After a luxurious week in Florida for spring break, I found myself missing my family after only having two visits with them. I am positive that aside from learning about the culture, it is an opportunity for me and my partner to step outside of our own self centered lives and focus our attention on something of higher importance. The simplistic living style of our family makes me want to adopt some of their eastern traditions and remember to slow down and enjoy the present moments in time. It is an inspiration to see how the material items that so many Americans “must” have, appears to have little significance on their level of happiness. They are so appreciative of our support and are continually gracious by bringing food, drinks and positive attitudes each week when we come over.
Each week, I receive a text message from the grandmother confirming our visit. In past messages, I have received a picture of her, I guess to remember who I am texting? Her cell phone ring tone is “America the Beautiful” which gives me a little bit of insight on jus how happy she is in America. When Macrina and I first heard the song, we were taken back with the familiarity when we finally recognized what exactly it was; all we could do was laugh.
In the most recent visit; as we always do first thing, we helped the boys with their homework. This week, the boys both had minimal amounts of math homework. I think they were highly entertained by Macrina and I trying to re-learn 3rd and 5th grade math but we finally remembered and were taken back to the simplistic strategies that we were once taught in elementary school. It’s highly amusing to me that I am able to do complex statistic problems yet when it comes to solving a simple long division problem I immediately draw a blank. When we finished, the boys were eager to show us the new game they got; bankopoly. After 2 1/2 hours of buying property and numerous visits to jail (I was declared the “rebellious” player) I came in dead last. It was such a fun bonding experiencing to play an educational game where they boys could utilize their mathematical skills that they are learning in school. The grandmother and mother eventually came to join us at the table and brought us a traditional Burmese dish with tomatoes and nuts, and served us coffee and tea.
Yesterday Colleen and I went to our families house for the third time. They had texted Colleen wondering when we were coming back so I think they were excited to see us. When we got there the boys were already sitting at the table with their homework ready to go for us to help them. This time I helped the younger one out while Colleen helped out the older one. Todays homework was working on multiplication and division and filling in the blanks to make the equations correct. It was hard for me to even remember how to do this stuff let alone figure out a way to teach it to the person I was helping. I eventually just helped him count out all of the numbers on his fingers and after a while I think he was starting to get it. When we were done with the homework the boys were super excited to have it over with and then suggested playing a game and brought out Bankopoly, a play on monopoly but with local banks around Chicago. It was really fun and the boys really enjoyed it and the rest of the family members sat around and helped with the math involved. The children were actually really good at the game even though they had never played before and they ended up coming in first and second whereas Colleen and I came in third and fourth. It was a really fun visit and I can’t wait to go back next Tuesday and maybe bring a different game that they will probably also be better at than we are.
Just before starting classes on Monday, Sunday evening was a memorable event. Sammy and I attended the wedding get together of our family that we have been visiting since last year. He had gotten married in New York but this was just a dinner get together. Just when I thought there could be no more awkward moments…there were plentiful. First the couple was sitting on a bed facing the crowd…when we brought our gifts in they did not say anything but just smiled. It was very odd but I assumed it was part of some ritual so I didn’t think much into it. We sat down in the living room and joined the clapping and watched people dance. It was funny because we were dressed in traditional clothing, a little bit overdressed.
We got to talk to some girls from Aurora and the daughter brought us a huge plate of food. It was delicious! Afterwards, the mysterious silence from earlier became apparent…there is a ritual that we were supposed to put red tilak on the newlyweds foreheads and then present the gifts. As soon as we found that out, we joined right in….it was a great learning experience. The bride and the groom both looked beautiful in traditional clothing. They were a perfect couple and I am so happy for them. We took pictures with them and it was more comforting.
Later, people started leaving and we were just sitting, laughing, and listening to stories. It was incredible how this one lady just kept coming up with jokes one after another. She was so good at imitating people that even though I could not understand her, I could not stop laughing.
Overall, the strange experience made me realize why I go visit every week. This experience was interesting because normally when we visit–without knowing we kind of push our culture onto our families with our traditions and values. This time, I got to partake in their traditions and got to see what they probably feel like every day in a different culture. The other interesting part was the other two sons knew what we were feeling and they would frequently come talk to us to make sure we were included. Despite, the strange moments, they welcomed us openly and were very warm to us. I am so touched that they invited us to the celebration when they only invited close family and friends. I enjoyed the experience!
This past Monday we visited the G’s. I helped Grandpa with English homework—which entailed, mostly, him practicing the alphabet, a list of numbers, and phrases about hair washing and sink fixing. By the end of the lesson, I had the worksheets memorized, as, it seemed, did the rest of the family. Whenever grandpa had trouble, another member of the family would ask, “fixing the sink?” “Washing her hair?” to help guide him to the right response. Grandpa is an eager student, but he is not only learning English, he’s also learning to read and write. He often says, always in triplicate, “Writing, writing, writing,” while pantomiming a fist holding a pen. He has intimated that all of this learning is turning his hair white, but he seems content to continue trying, nonetheless.
After tutoring, we had a huge, loosen the belt dinner, which consisted of lentil soup, melted butter, rice, yogurt, cucumbers and a pickled noodle dish. This was pretty much all eaten as a single conglomeration—and, in Nepali fashion, with hands! While digesting we read Clifford the Big Red Dog with S, whose English is improving very quickly, even in the short amount of time we’ve known him.
Brian and I’s first visit to the G family after spring break was something I was looking forward to amongst all the midterms and within our first ten minutes there, I was very relieved to hear that J was able to receive medication for the chronic pain that she has been living with for the past year. I also was overjoyed to hear how much S’s reading has improved since our first encounter, as well as the reading/writing skills of their grandpa who has never learned to write before since his whole livelihood used to solely depend on farming. Even though the task of learning to read and write so late in life is quite a formidable one, the grandpa has the greatest sense of humor and whenever he gets frustrated, he exclaims, “writing! writing! writing!” while rubbing his head and laughing. I also enjoy whenever he reviews numbers because he never just practices a few, he always has to count from 1 to 100 in a very loud voice that always makes me feel like something is about to disrupt the otherwise very peaceful atmosphere of the G’s apartment.
This visit also entailed even more new experiences with Nepali cuisine. J handed me part of what looked to be a walnut that ended up feeling like I was trying to chew up a rock. After laughing at my puzzled expression, they explained that you’re supposed to just bite on it. I still have yet to ascertain if it’s supposed to have some medicinal purpose or perhaps it’s solely an exercise for your jaw because mine was definitely starting to feel strained. J also prepared for us some delicious lentil soup along with pickled vegetables over rice. When I couldn’t figure out what the white frothy substance in our mugs was, the grandpa started enthusiastically pantomiming something that took over five minutes of Brian and I trying to guess what he was doing. J finally showed us a yogurt carton and we all couldn’t stop laughing that the grandpa had just mimicked milking a cow/churning with such spunk for so long. J also asked if Brian and I liked butter and I thought it would be best to say yes but after J poured what looked to be half a stick of melted butter over my lentil/yogurt/pickled vegetables/rice concoction, I definitely started to regret my answer. After shoveling in as much of the insurmountable mound of butter rice that I could, I finally could handle no more and told everyone that I had a “khanna nani” (food baby). Even though Brian and I both felt like we were going to explode, I was happy to see that we got N to laugh loudly because during the few times that we get to see him, he usually just smiles and occasionally says something very softly in Nepali.
I also ran into N on the Devon bus yesterday in his unmistakable turquoise hat that J crocheted for him. We both were very surprised to see each other and although we couldn’t effectively communicate where we were going, before he got off he said, “see you Saturday? Yes?”. After I confirmed this he smiled and said, “good!”. This rather short interaction was by far the highlight of my day because not only did N seem comfortable enough to speak English to me for the first time ever, but he also seemed genuinely glad that Brian and I would be returning to visit him and his family this weekend. The feeling is completely mutual.
This past Sunday Kesha and I got the chance to see a Nepali wedding, and it was really amazing. The wedding actually took place in New York since that was where the bride was from, but they had a similar ceremony for the groom’s side of the family for the people that could not make it to New York. It was simply a get together with 10 or 15 close friends and family and I was extremely touched that they considered us close enough to invite us.
The bride looked absolutely stunning with her red sari fully embroidered with metallic colors, her gold earrings, necklace and bindi. They had a tikka ceremony as well so Kesha and I got to put the tikka (for those of you that don’t know tikka is a blend of rice, water and something that looks like red food coloring but its not edible!) on the bride and the groom, and handed them their present (Kesha’s mom was kind enough to buy them a really cool dish set and we got picture albums for them as well). They had some really delicious food–samosas, naans, rice, sel-puris, acchar, tarkari. They have a lot of relatives living in Aurora so we got to meet some of their close friends and family. The whole atmosphere was simply so exciting–there was singing, dancing, and lots and lots of joking and laughing, and although a lot of the time it was hard for me to pick up what they were saying (because they speak really fast!) , just seeing them laugh and smile was contagious so Kesha and I were laughing a long with them. We felt slightly awkward because we were a little overdressed for the occasion as we did not realize that the main wedding was the one in New York, but nevertheless our family treated us with kindness and they never made us feel out of place.
Overall, it was an amazing experience, and we are so thankful that they invited us!
So as I spend more and more time with our family, I continue to discover how amazing kids are! They are resilient, happy, open, bunches of energy that I find myself admiring more and more every-time. Looking back at our most recent visit, I recalled something Jeannine said previously, that visiting our family kind of makes me forget about everything else going on in my life for a brief time every week.
Sometimes I look at the kid’s homework and I have NO clue what it’s about or I struggle with trying to explain something that even I have a hard time understanding! [I thought I had escaped math & history when I decided to go into anthropology!?! doh!...] But I can’t imagine trying to learn all these things for the first time in a second language!
And definitely the highlight of my day was during an intense round of hangman- kudos to Jeannine for coming up with the idea. My word was “namaste” & they were only missing 1 more letter, and one of the girls, in all seriousness, guessed something like “dalai lama.” Needless to say, Jeannine & I were thoroughly confused and amused at the same time. We had quite a few laughs that night, and yummy food too!
and I FINALLY figured out the name of the movie the kids keep showing us!!