Before I share my present, I must continue to share the past. A few weeks ago, the Nepalese celebrated a holiday. I’m not sure what the holiday entailed, or if it really was a holiday. It could have been a Hindu festival or a feast day or a day of remembrance…I’ll have to ask Jimmy about it. Whatever it was, we didn’t see the festivities or music, or costume, or traditions. Jimmy and I arrived a little before seven as usual that evening and the kids were smiley and hyper. There were a good amount of chattering people in the hub and it was the first real display of community that I had witnessed so far. From what I can gather from Jimmy’s stories is that last year was very different for both him and the family. He always had us visit the grandparents’ apartment (the hub) first, but it hadn’t been a real hive of activity until this particular night.
I liked it. Everyone was chattery and loud, the women were laughing, the men almost smiling, and the kids and their homework tidbits were almost being stepped on. There was a small stick of incense trying to smolder on a dish in the living room and all the Nepalis had imperfect globs of red on their foreheads. I was curious, but I’ve made it a habit to keep my questions till Jimmy and I eat dinner alone at the folding table. We have good discussions then. Anyhoo, we were ushered onto the couch and the girls immediately brought us their homework (A. still wasn’t used to me at this time, and he always hung back until Jimmy beckoned). With that, we set to work.
After dinner and after the last of B’s terrible fifth grade math workbook pages were finished (it really doesn’t help that both Jimmy and I are terrible at math), we returned to the hub to say goodbye and goodnight to the grandparents. B. (sorry Jimmy, not sure how to spell her name) motioned for us to sit while her husband (“Grandpa”) and one of their sons smiled. The son brought us a Nepali dessert that was very much like rounds of funnel cake except they were made into circles, like a very thin doughnut. No powdered sugar though, you dip this dessert in a thick sauce. It’s not sweet, but not terribly spicy either. It’s quite good and very different. After that, one of their daughters (or daughters-in-law) got her camera and B. made a big show of coming over to us. When Grandpa joined her, the camera flashed as she handed us each an envelope sealed with a thin reed and the red mixture that matched the mark on their foreheads. Grandpa anointed us and Buggy stuck a collection of short, straw-colored reeds (they looked as if they came from corn) behind Jimmy’s ears and in my hair. We were blessed.
I couldn’t stop smiling. The X’s cared about us enough to include us in their family and to publicly acknowledge what we meant to them.
The X’s live two El stops away from Loyola and those two stops was enough to give CTA passengers time to openly stare at us goofy-faced, white tika-ed kids. But we didn’t care—we’d been blessed by a family who has known so much suffering and heartache and yet who had room enough in their hearts to accept two strange college kids into their lives. The only thing Jimmy and I were worried about was losing our reeds to the Chicago winds.
Jimmy later told me that the red stuff was a mixture of rice, cum cum (or koom koom, not sure about the spelling) powder, and yogurt and that we were “tika”-ed (I can’t guess how to spell that either). Tika is a type of blessing that occurs at every holiday or celebration. He also told me that at weddings, the bride and groom get tika-ed by every guest which means that the couple ends up with a very large mass of red mixture across their foreheads. Jimmy was present at a wedding in the X family last year and I saw pictures of the beautiful bride who had been tika-ed past her hairline.
After I got home and explained to my roommate and boyfriend that no, I was not hurt nor diseased (tika really does not look as bad as all that), I called my parents to tell them to sign onto Skype. Twenty minutes later (that’s actually the shortest amount of time it took for them to figure out how to sign on) and before I could even see them, I heard Mom gasp with her classic “Uck!” As in, what the heck happened to your face?! I tried not to roll my eyes and explained to them about my night. I opened my envelope in front of the webcam. Inside were two five dollar bills. I couldn’t believe it. A family who was surviving on food stamps gave both me and Jimmy ten dollars each…! I felt so shocked and embarrassed—they pay us enough with our dinners and now with their blessing, we don’t need anything more than their friendship and trust. I was humbled. So were my parents. I think this was the first time that they really understood what I was doing with the X’s. I have since used the money to buy things for the children; most recently, a small whiteboard that I intended to help with homework. We pretty much only use it to play hangman lately.
The next day in class, I walked in to see Jimmy excitedly telling Dr. Amick about our previous night. Both of us still had a faint red stain on our foreheads and a bit of a smile that stayed with us throughout the day.