P sent me a google-chat text at work on Thursday: “Do you want to go to a Nepali wedding? We were just invited. I’m sure you’ll get some great blogging material…” (I hope my life doesn’t turn into one giant blog post!)
Unfortunately the wedding ceremony itself was on Friday when I was supposed to be at work, and the invite was so last minute, we couldn’t make it (even though it wasn’t too far away, at the same small temple with the Nepali priest that performed P’s Bratabhandha), but the reception was on Saturday evening. We were ready for that.
Since we really didn’t have a formal invitation, P thought his aunty said on the phone, “the reception is between 5:30 and 7:30 so please come then.” I had a hard time believing a Nepali party would last only two hours (its hard to imagine a Nepali anything lasting only two hours), but we were hypothesizing that maybe the venue in the city was expensive, or maybe that was the only time they could get it for, etc. I, in my American timeliness, was rushing P along as we were getting ready on Saturday so that we could be there at 5:30. P said, “these things never start on time, there is no need to rush,” but I thought–if its only 2 hours, and we still have to drive there, then we miss an hour, what’s the point in going?
So we rushed, and got to the venue at 5:30 on-the-dot… and not a single person was there. P started to get worried, “she said 5:30-7:30… maybe she meant yesterday, or tomorrow?” He climbed out of the car and went inside… the decorators and caterers were still setting up, and only a handful of people were milling about. When he came back to the car he seemed more confident that we came on the right day, we were just far too early.
“Maybe she meant arrive between 5:30 and 7:30?” I offered, and P agreed, that sounded plausible. We were still far too early to go inside, especially since P didn’t think he would know most of the people there, so we decided to drive around the neighborhood in circles for a while, and eventually stopped at Target to kill some time. As a white girl dressed in a sequined sari with a sparkly bindi on my forehead, I think I garnered a lot of attention (isn’t it too early for Halloween?)
As we were walking around the store I asked P, “so exactly how are you related to the bride again?”
P: “Hmmm… I don’t really know, you’ll have to ask M-di [his cousin] when she gets to the party. The bride is some sort of distant relative…” Later I found out that the bride’s grandfather and P’s grandfather were cousins. I couldn’t help but giggle a bit… I wouldn’t even know if I had a relation like that in the States, let alone be invited to their wedding…
Anyway, we finally showed up to the reception appropriately late (about 7) and people were finally arriving. P wound up knowing more guests than expected, and we were occasionally approached by random distant relatives who said hello and asked after P’s grandfather and parents. At one point we were approached by an older woman in a yellow sari, who uncharacteristically started talking to P in English when she noticed I was standing there (a courtesy that is not always thought of, especially by the older generation). I was introduced (she was the bride’s grandmother’s sister, I think) and she made some small talk with me. After she departed, P’s cousin M-di jumped in to fill in some details, “Oh that is B Aunty… she’s married to Frank Uncle.”
Wait, Frank Uncle? Thats not a Nepali name, back up…
M-di, “I don’t know all the details, but B Aunty met Frank Uncle while he was in the Peace Corps, and they had to get a special dispensation from the King to get married!”
Wow, intercultural marriage… two generations prior? I had to meet this guy.
Frank Uncle gives B Aunty a quick "peck on the cheek" after giving her tikka for Dashain
M-di hooked me up… we went to get a drink and we ran into Frank Uncle’s son, Raj (who P pointed out, looked more Nepali than white American, insinuating what our future kids might look like. This is a game we play whenever we run into American/Nepali offspring- Raj makes offspring #3- and the most Nepali looking we’ve seen thus far). Raj was pretty interesting. He told us about the time he went to Nepal in the early 1980s when he was seven years old and the entire family came with a minibus to pick them up at the airport.
“It was all kind of overwhelming, you know? We just got off this long punishing flight, and we were already dazed and confused when we got there… then half a village worth of people come to pick us up at the airport. They brought us back to the family home in that big bus crammed full of relatives, and I couldn’t speak a lick of Nepali. In the living room all my cousins just stared at me, the American cousin, like I was from outer space or something. After a while, though, we went outside to play, and it didn’t matter where I was from.”
Raj introduced me to his wife, who looked Indian, and we also started chatting. She wound up sharing that she came from an intercultural household as well, “It’s amazing how similar Raj and my upbringings were,” she said, “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!”
Then Frank Uncle walked over, and Raj introduced me. I said, “Frank Uncle, I’m supposed to ask you about the Peace Corps…”
"Old school" picture of the Kathmandu Peace Corps office that I found online
“Ah yes, see… when I was graduating from college in the early 1960s I heard about this new program called the Peace Corps. I signed up to go and got an offer to be a sports director in Morocco but the program was starting a few weeks before I was suppose to graduate. After spending 4 years at the school, I figured I should at least finish my program. To think, if I’d done that, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now! Then a few weeks later I got another request to work in a place called Nepal, and that I could start after graduation. They asked me, do you like hiking in the mountains? and I said, sure! so they signed me up right away! I had to go to the library and find out where this ‘Nepal’ place was, I’d never heard of it before!”
Picture of P on a suspension bridge during our hike in the Everest region of Nepal in June. "Frank Uncle" helped build the first generation of these bridges in communities throughout the mountainous region
Apparently Frank Uncle had been in the first cohort of Peace Corps volunteers to the country. King Tribhuvan had just opened the Nepalese borders to foreigners 10 years before so the country was still largely untouched by Western influences. Frank Uncle was sent off to live in a mountain community in western/central Nepal where they were working on development projects, particularly making suspension bridges to link communities in the mountains and make transportation easier. After several years of being in the community (and knowing how to speak fluent Nepali–I’m jealous!) he was put on a team of people organizing projects for future cohorts. Thats where he met his wife, who was also helping the team. I couldn’t get the whole story as to why they needed to get the King’s special dispensation, but I think it had something to do with the Hindu/non-Hindu wedding ceremony. To think that there are still some families today that get upset over love marriages between two Nepalis of different castes, and yet Frank Uncle married B Aunty 40 something years ago!
I had about 10 million questions for Frank Uncle, and Raj, but unfortunately I monopolized enough of their time. They were visiting from California, and had to make the rounds meeting with other relatives. But I loved to see the ease with which Frank Uncle fit into the crowd, code-switching between English and Nepali, and was treated as a respected senior member of the family, even if his nationality was different. It was equally interesting to meet Raj and his wife, and hear about how their respective intercultural upbringings influenced their own personalities and personal choices.
Getting to meet them made it worthwhile to drive around for an hour and a half and kill time walking around Target in an eye-catching sari… you know, just a regular Saturday night… :)