Tag Archives: Family

White Wedding/Red Wedding

According to a wedding website I occasionally check for ideas, there are 230 days to go until my American wedding. Every time I click on links from the website’s e-newsletter a little banner at the bottom of the page reminds me how time is edging ever so closer to that final date.

Some days I’ll look at the banner and think, “Oh my gosh, There is so much to do, I’ve barely scratched the surface!” While on other days I’ll think, “Hey it’s still 7+ months away. I’ve got plenty of time…”

This pretty much sums up the duality of planning a “white” (American) wedding and a “red” (Nepali) wedding. The timings are completely different, and it is both frustrating, calming, and scary at the same time.

I’m generalizing here—but most American weddings are planned several months, if not a year or more, in advance. Nepali weddings, mmmm, not so much. You’re lucky if you have months, usually it is more like month or maybe even weeks. Which is actually quite astounding when you think about it. Most Nepali weddings are significantly larger (hundreds of guests) with more moving parts (multiple ceremonies and receptions) and more ‘plan ahead’ type issues like potential travel to the other side of the world and coordinating with relatives thousands of miles away!

Meanwhile, I’ll pick up the phone and talk to my sisters, mother, or grandmother and they find my relaxed attitude about planning and organizing bizarre. They are on “Team America” where time is of the essence. I’m great with logistics, I plan events at work all the time, but still, the fact that the wedding is 230 days away and I still don’t have a) a dress, b) a photographer, c) a wedding officiant, d) a dj, e) invitations, f) save the dates, g) an official guest list, although it’s just about there… I think I need to stop listing things, or I’ll start freaking out… but there are so many unplanned pieces (and this is just the American wedding! We have a whole other ceremony to plan!). They just don’t understand why I’m taking my dear sweet time. My mother has been hounding me about booking hotel room blocks for guests, and I keep telling her, “I’m not quite there yet” and she responds, “You better get there soon! It will be here before you know it!”

Meanwhile I’ll talk to my Nepali friends and the mentality is—the wedding is so far away. 7+ months… you’ve got ages! Why are you freaking out? Why do you need a wedding dress now? Who thinks about a photographer this early? Of course I have supportive friends as well, but I’m also a little worried that if I talk about wedding stuff with them too much I’ll burn them out since there is so much time left, and I don’t want to look crazy.

It is tough sometimes to remember to keep perspective, especially when the differences between the cultures can be so stark, but there are times where all I can do is kind of chuckle. Over the weekend I had a conversation at a dinner party that went something like this:

Me: “I didn’t know you had 4 siblings.”
Friend: “Yeah, two older sisters who are married and two younger brothers who aren’t, although I’m sure my brother who was born right after me will get married a month or two after I do because he has been waiting.”
Me: “Oh, so when are you getting married?”
Friend: “This summer.”
Me: “Really? Summer 2011? Like us? I didn’t know that! Congrats!”
Friend: “Yeah, thanks.”
Me: “So who are you getting married to?”
Friend: “I don’t know yet.”
Me: “But you’re definitely getting married this summer?”
Friend: “Yeah. Definitely.”
Me: “But you don’t know who you are marrying yet?”
Friend: “Right.”
Me: “I have to laugh. I’m spending all this time organizing my own wedding, that is taking place at the same time, and you haven’t organized anything, and don’t even know who you are marrying.”
We both chuckle…
Friend: “Yep.”

And I’m stressing out about a wedding dress? At least I have a groom!

Actually at one point over the summer I even asked P to call some of the local temples to see if he could check on space availability and one of the temple priests scolded him saying, “I don’t even know where I will be next summer, how can I tell you if the temple is free and what we are doing!”

So wedding planning has definitely been—er—interesting, to say the least. I think I’m getting hung up on little details like picking a white wedding dress because I feel like it is one thing I can control, amongst all these moving and uncertain pieces. I feel I have very little control over what the Nepali ceremony will look like, and I’m a little sad that P’s family doesn’t seem very excited to discuss details. Actually I have yet to mention the word “wedding” to them. A few people have talked about it on our behalf, but that’s it.

On the other side, my family only wants to talk about wedding stuff, but I feel like I have to pick battles all the time—“No, the Nepali wedding is not a ‘side show’ the ‘Asians’ are only invited to,” “No, both weddings are equal so they will both be on the invitation,” “I’m not ‘forfeiting my culture’ by not doing a Christian religious ceremony, I’ve never been religious and I don’t feel comfortable doing one,” “If you want to wear a sari to the Nepali wedding that is fine, but don’t turn it into a joke, and I can’t promise that P’s mother will in turn wear western clothes to the American wedding.”

I have to admit though, I’m kind of excited to go to Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities with my family. I’m excited to have a pocket of American-ness for a few days where people will ask me questions and be enthusiastic and not think it is too weird to discuss details that are 7+ months away. I’m nervous about more wedding culture conversation challenges, but I’m more excited about sharing my excitement.

We will see how it goes. Wednesday my sisters are coming to help me choose a wedding dress. R has already gone shopping with me and gave some great feedback, so I’m looking forward to seeing what my sisters have to say.

So that’s where I am right now. How about you?

Half-Pakistani on the Silver Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Proposal: Preface

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

The Post Card

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

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

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

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

The Delicate Mzungu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Asking My Father

Last but not least…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Habitation

I read a few articles recently which prompted me to write about a topic that I was hesitant to post on at first… but then I figured, what the heck, I’m all about confronting taboo subjects on this blog if need be…

A few years ago my eldest cousin married an Australian man. At the wedding one of my more conservative aunts was standing with me, talking to the groom about how Australian culture was different from US culture. The groom mentioned that in Australia it was pretty common for people who are dating to live together before marriage and my aunt cut him off saying, “I’m so glad you decided to follow our culture and not do that.” Knowing full well I was standing right next to her, and knowing full well that P and I were living together. Slam. (I think the “culture” she was referring to was religious Catholic).

Even though “American culture” is supposed to be a lot more open in regards to people living together before marriage (look at the messages we receive through television and movies), in my family I think it still makes people a little uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it is a Catholic thing or what, but P and I have never had a visit from my aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandmother, even if they are relatively close by visiting others or vacationing, and I can’t help but wonder if they are uncomfortable (even after 4 years) that we are living together. When my cheeky little cousins, who are getting to an age where they can figure stuff out but aren’t afraid to blurt out the obvious, say, “Are you two roommates? Do you live together?” my aunts hush them up like it is some sort of taboo. Luckily my immediate family (sisters, mom, dad) aren’t so conservative in this regard, but it is one reason in particular that I’m excited to get married… so that people don’t have to be uncomfortable and awkward. (Although interestingly, our Nepali friends assume my family must be fine with the living situation since I’m American, and Americans “do that kind of thing”).

Meanwhile, P’s family (at least his immediate family, I’m still just a “friend” to anyone living outside of the main house), although probably not overly happy that we live together and are not married yet, have been surprisingly okay with our living situation. While P was doing his master’s degree at a school nearby to where I grew up, P made it sound like he had his own place and I was just around a lot. Perhaps it sounded a little suspicious, but it wasn’t unreasonable, my hometown was just down the road. Yet when P decided to move to a different state and I tagged along, I’m sure it all “clicked” for the family back home. Instead of outright saying, “Mamu, Daddy, C and I are living together” he said, “C is looking for a job, and while she looks she is keeping me company at my new place. We aren’t sure yet where she will be.” At that point P’s dad said, “I hope that she finds work near where you are studying, otherwise it will be really sad.” I guess that was convoluted South Asian speak for, “We know what you are trying to say, and we think it is better that you stay together and support each other.”

So they knew we were living together, but it is one thing to know something, and another to see it. I wasn’t sure how they were going to react when his family (mom, dad, aunt) came to live with us for part of the summer in 2008. P and I have a two bedroom apartment—one room we share, and one with a single bed that is more of an “office with guest space.” Before the parents arrived there was a debate about whether or not we should make it look like I lived in one room and he lived in the other. The reality is, parents aren’t stupid, they knew we weren’t “just roommates” so there was no point in putting on a charade.

I wasn’t sure what the expectation was going to be that first night when they arrived and everyone was ready to settle down for bed. We had decided to put P’s parents (on one mattress) and brother (on another) in our room and P’s aunt and her daughter in the “office” room. That left P and I outside in the living room. We pondered, should we sleep on the futon together or should he sleep on one couch and I sleep on the other? Luckily everyone was too tired from traveling to care (or perhaps practiced a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation) and after everyone went to bed we slept on the futon. Since the older generation was up by 4am the next day, and the living room was already bustling before we got up, everyone knew where everyone slept and there was no discussion beyond that. Ice broken, moving on.

When we went to Nepal in 2009, again, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Sure, J Phupu, Mamu and P’s dad all knew the living situation, but would things be different around P’s grandfather and younger cousin? Again that first night we were exhausted from travel, and P’s dad directed us to his room. No questions asked, we were put together in the same place. Ice broken, no drama.

Actually the funny thing is… of all these various sleeping arrangements, the one that bothered P’s family the most was when a friend came over to P’s KTM house. Before our friends’ S and R’s wedding, S’s family was in Chitwan arranging wedding details, and S was alone in KTM. Rather than stay at a lonely apartment, counting down the days to the ceremony we invited him to stay a few days at P’s place. Amongst our friends in the US it is not unusual for a bunch of guests to stay overnight after a dinner party or for the weekend, and often a whole bunch of us (guys and girls alike) wind up sleeping on couches, air mattresses, futons, or on the floor, so when S stayed over all three of us slept on mattresses on the floor in the same room at P’s house. I didn’t sleep next to S, but I think P’s family found it odd that I slept in the same room on a nearby mattress with this other man there (even though the family has known S since high school).

When we were leaving Nepal and waiting at Tribhuvan Airport J Phupu was trying to tell me something in Nepali. I couldn’t really understand what she was talking about, and I figured (like usual) that I was misunderstanding the language, because why would she be saying… “Don’t… sleep with… other people…”

So I asked, “On the plane?” and she looked back at me startled, “Not on plane… not anytime.” This is now a running joke when we have guests… that I’m not allowed to sleep with other people, I should be segregated somewhere.

Anyway… here were a few articles that made me think about this—

I stumbled upon an interesting online magazine today called “South Asian Parenting” including a column called “No Sex in the City.” One article of interest in particular was… “Sex, Lies, and a Desi Take.”

Another was a posting from the same online magazine about an intercultural relationship including a conclusion on telling parents about “co-habitation” (“Out of Bounds“).

Next was a BBC article about a Tamil actress that had charges brought against her in the Supreme Court for saying it was “not fair of any educated youth to expect his wife to be a virgin.” As part of the defense judges noted that even Hindu gods Krishna and Radha were co-habituating lovers.

And lastly another BBC article about the “virginity industry” amongst some Muslim communities in the Middle East and Europe.

It’s a Small World After All…

I know I have written about this before (here, here and here), but it never ceases to amaze me when I’m reminded just how “small” (close-knit, related, wide-reaching) the Nepali community in America can be.

Part of it is definitely the wider cast of the relationship pool. Last night P, D, AD and I went to see Russell Peters with what I was originally told was AD’s “cousins” but later found out was his cousin (who lives half way across the country)’s wife’s sister and her husband. They just happened to be in the city for a conference and were able to meet up.

D: “So you aren’t really related, right? There isn’t a word for that.”

AD: “We are… bhauju ko didi” [sister-in-law’s sister]

D: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

We met for a quick bite to eat before the comedy show, and at one point I started talking about my blog with AD’s bhauju ko didi. She thought it sounded interesting and she told me about another intercultural Nepali-American couple that she knew.

So then we show up at the venue, a theater with the capacity to seat over 1,000 people, and as we settled in for the show (and granted Russell Peters draws a huge South Asian audience in general, but still) a South Asian man and American woman sat directly behind us (our tickets were numbered, there wasn’t open seating).

Not only was this South Asian man a Nepali, but he just happened to randomly be D’s cousin (second cousin?*), and not only was the man D’s cousin, but the Nepali-American couple was the same couple AD’s bhauju ko didi was talking about at dinner (remember- bhauju ko didi didn’t even live in this particular city, making the coincidence even more interesting). It would have been freaky enough bumping into them while leaving the show, but they sat directly behind us. No “Nepali ho?” needed.

Seriously, it’s a small world after all…

*Okay, I just emailed D for clarification, and D said that his grandfather and the guy’s grandfather were brothers. I don’t even know if I have relatives of that nature walking around, (kind of like P’s relation to the bride in “Frank Uncle and the Nepali wedding“) but none-the-less, they were related, and knew each other, and randomly sat behind each other. It’s still a small world.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Over the weekend I watched the classic movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” I’d heard about it before, but never watched it, and figured I’d give it a go. It was an interesting movie that I’d recommend, particularly for those who are in intercultural/interracial relationships.

The basic story of the movie, which originally debuted in 1967, was that the daughter of a white “liberal” upper-middle class California family came home from Hawaii to announce her whirlwind romance and engagement to—gasp—a man of color! The movie takes place during an afternoon when the daughter and fiancé seek the approval for their approaching nuptials from first her parents, and then, in a twist of events when they are invited for dinner as well, the African American fiancé’s parents. I think there were moments where the drama was a little over the top… I mean, it’s hard for me to believe they fell in love in “just 20 minutes” and after 10 days of being together decided they wanted to be married (this coming from the girl who has been dating the same guy for 7 years, engaged for nearly 2, and still not married… I think I’m in a different ballgame), but the rest of the movie was really good, and would have made a great cultural studies or sociology paper back in the day. It was especially interesting watching the “liberal” family struggle with their feelings about having an African-American son-in-law. As the mother said to the father in a side discussion,

She’s 23 years old, and the way she is… is just exactly the way we brought her up to be. We answered her questions. She listened to our answers. We told her it was wrong to believe that white people were somehow essentially superior to black people… or the brown or the red or the yellow ones, for that matter [oohh a bit of a cringe at that dated comment, although the sentiment is there]. That people who thought that way were wrong to think that way, sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong. That’s what we said… and when we said it, we did not add, ‘but don’t even fall in love with a colored man.’

In addition to this there were a few other great quotes in the movie that really spoke to me. In particular there was this one quote when John (the fiancé) gets into a “heated” discussion with his father who basically tells him, “After all I’ve done for you [working long hours as a mailman, making money to fund your education, etc], all I’ve given up for you, this is how you want to repay me? Marrying a white girl?” John responds:

You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. (But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand.) You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back! Dad… Dad, you’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.

Parentheses are mine… I love these lines…I know it is a very “un-South Asian” way to think or talk to/about ones parents, it is very individualistic and not very respectful, but I think these words are really powerful and impressive. I’ve tried to say something like this to my mom before, but I don’t think it got through, its one of the major reasons we don’t understand each other…

Spoiler alert!… don’t read further if you want to watch the movie yourself… but the third best line of the movie comes from the girl’s father in the final monologue of the film, when he comes full circle:

There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people”! Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel- you didn’t get married.

It makes me feel warm and tingly, so I figured I’d share.

Saying GoodBye To KTM

(Continuation of Mandirs in Nepal)

So after all the sightseeing, rice eating, clothes buying, and temple visits the four days passed really quickly and it was time to go. My flight was scheduled to leave in the evening from KTM, and I had a quick flight to Delhi where I was going to have to spend the night sitting on the floor of the airport waiting lounge, and then I had an early morning flight from Delhi back to the US.

Before going out for our last morning of sightseeing (to Pashupatinath and to P’s old high school), P’s whole family helped me pack. It was both awkward and kind—awkward because it felt like an encroachment on my personal space… other people going through my bags and stuffing the pockets… good thing I hid my underwear ahead of time in anticipating of this type of helpfulness; but also it was sweet… they wanted to help me, and they seemed sad to see our short time together end.

During the process, I emptied my bag of gifts. Prior to leaving for India, I wanted to bring gifts for his family, but our program was set up in such a way that we had to schlep our bags around all semester as we moved to various locations throughout North India, thus I didn’t want to bring a lot from the US or I’d be carrying it everywhere. I settled on a nice jar of local maple syrup (when you come from this part of the country… it’s a natural gift idea, even if foreigners don’t always know what to do with it), and decided that while I was in India I’d look around for gifts. I wound up buying a sari for both Mamu and J Phupu (although at the time I had no idea how to buy a sari, or what was considered a good quality sari… so my selections probably weren’t great), a pair of camel leather shoes for his dad (although the pair I attempted to wear weren’t a big hit), a woolen vest for his grandfather (which I think was a big hit) and a set of Rajasthani styled puppets for his little cousin (which was a semi hit). Since his mother is very religious, I brought some red and yellow powder used for tikka blessings from a special temple in Rajasthan and some water from the Ganges. Again, I’m not sure how these gifts went over… but I hoped that it was the thought that counted.

After the family finished packing my bag we went out and around town (dressed in my new outfit: jeans, black sweater, purple scarf). On our way home afterwards P’s dad jumped out of the taxi and said he would meet us at home, which I found curious.

As the time approached for me to leave for the airport, I noticed that the family had gathered some material down in the living room… bananas, a silver platter with red tikka powder, P’s dad came back with a small plastic bag which I later found was filled with a beautiful flower garland…

I can't find the pictures from my original trip, but here are some "goodbye" pictures from this past June... P's grandfather gives us garlands, P's dad gives us tikka, and P's aunt gives us tikka and banana. The final picture is P's dad, P, me and P's mom.

One thing I really like about Nepali culture are rituals surrounding departure. When someone leaves it is a bit of a production, and it makes you feel special (at least that’s how I felt). When someone leaves the whole family gives you tikka as a blessing… and bananas and flowers, and a flower garland. Other families, particularly Buddhist, give white or ivory colored prayer shawls called katas. When you go to the airport in KTM you can see all your fellow passengers (at least the Nepalis, not necessarily the tourists) wearing thick tikkas and flowers, or kata, hugging relatives and saying good bye.

Example of a Kata... the Dalai Lama giving one to a visitor

After being tikkaed and garlanded, I was tucked into a taxi while Mamu and J Phupu started to tear up, and P’s dad and little cousin brought me back to the airport. Due to the civil unrest in Nepal, family and friends of travelers are not allowed into the airport, but this seems like a relatively easy rule to get around. If you know someone who works at the airport, then you could call in a favor and get some passes… which P’s dad did, and they sat with me until it was time for me to go through security and head out to my plane.

Tip- if you want to bring your flower garland home… even though it isn’t totally kosher to do so, I know P has done this before… take it off and put it in your checked luggage, because otherwise the security people take it before you enter the inner waiting lounge. I imagine the security clerks have lots of nice flowers that they get to bring home everyday, and I was sad when they took mine away.

I didn’t want to wash my tikka off, even when my flight touched down back in Delhi. Every time I caught a glimpse of my reflection it reminded me of my time in Nepal, and it made me happy. I wore the tikka all the way to London before I eventually had to wash it off (from both a necessity to properly wash my face, and probably a little bit from the stares I was getting).

I entered the Delhi airport and had to go through security. Since Nepal is considered more of a domestic rather than an international flight, I couldn’t wait in the international terminal, until my flight time was closer early the next morning and I could properly check-in. Prior to leaving for KTM I had checked around the airport and found an overnight waiting lounge across the street from the departure area where people in my situation could have a reasonably comfortable place to sit. I also had found a storage facility for extra bags, which I left in India instead of taking to Nepal. Upon my return, I walked down the block to the airport storage facility, where I stumbled upon a few meandering cows… “yep, I’m back in India” I thought.

Little did I know that Delhi in December can be prone to thick, soupy, dense-as-the-dickins fog. Luckily my flight from Nepal had made it in the evening before, but my morning flight didn’t look good. We were grounded for an additional 17 hours due to an impossible, impenetrable fog (I swear… you could swim in it if you wanted it was so thick!), but eventually the plane made it out, so that P could pick me up at the airport in New York the night before Christmas Eve.

Thus concludes the tale of my first trip to Nepal.

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.”

My First Night In Nepal

(A continuation of K-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu)

My senses were buzzing when I stepped out of the airport, looking for P’s dad. He spotted me before I could spot him. P’s eleven year old cousin handed me a small bouquet of flowers and said “Welcome C-didi!” while P’s dad grabbed my bag and patted me on the back, a big goofy smile on his face. P’s dad always looks so serious, perhaps a bit intimidating, in pictures because no one in the family ever smiles for photographs (even when prompted!), but when you meet him in person that’s when you know how gentle and friendly he is.

The only thing I could manager to utter for the first twenty minutes I was on the ground was “I can’t believe I’m actually here. I can’t believe I’m in Kathmandu.” I said it on the way to the taxi P’s dad had arranged. I said it while we drove through the crowded city streets from the airport. I repeated it when P’s dad asked how I was doing. Everything was a bit of a blur until we reached P’s house.

The car turned off the road onto a narrow single lane dirt and rock path, and squeezed between a few buildings. Then it turned a corner and to the right was a large lot being used to grow vegetables by neighbors, and to the left was a wall with a metal gate, the house peeking out from behind. The gate was open and P’s mother, aunt and grandfather were standing in the road waiting to greet me. Gulp, it was now or never.

Before arriving in KTM I struggled with how this initial greeting would go. Should I crouch to touch their feet? Will they find this weird? Or respectful? Who should I greet first? Does it matter? Did they expect me to be more American or more Nepali? I was hoping my time in India would solve this, and I peppered my homestay mother in Jaipur with questions about what the proper etiquette should be, but every family is different so it was hard to know. P had said not to worry, but he also wasn’t there to lead by example.

Luckily when the car stopped everything happened so quickly I didn’t have a chance to think too much. As I stepped out of the car Kakabua (P’s grandfather) had a huge grin. He kept mumbling “Welcome! Welcome!” and wanted to grab my bag and bring it into the house for me. J Phupu (P’s aunt) stared, occasionally she’d laugh, but mostly she stared, sizing me up. P’s mom said, “Come” and led me inside, while his little cousin grabbed my hand to walk with me.

The family led me through the entrance, told me to leave my shoes and gave me slippers. I followed them up the stairs to a room that P and his brother shared as kids. “You stay in P’s room, okay?” Mamu said. I left my bag and was brought to the next room where everyone sat staring at me. When I am comfortable with people I am rarely at a loss for words, but when I’m the outsider, it’s tough to know what to say. I’m sure I looked pretty awkward waiting for them to ask me questions, not sure how to make “small talk.”

Mamu ran upstairs to grab drinks and cookies for everyone (Mamu likes to make sure everyone is stuffed beyond capacity). I reiterated that I couldn’t believe that I was actually in Kathmandu (I must have sounded like an idiot, repeating myself), and that I had heard a lot about the city and was excited to see it. I also mentioned that I was happy to meet everyone in the family, because P had told me so much about them, particularly Kakabua, to which Kakabua started to talk about his love for P, scurrying to his room to pull out old mementos and bring them to show me in the sitting room.

P’s dad felt comfortable speaking English, although like P he is more on the quieter side, and P’s young cousin was learning the language in school, and could be quite colloquial with me once she got over her initial shyness. P’s grandfather speaks enough English to tell interesting stories (with lots of miming action) although I think he has more trouble understanding others, and communication isn’t always two-ways. P’s aunt, a Nepali language and literature professor at a local university, could also speak, although not as comfortably, and P’s mom was the least comfortable. We struggled to communicate, and her sentences were very short (generally two or three words). She often mixed up pronouns (referring to P as “she”) to comical effect.

I could see J Phupu staring at me from the corner of my eye and after sometime I turned to look at her straight on. She smiled and said in the slow, careful, deliberate way she speaks English, “I can’t… believe… P… fell in love!” as if it were truly amazing.

A little while later P’s mom brought in a small old notebook, and J Phupu explained that P had made it as a seven or eight year old. It was one of those elementary school assignments where kids are asked to write a few sentences about themselves and draw a picture to match. P’s mom and aunt quickly flipped through the pages and landed on one that said, “Someday I will marry a person my family will pick.” I just smiled, nodded and said, “Interesting,” pretending not to notice the irony.

P’s dad insisted I call my mother at home, as well as P, his brother and his cousin (P’s younger cousin’s older sister). My mother cautioned me to “be safe” while P said, “I can’t believe you are sitting in my home right now! I can imagine exactly where you are!” P’s brother and cousin talked about stuff they wanted me to bring back to the US from Nepal, and then the phone was passed around for each family member to have a few minutes to say hi.

By then it was dinner time. P’s mom ushered me upstairs and I sat at the table in the kitchen. She put a big spoon on the table in front of me and P’s dad smiled. He had eaten with P and I in the US at the apartment where a group of us were living the summer before, and he knew I had the “special” South Asian skill of eating with my hand. “She doesn’t need a spoon!” he said triumphantly, “She knows what to do.”

I’ve talked about eating with P’s family before. The sheer amount of rice is a bit daunting. I’m also a slow eater (always have been, always will be), plus as the center of attention for the meal, I was even more self-conscious. Again my stomach was doing flip flops, and I had to eat at extra slow speed just to keep the food down and settled. It was delicious, I was just nervous, and tired, and still worried about making a bad impression.

Declaring that I could eat without a spoon made everyone even more intent to watch me, making me even more nervous, making me eat even slower. By the time the rest of the family had finished dinner (including P’s young cousin), I had barely eaten anything, prompting questions like “Do you like the food? Are you feeling okay?” and finally to my own embarressment, “Do you need the spoon back?”

Alas, demoted.

When I got up from the table I washed my hands, but didn’t rinse my mouth out with water (would they expect me to do this ritual? Or would they be worried about me consuming water? I decided to skip it). P’s mom noticed and probably made a mental note to talk to me about it later (I was advised the next day that rinsing my mouth out with water after every meal was very important so as not to pollute the gods).

We ate dinner quite late, so afterward the family sat together in the sitting room to watch tv before bed. It was December, and although not as cold as New England, there is no central heating, so we sat wrapped in blankets and shawls, sitting close together, with a small electric heater nearby.

After watching a few shows with the family (a mix of local Nepali serials and Hindi language programs from India, neither of which I could understand, although P’s younger cousin volunteered to give me the synopsis during the breaks) they asked if I was tired, and at that point I was absolutely exhausted. As I climbed into bed I was greeted again by the whole family. They made sure I had a wool hat to keep my head warm in the night, extra blankets, and P’s aunt and dad tucked me in. I probably reminded them of how much they missed their own kids who were in the US, and with their tenderness towards me, they could pretend, by extension, that they were tucking in their own.

I think as soon as they turned out the light I was dead asleep.