Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Excellent and Praiseworthy

Names have been changed for the privacy of those mentioned.

Apart from coming away from West Nepal with more typical Nepali experiences under my belt, and too much to think about concerning struggles with sin and my status as a single women (not that they’re related, but between all the Nepali men talking to me on the buses and listening to no less than five sermons back-to-back on the subject of sin, it was easy to conflate the two prior to hitting the sack late Thursday night upon my return to Kathmandu), this trip profoundly increased my admiration for the work that the Tharu translation team, leaders, and musicians are doing to benefit Tharu congregations.

I guess I never thought before about what it takes to create a Scripture translation. While waiting for the jeep to show up to take us to his village, Shyam patiently answered my questions concerning the translation work he is currently doing. He estimated that it could take between twelve and twenty years to complete the Daugara Tharu translation of the Scripture. One reason is because they are short of manpower—there are three people working on it—and they do a lot of things other than straight translation. As I learned on this trip, Tharu is only just becoming a written language; people speak Tharu but don’t necessarily read and write in it. Not that Tharu has never been a written language—Devanagari, the same alphabet used to write Nepali, Hindi and Sanskrit, is used—people just don’t have a habit of reading and writing in it. The default is to use Nepali. They’ve therefore had to create materials for reading and writing, such as a Tharu grammar and dictionary. For the dictionary, they conducted word collection workshops, where they collected words and wrote down definitions—tedious work, according to Shyam, but necessary. They’ve also had to find ways to promote the use of the Scripture portions they’ve translated. This means creating a simple study for the Gospel of Luke, making recordings of them reading the Scripture for people to listen to as they read along, or simply holding meetings where they read the Scripture aloud, with everyone taking a turn to read a paragraph.

Ram Kumar currently works with a reputed ministry that provides children’s Scripture curriculum and teaching training support all over Nepal. His position requires a lot of travel, which he uses to self promote his songs as a musician as well. Not that he’s full of himself—with Nepali being the dominant language for congregation life, doing it in Tharu is fairly new endeavor and there aren’t that many songs in their own language for fellowships or worship. So he sings and teaches his songs to people as he travels for work, and they in turn teach these to others and use them in fellowships.

A friend of Sunil’s was putting together a Tharu radio program, and needed appropriate songs, but, there were none in existence. So, Sunil borrowed old, traditional tunes from their Tharu culture—festival melodies, ones used for communicating while working in the forest—and wrote lyrics that declared the Good News. These became well received. It put the Gospel “in local clothes,” so to speak. That way, their fellow Tharu would see that they did not follow a foreign God, desiring to advance economically by catering to foreigner’s desires. God is in fact near to them; He speaks their language too.

Ramesh spear-headed a project in his congregation where they decided to studio record a few of the songs members had been writing. These all declared the Gospel to non-believers. They took up offerings to cover expenses, and though they were unable to distribute the recordings on CDs or cassettes, the MP3s have made their rounds. They arrived at Ram Kumar’s congregation, where the youth have used them for “special” songs in fellowship, for Christmas caroling, or to dance to. Doing a studio recording was a considerable learning curve for those involved. They were all from a village and knew nothing about how such a recording was made. The studio personnel were patient with them, and Ramesh had several amusing stories to tell about their experiences. The studio personnel were also flexible with payments; there were several months after the recording work was done where they were still paying the studio for services. Talk about walking by faith and leaving your comfort zone.

“Before I answer you question, I need to give a little history first…” Kumar prefaced his comments with this phrase regularly. The guy was a minefield of information concerning how they began doing fellowship in the Tharu language in the first place and what challenges Tharu believers have faced in regards to their walk. He spoke quietly but had a robust laugh. Re-listening to the recordings I made, my ears get blasted every time he erupts in laughter; the contrast is so stark. First of all, they never prayed or worshiped through song before becoming believers; these were things they had to learn through practice and teaching. Second, because Tharu heard the Gospel first in Nepali, and not their own language, Nepali became a “holy language” for them—they prayed, read scripture, sang, all in Nepali. It was a concept that had to be broken when transitioning to using their own Tharu language. It was hard especially for Tharu leaders to at first realize the importance of using their mother tongue. Kumar related a funny experience when showing the Jesus Film dubbed in Tharu: viewers wanted to know how a Jewish man had come to speak Tharu!

After this trip, I thought of Phillipians 4:8—“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The heart that these men have to see both their fellow brothers and sisters grow in their faith and for more of their people to come to a saving knowledge of grace is truly admirable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The (best ?) places to stay in Nepal...

I stayed at the best place in Tulsipur, according to my boss. The Munal Guest House includes a private room with an adjoining bathroom. Mine had two toilets—a Western one, that looked like it had been broken for months on end, and a Nepali one, which was not clogged so usable. The showerhead was rusty, and the spicket produced very cold water once a day. There was a basket of used toothbrushes over the sink, which made me think they had given me the staff room for a minute. The cobwebs over them told a different story.

In the village of Belganar, I slept in a semi-empty storeroom. The lady of the house had laid down a straw mat, a few blankets and a surac, and provided a pillow for my comfort. I shared my room with two small mice that night. Thankfully, they were interested more in whatever was in the bucket in the corner of the room than me, or my bags. Food included Tharu festival specialties, such as dhikiri (a roll of dough made from rice flour and steamed), boiled and spiced green leafy vegetables, and fish relish (which consisted of minnows, prawns and crawfish that had been caught in the stream that morning, boiled and spiced, and eaten whole. I bit off all the fish heads; those I could not eat). I passed on the pork meat, and was not offered any rat (yes, Tharu do eat rat. That was one of the advertised delicacies available at the Maghi festival in Kathmandu).

Traveller’s Village in Nepalgunj was heaven. My room was heated, the bathroom was clean, and the place had WiFi. I took three hot showers during my two days there. With one day of rest, where I had no one to meet or interview, I felt like I was on vacation. I was ordering food from the kitchen that I would never eat in the States. Suddenly, chicken cheeseburgers, French fries, macaroni and cheese and other fattening food sounded really good. I figured I was making up lost calories from all the rice and vegetables off which I had been living at the other places. The staff consistently addressed me as “madam,” and were perplexed when I didn’t want my room made up each day.

Park Inn Hotel in Dhangadi was probably at one time a nice place. There were ruins to testify to its former glory, such as the broken and unhooked electric water heater in the bathroom. I chose to sleep on the bed with fewer yellow stains on the sheets. Iodine drops went into the hot water I was brought around 8PM. Why Nepalis want to drink hot water before going to bed I’m not sure, but I was brought a thermos of it, and later, the boy came back with a glass as an afterthought. In the morning, the unexpected knock at my door revealed the same boy delivering me a greasy omelet and cup of black tea that I hadn’t asked for. Complimentary room service? In the afternoon, as I downloaded interviews from my recorder to my computer, a mouse ran out from under the bed, saw me, and ran back under it. I saw a shrew in the reception hall, running from the office door to a crack in the floor. When I left the place at 4:30AM two days later, my fellow traveler told the manager, “we had a very nice stay; we’ll probably come again.” I could see the manager beam in the moonlight.

Going on a Bus Trip...

According to the travel agent, he got me the best seat on the micro. And, the micro would go straight from Kathmandu to Tulsipur—no stops.

My seat—number 3—should actually have been number 4. With all the people going down to Dang for the Maghi festival, the micro company decided to accommodate the demand by overstuffing their vehicles. My seat was also right in front of the cheap seats—the bench behind the driver where people who were just going from one village to the next sat. I ended up sharing my bench with three young men on their way home to celebrate the festival, and all the men who hopped onto our micro, used the cheap seats, and hopped out. The conductor decided that mine was an easy place to sit as any. He motioned for me to make room for him to sit when he wasn’t shuffling people on and off the micro. Make that five people on one bench.

The ride from Tulsipur to Nepalgunj was the quickest, and easiest. Me and another foreigner shared a jeep. Our ride was only interrupted twice by Tharu men and women blocking the road and singing and dancing until we paid the festival toll—twenty rupees at one point, and ten rupees at another.

I was put on a bus going to Dhangadi by the hotel staff from the place I stayed in Nepalgunj. Very kind of them. The bus was a video coach—meaning, there was a TV up front that played Nepali and Hindi music videos. Culturally very informative, and engaging to the village woman and her toddler who sat next to me. An hour into our trip, the driver learned that the road out of Nepalgunj was closed till noon. Some local political unrest had caused the road to be shut down. So, our driver pulled over at a convenient place—rows of teashops—where we could disperse and feed ourselves while we waited for the road to open. Once it did, the ride was slow going. We went through a national forest, where we were stopped at each army outpost. A soldier was sent on board to look around, examine the contents of our bags, and question the driver about where the bus had come from and where it was going. Some of these soldiers were quite intimidating in stature—Nepali men aren’t that big, but these sure were—and others looked like mere boys, with their fatigues hanging off their shoulders and their khukheri knives appearing oversized on their belts.

Once we were past the checkpoints and over the Karnali Bridge, the bus stopped at every village and hamlet the let people on and off. Soon, I was seated next to a Tharu girl, with a complete stranger’s grandson seated on her lap. The aisle was filled with standing passengers.

“How far is it to Dhangadi?” I asked the Tharu girl in Nepali. We had been on the road at least two hours by then, and I had been told the trip was 3 and a half hours, maybe 4.

“Oh, its VERY far!” she told me. “I don’t know how far, but VERY far. Several hours at least.” I should have known her perception of what was near or far was different than mine.

Then, people began to get sick, including the girl next to me. I quickly switched seats with her so she could be near the window, and put the grandson on my lap. The conductor was yelling at the girl, “ho, bahini, don’t put your head out the window! Use this plastic bag!” and stopped the bus to pick up two clods of dirt to cover the vomit in the aisle. “Next time, just tell us you’re not feeling well, bahini,” the grandfather said. He then turned to me. “Is hajur going to Dhangadi too?” he politely asked. I answered the affirmative. “oh, well then, my grandson can just sit with you.” The boy was indifferent to whoever’s lap he sat on. He was possibly five or six years old, and made himself comfortable on me, fitting his head in the space between my neck and collarbone and proceeding to doze.

When we got to an area with cell service, I had three missed calls from my contact in Dhangadi.

“Where are you?!” he asked when I called him back.

“Um, still on the bus. We just arrived in…” I looked out the window and read the location on one of the store signs and told him the name.

“Oh, that’s 30 kilometers out. Maybe you have an hour left.”

It took two.

My bus from Dhangadi to Kathmandu left at 4:45AM. My travel buddies included Rick Holland, Steve Lawson, John Piper, John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney and Milton Vincent. The 15+ hour bus trip was as good as any to catch up on sermons I had downloaded and not listened to, in between mentally processing what I had learned on my trip and praying. Earbuds would also provide a welcome barrier to the guy next to me attempting to converse with me. While I never get attention from strange men in the States, it seems that all the ones I had sat near on these buses wanted to engage me in conversation—something they would never do with a Nepali girl. These conversations would take place in English. I decided to hide the fact that I spoke Nepali from them. Then our conversation would just be limited to their English vocabulary, which would usually run out within five minutes. If they found out I spoke Nepali, the questions would never end.

Finding a taxi from Kalanki to Pulchowk was easy: there were half a dozen drivers waiting outside the bus, harassing passengers about where they were going next. I bartered my driver from 350 rupees down to 300—no one would use the meter at this time of night, and during the day, it would cost about 250 anyway. He didn’t know where St. Mary’s School was, which was surprising to me as its one of the oldest and largest schools in Patan. I guided him through alleys and unpaved roads—“go left,” “now turn right,” “yes, go toward Jhamsikel,” “ok, stop right here.”

Home. 8:45PM. Almost exactly a week after I'd left it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Can I thrive? Or just survive?

This question is one I've been asking for a while now. In some ways, I'm looking for that one thing that "tips me over the edge," that says "Whoa! I can't live here! I'm not made for this!"

Shopping is one of those things. Normally, shopping stresses me out in the States, be it grocery, clothings, or gifts, or anything. I know I'm not the only one who finds it stressful, so it's not really a temperature marker I guess, but, I find that shopping in Nepal is the opposite for me. It can be relaxing, so much so in fact that I need to exert more self control when it comes to buying things. I think its more enjoyable because I usually have more interaction with the shopkeepers than I would in the States. Some of it has to do with how things are done, namely, you bargain. But because I try and speak Nepali, people become curious too, and usually ask about my work, and share bits about their lives as well. For example, I was looking for a replacement pair of earrings for my broken silver pair. I carried the non-broken one with me, but none of the gold-and-silversmith stores I went into had a design similar to the one I had. I found that the price of silver had nearly doubled--I had paid 70 rupees for my pair last year, but within the past three months, because of petrol and transport costs, the price of the metal had risen. Now, my pair of earrings would cost 150 or 200 rupees! One metalsmith however insisted that he could make me a pair. "It won't be exactly the same," he said, "just similar. Come back around 4PM, and they'll be ready."

That worked for me. With the prospect of going to the Terai for a week, I needed to go to Thamel for some items, so that would give me time to go there and come back. I went to Shona's, a trekking store run by an Australian couple, which according to the long term expat community is the best trekking resource around. The directions are simple: in Thamel, go past Kilroy's (another long-term establishment, a bistro and bar), and look for an electric pole leaning into the road. Shona's is right behind it. I needed a backpack--I told the guy that I was going to the Terai for about a week, and needed something to hold my stuff and that wasn't too big for me to carry. He showed me a backpack he had designed after traveling in warm climates. It had a large compartment, supported backpack straps that could be hidden with a flap, and a strap on the outside so that it could be carried as a bag as well. "My wife and I have used it as our carry-on for airplanes as well," he said. "We've taken it to Bali, Singapore, has zippers instead of a drawstring, so you can lock it as well, to make it safer for public transport. Its comfortable to carry if you need to walk twelve kilometers (about 7.5 miles) in case you miss a bus." That last part is what I needed to hear. The only thing it didn't have was an extra compartment for my computer. I had thought to buy a backpack with a Camelback compartment; that way, I could just take out the water pack and slip my computer case into it. But all the backpacks that had those were too small. "It wouldn't fit all you needed for a week of travel," he said. "Just pad the computer with the rest of your belongings, and it should be fine." The cost? "2200 rupees," or the equivalent of 30 USD. I was stoked! I had been expecting to pay more around 5000 rupees, or about 70 USD, which was about what such backpacks ran on the Internet and the States. "Its fully guaranteed, so if you have any problems with it, by all means, bring it back," the guy said as I left the store.

I was also buying a small bottle of iodine solution, to purify drinking water, from Shona's, but the guy had misplaced the droppers. "Could you pop back in maybe 15 minutes?" the guy politely asked in his Australian accent. Sure, I was going to go to one more store anyway. I had decided that a yak wool shawl was in order, as I had been bundling up in sweatshirts, coats, socks and hats and was still not warm. And I was surrounded by women on the street and at church in nothing more than a sweatshirt and shawl, and perhaps socks with their sandals. Something must be said for their wear. There are pashmina places galore in Thamel, but I have been purchasing all my scarves and shawls from one place--Friendly Pashmina, introduced to me by another expat. Actually, I had never purchased a scarf or shawl for myself; all the ones I had purchased last year had been for friends or family. Today, the guy at the store sold me two yak wool shawls for 350 rupees each--a little less than $5, which I knew to be the wholesale price. "You come here often," he said when I asked if that was all he was going to charge me. Plus, I had brought friends more than once. The memory that stands out to me is last year, when I had purchased all my gifts, I had taken so long picking ones out that the guy ordered tea, and we had a conversation about American insurance policies.

Back in Mangal Bazaar, I waited a few minutes while the silversmith finished making the earrings. Sitting in the store, I had a chance to look at his other goods. I seriously thought about purchasing a pair of silver anklets, and another nose ring--I have been considering one that loops around--as the guy had several beautiful designs. But I contented myself with the earring pair he had made, and made a mental note to return closer to the end of my time here, when I would have a better idea of what I could spend. He had melted the sample earring I brought and used it to make a new pair. The new charms didn't have as much detail as the original, but they were small. As his assistant polished them, he asked about my work, and where I was from, and whether I was studying Nepali language now or not. He too had traveled outside Nepal. He had worked on some gas lines in Dubai, repairing them. He had made good money, but the work was hard. He had also been to Malaysia, and Singapore, for work. Were the earrings for my little girl (pucchi)? he wanted to know. No, they were actually for me, I said somewhat sheepishly. I liked wearing silver.

Random little interactions like these encourage me that yes, indeed, I can thrive in Nepal, not just survive. The most recent test however has been house sitting for a family...I'll write more on that later.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas Dance Spectacular

Its Christmas Eve, and only now, I’m told that I need to provide my own bangles for my dance outfit. I’m glad someone remembered to tell me. I’m not blaming them, really. I mean, pff, what woman wouldn’t have bangles—and a petticoat, or long hair?

Umm, that would be me.

Thankfully, I’m able to find a cosmetic shop open at 9:30AM on Christmas morning—most shops don’t open until 10:30, after everyone has had their morning meal--not too far from my congregation’s meeting place. One and a half dozen—twelve red, six black, all plain, as Sangita didi instructed—and I make it back to church in time for tea before we have to get into our costumes.

“Tori, did you bring a petticoat?” Sangita didi asks.

“Umm, no…” In order to wear a sari or doti, they are tucked into a solid colored petticoat, worn under the outfit.

“La, how are you going to wear your doti?”

“Well…my jeans will do.”

Anu didi shows up, wearing a gorgeous kurta—a pant, tunic and sash outfit—and Sangita didi shoots the same question at her: “Did you bring a petticoat?”

“What? No one said to bring a petticoat!” Anu didi exclaims.

I don’t feel so stupid now.

With the help of Sangita didi, I’m stuffed into a red doti, which, it turns out, is too short.

“Your pants are showing!...No, its not ok, it looks bad. Here, wear the blue one.”

“oh, Tori, your HAIR!” Anita didi moans. “You have none! What are we going to do?”

“Let’s just rubber band the braid to her hair, like this,” another woman suggests.

With the efforts of Sangita didi, Anita didi, my pastor’s wife, and another lady, I’m soon decked in a blue, wrap-around doti, complete with a yellow topper, and my short hair is pulled back and rubber-banded to the black braid hairpiece and tucked under a kerchief. I suddenly realize that I cannot go to the restroom—the skirt is securely tucked into the waistband of my jeans—and pray that the tea I drank doesn’t run through me too fast.

I ask Shoni didi—Rajesh’s wife, a trained cosmetologist and recently arrived back home from work in Israel—to put on eyeliner for me. “Should I do eye shadow too?” she asks.

I’m in no mood to fight. “If you think I need eye shadow, you can put it on,” I tell her.

“For a dance, you should wear eye shadow,” she comments, and begins applying the make-up. I feel her powder my face as well, and I assume she’s adding blush. “Ok, keep your eyes closed until the eye liner dries, maybe two minutes.”

I sit back on my haunches in the middle of the dressing chaos, listening as the women call for necklaces, complain that shirts are too small, look for pieces of their skirt that have been misplaced, or sharply rebuke the stray male who didn’t realize he was walking into the women’s dressing room. A small voice speaks into my ear.

“Tori didi, should I blow on your eyes?” Its little Anu, Sangita didi’s daughter. She had sat on my lap contentedly the entire way home in that crowded cargo van the week before.

“Ok,” I tell her. She begins to blow. But her older sister, Angeli, has a better idea. “I’ll get a book!” Soon, I have a steady wind blowing across my face.

We all hear the music start in the room next door.

“La! The service has started!” Angeli cries.

“Is it dry?” I ask.

“No! Oho! Its still very thick!” The wind across my face doubles in speed.

Shoni didi comes to check my make-up’s progress. She touches up something, and tells me to keep my eyes closed. Angeli continues to flap the book in my face. Anu has begun blowing on my eyelids again.

“Is it dry?” I ask again.

“No, its STILL thick! Oho!” Angeli begins to stress.

I hear Amos dai’s voice. “Anita, are you all ready?”

“No! Have them sing another song!” she spits. I hear the congregation begin to sing yet another Christmas song.

Finally, I’m able to open my eyes. I turn immediately to the mirror on the only wardrobe in the room. There is a thick layer of blue on my lids, and more black eyeliner than I ever thought possible. I’m waiting for the horror to set in, but it doesn’t. Instead, I find myself somewhat liking my new look.

“How is it?” Shoni didi asks.

“Its fine,” I say.

“Oh, I forgot to put eyeliner on the bottom,” she comments. “Here, let me do that now.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I say. I imagine myself looking a bit like a raccoon.

“No, everyone else has it on the bottom, you need it too,” she insists, and pulls out a pencil. The result is what I had feared—me looking a bit like a raccoon. But everyone else thinks it looks great.

Anita didi throws two necklaces my way, and helps me put on silver ankle bracelets. We all line up in the hall outside, waiting to go into the main room. Radhe dai comes by, and stops in front of me. “Oho, you look sooo Nepali,” he beams, and gives me thumbs up. The veracity of his compliment is irrelevant—it’s enough to melt some of the tension that has been building up in my shoulders. We’re announced, and we file into the room.

The small meeting room is packed to the brim. There are sooo many people here, and we’re the first dance to perform! I see Carly near the front, with her big zoom lens ready to capture to the motion. I hide behind Sanju, and tell myself just to concentrate on the dance moves. About half way through the song, I find that I actually begin enjoying myself. My hips and shoulders feel looser, and I let them sway and slide a little more freely than in previous practices. At this point, all I’m hoping is that my moves fit the other women’s and don’t appear too stiff to the audience.

We make it through the dance. As we file out, the other women begin celebrating. “We did it! And we remembered all the moves!” Sangita and Anu didi exclaim. Back in the dressing room, pieces of our costume are loaned to other women to complete their outfits before going on. I hope to just slip back into the main room and watch the other dances.

But then, the paparazzi starts.

Everyone and their mother wants their picture with me—the white girl in the Nepali costume, complete with eye make-up, bangles, anklets and several necklaces. I rotate through many of the church school children, Indra Maya didi and Soma didi, and a few of the other women with whom I danced (we were unable to get a group shot, unfortunately). By the time a few of the youth--especially the guys--begin wanting their picture with me, I decide I should probably shed the costume. It was slowly being taken apart anyway, as pieces of it were being requested to complete other outfits. I decide not to touch the eye make-up; that would just have to wait till I got home. I continue to flit between the main room, the dressing room, and outside though—being the only one with a camera handy, I am called upon to take pictures constantly.

Everyone has much to say about all the dances afterwards. Comments are made about how becoming the costumes were, about the solo dance that was done by one girl, how cute Anu, Angeli and Sita’s dance was, and how fun the couple dance was at the end. “I really liked the dance at the beginning!” the pastor’s wife tells me. “You all had a lot of moves to learn. I especially liked this move,” she swishes her hips and moves her hands in the same direction as she turns a circle. “It was wonderful!”

My eyes haven’t finished their time yet. On a back road in Mangal Bazaar as I walk home with Carly and LeAnna, some young Nepali lad calls out, in English, “nice blue eyes!” I remove the bottom liner before we head to the Fryers for Christmas dinner. While I explain the eye makeup to Mr. Dennis when we arrive—being my former youth pastor, I feel I should assure him I haven’t gone punk—Mrs. Bing doesn’t know what its about until Carly shows her the video footage of the dance.

“Oh! So this is why you have your eyes done!” she exclaims. “I thought it was your new look. But I thought too, when I first saw you, ‘this is very un-Tori.’”

But I’m already contemplating how much a stick of eyeliner might cost, and where I could find silver anklets that sound like bells when you walk. And the bangles on my wrists…they could just become another part of my arm…

Instructions for a Candlelight Walk

Below is a summary, not a transcription, of the instructions my religious leader gave my congregation before we departed for our evening candle light walk around town on Christmas Eve. How do yours compare?

Its important for you to stay in a line. This is not the time to go shopping, or run home to get something you forgot. We’ll decide whether we form one or two lines once we get outside. Make sure you stay in line; don’t try to make neighbors. Hold your candles, and guard your flames. Sing the songs instructed by our songs leaders. Follow any other instructions given by the line leaders. Make sure you stay in your lines.

As most of you probably know, there was a chakka jam (strike) earlier today. As a big group, walking around, and marching, we’re likely to draw some attention. If we’re approached by the police, do not break line and run away. Simply tell them that we’re hear to declare the birth of Jesus, we are peaceably marching, we are not protesting anything. If they drag us the rhokne tau (jail) in Jawalekhel, so be it—we’ll just sit there for the night.

Ok, everyone understand? Any questions? No? Ok, go line up outside!