February 28, 2012

Back To The Future: I'm Returning to Nepal for a Wedding and Coming Back with Three New Members of My Nepali Family Here

As a confirmed neophiliac (see http://bit.ly/yR6aPT), I'm very excited about the next chapter in my life that begins Wednesday night, February 29, when I leave for Nepal. On March 9, I’ll attend the Kathmandu wedding of my Nepali housemate Nimesh and his bride Bhawana, who will become a most welcome addition to our household when Nimesh brings her back with him to the USA.

As if all of that weren’t excitement enough, my delight is doubled because Laxmi and Rahel, the wife and son of my good friend Ramesh, will fly with me to America. I think of Ramesh, Laxmi, and Rahel as my "adopted family." After being separated for the past three years while Ramesh worked here, they will again be reunited.

Some background information might be helpful….

Nepal and Me
My first visit to Nepal was eleven years ago. I’d scheduled a trip to India with two good friends for February 2001. My son Todd -- who had spent time trekking in Nepal -- suggested tacking on a visit to Nepal. So, my friends and I agreed to add four days in Nepal to the India trip. That's all it took; I fell in love with Nepal and its people.

We only had time for quick visits to Kathmandu and Pokhara. I especially loved Pokhara. It reminded me of Ithaca, NY – where I grew up. And I found it exceptionally scenic. While Ithaca and Pokhara are both situated on lakes, Ithaca is surrounded by green hills, and Pokhara by majestic, snow-capped mountains. Check out an earlier blog posting.

We spent much of our time in Pokhara at Mike's Restaurant, with its dining terrace right on the lake. Ramesh waited tables at the restaurant and we began exchanging emails when I returned to Washington. In the fall of 2001, I returned to Nepal and climbed into the mountains to Ramesh's village. That did it. I was hooked.

Over the next decade, I made a dozen trips to Nepal, Usually, I’d also visit a neighboring country -- Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Sikkim (part of India), Tibet and, my favorite, Bhutan. These trips -- and my growing involvement with Nepal and its people -- made my 70s probably the most enjoyable time of my life.

On all of these trips, I’d spend time in Kathmandu. Practically every day there, I’d head to the bookstore in the heart of Thamel, KTM’s tourist section, to get my NY Herald Tribune. That’s how I came to know the family that owned the bookstore. One of the sons, Nimesh, obtained a student visa to attend Truman University in Missouri. He joined the annual migration of Nepali students from all over the U.S. to summer jobs in Ocean City, MD. He’d often stayed at my house, and we became good friends. When he began graduate school at nearby American University, Nimesh moved into my house. He finished his MBA at AU last summer and is now working at the World Bank in DC.

Ramesh and My "Adopted Family"
Early in my "Nepal Decade," Ramesh -- not Nimesh -- had a traditional arranged marriage with Laxmi, daughter of a family whose home was just up the road from Mike's Restaurant. I helped Laxmi and Rahel build their house in Pokhara, and it became my "home away from home." I'd stay there during my many visits to Nepal. Their son Rahel, now eight, is the love of my life.

One of the sad things about Nepal is the lack of job opportunities. As a result, there is a great exodus of young people to jobs in other countries. Many of the less affluent beg and borrow the money to pay a job broker for a job in one of the Arab countries where they are often treated like slaves. Others who can obtain visitor or student visas to the U.S. or other Western countries often end up staying and working without valid papers.

Several years ago, Ramesh secured a U.S. visitor visa, knowing he'd be unable to return to Nepal to see his wife and son. So we waited out the lengthy green card process, which finally got him here legally in January 2009. Finally, in a few weeks, Laxmi and Rahel, his wife and son, will join Ramesh in Washington.

Here's the "adopted family:"

The Nimesh/Bhawana Wedding
Let's get back to the main event!

Arranged marriages seem bizarre to many Westerners. But they are the accepted, honored tradition in much of South Asia, the Middle East and large parts of Africa and East Asia. I've seen several arranged marriages up close, and the ones I know seem to work just fine.

The impending marriage of Nimesh and Bhawana has given me the opportunity to see the process at work.  It's been fascinating! There are many variations on the arranged marriage tradition. Nimesh's was an example of the looser, more flexible practice followed by many modern-day urban parents.

Last year, Nimesh's parents celebrated the arranged marriage of Nimesh's older brother Ritesh, a match of a husband and wife who both have finished medical school and are pursuing certification as doctors. Both are now working as medical interns in China. It looks like a good, happy match from what I've seen of them on Skype.

The parents made it clear that it was now Nimesh's turn, and that THIS was the year. After exploring several options, Nimesh's parents decided Bhawana was the leading candidate. The parents checked with an astrologer who confirmed that it looked like a good match. Then they met with Bhawana's parents and with Bhawana, who had been encouraged to come home for a visit  from the university in India where she had just completed her MBA/Finance.

Both sets of parents agreed that it looked like a perfect match. But each set of parents told their offspring that they had a say in the process. Nimesh and Bhawana were urged by their parents to take a lot of time getting to know as much about each other as possible. At the end of that time, the marriage could be called off if either of them felt uncomfortable with the match.

Thanks to the internet phone and Skype, Nimesh and Bhawana have spent hours of quality, fun time    getting to know each other very well. Almost from the start, each sensed that this was it. They've covered issues that the average couple in a western "love marriage" wouldn't get around to for years, if ever.

I've talked with Bhawana on Skype, and I'm convinced we'll get along just fine. I'm really looking forward to having her as part of our household.

Nimesh left for KTM last Friday night.  Here's a photo of Nimesh and Bahwana meeting for the first time at the Kathmandu Airport:


I leave Wednesday night, arriving KTM Friday morning. Then the Big Event begins! The engagement parade(with Nimesh in a vintage car, accompanied by a marching band) is March 5; the wedding is March 9;  the reception on March 11. Then I head to my beloved Pokhara for a quiet, reflective stay at a cabin overlooking the lake.

Stay tuned.
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