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.