Category Archives: Society and Culture

Chicken Poop and Goat Skinning

A Western nursery rhyme says that little girls are made of “sugar and spice and all things nice” while little boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.”

And according to S-di and P, (some) Nepalis say that people are made of…

Chicken poop.

Whaaa?

The conversation started when I was asking S-di for remedies for a dry scalp. Even though our winter in New England has been unusually mild and nearly snow-less this year, my skin feels a bit drier than normal, particularly my scalp. She recommended that I put olive oil in my hair once in a while for a few hours before washing to give it more moisture and shine.

I’ve heard of other South Asian friends oiling their hair, but I never had the nerve to do it. In my opinion my thinner, lighter Caucasian hair gets oily pretty fast already, and putting more oil in my hair kind of freaks me out. I don’t want to look like an Italian mobster with a slicked back 1950s pompadour. Although who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll try it and it will be the best thing that ever happened to my head.

“Her problem is that she takes really hot showers.” P chimed in, “Incredibly hot showers. I don’t know how she can stand under the water when it is that temperature.”

“You shouldn’t take such hot showers.” S-di suggested, “Don’t you know, when they skin a goat they dip it in really hot water and the hair pulls right off? Hot water is not good for hair.”

You know you are in an intercultural relationship when your hot shower is compared to skinning a goat.

But I have to admit that I love hot showers, not necessarily long showers, but piping hot I-can-barely-stand-under-the-shower-head kind of showers, especially in the winter. When I’m feeling particularly cold, and I jump into a hot shower, I can feel the chill drain down my backbone and out my toes. After such showers my Irish skin glows pink and steam rises off me.

“I’ve been taking hot showers for years and it didn’t seem to give me trouble before, but this year I feel itchier.” I said, scratching my scalp.

“If you scratch too much, you’ll smell like chicken sh*t.” S-di said.

“What?”

“Yeah, don’t you know that? If you scratch your skin too much it smells like chicken poop.” P added.

“I can’t say I’ve ever smelled myself and thought, hmmm this smells like chicken poop.” I said.

“Have you ever smelled chicken poop?” P asked.

“I’m sure I have, but I can’t think of the smell right now.”

“Scratch the back of your hand, scratch it really hard, then take a good sniff.” P said.

We both started scratching our hands. I inhaled a deep whiff from the surface of my skin, and I swear I only smelled soap. “Nope, it’s chicken poop.” P insisted.

So then chicken poop must smell like Dove cucumber melon bar soap.

Anyway—they explained that when the Hindu god Brahma was attempting to create humans, he tried with lots of different types of material, but with each attempt his creations couldn’t speak. When all else seemed to fail, he decided to try chicken poop…

“And then the human spoke!” M-dai added with a chuckle.

This is why some Nepalis insist that if you scratch your skin it will smell like chicken poop, because deep down there is a little chicken poop in us all.

I tried to google and see if I could substantiate their story with a more widely held Hindu myth, but no combination of google search terms seemed to bring up a similar story. Perhaps it’s a Nepali “old wives tale” but I think I might file this in the same category as an onion in the armpit gives you a fever.

Sadly a google search about taking scalding hot showers not being good for your skin seems to be true. My piping hot winter shower days  might be numbered.

The “Sh*t People Say…”

There has been a meme (did I use that term correctly?) making the rounds in internet land… “sh*t _____ say to/about ______.” The number of videos out there is proliferating by the hour, and I knew it was just a matter of time before there was one that had to do with Nepal.

And of course, the first to pop up was “sh*t Indians say to Nepalis.”

I’ve wanted to write about the relationship between Nepal and India for a while… actually, I thought I did, but I can’t seem to find the post… perhaps I’m thinking about the comments I’ve made on other blogs that I know have touched on this subject before.

Now I’m not Nepali, so if I misinterpret Nepali sentiments, I apologize in advance, but from what I understand Nepal—a small country sandwiched between the two giants of India and China, often feels pushed around, particularly by India, since the border to India is quite a bit more fluid than that of China (visa wise, and geographical wise). It’s true that there are certain cultural characteristics that are shared by various groups in Nepal and various groups in India, but Nepal (and Nepalis) don’t like being lumped together with Indians… in all fairness, they are their own country.

I actually feel this sometimes too (of course on a very small scale)—I try to be careful and talk about “South Asia/ns” when I’m referring to more than just Nepal/is, but even among some of the gori significant others I’ve connected with online, “India” is sometimes used as a blanket term to mean all of South Asia. I know it’s not meant with any disrespect or negativity, being “Indian” is by no means derogatory, but the term isn’t a blanket catch all for the whole of South Asia even if India is the biggest, most populated country in the region.

I make the same argument about the United States. As the economic, political and social superpower in the region, it’s easier for us as a country and people to forget about others. A lot of Americans don’t realize that the term “American” could also mean someone from Latin or Central America, and I’ve met Canadians who are frustrated to be lumped together with the United States, because “Hey, we are our own country too!”

I’ve even seen it happens at the university where I work. We don’t have a lot of Nepalis (sadly) but we do have quite a few Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Sri Lankans, however the university’s South Asian student association is still called “ISO” for “Indian Student Organization.” I also remember another time when a European student was upset when he thought the undergraduate “International Student Council” had been run by South Asian students for too long; he stormed out of the vote saying, “You should call this Indian Student Club if only the Indians can win the leadership positions!” (never mind that that there was one Indian, one Sri Lankan, two Pakistanis and one Bangladeshi in those positions at the time—just because they had similar features doesn’t mean they are all from the same place, perhaps the reason the European student didn’t receive enough votes to win?).

I remember on one of the blogs that discussed this topic some Indians readers commented that they didn’t think there was any rivalry between the two countries, while most of the Nepali commenters said something to the effect of “oh yeah, definitely!” Our Irish friend likened this to the relationship between Ireland and England. Many Irish would characterize England as their “biggest rivals” and many English don’t even have Ireland (in that way) on their radar. It’s a matter of position and perspective.

Anyway, I digress… below is the link to the “Sh*t Indians say about Nepalis” video, I listed a few that I thought “oh yeah, I’ve heard this before…” or felt I could somehow identify with:

“You’re Nepali? So you are basically Indian.” (ouch).

“I have a Nepali friend in college… maybe you know him?”—this one might be true! Sometimes I feel like everyone of a certain age knows everyone else from Kathmandu.

“So you’re Indian…” “You look Indian…” “So you’re Indian…” “Your eyes man, your eyes…” (I liked the “eyes” comment. I don’t think P has particularly East Asian looking eyes, but I’ve heard people ask if he was Korean, Japanese, and Thai before.)

You don’t do Diwali? I thought you guys were all Hindus…”

“So you are basically just a cross between Chinese and Indian.”

“Do you feel more Indian or Tibetan?”

“Do you come from a long line of Sherpas?” (my mother’s brothers like to friendly-tease P about being a “Sherpa,” they don’t mean anything by it, but it is a bit racist. Not all Nepalis are Sherpa, and not all Sherpa are Nepali).

“You must love the mountains…”

“Nepalis just basically look like weather beaten Chinese.”

“You are drinking chia, don’t you mean chai?” (After a semester in India, I certainly fall in the “chai” category sometimes…. I also sometimes count “ek, do, teen, char, panch” instead of “ek, dui, teen, char, panch.” When I was in India I was scolded for saying “dui” for “two” by my Hindi teacher who said, “What, are you a villager from the hills or something?” and I replied, “I learned how to count in Nepali before I did in Hindi.”)

And just for fun… I thought “sh*t that white girls say to brown girls” was pretty funny.

“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...

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!

Eating With My Hand

Sara at A Little of That Too, as a student of psychology, has been working on a Gori Racial Identity Development Model. Although the exercise is a bit tongue-in-cheek, I think a lot can also ring true in this potential model.

So far her development stages include 1) “Pre-Partnership” (aka “normal”), 2) “Courting South Asia” (aka “omg my eyes are opened to this AMAZING culture!!”), and 3) “Re-immersion” (aka “oh yeah, I used to like that”), with several more steps to follow.

She was looking for some stories, which made me think of something—

When I first started dating P a lot of things were new. Language, food, music, clothing, religion, holidays, points of view. Some of these I embraced right away—curries, spices, cooking—others not so much: have I mentioned my Nepali skills are still pathetic?

One thing that I embraced relatively quickly was eating with my hand– or I should clarify, eating wet foods like curry, rice, daal, etc, with my hand (I guess you can call this phase 2—courting South Asia).

The first summer we were together I was living in an apartment with 3 Nepali guys. We would take turns making dinner, and eat together at the table each night. Not long after moving in one of our Nepali friends took away my fork and insisted that I eat with my hands. “The food tastes much better this way!” he insisted (something I’ve heard again and again). At first it was mostly a joke—pick on C and see if she could eat without making a mess, but eventually it was more about feeling comfortable eating that way, and learning the way that they did it. It wasn’t long before they didn’t have to take the fork away; it was my decision not to use it.

School started and I was back to my old ways of eating at the university cafeteria, but when we would cook in the International House kitchen late at night, I could pull out my “yeah, I’m a white girl, but I can eat with my hand just like you” skill, which felt particularly satisfying when sharing food with other non-Nepalis, like I was “in the club” because I knew the “better way,” the “more authentic way” of eating this type of food. It was the same type of pride I still feel when I get compliments on my momo wrapping skills.

The second summer we were back in an apartment—3 Nepali guys and I, sharing the cooking duties and eating with our hands. That spring P’s dad had come for his graduation and he stayed with us a few nights at the apartment before traveling to visit other relatives. When we all sat together to eat, P’s dad asked one of the boys to get me a spoon, but P explained that I knew how to eat with my hand—again a source of pride, my skill had been unexpected. This would come back to haunt me my first night in Nepal, when nerves made me eat so slowly with my hand that I was demoted to a spoon.

Not such a flattering picture of P, eating daal-bhat with his hand at a Phakding guest house during our Solukhumbu trek in 2009

The semester after that summer I studied in India, and felt like a rockstar when I was able to show off my hand eating skills the first few days we were in Delhi to my American colleagues. They wanted me to show them “the right way” to do it so that they would also look competent and “in the know” when staying with local families and eating dinner. In a silly way it made me feel more “cultured” and more prepared, like I had an extra “in” with South Asia.

At some point after I returned from the trip and after being demoted to a spoon in Nepal, I just stopped doing it. I don’t remember when, or why, it just lost its appeal. I didn’t like that the turmeric tinged my finger nails yellow and that my hands would smell more strongly of onions and garlic even after washing them. It was like all of a sudden I didn’t have to prove that part of my “in-ness” with people any more, and it allowed me to “see” that I didn’t really want to eat with  my hands all the time. Where I once enthusiastically dug in fingers first at home with P, I now grab a fork or spoon.

It’s not that I stopped eating with my hands entirely—I’m still a voracious momo eater with my hands, but I just don’t feel I have to anymore. Even in Nepal, I often ate with a spoon during our visit in 2009, unless I was visiting another family’s house, in which “American eating with her hand” was a surprise revelation.  So I guess that means I’ve transitioned in this regard to phase 3—Re-Integration to my fork using world.

“Marrying Out”

National Geographic this month has a short article on “Marrying Out” as part of their continuing series on population. It briefly highlights that marriage demographics are changing in the US (using Barak Obama as an example– when his mother married in the early ’60s only 1 in 1,000 marriages were between someone of African descent and a Caucasian, however now it is 1 in 60).

[Nat Geo article pdf]

The article visually represents different spouse pairings, and explains that black women are least likely to intermarry while Asian men are second least likely. (hmmmm!)

The information is based on a report by the Pew Research Center by the same name with the tag line, “One-in-Seven New US Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic.” I haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, but I thought I would share.

It’s kind of reassuring. I started this blog because sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had cross-cultural issues. Sometimes when I talk to my family, they make me feel like the only one in the world who wants a bi-cultural household, or wants to organize two weddings to highlight different cultural traditions, or wants to learn another language– but you know, we are not alone. And it feels good.

“Greatest Hits” for 100,000 Views

I reached 100,000 views about two weeks ago. A milestone I never really imagined reaching. I was hoping to write a post in honor of this, but work and home became too busy to write anything meaningful.

So it was suggested that I should do a “greatest hits” post, but rather than repost things that actually received a lot of hits, I wanted to post stories that were particularly meaningful or interesting to me—or topics that I wrote about a long time ago, but are probably buried far down the chain of posts that new readers might not have read them yet:

Nepali Culture
Teej
Bratabandha Part I
Mo:mo
Nepali ho?
Fat is Relative
Just Give Hing a Chance
Please… No More Rice!
A Female Taboo
Yak Cheese that keeps on Giving
Don’t Sleep with an Onion in your Armpit!
Monsoon Wedding Series (Starting HERE)
Nepali Wedding in New England

 

Personal Stories
Pretty Woman
African Hare Krishna
Obstacles on the Way to the Altar
Frank Uncle and the Nepali Wedding
He Told Them!

K-k-k-k-k-k-kathmandu
My First Night in Nepal
The Delicate Mzungu at the Delicate Arch (the engagement story)
Another Rant on Language
The 2010 Sel Roti Tihar Challenge

Thanks again to all those who read, and to those I’ve gotten to know through the blogging world. This has been such an eye opening and interesting experience, and I look forward to getting to know more of you in the future!

Happy reading!