Tag Archives: American Culture

Annual AmericaNepali Christmas Party

You can read about last year’s party HERE.

Saturday night P and I pulled off our 4th annual Christmas party, and although the prep was a bit exhausting, I think it was one of our best! In total there were 32 people in our apartment, some of whom didn’t leave until nearly 2am! :)

The general structure for our party starts with wild cookie baking the night or two before the actual event. I always get over zealous in the cookie making department, and generally fall a bit short of my ultimate cookie goal, but this year I think we did a pretty good job. Out of the 10 batches of cookies I hoped to make, we finished 9, and without realizing it each of the 9 cookies hit a different flavor—we had lemon, coconut, chocolate peppermint, raspberry jam, cinnamon, peanut butter, Irish soda bread, orange cranberry, and ginger molasses!

My "Cinammon Polar Bear" Cookies.... one of the 9 types made for the party

On Saturday the party started around 7 with a round of appetizers and drinks. I debated  up until the last minute  (literally 6 hours before the event when we finally went grocery shopping), whether to have Nepali or American food. In the past my middle sister K has attended and she would bake the Turkey while I would make a Thanksgiving style meal, but the past two years she hasn’t been able to come. Last year I fell back on our old staples of Nepali food because it is so much easier to cook South Asian food in bulk. Yet since the party was in honor of the American side of our household I really wanted to make American food.

Alas, we eventually we settled on a combo–American appetizers: raw veggies and dip, chips and salsa, cheese and crackers; some American entrées: Roasted veggies with garlic and rosemary, sautéed brussel sprouts; some Nepali entrées: two types of chicken curry (drumsticks and chopped meat), cauliflower curry, rice, and kwanti (bean soup); and a random entrée: a recipe inspired by AS—ham, feta and orzo salad. Lastly the dessert was purely American—9 different types of Christmas cookies!

Our Irish friend brought “Christmas crackers” for everyone. Crackers are a tradition in Ireland and England, and they were a great idea for the party. The crackers look a bit like empty toilet paper tubes wrapped in shiny paper. Inside the tubes are paper crowns, silly novelty items, and jokes. You pull the cracker with a friend, with one person holding one end of the wrapping, and the other holding the opposite. When you both pull, the cracker makes a “pop” noise and the gifts fall out. For the rest of the night most of our guests were wearing colorful paper crowns which definitely added to the festivity of the evening!

The next phase of the party was “Yankee Swap.” I think this game can be played by a variety of rules and can go by different names (“White Elephant” is one) but the way we generally play is that people buy a gift that’s usually around $5—the gifts can be humorous and silly, or they can be regular gifts. I write out numbers on little slips of paper for everyone participating and people pull the numbers ouf of a hat so the distribution is random. All the wrapped gifts are put under the Christmas tree before we start. The first person to go can choose any gift from the tree and unwraps it. The second person to go does the same, but has the option to swap with person 1 if they choose. The third person then goes and so on, with each person successively able to swap their gift with anything else that has already been opened (so it is better to get a higher number rather than lower with the exception of person 1). Depending on the gifts available, sometimes a person might wind up with several different gifts due to swapping, but ultimately ends up with one. The last person to go is “number 1” and they can choose to swap any gift from all that have been opened in the entire game.

The group was split this year, with several people giving silly gifts—an orgasmic sound making bottle opener, an “over the hill” themed piggy bank, a candy bra, etc– and many giving more “regular” gifts like tea, coffee mugs, chocolates, etc. The most famous gift of the night was the candy bra, which was swapped around a few times to the cheers of “Candy bra! Candy bra!” Merry Christmas, eh?

The remainder of the night was filled with eating, and more eating, and even more eating, as well as lots of drinking, conversation, Christmas carols and fun.

So whether or not you celebrate the holidays, we wish you season’s greetings from AmericaNepali and a Happy New Year!

PS- anyone have a good Christmas cookie recipe? Wanna swap recipes?

Notes on the “White Wedding”

I mentioned in my post white wedding/red wedding that I was making a website with ceremony information and places to stay, etc, for our guests. In order to  help guests learn more about the different cultural traditions (hey, I’m an international educator at heart) I wanted to have a page on Nepali ceremonies and American ceremonies to give an idea of what to expect for people who haven’t attended one before.

Before sharing with friends and family, I wanted to run my information by you, dear readers, first. Have I added too little, too much? I’m I missing anything glaring? Does it sound okay or weird? Suggestions??

So first up, for your approval, is the posting for the “White Wedding…”

(Don’t worry, I won’t include the video– but amusingly enough the first 22 seconds of Idol’s song was the theme music for the Nepali news when P was in high school! Feel free to continue playing while reading the post for extra added effect… Okay, now on to the actual post–)

Notes on the “White Wedding”

The US houses many different cultures with varied rituals and traditions, and so it is hard to describe what a “typical” American wedding looks like. Contemporary weddings also incorporate new ideas and trends unique to a particular couple, so one wedding may look very different than another wedding of someone from a similar background.

However here are a few things to look for in our ceremony:

Before the Ceremony

-Wearing White: Brides generally wear white dresses (hence “white” wedding). Traditionally the color of the dress symbolized the purity of the bride. The groom is not allowed to see the bride before the wedding on their wedding day, and the dress is a surprise. Another tradition is that the bride wears “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”– the dress is often the “something new” while jewelry or other pieces of the bride’s attire might be “something old” or “something borrowed.”

-Bridal Party: Often the bride and groom have several family members and/or friends who “stand” with them as support during the wedding ceremony. They can be identified by the clothing they wear, which generally matches the color theme and style of the wedding. The female attendants are referred to as “bridesmaids” with the main attendant referred to as the “maid of honor,” and the male attendants are called “groomsmen” with the main attendant referred to as the “best man.” The bridal party walks in with the bride and groom at the start of the ceremony.

-Parents and grandparents of the bride and groom are recognized during the wedding by wearing a flower and processing down the aisle at the start of the ceremony. The father of the bride traditionally walks the bride down the aisle before “giving her away” to the groom at the start of the ceremony. Some cultures, such as in Jewish tradition, have both parents walk the bride down the aisle. Parents typically sit in the front row of seats, but do not stand with the bride and groom at the altar like the bridal party.

Ceremony

American wedding ceremonies can be either religious or secular and can be presided over by a member of the clergy or by a layperson. Religious ceremonies usually include readings from religious texts that are relevant to marriage and love, while secular ceremonies include readings of poems, passages from literature, or cultural blessings on marriage, home, and love.

A common element in weddings (both Christian religious and secular) is the “unity candle”– two smaller candles are lit by the parents of the bride and parents of the groom, the bride and groom then take their respective “family” candles and together light a larger candle to symbolically represent their “unity” as a new family. Other similar rituals include taking separate jars of sand and combining them into a larger vessel to symbolize the new family unit.

The pivotal moment in an American wedding is the recitation of the vows. The bride and groom make a list of promises to each other that they vow to keep until “death do [them] part.” These vows can either be written by the bride and groom or they can use standard vows. After the recitation of the vows the bride and groom exchange their wedding rings which symbolically unite the pair as man and wife.

At the end of the ceremony the officiant declares, “By the power invested in me by the state of _________, I now pronounce you man and wife, you may now kiss the bride.” The kiss concludes the ceremony, with the bride and groom officially married.

Reception

Immediately following the ceremony is a “cocktail hour” where drinks and appetizers are served. Typically during this time the families of the bride and groom take formal wedding photos.

Generally tables are assigned to the guests, and a seating chart is available for people to find their appropriate seats. After the cocktail hour guests are ushered to the main reception area to formally receive the bride and groom.

The reception begins when the bridal party and the bride and groom are introduced. This is sometimes followed by brief toasts given by the maid of honor and best man, and sometimes a parent or relative of the bride or groom. This is followed by the first dance of the evening reserved for the bride and groom to a song of their choosing. Occasionally a “father/daughter” dance for the bride and a “mother/son” dance for the groom are also organized.

After dinner the wedding cake is cut by the bride and groom and the first piece is shared between them before the rest of the cake is sliced and served.

The rest of the evening is filled with eating, drinking, dancing and fun.

(Tomorrow the “Red Wedding” installment…)

Musings on Peanut Butter

Over the long weekend P, myself, R and S went on one of our road trips—this time to northern Maine, the farthest you can go north on the Eastern coast before you hit Canada. It was in this tiny hamlet that P and S, fresh from a landlocked mountainous country, started their American life at a rural state school near the ocean.

We connected with a few friends from their days “down east”—a professor, a classmate or two, and some local townsfolk friends. During our conversations, one story kept popping up, and of all things, it was about peanut butter. Mental note—blog about that.

So here I am, my post on peanut butter.

The first conversation started when our hosts asked what I wanted to pack for lunch since we were going to the Salmon Festival, and being a vegetarian, I wasn’t so interested in eating the local attraction of salmon-on-a-stick.

“Just give her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” S said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “She loooooves peanut butter and jelly.”

This snarky comment comes from the cross-country road trip the four of us went on in 2008. I was trying to think of easy foods to pack in case we were out on the road and hunger struck. What would any true-blooded American think of in such situations? Why the classic PB&J, of course!

Perhaps my companions didn’t notice when I stuck the large jar of peanut butter in our shopping cart in California, but on day two, when I pulled it out of the trunk during a rest stop at the Grand Canyon and proposed a quick sandwich for lunch, I was met with three disappointed stares.

“Come on guys, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are quick, easy, and filling. What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Nepalese hate peanut butter!”

How can anyone hate peanut butter? I admit I’m not as crazy as some Americans, who could literally lick it off a spoon, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich definitely hits the spot now and again.

“Give it a try, its good, and it will hold you over until dinner.”

Well—I was the only one eating PBJ’s the rest of the trip.

The next time over the weekend that I told the story we were having lunch with an older American couple. They were equally surprised (especially since they have a Thai daughter-in-law, who uses peanuts in all sorts of cooking).

“But you like peanuts?” asked the woman.

“Yeah” agreed R, S and P.

“So what is the difference? Peanut butter is basically crushed spreadable peanuts.”

Still no takers.

“But get this…” I added, “A few nights ago when it was too hot to cook in our apartment a group of us decided to make summer rolls including a Thai peanut sauce made from peanut butter, vinegar and sugar. P loved the sauce.”

“I didn’t know there was peanut butter in it at the time!” He defended himself.

“But you still liked it.” declared the friend.

“It was mixed with other things.” He said, and S concluded: “You’ll never get a Nepali to like peanut butter.”

Sigh. I know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a pretty American thing. As a student living in the International  House, I proposed making PPJs for “American culture night” since they really resonate with me as a part of Americana childhood.

However, I don’t want to stereotype all Nepalis, because I hold out that there must be Nepali peanut butter lovers in the world, but I do offer a word of caution—don’t make PPJ’s for a road trip with Nepali friends and expect to be popular.

Happy Blogiversary American-Nepali

I can’t believe I missed my one year “blogiversary.” For some reason I had it in my head that it was August 29th, but actually it was  25th of August last year when I posted the original “Welcome” message. So– happy belated one year blogiversary to American-Nepali. As I’ve mentioned before in my 100th Post, I have really enjoyed this new hobby, and have loved connecting with others out there in the blogosphere.

Reflecting back one year—I have 156 posts, with over 700 comments and nearly 56,000 views. I had no idea that so much could happen in one year, and I couldn’t be happier.

For those of you who are new to the blog—feel free to read through the “Personal Stories” category to learn more about P and I and how our relationship began. Check out the “Nepali Festivals” category for more information on festivals—particularly Teej, Dashain, Tihar and Bhai Tikka which are quickly on their way. “Society and Culture,” “Food,” and “Wedding/Marriage” are also fun places to start.

Some potential ideas for the upcoming year—perhaps if I get a little more savvy with WordPress, I’ll figure out a forum feature to turn American-Nepali into more of a community where readers can interact with each other a bit more. Any other ideas and/or anyone interested in writing a guest post about their own experiences are more than welcome, don’t be shy ;)

So thank you for your interest, and your friendship. Let’s hope this is first of many more years (!) to come.

Musing on International Student Advising and Cultural Adjustment

As I’ve mentioned before, work has been a bit busy. I’m an international student advisor at a mid-sized science and engineering school in Massachusetts, and during the past two-three weeks all of our new students arrived.

I work with graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world, helping with immigration and tax questions, cultural adjustment concerns, and international programming as well as religious diversity programming. The beginning of the school year is the busiest—orientations and lots of questions from all our new students, organizing events and programs, registering all the students in various databases. This year we had our biggest international freshmen class in the history of the college, 115 students… with another 150+ new graduate students. That means our school has approximately 650+ internationals this year. That’s a lot of people (at least for a small office).

I really enjoy working with international students. I like being able to make connections and help them with their tough questions. Although I’m often critiqued by family for not being “American enough” I feel that working with international students reiterates how much I have to think about American culture. Especially with the new students, we need to be able to answer their questions– everything from what is involved in signing a lease and opening a bank account and getting a social security number to answering questions on US classroom culture, explaining local, regional and national history, and musings on why Americans call football soccer.

One of the most interesting sessions (in my opinion) that we have for new students is a program on cultural adjustment and the phases of cultural shock. As part of the program we show a 13 minute youtube video that was taped during a Columbia Business School graduate international orientation a few years ago. The Israeli student presenter does a wonderful job talking about his own experiences, and putting cultural adjustment into a perspective. So I wanted to share.

Part I:

Part II:

There are more parts but you can follow the links on youtube.

Working with the students reminds me that P and a lot of our close friends were (and some still are) international students, and I know I would want someone at their schools to take good care of them and help them with their questions. So I aim to help the best I can to be there for my students as well.

So I guess that is my way of saying, schools back in session!

High Context/Low Context Culture Clash in Diagrams

I received a funny email forward today, so I thought I’d share some of the diagrams with you.

The concept of “high context” and “low context” cultures was developed by British anthropologist Edward T Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture. His ideas were discussed at length in some of my international education classes, and it reminds me that when I look at something completely different than others around me, that there is an underlying concept as to why. The diagrams below actually highlight a lot of the sterotypical differences between cultures that are “high context” (generally speaking more “eastern” cultures) and “low context” (again, very generally speaking “western” cultures).

The email forward said:

The images below have been done by a Chinese artist (Liu Young), who studied in Germany. These images show his version of the differences between Western and Eastern cultures in a very simple way.

BLUE=WEST RED=EAST

Opinion


Way of Life


Puncuality


Contacts


Anger


Party


Three Meals a Day


Queue When Waiting

I particularly like the party one, as often larger gatherings tend to evolve into everyone sitting in a circle in the living room singing songs and dancing. I also like the food diagram, since there have been many a hot summer day when a salad would have sufficed for dinner but instead my friend AD couldn’t live without chicken chili ;)

Half-Pakistani on the Silver Screen

I’m always on the lookout for intercultural (particularly Western-South Asian intercultural) storylines. So I was excited to check out a movie that AS and N recommended the other day.

The film is called “Shades of Ray” and features a half-Pakistani/half-white American man who is going through an identity crisis of sorts. The premise of the story is that he asked a white American woman to marry him, and as she delays in giving him an answer his Pakistani father, who is having marital troubles of his own with his white American wife, pushes an apparently Pakistani girl on his son to spare him the trials and tribulations of being in an intercultural/inter-religious marriage.

Besides the fact that “Ray” is played by a non-South Asian (not even half-South Asian) actor which distracted me a bit (I know, its post-modern, anyone can play any part if they can make it believable, but still, it would have been nice), I thought that the movie was entertaining to watch. As Ray grappled with his issues, I couldn’t help but think about Raj, P’s extended relation from “Frank Uncle and the Nepali Wedding.”

Raj was a half-Nepali/half-white American who bonded (much like Ray in the movie) with his wife over the fact that both he and she were from half-South Asian/half-American families. As Raj’s wife told me, “My father is Indian–Gujarati, but my mother wasn’t–she’s Hawaiian. My dad was Hindu and we would do a puja, and my mom was Christian and we would go to church… I was so confused as a kid! Thats how Raj and I bonded!” These types of interactions help me to think about and contextualize my own potential children’s potential identity crises when they are older, and think about the consequences various influences, or lack thereof, might have in their lives.

Also interesting in the film was the portrayal of two sets of “white American moms” in intercultural relationships. Ray’s mom wasn’t interested in assimilating to Pakistani culture, while Ray’s friend Sana’s mom was really interested in the culture. The first time you see her she is wearing a salwaar kameez during the family initiated dinner date. A surprised Ray says to Sana, “Hey, your mom’s white!” and Sana sarcastically replies, “She is?”

Anyway, if anyone is interested in watching the film, it’s short and sweet, available streaming on Netflix, and is a subject you don’t often see in movies.

The Delicate Mzungu at the Delicate Arch

Please read the Preface first if you haven’t yet done so–

If you can’t tell already, I love stories. So I am particularly happy when a special event in my life has an interesting story attached to it, even if it is a little embarrassing on my end (foreshadowing).

Setting: Summer of 2008. P’s family had left after a five-week visit. Meanwhile for months I had been desperately searching for an exit strategy from a job I really didn’t like, and had finally found a new position that was a lot closer to both our home and my field of interest. P, S, R and I had been talking about taking a trip, but the timing was never right, so I thought– hey, I can leave this job a week before I have to start my next job, P and S don’t have work for the summer, only R has to take off from work, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a crazy trip somewhere.

Our plan was to drive across the United States in 9 days, hitting as many highlights as possible. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to see anywhere in-depth, but we decided to embrace the “road trip” mentality and hoped for an interesting experience overall. The itinerary was as follows: Day 1: Fly from NYC to Los Angeles, rent a car, and drive up the coast on Route 1 to San Francisco. Day 2: See the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park and spend the night in Las Vegas. Day 3: Hoover Dam–Grand Canyon–Monument Valley–and stay in Moab, Utah (right outside Arches National Park… which I made sure was on the itinerary). Day 4: Arches, Salt Lake City, stay in Idaho. Day 5: Grand Tetons National Park, Yellowstone National Park, stay in Wyoming. Day 6: Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, stay in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Day 7: Sioux Falls to St. Louis Missouri. Day 8: St. Louis Arch– drive to Cincinnati. Day 9: Cincinnati back to New England. In true “techy” S fashion he created an interactive website with GPS connectivity so that people could follow our road trip on the web and see live updates, pictures and maps (that’s why R is “Married to a Geek”)

Before the trip I had dropped hints with P that it would be quite romantic to be at Arches, this place I’d wanted to visit since I was in eighth grade, and who knows, hint hint, have something special happen there. Yet as time grew short, and there didn’t seem to be any discussion of it, I figured that P wasn’t ready.

And off we went…  the road trip was pretty crazy– long hours on the road (our first day we left NYC around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t reach San Francisco until about 2am California time). S was taking many of the evening shifts (since he’s a night owl) and I was forcing everyone up at the crack of dawn to get on the road. I wanted to keep us on schedule so we could see everything we wanted to see, but it was tough when each individual destination was so interesting, and everyone wanted to stop and spend longer in each place. Most nights we didn’t reach our final destination until long after the sun had set.

On Day 3 we ate at an IHOP in Las Vegas before starting out on the road. P got up to use the restroom and then we met out in the car… we drove through Hoover Dam, and saw the Grand Canyon. My dad had visited the Grand Canyon the year before so after we left I called him up to let him know, “Hey Dad, just saw the Canyon. It was pretty neat.” The phone was quiet on the other end, then he said, “…And?”

“And what? Nothing much, having fun… the weather is hot.” I answered.

“Oh, okay… That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Alright then, be safe and have fun.” Then he hung up the phone.

P and I at the Grand Canyon

As we got closer to Utah, we started seeing signs of the Delicate Arch everywhere. Prior to our trip I hadn’t realized it was such a famous landmark for the state. As we entered Utah near Monument Valley the “Welcome to Utah!” sign had a picture of the Arch. Many of the Utah state license plates had an image of the Arch. I learned later that the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Olympic Games even made a pass under the Arch. Going to bed in Moab, it was exciting to know that the next day I was going to see the Delicate Arch from my eighth grade postcard project.

R and I pose with the "Welcome to Utah!" sign on the edge of Monument Valley

P and I at Monument Valley

After driving through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Southern Utah I was starting to get worried about the heat. I knew the altitude out west was higher than what we are used to in the east, and that higher altitude, drier weather, and blazing sun were a ripe combo for dehydration. After my experience in Kenya I was terrified of another severe sunburning/dehydration episode. As R, S and P got ready in the motel room the morning of Day 4, I watched the weather on the morning news–it was supposed to be in the high 90s, maybe even the low 100s–and I was already sucking down glasses of water like there was no tomorrow.

Arches was beautiful. High red/orange rock formations with thousands of sandstone arches carved by the harsh elements of the desert. The four of us spent most of the morning climbing through various archways and trails, visiting some of the park’s most famous landmarks. I kept urging everyone to drink water because of the dry heat and slathering sunscreen on my pale mzungu skin.

Hanging out at Arches...

After a few hours of driving and hiking through various parts of the park we finally reached it. The Delicate Arch. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting… it was way up on top of a large sandstone outcropping of rock. According to the map it was a 3 mile walk away. It looked so small from the lookout point, but it was there. The day was starting to get late and I figured for sure we didn’t have time to go.

You can see the faraway Delicate Arch in the middle of the picture.

“At least we had a chance to see it, even though it is all the way over there.” I said.

“What?” S exclaimed, “I didn’t come all the way to this park to see this famous landmark from so faraway. We are going up there!”

“S! It’s about 100 degrees out… a 3 mile walk on exposed rock in the blazing sun in the middle of the day is not a good idea. What if we get half way up there and something happens? 3 miles is really far to walk up hill in the hot weather, plus we have been outside already for so long… we don’t have a lot of water left!” I protested.

“I don’t care. I’m going up there. I already came this far!” S exclaimed.

“What if we get sick?” I said.

“Do you think you’ll get sick?” he asked. I had been pounding waters all day, but it was really dry and hot, and I was paranoid and scared from my previous experience. They all knew the story, but they hadn’t seen the delicate mzungu in action.

“I’m a little worried.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” He said, “Let’s go.”

So we started hiking. Uphill. On the exposed rock. In the noontime heat. It didn’t take long until R and I looked like we were wilting. We passed other tourists coming down the hike, their faces red, but they all assured us it was worth the difficult hot hike up. When we got about halfway, there was a meek little cactus type tree that R and I tried to sit behind for a bit of shade. We shared a juice box, sweat beading up on our faces. S looked at us, and looked up the hill and I’m sure he started wondering if this was a good idea or not. By this time we had already made it half way so it didn’t seem to make sense to turn back, queasy sunstroke-y feeling or not. Because at this point I wasn’t feeling quite right.

We started out again into the strong sun, up the red rock hill, and after a few paces I was hit with nausea. I ran up to a cliff edge and promptly threw up a stomach full of water. R and S were surprised and P gently scolded, “If you weren’t feeling good you should have told us. Is it the sun? Do you need to get out of the sun?” But usually right after  you vomit your body feels better, like it has rid itself of what was ailing it, and I genuinely felt recharged. S started apologizing for dragging us up the mountain, but I took a minute or two to catch my breath, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and said, “Let’s go… we are almost there.”

The walk up was not fun... R, with P and I in the background. I'm bringing up the rear... clearly hurting at this point.

As you climb up the rest of the way, the path at the top is obscured by a rock ledge, so you don’t realize the Arch is right there until you emerge from around the edge of it, and then bam, it’s right there… beautiful and unique and picturesque. It truly is a sight, and was definitely worth the hike… nausea or not.

When you first see the Arch you are on the opposite side of a rounded rock outcrop that has largely been eroded into a steep drop off. To get from the path to the Arch you have to carefully walk along the edge of the outcrop. S told R, P and I to run over to the other side and stand beneath the Delicate Arch while he took pictures.

Finally! Standing below my postcard picture Delicate Arch! Me, R and P.

After taking so much time to get up there, S wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth. So he snapped lots of pictures then called out for someone to run back over so he could be in a few pictures. P ran back to take control of the camera, and S came to pose. We took a breather in the shade, and then I started to walk back towards P on the rock ledge in the sun. He started walking towards me, his hand in his pocket, but at that moment I could feel the sun effecting me again, and a wave of queasiness made me rush by him to run back toward the shaded rock ledge close to where S was originally taking our picture. P called out and told me to wait, but I said, “I have to get out of the sun for a minute.”

He followed behind, and found me standing with my back to the shaded rock ledge, out of view of the Arch and S and R. He walked up to me and put a box in my hand and asked, “Will you be my life partner?” My head was still swimming a bit from the sun, so at first I was confused. P wasn’t one for big surprises like this. I opened it up and saw an engagement ring.

“Well?”

“I can’t believe you actually did this!” I exclaimed, “You had this hidden the whole time?”

“Yep.”

“And my dad, did you ask my dad?”

“Yeah… I called him yesterday morning, from the IHOP in Vegas.”

“Did R and S know?”

“No, they didn’t. I’m glad S argued with you to get you to come up here… otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done.”

“How should we tell them?” I asked.

“I have an idea… ” he said, and took a picture of the ring on my finger with the camera.

So we emerged from the back of the ledge to find R and S still posing for pictures near the Arch. We walked over to them and P said, “Something interesting happened over there” and gave R and S the camera to look at. They scrolled through a few pictures of the Arch, and then saw the picture of the ring. R looked up with wide eyes and yelled, “Is that what I think??” and they both congratulated us, and took more pictures…

The steep rock outcrop across from the Arch that we had to walk along. It is hard to tell how steep it is, but take my word for it. The arrow points to the ledge behind which P proposed. The tiny black figure near the arrow is S, taking our picture while we stand under the Arch.

A pose in front of the Arch... Now that the "deed" has been "done." You probably can't tell, but the sun is still bothering me in this picture... and I'm worried I am starting to have some heat stroke.

R insisted we take a recreated "proposal shot" even though P wasn't on one knee when he asked.

As we made our way down the trail S started joking, “We went up 1 engaged couple and came down 2!” and “Good thing P proposed, otherwise C would have been mad at me the rest of the trip for forcing her to hike up in the sun and making her sick!” and lastly, “How cute… the delicate mzungu got engaged at the Delicate Arch!”

We got about three-quarters of the way down the path when I started feeling woozy again, and moved off the path to vomit up more water, and after that I didn’t feel as good as the first time. S’s face turned serious and he volunteered to run the rest of the way back down to the car to grab an extra water (we had since run out on the hot hot hike up to the top). I insisted I could make it down, but I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible because the direct sunlight was making my head swim.

S caught back up to us as we were nearing the end of the trail and I drank a bit more water. We climbed into the car and headed to the park Visitor Center. I felt better out of the sun, but still wasn’t feeling 100%. In hindsight I think I was so scared about getting dehydrated that I actually over hydrated and that was what made me sick combined with the direct intense sun. Hopefully I never get shipwrecked on a desert island, I probably wouldn’t do so well.

I called a few of my family members before we left Moab and the cell connection died. My dad said that he thought P was going to propose at the Grand Canyon (“That’s where I would have done it…”) and that was why he was confused the day before when I called but had no news. Apparently P had called him when he left the table to “use the restroom”  at the IHOP and said to my dad, “Um… I wanted to ask you for C’s hand” my dad probably didn’t know what P was talking about and said, “You want what?” so P (a little flustered, and already intimated) changed tactics and said, “I wanted to ask if it is okay if I ask C to marry me.” to which my dad said “Sure.”

I spent the next few hours before we reached Salt Lake City passed out in the back of the car, recovering from either over hydration, sunstroke, or some bizarre combination of both. Luckily I was good to go for Day 5.

So there’s the story. I don’t know too many people who throw up both on the way to getting engaged and on the way back (I promise I’m not always so “delicate” the sun was just not my friend in either story)… but it was a memorable experience and Arches will now always have a special place in my heart.

The Proposal: Preface

In honor of the good news, I wanted to share P and my engagement story (in two parts). The first part is more of a preface and will give more context to the actual story of the event.

The Post Card

Part of this story actually stretches back to the summer before eighth grade (can you believe it?). I was really bored, and spent half my time daydreaming about adventuring off to faraway places that I never thought I would ever get a chance to visit. One day I happened upon the big roadmap/atlas my family had stuffed in the family car and started looking through it and realized there was a list of addresses in the index for national parks across the United States. I decided if I couldn’t go anywhere, I’d try and get other places to come to me (in a way), plus I loved getting mail.

I devised a fake summer project for school, and crafted letters to send to national parks across the country asking park rangers to take a picture of what they thought was the most interesting or beautiful place in their park. I must have sent about 25 letters out, and in a few weeks time I started getting things back in the mail. Some parks I never heard back from, but most humored me in some way. I didn’t get any actual photos, but I got a lot of park maps, park newspaper clippings and post cards—many of the postcards I still have to this day! Rocky Mountain National Park, Hawaii Volcano National Park, Glacier National Park, Haleakala National Park, Yellowstone National Park… etc. But one park stood out, because they sent me something unique.

Arches National Park in Utah sent me two postcards… one of the beautiful Delicate Arch and one of Balanced Rock, as well as a commemorative stamp of the Delicate Arch from the park. I was really intrigued by the stamp and the postcards. I’d never seen anything like the towering orange rock… it looked like the surface of Mars to my almost-eighth-grade eyes. Utah might as well have been Mars, it seemed so far away, I never thought I’d actually go there. But I always thought it would be really neat to stand under that arch some day, and I never forgot it.

This is a scan of the *actual* postcard I received from Arches in eight grade.

The Delicate Mzungu

A different kind of “delicate”… trust me, this could be a story all on its own, so I will try to keep it short. I’ve discussed before my love of and interest in Africa, but being a mzungu (the Kiswahili word used in East Africa for “white person”), especially a mzungu of Irish ancestry (as Russell Peters joked, “Irish people are the whitest white people on the planet… so white they are practically translucent!”), doesn’t always mix well with the intense African sun.

While I was in Kenya I was frustrated by the story of the “delicate mzungu.”  Every time I wanted to do something I was told that mzungus were very delicate and I should just sit and watch. Living with rural farmers in Western Kenya I wanted to carry buckets of water on my head, and help harvest the crops, and help wash the dishes and laundry in soapy buckets of water in the backyard as chickens ran around my feet. I wanted to experience rural Kenyan life, but I was met with protests… “No, no, it’s okay. Mzungus are delicate. Please, sit, have some biscuits.” I’d protest… “I’m not delicate! Please let me help! I’m here to learn!” and inevitably I’d either mess up (spill all the water), or something odd would happen (randomly get a nose bleed while washing dishes) and this would seem to reinforce their theory of the delicate mzungu—so sit and have some biscuits.

I ran into this “delicate mzungu” theory the whole time I was there, and I kept trying to fight it. I might have been a little more successful, had I been a little smarter.

Fast forward to another point during my stay… now I’m living in hot, arid Southern Kenya… a stone’s throw distance from the Tanzanian border, living with the pastoralist Maasai community. I’d been in the field for about a week and a half, living in tents near several family settlements (“bomas”). Our group had run out of all the water we had brought from the city, and had been relying on local bore-hole water boiled over a campfire. It was cloudy with bits of stuff floating in it, and tasted weird.

I wasn’t the best at drinking water in general, and had suffered a few bouts of minor dehydration earlier in the semester from not giving myself enough bottles throughout the day. Weird tasting bore-hole water wasn’t helping me in the water drinking department. And for some reason I got it in my head that I could do just fine on far less water than any of my comrades, and over the course of about 4 days I had drank no more than about one Nalgene bottle full of water. Couple this with the dry hot heat and the fact that I hadn’t bathed or even touched water for almost two weeks, I’m sure my body was ready for something to tip it over the edge.

Enter stupid delicate mzungu syndrome: The last few days of our field experience we were going to be scattered in various bomas across a wide expanse of land. I was paired with one other student and left with a Maasai family that spoke no English and hardly any Kiswahili to live in their small mud and cow dung huts and sleep on stretched cow hide. We were going to help the family herd their goats and sheep, cook with the family, and help them with their daily routine. However there was a special “age-set graduating ceremony” happening a few miles away, so the family thought it would be fun to take us there.

After a night sitting by the fire under the stars in one of the most remote places I’d ever been, singing songs back and forth with my homestay “mother” who was probably younger than me, I awoke the next morning to a cloudy cooler day. I helped with the goats, then had some tea for breakfast, and then got dressed for the age-set graduating ceremony. I had asked if I could dress like my hosts in traditional Maasai gear… two strips of cloth tied sarong style, a belt and beads (mistake #1: I’d been wearing light-weight long-sleeved billowy cotton shirts to protect my neck, and arms from sun since I don’t like sunscreen so much and a big floppy hat for protection, now I was very exposed. In addition I still didn’t put on sunscreen—it was cloudy in the morning and I wasn’t thinking, and I had only about half a Nalgene worth of water).

Yep, that's me, dressed like a Maasai woman, standing in front of one of the mud/cow dung huts at the age-set graduating ceremony

I went to the ceremony and my friend and I were the only two mzungus in a sea of about two thousand Maasai so we were quite popular. Little kids stared or cried because they thought there was something wrong with our skin, elders came to meet us, even the chief invited us to his hut as an honor to share a beer (my first ever) with him. I sat in the sweltering mud hut drinking large warm Tuskers with him, my head swimming. Then his son came in—“You honored my father, now honor me… please, have another.” I couldn’t without getting sick, so I settled on a warm bottle of coke. These were only dehydrating me more.

After a full day in the now hot bright sun I knew I was burnt to a crisp, and I was starting to feel a bit woozy. I had been very gracious to my hosts, trying to translate for my friend in Swahili, but I wasn’t feeling good, and eventually someone gave me an umbrella and I sat on the ground hiding beneath it until someone decided to take me home (a few miles walk away). I nearly passed out on the walk, but I chalked my bad mood and queasy feeling up to a bad sunburn.

And when I say bad, I mean, the worst sunburn of my LIFE. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in the slightest if I said that I literally LITERALLY looked like a lobster. That night I was in so much pain trying to sleep on the cow hide mattress. I could barely stand to wear my clothes.

The next morning my professor picked us up and brought us back to camp. As the students slowly filtered back from lots of other settlements people kept asking me if I was okay… and other than a few little bouts of wooziness, and a sore neck and shoulders, I did feel relatively okay. That night our group went out on a night game drive looking for lions, we were all standing on the seats of the Land Rover, our heads popping out the top, excited and singing as the sunset. I felt good, honestly, sunburned but not sick.

Until it hit like a freight train all at once. By then it was dark and we were miles and miles from camp. I instantly became incredibly nauseous, incredibly motion sick, and the world was spinning out of control. After trying to deal with it unsuccessfully, and seriously afraid of getting sick all over the car, I asked the professor if we could turn back. That was the longest, hardest car ride of my life. By the time I got back to the camp site I could barely walk straight. As I was helped out of the car I promptly vomited (the first in a long long night of vomiting), each time I got sick, it made me even more dehydrated.

I was put on a cot outside in the open air, where my professor thought I’d be more comfortable, and he and a friend tried to force me to drink water laced with packets of rehydration salts. It took me four hours to actually drink one small glass. I was feverish, borderline delirious, and kept getting sick. I literally though I was going to die. I’ve never in my life before felt so utterly terrible. I was terrified of the next morning when the sun came up and it would again be so dry and hot. I was convinced that the heat would kill me. I was genuinely terrified.

There was no way for my professor to contact our program compound in Nairobi, we were far beyond cell phone reach, so he had arranged for the camp land  rover to take me half way to Nairobi the following morning, calling the other program director in route, and try to meet someone to come pick me up on the side of the road and bring me the rest of the way to the hospital.

By morning I’d gotten a few hours of fitful sleep, and had at least one glass of water in my system. My back had broken out in huge sunburn boils, and I struggled to stand up. The professor loaded me in the car, and again I had a sickening drive back to civilization.

Nairobi Hospital is the fanciest hospital in the country, once called “The European Hospital” during colonial rule, it was the hospital that our program brought students to when we ran into trouble. Most Kenyans dressed up in beautiful outfits to go to Nairobi Hospital and here I was, dragged in fresh from the bush, filthy, dusty, barely able to walk. They did a few tests, and said they had to draw some blood.

Here’s a secret… I’m afraid of needles. It is totally in my head, I understand that, but the thought of getting an injection usually makes me hyperventilate. I rationalized with myself that I didn’t want to be the delicate mzungu freaking out about a routine blood test when there were probably people dying of AIDS in the same hospital, so I took a few deep breaths, and tried to calm my racing heart. I warned the doctors I was a little afraid of needles and braced myself for the prick. It took quite a few rubs of alcohol to get my arm sterile enough. Between embarrassingly apologizing for my filthy appearance, I remember saying to them about the injection, “that wasn’t so bad, I barely felt…” and the next thing I woke up on the floor with nurses staring in my face. “I think you are more than a little afraid” the doctor said, and admitted me to the hospital.

I wound up being in the hospital for four days on a rehydrating IV drip (another needle I didn’t enjoy, but knew it was necessary). I also had to get all the blisters on my back popped with needles. Every time a new nurse came on duty and read my chart that said that a “mzungu dressed like a Maasai was badly sunburned and dehydrated with sun poisoning and heat stroke” they had to drop in and meet the mzungu who would dress up like a Maasai. One look at my burnt back and the black Kenyan nurses usually exclaimed, “The sun can do that to you?”

On the second day I was there the director of the hospital—a big dark Ugandan man, who was a personal friend of the director of our program and one of the urban homestay fathers—came to my room to check in. He looked at my chart, and looked at my back and said, very stoically as he held out his fist, “See this hand? It is a strong African hand, I can put it near fire and it will not burn. But you… you are a delicate mzungu… and you are weak.”

Crushed by the theory of the delicate mzungu! How can I argue with that?

 

Asking My Father

Last but not least…

On my mom’s side of the family, I’m the eldest cousin, but on my dad’s side I’m the third eldest… meaning my two elder female cousins set the tone a little bit on the protocol for marriage. Both of their significant others first asked the permission (privately) of their dad before they proposed. P knew about this, but found it intimidating. My dad is the big silent type. He doesn’t always say much, and can seem daunting to talk to one-on-one.

“I don’t really have to do that, do I?” P would ask.

“I think you should. It would be nice. Keeping with tradition and all.” I’d say.

“Can I send an email instead? I don’t think I could ask him to his face.”

“An email? That’s kind of impersonal, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know… I don’t like this tradition…”

So hopefully this sets the stage for the second part. Sorry for the length, but hopefully it was interesting.

Fiddleheads- My Own “Bizarre Food”

While on the subject of “bizarre food” it wouldn’t be fair to highlight only the Nepali side. Springtime in New England means that it is fiddlehead season. I had never heard of a fiddlehead until I visited a friend in Portland Maine where fiddleheads are serious business, and now that I live in New England I can occasionally find fiddleheads in the grocery store when the time is right.

Fiddleheads are the young shoots of ferns that peek out of the ground once the weather starts to warm and are supposedly the first “green vegetable” of the year. The fern heads are tightly coiled and get their name because they look a bit like the coiled head piece of a fiddle. Once the fiddleheads uncoil then they are no longer edible (actually… toxic!), thus the season is very short.

In an age where one can find any vegetable at any time of the year—Mexican tomatoes in January, Chilean peaches in March—the fact that fiddleheads are only around for a few weeks at a specific time in a specific region and are gathered by foragers in the forest makes them sound very mystical and unique.

I loved this description from a website:

When we had our cottage at Sebago Lake, [the fiddleheads] would arrive at local stores in burlap bags carried by some memorable local characters. If someone, always “from away”, were to ask where he found them, the usual response was a silent stare. If the forager responded at all, it would usually be: “in the woods”. Natives know these locations are carefully guarded secrets and never bother to ask the question.

In fact the first fiddleheads I had ever eaten were gathered by my friend’s significant other while he was out in the forest at a secret fiddlehead cache, and he indeed had a burlap bag full of them. We had taken P’s parents to Maine for the weekend, and the whole family sat on the porch outside rubbing the brown papery chaff off the outer layer of the fiddlehead coil.  My friend was very eager to share this very “New England” specialty with P’s foreign parents, but little did she know that the coiled worm looking baby ferns which are proudly New England regional cuisine… was also a Nepali food!

I didn’t realize this coincidence until I bought my now favorite Nepali cookbook and found two recipe entries in the index for fiddleheads. Nepalis call them neuro and make a curry (neuro ko tarkari) and use them in a type of salad (saandheko neuro). By the time I made this discovery last year fiddlehead season had passed, so I was anxious for it to come this year.

I found them two weeks ago and bought a bagful. P wasn’t as excited, but hey, remember, I wanted to be more adventurous with veg food and here was my opprotunity. I offered to try the curry recipe, but he said that curry would probably overpower their original flavor, so I decided to make them “New England” style…

Fiddleheads fresh from the market still with little bits of brown chaff stuck to them. Rinse them well under high pressured water.

Soak well in water to get rid of any soil or anything else from its native forest environment. Make sure to remove the dark bottom edge of the uncoiled fern stem.

They look like little bugs or worms, don't they? Especially that one in the lower left hand corner...

After soaking, dry the ferns. Sauté with 2 tsp butter and 2 cloves minced garlic for 4 mins, stirring occasionally, then simmer for 4 mins covered. Feel free to add a little more butter if necessary.

Finished product!

They taste a little earthy, and a little like asparagus, but I enjoy them. A tasty different seasonal treat that both ties me to my new home (a traditional “New England” dish) and P’s home (a surprise Nepali food).

On a side note– When Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods made a show in Maine, fiddleheads were on the menu!