Tag Archives: Nepali Culture

Bringing Shoe Stealing to a Whole New Level…

In some sectors of Nepali and Indian culture there is a wedding tradition where the sisters of the bride–and this could be immediate biological sisters, or cousin-sisters, or female friends, etc–steal the shoes of the groom.

The set up for this works well because during the ceremony the bride and groom have to remove their shoes since the mandap becomes a small Hindu temple, and in all Hindu temples one must remove their shoes. I believe it is the same with mosques, so I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe stealing happens at South Asian Muslim weddings as well–readers can weigh in.

The groom’s friends or male cousins/brothers are supposed to guard the shoes, and I’ve even heard about “decoy” shoes to throw the sisters off.

Once the sisters steal the shoes the groom has to pay a bribe to get them back at the end of the ceremony. Depending on the parties involved, negotiations can be pretty tough.

When my sister heard about this, she loved the idea, and stole P’s shoes at our wedding, but I gave her a limit on how much she could reasonably ask for. When she asked for $50, S said, “that’s too little!” and gave her a handful of money from his wallet. I think she made off with $100 and was pretty satisfied.

Over the weekend we went to an Indian/Nepali wedding in the DC area. It was the biggest wedding I had ever been too– about 600 people. The bride was a childhood/neighborhood friend of P and his brother, and she was marrying a Punjabi man. Both the bride and groom had 13 or 14 members in their wedding party–“bridesmaids” and “groomsmen,” so when the “bridesmaids” (sisters) demanded payment for the groom’s shoes, they meant business and had the numbers to back it up.

They started chanting, “$3,000! $3,000!”

The groom countered with, “It’s a recession! That’s too much for a pair of shoes!”

Sisters: “We want $3,000!”

Groom: “I’ll give you two-fifty each…”

Sister: “Two hundred and fifty dollars each?”

Groom: “No! Two dollars and fifty cents!”

Sisters: “Noooooooo! Boooo!”

Groom: “Be reasonable girls!”

Groom’s brother: “No more than $50 per sister, otherwise they are being greedy!”

Sisters (urged on by the bride): “No, we want $3,000!”

…Haggling back and forth for quite a while…

Groom: “Okay, how about I give you all the money in my wallet right now? Trust me, it’s a lot, you will be happy… and I’ll throw an awesome party!”

Sisters: “How much is in your wallet?”

Groom: “$800 and a gift card for $25, you can have that too!”

Sisters: “Noooooo!”

…Haggling some more…

Some of the brothers reluctantly open their wallets and sweeten the pot to make an even $1,000 plus the $25 gift card.

The sisters finally accept.

P’s cousin’s American husband leaned in and whispered to me, “Um, is this for real?”

Sisters enjoy their shoe money...

Apparently!

Auspicious April First

This April Fools Day there is something to celebrate, apparently. We were invited to two events on the same day. Both program dates were chosen by pandits in Nepal due to the auspiciousness of the day– a bratabandha in Wisconsin and a pasni in Connecticut.

Those of you familiar with American geography will know that these two destinations are at least a time zone away from each other. And since the bratabandha invitation arrived first, P and I are currently sitting on a plane making our way to the state known largely for beer and cheese.

I attended P’s bratabhanda but it was more of a rag tag, simple ceremony… there weren’t any older family members around to make sure everything was done according to proper family tradition. It was still fun, just probably not as “official” as the ceremony we will attend tomorrow, or anything that would happen back in Nepal.

It’s actually going to be a double bratabandha as P’s cousin’s son will be undergoing the ritual side by side with his other cousin, who is flying in with his family from Germany for the event. Other family members are taking the opportunity to visit from Nepal as well, so there are bound to be a lot of new relatives to meet.

P’s mother instructed me to wear my best new sari and bring my tilari. It’s important for naya buharis to make a good impression. It should be fun, although I get a little nervous when I’m around a lot of P’s older relatives. I’m embarrassed I still can’t speak or understand Nepali very well, and I’m generally worried I’ll do or say something stupid– but I guess most people feel that way around new people.

Sadly the event we are missing is R and S’s son‘s pasni or first rice feeding ceremony. I had really been looking forward to this event, and even told R to try and avoid April 1st so that we would be around, but S’s family pandit in Nepal declared that the 1st was the best day and R was powerless to reschedule. They will have a pasni party in the summer when S’s family visits from Nepal, and the ever tech-oriented S is planning to live-stream the pasni online, so hopefully we can tune in for a little while. At least I can look forward to that, although I’m still disappointed.

So may your April Fools Day not only be filled with practical jokes but much auspiciousness as well.

Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post recently about “The Married Look” and what expectations people in Nepal have for the look of a married women including a few social cues such as tikka, churaa bangles, pote necklaces, nose piercings (for some ethnic groups), and wearing make-up like kajol. I basically left a blog post sized comment on her post, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss at least one aspect of my new Nepali “married look.”

I’ve written about potes necklaces before, but I want to revisit the topic.

As I noted in the previous post, I occasionally wore potes (pronounced like po-thay) before I got married. P’s aunt, J Phupu, gifted me a necklace in 2008, and 2009, and sent a few more a little after that. The necklaces were generally short, colorful and multi-strand. I would sometimes match them with a saree if I was going to a South Asian party or dressing up for a cultural event at my work. On even rarer occasions I would wear one to the office to dress up an outfit (this makes me sound particularly fashionable, which I’m definitely not). S-di’s daughters would tease me sometimes saying, “Did you get married?” when I wore them because of their use as a marriage symbol in Nepal. They didn’t really have any special meaning for me at the time, other than a gift from P’s aunt, so I didn’t think it was a big deal to wear them before marriage.

Pre-marriage pote wearing examples over the years...

The week after we got married I informally wore red clothes (P’s mom didn’t tell me to do this, but I remembered my friend R being encouraged to wear red for a certain number of days after her wedding as a “naya buhari”, and as I was excited to be married I decided to wear red as well). I dressed up my red outfits with the short red, green and gold colored pote necklace that P’s mom brought for me to wear. It’s a nice necklace, but the Nepali wedding colors of red, green and gold remind me so much of Christmas, especially certain combinations and designs with these colors, that wearing red, green and gold jewelry in July seemed kind of “off-season.” (I’m definitely not a “Christmas all year round!” kind of gal).

Examples of green, red and gold potes hanging in a pote shop near Thamel. To the left are examples of "thin" potes, and to the right and above are examples of "thick" multi-strand potes.

During our second week of marriage I started transitioning into other outfit colors, and picking other potes, but as someone who rarely wore necklaces before, wearing the thick multi-strand short necklaces felt clunky, like I was wearing a tight collar every day. S-di had gifted me a single strand purple and silver pote during Teej 2010, and I started wearing this simpler, single-strand, longer pote on a daily basis, because I could hide it discretely under my shirt if I wanted to, but I still felt that connection of wearing a pote as a married woman.

I didn’t expect to wear pote every day. During those first two weeks I did it because I was excited to be married, and thought it was a nice nod to P’s mother’s traditions. I thought eventually I would probably stop. Then Mamu started talking about how my two very close Nepali friends—AS and R—both married to Nepali men, didn’t seem to wear “any signs of marriage.” AS wears a wedding ring every day, which to me is a sign of marriage, and R occasionally wears bangles, but neither wore pote or tikka daily, two signs that Mamu seemed really surprised about.

After hearing her talk about this a few times, I figured I would wear pote while she was staying with us, so that she would feel more satisfied that I was showing signs of being married in a Nepali fashion, but I didn’t like wearing the thick short necklaces all the time, and continued wearing the thin purple/silver necklace, even when it didn’t match anything.

The next time I visited R I asked her if she had any simple pote, very plain necklaces that I could wear inconspicuously. She said that the last time her mother visited she was also concerned that R wasn’t wearing pote as a sign of marriage, and had brought several simple ones for her to wear. She hadn’t made it a habit of wearing them, and said if I wanted to take one or two I could. I picked up two of the plainest necklaces: one that had pale pink and pale clear-yellow beads that basically blended in with my natural skin tone and another that had alternating tiny red and yellow beads that could blend with almost any outfit.

Sporting my single-strand red and yellow pote while out and about with P's cousin in KTM. In the US I usually tuck the thin pote under my shirt collar to be more inconspicuous, but in Nepal I felt more compelled to pull it out in the open to show I "belonged" more.

With my new simple pote, and the few fancier pote I already had, it was easier to find something to wear every day and it became more of a habit. By the time P’s mom was packing her bags to return home, I was putting the necklaces on without even thinking about it before I headed to work each morning, or slipping one over my head on weekends.

While I am in the US I don’t always want to show off the fact that I have on a pote. Most of the people I see don’t know the significance of it, so I wear it more for the significance it holds for me. However when I was in Nepal I found myself wanting to be very overt and intentional in displaying the pote I was wearing. Instead of tucking it under my shirt collar, I was pulling it out and wearing it publically and proudly. It made me feel like I belonged more—that I wasn’t just a tourist walking in Thamel, but someone married to a local person, someone more deeply involved in the culture. It felt like wearing pote was a statement—yeah, I’m a gori wife, “Mero shriman Nepali ho.” [My husband is Nepali].

Individual strands of pote hang waiting to be twisted and tied into proper pote necklaces in a pote shop in KTM

Completed multi-strand pote hanging in a pote shop. To the right are shorter styles, to the left are longer styles.

Actually, when I departed KTM for home, I was still dressed up for Dashain tikka—in the red and dark blue cotton block print salwaar kameez I bought in Delhi while studying there a few years back, the longer multi-strand shiny red pote bought for the bhoj party, the small red tikka sticker between my eyebrows I wore occasionally on my visit, as well as the giant red tikka and jamara grass from Dashain. I have to admit, I kind of liked the looks and surprised expressions I received at the airport—there are lots of tourists that leave Nepal with a simple red tikka, a kata scarf or a marigold garland draped around their neck, you might even see a tourist dressed in local clothing, but I figured you didn’t normally find a foreigner wearing pote, Dashain tikka and jamara grass unless she was part of a real Nepali family.

Mamu and P drop me off at Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM. In this picture you can't really see my thicker red pote well since it blends in with the red of my salwaar kameez, but the longer multi-strand necklace is hiding in between the draped sides of my dupatta scarf

Now that I’m back, I’ve been wearing a few of the thicker, multi-strand, but longer potes that I brought back from Nepal this time, as well as my good old simple single strand ones. I didn’t think I’d like wearing pote all the time, but it’s become kind of my “thing.”

Wearing the same shiny red pote as the previous picture, but it's more visible here. P's two cousins, J Phupu and I sit together after our first round of Dashain family tikka

I just kind of wish I didn’t wear them before marriage so that it would have been a little bit more special.

Preparing for Bhoj

It’s about time I start back in with some of the Nepal posts…

We started preparing for the Bhoj around 12:15 when P’s younger cousin walked me to the local beauty parlor, a small shop tucked off one of the main neighborhood roads. The shop was barely big enough to fit the four parlor chairs (which were computer/office chairs) and the small sitting area for waiting customers.

The beautician seemed excited to work on a foreigner, and commented that my hair was “ramro” [nice] and soft (I’ve been told quite a few times my hair was “so nice” and “so soft” this trip. I’ve never really thought of my hair as nice, but kind of thin, stringy and frizzy; instead I’m jealous of many of my South Asian friends’ hair which I think of as “so nice” and “so thick.” I was told my hair was “so soft” in East Africa, but compared to tightly curled Sub-Saharan African hair my straight longer hair probably does seem “soft,” so I didn’t seem as surprised.)

Since my hair was “so soft” and apparently slippery to handle, the beautician slicked my hair with about a bucket of hair gel, then divided my ponytail into sections and rolled each section into a tight loop and secured it with bobby pins so that the final product was a large circular pun that looked weaved together at the center. She added small pearl pins and small red fabric flower pins to give it some color and design, and finished it off with glittery hair spray.

I was happy I could follow most of the conversation between the hairdresser and P’s cousin. They spoke sparingly and in short sentences:

“Is this for a wedding or a bhoj?”

“Where is your bhauju [sister-in-law] from?”

“How long has your dai been in America?”

“How does she like Nepal?”

When I got back to P’s place, his mother told me it was time to do the rest of my preparation. The two women who help in the house sat me down in P’s parents’ bedroom. One woman—L Didi—gently strung a long red pote necklace over my head and new hair style while the other painted my toe nails and finger nails fire engine red. As my fingers and toes dried P’s cousin (the one who took me to the beauty parlor) and the women who painted my nails debated over what make-up would look good on me–in a place where my pale-as-a-ghost skin color sticks out like a sore thumb, make-up shades take some deliberation. The nail polish woman powdered my face and P’s cousin started putting pale sparkly eye shadow on my eyelids. The woman took some kajol (eye liner) and lightly lined my eyes and put mascara on, while P’s aunt and mother debated over what shade of lipstick I should wear. I vetoed the first bright red one, and agreed to the lighter more natural looking pink.

What the 'naya buhari" should look like was a group decision...

Borrowed some gold bangle bling from mamu, although that thick one was a tight squeeze that scraped the back of my hand as it was forced over my thumb

With makeup done the extra women left the room while I put on my red petticoat and blouse. L Didi is the resident sari expert in the house and generally helps Mamu tie her saris (Mamu feels more comfortable in salwar kameze and usually wears those instead of sari on a daily basis). The last time I was here L Didi tied my saris, not because I didn’t know how, but because I was too slow, and her sari fixing looked nicer.

L Didi wrapped me up and made sure everything looked correct, occasionally patting me on the hip and saying, “dheri ramro cha” [very nice].

L Didi, getting the job done nicely.

Getting wrapped and fluffed up by others makes me feel like a living doll, but this was their family’s wedding party and I was ready to go with the flow. Everything looked so nice once they were done anyhow. One I was finished everyone else had to get ready—P’s mom’s hair was done by the woman who painted my nails, P’s cousins got in their saris– hair was curled, makeup applied, high heeled shoes put on. By 4:30 we were all ready to go.

With P and his grandfather, waiting for the car to the Bhoj venue.

Kukur Puja 2011

Previous Kukur Pujas: photos from 2010, from 2009

Kukur Puja is one of my favorite Nepali festivals. It is part of the Tihar cluster of events including Kag Puja (crow puja, yesterday), Kukur Puja (dog puja, today), Laxmi Puja and Gai Puja (puja for prosperity and for cow, tomorrow), Thursday is a series of pujas I’m not as familiar with (Goru Puja, Gobhardan Puja, Maha Puja and Nepal Sambat as explained by NepaliAustralian), and lastly Bhai Tikka (brother puja, Friday). In our household we usually only celebrate Kukur and Laxmi puja and Bhai Tikka.

One reason I love Kukur Puja is because I am a big “dog person.” Luckily P is too, or we would probably have a big problem!

My dad had a black lab named Jack when he married my mom and we had him until I was in fourth grade. I always remember him as an older dog, reserved and calm, and he never minded when my sisters and I would bug him, or lay all over him. Even though he was around when I was a kid, he wasn’t really my dog, he was always my dad’s.

When I was seven years old I started begging my parents for a dog of my own. I whined and pleaded in a way only a seven year old could. I remember that Christmas there was an article in the local newspaper where “Santa” was responding to a young girl named “Joleen” who was asking for a pet for Christmas, giving her a checklist of things she had to agree to do before she would be ready to have a pet. My parents told me that Santa was actually writing to me, and had accidently misspelled my name, and I cut that article out of the paper and carried it around with me, showing it to all my relatives that Christmas and explaining—“I can do #1, and #2, and #3…I promise!”

A week or two after Christmas my dad found an advertisement in the newspaper for cocker spaniel puppies, and he took me to the kennel to check them out. There were little black and white puppies scurrying here and there. One of them tried to eat my shoelaces, and I fell in love. I brought him home and named him Blackie (he was all black with a white stripe down his neck).

Blackie was my constant companion until I left home. We used to go trudging through the backwoods together, covered in mud; sledding down the hill in our back yard together, little chunks of snow and ice matting in his curly hair; he even went on jogs with me as a high school cross country runner, although I’m sure mid-summer 6 mile runs were not his favorite. We dressed him up in baby clothes and diapers (my youngest sister was born the same year as Blackie), brought him along on long family trips in the car, and nursed him back to health when he was attacked by a two ferocious dogs that lived down the street.

Having a dog when you are really young probably helps someone to grow up with a soft spot for dogs, and to not be afraid of them. Various people I know tell me that they are scared of dogs, sometimes because they were once bitten or attacked by one. I was also attacked by a dog once—my friend who agreed to take me to the big “eighth grade dance” had two big dogs behind an invisible fence, and my school friend and I rode our bikes over to his house not knowing the dogs were out. As we started walking up the drive way the dogs charged at us, and my friend had the sense to step backwards behind the invisible fence but I didn’t, and instead put my arms up to protect my face. One of the dogs latched on to my left elbow and started biting, leaving a nasty bruise/puncture wound. I had to go to the hospital and get a tetanus shot, but luckily no stiches. And in true 8th grade fashion, I had a dress with no sleeves at the dance so I could show off my battle scars to everyone all night. But luckily I  had a lot of positive exposure to dogs as a baby and small kid, which preempted me from developing any major fears.

After Blackie had to be put to sleep while I was studying abroad in France my freshman year of college, I didn’t have a dog for many years—obviously you couldn’t have one in a dorm room, and when P and I graduated our first few apartment buildings wouldn’t allow pets either. Finally P wore out our second to last landlord, and we were given permission for a “small, quiet, well behaved dog.”

I did a petfinder.com search for cocker spaniels (since that is what I had as a kid, and felt confident I could properly take care of one, “I can do #1, and #2, and #3…I promise!”). I was particularly partial to black dogs, since I had two growing up. Sampson came up on the search results at a rescue in New Hampshire (although they said he is “part cocker spaniel, part retriever” people tell us he looks like all sorts of things, but the key word “cocker spaniel” brought him to us). He was cute, and black, with a white stripe on his neck–like Blackie!—and he was a rescued stray from the streets of Puerto Rico—an intercultural dog! Perfect!

So P and I put in the application, begged our landlord some more, and two and a half years ago Sampson joined our household. Now he is a spoiled little mutt, because P and I nearly treat him like he’s our real baby. He gets momo snacks from P when momos are on the menu, and egg yokes when I’m making waffles, and he already tried a piece of yak cheese when I returned from Nepal.

And every year on Kukur Puja he gets a special tikka, a flower garland made just for him, a new toy, a tasty packet of new treats, and special treatment all day.

So if you have a little pup in your life, feel free to give him some extra love today!

Sampson is the king of sad eyes, even with his happy, easy life in the AmericaNepali household!

Jutho

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post on the concept of “impurity” in Nepal that I wanted to link to. I’ve been wanting to write about the Nepali concept of jutho or (for lack of a better word to describe it in English) “impurity” for a long time, but as Nepali Jiwan points out, the concept is very multifaceted and complicated and can seep in to many different aspects of life such as table etiquette, customs surrounding death, even women’s menstrual cycles.

Once I tried to list some of the jutho topics I’d learned about—mostly from table etiquette. For instance, one is not supposed to touch another person’s plate with your hands or eating utensils once you have started eating since this would “contaminate” the other person’s food. This even extends to reaching out to bowls in the center of the table and taking more food for yourself—a very American concept of eating (“Please pass the mashed potatoes!”)—because this could potentially contaminate the food as well, and is a reason that many Nepali women will serve everyone in the family first and wait until everyone else is done before eating themselves. In a country where we mostly use forks and spoons and our hands remain “clean” while eating, the idea of if you reach out to spoon more potatoes on your own plate you are “contaminating” the bowl of potatoes might sound a little weird, but if you are eating with your hands and they are sticky with mashed potatoes and butter, then you can imagine that multiple people reaching out to a serving spoon could get messy real quick.

Then why not use your other hand? Because the left hand is reserved for “cleaning yourself in the bathroom” and even though one washes your hands after wiping yourself, your left hand is ritually impure due to this, so it would be considered impolite to reach out to a serving spoon with such a hand.

While P’s family was here, they adapted to my more “American” style, and although they ate with their hands, I think they served themselves by reaching out with their left hand to the serving spoon or asked for someone like me, who was using a spoon at the table and had a clean hand, to dish out more food. I’m not sure if this made them uncomfortable, because I never thought to ask, instead I was just pleased to have a more “family style” (to me) way of eating, rather than P’s mom running back and forth serving everyone and then eating by herself. When we got to Nepal, the “Nepali” style returned.

This example is just one basic example of jutho, but there are many many more. I’m not in the best position to explain them as I live in the US with many younger Nepalis who don’t necessarily follow many of the rules of jutho, but when you live with a family back in Nepal the rules can become more evident depending on how strict the household is. Nepali Jiwan mentions a few—such as the jutho taboos surrounding a recently deceased family member.

Her mother-in-law passed away a few months ago, so the entire family is unable to celebrate holidays for an entire year. She writes about how she can understand how this can be useful in excusing yourself from the many social obligations in Nepal during a sad time, but the yearlong ban can feel lonely. I remember some of my Nepali friends and even P feeling very surprised the year my Grandfather died—he died at the beginning of December and my family celebrated Christmas that year. For a culture that waits an entire year, I think it made P feel uncomfortable to celebrate Christmas only two or three weeks after a close family member’s death. This makes me wonder what would happen in the future with a close family member’s death– I can understand not celebrating Nepali festivals for a year in respect of P’s relative, but will this extend to American festivals too? I can’t see my family accepting that–what, no Christmas presents this year? If we were in the US it might be less of a problem than if we were in Nepal, but I think I’d be sad not to have my festivals for a whole year if we were living over there. I guess this is all food for thought, and ramblings.

Someone I know who was getting married experienced some of this type of jutho. If you are informed of a family member’s death, then the celebration ban of jutho extends to wedding ceremonies and even eating (you have to abstain from meat, salt, and certain other spices for a certain number of days) so sometimes people will delay relaying information about a death until after meal times, or after a ceremony so that the ceremony won’t be disrupted. This can happen if you are far enough away in relation to someone, but if you are too close in relation then you have to be told no matter what. So this individual’s parents couldn’t travel to the wedding ceremony in the US because an elderly relative was close to death and the parents of the friend would have to be told if that particular relative died, whereas my friend could be delayed in being told until after the ceremony if the relative happened to die before it took place.

I originally started writing this post because I wanted to write more specifically about menstrual jutho, but this post is already getting long. I’ll break the post in two and write more tomorrow.

In the meantime, do others have jutho examples they can share? It would be good to learn about other juthos out there!

“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.

Wedding Weekend Post X: “I like my American Bhauju”

Monday morning I would have paid anything to be able to sleep in. Actually ideally I would have loved to leisurely sleep in, then get up and have an entire day alone with P, perhaps open up wedding gifts on our own, go out for lunch or dinner, and just enjoy the high off the previous two wedding days, and probably go to sleep early.

Instead P and I had to get up pretty early, get ready, pack up the room and head back to our apartment where P’s family (U, Daddy and Mamu) were waiting along with a few friends that wanted to say goodbye before heading out of town.

An Indian friend from New York had stayed in our apartment that night and greeted us when we got in. After she left two older friends of P’s from Maine came to the house, and we chatted for about half an hour before they said their goodbyes. Next AS and N arrived to say goodbye before heading for the bus terminal in town, but were stopped by my mom and sisters who arrived and told them to jump in the car since all five were heading south to DC/Virginia. Finally with most goodbyes having been said, around 10:30 in the morning, the P family packed into the car to drive to the hotel to meet up with eleven members of P’s extended family.

Our wedding had been an excuse for a mini-American-based family reunion. Four families had flown in from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas and Kentucky, and had decided to spend an extra day in Massachusetts so that they could all see each other and visit.

P’s parents hadn’t seen some of them in many years—like the cousin from Minnesota. I unknowingly told a story about him once before (way back in September 2009 when I first started blogging!). The story was about how P and I wound up at the same university in northern New York (and ultimately first met), and included a paragraph about how P flew from KTM to Maine, stopping for a layover in pre-9/11 America in Minneapolis so that his cousin could pick him up at the airport, and visit with him—including a trip to the Mall of America (of all places!)—where P picked up an alarm clock, converted the US dollar price to Nepali rupees, and promptly put the clock down because the price seemed insanely expensive. His cousin scolded him that he had to stop converting the money back, because he was in America now, and he wouldn’t be able to function in our society if he always thought about what the price was back home. That was over ten years ago. P hadn’t seen his cousin since—and here he was, at our wedding—with his wife and their two adorable little sons.

I had met P’s relatives briefly (and a bit awkwardly) throughout the wedding. My first meeting was at the Nepali temple. P’s dad whispered that I should bow my head and say “Darshan” while cupping my right hand near my face/nose when I met them. I tried to do that, but it came out weird—maybe they weren’t expecting it, and thought I would be less formal. It almost felt like one of those comedy skits where an American and Japanese business man meet, and the American puts out his hand to shake and the Japanese man bows, and realizing their mistake on the second attempt they both switch and the American bows and the Japanese man tries to shake hands.

I was told at one point P’s dad wanted to organize a ritual that is done to welcome the new bride to the family/congratulate the bride and groom/respect the elders in the family. He had wanted to organize the ritual at the temple so that P and I could pay respect (touch feet) to his Nepali family and to my parents and grandmother, but with the ceremony/dinner/people heading out after, it just didn’t happen. Originally P’s parents expected me to do this ritual once we got back to the apartment the night of the red wedding, not expecting me to stay in a hotel that night, and they were really surprised to hear that I wouldn’t be around. The compromise was that we moved the ritual to Monday night after the wedding.

At the Nepali wedding after party the extended Nepali family all sat together at the bar, and eventually danced a bit, but I still didn’t clearly understand who any of them were or how they were related to P, or evenly which side of the family they were from.

At the white wedding they also hung out together, and enjoyed dancing. There were other family members at the white wedding—including a few from Boston who P and I had briefly met at another distant relative’s wedding two years before (“”Frank Uncle…”), but I still didn’t know who was who.

The four extended Nepali families at the white wedding

So even though we were both pretty tired, I did appreciate getting the chance to know these family members before they left Massachusetts. P and I, being the good little tour guides, took them to Quincy Market for lunch, brought them through the “T” (Boston Metro) to Providence Place for a Duck Tour (a little cheesy, but you get a lot of history and see a lot of the city) of Boston and the Charles River, and then a group split off to check out Harvard while a second group headed back to our apartment.

Duck Tour photo

P and I organized dinner at our place for everyone, and in the evening we sat around visiting. While the “adults” were catching up in Nepali, I started playing with P’s Minnesota cousin’s six year old son. We had quite a rousing game of “guess the picture” going on for over an hour. By the end of the night the little guy declared, “I like my American Bhauju!” (sister-in-law).

"I like my American Bhauju!"

As it approached eleven o’clock, we had not yet done the ritual (mentioned earlier), so P’s dad said it was time. All I was told was that we would be given coins, and that P and I had to pay respect to all the elder members of the family by bowing and putting the coins at their feet. Then the family member would touch my head and let me rise, and then as the new bride they would give me an envelope with money in it.

Touching P's parents feet, then paying respect to P's Minnesota cousin

First we did P’s parents. Then his cousin and wife from Minnesota, then the other people, until we had paid respect to all the older members of the family. A little after midnight the families headed back to the hotel.

Although I would have loved a day of crashing right after the wedding, it was really nice to have a chance to get to know P’s extended American-based relatives. More people to add to my holiday card list, and keep in touch with, and more destinations on the map to visit. I’m hoping maybe we will make a trip to Minnesota/Wisconsin sometime for another P family reunion.

And even though I was valiantly planning to go back to work that following day (I’m trying to save my vacation time for a trip to Nepal in December), I emailed my boss asking for a reprieve. Had I gone into work that Tuesday I would surely have fallen asleep on my keyboard. However Wednesday we were back to “normal” and the wedding weekend had officially concluded.

And thus so have the official “Wedding Weekend” posts, and just in time as well…

Happy one month anniversary to P :)

Wedding Weekend Post II: A Birthday Dinner, Another Cop, And Last Minute Prep

I decided to call this series “Wedding Weekend” since it went with the theme of our wedding save the date magnets designed by my younger sister:

I realize that I have to start writing about our wedding eventually because more stuff that I want to write about keeps happening, and now I have a big blog backlog. I can’t keep bogging myself down with figuring out where to start, so I should just jump right (write) in.

The last pre-wedding post I did was July 6 (Wednesday). July 7th was P’s brother’s birthday. It was also the last day I worked in my office before the wedding. P and I got a lot done before his parents arrived on June 29th, but there were still last minute things to do—planting all my centerpiece pots, making the white wedding programs, stuffing the sagun bags, making the placecards, creating the flower arrangements. And of course I’m a control freak that was giving too much attention to every detail, so I was bad at delegating tasks.

The white wedding centerpieces that I made. I have a thing for funky looking succulent/cacti so I figured it would be fun to make dish gardens people could take home and enjoy rather than flowers that would die right after the ceremony. The table numbers were red construction paper pinwheels with "Happiness" written in different languages. Above is the "Nepali" table and the "Thai" table

White wedding place cards (can you tell the photographer sent us photo proofs?)

The white wedding program "fans" for the outdoor wedding on a hot sunny day.

Sagun bags, on display at the red wedding

Homemade flower arrangements-- red for the bride, white for the bridesmaids

While I was at work all day, P and his brother were “working from home” with their parents. I felt that it was tough to sneak out once I got home from work because I was gone all day, and the parents expected to spend time with all of us in the evening. I spent many of my lunch breaks racing around the city doing last minute errands, and I would occasionally leave work early but tell P I was working late, so I could have an extra hour to get things done. I kept thinking that a lot of bride’s feel stressed as the “big day” approaches, but they have so much more freedom of movement! What made me feel a bit stressed was not being able to freely run around and do crazy-pre-wedding stuff when I needed to. Although most things were in place by U’s birthday, I still couldn’t 100% relax until I knew that all the pieces for the two ceremonies were in order.

My mother and sisters arrived that Thursday afternoon, and I left work a little early with them so that I could help facilitate the C family and P family hanging out together at home.

A few years ago I was in the wedding party of a friend who got married on my 25th birthday, so I know what it is like to have a birthday when people are running here and there for their wedding stuff, and how special it was when they remembered, amidst all their organizing and planning, and gave me a cake and sang “Happy Birthday.” So we decided to take U out for a birthday dinner with a few local friends and our two families to give him time to celebrate.

Of course, as per my “bad luck” (telephone pole incident, tire exploding incident), as I was driving with my mother and sisters behind P (who was driving with his parents and brother) I passed a crosswalk, and then a cop on the side of the road motioned for me to pull over. I didn’t have a clue why he was pulling me to the side, thinking maybe my sister’s car’s registration had expired or something.

He came to the window and said, “Ma’am, do you see that man crossing the pedestrian crosswalk behind us in the blue shirt and jean shorts?”

“Yes?”

“Well, he is an undercover cop and we are conducting a sting operation,” (he actually said that, “a sting operation” as if I was on a tv crime show!), “and we are ticketing people who do not stop for pedestrians as they cross the crosswalk. License and registration please.” (This is a state law in Massachusetts BUT when I had passed the crosswalk the man was still on the other side of the four laned road and had just stepped off the sidewalk. Had I been a few seconds later, and he further towards the middle of the road, I could understand a ticket, but this seemed ridiculous!)

“Sir, please! I’m getting married this weekend and we are just on our way…” I nearly wailed.

“You say you are getting married this weekend?” The officer asked.

“Yes!”

“Alright ma’am, enjoy the weekend…” and he let me go. Thank god. But who gets stopped in a “sting operation” for pedestrians crossing the road??? I’ve never even heard of that! And of course, P’s family saw me get pulled over by the cops again. They must think I’m the worst driver on the planet, and that their poor son takes his life in his hands every time he drives with me! I promise I’m not. I may not be the best driver, but my driving certainly doesn’t warrant so many cop interventions in the past two weeks!

We had dinner (without any more police officer issues, although I was teased that I shouldn’t be allowed to drive anymore), then went home to have birthday cake. Since P’s mom is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs I had earlier gone searching for an eggless Vegan birthday cake. We sang happy birthday to U, and D and I ceremoniously smushed the birthday cake into U’s face.

P said he had "photographic proof" of my cake smushing debauchery... but I wasn't alone, D also helped :)

See… I’m a cake smusher, through and through. I’ve had cakes smushed on me, and I’ve smushed cake on others. P knows this, and he was worried that I would smush our wedding cake into his mouth as well. He’d been warning (begging?) me for months not to, and because I love him, I had decided not to, but had to get the cake smushing out of my system at least once that weekend.

That Thursday the C family and P family spent the night together—My mom, sisters and I in my bedroom (on an air mattress, and on our bed), P and U were in the living room, and P’s parents were in the guest room.

At the close of the night, only one day remained until we had our first wedding.

Mehendi

Mehendi (henna) is more of an Indian tradition than Nepali. I am sure you could check several other gori blogs to find pictures of amazing intricate henna up and down the arms and legs of soon-to-be pardesi brides. However I think there is a growing trend for Nepali brides to take up this Indian tradition, due to the cultural influences of Bollywood, and let’s be honest… mehendi is beautiful and fun.

When I was a student in Jaipur a friend and I ventured to the “pink city” to have henna applied before a special dinner program where we girls dressed up in saris for the first time. This was also the first time I ever had mehendi “officially” applied.

You can almost see the henna on my hands. First attempt at wearing a sari.

The next time I had the chance was in Nepal for my friend R’s wedding (more pictures HERE). P’s mom seemed so confused why we would want to do this. She kept shaking her head saying, “This is not our tradition. Why is she doing?” I came back with my hands all designed and ready to go.

Henna from R's wedding-- with sugar and lemon juice making my hands glossy and sticky. Supposedly a way to "darken and strengthen the mehendi"

The third time was for my friend AS’s wedding. In lieu of a “bachelorette” party, we invited female friends over to eat, dance, rub turmeric and sandalwood paste on AS’s face and arms, and to apply henna on each other’s hands. I just applied it on my palms so that while I was at work the henna wasn’t as noticeable, but it was still fun!

Before the henna dried

So after two weddings worth of henna, R and AS thought it would be fun to organize a mehendi party for me, and invited friends over on Sunday for some food, wine, and henna paste. I guess traditionally it would be a “women’s only” event, but we had the guys over too, and they were able to amuse themselves during our henna making with a different Nepali tradition—card playing (although a Bulgarian friend was the eventual winner!)

R and AS decorated R’s apartment with saris and dupattas to give it a “Bollywoody” feel, and many of us dressed in colorful kurtas. R’s brother-in-law’s new fiancé was designated as the mehendi artist for me, while AS and other’s took up the henna cones to design each other’s hands.

It was fun—and R’s soon-to-be sister-in-law hid a small P on one of my palms to see if P could find it within 60 seconds. The bet was that if he found it I would have to get up and dance for the whole group to the song “Shelia ki Jawani” which of course I wound up having to do, but at least he joined me halfway through the song!

It’s funny having henna on my hands in the US, because there are those who know about P and the region of the world he is from, and kind of “expect this kind of thing” from me. Yet then there are others—like the custodian in my office who came in the other day to collect the trash and noticed my palms when I handed him the garbage can and exclaimed, “What on earth did you do to your hands?!” and continued to look at me funny while I explained. My sister, who works as a bank teller, said that her co-workers asked if she was bored over the weekend and wrote on herself with brown marker. I’m sure for some people it just looks weird.

But I still like it. The reason we did the mehendi early is because my mother already warned me (she falls into the category of “expecting this kind of thing” out of me) that I was not allowed to have “anything on my hands that will ruin the white wedding photos.” (She was even concerned about the sindor before I was able to convince her that it can be easily washed off in time.) However being the rebel that I am, I kind of want to find someone to do henna on my feet for the wedding, kind of like a secret, since at least for the white wedding my feet will be covered. I’m sure I can find one of my Indian students who might be interested, although P’s mother again will probably be perplexed, “Why do this, it is not our Nepali culture?” Hmmmm… We will see.

Photos from the event:

The designing begins...

1st from left- college friend, 2nd in blue-AS, 3rd in white-my sister K, 4th-C, 5th-R, 6th-R's soon-to-be new sister-in-law, 7th-S's sister

Some of the hands, waiting to dry...