Tag Archives: Clothes

Summer (South Asian) Casual Fridays

I was cleaning through some boxes in our closet last night to make room for storage for our summer guests  and I came across my “international clothes” box and it got me thinking…

When I traveled as a student I enjoyed buying local clothes to wear, and eventually my style became a smattering of more conservative American styles with bolder South Asian or African styles mixed in. For example, I love cotton block print fabric, and I have various skirts and tops made from this material.

When I graduated and started working in the “real world” I sadly figured that my South Asian flair was a little too much, and packed a lot of it away. Slowly a lot of it is finding it’s way out of the box, and now I  wear various colorful scarves (particularly in winter) and a few of the skirts in the summer, but alas, the more “traditional” (shall I say, “ethnic”) pieces are still in the box, unless I’m wearing a sari for a more formal international party.

So when I came across the box again last night, and tried on some of the clothes, I was thinking how much of a waste it was to have them hiding away in the back of the closet. Luckily the university where I work has a summer “casual Friday” policy. Usually this means that office administrators can wear jeans instead of dress pants, but I decided for the summer it would be fun to turn “causal Friday” into “South Asian Friday” when I can wear some salwar kameez suits and more flamboyant skirts.

So today I’m sporting an outfit I haven’t worn in about four or five years, a dark blue, light blue and white cotton block print long kurti with skinny cotton salwar pants.

I think my boss gets a kick out of it. He has encouraged me to dress up for other campus-wide international functions before– this past year I wore a sari to the International Dinner and an African Batik Boubou during the African Marketplace cultural festival.

I guess I’ll never really be a “suit-in-the-office” kind of girl.

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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.”