October 17, 2010

Tashi Delek,

            Today is the last day of the Dasain Festival.  It is a nine day festival that honors the goddess Durga.  I always know the festival has started because the road out to the Tibetan camp is filled with goats.  The Nepalis call them ‘changra’…a combination of Changtang, the high Tibetan plateau, and bakra…the Nepali word for goat.  They actually come from inside Nepal near the Tibetan border and spend days being walked down to the valleys below.  Trying to pass through the herds that have taken over the roads requires patience.  On the first day of the festival, corn seeds are planted in cow dung.  The sprouts (jamara) are harvested on the ninth day…today… and are part of the tikka ceremony that will happen this morning to celebrate the end of the festival.  Durga loves blood…so on phulpati day, which was Thursday, many animal sacrifices were made.  The Tibetan Buddhists spend that day in their community halls praying for the souls of all of the animals that are sacrificed.

            Last Sunday, when I made my way to the camp, I found Pau Rhichoe very sick with a fever, chills and achy muscles.  His son Singe said he had been that way for four days.  There has been a virus that has been sweeping through Nepal for several months now…and seems to last about seven days when it strikes.  If Pau Rhichoe wasn’t feeling better in a day or two, Singe was going to take him to a clinic.  We only stayed for a short time so as to not tire him.  We told him all about what has been happening in Chile with the miners…and that they were soon to be rescued.  It seemed to take his mind off of his illness for the hour or two that we were there.  When I returned to the camp on Monday, a new Amchi (Tibetan medical doctor) had arrived and all of the old ones had submitted their names for a check-up.  Singe put both his father and his mother’s name on the list and they were waiting their turn.  I made my way to Pau Nyima’s home, only to find him in the middle of a treatment for three sick Tibetans.  There also a foreign woman who was waiting for treatment, and he had been called to do another treatment that afternoon.  With Pau Rhichoe being sick, Nyima is being kept very busy.  His two daughters, Tenzin and Dolkar, had arrived from their boarding school in Kathmandu.  They have 17 days off for the Dasain school break and so we had a chance to get caught up on all of their comings and goings.  A year ago, just as I was due to return home, Tenzin had been selected to travel to Dharamsala India to where the Tibetan government in exile is located for a conference for students…so she shared with me all of her adventures from that trip.

            On Tuesday, Lobsang had a bit of success calling tourists into her shop.  Her total take while I was there only came to about $5.00…but this will feed her and her husband for the day, so she was pleased.  Although she is greatly teased about it, she takes English classes each day from volunteers who come from Holland every year.  She brings her homework to the shop and practices reading English with me. 

            Wednesday found me back at the Tibetan camp to spend the morning with Pau Wangchuk’s son Trinley.  He makes the most delicious ginger milk tea.  I must say, I think I drink the entire thermos by myself…as Migmar only sips the equivalent of a cup.  He also makes the most delicious tomato and onion omelet that he serves on Tibetan flat bread.  I need to find out what oil he cooks it in….sunflower, soybean, mustard.  Whichever he uses, it has such an amazing taste that no one else who serves similar food to comes close to matching.

            As I mentioned in the beginning, Thursday was phulpati day…and the temples were filled with people offering chickens and goats as sacrifices to Durga.  Bel’s family doesn’t do this, but the extended family as a whole goes in together to purchase a goat to slaughter so they have meat on tikka day.  Anil gets very excited about this….and has been asking for weeks then the ‘maaaa’ (sound goat makes) will come.  He makes a slashing movement with his hand to indicate cutting its head off.  Thursday afternoon, Bikesh arrived from the village.  He is Bel’s nephew and has been called to be a jhankri (shaman).  He had come down to do the annual Guru Puja with Bel and I.  This is an elaborate ritual to honor the spirits that each shaman works with.  Somendra usually participates, but a relative had died in his village, so he is considered polluted and was not allowed to join us.  His family will also not be allowed to have tikka put on their foreheads this year.  Bikesh is now about 20 years old.  He is quite a remarkable young man.  He had to leave the village to earn money several years ago because his father had fallen out of a tree and could no longer herd goats.  Bikesh worked for many years as an assistant on a petrol tanker truck in India.  He now drives a school bus in Bhairawa…a city on the Nepal/India border.  When I first met him many years ago, he said my English was wrong.  It made me laugh.  The rhythm of our language flows differently than the rhythm of the Nepali language, so emphasis on syllables and words can make speaking each other’s language a bit strange.  Bel, Bikesh and I spent the evening making an elaborate assan (altar) and called in the spirits.  The next morning, Bel kept Bikesh very busy completing the altar.  I asked what I could do to help, but Bel said that Bikesh needed to learn all of this because once Bel is gone; he will be the one to continue the tradition.  They made special breads, toasted barley grains, and made patterns on the mud floor under the assan using rice flower.  They put offerings of oranges, apples and bananas…milk and coconut water…colored powders and incense…and a chicken was kept outside to be sacrificed.  Bel wrapped a copper water container with red cloth, put in some rice, and then lowered an oil lamp inside.  He said that we needed to keep it lit all day for his daughter Durga, who is due to give birth in about a month.  We donned our special jhankri lugaa (shaman’s clothes) and spent the morning drumming, singing and dancing.  It usually draws a crowd of on-lookers who hear the drums and come to witness the procedure.  At the end, tikka is put on everyone’s forehead, and the fruits that had been offered to the spirits (prasad) are passed around for all to eat.  We had all been fasting since Thursday morning, so we deeply appreciated the prasad…and the meal that was served afterwards. 

            I spent the afternoon watching the men butcher a goat.  Four families went in together and Prem purchased a changra.  It was tied to the gate at Bel’s home to Anil’s great delight.  He and I had gone to Durga’s shop for a cold drink…and when we returned the ‘maaaa’ was gone.  Anil and I tracked it to Prem’s home and we sat as the men worked on the goat.  They cut off the head, and then use a water and ash mixture to remove all of the hair.  A small blow torch is brought in at the end to get the hair off of the hooves and head.  Then it is systematically cut down into smaller pieces with the final piles of meat being weighed.  To celebrate, the innards are cooked for the men to eat.  I had left at that point…but Anil stayed for the ‘goodies’?!?   

            Yesterday was a day of rest.  A popular activity during these festivals is to play cards…so there are always small games going on from the smallest child to the old ones.  They gamble one rupee per hand and there is much laughter.  Bikesh headed back to the village so he would be there for tikka day.  I promised I was going to come for a visit (I want to shoot footage of sheep (or rather goat) herding for my documentary).  I spent the afternoon with Sangeeta making the shell roti.  Or rather, she made wonderful shell roti and I made a mess.  We sit by a wok shaped pan of boiling oil and drop batter into it in the shape of a circle.  Then when it is brown on one side, we flip it over until done and remove it.  Sangeeta makes very beautiful circles of dough…mine looks more like a funnel cake gone bad.  Ke garne (what to do)! 

So today is Dasain tikka day.  We will start at Bel’s home.  We will each take a turn sitting in a chair, facing the direction determined most auspicious by the country’s astrologer.  Bel and Bishnu will toss a bit of the rice (that has been soaked in yogurt to make the tikka) at our feet, then a bit over our heads…then place some on our foreheads…all the while whispering prayers of good health and safe passage through life.  They will put flowers in the women’s hair and tuck a blossom behind the ears of the men.  They will wrap the jamara (sprouts) that by now are three inches long with money and hand it to us.  Then we are served shell roti and raksi (fermented barley from Bishnu’s backyard still).  After Bel’s home, we will go to Bishnu’s mother’s home and repeat the process…then to her brother’s home, then across the street to old auntie’s home, then down the lane to another old uncle’s home…then head out to Guru’s home…and return back to Bel’s home with my forehead covered with tikka.  Wish me luck as I navigate all of the food and drink offerings.

Babita’s marriage ceremony is this Friday.  Can you imagine?  They just picked the date and all must be arranged in one week!




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