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December 23, 1999 (Email)
Renuka's Wedding

23 December, 1999    11:00 AM    cold


I'm writing from Kathmandu, so I actually have to pay for the time I spend online (about three cents per minute).

Let's see what I can remember about my trip to Shantinagar for Renuka's wedding. The busride over was another rough one. The people here just insist on blaring that Hindi music so loud. I already had amoebic dysentery at the time, and so had taken Lomotil before getting on the bus. Lomotil is a tranquilizer and, as I found out, an extremely effective one at that. It is prescribed for people who have dysentery but who can't get to a bathroom for some reason (ie - a long busride). It is supposed to knock out your gut muscle so you don't feel any cramping. It pretty much knocked me out completely. Even my lips felt a little bit numb. Although I guess the busride would have been even worse if I had been totally conscious.

As I told you on the phone, the wedding date had been set in earnest for only a week. So things were a little chaotic when I arrived. Every member of the bride and groom's villages came, as well as family and friends. About 350 people. Remember - most people in these villages don't have jobs or much to do day to day. So everybody comes to every wedding -- just for something to do, a free meal, to skip school, etc.

I arrived the night before the wedding and the family was already very busy cooking enormous amounts of food. Rice, potato dishes, cauliflower dishes. One whole room's floor was covered by tens of thousands of little popcorn-sized sugar candies - a traditional wedding food. Kind of like funnel-cake in that it is the same consistency of fried bread, but sweeter because it is dipped in melted sugar. Nepali 'candies' all taste exactly alike -- just like sugar. After dinner at hotels, they even bring you a bowl of straight rock sugar with the bill. I don't think they would like something with a more subtle taste like a brownie or vanilla ice cream.

The night before the wedding, Renuka spent at a friend's place joking around and being made up. Lots of make-up, henna 'tattoos' on her hands and feet, flowers in her hair, etc.

The wedding itself, as I said, was extremely dull. The 350 guests were all present and in the vicinity (actually, it was a bit of a crush to fit all those people around our small house) but nobody seemed very interested in the ceremony itself. Even during what seemed to me to be interesting points in the ceremony, nobody seemed to be watching. Examples: when the bride and groom were placing garlands of flowers around each other's necks, washing each other's feet, walking in circles around the fire, throwing flowers, throwing rice, throwing water, balancing rice in a long piece of material draped over both of their heads at once, walking up to a rock with three red dots and placing their big toe precisely on one of the dots after each walking circuit around the fire, lighting candles, placing small bits of money in one of the dozens of leaf-bowls spread around the fire, re-emerging from the house after one of the three clothing changes (bride only), placing a tika on each other's forehead, repeating phrases spoken by the 'bachee' (holy man), letting rice fall from the husband's father's hands through the bride's father's hands through the bride's older brother's hands through the husband's hands through the bride's hands ten or twelve times, playing a two-person game which seemed something like musical chairs as the bride and groom passed a watch and a guava back and forth until the music ended (I assume the person left with the watch won each time they played), yanking a cow's tail to make it pee then drenching its tail in the peed pee then whipping the tail around to spray large sections of the crowd (including me) with the pee (I gathered that this was supposed to bring wealth - a puja to Laxmi), having most of the guests file by and give money and tika to the bride and groom.....

Well, I could go on. The main ceremony went on for maybe four hours. It was interesting in a bizarre sort of way, but I lost interest like everyone else. If I had seen as many weddings as the people in the crowd, maybe I would have been as disinterested and inconsiderate as they were. Even the band which had come and had set up 20 feet from the ceremony had no qualms warming up or playing random songs (badly) right during the ceremony.

I didn't feel any sort of normal wedding feelings until the ceremony abruptly ended and everyone from the groom's village piled onto a bus which had been rented for the purpose. The bride and groom got into a van. The whole party then took off for the groom's family's house. This is when everyone from my village, especially my family seemed to notice what was happening and become upset. I was upset myself - because I had adopted Renuka as my sister more than I had anyone else in the family, and because I know how Nepali men are in general.

Luckily, I had a chance to meet the groom's family over the next two days. Although he is definitely Nepali, he is one of the nicest Nepalis I've met. On my second trip to his house, I even saw him helping Renuka wash their clothes! I hope this wasn't some aberration related to the wedding. A married man doing that sort of work is absolutely unheard of here. Things like that and the general niceness of the family she will be moving in with made me feel much better.

Wedding Pugas continued for the next two days after which the bride and groom returned to the bride's home one last time to exchange tikas with everyone. This was notable only in that my family was required to be very quiet and solemn during this process. If my family is anything, it is loud and irreverant. So I made a lot of fun of them while they had to restrain themselves.

That reminds me of one of the most striking parts of the wedding - the absolute stoic expression the groom and, especially, the bride are required to maintain throughout the ceremony. I took a lot of pictures (a few good ones that I wanted to take and a lot of bad ones that my family members told me to take for them) - and I spent a lot of the ceremony making my sister laugh so I could have a picture in which she didn't look sad about what was going on. -- I guess you can tell from that statement that I had adopted the general sentiment of the crowd that the wedding did not warrant any sort of respect or quiet. At least I got some nice pictures. And making Renuka laugh wasn't difficult -- I think she and a lot of the people who cared enough to notice were embarassed that I was seeing some of the archaic rituals they were still going through in their wedding.

Anybody reading that sentence is probably thinking about our archaic rituals of the bouquet, the rings, the clothes, the garter belt, etc.. There's no comparison.

I bought a new bike in Dharan while I was in the area for the wedding. People think things from Dharan are inherently better because it is a wealthier city than Janakpur. Since I've returned to Janakpur I've been telling everyone where I bought my new bike and they have all been very impressed.

After feeling guilty for missing two days of school to spend four nights at my training village (I had only planned to stay one or two nights), the teachers at my school met me with "what are you doing back already?" I guess a wedding in the family is usually an excuse to miss a week or more of work. Well, I'm making up for it by missing a lot of school for Christmas and New Year's.

During the wedding trip, I stayed with Jill and Elizabeth in Inaruwa (my sister's new home town) for two nights, and with Joann and Ann in Dharan for one night. Everyone is doing well.

This was also the same week that huge fairs going on in Janakpur and Kalaya - Sommer's post. I saw footage of each of the fairs on Nepali TV and I'm glad I missed them. Mostly because of the number of people at each (and the resulting amount of feces and stench). Also because of the amount of blood and gore at the Kalaya milla. The Kalaya milla only happens once every four or five years and hundreds of bisi are slaughtered in front of tens of thousands of 'pilgrims'. Basically four days of hacking bisi or whatever other animals are available apart and leaving the heads lying around all over the place in pools of blood. I don't know what was done with all the meat.

Vince - the VSO in Janakpur - organized the construction of a campfire out of half a steel drum and some lengths of iron. Nepal is great in that some people make their living by accumulating pieces of metal and owning a soldering gun. We found one of these men sitting by the road and had him solder together a nice stand on which to burn wood or charcoal inside the half drum. We also found a screen at another store (basically a wooden shack full of random garbage) which is laid across the top of the open drum on which to cook kebabs, etc. We've already had two campfire parties - a really nice atmosphere. Oh - and wood for the campfires is available at other stores where people make a living by collecting and selling random pieces of wood.

I got the Kermit Pez package most recently. I passed Snickers out to my family at Shantinagar, shared the famous Amos cookies with the Janakpur crowd at one of our Friday night parties, put lollipops and Nerds in a stocking for Kraig (who can't get out of Janakpur until after Christmas :( ), and am planning to give the Kermit pez to Jill for Christmas. I can't remember how, but the topic of the Kermit Pez dispenser and how nice it would be to have one actually came up in a conversation I had with Jill before I received this package. She's going to wonder how I managed to get one.

I'll be in Kathmandu until Saturday (Christmas day). Then I'll go to Pokhara. I'll do a short trek with Virginia and Satyam (last chance to see her before she's off to Italy) to a hot springs resort type place in the hills. Then I'll be in Pokhara for New Year's. I won't be able to drink any champagne (available in K-doo) because of my dysentery medication, but I'm sure everyone else will more than make up for me.

Speaking of dysentery, it's time for me to go.

Love, Mark

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