Tag Archives: Family

Rest in Peace Hajur Bua

It’s been five days since we received the unexpected news—a series of calls from Kathmandu that ended with the death of P’s grandfather.

It has taken me a few days to think about what I wanted to say. It was quite a surprise, even though he was 88 years old, as he was very strong and active.

Hajur Bua was a very important person in P’s family, but I think he was of particular importance to P, who was the first born grandchild. Hajur Bua lived with P since childhood, teaching him how to play many sports, including his favorite—heck, it’s his passion—soccer. He used to walk little P to school every day and then pick him up and walk him home.

He was the “keeper of the house,” the person who was always opening the front gate or looking out the window to see who was coming and going when he heard its clank. Upon arriving at P’s family’s house in Kathmandu he was the first face you’d see, peeking out the gate or waving from the front window or roof, cup of tea in hand. He was always there to welcome us home or bid us farewell.

I first met Hajur Bua when I visited P’s family in 2005. Even then, I had heard many stories about him, and I was happy to have the chance to meet him, as I wasn’t sure when I would be able to come back or if I would meet him again. Luckily I had two more opportunities: He was there again in 2009, telling us stories about his time as a park ranger in Chitwan, acting out sitting on an elephant’s back during a tour. He liked to bring pictures out to share, or his school leaving certificate of which he was very proud.

After our wedding in July 2011 we were able to go back for Dashain. Although very strong, he was too old to make the long journey to America, but was able to participate wholeheartedly in the wedding party that was organized during our trip. He dressed up in a daura suruwal and coat in his favorite color which he called “gabardine” (which I think refers more to a type of fabric, but that’s what he called khaki-brown). He enjoyed sitting near us at the party, talking to people and introducing us to others. While we visited in 2011 he started calling me “Buhari”—bride—the same name he calls P’s mother. “Buhari, have you eaten?” “Buhari, have you seen this program?”

We were able to take our first married Dashain tikka from him. It would be my first and last.

I remembered seeing him many times sitting on the floor, cross-legged, like a man sixty years his junior. I couldn’t imagine my father being nimble enough to do that, let alone my grandparents. It was a testament to his health and fitness.

And then there was Rai Uncle, a former neighbor, who still liked to come over and spend time with the family. Hajur Bua and Rai Uncle had a love/hate relationship. Like two grumpy old men, they sometimes had feuds—“He took my umbrella!” “You cheated at cards!”—but they were companions as well, sharing in card games and conversations.

Hajur Bua also had a love of plants, a hobby I share. Back in Kalingpong, his home area, his family had a nursery with many interesting plants, and as an older man Hajur Bua tended to dozens of potted plants surrounding the P family home, several of which came from the nursery in Kalingpong. Many of the plants were unusual, much like the ones I enjoy collecting. In 2011 I complimented a giant green stemmed succulent plant, some type of Euphorbia, growing in a sunny spot behind the house. Before I knew it he plucked out a section of the plant, wrapped the roots in mud and wrapped the entire thing in damp newspaper and insisted I bring it home. I decided to try, and was able to sneak it in. The plant now grows on my window sill, and reminds me of him every time I see it.

Our Irish friend RH was visiting Nepal at the time of Hajur Bua’s death. He was staying with P’s family for a few days, before making a quick trip to Southern Nepal. He was due back to P’s home the day that Hajur Bua died. RH took the final living picture of Hajur Bua—as he looked through the front window, saying goodbye to him before RH left for Chitwan.

In an email exchange between P and RH, P wrote:

I almost feel as if you were meant to be there that week – to see Hajur Buba one last time. Since you met him, it almost feels as if you were there on our behalf. We also got the last photos of Hajur Buba that you took, looking from the window. It is hard to think that he is not going to be there to look out of that window next time we arrive home in Kathmandu and the next time the metal gate makes a clanking noise.

The whole news has been a shock and a surprise to all of us. He was old and had minor other pains and aches but we all felt that he was this strong person who would live to be 100 or more. At the same time, he passed away the way he wanted, without being bedridden, within a matter of hours. I am also glad that you were able to hear Hajur Buba’s stories once again while you were there.

I want to dedicate this posting to Hajur Bua. He always made me feel welcome and part of the family. We are all very sad at your passing, but we feel honored to have known you.

From “Very Good Saathi” to “Naya Buhari”

The first time I visited Nepal I was in Kathmandu for four days. There wasn’t really time to meet anyone, only a neighbor’s daughter who needed to practice speaking with an American to prepare for her US visa interview, and we visited Mamu’s brother’s clothing shop where I was barely able to fit into any of the pants because I was too tall. Other than my stay with the immediate family, my visit was largely unnoticed by neighbors or extended family, so little explanation was needed as to who exactly I was or why I was there.

The second time I visited we stayed for three and a half weeks. By then P and I had been dating for nearly six years and we were engaged (his family didn’t know, although they figured we would marry eventually). For the first part of our stay, our friend RH was with us, and we went hiking in Solukhubu, so having two white foreign friends at the house, probably made it easier to explain to the neighbors that we were “just friends” visiting P for the hiking trip.

I stayed on after RH left, and we even went to a neighborhood wedding ceremony. As with many close-knit South Asian communities, people “talk,” so taking me to a neighborhood wedding was opening the family up to lots of “talk.” As we were getting ready, P’s aunt J Phupu said, “It anyone asks who you are, you are P’s ‘very good American friend.’ Okay? They do not need to know our business.” That trip I was always introduced as P’s “saathi” [friend].

Even though I kind of understood the logic—in a country where arranged marriages are still rather common, there was no need for the neighborhood to know that their son was with an American before we were married—but I was still hurt. I didn’t want to be P’s “good friend.” I thought after six years I could be considered at least a little more than that.

I even noticed that the Nepali papers referred to one of the American casualties from the Buddha Air crash as a “saathi” of one of the other Nepali passengers. If you read about the crash in on American online news source they explain that she was the Nepali passenger’s fiancée, and had come to Nepal to meet his mother before they married.

So this time it is refreshing to be here with P as a married couple. Instead of being the family secret or the “very good saathi” I get proudly introduced as the “naya buhari” [new bride]. Mamu is not ashamed to walk me by the local shops, point and smile, “naya buhari.” While the neighbors smile back, “ramro cha.” [she is good/nice].

Now if I could only speak proper Nepali back to everyone, I’d have it made.

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!).

:)

A Message From Home

I nearly forgot to mention something very sweet that P’s family did after our wedding weekend.

P’s 87 year old grandfather couldn’t make the trip to the US from Kathmandu for the wedding (understandably), even though he really wanted to be here for the “big day(s).”

P’s aunt (J Phupu) also couldn’t make it– she was elected to stay back and watch over P’s grandfather while P’s parents were away, and then she tripped in the market and broke her knee right before they left town, so even if she was originally coming, she probably couldn’t make the journey so soon after the accident.

P’s cousin MK (J Phupu’s daughter) is stuck in Nepal waiting for her K-1 fiancee visa to be approved so she can be reunited with her partner MS in the US, so she couldn’t come. And SK (MK’s younger sister) is still in high school and doesn’t have a tourist visa, so she also couldn’t make it either.

As much as we would have loved to have all the siblings and immediate family together, having family on the other side of the world makes it difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But we know they were thinking about us over that weekend.

And then they did something so sweet– they posted pictures of themselves on facebook holding up “Congratulations P+C” signs and tagged us in the photos so we would see them celebrating from the other side of the world.

MK, P's grandfather, J Phupu and SK

Family Tree–Nepali Style

As I mentioned before, P brought back some fun wedding related stuff from KTM, but he also brought some interesting family related stuff–as in family stories and a family tree.

I guess life changes makes one think about your family and your ancestors, and it’s interesting to hear about the people who came before you. I had heard stories about P’s grandfather before, and some of his adventures as a young man traveling with his older brother, but I hadn’t heard about older generations of relatives. P brought back an interesting story about how one of his grandfather’s aunt’s was chosen from Kalingpong (Nepali community in Indian Darjeeling) by one of the ruling Ranas as a wife, and how his grandfather came from the same Nepali community in India to Kathmandu so that he could be her driver. While in KTM this time the family visited the old palace (which has since been turned into an orphanage) where his grandfather used to work for a period of time—but I promised P he could tell that story himself in an upcoming guest blog post some time.

It was also interesting to see the various strands of P’s family tree and how some relatives had multiple wives (polygamy not being so common to my Irish heritage), while others didn’t, and which branches stayed in Kalingpong and which moved to Kathmandu. I’m hoping to learn more when his family visits this summer. The last time they visited we learned that P’s grandparents had eleven children, but only three survived to adulthood and only two are still alive—his father is sixth born but first to make it out of childhood. I can’t imagine.

I need to ask more questions of my family too. On my mother side my grandfather emigrated from western Ireland in the late ’40s, and both of my grandmother’s parents are from Ireland as well. I’ve heard a lot of family stories about them, but I don’t really know that much about their parents or grandparents from back in Ireland (my great-great and great-great-great grandparents… hey if Obama can find them, why can’t I?) . On my dad side, I’ve only heard stories about my great-grandparents but no one before that. We are supposed to be mostly Irish through his side as well, but I’m not quite sure how many generations it goes back.

So I thought I’d share the family tree that P brought back with him. He started translating the different branches into English and filling in some stories about the various people so that I could understand. I thought it was a pretty neat memento to bring back.

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!

P in KTM

P departed last Sunday for a month long trip to Nepal. The trip came up all of a sudden. He had connected with some researchers at a conference in the fall, and about two months ago they asked if he would like to join them on an expedition to Langtang in the high mountains north of Kathmandu. The researchers will be collecting glacial ice cores, but P is planning to collect water samples for his work. It wasn’t until about two or three weeks before his departure that he actually had a ticket and was certain he was going.

He departs this upcoming Sunday for a multi-week trek into the mountains. I asked him to take lots of photos so that he could potentially put together a guest  post about his trip.

Anyway, P came online last night while D, RH and I were eating dinner. I had jokingly told P before he left that I was going to eat nothing but pasta while he was gone, to cleanse myself for a rice filled summer (pasta-rice wars, please no more rice). The three of us were sitting at the dinner table chowing down on large plates of pasta/veggies/marinara sauce when my googlechat popped up. The electricity had finally turned on in KTM.

I’ve discussed load-shedding before, but it still never ceases to amaze me that the capital city of Nepal lacks hours of electricity a day. As P said, “It’s better to ask how many hours of electricity did you have versus how many hours of load shedding, because it is a smaller number.”

But I guess one doesn’t need electricity to enjoy time at home with your family. Sitting on the roof in the fresh air drinking endless cups of tea, well, endless until it is time to go shopping. With so few days in the city before his expedition, his family has been taking P around on marathon wedding shopping trips. Buying my wedding sari, as well as saris for my two sisters and mother and a dhaka topi for my dad and various other guests, getting measured for his own wedding clothes, etc.

If any interesting stories come up, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Ceremony Chronology

This is kind of funny—the other day I wanted to tell a story about exchanging wedding rings, BUT as I started, all these other contextual pieces began jumping in first to set the mood as to why my family has been a bit “sensitive” about how the American wedding is organized. I’ll get to the ring story eventually—but first another side tangent.

Besides the lack of Catholicism in our American wedding, another sticking point in this process is that the Nepali wedding is happening chronologically first. We are doing both ceremonies in the US during one weekend in July. The Nepali ceremony was planned for Saturday while the American one was planned for Sunday. There was a very practical reason for this—in the US the most popular day/time of the week to get married is Saturday night. Thus wedding venues used to Western style weddings often charge (a lot) more if you book on a Saturday.

Since South Asian wedding ceremonies can happen at any time of the week because they are generally based more on astrology than social calendars, there isn’t really the same type of extra price tag for a Saturday booking (assuming you are using a South Asian venue). By organizing the Nepali ceremony on the more “expensive night” of the weekend, P and I were able to save a hefty chunk of change that we could put towards other details, like food for the Nepali reception.

I don’t think my family necessarily sees the practicality in the timings, instead I think they see it as me privileging the Nepali culture over the American culture “yet again.” It will be “the first” wedding, all the marriage rituals will be “first,” I’ve even heard the criticism that people will be too tired during the American wedding because of the party for the Nepali wedding the night before… or even bored, because it will be the second wedding party. Some of these criticisms are probably petty, but it is a way to voice disappointment that I gave the honored “1st” spot to Nepal instead of America.

“You let the Nepalis do whatever they want, and always give us grief. You respect them, but don’t respect us. Instead we are always bending.” is the mantra I hear.

But I beg to differ. Since the Nepali wedding is happening in the US, there are already a lot of changes that have been made—1 day versus several ceremony/ritual days, fewer guests, less family, less formal, fewer traditions, in a place unfamiliar and less comfortable for P’s family. But my family doesn’t really see that—they assume that we are doing everything the way it would be done in Nepal, and no amount of explaining seems to get the message across that there is quite a bit of compromise on the other side as well.

So to save myself from going crazy, and venting too much to family, I’m venting to the blog. I apologize for all the wedding related posts (please tell me if it gets annoying), and I appreciate the feedback and positive energy. I’m actually not tearing my hair out (although it might sound that way), but it is nice to have a sounding board.

Swasthani

Last week’s full moon marked the beginning of a new month in the Nepali calendar. One of the rituals of this month is the reading of a book of Hindu mythology called “Swasthani.” As mentioned before—even after 7 years of knowing P, there are always bits of culture that I am picking up along the way—and Swasthani is one such new piece.

I was introduced to Swasthani a few months ago when I saw an English language edition on S-di’s bookshelf. I didn’t know the significance of the book, but asked if I could take it home to read. Inevitably it wound up on my pile of “to read” books, and there it sat.

Then last week P and D were talking about the reading of Swasthani (unusual—since neither ever talk about reading, conversations are more often about soccer, drinking tea, or eating). It piqued my interests.

Apparently in households across Nepal, starting on the full moon during Poush/Magh, families celebrate by sitting together each evening, reading a passage from Swasthani and conducting a puja. P seemed excited about this, recalling memories of sitting with his family reading passages from the book on cold winter evenings. He even found a website where individuals could listen to passages from the book if you don’t have a copy abroad.

As the voracious reader of our family, I was enthusiastically ready to embrace a ritual which involves the family coming together each night to read. I googled Swasthani and realized that the book was the same as the English language book S-di let me borrow months earlier. So I told P, let’s do it.

Each evening for the past few days I’ve been laying a table cloth on the living room floor, lighting a few tea lights, and occasionally an incense stick, gathering a few fruits and a carnation flower. P and I sit on the floor (we even get our dog to sit with us, he is part of the household). P will pass out bits of the carnation flower, open the book and read the first passage (a prayer in Sanskrit), then I’ll take the book, read the story for the day in English, then hand the book back for P to read the closing prayer in Sanskrit. We put the carnation pieces in the book and the petals each day are pressed between the pages. Later on we make smoothies out of the puja fruit to drink with dinner.

I enjoy it, because I like hearing stories, many of which I have not heard before. P enjoys it because it reminds him of reading the stories back home. He even knows the prayers to say at the beginning and end of the readings by heart, something I’ve never seen him do before.

The English copy that I have only has 22 stories, in abbreviated form, whereas the Nepali versions from P’s childhood have 31 readings and are usually much longer and more detailed. If anyone is interested in reading the stories, let me know, I’ve scanned them into a pdf format and can email them out (since the book is not available in the US).

Here is information on the stories from the publisher (Spiny Babbler):

For those interested in Eastern culture, Swasthani is essential reading. There is, perhaps, no other document like it on the entire Indian sub-continent. The Swasthani stories, some of which may be 1,200 years old, will tell you more than the most pedantious text book about how many Nepalese people perceive the universe, their religion, and their deities.

Definitely, the Swasthani scriptures do more to shape the cultural fabric of the Nepal Himalaya than the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. The stories of creation, the stories of the great Lords Brahma, Bishnu, and Shiva created by one God, the way of life in the Himalaya are all in this single slim volume.

For every traveler, every scholar, every person interested in Oriental religions, cultures, and people, the Swasthani scriptures are a must read. Every year, Swasthani is read aloud in thousands of Nepalese homes. This is a simple yet exquisite presentation of Swasthani stories by Pallav Ranjan, a writer, according to one critic, who can capture the “fog’s moisture and the light of a million fireflies” with his words.

Beautifully adapted stories, 25 full-page Swasthani related paintings, a chart outlining God’s creations, and a map of sites that you can visit after reading the scriptures, this may be the most comprehensive and enjoyable guide to Nepalese culture that you will find.

The Differences between White American and South Asian Parents

I know that a lot of readers of this blog probably troll a lot of the same material that I do, so perhaps this is redundant, but I thought it was a nice post and wanted to give it an extra shout out.

Sara at A Little of That, Too was responding to Casey at White Girl in a Sari‘s post about “Being Accepted by Family in an Intercultural Relationship.” Sara had quite a bit to say, and it sparked another post back on her page, and I found her comparison nicely laid out. From what I have gleamed, Sara is also a phd student in psychology– which I think helps with her analysis!

If you have time I recommend checking out the post: “White American and South Asian Parents.”