We are in Bhaktapur, Nepal, an ancient town near Kathmandu, with our friends Chet and Annie. Chet is from Nepal and we’re staying with his family. Thirteen people, spanning three generations, live in the house, and now they are hosting five of us, including Annie’s mom, Linda.
We have come here for Chet and Annie to be married in the family’s old village, a 13-hour bus ride from here, but landslides in the countryside last week have made the trip impossible. Chet is mulling over what to do about that.
We have arrived on the important holiday Dashain.
Chet’s father speaks no English but makes us welcome with tikka, a spoken blessing and a red dot on our foreheads. He’s a well-respected and sought-after man here, and he has scores of people to whom he will give tikka today and in the coming five days.
As Chris and I sit on the couch — a special concession to my knee surgery, otherwise we’d be sitting on the floor — he holds a tray with ingredients spread out like paint on a palette. Bits of rice, red powder, yellow shoots from an unknown plant, and red flower petals. The dots we receive are not the kind I’ve seen before, but big, puffy, three dimensional blobs, bigger than a quarter. The heat makes mine drip red down toward my nose.
Chet’s father begins with a traditional prayer in Nepali — or maybe even Sanskrit — and then gives a personalized blessing. Later, Chet says his dad was thanking us for coming such a long way, for being friends to his son, and wishing us health and longevity.
Six beautiful girls, Chet’s nieces, live in the house, along with one nephew, a toddler boy. The girls, ages 8 to 16, are five sisters and a cousin. We fall in love with them immediately. Problematically for us, they are named Sumitra, Sabina, Sanchita, Susmita, Sujata, and Anisha. It takes me nearly three days to learn to properly pronounce the names and reliably apply them to the right girls. The older kids have the most English, using it in school nearly all the time. Like the girls’ grandparents, their parents don’t speak English. Chet and the two eldest girls are always busy translating.
We all end up in Chet’s mom’s room, a large bedroom with three beds and windows in two directions. It’s the main gathering place. Outside one set of windows is a big balcony where people also sit and talk. Above the balcony, up some stairs, we stand on top of the four-story house, meeting the goat we will eat later. I look up from the goat and am positively agog to see that the Himalayas are stretched out before us in the distance.
In the end, Chet decides the wedding will have to wait for another time. He wants to marry Annie on the ground that he walked on with his baby feet, at the countryside house. This town where his parents now live is not his home; in fact, he swears he is allergic to it. He is sneezing until his ribs threaten to crack.
While the wedding is off, the adventure is on. We have several days to spend with these friends, in this house, with this wonderful family, experiencing Nepal.
Chris and I are given a bedroom of our own. I wonder how many people have been displaced for this purpose. We lie on our Nepali bed, listening to Nepali noises out our window. A gecko scurries down the wall toward my hand as I reach for the switch. I smile at her and turn out the light.
Barb Guy writes a biweekly column for Sunday Opinion.