Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined, 18 months ago, being invited to a Nepali wedding, but that is how things transpire when you embrace the culture and the people of the culture embrace you; you become “family”.
My connection to Nepal began 25 years ago, when I left Australia for my adventure of a lifetime: trekking in the Himalayas. It was a journey that left an indelible impression on my heart. So much so, I thought I would never return. But, in November 2010, the call came: I was invited to co-facilitate art therapy and women’s reproductive health training with trafficked women – and health professionals helping to repatriate them – in Kathmandu. I fought the urge to go because I did not want to retrace the memories of a treasured journey. But the pull was strong; like a magnetic force field. So in March 2011, I boarded a plane to Kathmandu on a journey that was about to change – though I did not know it then – the course of my life.
Not only was the journey fulfilling from a professional point of view – it was inspiring to work with women who had suffered so much, but were empowered to change their lives – I began to experience the culture and the people in a very deep way. So touched was I by the experience, I returned to Nepal six months later. This time, I stayed with Buddhist and Hindu families during Nepal’s peak festival season: Dasein and Tihar. After multiple pujas (blessings), Nepali folk music ‘installations’ and another sensational trekking experience (with local people), I felt Nepal being etched into my soul; deeply entrenched.
After this trip, I knew I would return to Nepal again, but I was not sure when it would happen. However, in just under a year, an opportunity arose: a wedding. It was such a privilege and honour to be invited that I put all my pennies aside, sought the blessing of my family (who have not yet visited Nepal), and found myself on a plane bound for Kathmandu in the month of weddings: Mangsir.
Weddings in Nepal, like many other cultures in the world are family affairs, no matter whether they are (as Nepali people say) “love marriages” or arranged marriages. (Yes, arranged marriages, though waning, are still a part of the culture of Nepal – though I am pleased to say that I was attending a “love marriage”. The very notion of arranged marriage would have challenged me because love, to me, has always been the cornerstone of any relationship.) And so, I was drenched in the very essence of family life; the coming together of all generations of people in Nepal for an extravaganza of colour, ritual, ceremony – and tradition – that lasted for days on end.
As a silent observer, and an active participant (very pale, sari-wearing Australian), I witnessed seven Hindu marriage ceremonies in family homes – and at the ancient Bhadrakali temple – in Kathmandu. It opened my eyes to three of Nepal’s ethnic groups – Brahmin, Mongolian and Newari – and I began to see shadows of an ancient, but ever-present caste system. That said, I noticed that no matter what ethnic group or caste of people I intermingled with, I – as an Australian woman – was welcomed into the ‘family fold’. To me, this was a touching experience, and no more so, than when I was being dressed in my sari for the main weddings. It did not matter that I could not speak the language (beyond basic words), the “aunties” and “sisters” and I laughed like we had been lifelong friends – though, in actuality, many of us had just met.
So, I left Nepal at the dusk of the wedding season soaked in a rich tapestry of memories of a people and culture that has touched my heart. I know I will return to Nepal – and hopefully soon – because it is written in the wind; the invitations have already come. I am also longing to return for the next infusion of Nepali tea, momos (dumplings), and kheer (rice pudding). Sadly, though, I still have to give dhal bhat a miss.