Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marry or Tang?

The past week has been a roller coaster of craziness. The children continue to be on holiday, and with wedding planning, general thirteen-children-mayhem, humid, hot weather and dramatic downpours- it feels like we've been here ages, but in the best way possible! This being my third trip to visit the kids, there was no 'hesitancy' period where they held back, no shy, timid nature, no couple of days of 'testing' me to see if I was the same Britta Miss that they knew. Nope. Their rambunctious selves remembered me completely and we jumped right back into trusting friendship. From the minute Ben and I arrived, we have had nothing but sweaty fun (ending in exhaustion) every single day.

A normal morning with the kids, when they're not on holiday

As we approached the Harka gate a week ago, dripping with sweat after our one mile walk from the Coca Cola Factory where the bus from Kathmandu dropped us off, I spotted Ashish near the chicken coop. "Namaste Ashish," I said quietly as I put my hands together in the traditional greeting. He looked up as he responded with hesitancy at my American accent, "Namaste...[pause...questioning look...spark of recognition] Britta Miss!" before he shot through the yard and the back, screaming to all the others that we had arrived. I love surprising people, and later found out that Laxmi and the kids weren't expecting us until Friday. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon- what a great surprise! Ariana, a young American volunteer, has been at Harka for the past two months and she also looked more than happy to see additional volunteers arriving.

Sujan flies a homemade kite in the field behind Harka
Having another volunteer around is great because it allows each of us to focus our time on small groups of children. Instead of one person fielding the fire of thirteen children, the three of us have been able to  more effectively manage our energy. It was also great to have Ariana around for our 'traditional' Nepali wedding last week, as she was able to capture the whole she-bang on camera! The event was completely planned by Laxmi, as she considers herself my Nepali ama (mother). During our first trip to Nepal, she told both Rebecca and I that if we were ever to get married, we HAD to come to Nepal to have a Nepali wedding as well. Though at the time neither of us was even in a relationship, we laughed and promised we would. Well, four years later and who would have thought that we would both get married and then return to Nepal? Becca's wedding was about a year before ours, so I was able to get a grasp on how serious Laxmi was.

Well, she was serious. The day turned our to be a huge success, which I base solely on the facts that we had a great time, and Laxmi has reiterated how "very very hap-py" the day made her approximately 7 million times since. The day was quite a steambath, reaching into the low 100s.

Sima holds my sari (and makes fun of me, per usual) (Photo: Ariana)
 During the three pre-wedding hours I was restricted to the girls' airless room, as my future groom was not to see me until I was in full wedding attire. In the room I dressed in my wedding sari and had a local 'beauty parlor lady' do my makeup, henna, and hair. Though I almost passed out twice, I sent the girls out to get me water, chocolate, and a piece of paper to make myself a fan, and I managed to save myself from a trip to the hospital. After all my preparation, I realized two things: I love all the girls and how much effort they put into this, and I am not made to wear the color red. My Scandinavian skin screams in sunburned glory when I wear red, and I was wearing a red sari, necklace, headpiece, lipstick, and bindi.

Me and 'beauty parlor lady' (Photo: Ariana)

I managed to sneak a peek at the proceedings a few times before the ceremony began (which I was immediately scolded for, but I couldn't help myself!) and caught Laxmi wearing a towel on her head while she did puja (prayer-like acts showing reverence to different gods) with the guru.

Laxmi performs puja. 
The day before, some of the children had spent almost two hours creating a sort of poop-platform surrounded by gathered branches. They used cow dung to create a rectangular platform, and used the branches as 'trees' around the perimeter. Then, the day of our wedding, the Hindu guru arrived early in the morning and began to create an intricate mandala of colored powders on the platform, which I was fascinated by. It was beautiful.
Soniya and Suman decorate the altar area. 

The guru begins to clean up the altar post-ceremony. 
About an hour after Laxmi began her prayers with the guru, Ben and I were ushered from our separate rooms and we were finally able to see each other 'for the first time'. I use quotes here because if I was a true Nepali bride (of an arranged marriage), I would only have met Ben once in my life, and I would have had no say in his choice to marry me. I am thoroughly grateful for my privilege to choose who I married, but I have also had many serious discussions with Nepali and Bangladeshi friends who have very happy arranged marriages. Though cultures are different, it doesn't mean that one is right and one is wrong.

During the ceremony, which lasted only about 45 minutes, we (not in this order): puja puja-ed an array of dishes of fruit, noodles, and rice in the center of our intricately drawn altar area, which involved blessing each item with a mixture of red powder and rice; walked slowly in circles around the altar; I ran as Ben chased me in circles (which I took literally, and received an uproar of laughter in return, as I was only supposed to pretend to run); tied a knot of fabric around rupees and offerings; more puja puja; exchanged grass necklaces (which I was instructed to keep until I die); exchanged rings (except we forgot to get one for Ben); and then a long white fabric was draped over my eyes for an indeterminately long period of time when I had no idea what was going on. Evidently there was some confusion as Ben determined how he was supposed to drag red colored powder onto the part in my hair, a traditional tikka mark that I was instructed to wear on my head until I died as well.

Ben and I literally "tie the knot" (photo: Ariana)

And then came the dancing. Oh, the dancing! When discussing the wedding prior to the big day, the kids all seemed really excited for the dancing part. But when the day came and our yard was filled with strangers, they became wallflowers. Shyness in full force, Ben and I were left to dance alone to the awesome Nepali band. The band was one of our favorite parts of the wedding, a group of six musicians-- one equipped with a horn that looked like a huge elephant trunk, and made an elephant sound.

The elephant trunk horn
Over the course of my three trips to Nepal, I have come to understand one critical aspect of culture: if there is one thing Nepalis love more than dancing, it is watching foreigners dance. So we did, for hours. I could only take so much, with the heat and humidity seeping into my layers of cotton sari, and after a while I gave Ben the "you think this is the last one?" look after every song. It usually wasn't, but two hours later Laxmi called a taxi so that we could spend the night in Chitwan National Park. She insisted we go, as it is bad luck to stay at your mother's house the night of your wedding, and she's a firm believer in luck.  As we bid adieu to the village of Nauranga, residents threw coins, grasses, and rice around the car, wishing us luck on our wedding night.

Ben and Laxmi dance pre-ceremony

Though we have been at Harka for couple of weeks, Ben is still getting used to both being around kids 24/7 and sitting around because it's too hot to do anything for eight hours of every day. It's not in either of our natures to sit around and not be involved, but I have the precious experience of knowing that just being present and playing with the kids is positive. Slowly but surely (or maybe only because I love being here so much) Ben is becoming comfortable in this loud, chaotic, no-boundaries family-- a far cry from our cabin in the woods where we spent the last five months.

Twister is an international hit! 

How can you not love these kids when they ask questions like Ashish did last week, "Miss, you like marry, or Tang?" Meaning: which do I like more, getting married Nepali-style, or the drink of astronauts? Or Suman, who in the past week has asked for us to bring him a flying rug, a cape so that he can fly when he jumps off the roof, and Batman's flying motorcycle-- which he insists can be bought at the market in Naryanghat. His new favorite English phrase, which has since spread amongst all the children is, "I got it!" but pronounced more like, "I gah tit!", and is used to refer to everything from picking up a lost toy to knowing the answer to a question. Teaching about third-person, singular neuter pronouns is just one of the many daily activities at Harka.

Finally, a story to leave you with. Last week I took a nap during a rainstorm with Tulie and Jamuna, and woke to giggling girls. When I asked what they were laughing about, they proceeded to translate the jokes they had been telling each other....about poop and pee. Just another sign that volunteers here are invaluable- today poop and pee jokes, and in 12 years- who knows? I believe these kids are capable of anything they set their minds to.

Typical selfie with Thulie and Ashish. 

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