happiness is...

happiness is...
kenya 2010

Saturday, March 29, 2014

don't tell me you love me

Today I had one of the most interesting experiences of my life, and it came in the somewhat mundane guise of an invitation to a friend's house for "a meal". What makes this invite different is the fact that it was an invitation to a Nepali family's home. I have never been to a "real" Nepali's house for more than a few minutes, and this family had never entertained a bideshi (foreigner) before. Add to that the fact that I speak very limited Nepali and only one of the 6 family members speaks even more limited English, and you have a recipe for interesting. I am forever grateful for the insight of a couple of American friends who came to Nepal about 8 months before I did, because they gave a few tips on what to expect and that kept me from looking like a complete idiot. Partial idiot? Well, duh.

Tip #1. "You will be the entertainment." They were spot on. My friend and her husband met me at a local intersection at 9am and we walked the rest of the way together. They live in a quiet little area about 2 miles from my flat. When we arrived, I was introduced to the entire family, and then led into my friend's bedroom where we sat on the bed. There were actually 2 beds, so I sat on the one closest to the door. Then they took out a camera and all the family members took turns sitting on the bed with me, posing for photos, while the rest sat on the other bed watching. They rotated through all sorts of combinations before we were through!

Tip #2. "They will feed you. A LOT. Plan to eat several meals while you are there, and chances are you will be the only one eating and they will gather around to watch you eat." Notice the chiyaa (tea) and plate of cookies in the picture. Those were mine. I offered to share but was told that they were mine and only mine...and every time I ate one or two, "mama" would replace them. I asked where their chiyaa was, and my friend's husband told me, "We are poor family. We have only 4 cups." And there were 6 family members, plus me. I was both humbled and very grateful for the amazing hospitality. All day long, they fed me first and fully- making sure I had enough before eating themselves. I had to be careful not to eat too quickly or clean my plate because as soon as I did, more food would appear- and in Nepal it is an insult to leave food. It is a delicate balance that I haven't quite figured out, yet.

After chiyaa and cookies, they pulled out photo albums from their wedding, as well as family photos, and we went through each of those. I got lots of practice asking questions and saying "family words". I'm happy that was lesson #2 in my language learning! After photo sharing time, we went out to the living room where we again sat on the beds (that double as sofas during the day) and they took turns having pictures taken with me.

At this point, it is about 10:30am and we are doing our best to make small talk (remember the "I don't speak much Nepali and only one of them speaks a little bit of English" thing). It is really good practice, though we are probably only getting the true meaning of about 25% of the conversation. Just when things threatened to get awkward, here came meal# 2.

The small individual plates of food in front of each person is their lunch. The table-full of food in the foreground is MY lunch. OMG!!!! Let me remind you that it is rude not to eat what is put in front of you. So, after chiyaa and about 10 cookies, I then ate a huge plate of rice, fried chicken meat, curried chicken meat, lentil soup, seasoned potatoes, greens, and a spicy "pickle" dish. They tried to give me more but I politely declined.

If I was in America, I would have expected that the visit was over- but fortunately, I had been clued in to Tip#3... "This will be an all day affair." After lunch, I was told that at 2pm, my friend's sister-in-law was coming and I was expected to be there when she arrived. They also threw me for a small loop when they asked me if I was spending the night! I managed to (I think) politely decline, but I was told that next visit would be an overnight. WOW- all day affair means all day affair. Note to self! Since we had lots of time between lunch and 2pm, I had a chance to experience Nepali "day to day" living:

Doing the lunch dishes outside
Bath on the roof, in the sun!

I wasn't allowed to help with any of these things, though I did offer. Instead, they pulled up a small stool and I just watched as they went about their daily chores. It was actually pretty intimate and I was honored to have the
chance to be a part of it.

Watering the garden with the wash water

After chores, I took my friend, her husband, and his brother to my house to get my photo albums and pictures of my family (this seemed like a good way to fill an hour or so and to extend a little hospitality of my own).
Picture time AGAIN! This time, in front of my garden.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Then we walked back to their house, where they insisted I lay down on one of the beds in the living room- and they took a picture of it. LOL. About 20 minutes later, I was fed more chiyaa, sliced apples, and coconut...and we played a board game. I have no idea the rules or what the object was, but I kept rolling the dice when it was my turn, and they kept moving my pieces around the board until they told me I won. Wooohoooo! 

At around 4pm, I told them that I needed to be going, so guess what? Another snack. This time chiyaa, a stack of white toast, and puffed rice. I nearly waddled out the door. In the spirit of true Nepali-style hospitality, they didn't allow me to go alone. I was walked to the intersection by my friend, her husband, and his younger brother. I had to promise to come back for an overnight, as well as to accompany my friend to her mother's village on one of her next trips to visit.

I learned a lot more than I bargained for. Probably the best lesson was that words are the least powerful way to express love. Today, we proved that.

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