As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I went to Nepal in April for a friend of mine’s wedding. I had the joy of getting to know Arun, Ashim, and Manisha (Ashim’s now wife) when I started working with Ashim back in 2009 on a psychology research study about alcohol dependence in African Americans. (I had briefly met Ashim once before working together when he bought some of my furniture off of Craigslist.)
As you might imagine, I was incredibly honored to just be invited to the wedding and ecstatic that I got to take them up on his invitation. When I first arrived in Pokhara, the women were making phini roti, a special wedding treat and they let me join in making them. The dough is made by rolling out and folding dough in much the same way philo dough is, to create lots of layers. Once the dough has been folded over a number of times it is cut and rolled into flat squares. I was tasked with helping the other women to roll the dough into squares so it could be deep fried. (They were of course delicious; I mean, who doesn’t like deep fried dough?)
The first piece of the wedding ceremony was on Thursday when Arun, the groom, met with the family’s priest for a puja (religious ceremony). I got to watch for quite some time, while the priest, Arun, and alternating members of the family participated. It was quite lovely to watch. Occasionally someone would translate for me what was going on in the ceremony, but for much of it I was just a curious onlooker and amazed at the intricacies of the ceremony.
The next day the neighborhood women’s group came over and I got to learn how to make kashar. Kashar comes out of a large pot smelling a bit like a caramel and goes promptly onto woven platters; once it has cooled enough that you aren’t going to actually burn yourself, but the mixture is still quite hot, you grab two handfuls of the dough, one in each hand and begin to roll it into balls as quickly as you can. It begins to stick together better as the dough cools, but once the dough is fully cool it turns into a rock. To eat, soak the ball in milk tea to soften it back up a little bit. The women seemed really thrilled that I jumped in ready to learn and participate in their traditions.
As you can see above, I’m wearing a beautiful kurtha that Subi (one of Ashim’s cousin’s that I stayed with) loaned me to wear. Many days someone in the family would play dress up and provide me with clothes and jewelry to wear, so I could fit in and participate. It was an incredibly sweet gesture and helped me to feel quite comfortable. Plus, the clothes are beautiful! And the kurta suruwal was incredibly comfortable. My cheeks are red because Ashim’s grandmother loved having me around. Subi explained that the tika on the forehead was a blessing from Grandma and the red on my cheeks were extra blessings. ?
Day three and we have finally made it to the wedding ceremony day. We got dressed up in our saris and danced through the streets, with horns blowing, to a small shrine. (The symbolism here is that the town is supposed to know that the groom has gone to pick up his bride. The ceremony repeats when he brings the bride to the house after the ceremony.) From there we piled into vehicles to drive across town to the ceremony to meet the bride. Subi again helped to translate all of the rituals and conversations for me.
The family again let me participate in presenting Reetu, the bride, with all of the things she would need in the marriage. The wedding ceremony was fantastic. Many of the rituals focused on caring, providing, and loving each other. I really enjoyed the contrast to the traditional American ceremony where vows are said once. In the Nepali wedding, the qualities of a good marriage are reinforced through multiple rituals.
The fourth and final day of the wedding ceremony was the reception. It began around 4:00 in the afternoon with the dinner, dancing, and official photos being taken for a few hours. Everyone seemed to love that I was embracing the Nepali culture, as much as I was able to. If you have know me for a while, you know that I love to dance, pretty much anytime for any reason. So the reception was right up my alley. The Nepalis were really impressed with my ability to dance like they do. A few people asked me if I understood the words because I was able to act out the songs so well. I said “Nope, still don’t understand the words, but the songs were played a few times over the couple of hours, so I was able to pick up the rhythm, and remember when other dancers did XYZ move and then mimic it the next time I heard the song.” Truth be told, I also watched a few Bollywood movies to make sure I had some variety in my steps before I went.
I did get to keep the red sari that I wore, and am so grateful for the generosity shown to me, by so many of the Nepali people. From the people who welcomed a stranger into their homes, the women who helped me wear their clothes, the women who fed me, the many people who translated for me and answered any question I had about anything and everything, all the way to the kids I loved getting to dance and enjoy the wedding with.
The whole family, and community for that matter, welcomed me with open arms and I will always remember the incredible time I had in Nepal.
Tell us when you were welcomed as family in a foreign place. I love hearing stories of other’s connections.
P.S. Sorry the blog post was late this week. I have been having some trouble with the new WordPress version not allowing my photos to be uploaded. I found a work around for now, because this post would be nothing without photos.