Tag Archives: Weddings

Monsoon Wedding IV- Swayambar

This post is going to have a lot of pictures… because I think it’s the best way to explain what was going on– or at least try to explain, there seemed to be so much happening that it was a little hard to follow. The nice thing about Hindu marriages is that no one really knows everything (with the exception of the priest) but enough of the older people have been to so many weddings that the bride and groom have a legion of aunties and parents to surround them and whisper in their ears everything they have to do. My friends think it is kind of funny that we have “rehearsals” for American weddings (especially since comparatively they are less complicated), but we don’t have the aunties to direct us during our ceremony! ;)

Around 1am the priest arrived and started setting up the wedding area-- rice, flowers, fruits, colored powders, etc...

R's aunties and cousins help her get ready

The groom (to the right) waits in the swayambar area while R's parents prepare with the priest, it's almost 2am

R is ready, and looking radiant

And to prepare for the bride's arrival, the marching band starts to play again (right), remember... its 2am and we are at R's house in a neighborhood. I guess during wedding season surrounding families have to be flexible about noise, because some day it will probably be your kid waking up the neighborhood! The picture (left) shows the band taking a nap while waiting for 2am to approach...

The bride approaches, flanked by her aunties and cousins.

One thing I want to mention specifically… brides are not supposed to look happy during the wedding (even if they are) because traditionally they were leaving their homes for good, and moving in with a groom and a new family that she might not know so well. Its more common for the bride to look sad, or to cry. However R has a very happy, bubbly personality, and I think it was really hard for her to keep looking serious. Whenever she posed for pictures her younger brother would gently tease her, “Hey R! Look down! Look sad!” I think it is nicer for the bride to smile… especially if she is happy. I’ve seen plenty of Nepali wedding photos were the brides look miserable (even if they aren’t) because that is what is expected.  R might have struggled even more to look less happy to be marrying S if it wasn’t 2 o’clock in the morning and several days into an already busy wedding schedule. I think the bride and groom were already thoroughly exhausted.

R finally sees S dressed in his wedding best, and her mother hands them prashad (blessings) as the swayambar ceremony begins

R gives S a flower garland

And they sit and listen to the priest, following instructions for all the small details whispered from both R and S's aunties. There was a lot of picking up flowers and rice and fruits and touching them to their foreheads, or throwing them into a candle flame, etc.

Now the key part begins, remember the sindoor given during the supari ceremony? S used the same sindoor powder to sprinkle on the part in R’s hair. The bride’s face is hidden by a handkerchief as the groom applies the powder,  after which the couple is considered married. I liken this to the exchange of rings in Western culture.

Two angle shots of S applying R's sindoor, flanked by relatives telling him what to do and where.

Exchanging the rest of the wedding paraphernalia, from left to right by row starting with the top: R receives a grass garland, then a flower garland, then a ring (since Nepali culture doesn’t really have the same wedding ring significance like western culture, S gave R back her western style engagement ring), then R gets some gold wedding jewlry and finally her long heavy green wedding pote. Lastly S gets a ring. I guess the men don’t get as much “bling” as the women.

At last! Married... although there are still several more parties, rituals and ceremonies left to complete!

R's parents give more wedding blessings, as the priest starts to conclude the ceremony

S poses with his new in-laws-- R's dad, grandmother, (S), R, R's mom, and R's younger brother

While S poses for pictures, R’s cousins steal S’s shoes. Since the wedding area is set up like a Hindu temple altar, the couple have to remove their shoes for the ceremony, making the groom’s shoes an easy target for the Nepali wedding tradition of the bride’s sisters stealing his shoes. The groom is not able to get the shoes back until he pays enough money to satisfy the sisters. S kept giving 100 rupee notes to try and get them back, but R’s cousin kept saying, “more! more!” and he eventually had to pay 5,000 rupees, about US$80 to get them back.

By the time the Swayambar was over it was around 4 in the morning. Those who stayed at the wedding found a place to sleep for a few hours before the next ceremony began… around 9am!

Monsoon Wedding Part III- It’s Janthi Time…

Prior to the “actual” wedding (Swayambar), P and I were hanging out with the bride’s family and watching the bride’s family’s preparations. But S’s family had lots of prep happening back in his home as well. One reason we didn’t get to visit with him during the prep stage was because S’s family is from a city outside of the KTM valley– a four hour hair-pin-turn-winding car trip up and out of the valley and down to the “terai” or the flat plains that border India.

Pujas and Prepping in Chitwan

S's relatives make the wedding garland out of grass

S's family prepare to send S, his father (sitting right of S) and a few family representatives to Kathmandu to bring the new wife home.

The entire family did not accompany S to his wedding in Kathmandu. Only his father, and a few family representatives– an uncle, some aunties, some cousins– were sent with the groom. That meant that his mother didn’t have a chance to attend S’s actual wedding. She had to stay home and prepare the house for the arrival of the new bride. The groom’s procession known as the “janthi” left Chitwan early in the morning.

S is carried through the street (like a king!) to the edge of town to start the procession. From what I understand this "carrying through the streets" isn't a common thing, but I think R and S were inspired by Bollywood movies :)

After S’s already long journey from the stifling hot and sticky terai, P and I met back up with S a few blocks away from R’s house in KTM. The janthi (groom’s procession) congregated under a tent (with snacks and drinks, of course) before heading out in a noisy, chaotic, traffic clogging parade to the bride’s house. I was teased because I kept hopping back and forth between the groom’s side and the bride’s side (someone said, “who are you representing… pick one and stick with it”) but I was having too much fun.

A more traditional marching band that came all the way from Chitwan to KTM for the janthi. These types of bands are not as common in the valley, and so the janthi wound up having two bands-- the more traditional (from Chitwan with the long horns) and then a more modern (from KTM which played Bollywood songs rather than Nepali folk songs)

S's aunty puts a finishing touch (tikka) on S before the janthi set out on it's final leg before arriving on the bride's doorstep!

In the picture above S is wearing the traditional male wedding outfit. The fabric that he is wearing (dhaka fabric) is handwoven and very specific to Nepal. He is also sporting a Nepali topi (hat) that men are suppose to wear for special/formal occasions as well as for official photographs (such as a national id photo). After an aunty applied the finishing touches, S was loaded into the flower draped groom’s car to anchor the janthi procession.

These next few pictures are some of my favorite from the janthi procession. The camera lighting was great…

S's dad assesses the janthi

I happily join the janthi as we crowd out the busy KTM street...

The groom's car

Eventually I jumped in and joined the groom, playing the roll of "sister" as we ride together through the chaos for the last few feet to R's doorstep

The janthi has arrived!

I guess one way to feel like a rock star in Nepal is to be a groom arriving janthi style!

The janthi arrived and was welcomed by the bride’s family and friends. The bride, however, was tucked away inside the house with her grandmother, aunties and cousins. She wasn’t allowed to see the groom until the start of the “actual” wedding– the Swayambar. The date and time of the swayambar is set by an astrologer based on the bride and groom’s star charts. The most auspicious timing for R and S was 2 o’clock in the morning! It is at that time that the groom puts the sindoor on the part in the bride’s hair and the couple is officially considered married.

So after dinner, those who were not willing to wait until the wee hours of the morning for the rest of the ceremony departed for home. P and I were among those who hankered down to wait for 2am to arrive.

R's grandmother keeps her company upstairs until 2am. She's still in a red sari, waiting to change into her more elaborate red wedding sari

Monsoon Wedding Part II- Begins with the Bride

P and I missed the Supari, but since we planned to be around for the rest of the ceremonies, we didn’t think it was too big a deal. At the time we were still on our Solukhubu trek, but things became tense when we got stuck in Lukla and I was worried we would miss larger chunks of the wedding.

The Supari (as it is known in Newari culture) is a type of engagement ceremony, or at least a formal announcement/acceptance of the relationship. The bride’s family isn’t able to proceed with any of the wedding parties until the supari has occurred.

Supari is the Nepali word for betelnut, and the ceremony bares its name because the nut has a central role. The groom’s family travels to the bride’s family for the first time, bringing gifts (we will see these gifts again later). Traditionally they brought 4-6 betelnuts in little pouches for the family as well as sindoor which is used during the “actual” wedding ceremony (swayambar), although now more gifts have been added over time in addition to the betelnuts. The bride’s family provides refreshments while the groom’s family gives the gifts, and the bride is essentially sitting pretty so the groom’s family can check her out. Interestingly enough the groom is not allowed to come to this ceremony at all. Poor S spent his evening sitting out in the car during R’s supari since he wasn’t able to be part of the ceremony, until a friend came along and took him out for a beer.

S's mom gives R blessings (tikka) during Supari. During the entire wedding process (days and days) R could only wear clothing in shades of red.

A few days after the supari… and luckily once we returned from Lukla, R decided to have some cousins and aunties over to put henna on our hands. Bridal henna is not a Nepali tradition, and isn’t traditionally part of the wedding preparations as it is in many parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However Nepali brides are starting to use henna because of pop culture influences like Bollywood. I wanted to do it too, even though P’s family seemed confused as to why R was having this done.

My henna application begins

I pose with two of R's cousins with our finished henna... well almost finished. We sat with the henna paste drying on our hands for hours... occasionally applying a lemon juice/sugar mixture which supposedly helped the henna dye to darken and permeate the skin better

While we were getting our hands henna-fied, R’s brother and cousins were helping to fold hundreds of invitations. Most of these invitations are hand-delivered a few days before the ceremony. The invitations are organized into bundles and given to various friends and family members who know others and they spread through the community it that way.

The Henna Evening was a nice way to get to know the bride’s family before the formal wedding began. The women bonded, and during the wedding itself it felt like we had a special code… occasionally I’d flash my henna-ed palm at one of R’s cousins or aunties, and they would flash it back like a secret greeting.

Shortly thereafter R’s family had the bride’s reception. Both the groom’s family and the bride’s family have wedding receptions, but the difference is that during the groom’s reception the couple is already married and both the bride and groom are present. However the bride’s reception occurs before the marriage ceremony (probably because traditionally the bride is married away into another family, so the bride’s family has to have their party before she leaves)… and since the bride and groom don’t traditionally meet before the “actual” wedding that means the bride presides over the reception without the groom. She sits on a platform at the front of the reception while friends and family come up to congratulate her and bring gifts.

I get my chance to pose with the lovely bride

From left to right: P's mom, me, R, P's dad, J Phupu, and P's cousin. P is the photographer so he isn't present :(

The thing that is probably most shocking to the average American is the number of people that attend these various receptions. Average American weddings are around 100-150 people. Average Nepali weddings have hundreds more–  between 400-600, and remember there is more than one party! The sheer numbers are a bit boggling. One friend’s brother had 1200 people. Can you imagine?

Most weddings are buffet style, so the organizers don’t have to worry so much about seating, and who is eating what, or even RSVPs, like in American weddings. That’s how friends and neighbors of invitees can be randomly invited along as well. (remember “invited to the wedding…“?)

Monsoon Wedding Part I

Yesterday R and S celebrated their one year wedding anniversary. That means a year ago today I was deep into a weeklong procession of activities (in sticky hot pre-monsoon, then monsoon, Kathmandu and Chitwan weather)  to honor our good friends and their union with each other. Since summer is wedding season, I figured it was about time to write about what a traditional Nepali wedding looks like. Our friends are Newari, so some of the wedding details are specific to Newari culture, but it gives a good idea of how big of an event a wedding in Nepal can be.

I plan to break the discussion of R and S’s wedding into six blog posts with lots of pictures. Here was the basic schedule of events:

Supari– engagement ceremony (“supari” is the Newari version, Chetris do one that is a little different called “sai pata”)
Bride’s Reception
Janthi– groom’s procession (can happen before or after wedding ceremony… for R and S it happened both times)
Swayambar– “actual” wedding after this ceremony they are considered married
Bidaai (in Newari, “pita biee”) bride’s family says goodbye to bride
Janthi (reprise)
Anmaune-groom’s family welcomes the bride
Sagun– (Newari) more bride welcoming
Groom’s reception
Mukh Herne– (Newari) “Face Looking” ceremony, welcoming groom to bride’s home and conclusion

All of this happened over the course of 7 days. So stay tuned, you’re invited to the story.

I look at R and S's wedding invitation. Most were in Nepali but luckily they had a small number of English language invites!

“Traditional” American Wedding Songs

P and I went to a wedding this past weekend. It was intercultural, although no South Asians were involved. It was a South African-American wedding and my first same-gender ceremony (same-sex marriage is legal and recognized in four out of six New England states, although sadly married same-gender couples are not granted the same immigration rights as married heterosexual couples).

The weather and the brides were lovely at the intimate outdoor wedding. As all the guests entered the outdoor “chapel” we were asked to place a small shovel of dirt into a planter so that “we can all grow something together” and during the ceremony the brides planted a tree into the pot to symbolize their new life as a family. I thought that was a nice idea.

However the main purpose of my post is not to talk about the wedding itself but the music and dancing at the reception.

So to set the mood, I want to paraphrase a comedy routine from Russell Peter’s “Outsourced”:

The joke is already out there…white people can’t dance—well that’s not true, not fair. White folks can dance. They generally love the audience participation songs… like the Macarena… it started off as a Latino thing, but then white people got a hold of it and really ran with it… they took it and made it theirs. We all did the Macarena but white people took it to another level. If you see them do it you can’t help but think “That is a white people’s dance… good for you whities, enjoy yourselves!”

I like to watch them enjoy themselves… when they hear the music that they like they get this joyous look in their eyes… there are certain songs—the Macarena, the chicken dance—now that is a white person song… have you ever gone to a white wedding and they play the chicken dance? That is how you know the dance floor is open… people lose their minds “ahh… it’s the chicken dance!!!”

Then there is the song that I believe is the white people’s national anthem… I was walking down Sunset Blvd and this night club was playing the song so loudly you could hear it on the street, and white people were stopping dead in their tracks to do the YMCA. White people lose their minds when they hear the YMCA… They don’t do it half-assed, they take it so seriously! When I see them do it they look so happy, and I feel so good for them, “Yes white people! Have your fun!”

Yes– I am one of those white people. Big time. I LOVE the YMCA and the Chicken Dance, and I’m sad that these songs are starting to fall out of fashion (I guess, if one could argue they were ever really in fashion). A few magazines I’ve seen lately state that the worst thing you can do at a wedding is play a whole bunch of these songs. I’ve even been to a wedding or two where (particularly the Chicken Dance) has been put on the explicit “do not play” list, and even if requested the DJ won’t do it. It’s so sad!

The thing that is great about these dances are that they are relatively easy, you don’t have to be a great dancer, if you don’t know the steps you can watch a round or two then jump  in and look like a pro, and they are silly and fun–by the end everyone is laughing and feeling silly. It is the type of dance where you don’t have to feel awkward if you don’t have a date, or shy if you don’t have much rhythm, or worried that you will be the only one out there on the dance floor. These dances are stupid and silly and wonderful.

The Chicken Dance and I actually go way back. I used to teach it to people when I traveled. Often times I found myself sitting around a campfire with hosts with whom  I did not share a common language. One of the best ways to connect in this situation is through music, dance and miming. My hosts might sing or dance and then it would be my turn to display some cultural tidbit. I’ve sung all sorts of songs (and believe me, I’m not a good singer), but the most fun I’ve had is when I’d whip out the Chicken Dance. It works wonders because it is so easy and participatory.

When I worked at the refugee camp in Northern Kenya I was asked to teach a dance. I told my refugee colleagues very solemnly that I would teach them a “traditional” American wedding dance… and proceeded to get the whole group to do the Chicken Dance. They loved it. And as the song gets faster and everyone swings their various partners around, the dance erupts in laughter and chaos.  I even took a Nepali friend up on a dare once and dragged him to the front of an American coffee-house “open mic night” and we attempted to get the whole place doing the Chicken Dance. Good times.

The reception over the weekend was relatively low-key. Near the end of the night, right as P and I were walking out the door, YMCA started to play. Three people were standing on the dance floor, and no one was doing the moves. How can someone stand on a dance floor during the YMCA and not feel the urge to do the hand gestures?

Other personal wedding reception dance favorites– “the Twist,” and “Shout!” and although it doesn’t have its own dance, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is a great one to sing along to. In New England there is a tradition of playing the Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline” because it is played at some specific point during Red Sox games. During the refrain “Good times never seemed so good…” the audience is supposed to yell out, “So good! So good! So good!” and the same thing happens at weddings.

For those not familiar with the chicken dance… here is an example of a wedding reception rendition of the dance I found on youtube:

The Delicate Mzungu at the Delicate Arch

Please read the Preface first if you haven’t yet done so–

If you can’t tell already, I love stories. So I am particularly happy when a special event in my life has an interesting story attached to it, even if it is a little embarrassing on my end (foreshadowing).

Setting: Summer of 2008. P’s family had left after a five-week visit. Meanwhile for months I had been desperately searching for an exit strategy from a job I really didn’t like, and had finally found a new position that was a lot closer to both our home and my field of interest. P, S, R and I had been talking about taking a trip, but the timing was never right, so I thought– hey, I can leave this job a week before I have to start my next job, P and S don’t have work for the summer, only R has to take off from work, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a crazy trip somewhere.

Our plan was to drive across the United States in 9 days, hitting as many highlights as possible. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to see anywhere in-depth, but we decided to embrace the “road trip” mentality and hoped for an interesting experience overall. The itinerary was as follows: Day 1: Fly from NYC to Los Angeles, rent a car, and drive up the coast on Route 1 to San Francisco. Day 2: See the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park and spend the night in Las Vegas. Day 3: Hoover Dam–Grand Canyon–Monument Valley–and stay in Moab, Utah (right outside Arches National Park… which I made sure was on the itinerary). Day 4: Arches, Salt Lake City, stay in Idaho. Day 5: Grand Tetons National Park, Yellowstone National Park, stay in Wyoming. Day 6: Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, stay in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Day 7: Sioux Falls to St. Louis Missouri. Day 8: St. Louis Arch– drive to Cincinnati. Day 9: Cincinnati back to New England. In true “techy” S fashion he created an interactive website with GPS connectivity so that people could follow our road trip on the web and see live updates, pictures and maps (that’s why R is “Married to a Geek”)

Before the trip I had dropped hints with P that it would be quite romantic to be at Arches, this place I’d wanted to visit since I was in eighth grade, and who knows, hint hint, have something special happen there. Yet as time grew short, and there didn’t seem to be any discussion of it, I figured that P wasn’t ready.

And off we went…  the road trip was pretty crazy– long hours on the road (our first day we left NYC around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t reach San Francisco until about 2am California time). S was taking many of the evening shifts (since he’s a night owl) and I was forcing everyone up at the crack of dawn to get on the road. I wanted to keep us on schedule so we could see everything we wanted to see, but it was tough when each individual destination was so interesting, and everyone wanted to stop and spend longer in each place. Most nights we didn’t reach our final destination until long after the sun had set.

On Day 3 we ate at an IHOP in Las Vegas before starting out on the road. P got up to use the restroom and then we met out in the car… we drove through Hoover Dam, and saw the Grand Canyon. My dad had visited the Grand Canyon the year before so after we left I called him up to let him know, “Hey Dad, just saw the Canyon. It was pretty neat.” The phone was quiet on the other end, then he said, “…And?”

“And what? Nothing much, having fun… the weather is hot.” I answered.

“Oh, okay… That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Alright then, be safe and have fun.” Then he hung up the phone.

P and I at the Grand Canyon

As we got closer to Utah, we started seeing signs of the Delicate Arch everywhere. Prior to our trip I hadn’t realized it was such a famous landmark for the state. As we entered Utah near Monument Valley the “Welcome to Utah!” sign had a picture of the Arch. Many of the Utah state license plates had an image of the Arch. I learned later that the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Olympic Games even made a pass under the Arch. Going to bed in Moab, it was exciting to know that the next day I was going to see the Delicate Arch from my eighth grade postcard project.

R and I pose with the "Welcome to Utah!" sign on the edge of Monument Valley

P and I at Monument Valley

After driving through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Southern Utah I was starting to get worried about the heat. I knew the altitude out west was higher than what we are used to in the east, and that higher altitude, drier weather, and blazing sun were a ripe combo for dehydration. After my experience in Kenya I was terrified of another severe sunburning/dehydration episode. As R, S and P got ready in the motel room the morning of Day 4, I watched the weather on the morning news–it was supposed to be in the high 90s, maybe even the low 100s–and I was already sucking down glasses of water like there was no tomorrow.

Arches was beautiful. High red/orange rock formations with thousands of sandstone arches carved by the harsh elements of the desert. The four of us spent most of the morning climbing through various archways and trails, visiting some of the park’s most famous landmarks. I kept urging everyone to drink water because of the dry heat and slathering sunscreen on my pale mzungu skin.

Hanging out at Arches...

After a few hours of driving and hiking through various parts of the park we finally reached it. The Delicate Arch. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting… it was way up on top of a large sandstone outcropping of rock. According to the map it was a 3 mile walk away. It looked so small from the lookout point, but it was there. The day was starting to get late and I figured for sure we didn’t have time to go.

You can see the faraway Delicate Arch in the middle of the picture.

“At least we had a chance to see it, even though it is all the way over there.” I said.

“What?” S exclaimed, “I didn’t come all the way to this park to see this famous landmark from so faraway. We are going up there!”

“S! It’s about 100 degrees out… a 3 mile walk on exposed rock in the blazing sun in the middle of the day is not a good idea. What if we get half way up there and something happens? 3 miles is really far to walk up hill in the hot weather, plus we have been outside already for so long… we don’t have a lot of water left!” I protested.

“I don’t care. I’m going up there. I already came this far!” S exclaimed.

“What if we get sick?” I said.

“Do you think you’ll get sick?” he asked. I had been pounding waters all day, but it was really dry and hot, and I was paranoid and scared from my previous experience. They all knew the story, but they hadn’t seen the delicate mzungu in action.

“I’m a little worried.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” He said, “Let’s go.”

So we started hiking. Uphill. On the exposed rock. In the noontime heat. It didn’t take long until R and I looked like we were wilting. We passed other tourists coming down the hike, their faces red, but they all assured us it was worth the difficult hot hike up. When we got about halfway, there was a meek little cactus type tree that R and I tried to sit behind for a bit of shade. We shared a juice box, sweat beading up on our faces. S looked at us, and looked up the hill and I’m sure he started wondering if this was a good idea or not. By this time we had already made it half way so it didn’t seem to make sense to turn back, queasy sunstroke-y feeling or not. Because at this point I wasn’t feeling quite right.

We started out again into the strong sun, up the red rock hill, and after a few paces I was hit with nausea. I ran up to a cliff edge and promptly threw up a stomach full of water. R and S were surprised and P gently scolded, “If you weren’t feeling good you should have told us. Is it the sun? Do you need to get out of the sun?” But usually right after  you vomit your body feels better, like it has rid itself of what was ailing it, and I genuinely felt recharged. S started apologizing for dragging us up the mountain, but I took a minute or two to catch my breath, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and said, “Let’s go… we are almost there.”

The walk up was not fun... R, with P and I in the background. I'm bringing up the rear... clearly hurting at this point.

As you climb up the rest of the way, the path at the top is obscured by a rock ledge, so you don’t realize the Arch is right there until you emerge from around the edge of it, and then bam, it’s right there… beautiful and unique and picturesque. It truly is a sight, and was definitely worth the hike… nausea or not.

When you first see the Arch you are on the opposite side of a rounded rock outcrop that has largely been eroded into a steep drop off. To get from the path to the Arch you have to carefully walk along the edge of the outcrop. S told R, P and I to run over to the other side and stand beneath the Delicate Arch while he took pictures.

Finally! Standing below my postcard picture Delicate Arch! Me, R and P.

After taking so much time to get up there, S wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth. So he snapped lots of pictures then called out for someone to run back over so he could be in a few pictures. P ran back to take control of the camera, and S came to pose. We took a breather in the shade, and then I started to walk back towards P on the rock ledge in the sun. He started walking towards me, his hand in his pocket, but at that moment I could feel the sun effecting me again, and a wave of queasiness made me rush by him to run back toward the shaded rock ledge close to where S was originally taking our picture. P called out and told me to wait, but I said, “I have to get out of the sun for a minute.”

He followed behind, and found me standing with my back to the shaded rock ledge, out of view of the Arch and S and R. He walked up to me and put a box in my hand and asked, “Will you be my life partner?” My head was still swimming a bit from the sun, so at first I was confused. P wasn’t one for big surprises like this. I opened it up and saw an engagement ring.

“Well?”

“I can’t believe you actually did this!” I exclaimed, “You had this hidden the whole time?”

“Yep.”

“And my dad, did you ask my dad?”

“Yeah… I called him yesterday morning, from the IHOP in Vegas.”

“Did R and S know?”

“No, they didn’t. I’m glad S argued with you to get you to come up here… otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done.”

“How should we tell them?” I asked.

“I have an idea… ” he said, and took a picture of the ring on my finger with the camera.

So we emerged from the back of the ledge to find R and S still posing for pictures near the Arch. We walked over to them and P said, “Something interesting happened over there” and gave R and S the camera to look at. They scrolled through a few pictures of the Arch, and then saw the picture of the ring. R looked up with wide eyes and yelled, “Is that what I think??” and they both congratulated us, and took more pictures…

The steep rock outcrop across from the Arch that we had to walk along. It is hard to tell how steep it is, but take my word for it. The arrow points to the ledge behind which P proposed. The tiny black figure near the arrow is S, taking our picture while we stand under the Arch.

A pose in front of the Arch... Now that the "deed" has been "done." You probably can't tell, but the sun is still bothering me in this picture... and I'm worried I am starting to have some heat stroke.

R insisted we take a recreated "proposal shot" even though P wasn't on one knee when he asked.

As we made our way down the trail S started joking, “We went up 1 engaged couple and came down 2!” and “Good thing P proposed, otherwise C would have been mad at me the rest of the trip for forcing her to hike up in the sun and making her sick!” and lastly, “How cute… the delicate mzungu got engaged at the Delicate Arch!”

We got about three-quarters of the way down the path when I started feeling woozy again, and moved off the path to vomit up more water, and after that I didn’t feel as good as the first time. S’s face turned serious and he volunteered to run the rest of the way back down to the car to grab an extra water (we had since run out on the hot hot hike up to the top). I insisted I could make it down, but I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible because the direct sunlight was making my head swim.

S caught back up to us as we were nearing the end of the trail and I drank a bit more water. We climbed into the car and headed to the park Visitor Center. I felt better out of the sun, but still wasn’t feeling 100%. In hindsight I think I was so scared about getting dehydrated that I actually over hydrated and that was what made me sick combined with the direct intense sun. Hopefully I never get shipwrecked on a desert island, I probably wouldn’t do so well.

I called a few of my family members before we left Moab and the cell connection died. My dad said that he thought P was going to propose at the Grand Canyon (“That’s where I would have done it…”) and that was why he was confused the day before when I called but had no news. Apparently P had called him when he left the table to “use the restroom”  at the IHOP and said to my dad, “Um… I wanted to ask you for C’s hand” my dad probably didn’t know what P was talking about and said, “You want what?” so P (a little flustered, and already intimated) changed tactics and said, “I wanted to ask if it is okay if I ask C to marry me.” to which my dad said “Sure.”

I spent the next few hours before we reached Salt Lake City passed out in the back of the car, recovering from either over hydration, sunstroke, or some bizarre combination of both. Luckily I was good to go for Day 5.

So there’s the story. I don’t know too many people who throw up both on the way to getting engaged and on the way back (I promise I’m not always so “delicate” the sun was just not my friend in either story)… but it was a memorable experience and Arches will now always have a special place in my heart.

The Proposal: Preface

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

The Post Card

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

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

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

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

The Delicate Mzungu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Asking My Father

Last but not least…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News!

I’m not great at keeping secrets, at least not exciting ones, so I’m impressed with myself for keeping my mouth shut for two weeks… but I’m about ready to burst if I don’t share the good news with you all.

Remember my post Obstacles on the Way to the Altar? Well there are still a fair share of obstacles, but we are getting one step closer… P and I finally set a wedding date, or should I say, dates!

The plan is to get married the weekend of July 9-10, 2011. Currently we have July 10th scheduled and a place booked for our American wedding (or as our South Asian friends refer to it, “white wedding”), and the next piece I will have to work on is the July 9th Nepali wedding at a nearby Hindu temple (probably the same place P had his Bratabandha–it has a Nepali priest, and it is more “toned down” than some of the other temples around, so perhaps it will be a bit less shocking for my more conservative relatives).

Hurray! I feel like a huge frustration has been lifted off my shoulders! Now I can start making an action plan, instead of grumbling at the lack of progress. It is so nice to be one step closer to “Gori Wife” rather than stuck in “Gori Significant Other” land.

I promise you that this won’t turn into a wedding blog, but please forgive me if I sprinkle in a few wedding prep/ideas/family argument posts between now and then…

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pote Necklaces

On my way back from Georgia, P and I stopped in Pennsylvania to meet up with his brother. U went home to Nepal during the winter and brought back lots of goodies. My gift was a packet of potes.

Some of C's collection of pote...

Potes (pronounced kinda like po-thays), are colorful glass beaded necklaces of various colors and lengths that women wear as one of the symbols of marriage, kind of like a wedding ring or red sindoor in the part of your hair.

Don’t worry P and I didn’t sneak away and get married when you weren’t looking, but even though I’m not married, I think potes are really beautiful and elegant, and I like to wear them occasionally when dressing nice for work or a party. Some of the Nepalis tease me about wearing one, “oh are you married now?” but I don’t mind. I feel it is okay to wear them occasionally since the first two potes I owned were given to me by P’s aunt. Plus, none of the necklaces I own have the golden tillery pendant which truly signifies a marriage pote.

Pote shop in Nepal... with various strands of colored beads ready to be paired and twisted together to make a pote. Some potes are solid colors, some have strings of various colors.

As noted, potes can come in many thicknesses and lengths. The ones I like to wear to the office are quite short, and more traditional “necklace” length, but wedding potes can be very long. During wedding ceremonies the groom generally gives the bride a long green wedding pote which is so large it is worn like a sash over one shoulder and hangs all the way down to the bride’s hip. In addition to this long green pote, some brides receive red, yellow or golden colored potes as well.

Picture 1: Our friend S gives R her long green wedding pote during the ceremony; Picture 2: R sports her green wedding pote in pictures after the final wedding reception

Different castes and ethnic groups have different traditions surrounding the wearing of a pote. For some a women not wearing a pote is bad luck, foreboding of her husband’s early death—and thus these women will wear it all the time, even at night. For others it is more of a fashion statement like sparkly bindis and tikkas. You don’t often find women wearing their long green wedding pote out and around town, although sometimes women may wear this symbol of marriage on a holiday like Teej.

Once I get married, I’m sure the pote will have a lot more significance for me, but for now, I just think they are fun to wear. Not to mention short potes in Nepal cost about 100 Nepali Rupees (about $1.30 US), but if you buy pote style necklaces in stores in the US they cost $20-$50.

C wearing a blue pote for Diwali