One of the Nepali customs that I recently learned about has to do with seeing a baby for the first time. I was guided through by Anita didi the first time, and the second time I shocked the new parents when I did all the appropriate things when seeing their child for the first time.
Anita and I went to our neighbor’s house a few months ago to see her baby. Before leaving, Anita told me to bring some money. We sat around the room with the mom and new baby for a while goo and ghaing at the cute baby. Before leaving I got to learn what the Nepali do on this special occasion. Anita guided me through by telling me to give the baby some money. I gave babu (baby boy) Rs. 50 in his tiny hand, and then the mom decided to tuck it under his cap. Then she asked me if I was married or unmarried to figure out the next step. For unmarried women, we give a piece of thread from our clothes. The mom helped me rip a small thread from my kurta. I wrapped the thread loosely around the baby’s wrist. For married women, they would give some clothes, which I think is really helpful because they don’t use diapers here so clothes are changed often.
I got to impress my colleague, Kamal, and his wife three days ago by doing the same thing again. They have a 3 month old that has just come back to their room in Gorkha from their family’s home in Chitwan. As I was walking down our shared path they called me up to meet the baby, Nayak. Since they aren’t Gurung, I asked if they had any customs when seeing a baby for the first time. They said they didn’t, so I started to share our Gurung culture. Turns out they didn’t expect me to know the custom so they didn’t mention it. Again, I had the pleasure of participating in the cultural practices I’ve been learning the last 11 months and tucked some money in the cap and pulled off a thread for my kurta again to wrap around the baby’s wrist.
Recently two different people have alluded to the fact that my English has changed. I’m pretty happy that people notice my Nepali-style English because I love the idea of having memories of Nepal while I converse in America with Nepali expressions and emphatic sounds. Don’t expect correct English when I get back—it is a misnomer that English teachers speak good English.
The first time someone mentioned it was when my aunt and uncle from America were visiting. Before dinner we would all sit down for a snack and talk. My benaju (brother-in-law), who just came back from Dubai, would come over every night to join us. In my opinion he has really good English, along with my ba and two brothers. It was really interesting to hear my aunt and uncle try to talk with the members of my family that speak English. I could tell there was a lot of things not understanding on both sides, so I tried to change my uncle’s English into the Nepali English I use. This worked for the most part. Benaju even told my uncle that he couldn’t understand him well, but could understand me clearly. I was pleased at this moment and then proceeded to translate the Iditarod to ‘they tie dogs together, then the dogs run a long distance, and whoever is fastest becomes famous’. Shankar bhai really loves the idea that there are famous dogs in America!
The other person that noticed my English was a foreigner. I took my brothers to Kathmandu last weekend to show them the sights. It was their first time visiting most places in KTM. As a side note—the favorite things of the weekend were puttputting, 3D movie and then Swayambhu (a large Buddhist stupa). The other religious or historical places didn’t make the list. We were staying in a hotel located in the tourist area, Thamel. Coming and going from our room, we would see the same people over and over. Eventually one had to ask me if my brothers were my children and this led to our introductory conversation. We got down to where we were from, and he was surprised when I said I was from the United States because I didn’t have the same accent that he knows as American. We left the hotel and I was pretty happy with myself and how many Nepali-isms I’ve adopted.
I’m writing this because I want to cling to the language I speak currently—a mix between English and Nepali–just like I want to cling to being a Nepali while still being from the United States. I think it will be hard to use my Nepali emphatic expressions in the States because no one else will be using them around me, but for a while I’ll be saying ‘Amay Amay Amay’, ‘same to same’, and ‘You are so fat (meaning beautiful)’. Get ready for my first phone call coming soon (May 20th)!
My aama is the person I really want to write about today. She is around 67 years old and the buju (grandmother) of our compound along with the caregiver to everybody that lives here or just stops by.
Just the other day we walked up to the tailor shop together and as we passed everybody she knew would ask, ‘Who is she, your sati (friend)?’ and my aama would say, ‘No, my chhori (daughter).’ It was so special to hear her call me chhori and get a glimpse of our bond from her perspective.
There is so much to tell about her even though she is the family member that I communicate the least with because she only speaks ‘Gau Nepali’ (village Nepali). Since we can’t talk to each other extensively, I pick up on a lot of other communication skills she uses. Here are some examples.
She tells a lot of stories and when she does, she switches to her story telling voice. She has two different impersonation voices and her stories go on and on, so I’m usually off the hook for not understanding. My favorite time is when she comes into my room and sits down right next to me to tell me a story of what happened today. Her hand gestures are very large, which helps me catch the gist. I’ve also gotten very good at using the right Nepali expressions at the right time. These are: ‘hut tatata’ hut which is fast and strong and tatata with a slow breath out, ‘amay amay amay’, tsks of the tongue, and ‘bisaara’.
When aama wants to tell me about the people living close to us, her voice drops down into a whisper even though it is unnecessary.
When she is talking about my brothers when we are in the kitchen and they are on the porch, she only gestures a whole story to me.
Some stories she tells over and over and I know them very well. Aama will offer me a chorsani (chilli) at dinner and I usually refuse, which brings her to tell the story of the one night I ate a chorsani with my dal bhat and had tears streaming down, a very running nose and bright red lips. Another one of her favorites about me is how I like all Nepali food and say that everything is meetho (tasty). In her retelling she reminds us all that I even said the dal was tasty when she forgot to add salt one night.
It cracks me up every time she tells these stories because she gets a good laugh out of them. My aama’s laugh is more of a cackle and I smile every time I hear it.
Yesterday my bohini (younger sister) named Barsha asked me to take her to the bus park to shop for Mother’s Day gifts. May 9th (today) is Mother’s Day here in Nepal. Happy Mother’s Day all you Aamas (mothers). I was readily agreeable as I wanted to buy my aama something, and it was also a chance for me to get to spend special time with her.
We walked up the street together and along the way I pointed out the shops and houses that I frequent. She would point out others and eventually the one she was pointing to was her friend’s room. We went in to meet her and take her shopping with us. It was my first time meeting them, but the kids called me auntie and I’m the bohini (younger sister) of the mother now. Familial connections are so important.
Our first stop was back down the road to my favorite shawl shop. I had in mind what I wanted to buy as I had been in the shop a few days before to visit the owners, my dai (brothers). I greeted everybody in the shop, and Barsha’s friend did too. Turns out the shop owner is her uncle!
What a coincidence!—but not really in Gorkha. This has happened to me so many times. The dhakha weaver’s shop (traditional Nepali weaving) is my ba’s niece, the fruit stall is Vince’s student’s mom, the tailor is my sister, the candy and coke shop is my student’s uncle, etc.
How does this happen so often? Well, Gorkha is a largely Gurung populated city, which helps make everybody related somehow. More importantly, when I came to live with my family I was adopted as Puja Gurung. This name and the home I live in give me relationship titles with so many people. One such one is my ba’s younger brother’s daughter’s husband, more commonly known to me as beenaju.
Shopping with Barsha and her friend was so fun because I got to see how other families are related to each other in town, and how I know enough people to start connecting all of these relations.
While in Nepal my travels were limited to public bus.
Getting to Thailand I used 10 different modes of transportation. What a change!
The list is exhausting, as am I after traveling by those means. Ko Phayam and Bangkok have been well worth the hours of transport.
How will I not freeze with as little on my back as possible? That was my main concern while preparing for a 19 day trek to Everest base camp and surround SMALL peaks.
Here’s what I survived with:
2 short sleeves
1 light long sleeve
2 thick long sleeves
1 zipoff pants
1 rain pants
1 rain jacket
1 down coat
1 fleece hat
1 baseball cap
1 flip flops
1 pair of hiking boots
And when it comes down to it, you don’t get cold when adrenaline is rushing through you body at 5550m with 360 degree views in the Himalayas.
But more importantly, the trek was a grueling task everyday with gains of 600m total only after ascending and descending much more than that. The altitude would give you headaches, but with warm food at every stop and a great group of friends to spend the evening reading with, the trip couldn’t have been better!
More to come later…
The pinnacle of our 19 day trek in Everest region.