Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Kingdom of Butterball: The King, the Croc and the Minotaur, Part 4

Keeping his head above water, the King was able to watch the rest of the race. The giant finally got smart and used his height to his advantage, cracking the troll on the head and knocking him out cold, so he could go and strike the gong. While the python snapped at the Brownies with his teeth and lashed out at them with his tail, his efforts were fruitless—soon the Brownies had him tied up in a knot, and his snaky skin was not armor enough against their little javelins. The giant who had fought the troll lumbered over and untied the python, completely ignoring the Brownies’ attacks, and threw the python at the gong. The black water snake plunged in to the swamp as soon as he heard the gong. In no time, the snake was neck to neck with the King.

“You seem quite fit for your age,” the water snake commented.

“I like to think that I keep my body working,” the King replied.

But it was evident after a few minutes that he was not as fit as he once was. The snake began to get the best of him, and the King fell behind several feet. Tempting as it was to drop his sword--it was quite inhibiting to his strokes--he knew he needed to keep it in hand.

"Hey Daddy--catch!"

Soon, a bright yellow blob landed in front of him. It was tied to a rope that his three daughters all held tightly. "We'll pull you to shore! We're allowed to help you, remember?"

The King reached out and grasped the bright yellow blob--it was a circular tube--and began kicking harder with his legs. His daughters ran back from the shore line, pulling as hard as they could. Soon, he passed the snake, and reached the shore in no time. The King jumped up and struck the great gong.

The note sounded sure and clear.

Giles’ whistle to signal the end of the contest could not be heard above the whoops and hollers of the Crocs, or the bellows of rage coming from the Minotaur. Princess Buttercup sounded the gong again to gain the audience’s attention. They politely silenced, but continued to wave their tails in the air. Giles bowed to the Minotaur, the Great Croc, and King of Butterball, who was now standing beside the Great Croc, wet as he was.

“Your Majesties—it would seem that the King of Butterball and his royal daughters have fairly won the contest, based on the conditions laid forth by the Great Croc and the Minotaur. As a result, the Minotaur relinquishes his hold on the Croc’s Bottleneck, and returns the jurisdiction to the Croc People, and will not contest the matter of ownership any further. If he provokes the matter again, he will be dealt with as a law breaker, as the Protocol for Breaking Laws prescribes.”

The Minotaur bowed to the Great Croc in acknowledgement. “My troops shall be withdrawn immediately. The two Butterball knights shall be released. Congratulations on a good contest.” He then bowed to the King of Butterball. “I commend you on your swimming abilities.”

“Gee, thanks!” the King bowed back.

While the Great Croc and the Minotaur continued their discussion of details, the King went over to look at the yellow blob that the Princesses had thrown to him in the water. It was made of some sort of bendy substance, and filled with air. "Where did you find this thing?" he asked his daughters.

"It was in your bag," Princess Buttercup replied. "Bryce found it. You were certainly in the middle of an emergency, so we pulled the tabs as instructed and the thing filled with air. We figured it would float, so threw it to you. Do you know if its really used for that?"


The King, his daughters, and the two knights arrived back at the castle just as the sun was setting, much to Queen’s joy. She rang for the Princess’ favorite dinner to be prepared immediately—macaroni and cheese, with broccoli, and grapes for dessert, with the skin removed. The knights unfortunately had to decline the Queen’s invitation to join the party—there had been a bombardier beetle sighting at a farm just outside of Hockham, and the farmer was worried about the well-being of his harvest of hay, which he had just put in his barns for winter. While the princesses waited for the dinner treat, they recounted the day’s adventure to their mother, lauding their father’s bravery, and telling all about what a wonderful host the Great Croc had been, and how much they were looking forward to their daily swimming and fishing lessons.

“What’s this? Swimming and fishing?” exclaimed the Queen.

“Yes,” the Princess Buttercup confirmed. “For his helpfulness during the contest, the Great Croc has assigned Bryce as commander of the Moat Crocs, and part of his duties is to give us daily swimming and fishing lessons.”

The Queen looked to her husband, who was smiling broadly. “Well, alright, they’re sure to come in useful.”

“However,” the King cleared his throat. “If you are to get the most out of these swimming and fishing lessons, you should pay more attention to your knitting and tea-brewing sessions. You’ll be very grateful for the scarves, blankets, hats and warm beverage after your day in the cold water.”

The End

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Kingdom of Butterball: The King, the Croc and the Minotaur, Part 3

To the Great Croc, Ruler of the Slimy Swamp, who refuses to pay the tax on the Croc’s Bottleneck and so causes himself grief by bringing upon him the wrath of the great ruler of the Perilous Forest, and his ally the King of Butterball,

From the Great Minotaur, Ruler of not only the East Side of the Perilous Forest but also of the Croc’s Bottleneck,


I accept the challenge, and shall meet at the edge of the Slimy Swamp as agreed and outlined, upon one more condition: that the King of Butterball and his daughters be the only contestants from your side, if he wants his Knights safely returned to him afterwards.

“What!?” the King exclaimed when the Scribe had finished reading the newly arrived message. “So, this has become my challenge? Outrageous!”

“I’m afraid so,” the Great Croc apologized. “I could try and send him another message—“

“It is already early afternoon, and the Queen will be worried if we are not home by sunset,” the King grumbled. “And, I’d much rather get it over with today than draw this out till tomorrow or the next day."

“Daddy, we can help!” Princess Butterfinger chimed up. “You swim in your armor and with your sword, leave the rest to us!”

“Yeah, we’ll take care of the Brownies and the troll!” Princess Butterfly agreed. “Sissy is already a referee, so why can’t we help?”

“Absolutely not!” the King spluttered. “Its too dangerous!”

“Daddy, we’ll just do what you did to get here,” Princess Butterfinger assured him. “I’ll take care of the troll, Butterfly will take care of the Brownies. You have more chocolates and buttercups in the bag, don’t you?”

“Well, yes…but what if it doesn’t work this time?”

“We’ll figure some back up plan—just leave it to us!

At about four o’clock—thirty minutes later than agreed—the Great Minotaur arrived, with his three warriors who would be in the contest. He had a large gold ring in his nose, and the tips of his horns were plated with gold. He carried a long iron bar in his hand, using it as a walking stick but one could only guess what other uses he had for it. He met the King and the Great Croc on the shore of the Swamp. They all bowed in acknowledgment.

Giles approached the awkwardly silent group and nodded. He was decked out in a periwinkle and magenta referee’s tunic, trimmed with gold around the edges. “We are ready to begin when you are, your majesties.”

“I shall go and take my place,” the King said, and went to wait at the edge of the swamp.

He had a good vantage point. He could see the Great Croc and the Great Minotaur, sitting with their courts in the pavilion set up on the middle island. The troll challenge was to his right, the Brownies to his left. Princess Buttercup was refereeing the trolls, Princess Butterfinger was challenging the troll, and Princess Butterfly was taking on the Brownies. They were up against a giant and a python from the Minotaur’s side. He was up against a great black water snake, fitted out in a tube of armor and a cap covering his nose and back of his head. “Where’s your sword?” the Croc referee asked.

“My poison is as deadly as any sword,” the snake hissed back.

Giles blew the whistle, and the contest was off.

The troll and the giant were at it. The ground shook beneath their wrestling and pounding. The giant kept trying to get past the troll to strike the brass gong set up at the far end, but he could not; the troll kept wrapping his arms around the giant’s legs, tripping him and making him fall to the ground with great thuds. Princess Butterfinger was debating with her troll to let her past. She offered him the truffles but he shook his head and bellowed something that the King couldn’t make out between the distance and the noise. Their argument seemed to become very heated, and at one point he raised his fists as if to hit her, but then he quickly lowered them and shuffled out of the way. Princess Butterfinger walked over and struck the gong with all her might.

As soon as they heard the gong strike, the Brownies were flying at Princess Butterfly. Princess Butterfly simply let a shower of buttercups all around her, tossing them into the air out of her bag. The Brownies that were advancing on her fell to the ground sneezing, and the few that tried to get away crashed into trees as they tried to fly away with teary eyes. When the coast was clear, she walked over to the brass gong hanging from the tree at the edge of the clearing and struck it.

Now it was the King’s turn. “This is going way too easily,” he thought as he dove into the swamp, holding his sword out in front of him as he swam.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Kingdom of Butterball: The King, the Croc and the Minotaur, Part 2

Forgive the awkward formatting; I hope it doesn't make the text too hard to read.

The King watched Sir Matt and Sir Zap trot off to his right, heading toward the south side of the forest. It was hoped that by entering the forest by the main road, they were more likely to meet some creatures and cause a ruckus. This disturbance would allow the King to enter relatively unobserved from the less conspicuous northwest side, out of sight of the town. All seemed calm and peaceful as he entered the forest. The King shifted the bag slung over his shoulder, muttering something about having to carry extra baggage.

While he had intended to fight any enemies by sword, the Queen had insisted that he take the bag handed him by the Court Magician as he made preparations to leave the castle. The King had obliged her by taking the bag. Peeking inside, the King saw the usually mess of random items that was suppose to help him accomplish his mission. Once, the man had given him a sheet of aluminum foil, some bananas and chocolate, and a mystic fire-lighter. He ended up getting lost in a wilderness and eating the bananas and chocolate, catching a ride from a passing dragon by attracting it with the shiny foil, and giving the mystic fire-lighter to the dragon because the creature was afraid of its own flame and enjoyed cooked meals instead of raw. Another time, he had been given a spindle, some hay, and a bag of peas. Unfortunately, the damsel he was rescuing had a horrible fear of pointy things--said she fell asleep for one hundred years at a time if she so much as pricked her finger--and he never found out what the hay and peas were for as his horse got hungry and ate them. This time, the Magician had given him a bouquet of buttercups, two boxes of truffles, and a bright yellow package with a "pull tabs in emergency" label on it.

Suddenly, several creatures that at first appeared to be large mosquitoes came buzzing and laughing out of the trees. “Brownies!” the King exclaimed as several small javelins stung his unguarded nose. His horse reared, ejecting the King from his seat, and galloped out of the forest. The Brownies all cheered at this victory. None noticed the buttercups that had fallen out of the King’s bag and scattered on the ground. The pollen spread in the air as the flowers rolled to the ground. Immediately, the Brownies began to rub their eyes and sneeze. Soon, they couldn’t see where they were flying so began to crash into the trees. The Brownies that could evacuated the area immediately.

“Why, I do believe they are allergic to the flowers!” the King exclaimed. The area was as deserted as it was when he entered it. He bent down, picked up a not so mangled buttercup and placed it in his chain mail shirt. “Looks like the Court Magician got something right for once.” He found an ill-trodden path and followed it deeper into the forest.

After a while, the path took him through a clearing, and split at three big boulders. The trees overhead were so thick they blocked the light from the sky, making the place quite dim and spooky. Before the King could decide which way to go, the boulders uncurled themselves and became three big trolls, each wielding a spiked club. The King drew his sword to defend himself. “You won’t need that,” one of the trolls said. “Just pay the toll.”

“And what would that be?” the King asked.

“A bite off your arm!” bellowed one.

“No, a nice juicy thigh,” said the other.

“Or, just some caramel truffles,” the last one said. “We rarely get those, and they taste ever so much better.”

“Well, I just so happen to have a box,” the King drew the package of chocolate out his shoulder bag. He extended the box to the trolls. “Would you kindly tell me which way to the Slimy Swamp?”

“To the right!” they said as they wretched the box from his hand and ripped the pink ribbon off. The King rushed passed them to the right and continued his journey.

After following the path for about thirty minutes, the foliage began to change from oaks to pines and finally to large cypress trees, their knees rising out of the algae covered water of the swamp. To the King’s right was a lichen covered log, floating in the still water. On second glance, the log was certainly green, but not lichen-covered—it was a crocodile, sunning itself in the last rays of light coming through the gaps in the forest ceiling. The King was startled to see it so close that he jumped and cried out. This woke the sleeping crocodile, who in turn jumped and yelled when he saw the King.

“Oh please, don’t tell them I was sleeping on the job!” he began to plead with the King.

“Sleeping on the job?”

“Yes, you see,” here the crocodile leaned in close to the King and whispered, “We’re having a bit of trouble with some other creatures in the Forest—“

“Another Leviathan?” the King interrupted.

“No, not a Leviathan, but a situation of similar direness. The Great Croc is currently conversing with the three Princesses of Butterball—“

“Whom I have come to collect,” the King cut the poor Croc off again. “What’s the meaning of capturing them like this?”

“They weren’t captured!” The Croc became defensive. “They agreed to visit the Great Croc at his invitation—“

“And they didn’t tell me about it?”

“The Great Croc invited the King and Queen too. The Royal Jester, who was with the Princesses, said he’d extend the invitation himself.”

That great joker, the King thought. I’ll…deal with him when I get back. He cleared his throat. “Well then, please take me to the Great Croc, and my daughters.”

The croc blinked in surprise. “Oh, yes your majesty!”

With the Croc’s permission (whose name was Bryce) the King seated himself on the animal's back, and they swam to the small island in the middle of the Swamp, which served as the central court of the Great Croc. There were several Crocs standing around talking, some wearing gold medallions, embellished leather vests or suits of armor. On a large flat rock at the far end of the island lay their leader, the Great Croc. He was chatting with the three Princesses of Butterball.

“Daddy!” they exclaimed when they saw him coming towards them. They leapt up and wrapped their arms around his neck to greet him.

“Guess what?” Princess Butterfly exclaimed. “The Great Croc wants to send some of his warriors to live in the Castle moat again!”

“And give us swimming lessons and take us fishing!” Princess Butterfinger jumped up and down.

“That’s not all,” Princess Buttercup explained. “He’s having Minotaur trouble, and wants you to defeat the Great Minotaur in battle.”

“What?” the King asked, confused.

The Great Croc let his formidable tail slide over the rock. He explained the situation more coherently. “The Great Minotaur, as you know, is the ruler of the east side of the Perilous Forest,” the Great Croc pulled out a map of his domain and spread it on the rock for the King to see. “Our Swamp borders on his realm, and there is a small part where our swamp bottlenecks and spread out again. He has taken hold of this part, where it joins the Gleaming River. This is a major problem, since that is where most of our fish supply comes from.”

“We have already tried negotiating with the Minotaur, and meeting him in battle, both which did not end well. So, I thought I’d call upon you for assistance, and accept any help you decided to give. I realize that the alliance between the Crocs and Butterball has not been honored for some time, but I was hoping you would keep it.”

“Of course,” the King replied. “Glad to help an old friend in trouble.”

“The Princess Buttercup has already given a suggestion that I think will work,” the Great Croc said.

“Yes—I suggested a contest between warriors of opposite sides!” the eldest princess said gleefully. “Not a joust or duel—they’re too boring and dangerous. More like a race with obstacles. You know, swim the length of the swamp with your armor and sword in hand, a wrestling match with a troll, and outwitting the Brownies. And make so there’s no holds barred on the contestant’s side, meaning, they can’t do anything to hinder the other contestant, but can do anything necessary to overcome the obstacles themselves. What do you think?”

“Brilliant!” the King exclaimed. “Could we make it a relay race? That way one warrior won’t have to do it all—it could be quite tiring, to swim with your armor on and sword in hand. In my younger days I could do that, but now, I might not have the strength left to wrestle a troll afterwards. But not even all young warriors can do that. Splitting the challenges up will make it fair for everyone.”

“Sounds excellent to me,” the Great Croc was satisfied. “I shall issue a challenge to the Minotaur immediately. Bryce! Prepare a flag of truce, and send the Scribe to me.”

Bryce nodded his head and crawled quickly away.

“Your Excellency—two of my knights came into the forest by the main road today,” the King told the Great Croc. “Did any of your people happen to sight them or know where they might be now?”

“No, but I can inquire after them,” the Great Croc replied. He called to another Croc. “Giles! Go with Bryce and inquire after the two knights of Butterball.” Another Croc slithered away, following Bryce.

A Croc supplied with a writing kit soon appeared. After laying out a large, thick sheet of parchment and inking his quill, he indicated that he was ready to transcribe the Great Croc’s challenge to the Minotaur:

To the Great Minotaur, Ruler of the East Side of the Perilous Forest, and fashioning himself owner of the Croc’s Bottleneck,

From the Great Croc, Ruler of the Slimy Swamp, to whose People the Croc’s Bottleneck really belongs, and the King of Butterball, ally of the Croc People,


To settle the current border disagreement concerning the area of land commonly known as Croc’s Bottleneck (for a reason), we challenge you to a contest today to take place at half-past three in the afternoon. The winner shall claim ownership of Croc’s Bottleneck. The details are listed as follows. Please reply by half past one this afternoon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Kingdom of Butterball: The King, the Croc and the Minotaur, Part 1

While rummaging around in some old computer files, I found some stories I wrote for my cousins about five years ago as a Christmas present. Actually, my cousins--three sisters--were the ones to imagine the characters of the stories, and the seed to begin the plot, as part of their imaginary play. I simply transcribed and elaborated on their ideas. Below is one of them. Since this story is rather long, I'll post it in a few separate blogs for easier reading. This is definitely different that what I've posted before, but I hope you all enjoy them!

The Kingdom of Butterball:

The King, the Croc and the Minotaur

Part 1

In the Days of Yore (which happened between Hither and Thither, but after Yon), there existed a small, peaceful kingdom called Butterball. It was ruled benevolently by, who else, but the King and Queen of Butterball. They lived in a glass-frosted castle perched on a hill overlooking a very green valley, where the town of Hockham lay, bordered on one side by the Gleaming River and on the other by the Perilous Forest. While there had been such events as epic battles, black magic hunts, and dragon raids in the past, no such disturbances had occurred for at least two generations. For the most part, the people went about their daily routines in peace and happiness, enjoying the niceties of life after a hard day’s work. However, that did not mean exciting things did not happen. Many of the adventures that went on were much more thrilling than dragons.

For example, one day, the King and Queen were having their usual mid-morning snack—wheat toast with butter and marmalade, and Earl Grey tea—on the sunny balcony overlooking the fountain garden below, when the Royal Page arrived, all white faced and trembling. “Announcing the Royal Jester with an urgent message for your Majesties.”

The Royal Jester entered and bowed pompously, the bells on his multicolored hat jingling merrily. When he stood straight, the King and Queen saw that his face was white too.

“Your majesties—I was just coming back from my regular morning walk, when I saw it: the Princesses Buttercup, Butterfinger and Butterfly being taken into the Perilous Forest by two huge crocodiles!”

“What?” the King was so shocked he would have dropped the teapot had he been pouring his own tea. But the Royal Servant did that instead, and immediately began to clean up her mess.

“Whatever for?” the Queen gasped.

“Why, in my grandfather’s day, we had an allegiance with the Crocs!” the King spluttered. “We aided the other when they were in trouble. They protected Hockham from the dragons when they went out pillaging after someone stupidly raided their treasure cache, and we defeated the Leviathan who decided to take up residence in their swamp without their permission. And now they’ve gone and done the opposite! This is outrageous—“

While the King continued to rage, the Queen began to give out instructions. “Royal Servant, I think we’re done with our snack, please clear it away.” The Royal Servant piled the used dishes onto the silver tray and skipped quickly away. “Royal Page, call on Sir Zap and Sir Matt, bring them here at once, tell them its urgent,” The Royal Page bowed and fled the room.

“Why call on Sir Zap and Sir Matt?” the King asked, puzzled.

“Why, to rescue our daughters of course!”

“If anyone is doing any rescuing, it will be me,” the King announced. “What sort of king would I be sending others to fight my battles for me?”

“But this concerns all of us,” the Queen reasoned.

“But the Crocs have insulted me by taking my daughters! They obviously want to pick a fight with me—“

“But dear, you’re not young anymore. It has been at least twenty years since you have fought in battle, let alone a creature like a Croc. You will hurt yourself!”

At this instant, the Royal Page arrived, and announced Sir Zap and Sir Matt. Two tall, lean fellows entered, dressed in mail shirts covered with bright blue tunics bearing the emblem of Butterball—a bouquet of buttercups, with butter knives crossed below them. They bowed graciously. “You called for us, your Majesties?”

The King cleared his throat. “Actually, the Queen did. Our three daughters have been abducted by the Crocs of the Slimy Swamp in middle of the Perilous Forest.”

“This will never be stood for! What an outrage!” Sir Zap boomed.

“We shall go rescue them, my Liege!” Sir Matt drew his sword.

“Humph! I will be rescuing them,” the King stated

The Queen rolled her eyes.

“But I do need your help,” the King continued. “You will create a diversion.”

Punishment? Or Alternative Assignment?

“If you don’t do the reading, and you don’t turn in your response paper on time,” our instructor threatened, “then your punishment will be performing one of your traditional dances for five minutes in front of the class!”

I came back to my dorm room one afternoon to find my Pakistani roommate slothing through the reading assignment. “There are so many words here that I don’t know,” she stated. I looked to see the words “indigenous” and “powwow” circled in the first paragraph of her copy of the reading. “I’m thinking that dancing for five minutes would be so much easier—I mean, I can dance for thirty minutes, no problem!”

Dancing for five minutes in front of the class would be punishment for undergraduates at UCR enrolled in some cultural arts class. But in a similar class where students harken from Pakistan, South Korea, Myanmar, Philippines, and Malaysia, and all are specialists in some aspect of their “indigenous” arts, dancing for five minutes in front of the class may not be seen as “punishment,” but an alternative assignment—and one that takes less effort and energy! Leave the reading and response writing to the two white Americans in the class who have advanced English language capabilities and no dance moves!

Well, while she did, in the end, decide to do the reading and the written response, we still got to see our Pakistani classmate do two dances as “punishment” for being late, as well as one monologue as Lopakhin from Anton Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” She’s one talented artist, to say the least.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Does your mother know?!"

I was at a friend’s house recently, for a movie night, where I was a complete stranger to everyone else who showed up. I was introduced as a fellow church member who had been working abroad for the past eight months or so in Nepal. One young lady’s reaction was particularly intriguing.

“Don’t tell me you went by yourself!” she exclaimed rather unexpectedly.

I assured her that I had in fact gone by myself.

“Did your mother know? What did she think about it?!”

I assured her that mother had in fact been quite excited for me, since she had raised me there as a child. She thought it had been a wonderful opportunity to return and reconnect with friends from my family's previous time there.

The young lady didn’t seem to have anything more to say, but looked at me with blank, almost hysterical, amazement.

What perplexed me more than anything was this young woman was probably not much older than I; what business did she have to scold me so? Looking back, I was in jeans and my college sweatshirt, and introduced as a UCR student. She probably thought I was much younger than I actually am. Note to self: I should emphasize graduate student, and apparently need to work on looking older. I guess that means wearing make-up and heels regularly. Bleh.

People’s reactions to learning that I was about to spend eight months on my own in Nepal had solicited similar reactions. Was it politically stable? What did people think of Christians there? Was it safe for young, white women? Many assumed I would be shot or kidnapped. I assured them that I had more of a chance of getting shot or kidnapped here in the States than in Nepal. I was welcomed back to Riverside from my stint in Nepal in 2009 with text messages from UCR’s security warning everyone that an armed robber was running rampant on campus, and newspaper headlines about shootings on Perris Blvd in the neighboring town, which I drove passed at least twice a week. I’m glad I’m covered by the prayers of my Nepali brothers and sisters every day I’m outside the country of Nepal.

When people ask me what I did in Nepal, I reply that I worked at a small NGO involved in language and literacy development. My jobs mostly entailed editing English documents—annual reports, drafts of grants, my Nepali boss’s articles, various forms that are supposed to amount to ‘accountability’ for foreign donor agencies—but I also re-did bulletin boards, made photocopies, collected and edited material for the website, phoned liasons at embassies, mingled with linguists and politicians, and made numerous trips to various partner agencies in and out of the Kathmandu Valley, where I was based.

After a confused look, they usually tentatively ask, “…and you said you were a missionary?”

Who do they think does all this necessary footwork? Is my usual thought. My work for this NGO wasn’t too different than what office staff at my sending agency back in the States do everyday. At least once, I should take a friend’s advice and tell inquirers, “Well, you know, I performed miraculous healings and cast out demons on the weekends; all that office work was just a cover for my real work.”

However, another friend’s wise advice rings loud and clear during these times of temptation—“Grace, Tori, display grace”—bringing me back to the reality that I, though justified, am still in the process of santification myself. I should be the one thanking these people for being instruments of God’s sanctification in my life rather than nashing my teeth at them on the inside…

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When an American and a Korean get together, in which language do they communicate?

…Nepali, of course!

One of my unexpected friendships in Nepal has been with a young lady from South Korea who currently volunteers at Salvation Worship Ministries—the same organization I did much of my research through two summers ago. She goes by “Jyoti”—the Nepali word for “light”—as her Korean name is a difficult for Nepalis to pronounce. While she is currently learning English, she is more comfortable communicating in Nepali, so that’s the language we use to talk to each other. This amuses our Nepali friends to no end, especially the guys at Salvation with whom I communicate in English.

We began talking at the fellowship SWM hosts on Saturday afternoons, and she mentioned that she wanted to have me over for a meal after all her guests—short-termers staying at her place—left. I received a text from her one Saturday afternoon, asking if I was free to come over after fellowship. I said sure. The evening ended up being one of unexpected sweet fellowship with another sister—all through a language that is “foreign” to both of us!

I was impressed with Jyoti’s soft and malleable heart towards God. She shared—over a meal of spaghetti in a cream sauce, with Coke to drink—a little about how she had come to work in Nepal. She had come on a short-term trip in 2008, and at that time met people from SWM. They were looking for a sound engineer to come and help them out in the newly opened studio. She was a piano major at university, but after going back to Korea, she began praying, and felt that God was leading her toward computer music composition, which involved sound engineering. She changed her major, but then God told her to take a rest from her studies and go to Nepal for two years. She did so, and has ended up doing studio work for SWM.

“I keep asking God ‘why me?’” she confessed. “There are tons of better sound engineers out there, in Korea and in Nepal!” But she has felt privileged to do the work she’s been able to do, and amazed at God’s goodness in working through her.

Does she desire to return to Nepal? Of course, however, she is now engaged to married to a young Korean man—who is also working in Nepal right now, providing IT support in rural areas—who has a desire to go work in Turkey. Jyoti informed me that before he mentioned going to Turkey, God had been steering her heart in that direction as well. His parents have approved of their decision to marry, and it seems that they will go forward with that once they return to Korea.

Jyoti is endeared to all the guys who work at SWM. “I am going to bawl out loud at the airport when you leave,” Solomon told her one day when I visited the institute, “just like this—“ and this 30-year old man began giving a very impressive imitation of a two-year-old temper tantrum.

Raju, a young college student, takes his role of younger brother very seriously. “Jyoti cannot say my name right because she cannot say ‘r,’ ” he announced over tea one day. “So, it comes out as “Laju!”’ He then gave her a sequence of Nepali words where ‘r’ was key to pronunciation—change it to an l and the meaning completely changes. “Oh, can you say ‘rato’? No! No! ‘Lato’ mean “stupid and dumb,” I want you to say ‘rato’ which means 'red'!”

Prakash has been impressed by her consistent temperament. “You know, some people have serious mood swings—really sad, really happy—but Jyoti, she’s consistent. She’s always joyful, always smiling, always pleasant.” He also recollected, “When Jyoti was learning Nepali, we had such a good time with her! She made some pretty funny mistakes, and we gave her a hard time about it.” He ended with “we’re really proud of her Nepali language now.”

In working with a bunch of guys who know how to push buttons, Jyoti’s sweet temperament and un-shy determination to learn a new language has paid off by blessing those around her.

As I took a round-about way back to my place in Dhobighat, I marveled at how wonderful my evening had been. Sweet fellowship with a Korean sister, all through the Nepali language!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Please, manage your time, and come to my wedding!"

I had walked into a lively meeting about how the music ministry and school was to be run, now that Pankaj was leaving for the States in less than a week to get married. Ask the landlady if a gate to the upstairs can be installed; the office will move up there and the gate will keep things secure. That computer needs a password put on it; right now, just anyone can walk into the room and use it. Now, about those dwindling finances….well, looks like we’ll have to economize and provide no more snacks, just tea. Should we start taking up an offering at fellowship? One guy joked that the fellowship already resembled a church service minus the offering; the offering would make it just like a church service!

And oh, Hari, he’s getting married tomorrow. Who’s coming to the wedding? Its four hours away, as his bride is from another town. Tori, are you coming?

“Is he really getting married?” I asked. They had been teasing Hari about getting married since I had left Nepal two years ago. I half disbelieved them.

Hari pulled a pile of cards out of his backpack, shuffled through them, found one to his satisfaction, and clicked his pen open. “Who’s that for?” someone asked.

“For her,” Hari jerked his head in my direction. Someone else laughed, probably Solomon. “How do you spell her name?”

“T-O-R-I,” Pankaj named the letters, “D-A-Z-E—“

“No, D-A-L-Z,” I corrected him.

Now it was Sunil’s turn to laugh. “Pankaj never gets names right!”

Hari finished writing and handed the invitation to me with both hands. My last name was still missing an “l” at the end. It was the invitation not to his wedding, but to a reception at Patan church on Thursday. “My sister is getting married on that day,” he said, “but the reception is for both of us. Please manage your time, and come.”

This wedding was the third one I had been invited to within the eight months I had been in Nepal. The others had been two Rai siblings, who I also knew through the music ministry. I was on my way to work one day, and a motorcycle pulled up beside me. “This is good luck, I have something to give you!” it was Ashish, and he pulled out a wedding invitation with my name on it. “Bishwas, my older brother, is getting married tomorrow. Can you come?”

Turns out, I did know this older brother—he had been coordinating the Putalisadak English language service the last time I was in Nepal. I figured I should attend his wedding, and my boss kindly gave me the afternoon off so I could do so. There, his sister, Anu, informed me that their eldest sister would be getting married next week, at Putalisadak. “You should come!” she urged. So I had attended that one too.

In attending these weddings, I was able to observe how Nepali Christians conduct these affairs. In American, and I would assume most Western, weddings, much is made of the bride and groom. Here, I noticed, it was very much about two congregations—two families—being joined together. The pastors from each church would give a full on sermon concerning what marriage meant to Christians—a picture of Christ and his church, completing God’s image of man of woman joined together, the need for a husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband—but emphasizing too the importance of community, and how these couples fit into the life of the church. More than one story was told of failed “love marriages” where parents and elders were not consulted or the community not involved in the decision.

This emphasis on community was also awkwardly present in the way the ritual aspects of the ceremony were conducted. Much was done to the couple, but not by the couple. Elders from each church would officiate these various aspects—deciding two or three times where and how the couple should stand when exchanging vows, abruptly calling for whoever was giving the bride away and if anyone objected to this union, and overseeing the signing of the marriage license (which, I’m not sure is for congregational record purposes or if this was the piece of paper from the local government office as well), and then leading the collective prayer after all this had been completed. The congregation would participate in a short praise and worship session as well, the songs not necessarily about weddings but always Gospel centered.

At each of these weddings, a song has been sung to the new bride as well. Members of the music ministry have consistently been the ones to sing this song. There have been jokes passed around about being the up-and-coming wedding band, or producing an album of wedding songs. And like any self-respecting musicians, they got paid in wedding food.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Return to Bhaktapur, and madal lessons!

I took the bus to Bhaktapur this morning, the first in two weeks. It hasn’t changed. It was still crowded with people on their way to work, students going to class, and piles of fruits from the wholesale market on their way out to town to be sold. The only thing we were missing in our assembly were chickens or a goat. The price is still 20 rupees one way.

Ravi opened the courtyard door for me—the first student of the day. “Do you always stay here?” I asked him. “No, I’m just on duty today from 6 to 10.” He opened the upstairs studio, unlocking the door and opening the shutters on the windows. “Bhajaunus,” he said as he went back down to the courtyard.

I was a little rusty, not having practiced for two weeks. While I worked on rhythm patterns, I could hear Ravi’s flute in the courtyard below.

Buddhalal shadowed the door at 8:55. “Namaste! Are you well?”

“Yes, I’m well. And you? Are you well?”

“No, I’m not well…I have a cough, my head hurts, and I have a fever.”

“Why didn’t you call me then?” I asked surprised.

“You haven’t been here in a while,” was his reply. “Play!”

After demonstrating that I knew the rhythm of “Basanta” somewhat well, he called Ravi up from the courtyard. “I can’t play flute today, I’ll start coughing,” he said, “so you’ll play with Ravi.”

Ravi came up and seated himself by the door. Buddhalal gave him some instructions in Newar, which amounted to seeing if he could play the correct tune. After some agreement as to who was to start and how many bars I was to leave off before entering, we played through it.

The secretary’s young assistant arrived for work and decided to sit with us a while. Not only did I have an accompanist (the madal is the lead instrument for many of these tunes, I’m discovering), and my instructor, but now, an audience member. In previous weeks, it had been similar. There had been more than one Friday where the secretary decided to visit my lesson while he had his afternoon tea, and comment on my playing or have some chitchat with my instructor in Newari. Not to mention the fact that the windows have no glass or screens, the door is always open, and the sound of the drum can be heard all over the school’s courtyard. If only this kind of thing had happened when I was taking piano lessons in college, maybe I would have gotten over my shyness of playing in front of people more completely.

Then, Buddhalal decided that, since we had a good flute player with us that day, we would play through some of my other tunes. We pulled out Manghal Dhun and Ghatu. I wasn’t about to attempt Holi—I told Buddhalal that was the hardest one and I hadn’t practiced it in a while. “Well, practice that this week, and play it well the next time you come,” he told me. "You're doing well. Now, you just need to play phurtilama." I gave him a puzzled look, so Ravi said in English "with energy."

“Now, for a new tune…which one to teach?” Buddhalal mused a moment. I wanted to say “an easy one, not a complicated one,” but kept my mouth shut. Finally, he said, “Resham Firiri.” I almost rolled my eyes. Of all traditional tunes, that is the one overplayed. But again, what kind of madal player would I be if I didn’t know that tune? And it was definitely easy.

“La, that’s enough for today,” Buddhalal said. “And my tabla student is here.”

“If you’re sick again on Friday, call me,” I told him. He nodded his head as he left the studio and walked down to the courtyard.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Traveling in Nepal never ceases to be interesting...

I’d never flown domestic in Nepal.

The workshop coordinator decided to fly me out to Dhangadhi (he and his team had come a few days before), because it would mean “less wear and tear” as he put it. There’s a definite difference in taking a one-hour plane trip verses a fifteen-hour bus ride. And with the uncertain political situation, that seemed that safest way to get there too.

But the domestic plane trip was still something new.

First of all, the domestic side of Tribhuvan International Airport was filled with very wealthy Nepalis—the kind whose daughters wear chic Western designer outfits and high heeled shoes, and who slip between Nepali and English unawares in the middle of their conversations—most of whom were going to Pokhara on holiday. In contrast were the tourists, with their trekking boots and oversized backpacks; most had unshaven faces or unwashed hair. I was directed by an airport aid to the counter to pay the airport tax of 170 rupees—the posted price is 169.50, but since no one works in paisa anymore, everyone just pays a flat170--and then sat down to wait for my flight to be called.

There were a handful of people going to Dhangadhi, among them some UMN people working at the Doti cluster. They recognized me from the exposure trip to HS-Nepal in Dang at the beginning of my time there. We were put on a transit bus with the other passengers to be taken from the terminal to our airplane at a runway a little further off. Our baggage followed in a cart behind us. “Oh, I wonder how many bags are on top my mine,” the foreign UMN worker commented to me. “I hope my strawberries don’t get squished! Maybe they’ll be jam by the time we arrive!”

The plane seated perhaps 20 people max. I was one of the last people to get on, so took the one seat remaining—the very front one. I could see into the cockpit. Our primary pilot was a woman, donning a nose piercing, manicured nails, and aviator sunglasses. I watched the altitude meter rise to the cruising height of 16,500 feet. The flight was long enough for peanuts and Coke to be passed around.

As we landed on the runway, the dingy “Dhangadhi Airport” terminal was the only building in sight. We walked out on the tarmac and were directed by a policeman to a chain gate where we waited in the shade of a pipal tree for our luggage was brought to us. The foreign UMNer hoped their vehicle won’t be long in coming, or her butter would melt in the Terai heat. The UMN people kindly took me to the main road (there are no taxis or transport available at the airport proper) where I got a bus into Dhangadhi. From the stares I got from the people already on the bus, I must have looked like rifraf with my big black trekking backpack and slightly sunburnt face. From the Dhangadhi bus park, I called Shyam for instructions on what to do next. He advised I get a rickshaw to the hotel at which the workshop was to take place; most rickshaw drivers would know where the Hotel Bidya was located.

Traveling back to Kathmandu was even more interesting. I traveled with Kumar and Shyam this time, and we thought we would be late—adding up the expenses of two workshops took a little longer than expected. We just took a vehicle from the hotel this time. I got the privilege of sitting in front, and watching the driver swerve and maneuver around bicycles, rickshaws, buses, oxcarts, and the occasional goat that decided to try and cross the road. At the airport, members of Nepal’s armed police force searched our bags, then let us into the dingy building. After checking in at the counter, we found a place to conveniently stand while we waited for our flight to be called.

I noticed then that there were two doors in front of me, one marked “men” and one marked “women” with “exit” written between the doors, all in Nepali. I thought this to be a little odd. I soon saw, as passengers to the flight before ours lined up, that these were frisking rooms. Everyone went in, one at a time, to the policeman or policewoman waiting inside, then seemed to disappear, as the policeman or woman would reappear at the door for the next person. When my turn came, it actually wasn’t bad—the policewoman checked my hand luggage, and then lightly ran her hands under my arms, down my legs, and patted my sides and back. I felt more respected as a person than at some Stateside airports I’d been through.

Claiming luggage at the Kathmandu airport felt like being at an auction house. Everyone crowded around the carts that held the luggage, waving their baggage claim tickets and yelling at the luggage handlers as to which bag was theirs. Kumar ended up being closer to the front than I, so I gave him my ticket to claim my bag. We were assailed by five different taxi drivers as we came out into the parking lot. Kumar finally found one who would drop all three of us off at our respective locations for 700 rupees. After the two Nepali men left the vehicle, the driver began freely talking to me in Nepali (he must have heard the three words I spoke to Shyam where we sat in the backseat). He was full of questions—how long had I been in Nepal? Where was I from? I spoke good Nepali; how long had it taken me to learn it? So why did I travel with the two guys that he dropped off before me? And what kind of work were we doing? I answered discreetly that I was involved in language development, and that my office worked closely with the one the others were affiliated with, so we had traveled together.

Traveling in Nepal never ceases to be interesting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some of my memorable teaching moments

Memorable Moment #1:

How many beats are in 6/8 time? Answer: two!

Frankly, I wasn't surprised when the majority the students from the "Musicianship 1" course that I had been assigned TA for answered "six" to the above question on one of their homework sheets. As a beginning piano student, I myself had been taught that six-eight time meant "six beats per measure, the eighth note gets one beat." It wasn't till I got to college and joined the choir that I started asking the question "why does the conductor always beat in two when when have a song in six-eight?" Unfortunately, I didn't get the answer till I started teaching music fundamentals at a music school in Kathmandu that all the pieces finally "clicked."

Being compound time, six-eight has two beats per measure, each beat divided into three pulses. The dotted quarter note represents the beat. In simple time, two-four has two beats per measure with each beat divided evenly into two pulses. The quarter note represents the beat. Both are duple meter.

Musicianship 1 is one of those college courses that music majors are required to take but loath. Its basically doing a bunch of nonsense exercises such as sight reading, clapping rhythms, identifying intervals, transcribing melodies, and for non-keyboardists, learning to play scales, arpeggios and chord progressions on a keyboard. Doing such things makes most students feel like children to begin with. Its the TA's job a lot of times just to make things interesting to solicit their participation and make them comfortable doing it. Going over the differences between simple and compound time--an elementary music principle--wasn't going to be easy. For a few of them, who had been musicians all their lives and honestly had way more performance experience than I will ever have, it knew it was going to be a bit of an ego crush.

"No! I'm a bagpiper, and in bagpipe music, each of the six beats REALLY COUNTS!" was the way one of my students reacted. I asked him to sit down and just listen to my other examples. He finally agreed, somewhat, by muttering "ok, I see your point," before leaving class all in a huff. I myself left class a little ticked--why couldn't he get offended over something worth being offended over, like, the Gospel?

Another student acted as though I had just shown him the path to enlightenment. "Wow! That makes SO MUCH sense! Geez, how did I get this far not understanding this? Hey, thanks so much!!!"

Memorable Moment #2:

Anthony was a very active seven-year-old boy, who found it very hard to pay attention for a 30-minute piano lesson. He enjoyed playing a lot--he was always excited to perform for me and demonstrate what he had practiced our lessons--but paying attention was sometimes hard. One class in particular, I noticed that he was squirming more than usual, but at the same time, making an extra effort on his own to focus on what we were doing. Finally, he burst out, "Miss Tori, I really need to go to the bathroom!" I burst out laughing and excused him to run to the restroom. When he came back, I suggested he visit the restroom before he came to class. After that, I would regularly see him make a b-line for the restroom at the music school before appearing at my studio door, ready for his lesson.

Memorable Moment #3:

"These participatory methods that you're introducing are really new for these people," Keshar told me one evening after we had finished the Tharu songwriting workshop for the day. "All this discussion and activity they're not use to--usually, the teacher just gets up and talks. Its good, but it will take time for them to get use to being active."

During the review and evaluation time at the end of the workshop, Keshar asked everyone what they had enjoyed the most. One young man piped up, quite animated. He spoke entirely in Tharu, so I didn't understand a word. When he had finished, Keshar turned to me. "He really liked the participatory methods. He liked making the charts, discussing the passages, and doing that kind of thing. It was new, but he felt that he learned more being an active learner rather than a passive one." I wanted to fall off my seat. Oh, if only my State-side college students would say as much!

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Thank you for not being fat!"

I'm white, and female, therefore, I get a lot of attention from random people Nepal...especially men. I'm learning how to deal with this is savvy ways.

I was waiting for a friend outside a small teashop (I was early, and had to pass time) on some benches. Two old men came by—one quite portly, the other much thinner—both dressed in the traditional dawa suruwal, vest, and topi. They settled themselves next to me on the bench, and finally asked, “Do you speak Nepali?”

“A little,” I replied.

“Oho! And how long have you been in Nepal?”

“Seven months, this time.”

“You’ve been before?”

“Yes, a few times.”


“No, not yet,”

“Oho! You should marry a Nepali boy, and then, have Nepali babies!” He and his friend laughed. “And where are you from?”


“Oho! Americans! They’re so”—the portly one raised his arms above his head to indicate height—“and so”—then stretched his arms around and filled his mouth with air to indicate girth. “But you’re not like that—you’re thin, and small!” He laughed a somewhat toothless grin. His friend nodded in agreement. “So for being thin, and short—thank you!” He continued laughing, then said, “I like thin.”

I froze. All I could think of was my friend Ruth, and how for no logical reason, really old men consistently hit on her in public. Where was my “nice boys only!!!” sticker that she swore was invisibly written across my forehead? Did it not translate across cultures?!

Thankfully, the questions turned to the usual Nepali chitchat.

“Have you had tea?”

“Yes, I’ve already had my tea.”

“And have you eaten?”

“Yes, I ate this morning, at home.”

“You mean at your room, or apartment—your home is America.” He laughed again. “We’ll, we’re going to go drink tea. Sit here, and stay cool!” He and his thin friend left.

Two weeks ago, I went to a congregation across town on a public holiday. Transport from Ratna Park—a big transport hub in the Valley—to Kapan—my destination—was hard to come by. I finally started asking around the blue micros going to a neighboring place, Boudha. “Where can I find a Kapan-going bus?” A group of young men formed. These men all worked as managers on the micros, collecting fares, announcing the bus stops, and arranging people on the vehicle. “Oh you want to go to Kapan? That micro is over there, behind this one!” As I walked to the micro, they called out after me, “Oh, la, we see you speak good Nepali!” Later, as I sit in the bus, waiting for it to fill with passengers and begin its route, they walked by: “Oho, found it?”

Today, I went to spend time with some friends who live behind the airport. This involved taking a micro from Jawalekhel (my area of town) to Sundara (in Kathmandu), then a bus to Gothatar (their village, now a suburb of Kathmandu)—a total of an hour and a half to two hours of transport. Sundara tends to swarm with buses, going all over the Valley. Bus boys trot everywhere, packs of money from bus fares in their hands, announcing where their bus is going to people waiting for transport, packing people onto their bus, and yelling at busses going to their same destination to get a move on—they’ve had their chance; get going! Some of these boys are mere teenagers, probably fourteen or fifteen.

“Excuse me, where-are-you-going?” one boy approaches me, and asks his question in English. His bus was going to Swayambhu.

“Gothatar,” I said.

He walked away, and kept yelling “Kalanki-Swayambhu-KA-LAN-KIIII!”

A bus with “Nepal Yatayat” written in its window, rounded the Martyr’s Memorial and slid in behind the Swayambhu-going bus. “Gothatar” was the first place written in Devanagari on its list of stops on the window.

The Swayambhu bus boy appeared at my elbow. “That bus! That bus is going to Gothatar!”

I let out a laugh. “Yes, I know,” I said in Nepali. “Thank you!” I appreciated his attempt to help. It was more sincere than most.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Office is Very Normal

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned

Ritter meets with a colorful array of people. His appointment schedule ranges from meeting with local crooks (aka land brokers) to British thangka scholars who bash Italians, to first time (hence confused) visitors to the country. His occasional visits to the US embassy put the security up in arms for parking his jeep in a restricted area. His idea of “documentation” for a visa application is “I am the documentation!” Phone conversations range from “we gave the solar panels to the organization, but the Maoists stole them” to “and what happened to the dog, did they bury it or pitch it over the Bagmati bridge?” He regularly stalks academics researching the ethnic groups with whom we work. “Academics are like plumbers,” he told me, “you have a problem, you hire them to figure it out.” Figure it out, yes, but our office and partner organizations are the ones who “fix” it—for academics, such work is “meddling.”

Prakash recites numbers aloud to himself as he double-checks a budget for the umpteenth time. He is also a bit of a news junkie, so reads portions from the Nepali and English news websites online quietly. “Did you hear about the bridge collapsing in Cambodia?” “Eh, those Maoists, they’re in deadlock again” “Did you hear about the tsunami in Japan?” These have been our conversation starters in the morning. Occasionally he decides to listen to rock music, without headphones, but the volume is still quiet. He yells at Radhe to get the puppies to stop fighting over nothing or chewing his motorcycle’s parts. He Skypes regularly, chatting or calling with people he’s met at various MLE (that’s “multilingual education”) workshops, conferences, and training programs all over South Asia; with office associates in other parts of Nepal; or his brother’s family in the United States. My favorite day was when I returned back from West Nepal and couldn’t remember what the Tharus call that sweet, dense, steamed dough they make, so Prakash calls up Ram, one of the office workers in Dang, over Skype just to ask him “Hey! What’s that sweet, dense, steamed dough made of rice flour that you eat at Maghi called? Dhikiti? Ok thanks! Yeah, that’s it.”

Eva, a former Fulbright scholar, has government ministers stop by just to say “hi” and welcome her back to the country. In reorganizing our library, she has found awesome bilingual children’s books chronicling the adventures of Tommy Tempo in Kathmandu and Chitwan. She has been spreading her ideas concerning democracy in writing a grant concerning the NFE classes we support. Bluntly, she knows that the Nepali government will fail to meet its deadlines or fulfill its promises to the people, and she says so in the grant; hence, we need to look for other ways to build democratic ideals and empower people to participate at the grassroots level in the process. How about teaching marginalized women how to read?

Ritter believes we’re all under Radhe's thumb. Radhe is the half blind and half deaf guardsman who opens the gate in the morning for us all. We’ve all been locked out or locked in, depending on which side of the gate we’re on when he has an errand to run or decides to walk the street. He sweeps and mops the floors of the office in the morning, gives us tea with too much sugar in it, and decides when we’re done drinking said tea. Eva has taken to holding her cup of stone cold tea just so Radhe won’t take it when he thinks she should be done with it. Ritter and Prakash have sent Radhe out to buy everything from tea bags to electrical plugs, and have sent him back out to get the correct item when he’s arrived back with the wrong item. Once, he broke a lamp on the ceiling while cleaning it; both Ritter and Prakash took turns fixing it to their satisfaction.

Daily office activities include double-checking the electricity schedule to make sure the batteries for the inverter are charged or when we can print something, huddling around the gas heater when second winter sets in, and answering the phone with our own greetings. I with “LDC, this it Tori,” Ritter with “Guten morgen!” and Prakash with “Hello?!” We still deal with crashed computers, finicky printers, impending deadlines, and take time to brainstorm ideas—all the usual stuff. If you ask me, our office is very normal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Very Normal Day

So, last Tuesday, I bussed between all three cities in the Kathmandu Valley. I left my home at about 7:30AM. First, I went from my place in Patan to Bhaktapur for my madal lesson. The bus fare cost me 20 rupees, and my travel buddies included crates full of melons from the wholesale market, and large, lumpy sacks of something on top of the bus that caught the local policeman's eye. He wanted to know what the heck that stuff was. "Stuff to sell," the bus driver told him, then yelling inside, "whose bags are those anyway?"

My madal lesson included an information session on Holi--the holiday coming up--which includes boys throwing water and colored powder at girls. While I knew about this, I was told that the festivities (should) only happen after a certain puja (worship ritual) is conducted at the Kathmandu Durbar Marg. After that, the song whose rhythm I am now learning on the madal, can be played. And its played all over, just for fun and merry making. There's some book, written in English by a French guy, in the department's library on the subject; I can contact the librarian if I'd like to see it. Only be aware that there are many mistakes in the notation of the various melodies; the guy who wrote the book apparently talked to people who didn't know their music very well, in my instructor's opinion. I could leave my lesson early today--my instructor's niece was getting married, and he needed to be at the ceremony.

Next, I went to the very north end of Kathmandu. From the road that goes by the music department, I got the Chabahill-Maharajgang-Chakrapat bus, not the Chabahill-Boudha bus. I had to double check this with the bus boy. This trip cost me 25 rupees, and my travel buddies included two tobacco-chewing men who commented that too many people have to leave the country now for work as we passed by the international airport. I took the bus as far as Narayan Gopal Chowk, where I was picked up by motorbike by a friend. This short trip cost me 200 rupees, since my friend had left his wallet at home accidentally and didn't realize this until we were at the petrol pump.

The afternoon was spent at a rock concert that took place in a church, which also happened to have an old people's rest home on the ground floor. As a result, there were several very old men and women who attended the concert, toothlessly smiling at all the young people wildly jumping and clapping about. They served us all tea afterwards.

I then took a tempo and micro home, respectively. My travel buddies here included a few-month-old baby who wanted to grab and hold my nose, fingers, and ears, and whose mother got her to say "hi" and "namaste" to me respectively. This ride to Ratna Park cost me 14 rupees. I then got a micro to Jawalekhel, which cost me 13 rupees--the fare had gone up by a rupee since I last rode on the route. But, instead of asking "since when [has it been 13 rupees]" I asked "how long [will it be 13 rupees]"--I still make elementary language mistakes at the drop of a hat.

I arrived back home at around 7:30PM. After a filling supper of cauliflower soup, garlic bread and hummus, and a much needed shower, I went to bed, and slept very soundly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A few thoughts on sojourning

“And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”” Genesis 47:8,9 ESV

I had to move, yet again. Not for any fault of mine—the family I house sat for and with whom I expected to stay until my leave date unexpectedly had some relatives coming from India for an extended visit. When they would leave, no one was sure. I had two weeks to find a new place to stay. I was welcome to move into their guesthouse should I choose, but since it was a little farther away from my locus of activity, I thought it best to look elsewhere.

An American family, working at an international school and living not far from my office, kindly offered me a place in their home. Only, I would be on the couch for about a week—they had a secondary student staying in their guestroom whose parents were at a conference abroad. So, my books and I have taken up temporary residence in their TV room, complete with a VHS player (that unfortunately doesn’t work), a sewing machine and various crafty/scrapbooking supplies piled along the walls.

Wide-awake at 3AM, with no electricity, all I could do was stare at the dark above and ask God “Why? You know how much moving stresses me out! It should be a lifestyle by now, but no, I actually rather like staying in one place.”

I couldn’t help but think again about pilgrimages and sojourning. And God has kindly brought this subject up in my quiet times. When I think about it, the subject is all over the Bible—Abraham being told to go to a land that he did not know; Jacob fleeing Esau and working fourteen years at his uncle’s place before returning to Canaan and then moving to Egypt to escape famine; Joseph being sold to his brothers and going to Egypt, not to mention all the ups and downs he had in Egypt; Israel sojourning in Egypt for generations; Moses fleeing Pharaoh then coming back to Egypt; the great Exodus, and wandering in the desert for 40 years; David fleeing Saul; Daniel and the exile to Babylon; Nehemiah and Ezra and the Israelites coming back to the Promise Land. The list could go on. Exile, sojourning and a hope for a better place are still written in the history of the Jewish people.

And the reference in Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland, if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

“So, Tori, where is home for you?” Pankaj asked me one evening as he took me home from his place after watching the TV airing of the Sprite Band Challenge (a rock band competition that a band from the music school I worked at two summers ago was competing in). He had asked me whether I felt more “at home” in Nepal or the States, and I truthfully answered that neither place was completely “home.”

“Heaven of course!” was my answer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons in Madal Tuning

I brought my madal to my music lesson today—carted it with me on the bus from Ektantakuna in my canvas Hollins bag—as Buddhalal had instructed me to bring it two weeks after I received it, so it could be tuned. As usual, I arrived early—Nepalis usually have the problem of arriving late (dhilo) I have the opposite problem of always arriving too early (chaaDho). I sat on a bench on one of the covered porticos, and listened to the tabla class above me and the dhimay class across the courtyard, and the one guy practicing various rhythms on an oversized madal in between them while I waited for my class to begin.

“You brought your madal today,” Buddhalal stated when he saw my canvas bag.

“Yes, for tuning,” I replied.

He took the madal from me and resounded the smaller head. His faced screwed up at the sound. “Oho,” he exclaimed, “heterika! [a Nepali expression equivalent to “wow” “geez” “dang” etc in English]” He resounded the larger head as well. “Sound is so small,” he commented.

He told me to watch as he tuned the instrument. He found the end of the rawhide lace that helped bind the two heads to the wood body, undid it, and began to tighten it like a shoelace. He braced the drum between his bare feet, and tugged on the rawhide until he reached the other end. He now had a longer tail than at the beginning.

“I need water,” he said, and went to the window and began calling names. He came back to wait for the water to be brought. A young man soon appeared, but without water; he rather carried a pair of pliers. Buddhalal began using the grip to tug the rawhide lace to make it as tight as possible. In the end though, part of the rawhide ended up breaking off.

“La!” he exclaimed. “What a problem! How to bind it again?”

After fiddling around with it, he exclaimed, “where is that water? I guess I’ll go get and bring it myself!” He left the room and came back shortly with a bowl of water and a rag. “This is to soften the rawhide,” he told me in answer to my question, “to make it more pliable and easier to work with.” He began soaking the broken end of the lace in the water. He was able to bind the broken piece to this end, giving him enough lace to tie the ends back together. “There!” he was pleased with himself. “Just like it was before!”

He then took the small metal hammer that he used to tune his tabla, and began banging on each of the heads. The pitch of the head rose with each stroke. Soon, it was to his liking, or at least satisfactory. “You’ll have to bring it back in two weeks to be tuned again,” he informed me.

“Ha, I’m always so tired after tuning,” he stated. I was not surprised; tightening the rawhide had taken quite a bit of energy.

I wonder if he’ll let me tune it myself the next time around?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Overcoming Timidity

“Bhajaunus,” Buddhalal—my madal instructor—told me as he removed his shoes at the door. As he grabbed a cushion from the stack in the corner and a madal for himself off the top shelf, he listened to me play the “Tamang Selo” rhythm he had given me. “There are lots of these selos, this is just one,” he had told me. After listening for a bit, he asked me, “are you ready for me to play the flute with you?”

“I’ll try,” was all I could say. Buddhalal called out the open door into the courtyard to one of the staff sitting in the sun—he spoke in Newar, but I assumed he was asking for a flute. A flute was passed up to him soon after that. “Oh, look at this! Some student must have bitten it with their teeth!” he showed me the chew marks on the instrument. Earlier, he had complained that all the covers for the tabla drums were missing. Students—they were so naughty. “Ok, here’s the melody.” He played it once for me on the flute at my request. Then, I began to accompany him.

“Not enough, not enough,” he stopped playing and shook his head. “You got ahead of me. I wasn’t there yet.”

“That’s a little too much,” he stopped again. “You lost count of the repetitions. Here, let me play it for you again.”

“Here, just play the rhythm for me…Oh, yes, see, you know it, you just don’t know the melody. You need to put that in your memory. Here, let me play it again for you….with practice, you’ll sound great.” He smiled broadly. Then, he said, “You need to clean up your sound, and have more precise rhythm. And, play louder.”

Producing volume has been the bane of my musical existence. “You have wonderful finger work, and you shade things so well,” my piano instructor in college would tell me, “but—I’m at the back of the concert hall. I can’t hear all that detail because you don’t play LOUD enough!”

“If you play louder,” Buddhalal told me, “then people will feel joyful when they hear it. If you play small and timid, they can’t enjoy it. And, you’ll enjoy it more, if you play louder. Try again—GHE…kha, ga, GHE…kha ga, GHE…” he began repeating the syllables to go along with the strokes, emphasizing first beat of each measure with a loud resounding beat on the larger drum head.

He wisely decided to give me a few rhythm patters in triple meter that made use of these loud, emphatic strokes.

“This tal (rhythm) goes well with mangal dhun,” he told me. “This melody is one for good, auspicious beginnings. It’s played at weddings, when the new bride and groom hold hands for the first time, and have their parents’ hands around theirs. It’s played when the first brick of a new building is laid. Learn the rhythm and I’ll play that on the flute next time. You just need to play with confidence!”

If banging around on drum heads doesn’t make me confident, I don’t know what will.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures at the music department

“Oho, so you’re studying at Kathmandu University’s music department?” The immigration official asked me as he glanced over my paperwork.

I was one of many foreigners crowded around the desk in “room 106,” why, I’m not entirely sure. But apparently we needed this guy to dribble red ink all over our application forms as evidence of his approval so we could get our visas.

“Hajur,” I replied the affirmative.

“What will you be learning?”


“Oh, that’s easy! You just play ‘dang, dang’!” He dribbled red ink under the photo on my application and handed the stack of papers back to me. I managed a half smile and went back to the desk outside, crowded today mainly with foreign men who had apparently married Nepali women and were looking to get marriage visas.

I have discovered that playing madal involves more than ‘dang, dang.’ There’s lots of ‘na,’ ‘ti,’ ‘ga,’ and combinations thereof—‘ghe’ (ge and na combined), ‘tin’ (kha and ti combined). It involves sitting for long periods of time cross-legged on the floor with this double-headed drum across your lap. It can mean waiting for over an hour for your teacher to show up, because he lost his appointment book and forgot that your lesson at 9 was the first of his day, not the tabla class for undergrad students at 10. It can also include hearing stories concerning other foreign students. Such as “Miriam” from South Africa, who has been learning the same madal exercise for the past four months and still hasn’t mastered it. This is confusing for my teacher, for, she is from Africa; shouldn’t she have an innate sense of rhythm? “Its ok, she’s not sitting for exams,” my teacher said, “but, I get really bored after a while.”

So far, he’s given me a different exercise every time we’ve met. “So, what instruments do you play?” he asked on our first meeting. “Piano,” was my reply. “Oh, good, that means you know about music and can use both hands at the same time,” he said. “You’ll master the madal in four months or so. You can even play it in sangati,” he added, when he found out I was a Christian. He began singing the melody of “king of kings and lord of lords” to “la” and playing a rhythm to go with it—one that was a little more complicated than the one I was used to hearing accompany the song. “Just like that,” he smiled when done.

“Oh, if you go buy a madal, they’ll see your white face and charge you double,” he said when I inquired about where to buy a madal for practice purposes. “And, even if they gave you a fair price, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it’s a good or bad instrument. And you can’t just buy a ready-made madal—those are for tourists. You have to order one, a good one, and it will last you your lifetime. I’ll talk to a maker in Bhaktapur that I know, and order one for you. It will take about a week, and will probably cost around 2000 rupees.” A week later, I carted home a drum on my shoulder that cost me 1400 rupees, with instructions to bring it back in two weeks so he could tune it again. “The skins are new; they have to set, then be tuned again,” he told me. Not too different than having a new piano, I guess, which requires three or four tunings its first year as it accommodates to its new environment and parts. “So, bring it back in two weeks and we’ll do that.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On being a bridge

“Tori, do you ever find yourself being judgmental of the church in the West, since you’ve grown up here?”

This question was posed to me by a fellow TCK—Third Culture Kid—who I was able to meet up with again over Christmas, as he was visiting his family still working in Nepal.

His question, posed directly, had a sting to it that also brought a balm of relief. The sting because it was so blunt, the balm because it was good to know someone else had similar thoughts and was brazen enough to voice them.

The short answer: yes. The long answer: still yes.

The problem with being a TCK is that you are in fact a mixture of two cultures, quite literally, and you can’t always tell where one begins and the other ends (I won’t go into detail about how this can complicate the process of “reflexivity” for the purposes of ethnographic writing). It’s just your reality (in my own opinion, TCKs are a prime community for an ethnographic case study on culture and how porous the concept really is. Takers anyone? It would make an awesome doctoral dissertation!) And you happen to think it’s everyone’s reality because all the other kids you grow up around who have American passports (in my case) have similar experiences. So when you return to the States (in my case) and discover that golden calves on pedestals, taking diversity for granted, a rice diet, being able to speak two languages, among other things, is not everyone’s reality, it’s a bit of a culture shock. (And to your American peers, you act like you just emerged from ancient Israel. Thinking back, I probably have more in common with an ancient Israelite than I thought). Its also hard not to become arrogant when things like poverty, other religions, the supernatural, etc, are all seen as rather exotic when in fact these are part of your everyday experience too. And it’s hard to not be judgmental of a church where people don’t want to take risks in their faith, when you have friends overseas who have risked (and often lost) all for that faith. Its hard not to become jaded when congregation members at “home” have a problem with people of other skin colors attending their place of worship, yet praise your family for going to a foreign country to share the Gospel.

In my own experience, I’ve found there to be two choices: you either take the way of arrogance, or, you become a bridge. In the way of arrogance, its “Duh, buddy, (insert: Scripture is supposed to change the way you think/ your culture is not the only way things are done/ not everyone grows up wearing designer jeans, and they’re overpriced anyway). Have you been living under a rock all (fifteen/fourteen/thirteen) years of your life?!” This was, unfortunately, the way that I chose for much of high school.

Being a bridge is a little more involved. It takes a lot of humility, as it requires you to meet someone where they may be—be it “whatever, I don’t care what someone thinks, I’ll just share the Gospel with them” or “what woman wouldn’t wear bangles and eye liner and have long hair?”—and allow God to use your experience to expand the other person’s way of thinking. If the person doesn’t change their thought as soon as you think they should, or refuses to see a different way at all, it takes a lot of forgiveness, and in my case temper control, and faith to keep loving that person. It also means making yourself vulnerable to criticism (good and bad), or misunderstanding. Plus, it just takes a lot more energy.

It also means you have to step out there. Like, volunteer for a missions committee (scary!), and say something in response to the comment “drum kits have no place in church!” (proper response to that one: “Handel’s Messiah has no place in church!”). Being a bridge goes the opposite way too. I had a conversation with a Nepali brother right before Christmas where he commented that many people in Nepal don’t know the true meaning of Christmas, even though it is a national public holiday. For many, it’s just a day when you get together with friends and family, go on a picnic, and have a nice time off. He was shocked when I told him the same concept ruled in the States and many other Western countries.

Has God been working on my judgmental sieve? Of course. Over the years, He’s shown me time and time again how many logs I carry around in my own eyes. And Christ’s promise of rest grows ever more appealing when you work cross culturally and become heavy laden and weary from interacting with two cultures who oftentimes don’t seem to “get” each other.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Secrets that aren’t secrets about Nepal

“Tori, what is the thing about Nepal that most tourists don’t seem to get?” Carly asked me this when she, LeAnna and I visited the Swayambunath stupa--a Tibetan Buddhist temple complex overlooking the Kathmandu Valley--over Christmas break.

“That Nepal is characterized by violence,” I said.

It’s partly Nepal’s fault. They advertise themselves as a Shangri-la, where numerous religions coexist in harmony. But much of this coexistence has caused religious and political friction, which at times has erupted in blood-letting violence. The history of the Shah royal family and the Ranas is one story. While the Kot Massacre of 1846 and the most recent royal massacre in 2001 are perhaps highlighted, the interactions of the families are consistently riddled with intrigue, murder, madness and getting rid of rivals. The recent Maoist civil war, which officially lasted from 1996 to 2006, was another incident. Politically, the country has had constant instability, especially since 1990, which has erupted in riots and fights that have included more than a few injuries and deaths (the Hithrik Roshan riots in early 2001 being perhaps the most bizarre).

But interactions between ethnic groups have also contained a fair amount of friction. The relationship between the Tharu—especially the Dangaura Tharu—and the Parbatiya, or hill-folk who rule the country, is one example. Its one example of internal colonization, where much like in the United States, land was the issue. Once malaria was eradicated in the 1950s and 60s, people from the hills moved in and registered lands formerly inhabited by the Tharu in their own names, making these people their tenants or bonded laborers. Incidents like this culminated in the Tharu—who span the Terai—forming their own ethnic identity, despite the fact that they are a very diverse people, both in language and culture, often not having anything in common other than living in the Terai and becoming bonded laborers.

That’s the other thing short term visitors don’t always see: how complicated and diverse the Nepali people are. There is no one “Nepali” ethnic group. When I go to the Shahi house, I only understand about half the conversations the family has; that’s because half their conversation is in Newari, and half of it is in Nepali. They are Newar both culturally and linguistically, but Nepali has been an integral part of their entire lives as the national language, used everyday in the government, economic, and educational spheres. There’s a family of Tamangs in my congregation; the ladies will often wear their traditional dress to special functions like Christmas or the anniversary celebration. More than once, people in my congregation have greeted me or started conversations with me in their own mother-tongues, just to see me smile and shake my head. I’ve been a part of two songwriting workshops for (culturally) Tibetan congregations. Within them, the languages of Lhomi, Kagate, Sherpa, Lowa, Hyolmo and Tibetan have been used. We will sing songs from each of these groups, but then will usually bookend them with popular Nepali choruses. Interacting with the Tharu on my most recent trip I ate new kinds of food, listened to a new language, and made me feel like I’d arrived back at square one when it came to learning about Nepali culture.

I’m still learning about this wonderfully complicated place called “Nepal”…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

“Tenzing, you need your own bideshi!”

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned

My work at the office varies from day to day. Mostly, it involves editing English documents—annual reports, drafts of grants, my Nepali boss’s articles, various forms that are supposed to amount to ‘accountability’ for foreign donor agencies—but I’ve also re-done bulletin boards, made photocopies, collected/edited material for the website, phoned liasons at embassies, mingled with linguists/politicians, made two trips to Dang, and numerous trips across town to various partner agencies that are based in the Kathmandu Valley. The most recent project my British boss has given me involves creating a template of a cultural calendar for Upper Mustang in the form of a Tibetan thangka painting. My job is to create a platform and provide the needed text from which a thangka artist could then actually create the work of art. The idea is that this calendar will generate income for the NGO with whom we partner in conducting literacy classes in that area, as well as be good PR for the work they do.

While I was working on this, the director of the NGO that works in Upper Mustang dropped by. “Oho, Tori, jaimashee and tashi deley!” he greeted me. I returned the greeting. As I drew big circles on the sheet of butcher paper I had taped/nailed down to a desk, the director commented to my British boss, “There are three bideshis [foreigners] in this office now. I think you should—sshht” he motioned with his hand out the door, “send one of them to my office.” He laughed to indicate that he was joking.

“Tenzing, you need your own bideshi,” my boss commented, in a more serious manner. “I’ll talk to a few people and see what can be done.”

Bideshis—useful creatures they are. They are self-supported, so you don’t have to pay them; they’re committed and have a good work ethic; usually, they can be full of good ideas; if you have one working for you, your credibility with Western donors goes up, and the prestige of your organization in the eyes of other Nepalis often rises too. They offer amusement on the side, everything from language and cultural fo-paus to continually getting certain sicknesses that usually manifest themselves in diharrea. Of course, the latter can curb their work productivity.

As a woman, I’m finding that there are other ideas concerning foreign women as well, and most of them very unflattering. Foreign women are loose, free, both in dress and speech and action. Isn’t this how they’re portrayed in films, and represented by celebrities? Vulnerable in a new culture, they can easily be taken advantage of for everything from financial to sexual favors. The pretence of guiding them through the culture can be an easy in for these favors. But at the same time, if they’re single, they’re just dangerous anyway, all that unbridled sexual energy, and no one to keep them accountable. Their parents must have been unable to find them a husband in their own country; that’s why they’ve come to Nepal, to get a husband, and heck, why shouldn’t that be me/my son/my brother? Why shouldn’t I/he be the recipient of a green card, foreign passport, and foreign financial backing? And think, then, the rest of the family can leave this undeveloped Nepal too and go to other lands with more opportunity!

What’s a girl to do in the face of all this? Express your femininity in ways familiar to them. Wear kurtas and scarves, and even appropriate jewelry. Sometimes, a nose piercing does help, depending on the people group you’re working with. Speak Nepali when at all possible, but then again, with discretion—sometimes, it’s a good idea if they don’t know you speak Nepali. Don’t be rude, but let them know your attention is elsewhere: on public transportation, wear a face mask (it keeps dirt out, covers your white face, and inhibits conversation) wear earbuds (even if you’re not listening to music), or read a book. Don’t be afraid to let your boundaries be known. If conversation with a male friend gets weird, ask how their mother or sister is. It’s also ok to tell them you’re busy and need to be home by a certain time and (politely) decline additional offers for food/ tea/ hang out time. Just hang up the phone on the weird guy who dialed the wrong number and tries to flatter you with “Truly? You’re not Nepali? You sound just like one! I live in Thapatali—“ It helps to have discretionary and wise male bosses as well, who trust your cultural savviness but recognize the challenges that accompany being a young, single, white woman, and act on your behalf to lessen possible dangers or awkwardness. Giving introductions, even if through phone calls, on your behalf can be extremely helpful. And last but not least, seek the company of Nepali women, be it relationships at church or sharing a seat with them on a bus.

Sometimes though, you can’t control what comes to other’s minds when the see your single, white and female status. In those cases, you just pray like crazy for discretion and that nothing will happen to risk your well being or honor, or the integrity of the work you’ve come to do.

I’m all for being some office’s token bideshi if my skills set fills a need in their organization. But I’d rather not unnecessarily risk my personal honor and dignity, or the organization’s integrity.