Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Festival of Lights

In case I haven't addressed this bit of back story yet:

In May, my parents were called to serve in the Haven Ward, a ward for refugees from several Asian countries including Bhutan and Nepal.  A few weeks after they were called, the church organized a branch just for the Nepali members, refugees, and investigators.  As I understand it (which is probably not well), these people - or at least their ancestors - were originally from Nepal.  Unhappy with the civic situation in Nepal, they emigrated to Bhutan, where they lived peacefully for some time.  That is, until the government of Bhutan decided they were no longer welcome.  Seeing them as traitors for leaving, Nepal would not take them back.  And so they are here in Utah, a group of refugees trying to figure out America.

Nepal is not open to the missionaries, but there is a small branch there of individuals who've been converted and returned to Nepal.  Many of the individuals my parents serve here in the Salt Lake branch are not members and may never be.  In fact, each week of primary (for my mom) or young men's (for my dad) means brand new faces they've never seen.  Nearly every sacrament meeting includes new member confirmations delivered in both English and Nepali via translator.  And with each passing week, more and more Nepali names become household vernacular as my parents become more and more involved in their new lives.

The first names we knew were those of Sumon, Kuron, and Damber.  Shortly after moving these teenaged boys to the United States about two years ago, their mother remarried and moved, and Kuron (now about 21 years old) assumed the responsibility of caring for his younger brothers, Damber (19ish) and Sumon (14).  My parents were assigned to help this family out.  It started out with lessons in budgeting, needs vs. wants, employment assistance, homework assistance, legal assistance, and parent-teacher conferences.  And then, when the boys were being evicted from their apartment, my parents invited the boys to come stay for a few months while they save up a rent deposit.

And you can't have 3 young boys living at my parents' house without them becoming a part of our lives.  In fact, yesterday as Alex was randomly explaining to me the list of people he intends to invite to his birthday party (in March...), he included Sumon and Kuron.  We've been teaching them card games, number games, and pattern games and enjoyed having a few extra around the dinner table.  While Kuron and Damber still struggle a bit with the language, Sumon pretty much has it down and has enough sense of humor to carry the rest.  One evening, as my mom complained that "everyone in Nepal is named such-and-such," Sumon waited the perfect amount of time before looking up from his cards and stating, "I'm not."  {pause}  "My name Sumon."

Sumon came trick-or-treating with us, having never experienced the American tradition.  In return, we were invited to attend the final day of the Festival of Lights (Tahir Festival) at a member of the branch presidency's home last night.  Kirk was less than interested in attending.  I was excited, but apprehensive.  Would the boys be able to handle the serious ceremonial traditions?  Would I be able to handle food?  Would there be a place for the kids to play?

I should not have worried.  The host family had two adopted children of their own: Maxwell (8) and Asha (6), and other than when requested, I didn't see my children at all during our stay.  The food was different, but completely edible.  I even ate lentils and almost enjoyed it.  And the ceremony was the highlight of the night.

Our hostess is American, married to a man from Nepal who has been in the States for many years (not a refugee) and speaks English very well.  They explained that although the celebration - a Brothers and Sisters holiday - is rooted in Hindi tradition, they have taken the advice of the General Authorities and kept what they could of their native traditions, separating the tradition from the religion.  He told the story of a sister who bargained with the keeper of the underworld for the life of her brother.  She worshiped for five days (the length of the festival), and gave the keeper a mala, or garland of flowers.  It was decided that when the keeper found the end of the garland, her brother's life would be over.  Since the garland is in the shape of a necklace, there is neither a beginning nor an end, so her brother had received eternal life.

In the traditional ceremony, the sisters make and give mala to their brothers.  My sister Michelle and I stood in as sisters for Sumon, Damber, and Kuron.  Asha became Adam, Alex, and Dylan's sister last night, which - our host explained - means she is off limits now from ever dating them, and this is taken very seriously in Nepali culture.  He jokingly told Adam and Alex, "If you think she's cute, don't take the flowers."  But with his somewhat thick accent, they didn't catch it.  In addition to the mala, the sisters give the brothers a hat.  The brothers then give the sisters money.  The sisters apply a taki to the foreheads of the brothers.  Our hostess explained to the children that while we know blessings can only come through worthy priesthood holders, the people in Nepal believe that the taki is a blessing.  She said we can perform it to wish other people well, but we know it is not the same thing as a blessing.  Asha applied a stripe of wet rice flour to the boys' foreheads, then applied a dab of each of the seven colors.  Michelle and I completed this for the Nepali boys.

My boys received the traditional hats from Asha while the Nepali boys
received "traditional" American hats from me and Michelle.  Maxwell
apparently receives a ball cap or fedora or something he'll actually wear,
since he has an extensive collection of traditional caps that just gather dust.
And then we all just hung out.  Our host got out a traditional Nepali game, which I am fairly certain my dad has plans to replicate.  We lost our kids to the very American bedroom of Maxwell, and I had to insist that Maxwell doesn't live very far from the school; maybe we can have a playdate.

Sometimes I will admit it is a little weird to have our lives somewhat overrun by the Nepali influence, but I am grateful for these cultural opportunities.  I'm looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving with "the boys" and, from the sounds of it, several of the other familiar names!


Kris said...

That is so awesome! I am so intrigued by other cultures, their traditions and foods. Hence why I LOVE to travel.

What an experience!