Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Bringing Shoe Stealing to a Whole New Level…

In some sectors of Nepali and Indian culture there is a wedding tradition where the sisters of the bride–and this could be immediate biological sisters, or cousin-sisters, or female friends, etc–steal the shoes of the groom.

The set up for this works well because during the ceremony the bride and groom have to remove their shoes since the mandap becomes a small Hindu temple, and in all Hindu temples one must remove their shoes. I believe it is the same with mosques, so I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe stealing happens at South Asian Muslim weddings as well–readers can weigh in.

The groom’s friends or male cousins/brothers are supposed to guard the shoes, and I’ve even heard about “decoy” shoes to throw the sisters off.

Once the sisters steal the shoes the groom has to pay a bribe to get them back at the end of the ceremony. Depending on the parties involved, negotiations can be pretty tough.

When my sister heard about this, she loved the idea, and stole P’s shoes at our wedding, but I gave her a limit on how much she could reasonably ask for. When she asked for $50, S said, “that’s too little!” and gave her a handful of money from his wallet. I think she made off with $100 and was pretty satisfied.

Over the weekend we went to an Indian/Nepali wedding in the DC area. It was the biggest wedding I had ever been too– about 600 people. The bride was a childhood/neighborhood friend of P and his brother, and she was marrying a Punjabi man. Both the bride and groom had 13 or 14 members in their wedding party–“bridesmaids” and “groomsmen,” so when the “bridesmaids” (sisters) demanded payment for the groom’s shoes, they meant business and had the numbers to back it up.

They started chanting, “$3,000! $3,000!”

The groom countered with, “It’s a recession! That’s too much for a pair of shoes!”

Sisters: “We want $3,000!”

Groom: “I’ll give you two-fifty each…”

Sister: “Two hundred and fifty dollars each?”

Groom: “No! Two dollars and fifty cents!”

Sisters: “Noooooooo! Boooo!”

Groom: “Be reasonable girls!”

Groom’s brother: “No more than $50 per sister, otherwise they are being greedy!”

Sisters (urged on by the bride): “No, we want $3,000!”

…Haggling back and forth for quite a while…

Groom: “Okay, how about I give you all the money in my wallet right now? Trust me, it’s a lot, you will be happy… and I’ll throw an awesome party!”

Sisters: “How much is in your wallet?”

Groom: “$800 and a gift card for $25, you can have that too!”

Sisters: “Noooooo!”

…Haggling some more…

Some of the brothers reluctantly open their wallets and sweeten the pot to make an even $1,000 plus the $25 gift card.

The sisters finally accept.

P’s cousin’s American husband leaned in and whispered to me, “Um, is this for real?”

Sisters enjoy their shoe money...

Apparently!

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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.

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?

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 ;)

Mehendi

Mehendi (henna) is more of an Indian tradition than Nepali. I am sure you could check several other gori blogs to find pictures of amazing intricate henna up and down the arms and legs of soon-to-be pardesi brides. However I think there is a growing trend for Nepali brides to take up this Indian tradition, due to the cultural influences of Bollywood, and let’s be honest… mehendi is beautiful and fun.

When I was a student in Jaipur a friend and I ventured to the “pink city” to have henna applied before a special dinner program where we girls dressed up in saris for the first time. This was also the first time I ever had mehendi “officially” applied.

You can almost see the henna on my hands. First attempt at wearing a sari.

The next time I had the chance was in Nepal for my friend R’s wedding (more pictures HERE). P’s mom seemed so confused why we would want to do this. She kept shaking her head saying, “This is not our tradition. Why is she doing?” I came back with my hands all designed and ready to go.

Henna from R's wedding-- with sugar and lemon juice making my hands glossy and sticky. Supposedly a way to "darken and strengthen the mehendi"

The third time was for my friend AS’s wedding. In lieu of a “bachelorette” party, we invited female friends over to eat, dance, rub turmeric and sandalwood paste on AS’s face and arms, and to apply henna on each other’s hands. I just applied it on my palms so that while I was at work the henna wasn’t as noticeable, but it was still fun!

Before the henna dried

So after two weddings worth of henna, R and AS thought it would be fun to organize a mehendi party for me, and invited friends over on Sunday for some food, wine, and henna paste. I guess traditionally it would be a “women’s only” event, but we had the guys over too, and they were able to amuse themselves during our henna making with a different Nepali tradition—card playing (although a Bulgarian friend was the eventual winner!)

R and AS decorated R’s apartment with saris and dupattas to give it a “Bollywoody” feel, and many of us dressed in colorful kurtas. R’s brother-in-law’s new fiancé was designated as the mehendi artist for me, while AS and other’s took up the henna cones to design each other’s hands.

It was fun—and R’s soon-to-be sister-in-law hid a small P on one of my palms to see if P could find it within 60 seconds. The bet was that if he found it I would have to get up and dance for the whole group to the song “Shelia ki Jawani” which of course I wound up having to do, but at least he joined me halfway through the song!

It’s funny having henna on my hands in the US, because there are those who know about P and the region of the world he is from, and kind of “expect this kind of thing” from me. Yet then there are others—like the custodian in my office who came in the other day to collect the trash and noticed my palms when I handed him the garbage can and exclaimed, “What on earth did you do to your hands?!” and continued to look at me funny while I explained. My sister, who works as a bank teller, said that her co-workers asked if she was bored over the weekend and wrote on herself with brown marker. I’m sure for some people it just looks weird.

But I still like it. The reason we did the mehendi early is because my mother already warned me (she falls into the category of “expecting this kind of thing” out of me) that I was not allowed to have “anything on my hands that will ruin the white wedding photos.” (She was even concerned about the sindor before I was able to convince her that it can be easily washed off in time.) However being the rebel that I am, I kind of want to find someone to do henna on my feet for the wedding, kind of like a secret, since at least for the white wedding my feet will be covered. I’m sure I can find one of my Indian students who might be interested, although P’s mother again will probably be perplexed, “Why do this, it is not our Nepali culture?” Hmmmm… We will see.

Photos from the event:

The designing begins...

1st from left- college friend, 2nd in blue-AS, 3rd in white-my sister K, 4th-C, 5th-R, 6th-R's soon-to-be new sister-in-law, 7th-S's sister

Some of the hands, waiting to dry...

Sex-Selective Abortions and Children in the Prison System

Two articles were forwarded to me today by readers that I thought I’d pass along.

The first came from a reader–“Ullu”– in Finland. It was a Republica article on Sex-Selective Abortions on the rise in Nepal. The article explains that now that abortions are legal in Nepal, sex-selective abortions are becoming more common. Although doctors can potentially spend up to a year in jail for performing an abortion on women who have an ultra-sound to determine sex, and after finding out the gender, decide to abort the fetus, this has not deterred some doctors from following through on the procedure. Likewise it can be difficult for some physicians to even know whether or not their patients already know the gender prior to an abortive procedure. Some patience cross the border to India for ultrasounds, others simply visit a new health facility to finish the procedure. As one doctor noted, “[Our hospital has] a strict policy of keeping the baby’s gender a secret, but there are many health institutions in the country… Our effort alone cannot control illegal abortion.”

In a country where women, particularly from low-income families, have very little say in their reproductive health, legal safe abortions  in reputed medical facilities are important. However sex-selective abortions, in the words of one community nurse, could effect the overall population of Nepal some day– “We’ll have a dearth of [the] female population this way.”

The second article comes from Sparkly Date Palm who I believe writes from Dubai. She sent a link from BBC about a woman who is “mother” to 35 children, whose own mothers are currently in prisons in Nepal.

Thanks for the links!