This week we have another adventure from Tracy Tyson, an American educator living in Nepal, where she trains teachers and helps schools set up Montessori programs. She follows up her account of a Tibetan wedding in Kathmandu with a seasonal tale for the holidays.
A few years ago, I made the trek from Charikot, where I was then living, to Kathmandu just in time for the Christmas. I spent the holiday with some friends – a Nepali family and a couple of Americans who lived with them. In an effort to be non-partisan toward any religion, now that Nepal is no longer a Hindu kingdom, the new government declared Christmas and Eid (which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan) national holidays, so schools and government offices are closed during these times. This declaration is a great example of what I love about Nepal – a Maoist government that celebrates two religious holidays! I guess they don't agree with Mao's statement about religion being poison!
My friends cut a branch off an evergreen tree in their yard and decorated it. Although it didn't quite have the desired conical Christmas tree shape, the gesture was in the spirit of the holiday. Everyone got a present – mine was a jar of peanut butter (all natural and "made by handicapped persons" here in Kathmandu, according to the label). The kids in the family squealed with delight at their gifts – and they were teenagers!
Christmas dinner turned out to be an interesting Nepali/American mix. For starters we had chaat, a crispy, spicy, Indian-style party mix. Dinner began with a first course of dal-bhat (rice and lentil soup), plus a very hot pickle made from potatoes. This was followed by meat for the meat-eaters and a tasty veggie curry for the vegetarians. And then for dessert – fruitcake! I don't really like fruitcake, but fortunately you can't get disgusting things here like the yucky dried fruit they put in fruitcake, so the cake just had raisins and nuts, and I actually liked it.
Later, as I made my way home, an older man offered me his seat on the bus. I tried to tell him in my primitive Nepali that I was fine standing, but he insisted. Then he said "Merry....." and turned to his neighbor for help on how to complete the rest of the phrase. "Chreesmus," he subsequently added, holding his hands held in the prayer-like position in front of his chest the way the people here do when they greet each other.
This experience reminded me that one thing I love about Nepal is all the little daily kindnesses people show me here! They are such warm, genuine people. When they smile at you it comes straight from the heart.