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.