The Fun of Dating in Nepal pt 2

She got married so I guess it’s okay for me to write about this, though I’ll still not say her real name. I saw a status update on facebook, and I know she is married. Nepali girls wouldn’t write such a status, or else it hurts their honor.

A couple on a date in Thamel, Kathmandu. Lama’s Cafe.

I first saw her early in 2010, must have been March, for the winter had just ended, and I had just moved from Kathmandu into Dhanghadi, the small town in the far west of Nepal where I was to stay for the next two years. I still loved watching football back then, and wouldn’t miss a weekend match for anything. (Now, I don’t even know what a ball looks like!) So I went to a cable company to subscribe, and I saw her at the reception. She had large eyes, a little unusual for a Nepali girl, and long eyelashes, which weren’t fake. I was still single at that time, so you ladies should not think I am a macho-monster, but I was just beginning research into this Untouchable Love documentary. I was clueless about the dating habits of Nepalis. I had read a bit about it, but I thought I would learn more if I actually dated a Nepali girl.


Now, at that time, I had already received a fare share of marriage proposals, being a foreigner, some parents wanted to arrange for me to marry their daughters, or some boys offered me their sisters, and I even got a girl who offered me her mother. But when I saw this girl (let’s call her Sweta), I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if they offer her to me, I won’t refuse!’

She seemed to take an instant liking to me as well. Oh well, she didn’t. It’s just because she had probably never met an African in person, and was excited by it. The first question she asked me when I walked into their office was “Have you eaten rice?” I frowned. It was hardly eleven am, and I could not understand why she was asking me if I had eaten. At that time, I was still adjusting to the fact that Nepalis eat lunch at about 10am, and breakfast (or a snack) at 1pm. All through my two years there, I never got used to it, and I would go to a restaurant at about 1pm and ask for lunch, and they would tell me they only have breakfast. Well, so this girl asks me, “Have you eaten rice?”, and at that time, I didn’t know it was a form of greeting. Instead of, a “Hello”, or maybe “How is your morning?” they go “Have you eaten?” And my innocent reply was, “No, I haven’t eaten. But if you cook for me, I’ll eat.”

In broken Nepali. I wasn’t fluent yet at that time. But she was thrilled that I could speak her language, and it probably helped my intentions as well, for she at once offered to come to my dera to cook for me. Being shy, I balked. Her boldness surprised me. I had yet to learn that Nepali girls did not beat around the bush. If they want to cook for you for the rest of their life, they will tell you so, even if they do not yet know your name. So we got talking, for about thirty minutes, and at the end of it, she agreed to go out with me for tea.

A rickshaw puller taking a rest.
Danghadi main street during rush hour.

A date. So easily! I begun to think that Nepal is indeed a man’s heaven. (Honest man seeking marriage, not randy one-night-standers :-o) I couldn’t understand why so many men in their thirties were still unmarried. It was a Sunday, the first working day of the week. I suggested we have tea on, Monday, but she said no. She had to go to school. She was at a local university. Well, then I said Tuesday, and she told me outright, Tuesday is a bad day to visit, especially if it is for the first time. (I later learnt that a married woman cannot visit her parents on Tuesday, or if she has been staying at her parent’s, she cannot go back to her husband on a Tuesday.) It was a bad luck day to have a first date, thus we settled for Wednesday.

The time came. 4pm. I took a rickshaw from my dera in Hasanpur 5, but i did not know where we were going. I called her, and she tried to tell me over the phone, but I could not understand her directions. I asked, is it Shalom Restuarant? It was a favorite of mine, near Raato Phul (Red Bridge). ‘No’ she said. ‘Give the rickshaw driver the phone.’ She then instructed him on where to take me.

We rode. We passed Raato Phul, and for a moment I thought we were going to Bells Cafe, which after Hotel Devotee was the classiest cafe in town. It served Chinese, Japanese and Indian dishes, alongside Nepali dishes. It was pricey as hell, but airconditioned. I thought it would be a nice spot for a first date. We did not stop there. We continued, and I thought we were going to the next best place, something on a rooftop with gold fish in a tank. I forget it’s name. It has ‘garden’ in it though, and was opposite Nabil Bank. Will look it up. But we stopped before we reached there. The rickshaw man pointed out a shop to me. And the first sign that it was going to be a bad date struck me. A shop? A hardware shop?

A waiter in Shalom Restuarant, Danghadi, showing off
her mehendi. Superstition has it that the darker the heena,
the more your husband loves (or will love) you.

Maybe, I thought, it’s just a first stop, a meeting place, before we go to a real restaurant, a cozy cafe somewhere for that nice cup of Nepali tea. I walk into the restaurant and there she is, petit, large eyes, smiling brilliantly, in spite of the dust from cement. Her uncle sat next to her. He welcomed me, offered me a sit, and all the while I thought we would just say hellos and get going. Then the uncle asked a boy to bring us tea. A twelve year old boy. He came with tea in small glasses.

Is this it? I asked myself. A date in a hardware shop? Amid metals and bags of cement and all sorts of plumbing material? That was not the worst bit. There were about six workers in the shop. They all crowded around us, staring at me in excitement, waiting to listen to whatever we were going to talk about.

Her uncle then told me, “Why are you not talking? Tell her things!”

With six people listening? I didn’t even know what ‘things’, he was talking about, but it sure wasn’t the small talk on Uganda, and the weather in Uganda, that they wanted to hear about. When the Uncle said this, everyone fell silent, waiting for my next words.

“He is shy,” the girl said. “You know foreigners don’t like talking in people.”

“Okay okay,” the uncle said. “I’ll take you upstairs.”

A street cafe. Might have been a better venue for a date.

‘Upstairs’ was an unfinished floor above the shop. The dust made me cough. We sat on dusty crates, and I thought the uncle would now leave us alone, but he walked about, pretending to do clean up the place, while his ears were tuned to the conversation we were having. I don’t even remember anymore what we talked about. I don’t think I remembered anything soon after I left that hardware shop. I sure did not say the ‘things’ the uncle expected me to tell her.

Still, I must have impressed the girl, or rather she was determined to cook for me for the rest of her life. She asked to come to my dera the next day! She did come, but I’m going to save that story until the next post. I have to sleep now. Be sure to return to read it.

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Street entertainment from my childhood

I never knew how much we remember from childhood until I wrote this story, The Puppets of Maramudhu. One reviewer, when talking about it, said “Dilman’s story is unique, not that it is alien or experimental. It is neither of these. In fact, it is the kind of stories we love to tell, orally, but which we rarely ever write, unfortunately, perhaps because of our quest to remain realists.” I always wonder why we endeavor to remain realists, yet our socialization process conditions us to believe in the supernatural, to point at spirits and unknowable forces when explaining strange phenomenon. As children, the stories we loved to hear the most were those with magic in them. Why is it that as adults we shy away from them?
Razor Blade, a street child rapper, and his audience.

Even if we didn’t have such a socialization process, in the name of religion or science, it is hardwired in our systems to believe in a world that we cannot see, a world with powers we cannot explain, simply because we have never figured out what happens when we die. I became fascinated with this world at an early age, like every child, but I think I have not outgrown it. The characters I met back then still haunt my dreams, and every now and then they creep out into my stories. These characters were so weird that they furnished our childhood fancies with wild imaginations.

I think every child will come across a story of a real-life person who resurrected from the dead, long before they ever encounter Lazarus. It is the same with folk tales, for you will find narratives in an African society that are similar to those of a South American society that it has not had known contact with. These similarities often arise because all human beings share the same fears and emotions. If you look into your past, into your childhood, you will remember hearing about a person, maybe who lived down the street, or in the next village, or in another town, often someone you know, who will become a bogeyman of sorts, and you will remember that such a person once died and resurrected.
 —
In my town, we had such a guy. They say he was buried for three days (why three days, like Jesus?), and one time a group of children were picking mangoes from a tree near the public graveyard when they heard something knocking under the ground. They fled. The knocking did not stop for several hours, until a few brave men dug up the grave and found the man alive. We called him Bubu (or was it Abubuna), which was not a polite word, for it mean deafmute. He could not speak, could not hear, for it is said what he saw in the world of the dead had to remain a secret. It’s probably because of him that I’m always fascinated with the living dead, like the jothokwo in The Terminal Move, and like Maramudhu in The Puppets of Maramudhu.
 
We would follow Bubu around the streets, trying to make him speak, and often he would ignore us. He was docile, non-violent, and I sometimes feel bad for pestering him. We used to follow ‘mad people’ around as well. I say ‘mad people’ in quotes because it is not the politically correct term to refer to people with mental disorders. I think most of these people were schizophrenic. They offered us a daily dose of entertainment, with their oddities. We followed them to eaves drop on the conversations they were having with the imaginary creatures bothering them, but often we followed them to provoke them into a fight.
A woman with a mental disability poops in the streets.
Banepa town, near Kathmandu, Nepal.

I especially remember one woman, I forget what we used to call her. She had made a home in the disused stands at the bus park. We loved to throw stones at her for she was particularly fierce, and would throw missiles at us in return. One day, she did not fight back. She ran, fleeing our missiles. But then, she stopped and, even as stones fell all around her, she dumped a huge pile of poop right in the middle of the road. Not a stone hit her. The moment we realised she was pooing, we stopped stoning her and watched in excitement. 

After she had eased, she resumed running away, though we were no longer chasing or stoning her. We crept to her poop. It had a variety of colors, almost like a rainbow. I had never seen such colourful poop, and never have. We were so enthralled by her poop that we kept watch over it for a whole day, until it decayed and lost its brilliance. For a moment, we thought the poop had magical powers. We wanted to scoop it up and keep it somewhere safe, where we would discover what powers it had and – well, I don’t remember what stopped us.

A Street Child Rapper Entertaining Women in Kampala
An Acrobat Entertaining in Kyaliwajala town, Namugongo, near Kampala.

While we tortured these poor fellows for our entertainment, every once in a while a real entertainer would drop into town. Being a small, almost ghost-like town, unlike a city, these street traders would not attract much money, or stay for long. Most would hang around for a day, or just a few hours. But some kept coming back, every few months or so, on their way through. There were dikulas, clowns who dressed like women and told silly jokes (dikulas have made it into another story, a novel, if it gets published, you will be reading a lot more about them, but they sure aren’t like the evil clown in Steven King’s IT), acrobats, musicians, dancers, and puppeteers. (I wonder how children these days entertain themselves. They seem to have a lot more (TVs, Internet, video games) competing for their attention.)

There was even once a man who came with a TV show. This was the 1980s, a time when the TV set was a mystery to many of us. Our family got its first TV set in 1990, because that is also the year the world cup was broadcast live to Uganda (I think), but we got the bonus of watching the Gulf War live as well. It was a black and white thing, and when the pictures when totally fuzzy, we sat and watched anyway for nobody knew how to get a clear signal. So when this guy came to town and said he had a TV show, a small crowd gathered. It turned out that he had only a set of still photos, which he hid inside a big black box, and he only allowed you to look at these photos through a pair of eye-holes. He did not make much money, once people figured out he was a big con. We thought we were going to see moving pictures, not a slideshow. His box show ended up in The Puppets of Maramudhu, as the cart the evil sorcerer dragged around.


What this documentary I made, about a family of street musicians

The puppeteer who stuck to my head, and who eventually become the title character in the story, Maramudhu, was Abe Mukibuga (I think that was his name). Or I might be confusing him with another one. Maybe there were two puppeteers, I cannot remember well, but I remember the song they used to sing, as they made their puppets to dance. It went ‘mayo ni mayo, mayo ni wempe’ (whatever those words mean) and then another line ‘sasa wewe kijana moses, shika bibi yako’, one of the puppets was called Moses, and he had a female partner with whom he danced. Well, this song ended up in the story as well, not the same lyrics though, but the same tune. I wish I could make a film out of it, to preserve this song that has never left my dreams. 

The stories behind Mukibuga (that should mean town-man, or an urbanised man) were weird, as well. Nobody knew where he came from, even though he used a show name from Buganda. Nobody knew his age. He seemed to be the same age for decades, from the seventies when he started to pass by the town, to the late eighties when I first saw him. They said he never traveled in vehicles, that he pulled his cart on foot, from Kinshansha to Mombasa, staging shows from town to town. This particular detail impressed me so much that I had to write a story about him.I feel guilty for making him an evil man, but I guess I was only trying to make the dreams go away.

I feel I have not exhausted the story, of a showman who walks across the continent entertaining people. I think he will come again, sometime in the future, and maybe this time he will not be evil.

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