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…