, but I want to revisit the topic.

As I noted in the previous post, I occasionally wore potes (pronounced like po-thay) before I got married. P’s aunt, J Phupu, gifted me a necklace in 2008, and 2009, and sent a few more a little after that. The necklaces were generally short, colorful and multi-strand. I would sometimes match them with a saree if I was going to a South Asian party or dressing up for a cultural event at my work. On even rarer occasions I would wear one to the office to dress up an outfit (this makes me sound particularly fashionable, which I’m definitely not). S-di’s daughters would tease me sometimes saying, “Did you get married?” when I wore them because of their use as a marriage symbol in Nepal. They didn’t really have any special meaning for me at the time, other than a gift from P’s aunt, so I didn’t think it was a big deal to wear them before marriage.

Pre-marriage pote wearing examples over the years...

The week after we got married I informally wore red clothes (P’s mom didn’t tell me to do this, but I remembered my friend R being encouraged to wear red for a certain number of days after her wedding as a “naya buhari”, and as I was excited to be married I decided to wear red as well). I dressed up my red outfits with the short red, green and gold colored pote necklace that P’s mom brought for me to wear. It’s a nice necklace, but the Nepali wedding colors of red, green and gold remind me so much of Christmas, especially certain combinations and designs with these colors, that wearing red, green and gold jewelry in July seemed kind of “off-season.” (I’m definitely not a “Christmas all year round!” kind of gal).

Examples of green, red and gold potes hanging in a pote shop near Thamel. To the left are examples of "thin" potes, and to the right and above are examples of "thick" multi-strand potes.

During our second week of marriage I started transitioning into other outfit colors, and picking other potes, but as someone who rarely wore necklaces before, wearing the thick multi-strand short necklaces felt clunky, like I was wearing a tight collar every day. S-di had gifted me a single strand purple and silver pote during Teej 2010, and I started wearing this simpler, single-strand, longer pote on a daily basis, because I could hide it discretely under my shirt if I wanted to, but I still felt that connection of wearing a pote as a married woman.

I didn’t expect to wear pote every day. During those first two weeks I did it because I was excited to be married, and thought it was a nice nod to P’s mother’s traditions. I thought eventually I would probably stop. Then Mamu started talking about how my two very close Nepali friends—AS and R—both married to Nepali men, didn’t seem to wear “any signs of marriage.” AS wears a wedding ring every day, which to me is a sign of marriage, and R occasionally wears bangles, but neither wore pote or tikka daily, two signs that Mamu seemed really surprised about.

After hearing her talk about this a few times, I figured I would wear pote while she was staying with us, so that she would feel more satisfied that I was showing signs of being married in a Nepali fashion, but I didn’t like wearing the thick short necklaces all the time, and continued wearing the thin purple/silver necklace, even when it didn’t match anything.

The next time I visited R I asked her if she had any simple pote, very plain necklaces that I could wear inconspicuously. She said that the last time her mother visited she was also concerned that R wasn’t wearing pote as a sign of marriage, and had brought several simple ones for her to wear. She hadn’t made it a habit of wearing them, and said if I wanted to take one or two I could. I picked up two of the plainest necklaces: one that had pale pink and pale clear-yellow beads that basically blended in with my natural skin tone and another that had alternating tiny red and yellow beads that could blend with almost any outfit.

Sporting my single-strand red and yellow pote while out and about with P's cousin in KTM. In the US I usually tuck the thin pote under my shirt collar to be more inconspicuous, but in Nepal I felt more compelled to pull it out in the open to show I "belonged" more.

With my new simple pote, and the few fancier pote I already had, it was easier to find something to wear every day and it became more of a habit. By the time P’s mom was packing her bags to return home, I was putting the necklaces on without even thinking about it before I headed to work each morning, or slipping one over my head on weekends.

While I am in the US I don’t always want to show off the fact that I have on a pote. Most of the people I see don’t know the significance of it, so I wear it more for the significance it holds for me. However when I was in Nepal I found myself wanting to be very overt and intentional in displaying the pote I was wearing. Instead of tucking it under my shirt collar, I was pulling it out and wearing it publically and proudly. It made me feel like I belonged more—that I wasn’t just a tourist walking in Thamel, but someone married to a local person, someone more deeply involved in the culture. It felt like wearing pote was a statement—yeah, I’m a gori wife, “Mero shriman Nepali ho.” [My husband is Nepali].

Individual strands of pote hang waiting to be twisted and tied into proper pote necklaces in a pote shop in KTM

Completed multi-strand pote hanging in a pote shop. To the right are shorter styles, to the left are longer styles.

Actually, when I departed KTM for home, I was still dressed up for Dashain tikka—in the red and dark blue cotton block print salwaar kameez I bought in Delhi while studying there a few years back, the longer multi-strand shiny red pote bought for the bhoj party, the small red tikka sticker between my eyebrows I wore occasionally on my visit, as well as the giant red tikka and jamara grass from Dashain. I have to admit, I kind of liked the looks and surprised expressions I received at the airport—there are lots of tourists that leave Nepal with a simple red tikka, a kata scarf or a marigold garland draped around their neck, you might even see a tourist dressed in local clothing, but I figured you didn’t normally find a foreigner wearing pote, Dashain tikka and jamara grass unless she was part of a real Nepali family.

Mamu and P drop me off at Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM. In this picture you can't really see my thicker red pote well since it blends in with the red of my salwaar kameez, but the longer multi-strand necklace is hiding in between the draped sides of my dupatta scarf

Now that I’m back, I’ve been wearing a few of the thicker, multi-strand, but longer potes that I brought back from Nepal this time, as well as my good old simple single strand ones. I didn’t think I’d like wearing pote all the time, but it’s become kind of my “thing.”

Wearing the same shiny red pote as the previous picture, but it's more visible here. P's two cousins, J Phupu and I sit together after our first round of Dashain family tikka

I just kind of wish I didn’t wear them before marriage so that it would have been a little bit more special.

“Changa” Flying in Photos

P returned home safely on Thursday, just in time for Tihar. Sampson and I are very happy to have him back.

He also brought home the camera, so now I can share some photos from our trip. This will hopefully inspire me to finish the half dozen posts I have partially written about the rest of our journey.

When I wrote the posts Vijaya Dashami, Now Go Fly a Kite and Changa Chet! some readers asked for photos… so I wanted to share a few:

Our first day of kite flying (Vijaya Dashami post)

Starting out...

Getting a feel of the wind

A sharp tug surges the kite upwards...

A happy man and his "changa"... even though he is dodging the laundry to fly ;)

From Day 2 (“Changa Chet” post)

Another day, another kite...

The "moves"

Thumbs up can only mean one thing... "chheeeeeeeet!"

Another day:

P and his cousin ready another kite...

Battling changas

P's kite flutters over the neighorhood

His cousin takes the helm...

Flying at sunset...

Kukur Puja 2011

Previous Kukur Pujas: photos from 2010, from 2009

Kukur Puja is one of my favorite Nepali festivals. It is part of the Tihar cluster of events including Kag Puja (crow puja, yesterday), Kukur Puja (dog puja, today), Laxmi Puja and Gai Puja (puja for prosperity and for cow, tomorrow), Thursday is a series of pujas I’m not as familiar with (Goru Puja, Gobhardan Puja, Maha Puja and Nepal Sambat as explained by NepaliAustralian), and lastly Bhai Tikka (brother puja, Friday). In our household we usually only celebrate Kukur and Laxmi puja and Bhai Tikka.

One reason I love Kukur Puja is because I am a big “dog person.” Luckily P is too, or we would probably have a big problem!

My dad had a black lab named Jack when he married my mom and we had him until I was in fourth grade. I always remember him as an older dog, reserved and calm, and he never minded when my sisters and I would bug him, or lay all over him. Even though he was around when I was a kid, he wasn’t really my dog, he was always my dad’s.

When I was seven years old I started begging my parents for a dog of my own. I whined and pleaded in a way only a seven year old could. I remember that Christmas there was an article in the local newspaper where “Santa” was responding to a young girl named “Joleen” who was asking for a pet for Christmas, giving her a checklist of things she had to agree to do before she would be ready to have a pet. My parents told me that Santa was actually writing to me, and had accidently misspelled my name, and I cut that article out of the paper and carried it around with me, showing it to all my relatives that Christmas and explaining—“I can do #1, and #2, and #3…I promise!”

A week or two after Christmas my dad found an advertisement in the newspaper for cocker spaniel puppies, and he took me to the kennel to check them out. There were little black and white puppies scurrying here and there. One of them tried to eat my shoelaces, and I fell in love. I brought him home and named him Blackie (he was all black with a white stripe down his neck).

Blackie was my constant companion until I left home. We used to go trudging through the backwoods together, covered in mud; sledding down the hill in our back yard together, little chunks of snow and ice matting in his curly hair; he even went on jogs with me as a high school cross country runner, although I’m sure mid-summer 6 mile runs were not his favorite. We dressed him up in baby clothes and diapers (my youngest sister was born the same year as Blackie), brought him along on long family trips in the car, and nursed him back to health when he was attacked by a two ferocious dogs that lived down the street.

Having a dog when you are really young probably helps someone to grow up with a soft spot for dogs, and to not be afraid of them. Various people I know tell me that they are scared of dogs, sometimes because they were once bitten or attacked by one. I was also attacked by a dog once—my friend who agreed to take me to the big “eighth grade dance” had two big dogs behind an invisible fence, and my school friend and I rode our bikes over to his house not knowing the dogs were out. As we started walking up the drive way the dogs charged at us, and my friend had the sense to step backwards behind the invisible fence but I didn’t, and instead put my arms up to protect my face. One of the dogs latched on to my left elbow and started biting, leaving a nasty bruise/puncture wound. I had to go to the hospital and get a tetanus shot, but luckily no stiches. And in true 8th grade fashion, I had a dress with no sleeves at the dance so I could show off my battle scars to everyone all night. But luckily I  had a lot of positive exposure to dogs as a baby and small kid, which preempted me from developing any major fears.

After Blackie had to be put to sleep while I was studying abroad in France my freshman year of college, I didn’t have a dog for many years—obviously you couldn’t have one in a dorm room, and when P and I graduated our first few apartment buildings wouldn’t allow pets either. Finally P wore out our second to last landlord, and we were given permission for a “small, quiet, well behaved dog.”

I did a petfinder.com search for cocker spaniels (since that is what I had as a kid, and felt confident I could properly take care of one, “I can do #1, and #2, and #3…I promise!”). I was particularly partial to black dogs, since I had two growing up. Sampson came up on the search results at a rescue in New Hampshire (although they said he is “part cocker spaniel, part retriever” people tell us he looks like all sorts of things, but the key word “cocker spaniel” brought him to us). He was cute, and black, with a white stripe on his neck–like Blackie!—and he was a rescued stray from the streets of Puerto Rico—an intercultural dog! Perfect!

So P and I put in the application, begged our landlord some more, and two and a half years ago Sampson joined our household. Now he is a spoiled little mutt, because P and I nearly treat him like he’s our real baby. He gets momo snacks from P when momos are on the menu, and egg yokes when I’m making waffles, and he already tried a piece of yak cheese when I returned from Nepal.

And every year on Kukur Puja he gets a special tikka, a flower garland made just for him, a new toy, a tasty packet of new treats, and special treatment all day.

So if you have a little pup in your life, feel free to give him some extra love today!

Sampson is the king of sad eyes, even with his happy, easy life in the AmericaNepali household!

Menstruation Jutho

Continuation from the last post

For a woman, jutho taboos surrounding menstruation can be challenging. I’ve written about this before in “A ‘Female’ Taboo” but I wanted to revisit it as I have experienced a few more things since then.

As I noted before, for me, a woman’s menstruation cycle is a very personal thing. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it certainly isn’t something I’d like to announce to the world (although ironically, I’m writing about it on a blog, ha ha). This might be where my own personal feelings and Nepali culture greatly deviate, because although there are taboos affiliated with a woman’s period in Nepal there doesn’t seem to be embarrassment around others knowing that a woman is having it, since the taboos are enacted in such a way that everyone would know.

Case in point, during Dashain a cousin’s family came over to P’s family’s house to receive tikka from P’s grandfather. It was a cousin-sister and her two kids and her brother and his wife. They were making the rounds to the different family houses, however the brother’s wife had her period, so she couldn’t come in the living room where the family was giving tikka and had to sit in the hallway. It was obvious to everyone in the room why she had to sit outside, and not only did she have to miss out on receiving tikka and blessings from everyone for the year, she had to go from house to house sitting outside and being excluded, so everyone in the entire family would know she was menstruating. Perhaps the family didn’t care, but I really felt for her, and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to go through the same thing, because I would feel mortified.

Right before Dashain, one of P’s cousins asked me if I knew of any medication that could delay the onset of her period. I asked why and she said that she was probably going to get hers right as Dashain tikka time would be in full swing. It was going to be her last Dashain in Nepal for a few years, and I am sure she didn’t want to miss out on the activities and gatherings.

“Would anyone know? What if you didn’t say anything?” I asked. That would have been my tactic if I was in the same situation.

“Well… if maiju [P’s mom] finds out, I might get in trouble.” She said. We didn’t talk about it afterward. She participated in the festival so I figured she sorted something out.

I’ve now spent several months with P’s family, so I’ve obviously gone through my “impure” time of the month while I was around them—handling food, sitting with everyone at the table, and no one has ever questioned anything. I’ve kept my mouth closed about it, so they probably never really knew when it happened, but they had to assume it did at some point, so I was a little surprised by P’s cousin’s comment about P’s mom scolding her if she participated in Dashain tikka while she was having her’s. Perhaps it’s easier for P’s mom to think about me in a different category when it comes to jutho as a foreigner, or maybe she is uncomfortable to bring up the topic with me, I’m not sure. Although it would be interesting to learn more about the taboos, it isn’t a topic I would eagerly bring up with P’s mom as I would hate to have menstruation jutho extended to me. I kind of like the policy of don’t ask, don’t tell we have going on right now.

But I’ve seen women perpetuate menstruation jutho on themselves—when a friend of mine got married a relative of the groom had her period during the ceremony and so she insisted on sitting outside the temple and peeking through a window while her husband and son were inside enjoying the festivities. It was only after we convinced her that the marriage was not taking place inside  the main temple, but in the breezeway/meeting area of the temple building that she felt comfortable coming inside to watch the ceremony. Had we been in Nepal she would probably have been completely excluded by family members, but here in the US no one was going to scold her.

Nepali Jiwan gave an example of living with a conservative Nepali family while she was doing a study abroad homestay and when they found out she was menstruating (I was wondering how—did they ask?) they included her in jutho taboos—she had to sit in another room and eat away from the family, and was scolded by a house worker when she touched the clothes washing water during her “impure” state.

Anyway—I guess I’m not really sure where I am going with this post except that I find the discussion of these taboos both interesting and humiliating.

Has anyone else ever run into menstruation taboos when dealing with their partner’s parents or extended family? What did you do?

Do you feel it is important to participate in the taboos when it comes to religious observance such as not entering a temple when you are having your period or would don’t ask, don’t tell?

Jutho

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post on the concept of “impurity” in Nepal that I wanted to link to. I’ve been wanting to write about the Nepali concept of jutho or (for lack of a better word to describe it in English) “impurity” for a long time, but as Nepali Jiwan points out, the concept is very multifaceted and complicated and can seep in to many different aspects of life such as table etiquette, customs surrounding death, even women’s menstrual cycles.

Once I tried to list some of the jutho topics I’d learned about—mostly from table etiquette. For instance, one is not supposed to touch another person’s plate with your hands or eating utensils once you have started eating since this would “contaminate” the other person’s food. This even extends to reaching out to bowls in the center of the table and taking more food for yourself—a very American concept of eating (“Please pass the mashed potatoes!”)—because this could potentially contaminate the food as well, and is a reason that many Nepali women will serve everyone in the family first and wait until everyone else is done before eating themselves. In a country where we mostly use forks and spoons and our hands remain “clean” while eating, the idea of if you reach out to spoon more potatoes on your own plate you are “contaminating” the bowl of potatoes might sound a little weird, but if you are eating with your hands and they are sticky with mashed potatoes and butter, then you can imagine that multiple people reaching out to a serving spoon could get messy real quick.

Then why not use your other hand? Because the left hand is reserved for “cleaning yourself in the bathroom” and even though one washes your hands after wiping yourself, your left hand is ritually impure due to this, so it would be considered impolite to reach out to a serving spoon with such a hand.

While P’s family was here, they adapted to my more “American” style, and although they ate with their hands, I think they served themselves by reaching out with their left hand to the serving spoon or asked for someone like me, who was using a spoon at the table and had a clean hand, to dish out more food. I’m not sure if this made them uncomfortable, because I never thought to ask, instead I was just pleased to have a more “family style” (to me) way of eating, rather than P’s mom running back and forth serving everyone and then eating by herself. When we got to Nepal, the “Nepali” style returned.

This example is just one basic example of jutho, but there are many many more. I’m not in the best position to explain them as I live in the US with many younger Nepalis who don’t necessarily follow many of the rules of jutho, but when you live with a family back in Nepal the rules can become more evident depending on how strict the household is. Nepali Jiwan mentions a few—such as the jutho taboos surrounding a recently deceased family member.

Her mother-in-law passed away a few months ago, so the entire family is unable to celebrate holidays for an entire year. She writes about how she can understand how this can be useful in excusing yourself from the many social obligations in Nepal during a sad time, but the yearlong ban can feel lonely. I remember some of my Nepali friends and even P feeling very surprised the year my Grandfather died—he died at the beginning of December and my family celebrated Christmas that year. For a culture that waits an entire year, I think it made P feel uncomfortable to celebrate Christmas only two or three weeks after a close family member’s death. This makes me wonder what would happen in the future with a close family member’s death– I can understand not celebrating Nepali festivals for a year in respect of P’s relative, but will this extend to American festivals too? I can’t see my family accepting that–what, no Christmas presents this year? If we were in the US it might be less of a problem than if we were in Nepal, but I think I’d be sad not to have my festivals for a whole year if we were living over there. I guess this is all food for thought, and ramblings.

Someone I know who was getting married experienced some of this type of jutho. If you are informed of a family member’s death, then the celebration ban of jutho extends to wedding ceremonies and even eating (you have to abstain from meat, salt, and certain other spices for a certain number of days) so sometimes people will delay relaying information about a death until after meal times, or after a ceremony so that the ceremony won’t be disrupted. This can happen if you are far enough away in relation to someone, but if you are too close in relation then you have to be told no matter what. So this individual’s parents couldn’t travel to the wedding ceremony in the US because an elderly relative was close to death and the parents of the friend would have to be told if that particular relative died, whereas my friend could be delayed in being told until after the ceremony if the relative happened to die before it took place.

I originally started writing this post because I wanted to write more specifically about menstrual jutho, but this post is already getting long. I’ll break the post in two and write more tomorrow.

In the meantime, do others have jutho examples they can share? It would be good to learn about other juthos out there!

Khasi Bazaar

In the US we have turkey for Thanksgiving, and some people have ham for Christmas, but in Nepal when it’s time for Dashain only one kind of meat will do—khasi ko masu—goat meat.

In preparation for the main day of Dashain, called Dashami—tikka day– P, his dad, his dad’s friend (“Uncle”), and I went to the Khasi Bazaar [Goat Market]. The market consisted of the sidewalk on both sides of the road filled with roped up tarp tents and lines of goats tied to strings and posts. A second part of the market was down a small alleyway where goat pens where stuffed with goats. Small weighing stations consisting of a metal cage for the goat, counter balanced by a platform and heavy metal weights were scattered throughout the market so customers could buy their animal by the kilo.

Before we got into a taxi to go to the market I asked P’s dad what kind of goat we were looking for. “About 30-35 kilos, long legs, not too fat, brown in color, because brown goats are nice to look at.” We found goats of all sizes and colors—black, white, spotted, brown. Daddy at first seemed displeased. He said that these goats were from the Terai [plains of Nepal bordering India], he could tell because of their long ears, and they seemed to be too fat. “Not good,” he said, “We don’t eat the fat.”

We circled around the market for a while, and finally settled on a goat that they had spotted earlier. It was a darker brown goat with even darker brown, almost black, streaks, and small horns. The goat was untied from its post and Uncle picked it up to test its weight. Then the goat was ushered into one of the metal cages for an official weigh in. P’s dad haggled the price, and the goat was ours.

I took its rope and gently led it out of the market saying, “Aao khasi, aao.”[come goat, come]. I wanted the goat treated nicely since it only had a few more hours left of its life. We found a taxi and opened the back hatch and loaded the goat in the back so that it was standing behind the back seat and on top of the spare tire. There was just enough space in the back section of the taxi for the goat, almost like the space was designed for goat travel. P’s dad, myself and P sat in front of the goat on our way home. I pet its head to make it feel more relaxed.

When we got home the goat was unloaded and brought to the back of the house to eat some grass. P and I pulled up clumps from the ground and put our hands up to the goat’s mouth and he happily chewed. After a few minutes P’s dad lead the goat inside the house and two people—P’s dad pulling the string from the front and “Uncle” swatting at the goat from the back—led the goat upstairs to the roof.

The goat was tied in the corner and Mamu give it leaves from the cauliflower she was cleaning for Dashain meals, and we gave it a large pan of water. It bleated a few times then settled down in the shade.

Khasi is thakai.” J Phupu said [goat is tired].

When I pass the goat on the way up to the second roof top (above the kitchen) where P is flying some changa [kites] I feed the goat some more cauli leaves.

Tomorrow the goat will be cut up for Dashami meat, some going to Uncle, some going to P’s relatives, and the rest eaten for the holidays. Daddy said in the morning he would take the goat to the butcher to be killed, cleaned and to have the larger sections of the goat separated (head, thighs, mid-section, etc), but that he was going to Uncle’s house to get a khukuri knife so that they could cut up the larger sections from the butcher into smaller sections.

“You will see, tomorrow.” He said.

The Art of Distributing Wedding Cards in KTM

My boss couldn’t believe that when P’s parents decided to do the bhoj that P’s dad could pull out a notebook and from memory write out a guest list with 550 people. “Who can do that?” he asked.

I was equally impressed/shocked that in the two and a half weeks time after P’s family decided to do the bhoj, they were able to organize a party for 500 people, including printing out wedding invitations, addressing each one, and distributing them out to friends, family, and neighbors.

The process is pretty interesting.

Most people live in the KTM Valley, and although the Valley is terribly congested with traffic, and can take ages to make it across the city, it’s relatively easy to connect with people.

And those connections run deep. We were talking with a high school friend of P’s whose dad is now semi-retired but still so busy, “He has a group of friends that he went to primary and high school together with, and now they are in their 60s and still all together all the time. There is always something to do.”

Even with P’s dad the connections are all around and plentiful. Like the man who came to the house to deliver the electricity bill—he was a long time acquaintance of P’s dad and received an invitation to the bhoj. “You know,” P’s dad said, smiling, “When I was a small baby, P’s grandfather had me stay with P’s grandmother’s family in Thamel. I was the only small kid in a house of adults. This dai [older brother],” he continued, pointing at the electricity bill delivery man, “Used to watch me. He would put me on the toilet and when I was done I’d cry out and he would come and help me and clean me. He is my very good dai.”

By the time we arrived in KTM P’s dad had already printed the cards and addressed most of them. Instead of putting mailing information, you put family names, and group them together into packets for neighborhoods or friends/family that people will see.

For the next three or four days Daddy was busy entertaining visitors who would come and collect a packet of invitations (Daddy would look through the packet to verify that the visitor would see all the people, and ask if there was anyone else, and look through other packets to collect those cards), and taking packets of invitations with him as he ventured out around the neighborhood with an umbrella in the lingering monsoon rain. At each house he would make small talk, perhaps have a cup of tea and/or a snack, and drop off the card.

As the days progressed the giant stack of invitations grew smaller and smaller. P’s dad started calling people who he didn’t think he or a local acquaintance would see before the party. P and I got in a taxi and ventured to a few houses and work places of our friend’s parents to drop off invitations.

I guess that is how you spread the word about a party in less than a week, and since most people are in the Valley, traveling to the party isn’t usually that difficult.

However there has still been a lot of rain. Usually in the evening the sky will open up with a downpour. I’ve heard that when it rains people are less likely to go out because many people travel my motor scooter which would get messy in the rain, and getting very dressed up and going out in the water would also be uncomfortable. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t rain, or that there will be only a little. After all P’s dad’s hard work, I’d hate for weather to keep people away. I’m sitting on the roof now typing this post out on my laptop and the sky is fairly blue and clear.

The party is tonight. I’m both excited and a little nervous. P and I will be sitting on chairs in front of a big hall of people eating and drinking. 500 people, most of whom I don’t know, coming up and greeting me and saying hello. If there ever was a time I wish I spoke better Nepali, it would be tonight when greeting all these new family members.

The past few nights there have been conversations amongst the family members about what jewelry I should wear, and how I should wear my hair and if I should go to a beauty parlor. I smile and nod. I don’t understand all of the conversation, but I think it should be fun. After lunch P’s cousin is taking me to the beauty parlor for hair and makeup. I’ll post some pictures, but probably not until we get back home as the internet at P’s house is relatively slow.

Stay tuned :)

Changa Chet!

This afternoon the sun was high and warm, with just enough breeze to get a kite into the air. In preparation P and I wound the nice Lucknow string around P’s old wide wooden spool and took another kite up to the roof.

P quickly got his kite up into the air, and soon it was soaring high above the neighborhood. Half a dozen other kites were also up in the air, mostly too far away from us to “fight.”

“When I was a kid there were hundreds.” P said, bating the other kites to try and come after him. He spotted a black kite struggling a few houses away. “Maybe I should go after that one.”

“What if it is a little baby flying the kite?” I asked.

“There’s no mercy.” He said, again smiling, but steered his kite away and over towards a light blue/gray kite launched from another roof not too far away. As the blue/gray kite climbed higher, it made its way closer to P’s. The kites circled each other several times, dancing in the sky.

“When you cut the string of another’s kite you are supposed to yell ‘changa chet!’ which means ‘kite is cut!’” P explained.

He pulled up and tugged hard on the kite and his string ran straight into the other kite with a force that visibly shook the blue/gray kite, even from such a distance. P’s spool started to pull and the string began unraveling rapidly.

“I guess we have to see who wins the fight.”

He pulled and then loosened, pulled and then loosened, and then the blue/gray kite started fluttering down out of the sky.

“CHETTTT!” P yelled to the teenager holding the kite-less string on the high cement roof a few houses away, “My first win in ten years!”

P looked around for another kite to fight but the others were too far off. “Do you always have to fight them?” I asked.

“What’s the point of flying if you don’t have the competition?” he answered. This type of kite flying was quite different then the few kites I tried to fly as a kid in the park, the point was just to get the kite up in the sky and watch it float in the breeze. There wasn’t really any technique or skill involved, like this kite flying. Every time P let me hold the wooden spool I’d again get the kite in a dreaded death spiral. I was content just to watch and cheer.

A few little kids had watched the kite fight and started to chant, “Baba Che, dhago chod.”

“What does that mean?”

“This kite design is called Baba Che. The kids are calling out to us, ‘Baba Che, release more strings!’ They want us to fight someone so they can get the kite that falls.”

We let it fly for a while more, then P reeled in his kite, alive to fight another day.

From “Very Good Saathi” to “Naya Buhari”

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.