My hands are still stained with henna, a mismanaged manicure, and the hint of tikka. Andrew dubbed it our big fat Nepali wedding as we ‘officially’ got hitched a second time Saturday evening. Like most wedding celebrations, the days leading up to the event were nothing but chaotic. The difference was that we had no idea what was happening until it actually happened; therefore, we absorbed little to no stress but doubled over in the overwhelming factor when it all went down.
The ‘beauty man’ I referred to earlier ended up being a 23-year-old girl who sweetly henna-ed up my hands with doodled peacocks and flowers as she asked me what I thought about love marriages–a tricky topic when it comes to a culture steeped in the tradition of arrangement. I chose to say a balance of the two is ideal, but make sure you honor those parents of yours. I have no idea if that helped her 6-month Facebook relationship with her Nepali Australian boyfriend. That Friday afternoon henna arrangement turned into a market run, making grass necklaces at Laxmi’s friend’s house, and not getting back to Harka until 9:30pm. You just never know.
Monsoon season was delayed until, well, yesterday, so all last week with the 110* weather sweating us out into the night we made a habit of popping a Benadryl before bed (fully recognized as a bad habit). Saturday morning we awoke bleary eyed at 7am. This might as well have been noon with the 4:30am productiveness of the children and crew. As we stumbled out of our room still sticky from the heated sleep, we realized that every member of Harka had turned into wedding coordinators overnight. A tent was erected in the courtyard that covered an arrangement of sugarcane, bamboo, and banana tree stalks. Roti was being fried, vegetables prepared, and Soniya with her friend, Arati, combined cow dung and water with a powder to make the clay that served as the new courtyard floor. They just grabbed slabs of it with their hands and went to town.
The entire day Laxmi had arranged friends and neighbors to put on what would be a grand wedding. The next-door grandmother, who has been one of my favorite Nepalis since four years ago, spent an entire afternoon delicately sewing together leaves for the decorative bowls that held tikka, water, and fruits during the ceremony. One of Laxmi’s friends who manages a fruit stand at the market came Friday night to start cooking. This woman knows no English but must be hilarious because it is inevitable that every person she communicates with roars with laughter. Khali, the new housemom (houseparents transition out of Harka every few years due to different circumstances such as a new job for the husband or a new husband for those who have been single women), who has been here for the past month with her 6-year-old girl, Preeti, used her sweet and quiet disposition to constantly wash dishes, clean rooms, and sort out rice. Speaking of houseparents, another complete surprise was the presence of both former housemothers that I volunteered with: Kumari and Sita. Britta and I weren’t the biggest fans of Kumari, but she had her moments and Saturday was one of them. She couldn’t have been sweeter and she and her two kids, Ishwor (now a dashing 16-year-old dude) and Samjana (long haired and not as devel-ish), took a bus from their home a few hours away to prepare, cook, and serve food the entire afternoon. Sita, who I was always a big fan of, was just as cute as ever with her 10-month-old little baby and a now 4-year-old Mikreecha. Sita and Kumari were a tag-team in the kitchen and suddenly a mini-Harka reunion was created.
After trying to lend a hand with some laundry and sewing, Andrew and I took a 30 minute rest around 12:30 amidst the huh-bub. We were hoping to have a few hours of chill-time around the home since most everything was prepared, but around 1pm I heard a, “Uh, Bahcka?” which is Laxmi’s classic, “Becca, what’s up? You need to get up and check this out.” Turns out that the “5pm” wedding time actually began now as the band of drummermen had arrived and were ready to make some noise. This arrival brought with it the beginning of what would be the hoard of children that live up and down our street. By 3pm, I was expected to change into my layers of fabric with the company of thirty women I didn’t know. I grabbed Sirjana, Soniya and their friends and locked the door to the surrounding masses. Sirjana affectionately squeezed my blouse around my chest (there is no way the tailor got my rib size correct) and they took turns putting on mascara, eye liner, and the flaming red lipstick. An hour later their classy, sophisticated makeover was replaced by the work of one of Laxmi’s friends. She was sweet and happy as could be, but good grief, she painted red polish on my nails like a maniac and my weeks of ankle pain were nothing like her yanking my hair into an array of bobby pins and braids. Sweet, but over eager.
With eyeliner the size of Tim Tebow’s scriptural eye black and blood red nails, we took the stage with dancing and smiles. For an hour or so we followed the direction of a guru to the best our ignorance would allow (poor guy probably had no idea what he was getting himself into). Mostly, women both known and unknown would grab our hands and show us what was up. Laxmi was in utter proud-mama mode the entire time as she does what she does best: makes things happen. The ceremony is mostly a blur (minus the footage that Bishal–official documenter–professionally captured), but there were so many symbolic references that even an outsider couldn’t miss. We traded the aforementioned grass necklaces as an equivalent to our rings, which was answered with much applause from the 150 folks in attendance (rough estimate). In the finale, we also took one end of fabric (red for me, white for Andrew) and literally tied a knot. It’s funny when phrases reveal their meaning.
For the most part I believe that the kids ended up being entirely overwhelmed by everyone that showed up (we were right there with them). Their thrills came in the preparation: the surprise of an extra fried roti, a reason to dress up, the chance to spend time with friends, and the anticipation of a Becca Miss and Andy Sir being married. To them, we weren’t married until they could be a part of it. And so our reality became theirs.
We spent yesterday in Sahaura to bathe and safari with elephants. We had neglected such events during our previous visit so that we could have a post-wedding adventure. Not only did we see four rhinos on our evening jaunt, but the overcast skies (praise the Lord!!) kept the air cool as we also saw our fair share of deer (spotted, musk, and mule), monkeys, and various birds. There are very few moments in an adult’s life that can truly make you feel like a kid again, but riding bareback on an elephant as it rears its water-filled trunk toward your face is one of them. We giggled as our large friend bucked us off (ankle’s fine) and didn’t even pay attention to how filthy the water in which we were being bucked into actually was. The unadulterated oblivion of children.
The overcast sky has carried itself over to Harka as of this morning, and we pray that these grounds will get the necessary rain. Rice needs to grow and surely this part of the country could use a big gust of wind. It would also be nice to nix our drug habit before we leave for Kathmandu. We only have three more days with the kids which always feels terribly short when it gets down to the final few. We have a couple tricks up our sleeves for some soda drinking and water wars (Andrew’s favorite new game with the kids–get as many children wet as you possibly can). Although there’s no way to compete with this past Saturday, the satisfaction will last through our final days: the Harka family got us married Nepali style. Check, double check.