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Thulo Manche

Hello…

I’m so sorry for disappearing. I know when I get attached to a blog I feel frustrated when the writer is unexpectedly absent for long stretches of time, so I hope I haven’t lost too many readers.

Friends have been prompting me to beginning blogging again. RH said, “You know—it’s a relationship oriented blog—what if people think you and P split and that’s why you stopped writing!”

Never fear. Things are well, it has just been busy.

One of the major reasons for my disappearance is that I spent most of the spring and half the summer working feverishly on my Master’s degree thesis (the one I should have finished a year or two ago but procrastinated on like it was my job), and by the time I was finished writing and defending it I just felt a little burnt out. Not only have I not written for the blog, I basically stopped writing entirely, and it’s time for that to change.

I really missed writing, and like exercise, it’s way too easy to fall out of the practice of it and then just stop entirely. Blogging primes the mind and the fingers for other types of writing, so it’s time to get back in the groove.

So what does “Thulo Manche” mean? I promised S-di that my first blog post back was going to mention this…

The summer raced by—the first half full of sweaty evenings and weekends working in an un-air-conditioned office with P; he working on his phd dissertation and I on my thesis. We rarely saw anyone unless they were dropping by the office to say hello. Then P’s grandfather passed away, and a week later I was in a car accident that sadly totaled our car. These two events are enough to shake up anyone, but with the looming thesis deadline I had to keep working.

Then P went away to Alaska for a workshop, and I went to my school for a week-long Capstone seminar to finish my thesis defense. Cue more long days–of academic presentations and intense focus. A day after finishing my Masters I flew to Alaska to meet P, but in true C and P fashion, our “vacation” was spent driving across the state, seeing beautiful glacier topped mountains, the ocean, and vast stretches of wilderness. It was an amazing experience, but not necessarily a restful one, as with daylight stretching until late in the night and early in the morning, we spent much of our time up and about, experiencing the countryside.

Upon returning, work geared up. This year we have the largest number of international students ever—over 1000 at our small university, with only two administrators working on immigration and cultural programming for the students—the beginning of the school year, with international orientation and student registration, kept me moving at a fast pace. In addition I started two new campus-wide cultural-focused programs which took additional time.

As August closed we invited friends over for my birthday, and S-di said, “You are such a Thulo Manche these days! It’s so hard to see you!”

“What?” I asked… I understood the Nepali words “thulo” meaning “big” and “manche” meaning “person.” I was certain she was trying to call me fat. “I’m not a thulo manche!” I protested.

“Yes you are!” she teased, “If I want to see you I have to call your ‘secretary’… too busy all the time. Such a thulo manche!

“S-di, don’t call me fat, I could lose a few pounds, but please!”

“No, no—thulo manche—you are a ‘big person’ now… so important, running here and there, busy all the time. Now your friends need to schedule an appointment to say hello!”

So I’m officially declaring that I am not a thulo manche… I’ve just taken a little break, but now I’m back, and I look forward to hearing from you all again too!

Yeah! :)

Rupees Dipped in Gold

When P and I went to the Bratabhanda in Wisconsin in April we met some of his extended relatives who were living in Germany. They brought several boxes of fancy German chocolates as souvenirs and distributed a box to each family’s household.

The chocolates were good, but very rich, not something you would snack on randomly after work, so we put the box on a shelf to save for another time.

Over the weekend a friend came to town to pack up her remaining things so she could prepare to leave the US for good; she spent her last few days with us. She is Peruvian, but has been living in Manaus, a city of 2 million people in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, for the past year. She had recently returned to attend her phd graduation ceremony, and was now packing the books and research that she had left behind the last time she departed. She’s very talkative, and I spent most evenings chatting with her about life in Peru and Brazil.

One night P brought the box of German chocolates out for dessert, and we indulged while continuing our conversation. As our friend and I talked, P unwrapped his chocolate and looked at the rectangle of fancy yellow foil that had once covered it. He smoothed it out, and gathered our other wrappings from the table. He flattened each and started to count them, like he was shuffling through a short-stack of $20 bills.

When our friend and I looked over to see what he was doing he said, “When we were kids we used to save fancy candy wrappers like this and pretend they were money. We would pretend to buy things from each other, or pretend we had a lot of money in our pockets.”

He shuffled through the wrappers again. They were golden yellow, made from heavy foil and cellophane. I could imagine five year old P prizing such a fancy find, pretending they were rupees dipped in gold.

I liked the vision of a young P, using his imagination, and making up games with the other kids in his neighborhood. I can almost imagine standing on the roof of his present-day house in Kathmandu, watching them play with their pretend money in the backyard, chasing each other around.

It was an image I thought I’d share.

My New Anthem?

I had to share this… since my pitfalls in learning Nepali sometimes make me think, “I can only imagine… if I’ll ever learn!”

My personal favorite lyrics– “I can only imagine/when the day comes/when I find myself/with a loosened tongue,” “When they ask if I have eaten, will I say uh-huh or khae?” and “Surrounded by Nepalis, what will my mouth say?”

So enjoy this Friday fun video:

Everest Season

This time of year is generally busy in Solukhumbu, the region of Nepal made famous by the trek to Everest. Most summit attempts happen around the end of April/early May as the weather is best due to the winds and the position of the monsoon. Climbers make their way to Base Camp to prepare and acclimatize in March.

I think P and I have probably watched every movie, documentary and tv show ever made about Everest (thank you Netflix). The stories are intoxicating even if they are often similar… people putting everything on the line to attain a dream that for many would seem absolutely crazy–investing tens of thousands of dollars and potentially fingers and toes (or more!) just to stand for a few moments on the roof of the world. There is drama, suspense, beautiful scenery; the stories are hard not to watch. (If you haven’t yet read Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” you must– then read the Outside Magazine article about the expedition that started it all. Don’t watch the movie, it’s rubbish.)

As P’s phd research is on glaciers and climate change in the Himalayas, it is likely in the future that he will be trekking in various parts of Nepal. Every time we watch one of the documentaries I always feel the need to declare, “P– you are never climbing Everest!” However even I can’t help but feel a bit seduced by these shows– and deep down inside I feel a little ping of envy. It would be amazing to stand on the roof of the world. Well… I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make it past the Khumbu Ice Fall, as it took quite a bit for me to even hike to Tengboche in 2009.

This year P and I actually know someone who is making the climb. When P was a graduate student in New York he met a Chilean student through mutual South American friends, and he invited us over for a party to see his Nepal pictures. The graduate student was active in climbing circles in Chile, and was asked to be part of a Chilean team expedition to climb Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. Lhotse adjoins Everest so the Base Camp is shared amongst climbers of both mountains, but eventually their trails diverge. The student had come back with amazing pictures and stories, and had a party to share his experiences.

P recently heard from the student… and he is back in Nepal, but this time he is going all the way. You can follow the expedition online (although the site is in Spanish): http://www.xn--everest20aos-jhb.cl/ and you can check out some of the great pictures posted thus far by the expedition: http://vertical.expenews.com/es/expeditions/220/dispatches/3659. Currently they are in Namche Bazar.

I particularly liked their photos from the airport in Luka:

We will let you know how the expedition goes!

Around…

Hello …

Sorry for the disappearing act. In mid-February I was in bed for a week with a very nasty flu, and work gets very busy this time of year between helping students with their taxes and processing work authorization paperwork for students who will be graduating soon. Not excuses, but explanations. I’m still around though—mostly quietly reading other blogs and making comments here and there.

I will write more soon, I promise! I hope all are doing well :)

Poop Strong… dot org

I guess it doesn’t take much to jump from chicken poop to human poop, and I promise I haven’t developed a new theme for my blog, but I do want to take a few minutes to tell you about another intercultural couple who could use a helping hand right now even though it’s poop related.

P and I met Arjit and and his partner Heather when we first moved to Massachusetts from upstate New York. Arjit, like P, was starting in the same phd program, and during his first year at the school the new cohort (of eight students)– plus the significant others, which meant me, and Arjit’s partner– got together once a week for dinner at one of our apartments. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other.

Arjit was tall and skinny, an American born to Indian parents, with a quirky sense of humor–I think I remember a story where he decided to raise money for charity by agreeing to cut and shave his “Asian-fro” into weird styles (like Krusty the Klown from the Simpsons) if he reached a certain amount of money. He liked to wear bright kurtas around the office, and always had a story. He was a genuine nice guy, and a really great person to know.

He met his partner when they were both working at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (yes, PNAS… insert joke here, Arjit liked making use of the double entendre) and when he decided to start his phd they both moved to Massachusetts.

However, sadly (for us), Arjit’s professor decided to move to a different institution in Arizona, and so Arjit left P’s phd program after two years with a master’s degree and followed his professor to finish his research. Before they left Arjit and his partner got married at the local city hall.

After about a year in Arizona Arjit and his wife had a wedding ceremony and reception with their friends and family, and a few months after that they traveled together to India for the first time.

When they got back from their trip Arjit started feeling sick. He was having strong abdominal pain and at first figured he was experiencing some sort of Delhi Belly-like crazy-intestinal-issue-from-traveling-in-South-Asia type of problem (hey, we’ve all been there). He went to his university’s health clinic a few times to see if he could get rid of it, but when that failed the school nurse sent him to a gastroenterologist. What followed became a nightmare that no one would wish on another person…

A colonoscopy showed a large obstruction in his colon, and during a surgery to remove the cancerous growth, his surgeon discovered that the cancer had spread well beyond the colon and small tumors had metastasized throughout his abdominal cavity.

In his own words, “In a matter of weeks, I went from thinking I had a bad stomach bug to learning I had metastatic colorectal cancer.”

No one is ever prepared for that kind of news, especially not an active, vegetarian, healthy 30 year old.

Sadly, there is more… since Arjit is still a student, and under university health insurance, his policy only covered a lifetime payout of $300,000. Thus far he has needed multiple hospitalizations, an additional highly invasive surgery to remove much of his abdominal lining along with his gallbladder, and many intensive chemotherapy treatments, and therefore has reached his payout limit.

As his website states, “I’m hopeful that this will only be a short-term problem; come August, I should once again have insurance coverage, either through a newly negotiated student health care plan or via the more expensive federal government-run Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Nevertheless, between now and August, I still need to undergo treatment and the bills will start piling up. Though it’s hard to predict, we expect that six months of treatment will potentially cost as much as $100,000, assuming that my current treatment regimen continues as planned.”

Arjit has remained positive through this entire experience, a testament to his warm personality and personal strength, but the medical condition alone is a tough situation to deal with, without having money worries on top of it.

So I am helping to spread the word. Arjit has started a website called “PoopStrong.org” and is selling merchandise and soliciting for donations to help off-set the cost of his treatments while he is without insurance. I encourage you to check out his site, read more about his story, follow his blog (http://stageivhope.wordpress.com/) and contribute if you can.

Yep, that's the real Arjit

Please let me extort your connection and interest in South Asian intercultural relationships to help this lovely couple during a scary time in their lives. Even a few dollars is a step in the right direction.

I thank you for listening to their story and for anything you can do to help.

Threading

Last night I had my eyebrows threaded.

I’ve had it done quite a few times over the years, and now I prefer it. It’s fast, it’s neat, and it’s natural.

I remember the first time I heard about threading. I was probably in ninth grade, sitting in the living room of my childhood home, milling about the television while dinner was being prepared. The local news was on, and the reporter was interviewing an Indian woman who had recently opened a salon in the city and in addition to cutting and styling hair she was removing it from women’s faces with cotton thread.

The video was similar to this:

I remember thinking… how weird. How can a rolled cotton string, held between your fingers and in your teeth effectively remove eyebrow hair? It wasn’t something I was eager to try.

As a ninth grader I wasn’t old enough to take my eyebrows that seriously anyway. It took me a long time to finally start doing something with them. I first started wearing glasses in seventh grade, and I had always felt protected behind my frames, until high school peer pressure dictated that more had to be done.

So I started to pluck unwieldy hairs here and there—the straggly hairs that grew 2 or 3 millimeters away from the others. I wasn’t really shaping them, just keeping the jungle from migrating.

Then my maternal grandmother decided it was her duty to usher me in to proper womanhood. On a visit to my aunt’s house in New Jersey my grandmother invited me out, and she took me to a salon. She insisted that I wax my eyebrows, and get a manicure and pedicure. I was taken to a small room in the back of the salon where I was asked to lie down. The woman doing the waxing asked if I had done this before—I’m sure she could tell from the monstrous caterpillars on my face that I hadn’t—and told me to relax. She took a flat popsicle stick coated in hot wax and wiped it on my upper eyelid in an arc and then applied a special paper. Two seconds later she asked, “Ready?” and ripped the paper off my eye in one swift motion. Yowzers.

I cringed as she applied the hot wax to my other upper eyelid. The first time I had been blissfully naïve, but now I knew what was coming. After the second pull there were a few smaller pulls to clean up the edges. Then she took out some tweezers to finish shaping, and a small pair of scissors and an eyebrow brush to complete the procedure.

That was the first and last time I ever waxed my eyebrows.

Sure, many of you are probably reading and thinking, “I wax mine all the time, why is C being a baby?” and I admit, I am. I can’t imagine waxing every time (or even part of the time), and I especially can’t imagine waxing more “sensitive” parts of my body.  I just don’t like the idea of hot wax being put on my face, nor do I like the idea of ripping out hairs in one giant clump. I have seen others get wax jobs done and it looks like it irritates their skin, and I just didn’t like the idea of it. I was happy to use my original waxing as a guideline for where I should pluck, but I was satisfied tending my eyebrows myself, one hair at a time.

Then in college I was talking to some Kenyan friends who said that they “threaded” their eyebrows, and I remembered the news broadcast I saw in ninth grade. I plied them with questions—Did it hurt? Was it fast? Do you recommend it?—I had forgotten about this option, and stored it in the back of my mind.

Shortly after graduating from college I travelled to my mother’s house in Virginia, and went to the mall to get a haircut. A South Asian woman had a booth in the middle of the mall, and she was threading eyebrows for a few dollars. I decided to give it a try.

I sat in the salon chair, and laid my head back. She asked me to put one hand on the skin above my eyebrow and one on the skin below to pull the skin tight, and then she began. I’m not going to lie… my first threading wasn’t painless, in fact when I opened my eyes afterward I couldn’t see anything as my eyes had involuntarily teared up so much from the tugging.

It was a while before I worked up the nerve to do threading again, but I didn’t have the same definitive “no way” feeling that I had after getting waxed.

Once my younger sister M went to the mall with R and I. A Nepali woman was threading eyebrows and R and I were happy to sit and have ours shaped. My sister watched, and even though she is an occasional waxer, she wasn’t ready to try threading. At least not then.

I still mostly pluck, but if I have a special occasion, or if someone is willing to do a threading, I’ll go that route. For example our friend M-dai’s wife knows how to do it and offered to thread all us ladies when we were hanging out on New Years.

It hurts less now, perhaps because I’m used to it. But mostly I like that it is easy, and quick, and natural. I like not having to put extra guck on my face.

When I was getting my eyebrows done last night a Caucasian woman walked up and asked, “Do you mind if I watch?” As my eyebrows were shaped she asked, “Does it hurt?” and I replied, “Not any more than plucking or waxing. I actually prefer it,” but by the time I opened my eyes she had already walked away.

What do you think about threading?