Tag Archives: Culture

A “Horrible Mediator” ;)

At our white wedding, instead of a traditional guest book, P and I set up a digital camera with a ten second timer on a tripod and set beside it an erasable marker/white board. We asked people to leave us photo messages in our “digital guest book.” A lot of people didn’t notice it (unfortunately), but a few did… and at the end of the night had about 30 pictures of different people posing with messages for us. (I stole the idea from our Canadian friend–you know who you are!)

I wanted to share one of my favorite pictures. It looks a little like a mug shot, but the message is absolutely priceless and hilarious. Our friend AD made the perfect choice.

The white board reads, "I'm glad today happened despite me being a horrible mediator."

I told the story over a year and a half ago in the post “The Main 3” but it warrents a retelling in honor of the pic:

Shortly after P told his family (“He Told Them!“) about our relationship our friend AD (pictured above) traveled to Kathmandu to visit family. During his trip he was also charged with the task of “talking me up” (positive reinforcement) to the P family.

At the time P’s parents and aunt had kept P’s “I’m in love with a white American” story secret from P’s talkative Grandfather in case P was just “going through a phase” and would eventually leave me and marry a Nepali someday. When AD and KS showed up for lunch that fateful afternoon in January 2005, every time AD dutifully brought me up in conversation one of the “Main 3” (mostly J Phupu) would shut him down or change topics to deflect the “match maker/mediator” role that AD was not so subtly fulfilling.

Six and a half years later, Mamu, Daddy, and AD sat in the audience watching P and I get married. It made me laugh to think about AD’s message concerning his skills as a mediator (it wasn’t his fault he kept getting deflected!).

:)

Weekend Wedding Post VII: Finally… the Red Wedding

Based on the two other Nepali weddings I’ve attended, and my own pre-planning, I had a few assumptions about our ceremony. For instance: I expected both of our parents to sit up under the mandap with us—my parents on my side and P’s parents on his (we had little stools set up for them to sit on), I expected the pandit-ji to follow the program that he originally mapped out for us and later approved the draft of, I expected we would exchange rings (something I fretted about at one point, but it never happened, I’m still not sure why, I have a Nepali wedding ring), I expected people to move around more and be less formal, and I expected things to flow a bit more smoothly. But even though many of these assumptions didn’t necessarily happen, it was still a totally awesome experience that I wouldn’t trade in for the world (the whole weekend was, actually :)).

Ironically, I never really thought of myself as a girl who would get so excited over my own wedding (I know—very hard to believe after all these posts), but I think it was the allure of participating in a different type of ceremony, and having these extra cultural pieces, that really pulled me in to getting excited about the overall process.

So here we were: P and I, standing under the mandap in front of a room of about 130+ of our closest friends and family, dressed as Nepali bride and groom. At least eventually it was 130+… many of the “brown people” were still missing at that point, but slowly started to filter in to the back of the room as the ceremony went on. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I could only properly see the first few rows, and the people who decided to sit on the floor in the front or stand around the sides. I later joked that since all the “White Americans” (who arrived half an hour early) were sitting quietly and attentively (American wedding style) in the front of the room, it might have intimidated the South Asians from moving around or talking so much. I’m not even sure if anyone thought to get up and have tea and pakora during the ceremony like we had planned.

P and I stepped under the mandap, and settled into our chairs. Luckily we had appointed our friend N as the MC/narrator of the event. He sat opposite the pandit-ji, and offered brief explanations before and during various rituals to make sure everyone in the audience was on the same page.

As the ceremony went on, the interactions between the priest and N, and eventually AS and R (who came up under the mandap to help set up the various rituals—we would have been lost without them!), became slightly tense. The priest, who doesn’t speak much English at all, was Nepali, but was so used to working with Indians in the community that he kept giving instructions to N in Hindi, while N kept answering him back in Nepali. The priest also assumed that N, R and AS had a more encyclopedic knowledge of Hindu wedding rituals, and seemed to get frustrated with them if they started doing something in a different way, or didn’t intuitively know what came next. Occasionally the priest seemed to stop the flow of the ceremony to give them brief lectures or scold them, and they would take a minute or two to explain or defend themselves. Since this was happening in a different language, to the non-Nepali speakers in the room it probably looked like we were making up the ceremony as we went along (in fact, at one point my dad did ask me as we sat together under the mandap, “Is this guy just making it up as he goes along?”)

Walking up to the Mandap and getting situated

Anyway—So P and I were up on the stage. First the priest gave me a round silver tray with various (red, yellow, etc) powders and rice on it. At first I thought the priest told me to feed it to P, so I took some in my fingers and went to put it in his mouth, but P said, “No… it’s tikka” and I had to change directions and put it on his forehead. After that, I kind of stopped trying to understand what the pandit-ji was saying, and waited until P or AS/R/N told me to do something.

Next I gave P his dubo ko mala and flower garland. He in turn gave me my tikka, dubo ko mala and flower garland. Next we were each given a handful of flowers to hold in our right hand during the Ganesh puja. If you want to keep tabs–so far the first two items on our “official” program were flipped.

Pic 1: tikka; Pic 2: dubo ko malla; Pic 3: garland; Pic 4: tikka; Pic 5: garland with my sister K's help; Pic 6: Ganesh Puja

Nice pic of the bangles during the Ganesh Puja

After the Ganesh puja, my parents were invited onto the stage. Much to my dad’s chagrin, the stools were really low to the ground, and he almost toppled over trying to sit down. Because the altar was pretty crowded, he kept accidently knocking over a pot with a coconut that represented a god. AS would fix it, and then the coconut would topple again when my dad made any moves. My mother’s youngest brother—a big guy sitting in the front row, and one of the few people I could see clearly without my glasses—wound up finding the knocking-the-coconut- situation hilarious, and kept trying to contain his laughter. My grandmother and aunt kept trying to shush him, but I kept seeing his shoulders rock with giggles. Luckily it wasn’t too big a deal, but I did keep watching him wiggle.

An example of the coconut that kept falling over

My parents were supposed to feed P yogurt and ghee (as per the program), but that wound up not happening. Instead they symbolically washed his hands. While my mom was still on the altar she kept asking me, “Where’s the yogurt? When are we doing the yogurt part?” (I think at this point people started disregarding the program, although now that I look back, perhaps at this point the ceremony started to get back on track). Then P presented me with my wedding tilhari and N encouraged everyone to clap now that I had the tilhari on.

Receiving tilhari

Next my parents “gave me away” through a process of us holding out our arms with a fistful of flower petals while P held a conch shell and AS poured water over our hands. The priest chanted various mantras, including invocating our various male relatives (father, grandfather, great-grand father… it was interesting to hear the priest struggle with western names that we all deem “easy to say,” like my dad’s: “Da…da…dan…dan-e…dan-e-ale.”) The mantras went on for quite some time, and my parents didn’t have any idea what was happening, and for them I’m sure it seemed very disorganized and chaotic. My mother leaned over at one point and said, “They didn’t want to rehearse this?? But we rehearsed ours?? This needed a rehearsal!” Rehearsal or not, everyone did a good job and I appreciated their participation.

Pic 1: My parents under the mandap; Pic 2: Symbolically washing P's hands; Pic 3: Receiving the tilhari; Pic 4: "Giving me away"; Pic 5: "We should have rehearsed this!"; Pic 6: Dad receives his tikka before sitting back in the audience

After my parents “gave me away” they had the choice to continue sitting up there, or to skedaddle, and I don’t blame them for wanting to skedaddle, and get out of the limelight. The pandit gave them each a tikka before they left for the comfort of the audience chairs. I kept waiting for the moment that P’s parents would be invited up to sit with us, but they never were.

The "audience"

Next, AS and R tied some coins, nuts and rice into the folds of a long white cloth, and then tied the cloth around my waist. Of all various rituals in the Hindu ceremony—and I know that there are many that I don’t fully understand, and there are probably many symbols that a South Asian feminist could pick a part and critique, but I found this ritual to feel the most uncomfortable(? I’m not sure what the right word is… odd?)—to literally have a cloth tied around my waist and for P to hold the end of it (as one of my aunts joked, “like a leash”) for the remainder of the ceremony. It made movement a bit awkward, and I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the “white Americans” in the audience were thinking.

AS and R help to tie the cloth around my waist

The next part was a little bit comical. The priest instructed AS to go in the other room and find some camphor to light the fire. She came back with a new package with several fresh chunks. Although P suggested that she only use one, she put in about five blocks, and once AS and R lit the tinder the fire grew quite large (as indoor fires go). The vent in the room hadn’t been properly turned on by the temple helpers, and it felt at one point like the room was filling with smoke. I later spoke to an American friend who told me that once it got smoky she told her husband, “Hun, I think you need to go stand near a fire extinguisher, and be the hero if you have to!”

I felt a bit panicky too, because I could only see the first few rows of people and I was close to the fire, so it felt like the whole room was becoming gray and murky. I kept whispering to P, “Someone needs to open the vents, or the windows. I think the room is filling with smoke!” and a few family members told me later they were worried a fire alarm would go off and interrupt the whole ceremony. However eventually a temple helper got the vent working, and although the flame was still big the smoke started to clear. At this point P and I had to walk around the big fire, tossing rice and other prasad into the flames. P guided me to walk in front of him (while he held the white cloth behind me) and whispered, “Be careful so that you don’t catch on fire.” (Gee, thanks).

Pic 1: Placing the camphor; Pic 2: Lighting the fire; Pic 3: Nice shot with Ganesh; Pic 4: "Don't catch on fire"

Making the rounds

It got pretty smoky...

After the fire had subsided, P and I took the seven steps/seven vows.

Taking the seven steps...

Then came the most important part–Applying sindoor! The Nepali custom is to take a long piece of white cloth and extend it from one of the god’s on the altar to the forehead of the bride. The groom starts the sindoor at the bottom of the cloth and sprinkles it in a “continuous line” up the cloth until it reaches the bride’s hairline. This is done three times before you are officially “married.” N did a great job MCing this part… explaining the continuous line and joking (when P’s line wasn’t so continuous) that maybe he would do better “the next round.”

Marriage sindoor!

I touched P’s feet, and he greeted me as his wife, and then the pandit had us play a game. There seemed to be a bit of explanation, but I couldn’t understand any of it, and P said that the pandit gave us a few nuts and wanted us to pretend to gamble. There were friends/family on P’s side, and friends/family on my side who were cheering/tug-o-warring while P and I took turns throwing the nuts like dice. Whoever had the most nuts facing up was the winner. Someone produced money for the bet, and we kept it up until the pandit said the game was over, and that I won (although P said the pandit told him to “let me win,” whatevs, I had the money at the end).

Pic 1: P's side; Pic 2: My side; Pic 3: Gambling; Pic 4: Winner!

Then P and I shared a laddu (sweet)—technically the first thing we ate all day, and walked through the crowd as a newly married couple as people took handfuls of flower petals and threw them at us.

Sharing a laddu

P's parents bless us

Celebrating with a flower shower

The last part of the ceremony was the arti. P and I stood in front of the main temple altar to do arti and receive tikka. Unlike AS and N’s ceremony, the priest did not offer tikka to everyone else.

Arti, tikka and final blessings

The ceremony lasted about an hour, maybe slightly longer. P and I hung out in the main temple room with as many of the guests as we could gather, snapping photos with different groups of people while our friends changed over the mandap room so that there were tables for people to sit and eat. A long line was formed, and people grabbed pakora—some thinking that this was the dinner. A good number of my dad’s side of the family snuck out after pakoras to get dinner elsewhere, not realizing they missed the main dinner that was served at the temple right afterward the pakora appetizer.

The temple caterer made puris, daal, raita, mattar paaner, saag paaner, and a channa dish. I was busy walking around trying to talk to as many of the guests as I could, so it wasn’t until one of our friends thrusted a dish into my hands that I snacked on a few chunks of paaner. Some of my relatives avoided the paaner thinking it was tofu, until I said, “It’s a type of cheese. It’s good, give it a try.”

After about an hour of eating and socializing people started to head out. Since alcohol was not allowed at the temple, our friend D had organized an “after party” at a local bar where people could hang out, have some drinks, dance, and continue the celebration.

Our friends had decorated our car with red ribbons, bows, red plastic table cloths and streamers. The back of the car read “P weds C” and the sides of the car said “P2+C2.” One of P’s childhood friends offered to drive us to the hotel to change before the “after party.” We must have looked a sight driving down the street with the red decorations flapping in the breeze.

The getaway mobile

P changed out of his daura suruwal, but I was feeling so comfortable in my sari I decided to go to the after party in my outfit and tilhari (I was so excited to be wearing tilhari I didn’t want to take it off, I barely wanted to take it off for the white wedding the following day!) I was too exhilarated by the celebration to think much about whether or not it would look bad to the new in-laws or family members to show up to a bar dressed like this. Usually in Nepal new buharis are supposed to be demure and shy, and not look happy in the wedding photos. Here I was, all day, smiling like a crazy fool, and now I’m out in my wedding sari, drinking a beer with friends and dancing with wedding guests. I danced with P’s dad, and the extended Nepali family got in on the action too, so it must have been okay ;)

P, U and I at the "after party"

It was also funny because we were at a bar in the city, so when I left the back area where the wedding guests were congregating to use the restroom, the other women at the bar, dressed in short clubbing type outfits gave me funny looks. They were too polite to say, “What’s up with you?” but you could tell by their looks that that was what they were thinking! So I’d say, “I just got married, and we are continuing the party here!”

The party lasted until 2am. I started getting calls from my mom back at the hotel saying, “You should come home, you will be a wreck tomorrow for your own wedding.” Luckily I only had two beers and two shots (friends were eager to buy the new couple a drink!) but poor P was inundated with offers (especially for someone who doesn’t drink much!) I sent him home with a designated driver and group of friends who practically had to carry him up the stairs of our apartment and tuck him in to bed. He was a bit worse for wear in the morning, as you can imagine, but luckily he had most of the day to recover and was good as new for the afternoon white wedding ceremony.

That was one heck of a party– and the wedding was only half over!

Weekend Wedding Post V: Nepali Wedding Paraphernalia

I’ve mentioned a few things in passing that some of you might be familiar with, and some of you might not. So I thought I’d do a brief post to explain some of the Nepali wedding paraphernalia.

It goes without saying that Nepal, although a small country geographically, is very ethnically, socially and religiously diverse. Thus the things that I mention are not necessarily universal for all Nepali weddings, but happen to be used for our wedding that included mainly Chetri and a few Newari cultural elements (such as the sagun bags).

While some elements of the wedding—such as the use of sindoor– are similar to some Indian customs, other elements might be different, or have a different twist.

Sindoor pot with my wedding sindoor

One such twist is that Nepali weddings don’t necessarily use a mangalsutra, but instead give a different type of necklace called a tilhari made out of small pote beads and a gold pendant. The tilhari is worn for your wedding, and on the festival of teej, and pote necklaces (without the gold tilhari pendant) are generally worn on a regular basis as a symbol of marriage (much like a western wedding ring). Sometimes the potes are thicker multi-strand necklaces, and sometimes they are long single strand necklaces.

My wedding tilhari

The other Nepali culture twist is the dubo ko malla. I’m not sure if there are groups in India who use this type of malla (garland), but in the three major Nepali weddings I’ve been to the bride and groom have each had one. The mallas are made out of grass, and seem to be an important part of the ceremony, although I’m not fully clear on the significance behind them. For AS and N’s wedding AS’s mother sent the mallas through an acquaintance travelling to the US for a visit, and we kept them in our refrigerator wrapped in wet towels for two weeks before the wedding. In our case, P’s parents did the same, smuggling them in their checked luggage, and refrigerating them wrapped in wet towels for a week and a half before the wedding.

Pic 1: N and AS wearing their dubo ko malla; Pic 2: S and R wearing their dubo ko malla

I tie on P's dubo ko malla

Our dubo ko malla post-party. Now they are dried out and hanging on our wall at home.

A Nepali groom’s traditional wedding outfit is also different than what you might see when you think of an Indian wedding. Instead of a kurta outfit, the groom wears a specially woven outfit made out of dhaka fabric called a daura suruwal. Several of our male Nepali red wedding guests also wore white, tan or gray shaded daura suruwals.

P prepping for the ceremony in his daura suruwal, helped out by his mom and N

P and I waiting for the ceremony to start. P in his full outfit. Note the khukuri knife sticking out of his side.

To show the difference between a wedding daura suruwal (P) and the regular traditional daura suruwal (U standing left and Daddy standing right) which are often worn with blazers/jackets

Lastly I was going to point out the Nepali khukuri knife. Again I don’t really understand the significance of the knife as part of the groom’s wedding attire, perhaps a symbol of “manhood”—but in a “white” wedding you don’t necessarily see the groom “packing” a weapon for the ceremony. This bit of khukuri history is from Wikipedia: “The khkuri is a curved Nepalese knife used as both a tool and as a weapon… The cutting edge is inwardly curved in shape and is the icon of Nepal. It was, and in many cases still is, the basic and traditional utility knife of the Nepalese people. Very effective when used as a weapon, it is a symbolic weapon of the Nepalese Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, signifying the courage and valor of the bearer in the battlefield.”

P shows off his weapon

The unsheathed khukuri

Wedding Weekend Post III: A Bit of Rain, A Bit of Henna, and A Bit of Relaxation Admist a Whole Lotta Rushin’

Friday morning I woke up to a torrential downpour. No—what’s the next level above torrential downpour? Because it was coming down in buckets.

I had been afraid to check the weather most of the week, because I knew weather was out of my control, and if I didn’t like what I was going to see, I almost didn’t want to know. With all my bad luck in the previous few weeks I thought for sure it would rain for our weddings. About ten days before Weather.com said that there would be rain on Weds, Thurs, and Friday before our wedding weekend, but it would be partly cloudy and dry on Sat and Sun; however as the days dwindled down, the rain didn’t materialize, eventually the reports said rain on Friday and Saturday. I rationalized that the red wedding was mostly inside, so if it was going to rain one day I’d rather it on Saturday, but waking up to the gray dismal sky I couldn’t help but be a little worried for the whole weekend.

I got up, and ready. My plan was to sneak out of the house early because I had set up an appointment to get my feet hennaed at a pallor I discovered recently at a city-wide Asian festival. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my little indulgence because I thought my mother would get mad that I “ruined my feet for the American wedding” and I thought P’s mother would find it odd since “it isn’t part of our Nepali culture.”

When I got up I noticed P’s parents weren’t around. They had taken advantage of a brief lull in the rain to take their morning walk, so I went down with my sister K to walk our dogs, and to run to the local Dunkin Donuts to get my mom a coffee. Before I left P said that he thought his parents had already walked to the Dunkin Donuts, but I thought he was kidding.

Lo and behold, as I drove up to the DDs I saw P’s parents carrying a box of donuts under an umbrella. I pulled over to the side of the road and offered to drive them back, but they waved me off. They must have felt that they were “hosting” my mom and sisters and wanted to bring back breakfast, which was sweet (although they brought back a bunch of plain donuts instead of chocolate, glaze and other more colorful flavors). I got the coffee, drove back, and by the time I grabbed my wallet to run to the henna place the sky had opened up again. In the few feet from our apartment door to the car I was nearly soaked through.

So I went in search of my soon-to-be in-laws, imagining them drenched carrying a soggy cardboard box of donuts. I drove up and down the street three times, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I even ran into the Vietnamese grocery store looking for them (becoming even more wet in the process) to no avail. I called P and told him how bad the rain was (“I can barely see through the windshield with the wipers on full blast!”), and that he might want to take a car out looking for them, because I was getting late for my appointment.

I arrived at the beauty pallor about fifteen minutes late. I was already starting to regret making the appointment. I thought it was probably frivolous to get my feet hennaed, and that maybe people would be upset with me, that it would take too long, that it would look ridiculous. The woman who was doing the henna reassured me it was fine, and we looked through the books of designs. I picked something that was a medium level of intricacy, not all the way up the leg, but a small design on the ankles, with peacocks on the inner tops of my feet and fans around the edges.

Believe it or not, I didn't think to take a picture of my feet until about a week after the wedding, so the henna doesn't look as nice any more (too faded), but it gives you an idea...

By the time the shop officially opened and the two other employees arrived, one foot was complete. One of the workers was Nepali. She had just arrived from KTM six months before, and was excited to sit with me and talk. I had started the conversation with “Nepali ho?” as she walked by and she was eager to talk to a westerner getting married to a Nepali man. She had a lot of questions—had I been to Nepal? Had I seen a Nepali wedding before? Did I know about tilhari? About sindoor?

I told her about the dubo ko mala P’s parents had brought from Kathmandu and that we were keeping in our refrigerator covered in wet towels to keep them fresh for the wedding. She told me that she was Gurung but her husband was Chetri (a love marriage), so their wedding customs were very different (“In my culture we don’t have red tikka, we have white tikka. We are not Hindu we are Buddhist.”) I explained to her that my soon-to-be MIL is also Buddhist (Newari) but married a Chetri so she follows many Hindu customs as well. As we spoke the Nepali woman grew more excited, and started calling me “Bhauju” (sister-in-law). She offered to thread my eyebrows to make me “beautiful for the wedding.” When she started asking for details about when and where the wedding was taking place, I half expected her to show up the following day, but she didn’t.

The torrential downpour had started to subside, and even though my feet were not completely dry, I was running late to meet my bridesmaids (my sisters K and M and friends AS and R) who had planned a pre-wedding spa appointment as a mini bachelorette party. We were supposed to have lunch (which we missed due to my feet taking longer than expected—the Indian woman originally told me “it will take only half an hour,” but then I ran fifteen minutes late looking for my inlaws in the rain, and the feet took an hour and a half). We hoped that skipping lunch would help get us in and out of the spa quicker, but the spa still took a long time.

At the spa I had my nails done, and a massage to help relax. The massage was nice because it forced me to sit quietly for a little while and collect my thoughts (I was mentally making checklists—go home and grab this, this, and that, etc). Everything seemed to be happening really quickly. As soon as I was done with the massage, I told the girls I had to run home and change and grab some stuff for the white wedding rehearsal, and that I would send R’s husband S to pick them up and bring them to the white wedding venue. I got home to find the rest of the family ready and on their way out the door. I jumped into my rehearsal dress, grabbed the bridesmaids gifts, my dad’s tie and dhaka topi, the seating chart for the dinner tables, extra programs, extra copies of the readings, etc., and shooed S out the door to pick up the girls.

At the spa R and AS had complemented my feet. In retrospect I was glad that I took the time to do henna, even though it made the entire day run late. It’s now pretty faded, but when I look down at my feet it reminds me of the wedding, and makes me smile. It was also like a nice little secret, throughout the wedding weekend I could lift my skirt a few inches to show off my feet like a surprise detail, but they were mostly covered so people only saw them if I wanted to show them off.

A glimpse of henna on my feet during the red wedding

(Friday Part II)

Wedding Weekend Post I: “Crazy,” “Fun,” “Fast,” and “Exhausting”

Sorry for the prolonged silence. I’ve needed a day or two to recover from the festivities. The weekend was such a whirlwind. People say that your wedding goes by so quickly you hardly have time to get your head around it. It’s true, and it’s only now as I sort through pictures our friends and family have been posting on facebook that I am really getting a sense of what it looked like and what I want to say.

I have to admit that there were many times throughout the weekend where I thought, “I need to write this in my blog!” so I will break my story into several posts so as not to get too long winded at one time.

But now I’m left with the dilemma of where to start. I don’t think I have many words in me today, but I thought I’d share with you a few of the pictures that our friends took. We had a professional photographer there, but we won’t see his pictures for several weeks, so I will share those later.

If I could sum the weekend up in four words I would say “Crazy,” “Fun,” “Fast,” and “Exhausting”– Crazy because after years of being together, years of engagement, and a full year of planning, it was finally here and it felt so surreal; fun because we did have a lot of fun–dancing, talking to friends and family, singing, enjoying; fast because the weekend seem to be over in a blink of an eye, and exhausting because even though it went fast, we still had many long days, late nights, and lots of activity.

As I mentioned before, the weekend before the 4th of July P and I were doing as much wedding prep as possible before his parents’ arrival. My new in-laws arrived a week and a half before our wedding, which made it a bit challenging to sneak out of the house to get wedding stuff done, so I’m glad I did most of it ahead of time. P’s brother came July 1st and stayed with us until the 12th, my mother and sisters came on the 7th. The rest of the time went like this:

7th- last day at work before wedding, mother/sisters arrived, P’s brother’s birthday–took him out to dinner with friends

8th- final wedding prep day, white wedding rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, up until 2am making flower arrangements

9th-Nepali wedding day! temple set up, red wedding, red wedding “after party” (did I mention Nepalis know how to party?) until 2am

10th-American wedding day! last minute wedding prep, white wedding, and formal reception

11th-Get to know P’s extended relatives day and “welcoming the buhari” rituals  (until midnight!)

12th-Crashed like a train wreck

13th-Back to work!

Red Wedding:

Wedding sari pre-ceremony. Many of the sari wearing women got ready at S-di's house where S-di, her daughters, AS and R helped people who are not accustomed to saris get wrapped and folded accordingly

Me sitting under the mandap during the ceremony wearing the "dubo ko mala" (Nepali grass garland), flower mala, and veil

P and I with AS (left) and R (right) helping with the rituals under the mandap. I can't thank these two beautiful friends enough for all their help, we would have been lost without them!

P and I under the mandap walking around the fire

With P's family after the ceremony-- left to right: P's brother U, P, me, Mamu and Daddy

With both our immediate families: left to right: P's dad in traditional Nepali daura suruwal, my dad wearing a Nepali dhaka topi, P, me, my sister K in a sari, my youngest sister M in a sari and mom in a sari, and P's mom

One of my favorite pics of the day (taken by U)-- P and I walking out after the ceremony to find our car decorated with red streamers and bows. The back of the car says "P weds C" and the sides of the car say "P2 + C2" (referencing that both our last names and first names start with the same letter). A childhood friend of P's chauffeured us to the hotel I was staying at so we could freshen up.

P and I after the red wedding but before the red wedding "after party"... wedding round 1 complete!

P, U and I at the red wedding "after party"-- yep-- that's me in my bridal sari with tilhari at a local bar, dancing it up (in front of my new in-laws and extended Nepali family... I guess I'm not the run-of-the-mill buhari, luckily it didn't seem to make a bad impression... I even danced with some of them!)

White Wedding:

White wedding ceremony

I have to put this picture in, because P was so embarrassed to kiss in front of his family. He wouldn't even let me tag him on facebook!

The groomsmen fooling around during the cocktail hour

Father/Daughter dance at the white wedding

International House college friends at the white wedding: 1st KS, 3rd D, 4th me, 5th P, 6th and 7th our American/Bulgarian friends (we are going to their wedding at the end of the month), and AD

More to follow soon!

Wedding Crashers, Nepali Style

For a similar post check out “Invited to the Wedding.”

You know you are in an intercultural-South-Asian relationship when you have run out of invitation cards, and the RSVP date has passed, but you are still inviting people to your wedding.

You also know you are in this type of relationship when you hear other people talking in town about your wedding, who might “come anyway” even though they weren’t technically invited (“Maybe I was invited, but they didn’t have a chance to give me the invite?”), because extra guests aren’t usually that big of an issue back in Nepal.

This has happened to us a few times. In particular it is difficult with Nepalis we know in town through P’s university who might not be our close friends, but who are still part of the local Nepali community, so we kind of feel an obligation to invite them. We used to have this issue with our annual Christmas party too—P and I have had many a debate over why or why not this or that person should be invited. My argument was always, “If you don’t see them or have dinner with them at least every now and then, you don’t have to invite someone just because they are Nepali, especially if they don’t invite you to their things.” But alas, the issue persists, why did I expect our wedding to be different?

Case-in-point, at our Christmas party this year I was talking to one such person (a Nepali who we are friendly with but not really “friends friends” in the close sense) and while making conversation I asked, “So do you have any plans for the summer?” The guy responded, “Other than your wedding, not too much.” Er—he wasn’t at the time on our list, but found his way there!

Something similar happened over the weekend. Two friends of ours (non-Nepali) were eating at an Indian restaurant in town where a Nepali acquaintance from P’s university is working as a server. He had met this friend briefly at a dinner we hosted several months ago, and recognized her when she sat down at the restaurant. While taking her order he struck up a conversation about our wedding—he knew all the details—date, time, place, etc. We hadn’t invited him because he fell into the category of “acquaintance” rather than friend, and we hadn’t seen him since that dinner, but someone must have said something to him. Anyway, since he knew all the details our two friends assumed he must have been invited too. So when he asked them, “Are you going?” they responded yes and asked him, “Are you?”

Nepali acquaintance: “I haven’t been invited yet. I’m sure I will be, but if not I might just go anyway. I’m sure they won’t mind.” (Me: “Whaaaaat?”)

After dinner our friend gave us the heads up. Perhaps this is another person we might have to add to the list at the last minute?

It’s tough to draw the line. With close friends it’s a non-issue, they are obviously invited, but with various acquaintances it’s tough. We live in the same Nepali-community-abroad, so we don’t want to hurt other’s feelings, especially when the culture in Nepal is to invite as many people as you know, but P and I can’t keep adding to the list indefinitely. We have had many a discussion at the dinner table that goes something like,

P: “I feel really bad. We didn’t invite X, we’ve been to her house for momos several times, and even though I haven’t spoken to her in a year, I think she has done bhai tikka for me before as well. She might be sad that she didn’t get an invite.”

Me: “But Y lives near her. We aren’t as close to Y. So he might be sad if he hears that X was invited but not him.”

D: “Yeah—and if you invite Y you have to invite his girlfriend too. And he is always with Z as well, and might bring him along.”

P: “I don’t really mind not inviting Y, and I certainly don’t want him to bring Z along, we barely know him.”

D: “But X and Y see each other every day. If you invite X you will probably have to invite Y… in the end that might mean 4 extra people!”

In addition, we are also not sure if some of our Nepali guests might bring along extra people as well. It’s not such a big taboo in Nepal to do this, heck I was brought along to a neighbor’s wedding the last time we were in Nepal, and I certainly wasn’t listed on the invitation card. With the buffet we have set up for the Nepali wedding it won’t be such a problem, but with the sit down dinner at the American wedding, if extra people show up they won’t have any food.

D was joking at dinner last night, “Well at least the Nepali wedding is first—like a rehearsal to see who might show up for the American wedding. If someone brings along extra guests you can talk to them about not bringing them the second day. Maybe you can get someone to be the ‘guest enforcer.’”

In my “type A”-list-making-American-personalitiy-ism I have been trying hard to keep tabs on who is and isn’t coming, so that I know how many favors to order, programs to print, and table set ups, etc, but I might just have to realize that I won’t know with 100% certainty who will be at each event until they happen. Hopefully the numbers from my list and the numbers who show up are not that far off.

White Weddings are “Exotic” too!

I talk a good game about how the Nepali wedding will be so “interesting and different” for my family, but I’m being unfair when I fail to mention that the American wedding will be “interesting and different” for P’s family and some of our South Asian friends as well.

For someone who has the cultural “norm” baseline of white weddings—from movies, and tv, from family expectations and events, it’s kind of easy to forget that this isn’t the “cultural norm” for all. Whereas weddings can be fun and exciting in general, going to one that is different can feel even more exciting because it’s a bit exotic (“the other”), and it is funny to think that something that is normal for you is exotic for someone else.

This hits home when I realize that maybe P’s family doesn’t ask too many questions about the white wedding because they are not sure what to ask, where to start, how it will be different from weddings they are familiar with, or what the event will look like (ours will be their very first one). Or when a few of my South Asian friends who wear pants as daily clothing, but salwaar kameez or sari when they dress up for parties or events, find it kind of fun and exotic to wear a party dress to the white wedding.

I was even kind of surprised when my Nepali friend R was helping me look for a white wedding dress, that she wanted to try at least one on herself. She explained how she always thought it would be fun to have a white wedding dress and do “the whole white wedding party” thing. She admitted that sometimes while walking by bridal boutiques, she would think, as she checked out the dresses in the windows, about how it would be fun to rent or borrow one and do a photo shoot for the experience of wearing it. Why should I be the only one who thinks dressing up in the wedding cloths of another culture is fun and beautiful? R was gorgeous in that dress!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the intercultural exchange and educational moments of both the weddings—my relatives dressing up in clothing and participating in rituals and eating food they are unfamiliar with and vice versa. I’m excited for both sides of my (new) family to learn more about the other and I think this will be a great way to open up a dialogue about the awesomeness of being different.

I hope R doesn't mind... but she looked too great in that white wedding dress to have pictures of it sit idly in my picasa account!

Yeti Adventures

In honor of P’s mountaineering trip to Langtang this week (a place whose Wikipedia page mentions it is also known for Yeti sightings), I thought I was overdue for a post of this popular mythical Nepali creature.

Mike and Yeti from Disney/Pixars Monsters Inc. Popular portrayals of the Yeti (versus Big Foot) are white to blend with snow, although a darker Big Foot-like ape would probably have an easier time hiding on the green mountain slopes of Nepal

If you strip Nepal down to its bare bones tourist advertisement stereotypes you would get a few things—Mt. Everest, yaks and yetis (and perhaps temples, prayer flags, Buddha, and Sherpas, maybe momos too). Take a quick stroll through the Kathmandu tourist district of Thamel and you could walk out with an arm load of t-shirts with thread embroidered Yeti on them, particularly yaks and Yetis– these seem to be a favorite combination. There is even a tasty Nepali restaurant near Boston called the “Yak and Yeti” (actually when I googled “Yak and Yeti” I found at least five—one in Boston, two near Denver Colorado, one in Anchorage Alaska, and one at Disney World!)

Anyway, I digress, back to Yeti. These creatures supposedly live in the high Himalayas, and are the Nepali version of what Americans call “Big Foot” (or “Sasquatch”). It is a large ape-like creature that the scientific community generally regards as a legend given the lack of conclusive evidence of its existence—although one night RH, D, P and I decided to watch a silly “documentary” on Netflix about the hunt for a Yeti called “Destination Truth” which might lead you to believe there IS scientific evidence, but the show was too overly dramatic to take seriously.

Khumjung monasterys famed "Yeti scalp"... draped in a Buddhist prayer scarf

The show mentioned a sacred “Yeti scalp” in the Solukhumbu town of Khumjung, kept under lock and key in the local monastery. P, RH and I were there during our trek in 2009—and had I known I could have checked out an alleged “Yeti scalp” I would have insisted on going into the monastery (and tried to take a picture standing next to it, because that’s how big of a nerd I am), however, we only saw the monastery from the outside. Although the existence of the scalp in town, did made the “Magic Yeti” painting on the local school’s library door a little more understandable. Skeptics claim that the “scalp” is actually part of a dried shoulder of a yak or serow (a goat-like Himalayan antelope). Perhaps this is part of the origin of the yak/yeti dichotomy in tourist shops?

Taken during our trip in 2009. The "Magic Yeti Library" is part of the Khumjung School established and funded by Edmund Hillary and his charities. Wouldnt that be a great 70s rock song title or group name? "The Magic Yeti Library" ;)

I don’t purport to be a Yeti expert, but some of the info online is a bit interesting (the following is gleamed from the Yeti Wikipedia page):

-It is also known as the “abominable snow man,” a term coined in 1921 by Alpinist Charles Howard-Bury who was working with the Royal Geographic Society’s “Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.” Howard-Bury insisted he saw tracks at 21,000ft “probably [caused] by a large grey wolf” but looked like those of a “bare-footed man.” The Sherpas on his trip volunteered that “the tracks must be that of ‘The Wild Man of the Snows.’”

– Supposedly a Yeti-like creature was part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people: the Lepcha worshipped a “Glacial Being” as a God of the Hunt, and followers of the Tibetan Bon religion also believed in a mythical “wild man” whose blood was believed to be magical.

-There are many stories of supposed “sightings” including a 1953 report by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who claimed to have seen large footprints while scaling Mt. Everest. Tenzing said he had never seen a Yeti, but his father had seen one twice, although later in life he became more skeptical. Hillary remained skeptical throughout his life, but mounted a 1960 expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence, including the sacred Yeti scalp from Khumjung—it was his research team that concluded the scalp was not from an ape-like creature, but not all anthropologists agree with him.

-American actor Jimmy Stewart smuggled the remains of a supposed Yeti hand called the “Pangboche Hand” out of South Asia by concealing it in his luggage from India to London.

-In 1966 the legend of the Yeti was so popular that the country of Bhutan created postage stamps with the creature’s likeness. You can buy them on Ebay, I kindda want to.


Skeptics often put forward misidentification of known animals as an explanation of sightings and “evidence” – large langur monkeys, Tibetan Blue Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Asiatic Black Bear. Could something be misidentified up there? Sure—particularly sightings made by mountaineers climbing high altitude mountain peaks with lack of oxygen, fatigue, and other factors affecting them. Meanwhile, scientist discredited the existence of gorillas in East Africa until specimens could be brought back, and now only a fool would deny their existence.

I err towards the skeptic side, if only to make myself less worried about bumping into something scary while taking a walk in the woods (Big Foot, Yeti, little green men, or otherwise), but it’s interesting to hear stories about such sightings.

While P, RH and I were hiking in Solukhumbu we asked our guide if he had ever seen a Yeti. He said yes, at a distance. Whether it was true or not, it made for interesting post-dinner conversation along the trail.

Anyone else have a Yeti story? Or a Big Foot story while on the subject? ;)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (again)

It’s March 17th– so that means I’m wearing green, I’m ready to meet friends for a beer after work, and perhaps even make a “boiled dinner.” That’s right, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote about the meaning of the holiday last year in my family, so this year I’ll write about something related but different.

Working in the field of International Education is great. I frequently talk to people from different countries, and I am always learning new things. This past week I attended a program organized by my Iranian students about Nuwroz (Persian New Year), and had a chance to share in various cultural activities. I also get to experience a lot of Nepali cultural activities, and although I do hold my own with organizing Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween (etc) …  there is one cultural activity I wish I had partaken in while I was younger so I could tap (literally and figuratively) into this particular skill today.

When I go to a lot of these cultural programs there are often many songs and dances from the local region. I’ve been put on the spot many a time when I’ve been asked, “sing an American [or Irish] song” or “do an American [or Irish] dance.” Sure, I can break out with a chicken dance, but I’d really love to break out with… some Irish Step Dancing moves.

See, when I was in high school my younger sisters signed up for Irish Step Dancing lessons at the local AOH club my dad was a member of. At the time I was on the high school swim and track teams (not that I was any good), and thought I was too cool to go to “dancing” class. Each St. Patrick’s Day the Irish Step students would put on a show for people coming to eat the corned beef and cabbage sandwiches and green beer at the club, and I would sit with the rest of the crowd while my sisters tapped their feet and danced with the group.

Now I really wish I took those classes too. How neat would it be to be in a crowd of people singing and dancing to Nepali songs, be prompted to show something from “my” culture, and jump up to perform an impressive jig? One night my Irish friend and I even looked at Irish step dancing videos on Youtube to try and get some of the footwork down, but it’s actually pretty complicated and challenging. I think I almost pulled a calf muscle!

Maybe one of these days, when I’ve got some spare time and cash, I’ll sign up for a class. I think it would be fun… and I’d totally volunteer a jig at that next cultural gathering!

(If only I could dance like these girls…)

Ke Cha?

For work today I organized an African culture program– there was food, live music, African vendors and artisans and information tables set up by students who have studied abroad. I do it each year during Black History Month and call it the “African Caribbean Marketplace.”

So there was a funny story from the Marketplace today. I was talking to one of the Cameroonian vendors– their “market stall” was manned by a husband/wife team. The wife was American and had lived in Cameroon for 16 years, and she met her husband there. He used to work in the Cameroonian tourist industry, but came back to the US with his wife two years ago, and now helps some of this artisan friends sell handmade African products in the US.

When he found out that I understood French he started switching over to the language he felt most comfortable in, but when his wife would overhear she would say, “No no French… try practicing your English. You are always cheating” The husband’s English was pretty good, having not spoken a word of English before he arrived in the US, he had come a long way. Occasionally he threw in a French word here or there but he was definitely understandable.

However he kept apologizing for his “poor English” and said, “My wife, she is American, but still my English is not so good.”

I said to him, “Don’t worry– my partner, he is from another country too. Do you know the tallest mountain in the world? Mt. Everest? He is from that country.”– the guy looked at me blankly, he had no idea where I was talking about.

“Anyway, I live with him and see him everyday, but I can barely speak any of his language. Don’t worry, your English is so much better than what I can speak of his language.”

Then he asked, “What language does your husband speak?”

I answered, “Nepali.”

“Ohhh, Nepal. I have a friend from Nepal. We work together at the Whole Foods in Boston.” He said.

“Do you want to surprise him?” I asked. There are a lot of Nepalis in Boston, so I wasn’t surprised he knew someone. “Next time you see him, ask him ke cha. It basically means ‘how are you?’ in Nepali.”

His eyes widened. “What? How do you say?”

Ke cha.

He repeated it a few times and when I told him he had it right he smiled. “You know, this word… it also has meaning in my mother tongue.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, “What does it mean?”

“Well,” he said, “When a women has, hmmm, how you say? A big, a nice… butt. A nice back-end. This, this is what ke cha means. Not just ‘big’ but ‘big and nice’ like nice shape. Like ‘that woman has a ke cha.

Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. So we both had a hardy laugh.

“I guess it goes the other way too… you know the capital of Senegal?” (another French speaking West African country).

“Yes, Dakar.” He answered.

“Well in my partner’s language, ‘dakar’ means ‘burp.'”

He looked at me funny and said, “What this means?” He turned to his wife and she said in French, “After you eat a lot of food you make a sound with your mouth, like ‘errp’ this is what it is called in English.”

“People do this much here?” He asked.

“Well, not really, it is not considered polite.” she said.

“Back home its very good to ‘burp‘ after eating. Everyone does this. It means the food was good.”

And we laughed a little more on the quirkiness of language and culture.

So anyway– now when ever I say “ke cha” I’m going to think about a woman’s– how you say, “big, nice butt”– this expression has changed now for me forever ;)