Thursday, December 23, 2010

Caroling in Nepal...Night 4

I arrived at my brothers’ house in Nakhu just before 4PM. “Tori didi, you know we’re supposed to be at the caroling site by 4PM,” Niran told me when I walked in the gate. I simply said, “I know.” By the looks of it, none of them were ready to go anywhere anytime soon either.

Sunil was sitting on a stool, playing away on the house’s madal. Anish was standing with his back to the sun.

“Hey, Sunil, give Tori didi your seat,” Niran barked at his younger brother. I waved for Sunil to stay seated. “Not needed,” I told him. “I’ll just sit over here.” I moved toward the steps of the house.

“No, it’s a bad habit of his,” Niran countered. “He needs to change it.” Anish came to the rescue by grabbing another stool and insisting I sit on it.

Indra Maya, their mother, was the only one I left with about fifteen minutes later. We weren’t caroling far, just about a ten-minute walk from their place. The rest of the group showed up at around 5:15. “You’re late,” I stated placidly when Niran and Anish walked in the gate.

Our host agreed. “Yes, you’re LATE! Didn’t we tell you 4PM? Come, there’s tea upstairs!”

My brothers weren’t the only ones who arrived late. Kumar showed up about fifteen minutes later. He was greeted with “Hai, you’re LATE!”

“Didn’t I tell you I’d be later?” Kumar countered. “If I’m late, why hasn’t the party already started?”

By this time, it was dark, and the bonfire was lit in front of the house. We all gathered around it to keep warm; this night was colder than previous nights. “Hai, Anu, don’t get too close to the fire, or your new favorite kurta will get lit up!” someone yelled.

We opened with a short song that wasn’t in the hymnbook, but Rupa had the words printed in a small notebook. The women around her crowded around to read. It was a short chorus, telling brothers and sisters, old and young, that we had come to declare the good news of Jesus’ birth, and we entreated them to listen.

Tonight, Radhe dai was leading on guitar, Ashish played madal (Sunil had been complaining that his hands hurt from playing the drum for three days straight; it was someone else’s turn), and Ram played a second madal, much smaller than the one Sunil had been playing all week. Two tambourines from church were also present, and were passed around the womenfolk.

Tonight, more women also danced. Sangita didi and Rosen’s mother, who had both been dancing all week, were there too, but more than one song featured a trio of older ladies, slowly turning tight circles, with their hands in the air. Sangita’s husband decided to join his wife on one occasion, imitating her feminine movements much to her amusement/embarrassment.

The flirtatiousness between Sangita didi and her husband was something else. I had only put the two together three nights before. I knew Sangita didi was married, as she always brought her two daughters with her to church, but I wasn’t sure to whom she was attached. Men and women sit on different sides of the room during the weekly worship service, so it’s not always easy to put families together. For all I knew, maybe her husband didn’t go to church. So I asked her one night after dance practice, “does your husband come to church?”

“Oh, yes, he comes…do you not know him?”

“I don’t think I’d be able to recognize him,” I replied.

She smiled slyly. “Well, I’ll have to introduce you to him next time.”

Once I put the two together, I had enjoyed watching them. Both of them were quick to help the primary host serve food, tea, clean up plates, or whatever else needed to be done. The van we had all crammed into the night before (and that brought people again today) was most likely theirs, or belonged to some member of their family (which would make sense since Sangita didi was the one shoving and arranging everyone in the back). Over the course of the caroling nights, I saw the father show considerable affection for his two school-age daughters; I found this refreshing to see in a Nepali man as sons are usually the more favored. Nor did he fear others catching him showing affection to his wife in public. The night before, Sangita didi had a pile of dishes in her hands, so was unable to take the candy piece he offered to her. Un-phased, he unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth, despite her protests.

At one point, Indra Maya didi walked across the bonfire circle and firmly grasped me as well as the lady next to me. “Come, dance!” she ordered. Both of us protested, but those around us pushed us forward too. The other lady soon got out of it, dissolving back into the singing crowd, leaving me and another lady to dance. I did my best to demonstrate what the song was about, but not knowing the song well, and not being able to think of dance moves on the spot, I failed miserably. Anita didi must have caught what I was trying to do, because she soon joined me, and gave me movements to imitate.

“Hai, let’s sing ‘ding-tang-tang’ ONE MORE TIME!” someone yelled. I rolled my eyes—the song had simply become about shouting “ding-tang-tang, ding-tang-tang, hai madal la bhajyau!!!” as unmusically as possible, with the guys jumping up and down as they shouted it. Radhe dai and Amos dai were probably the only ones who actually knew the words and melody. Our host shouted, “EVERYONE needs to dance! Just dance where you are, for the Lord, not everyone needs to see!” I was somehow caught up in a can-can line with Sangita didi and Anita didi, alternating with “ting-ing” the hips and flicking the wrists. That was quite something. And, despite the fact that his hands hurt, Sunil was drumming away on the madal with Ashish. The two of them faced each other and mirrored each other’s drumstrokes on the same heads. That has to be difficult, I thought, as it would require one of them—in this case, Sunil—to reverse his drum strokes.

After dinner, I had the pleasure of walking home with Karjun dai, the eldest of Indra Maya’s sons, and consequently older brother to Radhe and Amos. Ashish was his eldest boy. I had unfortunately not been able to spend much time with Karjun since I arrived, as he is a vehicle driver for a large INGO, which frankly overworks him. He was able to make it out that night though, and offered to walk me home. A large group of us were going toward Pulchowk, but we brought up the rear of the group. Out of nowhere, he stated, “Tori, I’d like to see you settled.”

“Um, what do you mean by that?” I asked, though I figured I already knew what was coming.

“Oh, for example, Ira is settled—she’s married, has children. Ira is my younger sister, but I have one more. I’d like to see you settled too.”

He talked like Ira had been newly married, when in fact she had been married at least fifteen years. While married life had not been easy for she and her husband—she had been married, quite hurriedly in my memory, to a Hindu, and things had not been smooth running in their relationship or in becoming financially established as his father had left the extended family in huge debt after his death—they were now at a place where business was going well, and he had been baptized perhaps five years back.

“But don’t do it hurriedly. Don’t make any rash decisions,” Karjun continued. “And now, Radhe, Rajesh, and Amos are all settled. You should be next.”

I had actually been anticipating this conversation. Radhe, Rajesh and Amos had all brought the subject of my marriage up last year when I was here, but Karjun hadn’t said anything. Having a 24-year-old, unmarried “sister” seemed to have become their shared concern. But the course of Karjun’s conversation communicated a concern for me—that I seriously somehow work toward getting married, but not to do anything in haste and not mistake “singleness” for “freedom”—rather than pressure me to change my marital status.

“So, Tori didi, are you coming tomorrow night too?” the young dude, whose name I was still uncertain about, asked me, as he, Karjun, and Abishek (Karjun’s youngest son), dropped me off at my gate.

“Abi, Tori didi, this is such a BIG house!” Abishek exclaimed. “And you’re staying here alone?!”

“Just tonight,” I assured him. Traditionally, Nepalis don’t prefer sleeping alone. Most share bedrooms even, if not beds. “And its not my house, it’s another family’s house. I won’t be there tomorrow; my friends are coming back from Chitwan and I have to meet them.”

“Oh, ok, see you Christmas Eve then! Till the day AFTER tomorrow!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Caroling in Nepal...Night 3

Today, my Nepali friend’s beat me to the caroling site. I was greeted by Niran—Sunil’s older brother—holding Angel, who is happy enough to leave her uncle and come to my arms despite his protests. The boy who had whacked the lady’s nose the night before greets me with an energetic “Jaimashee, Tori didi!” He then turns to his friend, says something quickly in Nepali, and turns to me with, “hai, Tori didi?” When I don't respond immediately, he adds, “…in the car, last night?” I laugh. “Hajur,” I agree. I'm not entirely sure what part of last night’s car ride he is referring to, but I figure it must have been some part he considered good, so “hajur” was an appropriate reply.

Anita didi, Angel’s mother, looks at me worriedly. “Tori, do you not want to dance on Christmas anymore?”

“Of course I want to dance on Christmas,” I reply.

“Then why aren’t you practicing at home?”

“But I am.” I tell her, in simple Nepali, that I practiced this morning in front of the large mirror at the hostel. My hostel mate had emerged from her room just as I finished. Anita smiles, reassured. Sunil takes the opportunity to whisk Angel out of my arms over my shoulder, leaving my arms cold halfway through my story.

“Where are you friends today?” Sunil asks. “Did we make them angry last night with all our teasing?”

“No,” I laugh. “Just confused.”

Sunil was amused by this, as I knew he would be.

“They went to Chitwan today; they’ll be back on Thursday,” I explain.

As soon as it gets dark, we begin singing. There isn't much room for dancing, but Sangita didi clears some space, and Samuel tries to organize people where “dancers” are on one side and “singers” are on the other (I move to the “singer’s” side). We start off with bhajan 51: [Our] salvation and our saviour, Jesus is born, Jesus is born. Bhajans 49, 42, 35 and 480 are all sung as in previous nights, but then someone calls out “Let’s sing ‘ding tang tang, play the madal!’”

“Which bhajan number is that?”

“I don’t think it’s in the hymnal.”

“Have we sung it before?”

“Of course we have! I don’t think we sang it last year though…”

“Well, we all know the words, let’s just sing it!”

“Does anyone remember the melody?”

“Where’s Radhe? He knows it!”

“Radhe is not here, I haven't’ seen him.”

“Oh, I found it! Its bhajan number 528!”

Amos dai decides we’ll just wing it. Ashish doesn’t know the guitar chords though, so Sunil is instructed to start it with the madal.

Ding tang tang, Ding tang tang, play the madal!
Ah ha lau hai, look, in Bethlehem's stable
Hai, Jesus the king is born, look hai, look lai, look!

While Amos apparently knows the melody, he is drowned out by everyone attempting to follow him or making up their own melodies, and the poor guy behind me must be tone deaf because he’s been singing everyone song to a drone.

After Amos dai shares the meaning of Christmas, someone calls out “one more song!”

“Oh, look Radhe is here! Let’s sing bhajan 528 again!”

“Tori, this is the last song, you HAVE to dance!” Sangita didi pulls me away from the singers while another lady relieves me of my purse. While the madal rhythm starts out fine, the melody is as broken as before. “Hey, where are the words? I can’t hear the words!” Sangita didi calls out. This implies that she can’t dance, because she doesn’t know what story is being told. She just laughs and begins to move to the rhythm of the madal. I try to imitate her, but the young fellow to my left was a bit distracting with his big arm movements that I try to avoid making contact with.

Soon, plates of chura, meat, stir-fried greens, curried potatoes and a potent radish achar are passed around. Since there is limited seating, many of us stand to eat. Pratima, Kumar’s 14-year-old daughter, and I are able to find a seat on a mat close to the fire. Sunil seats himself comfortably beside us. “I’m bored,” he tells me in English, “you’re friends aren’t here; no one to tease.” He then turns to Pratima. “We had a really good time last night,” he told her in Nepali. “Where were you?”

“I didn’t get out of school till 5:30.”

“What? Why so late? You couldn’t remember anything you learned, and they made you stay later?”

Brothers…they never know when to stop. I wished for a moment that Pratima wasn’t so kindly natured and would smack him just once. I probably should have smacked him for her, but I didn’t think of this till later.

Pratima and I go to wash our hands, and Sunil follows suite soon after. She hands him the bottle of water. He washes his hands, then takes a drink. Someone nearby says something he finds amusing, and he laughs, gagging on the water. “Laughing and drinking don’t mix,” I tell him. Thinking he is done, I hold out the cap to the bottle. He blurts out a word I don't recognize, but seems to be an imperative of some sort. He pauses, then says, “um, that was Newar for ‘wait’”. Living with a family of Newars for most of his life, he would inevitably pick up phrases and words that he now sprinkles in with his Nepali.

I walk home with Niran, Sunil, Arun, and some guy whose name I haven’t learned yet. The new guy was telling something hilarious to Niran, and Niran turned to me. “Tori didi, did you ride in the vehicle last night?”

“On the way home I did.”

Sunil fills me in. “This guy rode to the house in the vehicle,” he says in English, “and he said someone gassed, and it smelled really bad for a long time.” He starts laughing.

Caroling in Nepal...Night 2

“Tori bahini, be sure to come tomorrow at 4:30 exact,” Pastor Samuel told me. “We’re caroling in Kathmandu, and we need to get there by 5PM. There will be a vehicle, but there is limited room, and its first-come-first-serve.”

The vehicle that showed up at 5:15 was in fact not meant to transport people, but cargo. Nevertheless, Sangita didi began shoving people in, first the kids, then the women. “There’s room for two more!” she called. She waved Carly and I into the back. LeAnna was already comfortably seated up front, with the driver and at least two other people. As soon as Carly and I were settled, Kumar came running up. “Actually, you two get in the taxi,” he said. A few minutes later, Carly and I were squashed into a taxi with Anish, and Kumar’s wife and son, Nani Beti and Prashant. Sunil rode comfortably as a passenger on Kumar’s motorbike, the guitar situated between his stomach and Kumar’s back, the neck reared into the air above his head.

Inevitably, we were stuck in a traffic jam. But this gave Anish a chance to warm up to Carly. I encouraged Anish to speak English with her, but my situation between the two of them in the backseat made translating all the more convenient. It gave me a good exercise into how much Nepali I actually understand. Kumar and Sunil caught up to us. The taxi driver yelled out the window, “I’ll just follow you!” He had been confused as to where he was taking us when Kumar first told him where to go anyway.

Carly began taking pictures of Sunil on the bike. She eventually gave the camera to Anish to try. “Just snap pictures,” she told him when he protested he didn’t take good ones. “You’ll get better as you experiment.” He immediately pointed it to the truck parked on his side of the car. “What is it?” Carly asked.

“Um, bones,” Anish said, and showed her the picture. Sure enough, it was a truck full of animal bones, mainly buffalo from the size of them. Suddenly, we all realized the strong smell wafting in from the truck’s direction. I immediately covered my nose with the scarf around my neck, and Carly grabbed the end of the scarf to put over her nose. “Where are they taking those?” I asked him.

“To India,” he replied, “to make things like buttons, glue, etc.”

Our vehicle was the last to arrive at the house. We were ushered up onto the roof, where we celebrated as last night. This time, LeAnna joined in the dancing, much to everyone’s delight. As we stood around after the program, I summarized what Amos dai had told everyone.

“Basically, they expound from the songs we sing,” I said. “He’ll choose a few sentences from the song to build upon. Its something they do in church services as well; it usually happens between each of the bhajans sung, and sometimes between choruses. This time, he asked the question “why did Christ need to come in the form of a man?” (many of the songs mention that Christ was born in the form of man). He went back to Adam to talk about sin, and how Christ was born to rectify the relationship between God and man. And that this was what we were here to declare—Christ’s birth—through our singing and dancing.”

Since it was late, we were served a true evening meal. LeAnna sat next to me, and I described the food to her as it was brought by: rice, curried chicken meat, curried vegetables and a spicy radish achar. When Radhe dai put a dollop of the achar on my plate, the boy next to me—who I had been with in bal sangati (children's fellowship or "Sunday School") for the past few months—asked, obviously surprised, “You like achar?” I assured him I did.

Carly, in the meantime, was having quite a time with Ashish, Sunil and Anish in the corner of the roof behind us. “I had almost finished everything,” she told me later, “and Anish had them put MORE food on my plate. I told him he had to eat what was left, because I couldn’t do it.”

I laughed. “If you’re not hungry anymore, then leave a little left on your plate,” I told her. “Otherwise, that’s a signal that you’re still hungry, and they’ll put more food on your plate.”

“Oh!” Carly exclaimed. “They kept telling me I didn’t have to eat everything, but then I insisted on finishing, and that’s when they put more on. And I thought I was doing so well…we’d consider it rude or a waste to leave food on a plate in the States.”

“And,” I said, “people here don’t eat each other’s leftovers. It was a little rude to offer your leftovers to Anish.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Carly apologized.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. I had seen her offer to plate to Anish, and Anish kind of stiffened at first, signaling that he didn’t quite know what to do next. But later, he took her plate downstairs, and had showed it to me. “See, your friend is such a waste; she didn’t finish her food,” he shook his head. “He wasn’t offended,” I assured Carly.

By this time, it was about 8PM. “Come one, all the ladies to the van!” Sangita didi told people. Apparently, public transport had dwindled, and they had decided that everyone present would be split into two groups: ladies and gents. And ladies would go first. Carly, LeAnna and I would get to experience the squash of the small van.

The three of us were packed into the back after the kids. It took a while to get settled.

“You’re sitting on my lap!”

“Uf! You stepped on my foot!”

“Get your hand out of my face!”

“Move over; I don’t have enough room!”

I ended up with a little girl of about six years old on my lap, and the bony butt of an eight-year-old boy on my knee. At one point in the journey, we hit a bump in the road that left one boy standing up looking for something to hold onto. He unintentionally whacked a lady’s nose, and was given a good telling-off. Sanju—a high school girl who had practically adopted LeAnna and Carly; she had been talking to them in English all evening—tried to teach them some Nepali phrases. Much as they tried, they could not get the “tsa” sound essential for the verb endings. In the course of conversation, a Nepali lady was trying to say “three,” but it kept coming out “tree” with a rolled "r" (there is no “th” in Nepali). Much as one little boy—who apparently attended an English-medium school—tried to correct her, she couldn’t’ do it. Finally, he smacked his forehead in frustration and gave up.

“I’m so content here,” the six-year-old girl on my lap told me at one point. My knees and feet screamed otherwise. When we were dropped off at the Jawalekhel chowk, and I was able to stand up, they began to tingle like crazy.

“Wow, we’re getting the full Nepali experience,” LeAnna concluded. “Caroling, food in people’s houses, being squashed into a van—as well as trekking and jungle safaris!”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Caroling in Nepal...Night 1

“Caroling in Nepal?” Yes, Christmas caroling in Nepal. Its something my family does every year with great anticipation. Each night of this week, caroling will take place at a different family member’s house, in different parts of town. Neighbors will gather, either in the square or on their roofs, to hear us sing, see us dance, and hear the reason for Christmas spoken through every song.

Yesterday, we went into Mangal Bazaar, the dense marketplace of Patan. As Carly and LeAnna—who are currently visiting me from the States—have found out, Patan is a maze of alleyways, back roads and courtyards that open to more courtyards, many containing small (or large) Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas. We were a merry party going to the home—a bunch of youths carrying a guitar, a madal (double-headed drum), and tambourines, women carrying small children, guys bringing up the rear, and a few young boys scampering around Carly, the one carrying a camera with a fancy zoom lens they all enjoyed playing with. We made a circle in the middle of the courtyard, lit candles and set them in the middle of the circle for light (since there was no electricity that night) and started to sing. “Bhajan number 35,” is passed from ear to ear. Some people open their words-only hymnbooks, but many people have it memorized. Sunil starts the song off with a typical (and danceable) madal rhythm, and we begin to sing.

Look at the sky, see the star’s brightness, don’t be late to greet the newborn king…

One elderly lady comes into the circle and begins to dance. Everyone punctuates the lines of the song with sounds of encouragement. Later, when we begin to sing “oho, what a pleasant, happy day has come, God’s salvation has been born in Bethlehem,” Sangita didiis pushed forward. During the break between songs, she comes up to me, “Tori, you should dance!”

“Oh, no, I’m not going to dance!”

“Yes, come on! You can do it!”

“Ok, but only if I dance with you!”

Sangita didi smiles, and as everyone begins to sing “tell the world with laughter and play, salvation has been born to take the world’s load, salvation has been born in a poor stable,” I follow Sangita didi into the circle. She winks and smiles at me, and begins to mover her hips and shoulders to the madal rhythm, and tell the story of Christ’s birth with her hands. I see Radhe dai beam at me, and several people shout their encouragement. I do my best to mimic Sangita didi’s movements, perhaps coming in a second late. At one point she whispers to me, “switch sides, switch sides,” and I exchange sides of the circle with her.

When the song is over, I return to my point of safety in the surrounding crowd, and thank the lady who held my purse for me. After Amos dai finishes sharing the meaning of Christmas, and Amit dai has given a benediction, we all begin to file into the house for food. “You danced well,” one lady told me as we went in. Sangita didi heard that and smiled. “I taught her how to move like that,” she announced to the small crowd of women. She smiled and winked at me again. I smiled inside—in practicing the choreography of the group dance for the Christmas program, I sometimes think I'm the bane of her existence. What other student can't move their hips right, flick their wrists correctly, or has trouble moving forwards them backwards? I'm an adult, had no one taught me how to dance? These movements weren’t difficult, she assured me. My body testified otherwise. Her invitation and instance that I dance that night came as a complete, and pleasant, surprise to me.

Upstairs, Carly and LeAnna experience paneer achar, buffalo meat, and chura (beaten rice) for the first time. Having eaten before coming, they are unable to finish their plates. Our host becomes worried. I assure him that the food is good, but its not their habit to eat hot food (green chilis permete the achar), and that we had eaten before coming. “Should I make them a plain omelet instead?” he asks. “No, that’s not necessary, don’t worry about it,” I tell him.

We walk home with Anish, Sunil, Ashish, and another young man who I had seen at church recently. “Here, you walk beside your friends,” Anish tells me, moving to my other side.

“Its ok,” I tell him, “you can walk here.”

“Oh, no, I’m too shy, I’ll start sweating,” he said.

Ashish and his friend lag behind and get lost in the bazaar crowd. Sunil and Anish begin to pour forth the usual questions: how is your family? When are they coming back to Nepal? Does Robert dai want to come back too? Which do you like better, Nepal or America? Then what are you going to do, settle in America or Nepal? I know, you should have twins, and put one in Nepal and one in the States, and just live in between. But in between is an ocean, I say, and they just laugh with boyish, brotherly giggles. At some point, Ashish and his friend catch up, and rejoin our group.

We part close to Jawalekhel, Ashish and his friend going on to Pulchowk, we veering off to go toward Ekantakuna. “Ok, good-night,” Ashish tells everyone, and boldly shakes Carly and LeAnna’s hands. Anish freezes up and puts his nose in his scarf. “My hands are cold,” he mumbles as he shakes my American friend’s hands, following suite with everyone else, even though we’re still traveling together. He then turns around, and bends down to talk directly in my ear—it amazes me how tall both he and Sunil are; Ramesh and Niran, though older, are still just my height—“is it ok to shake a girl’s hand in your culture?”

“Oh, yes,” I assure him. “Everyone shakes hands.”

“What about hugs?”

This question surprises me. “We do hug, between guy and girl friends too. Its ok.”

“Oh, its not ok in Nepal,” he says quickly.

They wave us off when we cross the street to go behind the zoo. Carly and LeAnna drop me off at my place, stay a while to check email and chat with my hostel mates before going on to their guesthouse for the night. After taking a shower, I decide to call Ramesh. Radhe dai had given me his mobile number weeks ago, but I had not had time to call him between work and dance practice. I had keenly felt his absence that night. Away at medical school, he would not have enough time off to come back to celebrate Christmas either. I decided this may be a good opportunity to call him.

His phone rang, and he picked up. “Hello?”

“Hello, Ramesh? Do you recognize my voice?”

“Yes, I do. How are you?”

We talk for a good fifteen minutes, mainly in Nepali, but I cheat and throw in few English sentences. He inserts a word or two of English in his Nepali sentences where he feels I may not know the Nepali term. “So, I hear you’re dancing on Christmas?” So my family had told on me. He laughts. “I never dance. I'm too shy, and I'm not good. You should have it videotaped, and have Ashish put it on Facebook. Are you on Facebook? Ok, I’ll find you’re name, and send you a request.”

“Hey, thanks for calling,” he says to sign off. “Its been pleasant, and made me happy. Its best to call after 10PM, I’m usually free-er then.”

I go to bed happy: my stomach is full of Nepali food, and soul fed on fellowship with Nepali and American friends. I looked forward to what tomorrow’s caroling would bring.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A few trips across town...

I’ve had a few exciting things happen to me as I use public transportation in Kathmandu. Once, as a friend and I were walking from one bus stop to another, a young boy showered us unintentionally with dirty water when he abruptly slammed the jug on his shoulder down on a low wall next to the sidewalk. Another time (with the same friend) our bus broke down on Ring Road, and we had to find a new one. Last week, I told the tempo driver that I was going to Sundara in Nepali, and the lady across from me was like “Oh! You speak Nepali!” and I got to have an impromptu test of my Nepali conversational skills as I answered her barrage of questions about my work, language ability, and how I like Nepal. I tried to make appropriate comments on her railings about how underdeveloped her country is and the fact that she can’t get a job at an NGO because her English skills are far from perfect, despite having a master’s degree and significant experience in advocacy work.

Two days ago, I got onto the microbus at Jawalekhel, and a young Nepali guy got in after me. In order to make room for more passengers, he comfortably took the seat next to me. When the bus boy came around to collect our fare, the Nepali guy handed him a 20-rupee bill. “That’s not enough,” the bus boy said (he was probably about sixteen or seventeen), “give me four more.”
“But I gave you a twenty,” the Nepali guy told him.
“Not enough; give four more.”
“How much is it for one person?”
“See, I gave you a twenty.”
The bus boy slowly looked from the Nepali guy to me, then back to the Nepali guy. “Oh…sorry,” he said in English. I smiled and handed the bus boy my fare of twelve rupees. The Nepali guy staunchly refused to look in my direction the remainder of the trip to Sundara.

Since I’ve been going from Sundara to Tinchuli for two weeks now, the drivers at the safa tempo stations at both ends have begun to recognize me. They automatically direct me to the correct tempo—a three-wheeled truck run on battery power—and ask me where my two travel buddies are if I happen to be alone. “One just now arrived, and the other had work today,” I told one of the drivers once, after her inquiry. “La, see, I understood EVERYTHING she said!” the driver declared to another driver that happened to be nearby.

Half my drivers have been women. The come to work donned in socks with flip-flops, fingerless gloves and wrapped in shawls to protect against the morning cold. The majority are married. They wear their gold earrings, bead necklaces and glass bangles, and display a red sinduri on their forehead (the tikka that declares they have worshipped or honored their husband that day). I can’t help but admire the stride in which they take their work. A young man with long hair threw a comment at my driver one morning as she got into her tempo, and she threw back, “well, you have too much hair yourself!” An older guy got in front with her later, and he made the comment that he was going to Gaushala to either look for work or start work. The driver asked, “Well, older brother, have you eaten?” (a common question between people here), to which he replied the affirmative. Later, when he tried to give his fare, she waved it away: “Not needed,” she said, and drove on. At other times, they’ve tactfully argued with passengers as to whether a fare should be ten or twelve rupees, or whether a child’s fare should be applied if they’ve take a seat instead of been placed on the parent’s lap. They've won their argument every time.

Sundara to Tinchuli is a long route. It can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to one and a half hours one way, depending on traffic. Turning off from the Durbar Marg into Bag Bazaar is almost like going into the jowels of a big creature, and then the downhill slope into Gyaneshwor/Dili Bazaar is like going further into the animal. Buildings tower over the narrow streets that wind through the bazaars. Coming out of Gaushala onto the stretch of Ring Road going to Chabahil is like emerging from some depth; the road is wider and there are actually sidewalks that line the highway. There have been a few times when I feel like I've been able to breathe again.

People get on and off all along this route. Some are going to work; others are on their way to Pashupati or Maiti Devi temples for morning worship (or returning home from morning worship), many are school children or college students on their way to or from class. There were four young men on my tempo yesterday morning, all very friendly with each other as Nepali guys usually are. One had his arms happily wrapped around his friend’s neck; another held his friend’s knees across from him the entire way (its tight seating in the tempo, so this position was actually a comfortable for the bumpy ride). They made comments about the drive the entire way. My favorite was made when the driver was pulled over by a policeman in Dili Bazaar. “La, he’s going to take fifty rupees,” the one guy said. Policemen are notorious for being corrupt in Nepal. All the guys had their attention to the cab as they watched to see how the driver would handle the policeman.

The safa tempos can hold eight or nine people in the back, and up to two people in front with the driver. There are no seat belts, and no door in the back; everyone just squashes in together. On a cold morning, nobody seems to mind. There’s been more than once when I’ve missed the passengers next to me after they get off and the chilled air hits my sides. Micros are even more crowded. On the way home to Jawalekhel from Sundara last Monday, the guy behind me had a notorious cough, and didn’t have the sense to cover his mouth when he did it. My hair received several blasts of warm air during our forty minute ride. On that same ride, I was snugly fit between the window and under some dude’s armpit. The bus boy didn't seem to take the hint that we were full, and kept shoving more people inside as we wound through Thapathali and into Kupondole.

Each trip across town has had the potential to turn into some kind of adventure. The above stories are just my highlights. Then again, just walking on my own two feet has landed me in enough trouble. On my way to buy a newspaper one Saturday morning, I got hit in the face with a (well aimed?) soccer ball by the Jawalekhel soccer team, practicing in the field in front of the zoo. I’ve had to dodge a few birdies being smacked around by businessmen playing badminton before work at the same sports/meditation/temple area. Motorbikes are notorious for popping out of nowhere, and if I’m walking up to Lagankhel at 5PM, I get to go against the crowd of college students pouring out of the institutes that line the main road. My travels never cease to be interesting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

“Ours is a strange existence”

At one moment, I’m convinced that my only purpose in life is to amuse my Nepali friends. My sentences come out awkwardly, my verb conjugations don’t always match, some of my phrasing isn’t Nepali; rather, its how I would say it in English, not how Nepalis express it. Yet, I get volunteered to do things like lead singing at children’s fellowship, teach a game at youth fellowship, and oddly enough, (by my older brother) to be on the folk dance troupe for the yearly Christmas program. My hips are learning to move in ways that might be a cause for church discipline in the States, especially since it’s to a song asking God to lead me in the way of salvation. Well, I don’t think the reaction would be any worse than reactions to my brother belching after dinner to show the cook he appreciated the meal she made. If it happened to be our Nepali house help, she was pleased; if it happened to be my American grandmother, she was not.

At other moments, it takes me a while to realize where I am, and I have to take a moment to remind myself why I’m here. That happened when I attended the opening ceremony of the 31st annual conference for the Linguistic Society of Nepal at the Tribhuvan University campus in Kirtipur. I didn’t know I was going to this conference—all I had been told was that my Nepali boss’s book on multilingual education in Nepal was going to be officially released, and everyone at the office would attend in support. I end up mingling with Fulbright scholars, SIL international committee members, and hearing Nepal’s foremost linguist give his reason why India’s police force is so wimpy—it’s a noun that requires feminine verb endings. You would hear that kind of joke at a linguistic convention…

I celebrated Thanksgiving this year. I was invited to the home of a family where the mother is Filipino and the father is south Indian. Their invited guests were another Filipino lady, another south Indian family, and a couple where the wife is British and the husband is American. We had a good 3-course meal: soup, bread and salad; chicken and roast vegetables; topped off with a British Christmas pudding drowned in custard, a chocolate cake baked in its own chocolate sauce, and all washed down with three kinds of red wine, and coffee. I did make pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread around that time too. The pumpkin bread I gave to some Nepali friends (my mom would always make them such things about this time of year, so I knew they’d enjoy it), and the two pumpkin pies I’ve left on the hostel dining room table. They’re slowing disappearing, being consumed by the Nepali staff, and my British, American and Dutch hostel mates.

Every Friday after youth fellowship (that means, if you’re under the age of forty, you’re entitled to be there), my two younger brothers escort me to the end of my road, since it’s on their way home. Our conversation revolves around things like “Do you think you could manage to wear a sari?” “What’s the meaning of the English word ‘macho’?” “Is it ok to spit in public in the States? You can get fined if you spit in public? What if you’re a high-ranking person, can you spit in public then? No? No discrimination. Well, you don’t mind if I spit in public, do you? Of course you don’t, you’re used to Nepali behaviors.”

“Ours is a strange existence,” one foreigner commented to me over a cup of tea and a plate of shortbread biscuits. “I’ve attended cocktail parties for radio station and art gallery openings and met the British Prime Minister on his last visit to Nepal.” But then, she went on to talk about her family’s work with their local congregation and her husband’s work to set up and maintain a business that trains Nepalis in software development and providing IT services.

Strange existence indeed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“They just want to make sure you’re pretty (and wealthy) enough!”

Needed materials to apply for a tourist visa
  • A passport size photo of yourself
  • A filled out application
  • Money
Needed materials to apply for a cell phone:
  • A passport size photo of yourself
  • Photocopy of passport and current visa
  • Both thumbprints
  • The names of your father and grandfather
  • Your permanent and residential addresses
  • Your occupation
  • Money
Needed materials to extend your tourist visa
  • A passport sized photo of yourself
  • A filled out extension application form
  • Attached documents proving the date that you will leave Nepal or the reason for your extension
  • Money
  • Extra money for the “immediate pick-up fee.”
Needed materials to apply for university admission and consequent student visa
  • Two passport sized photos of yourself
  • A Nepali bank statement proving that you do indeed have money
  • Two original admission applications
  • A no-objection letter from the US Embassy
  • A letter of admission to the university
  • Money
Needed materials to apply for a Nepali bank account
  • A passport sized photo of yourself
  • Copies of your employee ID card and a letter from your boss, stating that you do indeed work for this organization or company
  • A copy of your passport and current visa
  • Your occupation
  • Your current and permanent addresses
  • The source of your money, to make sure its obtained by legal means
  • Your father and grandfather’s name
  • A declared beneficiary—in case you die, they know to whom to give your money
  • A map with the location of your current residence marked
  • A promise to bring a photocopy of your renewed visa when this one runs out, and if you move, a new map marking your new residence
  • Money, of course
At least no one asked me for my SSN!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Bread


* 3 cups sugar
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 4 eggs, lightly beaten
* 1 (16 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
* 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
* 1/2 cup water

Aprox prep time: 15 minutes
Aprox cooking time: 1 hour

  1. Buy half a pumpkin from your neighborhood vegetable stand. Buy flour and baking soda from Manandhar’s. Wait, do you have baking soda? Yes, ma’am, we do. Comes back with unlabeled bag of white powder costing 25 rupees. Just buy it and trust the guy that its baking soda.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half, and bake for one hour in a 175 degrees C oven. Make a cup of tea and watch “Sarkar Raj” while waiting for pumpkin. Pumpkin ends up taking 1 hour and 45 minutes to cook, requiring an extra cup of tea and more viewing of “Sarkar Raj.” After pumpkin cools and “Sarkar Raj” is finished, scrape pumpkin pulp into plastic Tupperware, mash with potato masher and put in fridge.
  3. Next day, decide that 1 cup of oil is a lot; will substitute applesauce instead as one online user suggested. Wait, I don’t have applesauce. Buy four apples, four eggs and one package of Coconut Crunchie biscuits from the corner store on the way home from work. Peel and boil apples, mash with potato masher. Add about 2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger to the softened apples.
  4. Ok, I have electricity between 2PM and 8PM today. That should be plenty of time to make the bread.
  5. Wait, I don’t have nutmeg, cloves or allspice. Go to another corner store and come back with only ground cloves—80 rupees for 100 grams. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom seeds will have to suffice.
  6. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.
  7. Combine only 2 cups of sugar, eggs and applesauce. Add pumpkin and mix well. Add double the amount of all spices. Add flour, double amount of baking soda, one teaspoon of baking powder (this will need all the help to rise it can get). Put into butter greased loaf pans. Wait, we have two loaf pans… go to upstairs flat to search for missing loaf pan. Return to lower kitchen triumphant. Pour batter into loaf pans and put into oven to bake.
  8. Wait, oh dang, I forgot the water…oh well.
  9. Wash up all dishes: wash, dip in boiling water, allow to air dry.
  10. Bread is baked! Enjoy with fresh cup of milk tea =)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I've unintentionally started on an Amitabh Bachchan string...

One of the things I’ve tried to take time to do is get to know the popular culture in Nepal better. I’ve started purchasing the daily newspaper (which nicely covers what is going on in India and Southeast Asia as well), reading English translations of Nepali prose and poetry as well as original English writings by Nepali writers (the good, and most popular ones, have all studied, worked, or spend significant time abroad). I thought I’d write a bit about the films this time around.

Ironically, the Nepali films I’ve asked for at the local DVD and video game store have all been out of stock, so I’ve been purchasing—for a mere 30 rupees each—Hindi films. Nepal and India are very different countries, no doubt, but much of the Indian culture, economy and political structure have direct bearing on these respective spheres in Nepal. So far, the films I’ve watched have all featured the film actor Amitabh Bachchan, as well as his Bachchan clan (son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwaraya Rai Bachchan).

Aladin (2009, Eros International): Aladin Chatterjee is just your (extra)ordinary, bumbling, geeky college student who has been bullied from childhood by Kasim and his gang—who in fact, continue to childishly tease him about his name, primarily by making him rub lamps (conveniently purchased at the “Ancient Thing Store,” run by the local Chinese dude). But after Jasmine (an American exchange student, who is of Hispanic heritage—they had to get someone who could dance and look a little indigenous in a sari) gives him a lamp that is in fact, magic, his life changes. Enter Genius (Amitabh Bachchan), who is just months away from retirement as a genie and would like nothing more than to grant Aladin three wishes QUICKLY so he can move out of the lamp (and NOT have his contract extended by another million years!). Things are of course not this easy. Ex-genie “Ringmaster” is looking for the lamp to recover his powers, and Genius in fact knows “dark secrets” of Aladin’s past that are key to stopping Ringmaster from reclaiming his powers. Be it winning Jasmine’s heart, foiling the evil Ringmaster’s plans, or escaping from Kasim one more time, all involve a good amount of elaborate choreography and cheesy singing, which had all of us viewers in stitches. As one of my hostel mates put it, “you just don’t know what’s going to happen next! I love it!”

Aladin has been hailed as one of the best Hindi films to use special effects. That’s what originally intrigued me when I saw part of it on TV at a friend’s house. From Genius’ hand going through Aladin’s head, to flying carpets, transforming guitars, floating objects, and an electrocution scene (which just serves to embarrass Aladin, not kill him), the effects really add to the believability of the extraordinary happenings in Aladin’s life. The other things I found interesting were all the spoofs or commentary on Hollywood films. One of the early scenes involving an escape from Kasim includes some Bourne and 007 antics of climbing through windows, jumping over gates, escaping up clotheslines, avoiding flying shoes and barrels, all while navigating through a crowded bazaar. A student party crashed by Ringmaster has a shot that prominently shows a two students costumed as Spiderman and Superman respectively, colliding into each other in their desperate attempt to exit the building. The fact that it’s an American student that Aladin falls for is also intriguing.

Overall, the twisting story line, song and dance, and interesting turns on American exocticism make this a classic and entertaining Hindi film.

Sarkar (2005) and Sarkar Raj (2008): I’ve not seen any of the Godfather films, but reading the summaries online made me think of these classics. The director’s note at the beginning of Sarkar was in fact a dedication to the Godfather films. Completely opposite of the comic film Aladin, Amitabh portrays a very serious gangster mastermind, known as Sarkar, who is feared as well as respected. The storyline makes use of local, national as well as family politics, and draws on conversations about modernism and development that are so prevalent in this part of the world.

Hindi films have a reputation for being violent, and while certainly the story line of these works made violence inevitable, I feel that they were relatively less bloody than if they had been made in Hollywood. What made it so bad was the suspense involved—Hindi films build suspense through an unsubtle music score and long, artful shots that leave you anticipating an action for a long time. When the suspense breaks is completely unpredictable.

The other thing that caught me (and I appreciated) was the evident tenderness between couples, but without the innuendo or scenes involving full consummation. In addition, the director had the sense to kill off the hero’s wife BEFORE he showed any romantic interest whatsoever in the primary heroine. The religiousity woven into these films was also artfully done to augment both Amitabh and Abisheck’s characters as well as to explain some of the motivations and actions behind murders and intrigues. The soundtracks to each had a chant to “Govinda,” that was played when either of the Bachchans had completed some significant work or were in a public mob scene. After referencing Google and Wikipedia (very scholastic of me, I know), I found out that “Govinda” is a name used to refer to Krishna, especially when referring to him a source of power and as a protector. Sarkar’s whole persona is built around the ideas of power and protector. In convincing Vishnu to murder his father, Sarkar, a swami (religious teacher) counsels him that he will not be destroying Sarkar, just killing Sarkar’s body—his body is in fact just a case or shell for his soul, which will be reincarnated elsewhere. Later, when this swami attempts to talk Shankar (Abhisheck's character) out of killing him using religious reasoning, Shankar cuts him off by telling him "I'm an aetheist," thus justifying his power to be an arbiter of truth.

While not my favorite films, they comment visually and thematically on issues of change, right and wrong, and justice, and how these are realized--or could be realized-- in South Asian culture.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Weekend in Gothatar

I was able to spend the weekend with a family who lives in Gothatar, a village just outside the bounds of Kathmandu. My family has known them for about 15 years now. The son, Ashok, was one of my dad’s patients. He has an inherited genetic disorder called Wilson disease, where his body cannot process copper. Without treatment, it builds up within his body, eventually causing vital organs like the liver, or systems like the nervous system, to shut down. My dad was one of the doctors who were able to diagnose Ashok’s condition and prescribe treatment. As a result, Ashok is on medicine and a semi-restricted diet for the rest of his life to combat the copper build-up in his body. He’s done really well, has finished secondary school and is currently studying to be an accountant. Through this situation, my family developed a close relationship with his family. Most of the time, my family would travel out to their place, but we had them over to our house several times as well. They were often there to see my family off to the States at the airport (since their place is so close to it), and they kindly met me at there when I arrived in the country last year.

I had the opportunity to visit them for four days over this past weekend. They have always urged my family to come out during Dashain or Tihar—the two largest Hindu festivals of the year—and stay for a few days at their house. This was difficult for us to do. My dad was often on call during this season, to allow Nepali doctors and staff time off to spend with their families, and my family of four staying at their place would have made for some cramped quarters. Since I was just one person, and I unexpectedly had an extra day off for the Tihar holiday, I asked if it would be possible to visit for a few days. They were excited to have me.

While I’d been out several times, this trip held some new experiences for me. I was introduced to the family’s daily routine—Kanchi, the wife, waking up at 5AM to milk the cow and take the product into Kathmandu to be sold, having tea and plain biscuits (cookies) for breakfast and the main meal of rice and lentils at 10AM, then 8PM—as well as things pertaining to the festival being celebrated. For example, I came downstairs at 7AM my first day to find the goat purchased the day before butchered, cleaned and being divided up amongst extended family members on the front porch. Talk about having a productive morning!

Tihar includes about four days of festivities. Several animals are honored—crows, dogs, and cows—as messengers of death, guardians to heaven, and the vehicle of Laxmi, goddess of wealth, respectively. The holiday culminates with bhai tikka—when sisters will worship, or rather honor and protect, their brothers against misfortune in the coming year. Laxmi Puja is perhaps the most anticipated night of Tihar. Families will mud paths from the street to their door, often decorated with footprints, oil lamps, vermillion powder and flower petals, for this goddess of wealth to follow to bless their house with material wealth in the coming year. They also make ciel, a sweet, fried donut made of rice flour, whose fragrance the goddess is supposed to like, to entice her to enter. In this age of electricity, there are electric lights placed alongside the oil lamps. Children also go caroling from house to house, and set off firecrackers in the streets. The whole event looks and sounds very festive. One American friend commented recently, “it’s a strange combination of Christmas and the Fourth of July!” which I find to be an apt description.

I spent time helping Ashok put together marigold and purple flower garlands to be used for ghai tikka and bhai tikka, and lighting and feeding the oil lamps scattered along the windowsills at night. Kanchi spent one afternoon doing nothing but making ciel over a small wood stove in the kitchen. These she took to her brothers on the day of bhai tikka, but also distributed to the children who came caroling in the evening, making them dance for her first. We had everyone from a troop of four girls, bedecked in red and gold outfits who sang and danced a set routine, to groups of pre-adolescent and adolescent boys serenading us boisterously until they were given money, ciel, or some kind of reward before moving to the next house. The most popular song sung was a choral-response one. While the words differed from group to group, one of the standard stanzas seemed to be the following:

Hey, red mud (dyosu- re!)
Hey, slippery road (dyosu-re!)
Slipping and sliding (dyosu-re!)
We have come (dyosu-re!)
Hey, you’re my brother (dyosu-re!)

I was in the awkward position of being known to the entire network of extended family who live around them, but having a fuzzy memory concerning how these people were related to Ashok and his family. Most of them just appear as part of the sea of faces from childhood escapades of chasing goats and dogs along village roads, or weddings my family attended. This made for some interesting situations. For example, on the morning of bhai tikka, Ashok took the milk to Kathmandu, and Kanchi had left to go see her brothers in a neighboring town. Krishna, the father, was nowhere to be seen, so I was left (happily) reading a book on the front porch, waiting for their return. A young woman, obviously married from her outfit, came up to the house looking for Ashok. “He’s taken the milk to town,” I told her.
“Oh, you must be the doctor’s daughter!” she exclaimed. “Would you like tea?”
“Umm…ok,” I replied.
She waltzed into the kitchen, warmed up the tea left over from the early morning, and poured two glasses. We chatted briefly about how she was now married, had two young children and was living not too far from Gothatar, what I was doing in Nepal and for how long, when I would be married, how my family in the States was doing, whether or not they were planning to come back to Nepal, and if so, when. She mentioned that I was to come with Ashok to her house when he received his tikka later. It was only when we arrived at her place later that I was able to place her—she was his cousin, the daughter of his father’s eldest brother, whose family lived next door. Her sister, who I also recognized, is now married and has children as well. They had come back to give tikka to their own brother as well as Ashok—who received tikka from no less than three of his female cousins; he was busy all morning going from house to house to get their blessings.

Being away for so long made the changes that have come to Gothatar over the past ten years stark for me. For example, in between the traditional two-story wood and adobe houses rise homes made of cement that are three or more stories high. Families who have lived in the village for years build some of them but people recently moved to the area inhabit others. A bus now comes directly to the town’s main crossroads from Kathmandu; before, my family would take a bus to the airport or an adjoining area and walk into the village through rice fields. Of course, people have changed too. I had conversations with Ashok and his neighbor, Raju (visiting from medical school), concerning everything from the Nepal medical school curriculum to how the country has changed over the course of the Maoist conflict, to a somewhat charged conversation about the best way to handle stress, depression and hardship in life.

Between the new and the old, my time there seemed spun together by webs of memories. It was most interesting to hear what people remembered of my family, most of them surrounding food—Raju’s father remembered the tea and roti my mom served him when he visited our house, my dad had always been free with his compliments about food, etc. The funniest comment however was Kanchi’s concerning my brother. In Nepal, it’s traditional to eat with your right hand (the left is considered unclean to eat with), and there’s a specific technique used to scoop and shovel the food into your mouth. Kanchi reminisced: “When you’re brother came,” she said, “he ate with BOTH hands, like this!” she demonstrated by alternating putting her palms to her mouth, smiling broadly. “He’s probably learned how to eat correctly now, hasn’t he?”

What my rent covers…

  • A fridge that wasn’t keeping things cold now freezes anything that is placed in it…no matter if the dial is turned on or off…
  • The electric bill paid on time.
  • A hot shower.
  • A washing machine.
  • Internet access.
  • Extra protein, in the form of beetles and ants, in my noodles.
  • Mice exploring my garbage and empty luggage, and leaving small presents occasionally.
  • No space heaters in the winter. Buy a hot water bottle—the kind your granny used—and learn to enjoy flannel pjs and wool socks.
  • An efficient, humorous and kind “kaam garne didi,” or house help.
  • A leaky hot water pipe, broken toilet seat, and finicky gas element stove.
  • A battery back-up unit, providing electric light and internet access for up to five hours during black outs.
  • Seven friendly and social housemates, heralding from four different countries.
  • Disappearing and reappearing pots and pans…
  • A consistent water supply.
  • Chocolate brownies, banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and cornflake cake baked by my hostel mates.
  • A chowkidor that keeps the flower garden, says “namaste” to me through the kitchen window, grows beans and tomatoes in the backyard, and always wears a freshly-pressed, multi-colored topi.
  • Big male monkeys that lope through my yard and climb over my roof. No, they have not escaped from the neighboring zoo.
  • Awesome Himalayan views from my roof.
  • Hostel mates that are experts at conversation.
  • Neighborhood boys who consistently kick their half-deflated soccer ball over the wall, and come searching through the flowerbed to find it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pokhara: Trekker’s Oasis, Weekend Getaway, Tourist Hotspot

I unexpectedly had two weeks off of work. I found out about three days before my holiday started that both of my office mates would be leaving—one was going trekking in Manang with his family, one was traveling to Thailand for three weeks to attend/present at a conference on multilingual education. By default, I would have time off too.

This was not completely unexpected: those two weeks were Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival of the year. Everyone takes off of work; shops, businesses and schools are closed, and public transportation is drastically reduced. My Nepali teacher warned me that, by the fourteenth, the city would empty out. No kidding! I attended a songwriting workshop, sponsored by a congregation across town, all week, an on Thursday, my travel buddy and I had a difficult time finding a bus to take us across town! Someone gave me a ride on the back of their motorcycle home that afternoon, and it took ten minutes to get from downtown Kathmandu to my neighborhood—a journey that can take up to thirty minutes depending on traffic!

Apart from the songwriting workshop, I spent an extended weekend in Pokhara with some Nepali friends from the school I taught at last summer. Pokhara is about a 5 to 8 hour bus ride away from Kathmandu (again, depending on traffic, how long rest stops are, and whether or not there is unrest on the road). It’s the beginning/ending point of many trekking expeditions into the Himalayas, especially the Annapurna range, which can be seen from Pokhara. The town also has a lake—Phewa Tal—that reflects the mountain view, making quite a striking vista. While this makes it an obvious spot for foreign tourists, many Nepalis from Kathmandu also go there, mostly for a break from the smog, dirt and population congestion of Kathmandu. That’s what my friends from the school were looking for, as well as an opportunity to visit some members of their ministry team who live up there.

I have been to Pokhara numerous times. When my family lived in Nepal, our agency would regularly have their annual conference there during the winter months (during the tourist off-season, so hotel prices were cheaper). However, I got to experience Pokhara in a lot of new ways this time around. For one, it was quite humid; second, it rained consistently, which prevented us from seeing Mt. Machhapuchhre (Mt. Fishtail), the peak you can see most clearly from Pokhara, flanked by the Annapurna III and Hiunchuli peaks. They were hidden by rain clouds, though, if you were skilled enough, you could distinguish between himal and cloud during clearer times.

Thirdly, I got to hike up the hill on the other side of Phewa Tal, on top of which is a Buddhist Peace Pagoda. What people told us should have been a 45-minute hike one-way took us almost an hour and a half to accomplish! It was quite steep, but the view of the lake, Pokhara, and the surrounding hills was spectacular! I also got to see David’s, or Devi’s, Fall, a waterfall that plummets underground quite impressively.We also got to explore the Gupteshwar Cave, from which you can see the opposite side of the fall.

Because I was “bideshi” (a foreigner), I got to pay 20 rupees instead of 10 for my entrance to the fall, and about 40 rupees to go through the cave. Funny ha-ha: on average, one pays 130 rupees for a plate of daal-bhaat. This includes: lentils, rice, curried vegetables, saag (any green-and-leafy stir-fried vegetable), and up to two kinds of achars (or chutneys, usually chemically hot). If you get meat or roti (a flat bread), then it can be up to 180 rupees. On the trip back, our bus stopped at a touristy restaurant for lunch, where they had a daal-bhaat buffet. When one of the guys in our party and I asked how much the meal was, the cashier said 200 rupees for a vegetable plate, and 250 rupees for a meat plate. We found out later that the guy had charged us both the “bideshi” price—our other Nepali friends had paid 130 rupees and 180 rupees respectively for their plates! We teased this guy—who consistently insists that he has dark skin—that he must have lighter skin than he thinks!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Imagine If...

I know, most of you are probably thinking of the game “Imagine If” right now, but, just stay with me a minute.

Think about your favourite worship song or hymn. Now, think about the arrangement or music style that you enjoy singing it in most (for example, one of my favorite hymns recently has been “There is a Fountain,” by 18th century hymn writer William Cowper, but I enjoy the arrangement by Enfield, available on their first Hymn Sessions album, released this year. I would describe the music style as a softer rock). Got that? Now…

Imagine that this arrangement didn’t exist. The words may be fantastic—theological, poetic, thought provoking—but the melody or tune is completely unpalatable, or has strange connotations (like, a continues I to V chord progression sometimes makes me think of Larry the Cucumber playing the Veggie Tales theme song on that horn-thing). Would it be appealing to you? Would this be one of your favourite hymns regardless?

There have been generational fights about music and worship style within the American congregations for generations now, most of it boiling down to pitting one person’s personal preference against another’s, or someone deciding to be stubborn just because they think they know best. There are now some good conversations concerning the value of using a variety of different music styles in worship, and evaluating which style is most appropriate for individual congregations depending on generational and cultural demographics. In a way, I think it’s a blessing that these conversations, even fights, happen, because it shows that we have a large heritage in Western song. Imagine now that we didn’t have this heritage. That we had no songs in our language declaring the Gospel to the lost, responding to God’s love demonstrated to us through the Gospel, or reminding us of our Gospel inheritance. How different would your life and community be?

Ponder that for just minute…Imagine that you had no worship songs in your language…pretty depressing, right?

I was able to witness something amazing this past week. I attended a songwriting workshop for believers with a Tibetan Buddhist background, and was privileged to be part of the audience to hear the first performance of a worship song in the Kagate language. The Kagate people are a small ethnic group (estimated to be about 2,000 total in number) in Nepal, mostly located in the Solokumbu and Dolakha districts (so, over by Mount Everest). They primarily follow Tibetan Buddhism, and being a significantly small minority group, have had parts of their traditional culture—such as music—suppressed or overwhelmed by surrounding cultures, like the Sherpa. After some of the discussions in the workshop about the value of utilizing traditional cultural music forms when writing worship music (both to encourage the local believers and reach out to unbelievers), the two Kagate brothers in attendance went home and wrote a song in one of their traditional idioms. They chose to base their song on Matthew 11:28 (portions of the scripture have been translated into the Kagate language). Their father, a very literate man who grew up in a Kagate village, helped them write the melody. They then sang it for us all the next day, to the accompaniment of a guitar (a bit of modernity thrown in there). The brothers admitted that they were fluent in speaking Kagate, but weren’t use to singing in it or using “scripture words” in their everyday speech. They apologized ahead of time if they stumbled over some of the words or messed up the melody. One of the brothers said he was too old to really be singing in public (he was probably in his early 40s), and felt a little shy, so requested that the audience show him grace. The audience was very receptive and excited about this new song!

This song was a good example of the work that many in the Lhomi congregation—a people group that spans Nepal and Tibet—have spearheaded in Nepal: redeeming local cultural forms, especially the arts, to glorify God. Those in the Lhomi congregation have found this to be effective both in encouraging believers to grow in their faith, and reaching out to non-believers, because its putting the Gospel in “local clothes” so to speak—presenting it in a form that is culturally familiar.

Attending this six-day workshop was quite the cultural experience for me. Though I grew up in Nepal, all my interaction has been with people of Hindu and urban background, and primarily from the dominant groups of Newar, Bahun and Chetri. These groups are all of Tibetan Buddhist background, and hailed from some of the minority people groups in the country: Tibetan, Lhomi, Sherpa and Kagate. All these languages were utilized during the seminars, and translated into Nepali as the common linguistic medium. I hung out with the Lhomi group during the actual songwriting sessions. Ninety percent of their communication was in Lhomi, with the random Nepali sentence, or translation into Nepali or English for my benefit so I wasn’t completely lost as to what they were doing!

Probably about half the people present considered themselves “musicians” (ie, they sang professionally or knew how to play an instrument), but tried their hand at songwriting anyway. The majority of people in the Lhomi group were women, so in between cooking meals, doing dishes, and making tea for everyone (there were about 30 people who attended in total) they joined the seminars and workshops, lending their laughter, lyrics and melody ideas to the songwriting process, and recording the day’s work on their mobile phones so they could review the new songs for future performances! All of them said that, while they “weren’t musicians,” they learned lots of new things about their musical heritage (there were two seminars on traditional Tibetan music), and about what the scripture says concerning the role of music and song in worship. In total, the Lhomi group produced six new songs for use in congregational worship—some more polished than others—and a few of the younger people present were interested in taking dramnyen lessons—the stringed instrument used to accompany singing in their churches, which many of them found easier to play than the guitar.

Please pray:
~ For unity in the Gospel within the Lhomi congregation, and that they would continue to spread the Gospel to other TB groups in culturally sensitive ways.
~ For the Kagate believers, as they begin to explore how they can utilize their cultural art forms in worship
~ For continued encouragement and fruit from the work done in this workshop

Thursday, October 7, 2010

News from my neighborhood...

  • Part of the zoo wall collapsed. I wasn’t there when it happened, but rumor has it, it was quite epic. Some say the brick wall just collapsed. Others say that a car tapped the wall and it folded. Another said that the car slammed into the wall and it fell over. Anyway, we at the hostel are just glad that it was the wall encompassing the bird exhibit, not the tiger…
  • Dashain is just around the corner—it starts today in fact. This festival is the biggest one Hindus in Nepal celebrate. It honors the goddess Kali, consort to the divine destroyer. Its one of the few times a year some people eat meat. Anyway, the city has been extremely busy, shops have been having sidewalk sales, and ATMs are consistently running out of cash or breaking. While I was blessed to arrive at the ATM when it had just been stocked with a new cash supply, another friend walked all over Patan trying to find one that worked and had cash. I’m told that the Valley will be pretty empty in a few days time, with everyone leaving to their home village to celebrate.
  • A Newar drumming ensemble that processes outside my gate at 6AM has consistently woken me up these past two weeks. There’s a video posted on my Facebook page of their short parade.
  • There’s a stretch of road near the hostel that has been informally labeled “New Thamel.” Thamel is the traditional tourist hotspot in Kathmandu, with pricey restaurants, souvenir shops, and seedy guesthouses. This road in Patan has the pricey restaurants and a few more expensive stores, but no seedy guesthouses that I can see. The interesting thing? Nepalis are the ones who most frequent this strip. Some hostel mates and I went to the Golden Dragon restaurant for dinner last night—actually a very cheap Nepali establishment with REALLY GOOD momos!—and as expected, we were the only foreigners. On our way back, we decided to splurge and get dessert at one of the fancier places—cheesecake (for about $2.60) and lemon curd (for about $2.25)—and low and behold, we were the only foreigners who stepped into THOSE places too! I’m consistently amazed at how Westernized some of the more lucrative Nepali families are; the youth culture in the city looks in a lot of ways like the youth culture in the West. My hostel mates and I ended our evening by laughing ourselves into stitches from watching the Hindi film “Aladin.” I would highly recommend it to any of you. Here’s the website, and according to my mom, it will be available in Netflix soon:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Finally…concerning my trip to Dang!

What visible difference does literacy make in your life?

This question may seem very irrelevant to you. Literacy has always been a part of the life you remember, though your competence in reading and writing may have grown over the years. So maybe I should ask you a different question:

How would your life be different if you weren’t literate?

The obvious answer might be “I wouldn’t be able to read my Bible,” or “I couldn’t read the sports section of the newspaper or browse the internet.” But literacy impacts our lives beyond reading and writing. Some things I could think of…

  1. I wouldn’t be able to drive anywhere new. I wouldn’t be able to read the road signs, much less the directions someone might give me. Even better, I wouldn’t be able to type an address into Google Maps because I would have no such computer skills—all that typing and navigating requires a pretty high literacy level. Heck, I wouldn’t even be driving—I wouldn’t be able to pass the CA written test!
  2. I wouldn’t be able to order coffee at Starbucks. If I did have the guts to ASK for coffee, I wouldn’t know what specials they might be having, what new drinks they have, and, I wouldn’t be able to read the prices for the drinks. I wouldn’t know for sure if the barista was giving me the correct price, or cheating me. Being a barista is not the highest paying job; how do I know she didn’t charge me an extra dollar, which she will later pocket?
  3. I may not know the details of a bill being passed by my state legislature that will have a profound affect on me as a citizen. Right now, I get notices from my student association about bills, etc, that affect me as a young adult, and I can email or write to my representative’s office to let him/her know where I stand on an issue. Were I not literate, maybe someone would tell me, but I would not be able to “research” the details myself—key to deciding where I stand on an issue so I can authoritatively voice my position.

This list could go on. Some of you may not consider yourselves “readers,” but you nevertheless use our literacy skills to navigate our daily life. I encourage you to add to this list, perhaps as a comment to this post.

I traveled down to Dang—a southwest region of Nepal—two weeks ago, with members of my NGO to visit one of our partner NGOs and the community groups with which they work. The groups I had the privilege of visiting talked widely about how literacy had impacted their lives. These groups were made up of women, most of them in their 20s and 30s, who had come together initially to take literacy classes conducted in their villages—the first opportunity most of them had had in their lives to learn to read and write. For them, literacy is not an end in and of itself. It’s the means to tangibly improve their lives. Before being literate, many of them had been easily cheated in the marketplace because they lacked basic arithmetic skills, and were uninformed about laws that in fact protected their children from being sent to the landlord’s house as a slave to repay a debt. They did not have the skills needed to network with each other, discuss these issues, and look for ways to solve these problems. Now that they are literate, their confidence is transferred to other areas of their lives. Here are some of the things these ladies are now doing:

~ One group has opened a general goods store in their vicinity. By providing needed commodities to their village (laundry soap, salt, etc), they are able to fund their own group and provide scholarships for some village children whose families couldn’t afford school tuition.

~All the groups I visited were very excited about the new toilets they had built in their homes, and better aware of the importance of clean water when it comes to staying healthy. Learning how to spell “water” in their classes had opened the floor for talking over all such issues and brainstorming how to make things better in their community.

~ All of the ladies better understood the importance of sending their children to school, and were better equipped to communicate the priority of school to their children and help them with their homework. Well, all but one lady…when she was brave enough to say “my children don’t go to school; they don’t want to so I don’t make them,” the other ladies were quick to lay into her about the importance of sending her kids to school!

~ One of the groups was made up of Tharu women and high-caste Brahmin and Chetri women—and they worked together! They even liked each other! The Tharu are the people group indigenous to the southern Terai region of Nepal. Once malaria was brought under control during the 1950s, people from the hills—mainly high-caste Hindus, who’s groups rule Nepal—began to move into the area and basically colonized the region, American style (think of how in many cases Native Americans were driven off their historic land or cheated out of it, etc, by European settlers). As a result, there is historic tension between these groups. In light of this, I was impressed with how well the Tharu and Nepali ladies in this group interacted with each other.

~A few of the girls I met were former kamlaharis, or house-servants, sent to work at a landlord’s house. Their families made this decision for a variety of reasons, not just to repay a debt. While the government of Nepal outlawed this practice several years ago, it is still widely practiced in the Terai today. These girls had all returned to their families or were with relatives, and all on scholarship from the government to attend school. One of them had become the office assistant for the NGO we partner with in Dang. She had been involved in over 200 kamlahari rescues this past year! This meant coordinating with the local police and dealing with the dozens of phone calls and messages threatening her well-being as well as others at the local NGO.

~ Many of the groups were beginning to think of becoming politically involved. It’s a bit much for me to give a history lesson here, but Nepal’s new government will put the control of community resources back into the community’s hands. This gives formerly suppressed groups, like the Tharu, a voice in how community resources will be used. However, in order to do this affectively, they need to have skills gained through literacy. The involvement that many of these women have now had in their communities makes them prime candidates to be elected into these positions.

All of these women’s primary concern is “how can we better improve the quality of life for our families and our communities?” Literacy has become the entry point into making these changes happen.

Many of you are probably asking, “what about the men?” and “ where does the Gospel come into all this?” These are questions I’m still finding the answers to as I work with LDC-Nepal. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who’s a missionary?

*Names have been changed for the safety of those mentioned in this post

Maya’s family’s home is situated in a lot behind a row of public restrooms in the middle of the city. To get to her front door, I passed the public water tap (her house doesn't have running water), and a sleeping dog, and shared the path with ducks and chickens. Maya greeted me with by putting her palms together and saying jaymashee, or victory in the Messiah.“My place is like living a village,” she laughed.

I’ve known Maya’s family for almost sixteen years now. She taught bal sangati, or children’s fellowship, at my Nepali church with my mother, and her husband, Phillip, has been one of the church’s elders for just as long. She continues to teach bal sangati, and while Phillip is still one of our church’s elders, he has been working abroad for almost 12 years now. While he was always able to find work in Nepal as a driver, the pay was never enough to support his family (especially to pay for his daughters’ school tuition). As a result, Maya and her two daughters, only see their husband/father for a few months every three years or so.

However, Phillip is essentially a tentmaker missionary. While his family’s situation compelled him to leave the country for work in the first place, God has opened up numerous opportunities for ministry abroad. Every year, thousands of Nepalis leave the country to work in service capacities in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The majority of these are men, who work as drivers, factory workers, office assistants, restaurant and hotel employees, and the like. They often live in dorm situations, and send money back home to their families to support them. Phillip has been involved with a Nepali church in Dubai for several years now. I remember as a child hearing reports read aloud in church on baptisms, and the discipleship and evangelistic endeavors in which he was involved. While the church is in no position to support him financially, we regularly pray for him as a body.

Maya herself has been quite involved in church ministry. She has trained bal sangati teachers not only for our own church, but traveled to train teachers and start bal sangatis at our church plants in Western Nepal. Its important to her that children hear the Gospel as well as adults, for, as she puts it, they will be adults one day, and consequently the leaders in their communities, churches, and government. Bal sangatis are crucial in reaching these children with the Gospeal as many of them come to church on their own; they are not brought by their families. It excites her to see people like Niran and Ramesh (two guys my age, who are essentially my brothers as far as everyone’s concerned), and myself—children that grew up in our church—now involved in children’s ministry or other missionary work. “You’re like my children,” she told me, “and it makes me happy to see you also serving the Lord. You are regularly in my prayers!”

However, she was clearly frustrated at the current lack of “harvest workers.” According to her, two of our church plants have really good bal sangatis; the teachers there have come to Kathmandu for training by a local agency that publishes bal sangati curriculum as well as trained others in their villages for the work. Others however don’t have them, not for lack of children, but for lack of people willing to step up and serve. At one point, there were six bal sangati leaders at our church, but one had to leave the country for work, two left the city for further training (medical school and engineering), and one is getting ready to leave the country for further training as an accountant. “Its just like the Bible says—the fields are ready for harvest, but the workers are few!” she exclaimed. “I keep praying that God will raise up more workers!”

Maya gave me a few more details about the church plants in the Western part of Nepal. Because of the Maoist insurgency, only old people and children were left in many of the villages—all the youth and young adults had fled to urban centers like Kathmandu in order to avoid being drafted/forced into the Maoist army. Villagers remaining were often required to provide the Maoist armies with food. The church plant in one region was not ignored by the Maoists either. Maya said, “They told the church that they needed to give them [the Maoists] money, because we were supported by bideshis [foreigners]. The pastor told them ‘we are not supported by bideshis, all our work is our own. If you stay around and watch us you’ll see for yourselves.’ ” Even though the Maoist insurgency is technically over—the Maoists are now one of the primary parties within the national parliament, and have disbanded their guerilla forces—the face of these villages will continue to be changed.

Please pray:
~ For people like Maya and Phillip as they serve faithfully, yet apart.
~ That God will answer Maya’s prayers for more workers in the area of children’s ministry within our church and our church’s plants in other parts of Nepal.
~ For the current political situation in Nepal. I’m still learning details, but right now the country is run by an intern government while a constitution is drafted and elections are organized.
~ How you might become involved in ministry at your local church. Nepali churches aren’t the only churches lacking for help in areas such as children’s ministry.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Of Blue Swords, God’s Sovereignty, and TCKs

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy literature. Some of my fondest memories growing up revolve around the evenings my family would spent listening to my dad read books aloud to us. It was even better if the electricity was out, and it was winter, so we’d read by candlelight and near the kerosene heater wrapped up in quilts. While my dad read a wide variety of books to us, my favorite authors ended up being C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jules Verne. I remember my brother and I impatiently telling our dad to stop weeping every time he read the part about Aslan’s death: he already knew he would rise from the dead! We wanted to hear the rest of the story! I also remember one afternoon, when my mom had left the house for language study, taking a chair into my parent’s bedroom so I could reach The Two Towers, left on top of their dresser. Gandalf had been dead too long; surely he couldn’t have actually died. I must have been nine at the time, and stood on the chair skimming the book (yes, skimming, a skill that I have yet to really be good at in grad school) until I found the paragraph where Gandalf makes his re-appearance. I remember not reading much—just a sentence where Gandalf actually said something to the hobbits—slammed the book shut and put it back on the dresser, content to wait until we got to that part of the book for the rest.

When I was old enough, I re-read the works by Lewis and Tolkien, and discovered other stories by them too: Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooten Major, Leaf by Niggle, a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Screwtape Letters, and Perelandra. I also discovered other fantasy writers along the way. A few of my favorites have become: Robin McKinley, Madeleine L’Engle (to an extent), Gail Carson Levine, and Philip Pullman (maybe more on why I like his works later). The themes that go through so many of these works resonated not only with my experience as a Christian, but also as a TCK (Third Culture Kid, a far more descriptive term than “Missionary Kid”). One of my favorite characters recently has been Harry Crewe from McKinley’s The Blue Sword.

A quick synopsis for those of you who haven’t read it: Harry Crewe, an orphaned Outlander girl (probably about 16 or 17 in the book) goes to live with her older brother’s army commander and his wife at a station on the edge of a colonized territory (“Outlanders” are equivalent to the British in several ways here). Across the border is Damar, a place the Outlanders don’t understand and see as strange; rumor has it that it’s a magical land but any rational person would know that’s just impossible. In a quick succession of events, Harry is kidnapped by King Corlath of Damar, and she goes on to become the next bearer or Gonturan, the legendary Blue Sword that has not been wielded in centuries but has saved the kingdom previously from invasion by the dreaded Northerners (think Mordor).

A few of my favorite passages include:

  • (after a decisive battle) They avoided the fort of the Outlander town, lying peacefully in the sun, untroubled by the tiresome tribal matters of the old Damarians. The Outlanders had known al along there were too few of the Hillfolk to make serious trouble; and if the earth had shivered slightly underfoot a few days ago, (after Harry had in fact brought down a mountain on the invading Northern army) it must be that the mountains were not as old as they thought, and were still shifting and straining against their place upon the earth. Perhaps a little volcanic activity would crack a new vein of wealth, and the Aeel Mines would no longer be the only reason the Outlanders went into the Ramid Mountains. To have this paragraph at the end of the major battle scene where you’ve been informed of all the fantastic details just made me deflated and mad at the stupid Outlanders. But it made me think: how many times have people in our day and age cited “natural” causes for things that have happened because of God’s supernatural intervention? To believe the things they can only see with their physical eyes? And if they can’t naturally explain what they see with those eyes, dismiss the event or experience entirely?
  • "There was never a chance of that, my dear, [getting the Outlanders to actually fight the invading Northern army, something they were very capable of doing; however, the trouble was they didn’t believe the army to be a threat, even if it existed] believe me,” replied Jack. “You are attempting to be logical, I suspect, and logic has little to do with the government, and nothing at all to do with military administration” This passage just makes me smile every time I read it. So unfortunately true on too many accounts.
  • …the sense of dislocation was almost a physical thing, like a stomachache or a sore throat; but Jack’s words now eased and the sore place a little. The bridge could stretch to cross this chasm, perhaps, after all. Throughout the book, Harry deals with the feeling that she is between worlds, or of both worlds but having ownership of neither. This puts her in a position of bridging two separate sides of a chasm, causing both sides question her loyalties, motivations, cultural bearing, and at times, sanity. I find the physical strain she experiences interesting, because too many times I’ve had that feeling as a TCK. Apart from the physical dislocation felt in getting over jet-lag or re-adjusting to a different diet, there’s sometimes a physical soreness that comes when you realize that you’ll always be missing a place or someone, and that you can never completely call one place “home.” Its easy to question God’ sovereignty and control over not only your circumstances at this point, but also what kind of vessel He’s shaping you into. In my own case, I wondered if He hadn’t made some mistakes. But comfort comes when you realize that you’re not the only one who feels this way, and God brings people into your life with the right things to say at the right time, reminding you that you’re still in His sovereign plan, the work He’s doing on you is not a mistake and is in fact, good.
  • I’m missing what I don’t have, she thought…Its nothing to do with what I should be homesick for…its that I don’t belong here. It doesn’t matter that I’m getting burned as dark as they are, that I can sit on a horse all day and not complain. It doesn’t matter even that their Water of Sight works in me as it does in only a few of their own. It is only astonishing that it would work on one not of the Hills; it does not make that one any more of the Hills… I found this passage to be resonant of the definition of a TCK found in David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken’s book entitled Third Culture Kids—the experience of growing up among worlds: “A TCK is an individual who, after having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than that of their parents, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.” Put simply, there’s always the question, hanging uncomfortably over one’s head, concerning cultural identity: “where do I belong?”

Many of the themes found in fantasy literature also involve eternity, being part of something bigger, and walking by faith. These easily mix with the TCK theme, and the existence that many of us have come to have (I’ve had too many conversations with my fellow TCKs concerning all this that I think I can speak safely for them in this matter). It’s a lot to juggle, and can be overwhelming at times. Thankfully, we serve a Savior who makes the burden light.