Friday, December 2, 2011

Foreigner to Family

I remember the first time I went to the Glare beauty parlor. It was late in September, the weather was finally becoming bearable and on my way home for lunch I saw a lady in a yellow salwar suit come out, and I decided on my way back to the office I would go in there. When I went in for my first pedicure ever, I met Nirmali, who called her boss (Mala) and excitedly exclaimed in the local language that the foreigner that they had seen pass earlier that day had come to the parlor.

It has been two months since that day, and somewhere in that time I have crossed the line from foreigner to family. I am now affectionately called Melissaba. (similar meaning to auntie), I have a place at the dinner table, and they are always happy scoot over in the family bed and grab an extra pillow if I need to stay the night.  They told me I have a soft heart and that is why it was so easy for me to mesh into their family.

Some of my favorite memories that I will always cherish include but are not limited to:”

-       Mala’s son’s 7th birthday. I went early to help with the cooking and decorating.  I really felt like a part of the family, I was so fun. It was on that night that they declared me a part of their family.

-       Nirmali invited me to her aunt’s wedding. Mala went with me to pick out a Mekala sador (traditional dress) and make sure I got a fair price. On the day of the wedding I went to the parlor and the helped me pin the dress and also did my makeup. They let me do my own hair and that’s a huge compliment, it means they like my style. I went to the wedding and Nirmali proudly introduced me to all her family.

-       Playing cricket baseball or badmitten with Mala’s kid’s in the front yard.

-       Mala trying to teaching me how to cook and laughing so hard at my oddly shaped roti.

-       Just sitting in the parlor with the two of them enjoying each other’s company, whether we are talking or just smiling at each other.

Nirmali and I at the wedding
The Beautiful Bride

Mala, her sweet children and I under the mosquito net ready for bed

Mala's son's birthday party

These are going to be the hardest goodbyes I have to say.

Wedding Crashers

One night my three roommates and I were headed home from one of our friend’s houses when we passed a biya or wedding tent. The sparkly pink tent had music streaming from it and we were naturally curious. None of us had been to a wedding party yet so after some deliberation in the middle of the street we decided to “just walk by and see what was going on”. So we did. The father of the bride happened to be standing outside the tent and insisted that we come in. So we did.

It was beautiful. The decorations indicated that the family was pretty wealthy.  We passed all the guested wearing their finest clothes and we were in jeans and kurtas, (embarrassingly underdressed) but all eyes were on us. The party was a reception for the bride and her family; the husband would not arrive until 11p.m. We were ushered up to the bride’s throne area where they proceeded to take about 1,000 pictures of us and video.  The bride was donned in the traditional mekala sador (its like a sari, but has two pieces of fabric instead of one) and lots of jewelry and flowers. She was the most stunning bride I had ever seen.

The maid of honor then insisted on taking us to get some food, so of coarse we let followed her to the best buffet ever. We enjoyed a wide variety of rice, Dahl, chicken dishes, and vegetable dishes. The bride’s maids joined us and we sat in a circle to enjoy the food and each other’s company.

The maid of honor was taking down our contact information, but was having a terrible time spelling our names so my roommate that was closest leaned over to help her. Unfortunately the leg of her chair was in a hole…. so in slow, slow, slow motion she began to tip backwards until the next thing we all know she is flat on her back covered in rice (fortunately she was almost finished and had eaten all the really messy food) and her dupata over her face. A big Indian man scooped her up from under her armpits, set her upright and immediately a crowd of about 50 wedding guest gathers around to ask her if she’s ok and help her pick the rice out of her hair.  Where are her roommates? All three of them are sitting in their chairs crying because they are laughing so hard.
Puts wedding crashing on a whole new level =]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's in a Name?


These are all names the cook at our home stay would call out when she was looking for me and that I would answer to. ( the only one I refused to answer to was malaria).

 Here in the city I have acquired many new names including Mona lisa, Liza, Malasia, and greenie ( I wear a lot of green).

 My name is hard to pronounce and remember for people; it is an uncommon name here. It doesn’t bother me though, I love that they try and they want to get to know me. Besides it's kind of fun to have new nicknames and believe me it’s a two way street; I am awful at remember/pronouncing South Asian names.

Besides it’s not my name that I want them to remember anyway, it’s the father’s.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Durga Puja

Durga is a Hindu goddess who is the reincarnation of Shiva’s wife and as far as gods go in Hinduism she is pretty important. She is the one that has ten arms and a weapon in each hand. She destroyed the evil that was going to take over the earth by receiving power from three other gods. Durga is the goddess of strength and power and she cleanses or “purifies” the evil from human hearts. Her puja lasts from October 2nd -6th; it’s a pretty big deal to say the least. I would describe it as a mixture of Christmas, the carnival, a circus, and idol worship. From a certain perspective it is a beautiful holiday, there are beautiful lights everywhere and each community spends and enormous amount of time and money to construct an elaborate tent with scenes from Durga’s life, the most popular is her defeating the evil (that looks a lot like how Satan is often portrayed).

Durga killing the monster 
There were over 1,000 tents put up in our city and there is a competition to see which community constructed the best tent. The 5th of October is the day where families wear their new clothes and finery and go out to see all the different tents around the city.
One of the tents from the outside

Cute little boy in his new clothes at one of the tents 
On October 5th I went with my friend Nirmali to meet her auntie aka sister-in-laws family, and it was just one of those days that nothing went the way I thought it would, but it turned out to be a very insightful day into south Asian culture. There were lots of random family member’s at the auntie’s house that had come for Durga puja and I just joined in. They were really sweet, and really excited that I had never seen a puja before. They decided to take me to one of the biggest temples in the neighborhood where thousands of people were lined up to give an offering to the God and/or receive a blessing. There was evidence of water buffalo sacrifices earlier in the day and just so many people around me, there to worship Durga…I have never experienced anything like that I just wanted to cry. A priest interrupted my thoughts. He asked me where I was from and invited one of the cousins I don’t know and I upstairs to his house leaving Nirmali behind. In my head I was a little panicked with the sudden turn of events but it turned out to be fine. The priest’s family fed me my third huge serving of rice and local dishes for the day. It was around this time I was supposed to meet up with some of the people from our NGO but I realized there was no way I was going to be able to leave the priests house in time so I called and told them to go on with out me.


incense offerings
When we finally left the priests house and headed back to the sister-in-laws house I explained that my friends had went already. After that there was a huge discussion in the local language that I am not nearly fluent enough to follow but I understood that they were trying to figure out what to do with me. At first I felt bad like I had inconvenienced them, but I think that was just my American mindset, they were so happy I had decided to stay with them, they just wanted to make sure I was back home early for safety reasons. So once it was decided I would stay with Nirmali we headed out to see some puja tents. The first one was amazing. In a huge field area there were these paper-mache giants that were carrying a wedding tent and the crowd was going through the tent to look at Durga dressed in her wedding attire for Shiva on the inside. Families are out dressed in their finest, there are vendors throughout the field selling cotton candy, balloons, and other various toys that I you might see at an American carnival, it is just a beautiful picture, to an eye that is not aware of the truth. To an eye that is it is a heart-breaking image; it is the reality of the stronghold that is here.

After that Nirmali and I headed home stopping at a few other tents on the way home. One was animated and showed Durga actually destroying the devil; it’s a weird feeling you get when you have heard that story told a different way. Durga Puja is many people’s favorite celebration here and it shows. There are 3 million people in our city and on October 5th everyone that lives here invited all their aunties and cousins from surrounding towns and go out to look at all the tents. I’m not kidding, I’d never seen so many people in my life.

As strange as it all seemed to me I realized it was all perfectly normal to everyone else there, this is what they all expect to happen every October 5th, probably the strangest thing to them was that a white girl was there. We finally made it safely back to her home exhausted from our day. It was a good cultural experience for me, and it really seemed to secure Nirmali and I’s friendship even to the point where we could discuss some of the things that I had seen that night in a new light for her.

Beauty Parlor Affair

In America I am not the type of girl to go to a beauty parlor…ever. Before coming to South Asia I had never dyed my hair, had never gotten a facial, or a pedicure but as I began building my relationships at beauty parlors I have had all three plus other various beauty tricks.  There are two beauty parlors on my street that I walk by everyday, and most days I stop in to chat. It’s a delicate balance I have to keep in order not to offend anyone that I had my eyebrows threaded somewhere else, but so far there hasn’t been a problem. It’s just enough to be friends; they are happy when I pop in for a few minutes on my way to the NGO office and ask how their day has been and maybe practice a new story of truth I have learned in Assamese for them and their customers. It always starts my day off right too.

Beauty Parlors are a great way to meet women friends here in South Asia.  The first beauty parlor I went to began to feel a little too American occupied (there are 6 other white girls here), so I decided to branch out and find a new one. I am so glad I did, it has really changed my life here.

The owner of the new parlor I’ve been going to is named Mala and she is like my Assamese mother. If I go out with her she holds my hand and steers me away from people with lingering eyes. Last time I was sick she came over to check on me, felt my forehead to make sure I didn’t have a fever and wrote down a home remedy to help rehydrate me. She has two children that I adore, and they seem to have similar feelings. I love how the culture works here, someone can just be accepted into your family, and those kids refer to me as their auntie now. It’s just a great connection that has definitely been orchestrated from above. She had Jade and I over to celebrate October Bihu with their family. We just hung out together and ate a lot of wonderful food like a real little family. I just love being with them, its my home away from home.

The other girl, Nirmali, is basically my best friend here. She is Mala’s apprentice and as I mentioned in my last blog she is 21 and a widow. Her husband died of a sudden heart attack three months into their marriage. As a Hindu widow “remarriage is not socially admissible, but flexible.” I’m not sure exactly what that means but it sounds like she probably won’t be remarrying anytime soon. You would think she would be very sad, but she is one of the most genuinely happy people I have met here. She lives with her mother-in-law who is deaf, but I would compare their relationship to Ruth and Naiomi’s; very respectful and loving. They have handled life's hardships together and just enjoy each other. I have been over to their house several times now to enjoy a meal or an afternoon. I spent the night there during Durga Puja and they just laughed and laughed because I had to borrow Nirmali’s nightgown (she is probably 5’1) and normal nightgowns are supposed to go to your ankles, and well.... her’s barely covered my calves. It didn't help that it was a pale pink color, coincidentally the exact shade of my skin. 

 Between hanging out at her house and the parlor we have really developed a strong relationship, and I am able to share stories of truth with her and we can talk about serious topics that South Asian women talk about. She also is great at helping me with language learning. I have made a notebook with the local language and English translations and we often go through that together and she writes down English phrases she wants to learn and adds to the my collection as well. She is a great teacher because she is willing to correct my grammar when I am speaking, which is great it’s the only way I am really going to learn and I really appreciate her. Her birthday is on December 9th the day I get back to America...

Hanging out at the Parlor with Nirmali

Long before I arrived in South Asia I had been asking the father to prepare my way, and to give me people to do life with here. He has been faithful in that, there is no doubt, from the people I work with at the NGO, to my home stay family, the people on my street, but especially in my dear friends at the Glare Beauty Parlor he has provided in a mighty way.

Friday, October 7, 2011

September Happenings

Well since my last blog post was September 1st let me just give an over view of the past month. My computer crashed pretty early on in the month so I attribute that to not writing and also I am just a busy girl getting used to the culture here.

Jade and I in our Saris

                Eid is breaking the Ramadan fast with HUGE feasts! It's kind of like Thanksgiving, but if you are a lucky person you might be invited to several homes for the feast. Some of my American friends and I were invited to one of our national friends house to experience this occassion. It was really a good time we got to wear our sari's and get all dolled up in the first time in 3 months and just enjoy time with our friend and getting a better idea of her world view.

I observed a school for a future teacher training in a little village. It is so amazing to me how different their schooling experience is from my but yet how affective it seems to be.

My new favorite place to hang out is the Glare Beauty Salon. The two ladies that work there have become my best friends. One's name is Mala. She has two adorable children, and is very motherly toward me. I love it. The other one is an intern, her name is Nirmali. She is 21, she is a widow. Her husband died two years ago 3 months into their marriage of a sudden heart attack. I spend countless hours in there just watching them do their stuff and engaging in conversation. I practice my language there; they teach me the local language and I teach them English. I just really love them. 

My friend Maddy had a birthday. We went to KFC and took a boat ride on the Brahmaputra to celebrate. It was great.


 I attended a parent’s day program with Mala to watch her kids. It was amazing. There were so many kids! Each grade performed a traditional dance and were all wearing costumes. It was one of those moments I wished I had someone with me to share the awe of the experience.


I witnessed the Iron God Puja. On this day Hindu's worship everything that is made of metal; from a screwdriver to a bus. All the machinery that is used daily is decorated all fancy and worshiped.

I found out I have lice

I survived my first earthquake!

Wise Astrologer Man

I visited my first Ganak village. (Ganak people are the people that Jade and are focusing on for our ethnography.) It was so interesting. Ganaks are astrologers that prepare horoscopes for Hindu people and they have been calculating stars and their position for thousands of years. It's fascinating.

I got my ear pierced with one of my friends that I made during a youth service. We ended up getting matching piercings and she was just so happy about it, she couldn't quit smiling.

Had tea in a department store and made a new friend

Rode next to the bus driver, excellent view.

View from the front of the bus


The neighborhood I live in is called Hati Gown which literally translates to elephant village.

My friends at the grocery store had me cussing people out in the local language....oops.

Crossing the road here is like playing frogger with your body. Luckily I haven't lost yet, but it is quite the adrenaline rush.

Simple Joys
Teaching Home School P.E. to our supervisors two girls

Walking down the road in my neighborhood and being able to stop and talk with people that live and work there (in their language) and just get to know them

Some of my favorite people to stop to chat with in the neighborhood

 I love the people at the NGO office. If I love the people at the next job I have half as much I will be a very happy person.

Just sitting in the Glare Beauty Parlor being with my friends