Tag Archives: Introductions

Nepali Ho?

P has this great talent… it seems like he is able to find Nepali people everywhere we go. It’s like he has a homing device or something. A few years ago, you could pretty much name any college in the US and he would probably know someone, or know of someone, who was going there—maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but probably not by much.

In fact, half the time we eat at an Indian restaurant we wind up with a Nepali waiter. P uses his magic Nepali phrase, “Nepali ho?” the waiter inevitably nods in affirmation, “Nepali ho,” and then it’s like we are part of a secret society. The waiter sits and talks with P for some time, stops by the table more frequently–often to chitchat some more, and sometimes brings complimentary papadum, mango lassi or gulab jamun if the restaurant isn’t too crowded and the owners aren’t really around.

Nepali ho?-- Are you Nepali?

Nepali ho?-- Are you Nepali?

If we meet new people, chances are that P went to the same high school, or knows the siblings, family or friends of our new acquaintances. We even ran into a woman once, while shopping in a random mall in the DC area, who was sitting at one of those small specialty stalls that are usually set up in the middle of the mall passageways. At first glance P whispered, “she looks Nepali, I bet she’s Nepali, you want to bet?” then he walked over and said, “Nepali ho?” and she, of course, answered “Nepali ho.” They spoke for a few minutes, and realized that they were distant cousins of some sort. Her mother was cousins with his father’s sister’s husband, or something like that. She whipped out her cell phone, called someone up, P took out his, called up his dad, and pretty soon they were swapping cell phones and telephone numbers and talking with long lost relatives. We were 7,500 miles away from Kathmandu, how was this possible?

“How do you know all these people?” I once asked, “Nepal seems so incestuous. Everyone seems to know everyone else!”

“You have to remember,” P explained, “it’s a small country, and many of the people who go abroad are from Kathmandu.”

Kathmandu valley

Kathmandu valley

Although Kathmandu is a city, it is smaller than you think. It’s the most populous city in the nation, but there are only about 1-2 million people living in “the valley” (as it is colloquially known) depending on if you are looking at official or unofficial estimates. If someone you meet (in the States) isn’t from Kathmandu, chances are they went to school in Kathmandu, either for secondary or university, and can thus claim a connection. This isn’t the case 100% of the time, but more often then not.

In addition, Kathmandu-ites have a lot of family in the valley… and family units are well connected. Whereas in the US, one might not know their second, third or fourth cousin, it isn’t unusual for close family ties of this nature to persist in Nepal, or for extended family units to still live together or close by. This is more obvious when going back to Kathmandu for a visit–one could easily spend the better part of two weeks running around the valley having dinner, lunch or chai at any number of relatives or relatives of friends’ houses.

I kind of like this networking aspect of Nepali culture. It makes you feel like you are part of a larger whole, with people who are there to help you, even if they don’t know you so well, as long as you can find a connection… even if that connection is based solely on the fact that both of you are from Nepal. P has been contacted by Nepalis back home to ask questions about American universities, TOFEL exams, or even where and how to find apartments in the US. When we moved from New York, you guessed it, a local Nepali guy helped P track down an apartment in our new town, and then helped us move in our boxes the afternoon we arrived!

The sign at the restaurant in Salt Lake... if driving through the city and hungry, check it out...

The sign at the restaurant in Salt Lake... if driving through the city and hungry, check it out...

Likewise, P traveled in Ireland once and friend-ed Nepali people living in Dublin that he found on Facebook, so he could contact them, have a drink, and chat during his trip. Or last year, during a cross-country road trip, we had dinner in a Nepali restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah. By the end of the dinner our group was taking pictures with the Nepali owners and swapping addresses in case the owners ever came for a visit to the East Coast.

I can’t really imagine randomly meeting an American overseas, and swapping telephone numbers based solely on this fact, although once while I was in India I met an American couple who had studied in Nepal as undergraduates. We eventually went out for a plate of momos and talked about Nepal before parting ways, but that was about it. I guess I am guilty by association now, because even that interaction had a bit of a “Nepali ho?” type quality to it!

Actually, the one time I tried to be suave with “Nepali ho?” it backfired. When we were traveling to Kathmandu in June we had a layover at the Qatari airport. As I was going through security a second time, I noticed the security guard had a name tag with the last name “Bhandari.” I have a good Nepali friend with the last name Bhandari, and I had heard from a lot of people that many of the workers in the Qatar airport (and Qatar in general) are from Nepal. As Mr. Bhandari was checking my bags I casually asked, “Nepali ho?” to which he curtly answered, “No… I’m Indian.”

P thought this was hysterically funny… and for the rest of the flight he would occasionally ask me, “Nepali ho?” and then chuckle.

Sigh, you win some, you lose some.

Also- I thought it appropriate to re-post the link to the song Yo Manta Mero Nepali Ho given the title of my piece today :)

How the American Girl and the Nepali Guy First Met…

I know on the other blogs that I read, I really enjoy the personal stories—how the couple met, how did they get together, what happened next—so I figured it was about time to make some introductions.

New York is a massive state, not just a city!

New York is a massive state, not just a city!

I say in my “About” page, that P and I met at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. I’m originally from central New York, several hours drive north of New York City (yes, such a place exists), so when I say upstate I don’t mean Poughkeepsie, I mean “practically Canada.” (sorry, I had to get that off my chest, upstate New Yorkers don’t like being confused with “downstate” and NYC- I actually come from a part of New York with cornfields, onion mudflats and cows! No skyscrapers, yellow taxi cabs or hot dog and pretzel stands…)

As the first of three daughters, my family was more restrictive with the geographical range of my college choices. I was ready to fly the coop and move half way across the US, but when reality hit, I eventually settled on a school in upstate New York because of its African Studies program (and multitude of study abroad options- if I couldn’t go to school far away, I’d find another way to do it). I can’t really articulate why I was interested in Africa straight out of high school. Everyone probably thought I was just weird, but I thought it sounded so exotic and different, so far from everything comfortable and “normal,” everything that I had known all my life. I grew up in a very monocultural town in a very Caucasian school system. Cultural diversity was expressed through wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day or red on St. Joseph’s Day depending on if your ancestors where Irish or Italian. It wasn’t a bad place to grow up, but I was ready for something different.

Nepal

Nepal

Meanwhile P grew up in Kathmandu in a house with his mother, father, younger brother (U) and paternal grandparents (particularly his grandfather, Kakabua). He was granted admission for his “plus 2” at one of the prestigious boarding schools in the valley with a reputation for sending graduates overseas for their university education. After finishing secondary school it took him about a year to finally gain admission (with an affordable price tag) at a small, very rural state school in the northeast. Luckily his old roommate had been granted admission at the same school a semester before and was already there to help with P’s transition from life in Nepal to life in the States.

Can you imagine this being your first experience in the US?

Can you imagine this being your first experience in the US?

P’s first experience in the US was during a layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota when a cousin picked him up at the airport for a few hours to visit (this was pre-9/11, air travel was easier back then) and took him to the Mall of America. Already a bit overwhelmed, P was going to buy an alarm clock, but then converted the price into Nepali rupees, and quickly put the clock down. His cousin said that he had to stop converting or he would never survive in America.

P was at the state school for about a year and a half. He lived with his old roommate, S, and the two of them were probably the only Nepali people within a 200 mile radius, especially after another high school friend of theirs (AC) transferred one semester into his program from their school in Maine to my school in New York.

P’s original plan was to study biology, his parents were encouraging him to become a doctor, but he found he was more interested in environmental studies. Since the school was located on the ocean, the biology and environmental program was specifically geared towards marine environments. Nepal, as a landlocked country, would not benefit much from P if his knowledge was about the oceans, so he decided to start over at a new school. He gained acceptance at the school where his other high school friend transferred… my school in New York.

I had already been a student at the school for a year, but had jumped at my first opportunity to leave the country on an experimental freshman abroad program in the spring of my first year. It was an introduction to the “francophone world” and included study in Quebec, France and–this was the selling point for me–Senegal in West Africa.

International House, affectionately referred to as "I-House" was in this building...

International House, affectionately referred to as "I-House" was in this building...

When school started again at the end of August, I was excited to start living in the International House, a place I qualified to live in because of my recent international experience and my international major. However, I still felt like a new student since I didn’t know many people at the school besides the small group with whom I traveled to France. Luckily an older friend from my high school had introduced me to some international students my first semester, so there were a few familiar faces in the International House.

That August I was able to sneak in to the dorms early since I was assigned a Ukrainian exchange student roommate and she had already arrived. It wasn’t long after I finished moving my boxes in that I bumped into AC, the Nepali guy I knew from the previous year, with the “new Nepali” (as we called P for a while) transfer student. We exchanged quick hellos and took off down the hallway in opposite directions. That was the first time I remember seeing P, but he thinks the first time we met was this:

Now, I have the misfortune of having a birthday at the very end of August. When I was a kid I didn’t like it because it meant the end of summer, and when I was older I found myself constantly in a new place, with people who didn’t know me on my birthday, so it felt like I could never do anything “special.” That year was no different. Few people knew me, no one knew it was my birthday, and I was a bit bummed out. So I walked to the one grocery store in town, bought some cake mix, and baked my own birthday cake in the I-House kitchen. I figured that a good way to meet people was to give away food, so I propped open the door to my dorm room, put the freshly baked cake on a chair and invited who ever walked by to come in for some birthday cake and conversation. That’s when P walked by… and got himself some cake.

Welcome…

Manu and I at a wedding in Nepal

P and I at a wedding in Nepal

I am relatively new to blogging… I’ve been a reader and a commenter for a while, but I hesitated for quite some time before I decided to take the plunge.

I originally turned to the internet because I wanted some advice. Last summer my partner of 6 years—let’s call him P—his family came to visit us in the US for five weeks. His aunt, mother, father, brother and sometimes his cousin stayed with us in our small 2 bedroom apartment. I had a great time getting to know them better, but I also felt exhausted and a bit stressed out by the situation. I felt like I didn’t really have anyone to talk or relate to about it.

Meanwhile, I have had an ongoing “discussion” (read: on-again, off-again fight) with my mother about my interest and participation in many aspects of Nepali culture, and her fear that I am abandoning my “American-ness” and my culture for P’s.

Out of frustration and curiosity I started searching the web… surely there were multitudes of people out there in similar situations. What did they do? How did they cope? What compromises did they make and what suggestions did they have?

At first I wasn’t finding anything useful. Then I stumbled upon a great blog on intercultural relationships—Gori Girl—which promptly launched me into the blogosphere. Becoming more active on GG’s blog and forum made me feel like I was part of a community, even if it was purely an online one.

However it seemed that many of the commenters on her site, as well as other blogs that I googled were about relationships between Indians and westerners. Although the information was useful and the stories great to hear, I also wanted something a little more. Eventually I was excited to start reading a blog made by a woman who married a Pakistani man because at least it was a bit of a different perspective, but I wasn’t  finding anything out there written about Nepal and households consisting of an American and a Nepali.

Yes, I know… Nepal’s culture is similar in many ways to certain cultural groups in India… and yes, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc, all fall under the South Asian umbrella, but I felt there was certainly room out there for an intercultural blog with a slightly different perspective.

So here I am. For better or for worse.

As a disclaimer (to paraphrase/steal a line from Gori Girl-I hope she doesn’t mind!): South Asia is a large place, with a number of different religions, ethnicities, and languages. I’ve had significant contact with several friends and families from certain types of backgrounds from specific regions (mostly Kathmandu and Chitwan area) of Nepal. But, generally, I have my own experiences with my network of Nepali friends and family, and these experiences might be totally different from yours. Hopefully, though, this will be a place where I can share my thoughts, and others can share theirs.

So let me be the first to officially welcome you to the launch of “Musings from an American-Nepali Household.”