Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Didi Behini Group in the Village

Didi means older sister, and behini means younger sister in Nepali. Once a month the women from the Vineyard here in the city gather together with women from one of the villages outside the city. This month it was in Kortigauw (no idea about the spelling or even a good pronunciation of it). Alana and I had been invited to go along, so Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Vineyard here in Patan to meet our didis and behinis there and leave together for this gathering. Most of the day was a complete unknown for me. I knew it was a women's gathering in a village outside the city, and that's about the extent of what I knew.
Only a couple of the women speak any English, and even those who do speak it, don't feel confident using it, so there were a lot of smiles, giggles, and nods throughout the day, and though it felt awkward at the beginning of the day, by the end of the day, it somehow communicated much more than words. Puja was one young woman who felt comfortable speaking English, so she ended up translating (loosely) some things for us throughout the day.
As we were waiting for some signal to depart, a flatbed work truck pulled into the church courtyard. One of the ladies grinned and said, "Our taxi." They started giggling, so Alana and I thought it was a joke. Turns out, it was not. We needed to take three sewing machines (the old-fashioned ones that you pump with your foot so are all part of a table) and some other things along because they were going to start a training for some of the women in this village to learn how to do sewing/tailoring. So, we piled three sewing machines and table, one large desk, two chairs, and 14 of us women into this truck and headed out on our adventure. By the time we realized just how this was all going to play out, it would have been awkward to get up and take a picture, but this shot shows our ride.

So, off we went through the chaotic streets of Patan! I have gotten some strange looks being here so far, but it was pretty amusing to see people's faces when they looked over and saw two white girls jammed in the back of a work truck with a bunch of furniture and Nepali ladies having a worship sing-a-long! I can only join in on the parts that repeat "hallelujah" and "dhanyavad (thank you) Yesu (Jesus)" and such, but we just clapped along joyfully. At one point, I thought I had found a part I could do when Sarita and some others started in with the interjected "Ho, ho" and rolled r's and "hey, hey" and such, but it turns out you sort of need to know the song to throw those in at appropriate times. :) The lady sitting on the other side of Alana seemed to think she could help her sing along if only she could look into her face and sing loudly and intently. I don't think it worked, but it was amusing. The great thing was that we were all amused--by each other, by our ride, by the jostling around and getting tossed into each other!
As we got to the edge of the city, we went past a bunch of older Newari style buildings with the intricate woodwork and blue doors and windows and then started to see the terraced fields and brick making ovens and open spaces. Then, up the mountain we headed. A big jostling truck full of singing ladies and furniture up a narrow gravel and dirt mountain road. The key is not to look down. Now, that is a ride for you! One of the girls pointed up toward the top and said, "There is where we go." I have to admit, I doubted our truck a bit, but we made it up to the top in one piece and didn't even lose the guy who was standing outside and hanging on to the door!

We unloaded the furniture at the site where they will do the training, and we gathered together and prayed over the place and over the ladies there (most of whom had met us at this spot) for this time of training for the next three months. Then we walked along the road to a home where we were being hosted for the gathering. It was a packed dirt floor with some straw mats and no lights, and we all just gathered around to sit together on the floor. Altogether, I think there were about 25 of us. We chatted a bit, and I discovered that Puja (the one speaking English with us) has two children who are 14 and 11, and there is no possible way she is older than me, if as old. She grew up in an orphanage, and her husband left her soon after her daughter was born. One of so many difficult stories.

We worshipped together with a few raggedy shared songbooks, and then Umla (one of the ladies from the city) gave some teaching. I understood very little of it at all, but it seemed to be an encouragement to the women. Then the ladies shared their prayer requests, and if the surroundings didn't emphasize it enough, I was struck by the difficulty of many of their lives. So many wanted prayer for their family members to know Jesus, and quite a few are the only believers in the households. One very tiny elderly woman shared that her husband gets angry that she goes to church; he beats her and curses at her. She broke into tears as she said it. They wanted us to share our prayer requests as well because they said they need to be praying for us, too. Before we started praying, they said we were going to take the offering. A moment of panic hit me. What in the world is an appropriate amount to put in for such an offering? There is so much need, and I have much to give, but it would be very awkward to put in a large amount as they put in their little amounts. But, at the same time, they do know that Alana and I have more money as Westerners, so I don't want to be the stingy foreigners who don't give. It would be obvious what we had given because it would be notably different than anything else put in. I prayed and reached for a bill from my wallet. Thankfully, I confirmed with Alana that we had both put in the same amount, and we hoped it would be a good balance of the dynamics for us.

We began to pray. It started with everyone praying aloud at once, which is common for them to do here. Then some women got up and began to go around and lay hands on the other ladies and pray for them. One women, clearly a leader/elder of that community, went around and laid hands on each and every woman there and prayed for them. I don't know what she was saying, but there was such fervor and sincerity in her prayers. It was so beautiful watching them all minister to each other and to receive from them and to be able to pray, knowing that God knows what each of us is lifting up to Him, even if we have no idea from each other!

Then came lunch. I had been nervous and asked for much prayer about lunch. Normally, I would never turn down a single thing put in front of me in someone's home, even knowing there may be consequences later, and I have been very thankful that God has given me the ability to eat pretty much anything pretty easily. With the pregnancy, however, I don't feel quite as free to take some of the chances with food and drink, but I just hate the thought of offending anyone with what they offer to me, especially knowing that they are offering so graciously and sacrificially out of very limited resources they have. They had made so much good food for us! We had a big plate of pounded rice (which is like a dry crunchy cereal) and several food on top and around it. There was some sort of beans in a tasty sauce, some vegetables, and something we weren't sure what it was. Then on top of each plate was a fried sweet bread ring that they called something that sounded like "sail." Apparently, it is usually made for festivals and special occasions. This emphasized how special of an occasion this was to them!
I asked Alana if the unknown saucy cubes were meat, and she said she had eaten one and thought they were made of soybean, so I went ahead and ate one. Honestly, one of the harder things I've eaten. The taste was fine; it didn't have much taste to it at all, but I just kept chewing and chewing, thinking that at some point I may just need to swallow it. Turns out it was "buff" (water buffalo). Meat seemed a little less safe to eat, though I know it is costly. Thankfully, there was only a bit on my plate, and it seemed not to draw notice to leave the few bites there. I did have to pass on the drink, as it was some sort of yogurt drink that Alana later said smelled and tasted like curdled milk. The couple of ladies around me seemed to understand with me being pregnant, and again, it didn't draw attention, thankfully. The vegetables turned out to be "pickle," and was like a spicy salad. I thought I was eating a slice of okra, but it turned out to be a slice of a chili! Couldn't quite contain my reaction on that one, but they all seemed amused by it! Since the veggies were raw, I thought about it later that it might not have been the best idea, but all through the meal, I just kept praying for protection for the baby and thanking God and asking Him to bless these women for their gift to us. Glad to report that I have had NO digestive backlash from the food! :) It really was (with the exception of the meat) quite delicious.

The woman who had prayed over each of the women started to tell us (which Puja translate) that they are brown, and we are white and have come from such a long way, but God brought us together, and we are a blessing for coming with them. We worship God, and He is the same God, the one God, and it joins us as sisters. At one point, she came over and hiked up my skirt and put her foot next to mine. She point to hers and said, "kaalo" (black) and to mine and said "seto" (white) with a lot of emphasis, and all the ladies laughed--my pasty white foot next to her dark one. And there is even so much more that these ladies' feet speak of. They are worn and dusty and show the difficulty of many of their lives. Even those who have loving families work so hard and walk so much on dusty rough roads. I had just been thinking the other day how little care I've been taking of my feet and feeling like they are pretty gross right now, but one of the ladies had commented to me in the truck as she touched my foot that it was so clean and smooth. It gives a little glimpse into the challenges of life that so many of these women face. But they are faithful. This women who was a leader there in that village is one I have seen every week here in the city at the Vineyard. It took us nearly an hour on that truck to get there, and I know most of that mountain road has to be walked before they can catch a bus. It must take at least 2 hours each way every week!
And, in the midst of so many things that are different, we all just enjoyed each other. We laughed. And smiled. And sang. And we had such a fun day together.

What seemed like a challenging ride for our truck going up turned into a roller coaster ride on the way down! Much more laughing and bouncing around into each other.

My butt is very sore today, but I am so thankful for such an unforgettable and lovely day with such beautiful women! I could hardly say anything to them, but I know for certain, they are my didis and behinis!

Monday, September 20, 2010

One of Those Mornings

I have them back home as well, but for some reason, it all feels more exaggerated here. I woke up this morning feeling dragged out and a little irritable, which is a never a good start to the day. Isaiah was well overdue for a bath, but he has been absolutely hating them lately. I'm not sure where the glee from bucket baths went, but it is gone. We were moving along ok, and then something bit him! Seriously, all of a sudden, a big red puffy bite. As if we weren't having enough drama every single bathtime! The screaming and crying woke John up, which we were trying to avoid, since he had fallen asleep late last night, but thankfully, he was a huge help to wrap up bathtime reasonably well.
I took a shower with water that was an unpleasant temperature, and after what felt like moving ridiculously slow to wrap my head around the week's budget and the shopping list, we were finally ready to head out the door. As we started walking, I realized I had forgotten to get Isaiah a snack, so we stopped at Inox department store and got a donut for him. The security guards there all know us and are really friendly, but the most Isaiah will give them is an occasional "hi" and usually "bye bye." As we walked out to jump on a tuk tuk, Isaiah started whining to eat his donut. I don't like whining. I really enjoy most things about the toddler phase...but not the whining.
We got on a tuk tuk and got him some of his donut. Our first stop was to be the library to return some books. I couldn't see out very well, so we went past where we needed to go and had to walk back. Just as we were starting to walk, it started to rain. Isaiah was actually walking since there was a sidewalk but kept stopping to whine about getting more donut. I scooped him up to try to get us where we needed to go quickly before the rain got harder. Isaiah calmed down, and we stopped to eat a few more bites of donut, which I then told him was going away in my bag to have the rest later. We climbed two flights of stairs, only to find out the library is only open in the afternoons! And the books are due tomorrow. And I'm going to be gone all day tomorrow. Ugh.
We went back out to the street. (More whining about the donut.) It was, by that time, actually raining. It wasn't pouring or anything, but I needed the umbrella, which is no small task to carry Isaiah, hold the umbrella, and cross the chaotic street. We made it across, and every tuk tuk that was going past was jammed incredibly full. Some people hop on the back and just hold on, but holding on to a toddler, an umbrella, and clinging to the back of the tuk tuk seemed more than I could manage, so we started walking to our second destination--Namaste grocery/department store. It's not as close to us as two others, but it sometimes has some food items the other two don't have, and I hadn't explored the non-grocery part yet and had high hopes to find some items we hadn't been able to find. I know where it is, but I have never walked that stretch, so I really had no idea how far it was. Too far to walk with a toddler! Should have just sucked it up and paid a taxi, but I was not about to jump in a taxi, pay them some stupid amount only to have them drive us around a corner and be there. So, we walked. Again, thankfully, there was a sidewalk, so Isaiah wanted to walk. The only downside is that I have one of those little umbrellas from Target (which seemed good when considering packing space) that really doesn't even cover one person. So, I was walking along the sidewalk, holding the umbrella out over Isaiah and getting soaking wet, much to the amusement of all who passed. He got tired, and I picked him up. Just as I was hitting the wall, we saw it. But, by that time, the whining for the donut had started again.
Well, we went in and went upstairs. There are no carts above the first floor so corraling a toddler while trying to actually look at stuff is not very practical, especially since they have a big toy section filled with brightly colored plastic junk. It's an older store than the two nearer to us, and they might actually have a lot of stuff, but it is poorly laid out, crammed in random spaces, and all looks dingy. So much for my list of that stuff! Well, actually, on a positive note, I DID find super glue, so it wasn't a total loss.
After what felt like a long time of painfully trying to search and keep Isaiah in check, I gave up, and we went down to the grocery area. Great, at least they have carts down there, right? Isaiah was happy to pull out a cart for me but had no interest in going in the cart so started to pitch a fit while being put in. The seats are narrower than carts in the States, so if they don't put their legs all the way through straight at first, they won't be able to straighten them once they're sitting. So, with a minor bit of wrestling, I had a kid in the cart with his knees and folded up and crying. I paused and tried to breathe a bit and told him he was going to have to stay in the cart. I picked him up to start over with the legs, and the security guard rushes over and reaches out to help me put his legs through. Now, I need to admit to perhaps my least shining moment of the day. I know this security guard was just trying to be helpful, and I know that it is just a cultural difference that is beyond my understanding for complete strangers to just grab children here, but in my head, the things that went through my head were 1) Do you really think I just don't know how to put my kid in a cart?! 2) Do you really think I am not going to prove to my kid on my own that I can win this battle?! and 3) Why do random people keep grabbing my kid?!
So, unfortunately, instead of thanking him for his attempt to help, what came out instead was, "Don't! Please don't touch him!!! He's FINE!" Nice. And clearly so am I. Right.
The crabbiness for both Isaiah and I continued throughout searching the grocery area, only to realize they had almost none of the items I actually needed to get. And, upon asking people for a few of the items and getting a random glance around and "No, we don't have," (as if that was really helpful after I had just scoured the area for the item), I gave up. Exhausted, irritated, and needing to get home for lunch time, we checked out the few items we had found and left.
I asked a tuk tuk for a landmark at the end of our side street, and he told me it was just up ahead a couple minutes. At this point I was totally aware of how ridiculous it probably seemed to hop on and ride for 2 minutes, but I didn't even care. After what I'm sure seemed a totally silly short ride to them, we paid and got off and walked home.
As we hit our path, Isaiah perked up and started running and giggling. Nice timing. As we got to our stairs, I realized I was approaching an urgent bathroom situation. Thankfully, we were already home, but it can take a toddler quite awhile to go up two flights of stairs.
After addressing the urgent need, I flopped down on the couch with the library books still in my backpack, three items crossed off my long list of things to get, and wiped out. I kept telling myself I would have these mornings back home as well.
So, now I am left to vent on this blog a bit, realize we all just have these mornings wherever we are, and be ready for a new morning tomorrow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Evenings

So, my love for Nepal is growing. I'm finding many things and people that I quite enjoy, and I'm taking joy in quite a lot of little things about this place. I think I find it more charming in the evening, for some reason. The main streets are bustling and full as the sun starts to sink in the sky, but the neighborhoods seem to start to settle in for the evening. It feels a bit more peaceful. There is still much activity around, but there is something in the cooling of the day and the dimming of the lights around that makes it start to seem cozier. With the exception of some random crazy yapping dogs, the noise around our home lowers.
Though the electricity shutting off in the evenings can be an inconvenience, I think it sort of forces things to slow down, and there is something sort of endearing about a greater simplicity and calmer pace, even if it is imposed by circumstances. I think it seeps into the culture, and it just becomes normal that the business of the day winds down at some point.
There are challenges to things closing down so early and to not having access to eletricity for the things I would like to do or get done. It's not convenient to have to wear a headlamp every time I want to use the bathroom! But, I feel like it is good for me to be forced to accept that a day has ended. It is certainly possible to still do the things that need to get done or that feel particularly important, but the added inconvenience to making it work to still do things makes me reevaluate whether it's actually important to do those things and, even if it is, whether tonight is the time to do them.
It can be really frustrating, but I'm realizing it is actually probably exactly what I need in a season like this, and I realize how very many things I can find to busy myself with back home and just never let the days be done. So, while it is not a natural fit, I think there is something inside of me that is thankful for what Kathmandu evenings bring. I look out at our neighborhood from our home, and though it is dark and there are not many people or much activity to be seen, I feel like perhaps I see this place more clearly in this time than I do in the bright of day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Conquering the Miracle Oven

So, I am long overdue for a blog entry. I keep having all these thoughts I want to write about, but I've been so wiped out lately that, when I sit down in the evening, I just want to veg and not think at all!

Anyway, tonight is my introvert night. :) John, Tom, & Alana are attending a discussion group about The Shack on Wednesday evenings. Tom was feeling bad and worried I would feel left out. Tom is an extreme extrovert and doesn't understand that time alone is a treasured treat to an introvert like me. So, they all get something fun for the evening, and I get an evening of time to just be by myself!

So, I thought I'd jump back in on a little blogging with something not too deep--my foray into the world of the Miracle Oven. So, I've used this word foray before, but I thought I should look it up to make sure I'm actually using it correctly, and it turns out that it fits in a funny way even better than I thought! One definition from is "an initial venture," which is what I was thinking. But, the first definition is "a quick raid, usually for the purpose of taking plunder." While it obviously doesn't fit literally, it kind of made me laugh about attacking the Miracle Oven last night and taking no prisoners! Ha.

The Miracle Oven is, well, not that much of a miracle. But, it is sort of brilliant, I guess. It is basically this pot that has a base with a heating stone in it. You set it on top of the burner on the stove, and you put what you want to bake in the pot, and it functions (basically) as an oven.

Don't kid yourselves, though, it is not the same. For one thing, it has a giant hole in the center, so anything you bake is going to be in the shape of a ring with a giant hole in the center! For another, there aren't any temperature settings. You're just setting a pot on top of a gas burner, so you just have to adjust the burner and take your best guess at what might be a reasonable level and amount of time to bake whatever you have put in the pot.

No one here has a "regular" oven. We may, at some point, get a toaster oven, but for now, this is the option we have for baking, so since today is Alana's birthday, I decided that last night I would conquer the Miracle Oven! Haha, plunder I shall take!

Tom bought a cake mix at the store, and I mixed that up, greased up the Miracle Oven, and baked it. I checked at one point, and it was still all gooey. Less than 10 minutes later, it had burned a little. :( Thankfully, it wasn't too bad at all, so I just trimmed a bit out of the center where it got a little too dark.

Now, if the Miracle Oven had been my only challenge in making a birthday cake, it wouldn't have actually seemed that amazing of a feat. But, then comes the frosting. They don't sell frosting here, which is ok because I much prefer homemade frosting anyway. Except, confectioners sugar is a rarity here. We expected that challenge and, on the way home from language class, John and I stopped at a grocery we hadn't been at before that we heard had some other stuff that is harder to find (like cow's milk cheese, which we also obviously had to bring home with us!). They did have "icing sugar," which is what it is labeled as here, but it comes in very small packages. I think they were 100 grams each. Not that grams holds any frame of reference for me, and for those who are with me, it was maybe 3/4 cup in a bag. Luckily, it wasn't too expensive, so we bought four bags and brought them home. So, I was basically going to make a buttercream frosting. Well, the "icing sugar" seems way less sweet than our confectioners sugar, so after dumping in all four bags (expecting I could get away with only 3), it still just tasted like butter AND was way too think to stir, which brings me to the other significant challenge in making frosting--no electric beaters. It is very challenging to beat butter well enough with a whisk, not to mention that the only whisk in the house has a handle that falls off, so you have to hold the handle onto the whisk while trying to whip this all together. Um, it did not look or taste that great! I had to add some milk just to be able to stir it, but then it was too runny, so it just ran all down the sides of the cake. Well, I put it in the fridge, and by this morning, it had firmed up enough that I could put the extra on it, scoop up what had run down the sides, and cover the cake reasonably well. I sprinkled some regular sugar on top, hoping to give a little boost of sweetness, and hoped for the best.

We cut into it this afternoon, and it tasted like a cake, which all things considered, is rather remarkable! It's no airplane cake, but I have to say, I felt a little proud of my conquest! In fact, I'm eating another piece now to celebrate. :) Happy Birthday, Alana!