I’m home. I’ve been home for a while. And as you may have noticed, that means I don’t have much to write about Nepal. And so this post comes to put a cap on things. It is intended as a blog-in-review, a selection of the most interesting and eventful things that took place during my time there, and a brief guide to first-time visitors who have no inclination to dig through 21 pages in search of a few highlights. And so, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite posts (in no particular order):
- In which I celebrate Holi
- In which Sundrawoti learns my name is Motorbike
- In which I share an album of our lovely host family
- In which I attempt to teach handball to a school of Nepali boys (spoiler alert: bad idea)
- In which three owls attempt to save a community building, part 1 and part 2
- In which I document rice-planting in Sundrawoti
- In which I ascend the sacred mountain of Kalinchowk
- In which I describe Nepali hospitality
- In which I become a first-grade teacher
- In which I share an album of my weekend excursion to Simigaun
- In which I discuss the water buffalo
- In which Sundrawoti learns my name is not Motorbike
On July 25th, I wrote
And so, after exactly 200 posts about Nepal (plus 2 about Israel and one about Zvi), I bring all regularly scheduled programming to a close
Since that time, I have added an additional five posts, and with this final entry, bring my total to an even 206. Represent.
I know this makes two in a weekend, and I promise not to make a habit out of this, but I wanted to wish a hearty Mazel Tov to my friend Bikash, who found himself a nice Nepali keti:
Feel free to treat the comments section like OnlySimchas
You may recall – but probably don’t, so here’s a link – that I left Nepal with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth because I failed to get my hands on a karela, appropriately translated for the sake of this sentence’s irony, as ‘bitter gourd’.
I googled ‘karela’, ‘bitter gourd’, ‘bitter melon’ – pretty much every variant of the name I could think of, trying to find somewhere selling it in the Greater Seattle Metropolitan area. When those searches proved fruitless (or, I suppose, vegetableless), I gave up on the idea of actually locating one for sale near my home; Google’s about as sophisticated as I get these days. Karela would have to wait for my next trip to Nepal.
Then one night, the TV was turned on during dinner – unusual, because we typically only leave it on for Mariners games, Republican debates, and other spectator sports – as a report aired about diversity-themed walking tours on offer in Columbia City. You see, 98118 – my zip code – is officially the most diverse in America, and some local organization was offering to escort people around the ‘hood for $120. I suppose if you can afford to pay $120 for a few-hour guided tour of your own city, the escort service – sorry, tour guide – is probably a good idea.
In the course of the Televised Report, the crew interviewed the proprietor of a grocery store at the heart of this hotbed of diversity, and took some shots inside the typically diverse vegetable bins. I was only half paying attention, but snapped to it when I spotted an entire bin of karela. Too late, I’d already missed the name of the store. And the tour is only offered on Saturday.
So I found my mission once again at a dead end. Until, that is, I stopped at Safeway to pick up a butternut squash for my mother. The store was out of butternut – which is both surprising, and not, given that it was erev Thanksgiving – so I settled for a 2.5-pound buttercup squash, on sale for $.99/lb.
I brought it to the cash register, and the cashier had clearly never seen one before. To be fair, I don’t know if I had either. It certainly looks nothing like a butternut:
She consulted with another cashier, then with her produce book, and was about to go ask the produce manager when I realized the hang-up. I volunteered the name, she thanked me, and rang it up: $11.88. That couldn’t have been right: I did some quick math, and weighed the buttercup in my hand. The squash was definitely not 12 pounds. So I looked closely at the screen over her shoulder, and pointed out that she had accidentally input the code for ‘Bitter Melon’. They’re both green, I guess.
So now I know that the Safeway near my house, at some point in time, carried or plans to carry karela. That would be one less reason to go back to Nepal. Fortunately, I’ll still have plenty of others.
If you happen to find yourself in a situation in which karela is available, I’ve included a recipe, courtesy of Upama Miss and Facebook mobile, after the jump:
Last week’s reading of Ecclesiastes (קהלת) reminded me of something that happened in Nepal so I thought it would be OK to share:
Israelis take their competition seriously. So when the folks over at Mahadev Besi held a Biblical Quiz (חידון תנך) on the occasion of – if I recall correctly* – Israeli Independence Day (יום העצמאות), I got to hear all about it on the way to Bandipur.
One of those who had helped put the quiz together was very proud of a question that asked participants to list instances in which the Bible mentions water. I immediately cast one out there I didn’t think anyone else had named:
שלח לחמך על-פני המים, כי ברב הימים תמצאנו
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. (Ecclesiastes, 11:1)
When she confirmed that my entry had, indeed, not surfaced, I returned to my familiar watering hole:
כל הנחלים הולכים אל הים והים איננו מלא
All the rivers go to the sea; yet the sea is not full (Ecclesiastes, 1:7)
This entry was controversial. Not because I was wrong – no one else had cited this verse – or even because it does not directly include the word ‘water’ – but because of my word choice. Or, to be more accurate, Kohelet’s.
“מים לא הולכים, Water doesn’t ‘go’,” she protested. “מים זורמים, Water ‘flows‘.”
She’s right, of course, in Modern Hebrew. She is also wrong. I tried explaining this to her, but
it was like we were speaking two different languages.
My favorite part about this post is that when I used Google.com to google the exact translation… well, take a look for yourself:**
To the person trying really hard to find the picture of Rajkumari Miss playing Memory at Kalika:
I hope you found it, but in case you’re still having trouble, here ya go
In the previous post, I indicated that I had written my final words on Nepal. I was wrong, after a fashion. I qualify this statement because while this post stems from my time in Nepal, it primarily concerns events that took place in Seattle but three Sundays past.
For it was, on that Sunday, that the Treiger clan sat down to a Tibetan meal, after a fashion. I qualify this statement not do disparage the wonderful cook (a former monk named Lapsang), but to note that the spiciness of the familiar dishes had been – at the request of certain members of the family – toned down. It’s a whole different experience when you can taste what you’re eating.
Said familiar dishes included hearty ‘Sherpa stew’ and steamed dumplings called momos (often filled with ‘buff’ – water buffalo), but the one food to which I had most looked forward was notable in its absence: Tibetan bread, which I first (and best) tasted on our weekend of adventure at Jiri.
After that weekend, I emailed our lovely host Krishna dai and asked for the recipe. If anyone is interested in giving Tibetan bread a shot, here it is:
What you want to learn is very easy. First off, you take wheat flour, then add sugar, salt, baking powder, and eggs. If you want, you can use milk or water and mix it up. Make dough and make like chapatti and roast in hot oil.
We threw a goodbye party for Sundrawoti on our last Sunday in the village; they returned the favor two days later, our last before returning to the Kathmandu.
The party was more or less what you might expect: tika, mala, and dancing.
To give you an idea of the quantity of tika we got to endure, remember that it is traditionally applied to the forehead. This is what my arm looked like:
Some advice: if you ever go tramping around a flooded rice patty, pick up and carry your shoes.
I did buy a replacement pair. It may fit better, but is not orange
If you are thinking about volunteering with Tevel B’Tzedek in Nepal, I would strongly recommend the spring over the winter.
Spring in Sundrawoti is a happening time: Our hosts literally dug up their field and planted makaai during our three-day visit to Sundrawoti in late February. We arrived for the long haul in late March, just as it came time to harvest wheat and radish seeds. And the session wrapped up with possibly the most interesting process of them all, rice planting (dan ropne).
I’ll describe it briefly before going to the slideshow.
Step 1: Rice seeds are planted densely in scattered terraces which serve as nurseries. For a few weeks, these patches of brilliant emerald stand out amongst the other-wise drab terraces.
Step 2: Villagers prepare fields for rice planting by lining them with small mud walls, flooding them, and plowing/surfing them (as featured on the Nepali two-rupee coin):
Step 3: Women slowly make their way through prepared fields, singing songs and planting rice stalks harvested from the nurseries as they go:
The whole affair has a festive atmosphere – I could hear something was going on down by the river from the road, a 20-minute walk uphill:
The amazing thing about rice planting season is that it occurs in an intense burst of activity over a short period. The whole village works together in one another’s fields to help get the job done. The following pictures are taken from three separate rice-planting events:
As we wrapped up our time in Sundrawoti, it came time to say goodbye.
So we invited the whole village to a party. It was the only activity we planned in Sundrawoti that people showed up for on time. We brought some food, wrote some speeches, penned some skits. I’ll spare you the speeches and skits, but I will share the highlight of the party: a 10-question quiz for the entire village.
Question 1: which of the Israeli volunteers does not actually live in Israel?
The prize-winning answer, of course: Motorbike
Skip ahead to Question 10: List all of the Israeli volunteers’ Israeli names (as opposed to their Nepali names, like Man Bahadur, Parisat, Harka Maya, etc.)
Tal… Dafna… Avigayil… Timna… Alisa…… Motorbike!
Uh oh. It took a few tries before we got as close as ‘Moti’*.
And so, as we said goodbye, Sundrawoti said hello, for the first time, to Mordechai:
Admittedly, not the world’s greatest picture (thanks, cell phone), but it’s just so very Nepali:
I watched a lot of chickens lose their heads in Nepal.
I saw countless animal sacrifices at the Bimeshwor Temple. I watched a chicken slaughtered in the New Passal kitchen get fed to a kitten. And as I walked upstairs to my room in Singati, I passed one whose head was being slowly sawed off in the hotel’s sink.
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The chicken slaughters had involved an uncomfortable amount of sawing at dangling chicken necks. Goat necks are about as thick as a whole chicken, so I steeled myself for something terrible.
It wasn’t so bad. A board was fetched from a nearby construction site, the goat lay down on the board, the kukuri took one downward swing, the goat was suddenly two goats, and the board was calmly returned across the street.
I obviously took pictures, but I’ll share those after the jump for those of you who would rather not watch:
A quick recap of things I probably contracted from water in my four months in Nepal:
- Giardia lamblia
- Ascaris lunibricoids
- Another, unidentified bacterial or viral infection
- Possible arsenic poisoning*
*Only ‘possible’ because the lab messed up my sample and I have yet to give a new one
So you can imagine how excited I am to back in a country with disease-free, clean water, where I don’t have to worry about taking a drink, to say nothing of brushing my teeth.
Oh, right. America, everybody:
Jaganath’s passal was a frequent rest stop for Nepalis traveling along the Bimeshwor Road. This meant that I was rarely the only motorbike in the vicinity. Or, since Jaganath dai had difficulty remembering my Nepali name, the only ‘motorcycle':
That’s Dili Dai in the background, peeking out of his passal
I took a lot of pictures of Nepalis. Which meant I promised a lot of people I would print pictures for them.
My plans to follow through on these promises were foiled by an unfortunate two-day episode of bijuli chaina (our longest) that precisely coincided with my only opportunity to select which photos to print. The only ones I did manage before we left Sundrawoti was a collection of 25 for the Family Album that composed half* our parting gift to Ban Bahadur dai and his adorable, lovely, wonderful family.
You’ve seen about half of these before:
The album has a hole in the front cover to let you peek in on the first picture even when it is closed. When we gave the album to the family, the photo of Monisa peering into Alisa’s class at Jagaran Iskul occupied the prime piece of real estate, because her face lined up perfectly with the album cover hole.
Within a day, Tekraj had switched that photo for one of him playing soccer. It didn’t line up so well, but I didn’t say anything since Monisa had more pictures in the album anyway so I guess she didn’t really need to grace the cover also. Cute six year old girls have it so easy.
*or a third, depending on whether you count a single mango
On a related note, Mazel Tov to Daniel Aaronson his wedding!
I have never seen a happier cat than a kitten fed a daily diet of dudh bhat (milk and rice) who has been given a tiny piece of chicken:
[Note: only three pictures]
Incidentally, this particular chicken lost his head in the New Passal‘s kitchen sink while I was trying to enjoy my glass of dudh chiya (milk tea).
Though I spent most of my four months in Nepal living in Sundrawoti, I also spent a good chunk of time in the Kathmandu. We lived in TBT’s Big House for orientation, Pesach, before and after our middle seminar in Bandipur, and again for our final seminar in June. The Big House was always a welcome change – nicer beds, internet, running water, showers – OK, not always a welcome change, since it had a serious mosquito problem – but even though it was a mostly modern building, it was still in Nepal. That meant there were a few things about it we never understood.
I took a few pictures of those things for a presentation we put together during end seminar. Here are some of them:
Nepalis don’t do well on buses.
The voyage between the Kathmandu and Sundrawoti is between six and eight hours, and for many Nepalis that means six to eight hours of misery. Every bus, bar none, was filled with vomiting Nepalis – out the windows, over the side of the roof, onto each other, almost onto Anat. Meanwhile, us foreigners handled the busrides pretty well – as far as I know, none of us got so much as nauseous.
For much of our time in Nepal, I was perplexed by the dichotomy: Nepalis should be used to their terrible, twisty, bumpy, windy roads – so why are they the ones who get sick on every trip, and not us?
It took some time before the answer finally came to me. Nepalis don’t get sick because the roads are so terrible; they get sick because they’re on roads at all. Yes, the driving conditions are miserable, but that has nothing to do with my question – Nepalis just don’t ride in moving vehicles all that often, so when they do it takes them a while to find their sea legs. Mystery solved.
Mercifully, this post includes no photographs.
Sometimes, I just can’t resist.
So it was when I spotted an over-priced hat in Charikot. Charikot is full of knockoff hats, some branded Jeep, others branded Diesel, all going for more than they’re worth.
This one was worth every rupee I paid for it.
I originally planned to keep this for my personal amusement, but when I made the trek up to Mehele the next morning, and discovered Sankar had just bought the very same hat, I had no choice but to share:
Now you might be wondering what it was, exactly, I saw in this hat. Let me blow that logo up for you:
I intend for this to be my final post about the Thangmi.
Since Thangmi mourning is an event I had the opportunity to witness firsthand, I will offer a bit of my own commentary to Mark Turin’s descriptions. That said, if I failed to notice something he wrote, or observed something different, he’s probably right. He lived in the nearby community of Suspa for years, and when I showed Dan Bahadur dai what I was reading, he mentioned he knows Mark Turin personally. In other words, the man has mad street cred.
On to the death rituals! Turin, ball’s back in your court:
Death rituals, in particular the mampra, or 13th day memorial ritual, showcase Thangmi gurus at their finest. Beginning the night before the 13th day after death, the officiating guru spends almost 24 hours overseeing the soul’s peaceful passage from the realm of the living to the realm of the spirits. Clearly Buddhist-influenced, the evening ritual consists primarily of the guru leading close relatives of the deceased in a chanted litany of om mani padme hum that continues until the early hours of the morning inside the family’s house. The inclusion of this Buddhist mantra is an anomaly in Thangmi ritual practice: even gurus themselves are unaware of its meaning and it is not understood as having any relationship to the Buddhist religious complex.
If you didn’t read that last paragraph because it’s long, you should go back because it’s a good one.
At dawn, the entire group relocates to a temporary hut built outside, where they are joined by the community at large for the day’s ritual. This consists of four primary sections, during each of which the guru transfers the soul of the deceased to a different ritual container [(i.e. soybeans for eyes, root tuber for head, inside each container, i.e. bamboo basket, blessed cloth)]… Ultimately, the soul is transferred to a chicken by feeding it the contents of the last container, which the guru then flings off a ridge over his shoulder to conclude the ritual. This ritually-sacrificed chicken has the somewhat amusing-sounding name of gongor pandu.
Turin’s editorializing about the hapless chicken’s name is a bit out of character, but I personally think gongor pandu is perfectly respectable. And while he goes out of his way to comment on the gongor pandu, certain other elements of the mourning ritual go unmentioned (perhaps due to his preoccupation with the role of the guru).
One, the time immediately following hajuramaa‘s death strongly resembled a shiva house, with the family sitting inside and frequently accepting somber-faced visitors from around the community. Two, he does not mention whatever hajuraama-related incense and conch shell ritual gave us all crazy dreams three weeks after her death. Finally, he does not mention one final ritual detailed by Lall:
Within two or three months of a death, the members of the family engage themselves in some public works, such as repairing the village track, or building a footbridge.
He then goes on to give a substantially different account of the related ritual:
When the project is complete, all the relatives gather at the site, and the men shave their heads and chins. They return to the place the following day for a ceremony, at which the witch doctor takes a leading part. He makes several conical lumps of flour, arranges them in the ground and then he touches each member of the family which a live chicken, which he allows to go free at the end of the ceremony, when the witch doctor and the family members consume rakshi brought by the female relatives.
Lall’s version sounds much more fun – the chicken lives, everybody drinks rakshi.
The stars of Sundrawoti are magical. All three kinds of them.
The first, you might imagine would appear above a remote village in Nepal. Especially at the beginning of our time in Sundrawoti, before the arrival of the early monsoons and requisite clouds, we enjoyed a particularly lucid view of the stars above.
The second sparkled below the skyline: individual points of light scattered by houses across the opposite valley wall. With the coming of the monsoon, these were often visible when the first were not.
Finally, just as the night skies began to cloud over, the fireflies began to turn out. Sundrawoti fireflies (in Nepali, junkiri, lit. moon insect) are especially beautiful when they pause for a rest; peer over the edge of a stream for a magical view of the pulsating spots of glowing light strung every few feet along the water’s edge.
Dafna once accidentally squished a bug that turned out to be a firefly, accidentally scattering chemical glitter across her shoes.
Fireflies were not the only bugs to visit us in Sundrawoti. Here’s a small sample of some others: