It reminded me of the movie, Signs, by my fallen hero Mel Gibson. The racist, nazi bastard. But this one was not made by an alien. And it’s not a sign that’s so hard to decipher. It’s a universal symbol. And the other day I found it on my doorsteps!

So now I know there is someone in the neighborhood who has her eyes on me, and I just can’t figure out which one of the beauties it is. I suspect it is a Tharu, a Chaudhary, for they are all over the street. This used to be their area… there’s Brahmins and Chhetris too, but the Chaduhary’s are the kings here. It’s their street.

Maybe it’s one of the girls who are helping to construct the houses in the neighborhood, there is some kind of property boom – everyone is building. They are building right behind my bungalow – these are traditional Chaudhary houses, and it always amuses me to see women in construction. That’s something you never see in Africa.

The gates of my bungalow are always open. There are flowers in the lawn, three or four species, one being a rose. The ones that made up that sign is the dominant one. It’s always in bloom.

And many of the neighbors come to my place everyday to pick the flowers, for purposes of prayers (pooja). There is an old lady especially. She has come every single day, and the only one of the flower pickers who actually talks to me if she finds me outside. Sweet woman. I hope she didn’t make that sign, for she has gray hair, must be over seventy. She once asked me to leave her a gas cylinder as a gift, when I’m returning back home, so that she can remember me by that gas cylinder. That’s when I’d just moved in, maybe a few months, and i didn’t know what she picked the flowers for. So I asked her what the flowers were for, and she thought I was saying she can remember me by the flowers, and her reply were ‘We only pick these for prayers, they are perishable. But that gas cylinder won’t perish and it will stay in my kitchen for so long that I will never forget you.’

Well, I’ve seen a boy, about 12, and his sister, maybe 8, come by to pick the flowers as well. And a woman, maybe 22, who always comes with her baby, about two years old. She opens the gate like a thief, takes a peek to make sure there is no one in the yard, then comes in and takes the flowers. I always see her from the window.

Well, there may be others who I don’t see, or haven’t come across. Apart from the old woman, the others always do it as though afraid of me. Some don’t even talk to me if I say hi to them – yet they are picking it right off my front yard! Right off my doorsteps!

There are even these Chaudhary’s who grow vegetables in my yard. I keep telling them ‘namaste’, and it’s only of recent that they started to respond. You would imagine that they would be eager to keep me happy, since they plant in property I’m renting, and harvest and make money without giving me anything. They should have at least been nicer than that, but they aren’t.

Though they aren’t bad people. I think they are just shy. Or they don’t understand my accent. Or my voice is too low for them to know that I’m trying to talk to them – for Nepali people are loud talkers and my voice is naturally always so low – so they think I don’t talk to them. They might be just shy.

And I think this flower sign is the shyest proposal I’ve ever received. Nepalis are normally bold, and ask me to my face, even those whose names I don’t know, to marry them. But this one decides to leave me a nicely made sign on my doorstep. Doesn’t even sign a name, so I don’t know who it is who did it.
Maybe there will be more signs to follow, that will give me a clue to her identity. And then what will I do?


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A Better Angel

In times of desperation, often we say ‘the first thing that comes up, I’ll go with that one.’ Whatever situation we are in, whether simply hunger. You’ve stayed too long without eating food, and not because you can’t afford to, but because you failed to get time to. And at the end of the day you say to yourself, ‘I’ll go to the restaurant, whatever food is available, I’ll eat it.’ Even if it is a dish you hate. Even if it is a dish that will make you blow up, even while you are trying to shade off that extra weight.

Or it might be something a little more heavy, like unemployment. And you pray to God for any job, even one as demeaning as cleaning toilets. Or something heavier like finding love, and you find yourself in increasingly desperate attempts to attract a partner – so much so that some women who are over forty, certain that they have lost all hope of ever getting a man, start calling themselves lesbians. Which is sad because they end up behaving in such a way that makes the larger public doubt the existence of real lesbians – that is those who have been in for so long and have never had emotional attachments to men.

Well, the desperation of men can be even more tragic than that of women. It is my theory that most men have homosexual tendencies in their teen years, while most women develop it as they grow really old without a male lover. But men turn to dolls, as I found out in this exciting documentary film, Guys and Dolls.

Okay, what I started out saying was that in such circumstances, we do end up entangling ourselves with the first angel that comes along to save us from whatever situation we are in.

Then, sooner, we discover a better angel is knocking at the door. Then what do you do? If you were that aging woman, who fell in love with the first ‘thing’ that came your way, because you thought it was your only hope, now if you are that woman and then you find yourself in the arms of the real angel. What do you do?
The first angel, the one who actually got you out of the mess you were in, but isn’t what your dreams say you are worth, will get terribly hurt if you dump it at that moment. Hoina? After all the efforts the angel put in to make you feel good, make you stop hating yourself and start seeing a brighter future, suddenly, you dump it! You say it is beneath your worth.

And off you run away with the new angel. Leaving a broken heart behind. A heart that truly loved you.
Well, that’s life and it sucks. And the thing is you can never know which one is the true angel, and which one isn’t. You can’t say, I’ll wait a little longer, because you don’t know of what you are waiting for will ever come along. Yet you shouldn’t go along with the first angel simply because you want to get over your personal failures and fears. That is the worse than cannibalism.

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The Fun of Dating in Nepal

Living in Nepal these last fifteen or so months has been an eye opening experience for me. It has changed my concepts of love, of dating, and of marriage. Maybe for the better. I used to think it was all fairy tale stuff, but somehow, I now believe in the myth of true and pure love – the kind they sing about on the radio and play out in the movies.

Lovers make the most of load shedding
and turn their dinner into a candlelit affair,
in Lama’s Cafe, Lazimpart.

Of course, working on a project like Untouchable Love gave me an insight into this myth. For Untouchable Love is essentially a documentary about dating, love and marriage in Hindu societies, with specific focus on Nepal. And this society is still traditional enough for the concept of love in its purest form to flourish.

I do believe the evil of caste does help this love to come into the open. In other societies, something other than caste would force this kind of love into the open, sometimes it’s religion, sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s family feuds (like in Romeo and Juliet). The world over, youth are always rebellious. They will smoke marijuana and drink alcohol simply because adults tell them that they cannot do so. In Nepal, they will fall in love with persons from another caste in defiance of their customs. And this, good Lord, it does exemplify true love.

For one who lives in a (sadly) much more Westernized country, where the concept of marriage and love has lost meaning, seeing these young people enduring endless torture, jail, bloodshed and death in the name of love, makes you think that probably there is something in those songs of Celine Dione, and of Minnie Ripperton, and the whole bunch of them.

A lonely girl, deserted by her lover as they had tea,
in Royal Thandoori Restuarant, Lazimpart, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Okay, I stared out writing about what is fun about dating in Nepal. My experiences with the ladies here deserve a whole book of it’s own. It’s been as exciting as it has been frustrating. Full of humor, culture shocks, and very embarrassing moments. Full of tears and accusations of ‘you papi me!’ Papi means sin, and so when a girl tells you ‘you papi me,’ she is saying you have made her to sin. (This is after I kissed one of them. She was willing, but the moment our lips parted, she fled to the bathroom and washed her mouth. I could not understand it. She ran out of the hotel room shouting, ‘you papi me!’ Well, full story will come at another time.)

Many of you will already know that here, people do not date in the open. At least not in the rural areas. In the cities, and big towns, it is easy for western style of dating to take place. You would also know that when you ask a Nepali girl out, she will come with a friend, not to detooth (gold digger) you, or to drink up all your money and run, like some Ugandan girls would do, but for security. A chaperon. In the cities, it is easy to hide an affair from the adults. But in the rural areas, where every move you make is scrutinized, how do you ensure secrecy?

I found an answer. It is in poo.

The first time I went to Bishanpur VDC-9 in near Rajbiraj town in Saptari district, I wanted to go to the toilet. My bowels were nearly bursting and I was farting a lot. I asked Manoj, the young man who became one of the lead characters in the documentary, to show me a toilet. He took me to a bush, and said “this is the bush where men go and that bush over there is where ladies go. So do not worry, no woman will stumble upon you while you are doing it.” I did not know how to reply. I had expected a proper latrine, but a bush? I had to smile at the humor in it. Not that it doesn’t happen in Uganda. Men in some tribes, like the Karimojong, fear to poo in toilets because they say pointing their manhoods into a hole that isn’t in a woman’s body will make them impotent. Anyway, I found for myself a portion of the bush that wasn’t soiled, pulled down my pants and eased my bowels. At that time, I did not know the significance of the open-air Gents and Ladies. I did not know how important it was to romance, and dating.

Then, yesterday, I was reading The Himalayan Times and came upon this article on page 13, ‘Dump It In The River’, by Kai Weise. It is supposed to be an article about architecture, but this writer had something to say about the dating habits of Nepalese, which goes like this “…Even up to recent times, people were used to defecating out in the open and there were separate designated areas for men and women. In those days, it was still possible for the young men and women to leave the house at night in the pretext of going to the designated fields, and meeting up somewhere. This was part of a traditional system for socializing. Once the toilets were built and water was piped to the houses, these opportunities of socializing were wiped-out.”

Well, aint that something? While interviewing couples for the love documentary, some of them told me they used to meet late in the night, and I always wondered how the girls would sneak out of their homes in the dark – how they would escape the scrutiny of their parents, but this article certainly explains a lot. Of course the father cannot question it if the girl says, “Dad, my bladder is bursting, I need to go to the bathroom.” He cannot insist on following her to the loos. Instead, he would ask an older sister, or woman, to accompany her. Often, the person accompanying the girl will be in on the trick. Now, the lovers have to make the meeting as quick as possible, for staying out too long might raise suspicions. (The conversation would go something like this. Father: ‘What took you so long? Were you pooing bones?’ Girl: ‘Yes pa. I had constipation’. Father: ‘What is it you eat? That’s the fifth constipation this week!)

I wish I had this kind of information while I was interviewing the lovers. It might have made their testimonies a notch more interesting.

But even back home in Uganda, I know some girls would sneak out of home in the pretext of going to the bathroom, and instead meeting with their boyfriends. You see, makeshift bathrooms are used in rural Uganda, as well as in some urban areas. The walls are made of banana fibres, or papyrus. It is thus easy to make a hole in such a make-shift wall.

I once heard of a married women who was bathing in the night, or her husband thought she was bathing. But she had to bend over to pour bathe – the water being in a basin – well, when she did that, she put her punnynanny on the hole in the wall. Behind the wall, her secret lover was waiting – he poked her doggy style. Her husband was suspicious of the noises, so he sneaked to the bathroom to investigate. He stood at a distance and peeped. From the lights of the lamp that the woman had taken with her, he saw his wife making weird movements and groans as she threw water over her body. The husband was about to give it up as female eccentricities when he heard her lover groaning in pleasure. He figured out the trick at once and charged into the bathroom. I hear the lover came as he was fleeing for his life.

Modern lovers in Taudaha Lake,
on the road to Bansbari pharping, just outside Kathmandu.
Lovers in Taudaha Lake, Kathmandu.
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