Category Archives: 1st trip (2005)

Saying GoodBye To KTM

(Continuation of Mandirs in Nepal)

So after all the sightseeing, rice eating, clothes buying, and temple visits the four days passed really quickly and it was time to go. My flight was scheduled to leave in the evening from KTM, and I had a quick flight to Delhi where I was going to have to spend the night sitting on the floor of the airport waiting lounge, and then I had an early morning flight from Delhi back to the US.

Before going out for our last morning of sightseeing (to Pashupatinath and to P’s old high school), P’s whole family helped me pack. It was both awkward and kind—awkward because it felt like an encroachment on my personal space… other people going through my bags and stuffing the pockets… good thing I hid my underwear ahead of time in anticipating of this type of helpfulness; but also it was sweet… they wanted to help me, and they seemed sad to see our short time together end.

During the process, I emptied my bag of gifts. Prior to leaving for India, I wanted to bring gifts for his family, but our program was set up in such a way that we had to schlep our bags around all semester as we moved to various locations throughout North India, thus I didn’t want to bring a lot from the US or I’d be carrying it everywhere. I settled on a nice jar of local maple syrup (when you come from this part of the country… it’s a natural gift idea, even if foreigners don’t always know what to do with it), and decided that while I was in India I’d look around for gifts. I wound up buying a sari for both Mamu and J Phupu (although at the time I had no idea how to buy a sari, or what was considered a good quality sari… so my selections probably weren’t great), a pair of camel leather shoes for his dad (although the pair I attempted to wear weren’t a big hit), a woolen vest for his grandfather (which I think was a big hit) and a set of Rajasthani styled puppets for his little cousin (which was a semi hit). Since his mother is very religious, I brought some red and yellow powder used for tikka blessings from a special temple in Rajasthan and some water from the Ganges. Again, I’m not sure how these gifts went over… but I hoped that it was the thought that counted.

After the family finished packing my bag we went out and around town (dressed in my new outfit: jeans, black sweater, purple scarf). On our way home afterwards P’s dad jumped out of the taxi and said he would meet us at home, which I found curious.

As the time approached for me to leave for the airport, I noticed that the family had gathered some material down in the living room… bananas, a silver platter with red tikka powder, P’s dad came back with a small plastic bag which I later found was filled with a beautiful flower garland…

I can't find the pictures from my original trip, but here are some "goodbye" pictures from this past June... P's grandfather gives us garlands, P's dad gives us tikka, and P's aunt gives us tikka and banana. The final picture is P's dad, P, me and P's mom.

One thing I really like about Nepali culture are rituals surrounding departure. When someone leaves it is a bit of a production, and it makes you feel special (at least that’s how I felt). When someone leaves the whole family gives you tikka as a blessing… and bananas and flowers, and a flower garland. Other families, particularly Buddhist, give white or ivory colored prayer shawls called katas. When you go to the airport in KTM you can see all your fellow passengers (at least the Nepalis, not necessarily the tourists) wearing thick tikkas and flowers, or kata, hugging relatives and saying good bye.

Example of a Kata... the Dalai Lama giving one to a visitor

After being tikkaed and garlanded, I was tucked into a taxi while Mamu and J Phupu started to tear up, and P’s dad and little cousin brought me back to the airport. Due to the civil unrest in Nepal, family and friends of travelers are not allowed into the airport, but this seems like a relatively easy rule to get around. If you know someone who works at the airport, then you could call in a favor and get some passes… which P’s dad did, and they sat with me until it was time for me to go through security and head out to my plane.

Tip- if you want to bring your flower garland home… even though it isn’t totally kosher to do so, I know P has done this before… take it off and put it in your checked luggage, because otherwise the security people take it before you enter the inner waiting lounge. I imagine the security clerks have lots of nice flowers that they get to bring home everyday, and I was sad when they took mine away.

I didn’t want to wash my tikka off, even when my flight touched down back in Delhi. Every time I caught a glimpse of my reflection it reminded me of my time in Nepal, and it made me happy. I wore the tikka all the way to London before I eventually had to wash it off (from both a necessity to properly wash my face, and probably a little bit from the stares I was getting).

I entered the Delhi airport and had to go through security. Since Nepal is considered more of a domestic rather than an international flight, I couldn’t wait in the international terminal, until my flight time was closer early the next morning and I could properly check-in. Prior to leaving for KTM I had checked around the airport and found an overnight waiting lounge across the street from the departure area where people in my situation could have a reasonably comfortable place to sit. I also had found a storage facility for extra bags, which I left in India instead of taking to Nepal. Upon my return, I walked down the block to the airport storage facility, where I stumbled upon a few meandering cows… “yep, I’m back in India” I thought.

Little did I know that Delhi in December can be prone to thick, soupy, dense-as-the-dickins fog. Luckily my flight from Nepal had made it in the evening before, but my morning flight didn’t look good. We were grounded for an additional 17 hours due to an impossible, impenetrable fog (I swear… you could swim in it if you wanted it was so thick!), but eventually the plane made it out, so that P could pick me up at the airport in New York the night before Christmas Eve.

Thus concludes the tale of my first trip to Nepal.

Mandirs in Nepal

(Continuation of Guilt Over Money and Jeans)

In between the shopping experience, the family took me around Patan and we saw the Durbar Square and Krishna Mandir. This might be a good time to take a brief sidetrack and talk about mandirs or “temples” in Nepal and the unique architecture of the country.

Before the Kathmandu Valley became a sprawling metropolis, it was actually the home to three distinct kingdoms housed in three areas of the Valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, and thus there is a “Durbar Square” or palace complex in each area. The palace complexes and surrounding temples are a great example of the beautiful architecture of Nepal, which is both different from the country’s massive neighbors (India and Tibet/China), while also incorporates elements from each.

Left: example of South Indian temple; Right: example of North Indian temple

I’m not an expert in temple structures, but even a novice can notice the difference between certain geographical temples. For instance, South Indian temples are known for their tall almost pyramid type structure and their ornate outer decorations, while in north India, many temples have a bit less ornate beehive type style. North Indian style temples can be found in Nepal, such as the Krishna Mandir, but more often than not, one would find Nepali styled temples which have a more East Asian pagoda look to them, often made of brick or wood. Nepali temple and palace structures also have intricate wooden windows occasionally with lattice work across the frame, and one can buy replicas of these in various sizes as souvenirs in the marketplace.

Examples of temples in Nepal: left top: Patan Durbar Square; right top: Kasthamandap; left and right bottom: Bhaktapur

Things have changed a bit recently with the political issues in Nepal—due to large scale protests and pressure from the Maoists, in 2006 the king was forced to abdicate the thrown. The only Hindu kingdom in the world was suddenly officially secular. My first visit to Nepal to see P’s family was pre-2006, while it was still the “Hindu Kingdom,” and one of the stipulations of this was that non-Hindus were not allowed to enter Hindu temples. Somehow I heard about this rule before traveling to India, and confused the other people in my program during the abroad orientation when I asked a bunch of questions about whether or not we would be allowed into temples during our trip (I think others thought my questions were kind of stupid, why wouldn’t we be able to go into temples? Wasn’t that a draw for foreign tourism?). While in India I didn’t really run into instances where I couldn’t enter temples (although occasionally I would run into a sign, usually on a Jain temple, that noted menstruating women were encouraged not to enter), so I started thinking that perhaps I had heard wrong about Nepal. But when I was in Patan, the first temple Mamu and J Phupu tried to bring me into I saw a notice posted on the wall stating, “Hindus Only.”

While on the subject of architecture I wanted to post a picture of one of the durbar square doors, since I find them really interesting and beautiful

I told J Phupu it was okay, that I would stand outside, but she insisted. They wanted me to go inside the Krishna Mandir and see it. Despite my protest (I didn’t want to offend people or create a scene by going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to with my non-Hindu-ness), J Phupu gently pulled my hand and brought me inside. We left our shoes, passed the “Hindus Only” sign and climbed the stairs to the second story of the temple where Mamu offered coins to a surprised priest, who in turn gave us tikkas while Mamu rang the bell.

The following day P’s dad, cousin and Kakabua took me to Bhaktapur to see the Durbar Square and temples there. Kakabua was a little less inclined to break the religious rules, and when he went into a temple he explained to me that I had to wait outside. Later that day we went to Pashupatinath, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal, and one of the largest and holiest Shiva temples in the world, on the shore of the Bagmati River. Pashupatinath is also the place where Brahmins and Chetris cremate their dead. Again Kakabua went inside and I waited outside with P’s dad and cousin, walking among the many small stone Shiva linga mini temples on the opposite side of the Bagmati from the main Pashupatinath temple itself. I could see the smoke rising from a few funeral pyres across the river and thought about the fact that the smoke was coming from the flesh of recently deceased people, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I thought I would be more disturbed, and it was an odd feeling to think about, but it was also kind of natural. When Kakabua returned he stoically told me, “The only thing certain in life is that we die, and I know that this is where I will be burned.”

Pashupathinath, left picture, the main temple; right top, the cremation area; right bottom, the Shiva Linga mini temples behind P and I during our recent trip

Meanwhile, on the subject of mandirs, I previously mentioned the Buddhist stupas, but didn’t post any pictures so I thought I would include a few since stupas are also a common site in Nepal. The two most famous stupas in Kathmandu are Swayambhunath and Boudhanath (which is depicted in my signature blog banner). Stupas, prayer flags and prayer wheels are a much more common sight in the mountains than in the valley or the Terai. Along our trek in Sargamatha National Park there were prayer wheels and mani stones in almost every village.

Swayambunath pictures from our last trip, including a shot of me trying to get a picture of one of the "Monkey temple" monkeys

Guilt Over Jeans and Money

(A continuation of Bucket-Bathing, Clothes and Riots)

We didn’t find any more evidence of the earlier riot after passing the bricks. I was a bit startled and disquieted by the thought of violence (or at least chaotic disruption) in the street and P’s dad’s nonchalant-ness about it, but now after several years of watching Nepali news and another visit to the city, I realized that citizens in the valley unfortunately have to make due with the civil unrest or they would never get anything done. It’s a sad truth but strikes and protests are so commonplace that there is a website called NepalBandh.com (Bandh being the Nepali word for “closed”) which keeps track of how many days a year there is a strike somewhere in the country. In January 2010, 26 out of 31 days there were strikes, often several strikes going on during the same day. When I was in Kathmandu this past June there were several strikes the shut down large areas of the city, and one day P and I had to run in the monsoon rain to get around a strike that left us stranded on the far side of the city.

Anyway, that day we visited the impressive ancient Swayambhunath stupa (otherwise known as the “Monkey Temple” due to all the monkeys that run around the temple/stupa complex) up on one of the hills on the edge of the city as well as Hanuman Dhoka and the Dharahara tower. We took lots of pictures posing near the iconic images of Nepal… prayer flags with Buddha-eyed stupa backdrops, prayer wheels and stone carved images of Hindu gods.

It was really fun and interesting, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty. P’s family refused to let me go to a bank to take out money, and insisted that they would pay for everything, including the enterance fees to various tourist sites around the city. Although the gesture was very sweet, there are two vastly different admission prices. I found this in India as well… there was the local price (for instance, visiting the Taj Mahal costs Indian nationals 20 rupees) and a foreigner price (the same ticket cost me 750 rupees). I support the different prices, why should the price be driven up for locals because of foreign tourism? But (for instance) when we visited Dharahara it would have only cost a few rupees for P’s family to climb up the internal spiral staircase to see the city from the top, but when I was thrown into the package, the admission fee was a hundred times the price. I didn’t want to make P’s dad feel bad for the income disparity, or make him feel like a bad host, so I said that I was happy to see these things from the outside instead of going in. Kakabua must have picked up on what I was thinking because he eventually told me that it was okay, P’s dad wanted me to see these things, I shouldn’t worry and we eventually did go up.

That evening we traveled back by taxi and had another large, rice filled dinner (which I had to eat with my spoon). At the end I rinsed my mouth out with water (I learn quickly), and then the family snuggled into the sitting room to watch the evening line up of Nepali/Hindi serials while tucked into blankets and shawls against the chilly winter air.

The next morning I awoke to P’s dad sitting on the computer again at 6:30, and another round of milky chai, biscuits and the sound of Mamu praying with the tinkling bell. I got ready—trying my luck with another long colorful skirt, only to be reminded about pants before traveling outside. P later mentioned that they probably found my cotton skirts odd since it was winter, but this weather (in the sunny daytime) felt warm compared to the snowy cold winters I was used to back home. I probably would have run around in flip flops if given the opportunity.

After my second round of breakfast P’s dad announced that he, Mamu, J Phupu and I would go around the town that day. The first stop was a shop near Patan where Mamu’s brother worked. Before we left the house Mamu brought me a black wooly sweater and said I could wear it around the city, and then J Phupu gave me a long purple scarf to wrap around me. The three of us climbed into a taxi and arrived at a western styled clothing shop on the other side of the city. Inside were piles of jeans and other western wear. I was introduced to P’s uncle and encouraged to look around the shop to see if there was anything I wanted. I insisted that I was fine, but P’s parents insisted they wanted to “gift” me some pants, and asked P’s uncle to find a few pairs that he thought would fit me. Thus began one of the most self-confidence depreciating shopping experiences of my life.

I don’t think I’m that large, I’m pretty average. About five foot six, medium build. However I tower over P’s mom, who only comes up to my shoulder, and I’m still a head taller than P’s aunt. Even  P and I are the same height and similar in builds. Certainly there are Nepali women who are my height, but I think they are considered “tall” not average like I would consider myself, and often their whole stature is smaller (hips, butt, shoulders, etc). What I’m trying to get at is… I was too big for the store.

P’s uncle sized me up, and started pulling out pairs and pairs of jeans for me to try on in the dressing room. Every pair was either too short, too narrow, too skinny. I couldn’t pull it up over my American-sized butt, I couldn’t zipper or button them, I couldn’t get them off. Nothing seemed to be working. After spending an uncomfortable amount of time in the women’s section, out of desperation (I think), he started pulling out jeans from the men’s section and I started feeling like a freak of nature.

Finally I think he found the only pair of jeans that fit me in the entire store… a pair of bell bottom-type pants. As soon as I realized I could pull them up, pin them, and that they covered me properly I said that I was done. P’s dad asked if I liked them… hell… sure, whatever would put an end to this. I was going to give them to P’s uncle to put in a bag but J Phupu told me “No, you can wear now. Take off what you have on and put in this bag.” Ahh, I finally got it, they didn’t want me walking around the city anymore in the gray yoga pants, so they were slowly re-dressing me, clothing article by clothing article.

The next stop was the shoe store. Again I tried on various pairs of shoes until we found a pair of faux black leather dress shoes. My camel leather clogs went into the same bag as the yoga pants. Throughout the rest of the day, in between sightseeing, we went around to a few other shops to find a western styled top, but everything was too tight and short on my arms and waist. Eventually I begged, “I’m really okay, I don’t think we will find anything that fits. I think I’m just too big for Nepal.”

I wore the sweater, the scarf, the pants and the shoes until I left wearing them on the airplane.

Bucket-Bathing, Clothes and Riots

(continuation of My First Night In Nepal)

The next morning I woke up to P’s dad sitting on the far side of the bedroom using the only computer in the house. P bought it for the family when he was home two years previous. It was 6:30am. He smiled and said good morning and asked how I slept.

A few minutes later J Phupu (who lived on the first floor of the house) sent P’s little cousin upstairs to give me a mug of milky chai and a plate of biscuits. I assumed this was my breakfast so I happily ate everything, while listening to a bell tinkle somewhere upstairs. It was the sound of P’s mom sitting at the family temple, worshiping the gods for the day.

P’s dad said I was welcome to take a quick bath, and afterwards we could sit up on the roof (where the family spends most of the day in the sunshine). I grabbed the clothes I was planning to wear, an ankle length cotton skirt with woolen stockings, a black cotton long-sleeved shirt and a woolen sweater and I scooted to the bathroom. After a semester in India, I felt like a pro at “bucket-bathing” and I quickly filled the bucket with warm tap water and dropped mug-fulls over my head. A few years ago P’s family installed a solar water heater on the roof so they could get warm water through the faucet, but before that P’s mother had to heat water on the stove for warm winter baths.

I cleaned up, dressed, and joined P’s dad on the roof. Mamu had finished worshiping and had a round of more milky chai ready. P’s aunt had departed for work at the university, but everyone else was sitting in white plastic chairs on the flat cement roof. Even though it was winter, and quite cold in the evening, the sunshine felt almost fall like, and I was comfortable in my sweater.

I didn’t really know what was on the agenda for my visit other then meeting the family and perhaps sightseeing around the city a little bit. Apparently P’s dad had made a plan. I was going to be with the family for 4 days. One had already past, so he had scheduled several tourist attractions for the next three, but first there was a little snag.

“We have to wait until afternoon to go to the city. Is that okay?” he said. I didn’t really think much of it. I figured he had other plans for the morning.

“The university students are rioting, so it isn’t safe to go out.” He continued nonchalantly, in between sips of tea.

I almost choked on the gulp I just swallowed, “Rioting?”

“Yes, the day you came someone from the army was found drunk in the city, and he shot a few people. The students are protesting this. It is better to wait until after lunch to go out in the city. No problem.” No problem? If something like that happened in the US it would be on the headline of every newspaper in the country. Then I remembered stories that P had told me of sitting on the roof growing up and watching the horizon for rising smoke to see where protesters were burning tires in the city. You avoided that part of town, but it didn’t stop them from going on with their lives.

Mamu called me inside and gave me more breakfast items—boiled eggs, slices of yak cheese, more biscuits, more tea. I was already full, but slowly ate the rest. This started a routine of getting two rounds of breakfast and other snacks throughout the day. J Phupu would send me food before she left for work and when she came home, P’s mom would give me more after her morning puja, and later in the evening, as if they were both competing to feed me.

I played with P’s little cousin for a while, and talked with P’s dad and grandfather some more. Right before lunch a family friend came over, a neighborhood chum of P’s cousin studying in the US. I was told that she was hoping to travel to the US for college and that she had her visa interview coming up soon. The family wanted me to practice speaking English with her and give her tips on how to have a good visa interview (which at the time, I had no idea, eye contact?). She spent the next three days traveling around with us.

Next… Lunch time, so soon, and still full from my double breakfast. More food. Rice, daal, different vegetable curries. Spoon (sigh, I eat slow! I’m sorry!) I was starting to feel round and stuffed.

After lunch P’s dad said to me, “You can go change now into your outside clothes.” I didn’t really know what he meant. I got dressed in the morning, I was ready. “No, your outside clothes.Something nice, pants or a pair of jeans.” Uh oh.

Like I said in K-k-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu, I put a lot of thought into the clothes I brought. Stuff that wasn’t too South Asian, but also stuff I thought looked dressier—long colorful skirts, a shorter kurta top or two, a sweater. The only pair of pants I brought with me were grey yoga pants. I originally brought them to India to wear as pajamas, but found they looked nice under kurta tops (which are generally longer than shirts, and cover your bum) since the bottoms of the pants were loose, and they fit comfortably around my waist with elastic (as opposed to the salwaar suit pants that were quite large around the waist and had a big necessary draw string). The yoga pants were never meant to be worn on their own, because I knew the type of fabric and their tightness around my backend wasn’t really culturally appropriate.

“Um, I don’t really have pants.” I said.

“Sure you do, it’s okay, go get ready. I’ll meet you downstairs.” He said.

So I went to my room and put on the pants. For good measure I took out a shawl and wrapped it around me in such a way that it draped over my back and covered my behind. I was a bit mortified, because I knew this could make a bad impression. I don’t even wear tight pants in the US, but now I was a bit cornered from lack of options. Not to mention the only pair of shoes I had were a touristy-looking pair of camel leather open clog shoes I bought in Jaipur since I only brought sandals from the US. I figured that now that it was winter and colder, I had to switch to sturdier shoes, although in India I wouldn’t have cared too much… socks and sandals, whatever, it kept my feet warm. But P’s dad was wearing polished black leather dress shoes. Oh dear.

See, everyone in the house had very distinctive “inside clothes” and “outside clothes.” P’s dad wore flannel shirts, and hand-me-down cargo pants from P at home, his mom and aunt wore long kurta tops that looked like house dresses or older salwaar suits, etc. But when they went out, it was like a transformation, P’s dad and grandfather dressed up in suit, tie, and overcoat, and his aunt put on a nice “office” sari. In comparison I looked like a weather-beaten tourist just dragged off the overnight bus.

P’s dad didn’t say much when I came down, but I could feel my clothes weren’t what he expected. But it was all I had with me.

Kakabua, P’s dad, P’s little cousin, the family friend and I loaded into a taxi and headed out across town. As we drove, we passed one street littered with many broken bits of brick and rock. P’s dad turned around from the front seat to explain, “These are the bricks from this morning during the riot. The students take them and-“ he mimed throwing a brick, “Throw them at the police.”

My First Night In Nepal

(A continuation of K-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu)

My senses were buzzing when I stepped out of the airport, looking for P’s dad. He spotted me before I could spot him. P’s eleven year old cousin handed me a small bouquet of flowers and said “Welcome C-didi!” while P’s dad grabbed my bag and patted me on the back, a big goofy smile on his face. P’s dad always looks so serious, perhaps a bit intimidating, in pictures because no one in the family ever smiles for photographs (even when prompted!), but when you meet him in person that’s when you know how gentle and friendly he is.

The only thing I could manager to utter for the first twenty minutes I was on the ground was “I can’t believe I’m actually here. I can’t believe I’m in Kathmandu.” I said it on the way to the taxi P’s dad had arranged. I said it while we drove through the crowded city streets from the airport. I repeated it when P’s dad asked how I was doing. Everything was a bit of a blur until we reached P’s house.

The car turned off the road onto a narrow single lane dirt and rock path, and squeezed between a few buildings. Then it turned a corner and to the right was a large lot being used to grow vegetables by neighbors, and to the left was a wall with a metal gate, the house peeking out from behind. The gate was open and P’s mother, aunt and grandfather were standing in the road waiting to greet me. Gulp, it was now or never.

Before arriving in KTM I struggled with how this initial greeting would go. Should I crouch to touch their feet? Will they find this weird? Or respectful? Who should I greet first? Does it matter? Did they expect me to be more American or more Nepali? I was hoping my time in India would solve this, and I peppered my homestay mother in Jaipur with questions about what the proper etiquette should be, but every family is different so it was hard to know. P had said not to worry, but he also wasn’t there to lead by example.

Luckily when the car stopped everything happened so quickly I didn’t have a chance to think too much. As I stepped out of the car Kakabua (P’s grandfather) had a huge grin. He kept mumbling “Welcome! Welcome!” and wanted to grab my bag and bring it into the house for me. J Phupu (P’s aunt) stared, occasionally she’d laugh, but mostly she stared, sizing me up. P’s mom said, “Come” and led me inside, while his little cousin grabbed my hand to walk with me.

The family led me through the entrance, told me to leave my shoes and gave me slippers. I followed them up the stairs to a room that P and his brother shared as kids. “You stay in P’s room, okay?” Mamu said. I left my bag and was brought to the next room where everyone sat staring at me. When I am comfortable with people I am rarely at a loss for words, but when I’m the outsider, it’s tough to know what to say. I’m sure I looked pretty awkward waiting for them to ask me questions, not sure how to make “small talk.”

Mamu ran upstairs to grab drinks and cookies for everyone (Mamu likes to make sure everyone is stuffed beyond capacity). I reiterated that I couldn’t believe that I was actually in Kathmandu (I must have sounded like an idiot, repeating myself), and that I had heard a lot about the city and was excited to see it. I also mentioned that I was happy to meet everyone in the family, because P had told me so much about them, particularly Kakabua, to which Kakabua started to talk about his love for P, scurrying to his room to pull out old mementos and bring them to show me in the sitting room.

P’s dad felt comfortable speaking English, although like P he is more on the quieter side, and P’s young cousin was learning the language in school, and could be quite colloquial with me once she got over her initial shyness. P’s grandfather speaks enough English to tell interesting stories (with lots of miming action) although I think he has more trouble understanding others, and communication isn’t always two-ways. P’s aunt, a Nepali language and literature professor at a local university, could also speak, although not as comfortably, and P’s mom was the least comfortable. We struggled to communicate, and her sentences were very short (generally two or three words). She often mixed up pronouns (referring to P as “she”) to comical effect.

I could see J Phupu staring at me from the corner of my eye and after sometime I turned to look at her straight on. She smiled and said in the slow, careful, deliberate way she speaks English, “I can’t… believe… P… fell in love!” as if it were truly amazing.

A little while later P’s mom brought in a small old notebook, and J Phupu explained that P had made it as a seven or eight year old. It was one of those elementary school assignments where kids are asked to write a few sentences about themselves and draw a picture to match. P’s mom and aunt quickly flipped through the pages and landed on one that said, “Someday I will marry a person my family will pick.” I just smiled, nodded and said, “Interesting,” pretending not to notice the irony.

P’s dad insisted I call my mother at home, as well as P, his brother and his cousin (P’s younger cousin’s older sister). My mother cautioned me to “be safe” while P said, “I can’t believe you are sitting in my home right now! I can imagine exactly where you are!” P’s brother and cousin talked about stuff they wanted me to bring back to the US from Nepal, and then the phone was passed around for each family member to have a few minutes to say hi.

By then it was dinner time. P’s mom ushered me upstairs and I sat at the table in the kitchen. She put a big spoon on the table in front of me and P’s dad smiled. He had eaten with P and I in the US at the apartment where a group of us were living the summer before, and he knew I had the “special” South Asian skill of eating with my hand. “She doesn’t need a spoon!” he said triumphantly, “She knows what to do.”

I’ve talked about eating with P’s family before. The sheer amount of rice is a bit daunting. I’m also a slow eater (always have been, always will be), plus as the center of attention for the meal, I was even more self-conscious. Again my stomach was doing flip flops, and I had to eat at extra slow speed just to keep the food down and settled. It was delicious, I was just nervous, and tired, and still worried about making a bad impression.

Declaring that I could eat without a spoon made everyone even more intent to watch me, making me even more nervous, making me eat even slower. By the time the rest of the family had finished dinner (including P’s young cousin), I had barely eaten anything, prompting questions like “Do you like the food? Are you feeling okay?” and finally to my own embarressment, “Do you need the spoon back?”

Alas, demoted.

When I got up from the table I washed my hands, but didn’t rinse my mouth out with water (would they expect me to do this ritual? Or would they be worried about me consuming water? I decided to skip it). P’s mom noticed and probably made a mental note to talk to me about it later (I was advised the next day that rinsing my mouth out with water after every meal was very important so as not to pollute the gods).

We ate dinner quite late, so afterward the family sat together in the sitting room to watch tv before bed. It was December, and although not as cold as New England, there is no central heating, so we sat wrapped in blankets and shawls, sitting close together, with a small electric heater nearby.

After watching a few shows with the family (a mix of local Nepali serials and Hindi language programs from India, neither of which I could understand, although P’s younger cousin volunteered to give me the synopsis during the breaks) they asked if I was tired, and at that point I was absolutely exhausted. As I climbed into bed I was greeted again by the whole family. They made sure I had a wool hat to keep my head warm in the night, extra blankets, and P’s aunt and dad tucked me in. I probably reminded them of how much they missed their own kids who were in the US, and with their tenderness towards me, they could pretend, by extension, that they were tucking in their own.

I think as soon as they turned out the light I was dead asleep.