My first week in Nepal has been full of first experiences and exposures. I have been learning so very much about Nepali culture this week and my trip has just begun. I have sought to be adventurous and flexible as I continue to step out into all that is new to me...
I have tried and very much enjoyed many kinds of Nepali FOOD this week, including their staple food, dal bhat - rice and lentils. I have also tried many new spices, most of which I have been able to handle pretty well :) I really believe that the Lord is protecting my stomach - as silly as that sounds, I am sure of it! We have been eating healthy and safe foods mostly, but I usually have quite a sensitive stomach - even when it comes to American food. My friend, with whom I am staying, mentioned that I have a strong stomach - HA! That’s laughable considering the digestive health issues I’ve had in the past few years, so all I can say is praise the Lord that I have not been experiencing any illness so far. The picture below is a typical Nepali meal complete with dal bhat, green vegetables, curry, Nepali pickle and a chicken dish. The picture above is when I got to try paani puri - so yummy! It's originally an Indian dish, but is very popular in Nepal and many vendors make and sell this. It's a little fried thing with mashed potatoes inside dipped in a spicy liquid. I like it very much and probably had too many! :)
I have, of course, had a lot of exposure to the Nepali LANGUAGE this week! I am learning and practicing the simple phrases I have learned so far, trying to add to my knowledge everyday. I have been encouraged by the friends I am staying with. They have spent much time teaching and helping me to practice Nepali. They have also told me that I am fast learner! I hope to be able to understand more and more each week.
This weekend I have been able to go out into the city many times and experience the busyness of the festival time in Kathmandu. Each time we go out I am feeling more and more comfortable with my surroundings. Here I am on the right, shopping in Lalitpur. Yesterday was the first time I’ve gotten to hear live Nepali music. I got to do so while attending a Hindu wedding ceremony! Experiencing both yielded enlightening facts about Nepali culture and it was a great experience for me. It was such an honor to be able to attend the wedding of my hosts’ cousin! The Hindu rituals were so interesting. I am glad to have studied Hinduism prior to traveling to Nepal, but I must confess that taking a class about a RELIGION is completely different than seeing, feeling, smelling and fully experiencing it in person. I was very thankful to have friends with me who speak English and who were readily willing to answer any questions that I had. Although this was wonderful, I learned that many of my questions weren’t questions that are generally asked - such as, “what does that mean/represent?” I was told that most people in attendance, the “everyday Hindu,” would not even know the answer to these questions. They simply know that it is a tradition and are faithful to follow what the Hindu priest instructs them to do in the ceremonies. My friend, who is a Nepali Christian, said that many Hindus follow their religion quite blindly, never really knowing what many of their rituals signify. I had such conflicting feelings while attending the ceremonies. On one hand, I was fascinated with the CULTURE all around me - the music, the language, the ornate dress, the food, etc. Yet on the other hand, my heart broke as I watched these beautiful people, created in the image of the One True God, engage in worship rituals they don’t even fully understand. I would assume that this is a natural part of doing anthropological research as a Christian. At this point in my journey here, I am allowing this feelings to set in and move me toward further prayer for the Nepali Christian church as they are constantly navigating through what it means to still be fully Nepali, preserving the beautiful parts of their culture not associated with Hinduism, and to follow Christ. I am learning from my friends that this is indeed possible and an incredibly powerful witness. Below is my beautiful friend and host, Shanti, and I at the wedding, in Nepali dress. I am wearing a kurta that I purchased for the wedding!
This week has truly been blessing, in all the good and also in all the ways I have been CHALLENGED. By living cross-culturally, my American perspective is being challenged in a few different areas. For example, in my own American culture saying “thank you” frequently is considered polite and considerate. Yet I have learned from my gracious hosts that saying “thank you” often is considered very formal and keeps relationship at bay. They told me that there is a Nepali saying: “In friendship, there is no sorry and no thank you.” This really is a different way of thinking about gratitude and hospitality. Can saying thank you less really be a way of graciously accepting the hospitality of others? After considering this more, I think that it in this context, it most certainly can be. By doing so I am yielding to the cultural norm of my host culture and deepening my friendship with my hosts. This value assumes that friends will take care of friends and will be appreciative of one another. I think it also shows that Nepali culture is less concerned with recognition, whereas in American culture, recognition seems to be of great importance to people.
Another challenge for me this week has been in altering my concept of time. I am really enjoying the concept of flexible time here in Nepal, but I haven’t quite caught on yet. I am usually ready around the time that was told to me, but I am always early when on time! I don’t mind this at all, yet I am not sure how to compensate - how “late” to really be. This has further reminded me how time-oriented my own culture is and how many non-Western cultures are more people-oriented. To me this is a reflection of caring more about relationship than the ticking of the clock. I hope to carry this value with me for the rest of my life.
Everything I have experienced this week has been of incredible VALUE to me. I feel like I have already learned so much and my trip is only 1/7 of the way finished! In this picture on the right are my hosts, Shanti and Anubhaw, and I. They are teaching me so much and are such a blessing to me! Being busy and soaking in all the new around me has distracted my mind from missing home too much. Some days are harder than others, but I try to focus on the end goal and purpose of me being here and I am reminded that it is worth the minor discomfort I must experience in being away from my family. As I continually look to the Holy Spirit for comfort, He always provides me strength and reminds me of the HOPE I have in Christ. His promises give me hope for the people of Nepal to come to know and worship Him and hope that God will use me while I am here for His glory.