On December 15, Sita Giri – our “daughter” (she is the daughter of mit’s younger brother), neighbor, and 6th grade English student – got married. What made Sita’s wedding unusual in this season of weddings was the speed and circumstances in which it was arranged. Three days earlier, Sita did not know that Padam Giri existed; on Sunday, she was married to him.
The story begins onThursday the 12th, with preparations nearly complete for a wedding the next day between Padam and a young woman living up the hill. But early that Thursday morning, the bride-to-be eloped with someone else. This was a set-back to Padam, who had taken leave from his job in Abu Dhabi specifically to get married. It was a potential financial disaster for his father, who had committed to the multitude of costs associated with a proper wedding. There was also the danger of stigma being attached to the jilted groom. Another bride of the Giri caste had to be found.
Calls were made, networks activated, and Sita’s name emerged at the top of what we suspect was a very short list. That same day, Padam and his father left their home in Lamjung district to the northwest and travelled six hours by bus and foot to Dharapani. When they arrived, the two families began negotiations. There had been other marriages between Giris in the two locales, so genealogical relationships were known. Questions focused on the characters of the bride and groom: “Do you talk to boys on your cell phone?” (from the groom’s family); and from the bride’s, “Will you abuse Sita?” The answers to both questions were predictably ‘no.’ Sita and Padam then spent ten chaperoned minutes getting to know each other. Both had the option of refusing the other, but the pressure to agree must have been intense. And so they agreed to be married. Somehow it just didn't feel like a mazel tov! moment.
Many brides and grooms know little about each other, but due diligence seemed cursory even by local standards. Sita did not learn, for example, until she arrived at her new home that the village has no electricity. Certainly the people who gave her an electric fan and rice cooker as wedding gifts wish they had known that.
The following morning, Friday, in the presence of family, Sita and Padam exchanged tika and the betrothal was complete. The wedding was set for Sunday, the last day of the month of Mangsir; the following month, Poush, is off limits for weddings and no one wanted to drag this out. It was what one friend here accurately described as an “emergency wedding.”
About the bride: When we first arrived, we found Sita to be sullen and insolent. To our dismay, she entered our 6th grade class this past April. She sat in the back of the room, talked to her friends, and was disruptive. This did not sit well with Harvey and there were a few unhappy moments. But then Sita and Harvey reached an unspoken accommodation: in various ways Harvey acknowledged her status as the senior stateswoman of the 6th grade (at 18, she is five or six years older than most of her classmates), and Sita in return kept disruptions to a tolerable level. Over time, the accommodation turned into grudging mutual respect and then (something never to be admitted) into fondness.
Padam, 24, has completed 8th grade. He has worked in Abu Dhabi for four years and now has a job in the company cafeteria. He has four older sisters, all married and living in their husbands’ homes. His mother died, his father remarried, and Padam has four young half-siblings. We interpret this as meaning that the stepmother is badly in need of a buhari, a daughter-in-law to provide any and all household and farm labor. This is a potentially bad situation for any new buhari to step into. We take hope in knowing that Sita is a spirited young woman, but we are also aware that mothers-in-law here have generations of experience taming spirited young women.
By 5:00, Sita was a married woman and on her way to a new village in Lamjung, a new set of kinsmen, and a new life. Or so we thought.
After the wedding we learned that Sita’s education was one of the negotiating points. Padam’s family reasonably argued that Sita, being 18 and still in the 6th grade, is not a serious student. When she comes to live with us, they said, she will be put to work. Sita’s family said that she must continue her education and, contrary to usual practice, should continue to live in Dharapani. It was finally agreed that Sita would live here for an undefined period “to study.” That, combined with low demands for dowry, suggested to some that Sita’s family had a strong negotiating hand and played it well.
A week after the wedding, Sita returned to Dharapani, husband in tow. We then learned that Sita will not complete the school year after all, but will return to Lamjung for the two months that Padam is on leave. After that, perhaps she will return here, perhaps not. People are saying it will be Sita’s choice where she lives. Perhaps so, perhaps not. We don’t know how this will play out. But as Sita figures out her married life, she will have to do it largely on her own. Once Padam returns to Abu Dhabi in February, they will not see each other again for two years.
*****And now for something completely different….
We get few visitors here, and enjoy it when people do come. In early December, we had the special pleasure of a visit from Ariel Wilson, niece of a friend from Harvey's old days. Ariel came to Nepal to teach art and English in Kathmandu, and came to Dharapani to experience rural Nepal for a week. She also taught several art classes in our school. The kids are starved for this kind of thing and they just ate it up.
One exercise had them draw portraits of each other. All were masterpieces and worthy of our refrigerator, if we had one.
But we are partial to the portraits that 7th-grader Sirjana Pariyar did of us.
*****The mill is a big hit. It is open and busy every morning, and the women’s association is seeing a profit. We still get pleasure from wandering up there occasionally and seeing it being used.
Another big public works project is underway. The government is funding a scheme to pump water from the stream near our house to a tank at Paach Chihan, the village above Dharapani. This will be a boon to people up there who now have to carry water 20 minutes up the hill. Water will also be released for those of us down the mountain. The impact on us will be less dramatic. We are close enough to the stream that our non-drinking water is already gravity-piped into a 500-liter tank. Not having to tend to the pipe would be convenient, since making sure the pipe is connected and flowing can consume up to an hour of Harvey’s day.
To get the job done, the project conscripted community labor. Every afternoon for a week, 30 or 40 people from Dharapani were out digging trenches up and down the mountain. It took a while to get this project going, but once started it was done remarkably quickly and looks to be completed by the end of January.
*****The weather is cold at night and warm during the days – the best time of year to be in Nepal. Unfortunately, we have been getting waves of pollution drifting up from India and stalling against the Himals. Combined with the winter fogs, we can go for days in banks of thick acrid haze, unable to see across the valley. Scheduled power outages most evenings bring home the length of the winter nights and suggest an early bedtime; we have been getting 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night. We have never felt so rested.
*****The end of our time here is creeping up. The school year goes through March, after which we will pack up, say difficult good-byes, and re-enter the madness of American life.
Which brings to mind the holiday season. We wish all of you a very pleasant one and all the best for 2014.