Thursday, January 27, 2011

Final village adventures

After my two days of R&R I'm back off for my final 2 weeks or so of village living.

It should be a hectic fortnight – There's another wedding, as well as a dance. There's also Losar, the Tibetan New Year which will be a few more days of eating and partying. It will also be my birthday while I'm there. I have no intention of actually telling anyone in the village this, after all, it's not like any of them will be able to make me pancakes. I don't mind having such a low key birthday, although it will be with a tinge of sadness to note that I'm now to old to be let loose on air at my favourite Youth Radio Station. No longer part of the 'yoof' but still kicking about at the same university I did my undergrad at… still, there's no time to be to introspective about it, I've got work to do!

Next time you hear from me I'll be in KTM and getting ready to say goodbye to Nepal!

Going to a funeral

Funerals are never something you really want to go to. But when it's for a 92 year old woman you've never met who died peacefully in her sleep, and you've never been to a Buddhist funeral before the idea of it doesn't seem too bad. At 92 she well outlived the Nepali life expectancy of 67 years.

Much like a Tam wedding, a funeral is a protracted, multi-day event involving many people, much food and a good deal of socialising, dancing and more eating.

It was an hours trek to the village – once again we left so late that we were scrambling in the dark by time we drew near – many of the party having walked all the way from the main town 4 hours away.

The tent that was erected for the funeral

That night was all daal, rice and sel roti - which is the default party food, and great for serving to large crowds. Thankfully, unlike weddings, funerals are a vegetarian affair so there was no need to worry about what I was eating this time.

The first day was a flurry of activity, it appeared there were mainly close family around, and lots of priests who had come from across the community to help celebrate the event. There was a large tent set up, and inside funeral offerings were set up. These are called torma, and are red sculptures made of flour and decorated. They look amazing all set up - from a distance they reminded me a lot of Russian Orthodox architecture. These sculptures take a whole day to make and are destroyed after the event.

I should probably mention there was no corpse, Buddhist funerals are about helping speed the spirit on to the next phase and much less about the corporal farewell that Western funerals are so focused on. The body had been cremated a fortnight ago and the local cremation site. This event was being held 21 days after death – These Buddhists have a thing for odd numbers, and especially seven.

The day after many more people came from all over the place. There were more prayers, more eating and hundreds of candles made of butter were lit in batches of 108 (another auspicious number). As soon as they were burnt down they were refilled, left to set, and relit giving the whole affair a buttery odor to mix with the incense.

[photos will follow when I'm back in KTM]

That afternoon, evening and late into the night there was dancing – but I'm afraid I missed this as I had to leave to call my little sister on her birthday. Also, after two days of sleeping on the floor being spooned by middle-aged women and woken at 4 am I decided it was about time I got some sleep in my own hard bed.

It was definitely a great experience, and I'm glad I was invited along. Again, no one really questioned why a Christian was there talking part, in fact a lot of people were very kind in explaining what was happening. Once again my halting Tam conversational skills were a bit hit and I met a lot of really interesting people. There was some weeping (and a very awkward moment involving me climbing over a hysterical 70 year old who threw herself down in a doorway and couldn't be moved) but on the whole it was a very positive and optimistic affair.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I've come to town for a few days to enjoy some time along and some food that isn't daal bhat. Also, it's much warmer down here, and the place I'm staying even has tepid water for showering!

This trip to the village is proving to be a frustrating one. My main speaker has gone AWOL so I'm scrambling around doing much less work than I should and wonering how I'll be it all done before heading back to KTM in a couple of weeks.

Still, the thing about working with language in a field work context is to remember that people speak language. If I wanted less stress I could have chosen a topic where I stay at home and use nice safe data (databases, catalogs, archives, University people) - but really, where would the fun in that be?

And so I find myself the only Australian in town on Australia day. I think I'll try and remember where that shop was that sold dusty bottles of cheap South Australian red.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To the villages! One last time...

Once again I've stuff everything back into bags, said my round of farewells at my usual haunts around town and I'm ready to head back to the village for my final stay.

I'm looking forward to it, with excitement and trepidation. Trepidation because whatever I fail to collect on this trip wont get collected. Excitement because I'm getting more comfortable there with every visit. Also, with Kathmandu experiencing 'load shedding' (i.e. no electricity) for over 12 hours a day I'll actually have more consistent electricity in a tiny backwater village than in the capital of the country.

It should be another adventure-filled adventure. I'll be there for Losar, the Tibetan New Year, as well as my birthday (not that I'll likely be telling them that) and I heard from a friend that there's a funeral scheduled in one of the villages in a few days time. I didn't know the person, but like Tam weddings that seems to be a minor concern regarding my attendance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where linguists go to party

Sorry to the non-linguists reading today. This is a photo of a bar in Pokhora. For those who need the joke explained, X-bar is a very popular way of dealing with syntax. And for those who need that explained, syntax is figuring out the rules of how words and stuff fit together to make sentences.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Making News

After a lovely long Christmas lunch that also filled up a couple of the early hours of the evening, the Handsome penpal/fake Husband and I decided to walk around the tourist area of Kathmandu enjoying the festive ambiance.

While trying on silly hats at a roadside store we got chatting to a couple of people also playing with the merchandise. One of them was a reporter for one of the Nepali language newspapers writing about how Christmas is celebrated in Kathmandu.

We chatted for a while, mainly in Nepali, about Christmas here, and how it compares to the warm weather in Australia. He asked if he could quote me, I said sure, he took some notes and we went on our way.

The next morning we picked up a newspaper, and low and behold there was the report! I was rather impressed at getting my name into a Nepali newspaper. As I read on (largely with the help of a dictionary, my written Nepali skills aren't great) I also became highly amused.

There was the usual low-lying Nepali male misogyny to kick off the piece - where I was introduced as the "Australian beauty" - but that was pretty par for the course and not too much of a surprise.

What was more amusing is that, for much of the three or so passages attributed to me as direct quotes I had to look up the words in a dictionary because I didn't know then. According to the article I referred to the "waataawaran" (environment) of festivities and the "jhilimilii" (glittering) lights. These weren't the only words I had to look up before I could understand what I had apparently said.

It's not surprising the quotes aren't word perfect, considering he was scrawling dot points into a notepad. In fact, I'm rather glad he made my Nepali more eloquent for me!