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.