Tag Archives: Kathmandu

The Art of Distributing Wedding Cards in KTM

My boss couldn’t believe that when P’s parents decided to do the bhoj that P’s dad could pull out a notebook and from memory write out a guest list with 550 people. “Who can do that?” he asked.

I was equally impressed/shocked that in the two and a half weeks time after P’s family decided to do the bhoj, they were able to organize a party for 500 people, including printing out wedding invitations, addressing each one, and distributing them out to friends, family, and neighbors.

The process is pretty interesting.

Most people live in the KTM Valley, and although the Valley is terribly congested with traffic, and can take ages to make it across the city, it’s relatively easy to connect with people.

And those connections run deep. We were talking with a high school friend of P’s whose dad is now semi-retired but still so busy, “He has a group of friends that he went to primary and high school together with, and now they are in their 60s and still all together all the time. There is always something to do.”

Even with P’s dad the connections are all around and plentiful. Like the man who came to the house to deliver the electricity bill—he was a long time acquaintance of P’s dad and received an invitation to the bhoj. “You know,” P’s dad said, smiling, “When I was a small baby, P’s grandfather had me stay with P’s grandmother’s family in Thamel. I was the only small kid in a house of adults. This dai [older brother],” he continued, pointing at the electricity bill delivery man, “Used to watch me. He would put me on the toilet and when I was done I’d cry out and he would come and help me and clean me. He is my very good dai.”

By the time we arrived in KTM P’s dad had already printed the cards and addressed most of them. Instead of putting mailing information, you put family names, and group them together into packets for neighborhoods or friends/family that people will see.

For the next three or four days Daddy was busy entertaining visitors who would come and collect a packet of invitations (Daddy would look through the packet to verify that the visitor would see all the people, and ask if there was anyone else, and look through other packets to collect those cards), and taking packets of invitations with him as he ventured out around the neighborhood with an umbrella in the lingering monsoon rain. At each house he would make small talk, perhaps have a cup of tea and/or a snack, and drop off the card.

As the days progressed the giant stack of invitations grew smaller and smaller. P’s dad started calling people who he didn’t think he or a local acquaintance would see before the party. P and I got in a taxi and ventured to a few houses and work places of our friend’s parents to drop off invitations.

I guess that is how you spread the word about a party in less than a week, and since most people are in the Valley, traveling to the party isn’t usually that difficult.

However there has still been a lot of rain. Usually in the evening the sky will open up with a downpour. I’ve heard that when it rains people are less likely to go out because many people travel my motor scooter which would get messy in the rain, and getting very dressed up and going out in the water would also be uncomfortable. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t rain, or that there will be only a little. After all P’s dad’s hard work, I’d hate for weather to keep people away. I’m sitting on the roof now typing this post out on my laptop and the sky is fairly blue and clear.

The party is tonight. I’m both excited and a little nervous. P and I will be sitting on chairs in front of a big hall of people eating and drinking. 500 people, most of whom I don’t know, coming up and greeting me and saying hello. If there ever was a time I wish I spoke better Nepali, it would be tonight when greeting all these new family members.

The past few nights there have been conversations amongst the family members about what jewelry I should wear, and how I should wear my hair and if I should go to a beauty parlor. I smile and nod. I don’t understand all of the conversation, but I think it should be fun. After lunch P’s cousin is taking me to the beauty parlor for hair and makeup. I’ll post some pictures, but probably not until we get back home as the internet at P’s house is relatively slow.

Stay tuned :)

Buddha Airline Crash

Just a quick message…

We were on our way from Delhi to Kathmandu when the Buddha Airlines plane crashed seven miles outside the airport in KTM today (http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/25/world/asia/nepal-plane-crash/index.html)

We were actually starting our descent into the KTM valley when the pilot came on the plane loud speakers and announced, “The Kathmandu Airport has been temporarily closed. We have no further information. We will circle for a while until we hear more details or receive permission to land.”

My first thought was that there was another earthquake and that we couldn’t land because the ground was trembling beneath us. P thought maybe there was a strike that all of a sudden broke out. “Only in Nepal does the airport temporarily close when you are just about to land” he said.

About ten-fifteen minutes later we were given permission to land, but not given any additional information. We went through the airport, I got my visa, and we collected our bags, but no one said anything. We met P’s dad outside the airport, and he helped us to a taxi to travel back to P’s house.

As we were loading our bags (which, luckily, made it to KTM against all odds), I said to Daddy, “While we were in the air the pilot said the airport was temporarily closed. Do you know why?”

Daddy said, “Yes. One of the mountain flights [tourist flights that do sightseeing flights around the high mountains/Everest] crashed right before you landed.”

When we got back to P’s house, after being welcomed as the new buhari, and tikka-ed and garlanded by P’s grandfather, mother, father and aunt, we turned on the news, and the crash was all anyone could talk about. 19 dead. The news crew showed damage from the wreckage as well as the line of dead bodies on the ground, with just their upper bodies covered by a blue tarp, limbs crooked every which way.

Scary to think that we were circling above the airport as this happened. The fog was thick in the valley upon approach, but not more than I’ve seen when I flew other times.

I guess when my mother woke up this morning she saw on a news ticker on the tv, “2 Americans dead in a plane crash in Kathmandu” and she totally freaked out, but once she saw the full story she realized it was a local not international flight.

So I am here safe, let’s hope there aren’t any other crazy issues in the next two weeks.

More info on the crash: http://myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=36509

“People are crying, ‘Where is bhoj?'”

The first time Mamu mentioned it was about three weeks before they left. P had finally told them about the conference, and that we were pushing for his travel documents, and that we might go to Nepal for Dashain.

That night he had a social meet-up with some of his lab colleagues/professors, so he asked me to tag along with Mamu and Daddy. While the scientists were catching up over beers and chicken wings in the bar, I sat with Mamu and Daddy in the restaurant nibbling on French fries and splitting a local blueberry beer with Daddy.

After a few fries (which came covered in cheese, which really isn’t Mamu’s “habit,” but “what to do?”) she said, “In Kathmandu the people are crying, crying, ‘Where is bhoj?’”

“Where is what?” I asked.

“The people… they are crying. ‘You have bhoj in America, where is our bhoj?’”

Bhoj meaning wedding?”

Daddy shook his head, “No, no… wedding party, bhoj. You see, we have so many relatives and friends, they want a party.”

“We tell them… American bhoj is sufficient. But they are crying crying. What to do?” Mamu asked. “We tell them, you and P come later, but if you come now, what?”

After that conversation there wasn’t a lot of bhoj talk since it didn’t look like P’s immigration documents were going to come through in time.

But in the eleventh hour they were approved, and we bought tickets to travel, and suddenly the conversation started again.

“People want bhoj.”

“How many people would you invite to the bhoj?” I asked. With a week before our departure, and only two weeks in Nepal, the timing was ridiculiously short.

Daddy took out his journal and thumbed through a few pages. He had made a list of relatives, neighbors and friends. It was 550 people long.

Holy cow.

Daddy likes to have projects like this. Back in KTM he is one of the relatives to call if you need help coordinating an event. He likes to get involved. Time was short, but that wasn’t truly an obstacle.

He started calling friends immediately to try and secure a venue, making a list of tasks to do upon returning like printing invitation cards, and he combed through the list to see if there were any people he could cut to save on costs. I’m not sure if the list has grown any shorter, if anything it probably grew longer. Now I get emails from him during the day asking me things like, “how do you phonetically spell your parents’ names?”

Although idea of being the bride at a wedding party where I barely know a soul is kind of daunting,  the party is more for P’s family, particularly for P’s grandfather.

“I don’t think my family has hosted a big party like this since my aunt’s wedding twenty eight years ago.” P said, and we both know P’s grandfather is going to be beaming with pride and excitement the entire two weeks we are there.

So while I’m packing my bag tonight, I have to remember to include my wedding sari, bangles, jewelry, and tilhari for the last installment of P and C’s wedding adventure which is planned for next Friday—September 29th.

So no more crying people! The bhoj is coming.

Mamu and Daddy’s Departure…

P’s family is getting ready to leave. They originally planned to depart on September 26th, but Mamu really wanted to get home to start organizing the house for Dashain, and they moved their tickets up to Sunday night (Sept 18th).

They have been with us for twelve weeks.

Wow, I had to recount because I couldn’t believe it when I first counted. That time went super fast.

I was nervous before they came. I hadn’t had bad experiences with them before, but the idea of having my new in-laws live with me full time for such a long time felt daunting, or at least a bit overwhelming. But all went really well. I actually feel a lot closer to them than I did before, particularly Mamu, whom I get a big kick out of and really enjoy.

The last time P’s family visited us it was for five weeks back in 2008. P, myself, P’s brother, P’s cousin MK and P’s cousin’s boyfriend MS dropped them (Mamu, Daddy and MK’s mother J Phupu) off at the airport. We sat together for a while, and eventually it was time for them to go through the security gates. Mamu and J Phupu were crying, but Mamu was an absolute wreck. She was sobbing and was almost too upset to coherently find her way through the security line, and Daddy had to lead her along. When they reached KTM P’s dad called to inform us of their safe arrival, and said Mamu and J Phupu cried most of the plane ride home.

After such a dramatic departure last time, you might wonder if Mamu will equal, if not surpass, her level of anguish after staying with us for twelve weeks.

But I don’t think so. Perhaps Mamu will shed a tear or two, but I don’t think there will be too many frowns or too much sadness this time around.

Because…

We will be following them to Kathmandu next Friday.

Surprise!

Mini Videos of Nepal

I wish I could post the mini video directly on my site, but I don’t think I can. However there is a nice 30 second timelaps video of Kathmandu Valley/Nepal that gives some nice views of what the city and mountains look like. Check it out if you have the chance: http://nepal.tv/watch/nepal-trailer.

On the same site they have a few other videos, including a mini video about the take off/landing at Lukla Airport which those of you interested in an Everest trek might want to check out: http://nepal.tv/watch/lukla-airport.

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.

Flash Mob in Nepal

I guess when you hear “mob” in the context of Nepal you might think of a banda–a strike or protest. But this was a mob of another nature…

A friend posted this on facebook earlier today, and I had to share. I guess on April 9th there was a dance flash mob in KTM’s Durbar Square, the supposed first to ever happen in Nepal.

I thought it was kinda cool…

On another note… Happy Nepali New Year 2068!

Dogs in Kathmandu

A colleague of mine sent me an article today from Tufts Veterinary Medicine Magazine about street dogs in Kathmandu.

As many of you probably know from my Kukur Puja posts, P and I have a cute little dog named Sampson. He was also a stray dog at one point—in Puerto Rico— and now lives a pampered life of Snaussage treats, nap times, and belly rubs. A true “rags to riches” story.

A growing population of feral dogs posses a public health threat in Nepal

Anyway, the article discusses  the problem of street dogs in Nepal claiming, “Ninety-five thousand dogs roam the streets of Kathmandu… equal to one-tenth the human population in that city…” and how Tufts Veterinary School professor Gretchen Kaufman has been working in the city since 2001 to help curb rabies outbreaks and spearhead spay and neutering programs.

For other dog enthusiasts out there who may find such an article (just a brief two pages) interesting, I wanted to pass along the link—the article is HERE, but you need to scroll down to page 3 of the pdf.

Oh, and while on the topic I guess, a little side story from P’s childhood… one of their neighbors growing up had a dog that bit P, and then died a month later. Both families weren’t sure if the dog had rabies, but since it died the doctors told P’s parents that he would have to get the rabies shots as a precaution. He had two choices– the more expensive option of three shots to the arm, or the less expensive option of 10 or 12 shots to the abdomen. Luckily P was able to go for the shots to the arm!

Just Me and My Momo Man

Something short and sweet (I mean “tasty”) and funny…

Nepali Summer 2009

It’s me and the “Momo Man” from the Bakery Cafe chain in the Kathmandu Valley. How could one not pose for a picture with a character made out of the tasty Nepali delicacy?! (I’m assuming he’s veg, of course ;) even though his head is kinda shaped like a buff momo… hmmm…)

This is from the Bakery Cafe in Thamel.

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.