Gratitude and siblings
After posting that blog last night I went into the kitchen and started chopping veggies for dinner, and on the last cut of the onion sliced into my thumb. Not too bad, but there’s a chunk of nail and skin hanging off, and blood started flowing, and much to my disappointment I got a little shaky. Damn, I wanna be a mountain man who shrugs away compound fractures!
But I sat down for a minute to let the nausea pass and was thinking it’s not too surprising that I don’t like seeing my own blood. After all, I’ve gone without seeing it much, at least since childhood’s continuously skinned knees. And that lack of injury is something to be grateful for.
And holy cannoli, do I have shit-tons to be grateful for! I look down at my clothes alone…
My belt…I set my favorite belt aside when I packed up the rest of my stuff in Santa Cruz three years ago, then forgot to put it on the morning I left. My brother drove me to the airport, and when I noticed I was beltless he immediately whipped his own off and gave it to me. That was three years ago, and the belt’s come with me just about everywhere. And he is still sagging like a homeboy.
Hanging on the back of the chair next to me is the black hoodie sweatshirt I wear to the gym, given to me by my other brother when he heard I didn’t have one. Hanging on the retro coat rack (cuz we’re stylish like that) is my waterproof layer that a pequeño Spanish innkeeper on the plains of La Mancha gave to a poor shivering pilgrim.
Looking at this list I feel a tremendous gratitude (and a little embarrassment at my apparent lack of preparation and shopping skills) for the gifts I’ve been given, and these are just a few physical ones!
Another place in Spain gave me a hand-me-down cap that protected me from the sun all the way to Zambia where I traded it to a guy at a river-crossing for a wood carving to give to a friend who had donated very generously to our fundraising for the orphanages there. Is there a blessing greater than friendship?
My folks were here in September (which is yet another thing to be grateful for) but I was surprised when my mom asked if we really enjoyed Nepal. I guess my blogging tended to focus on the odd and sometimes uncomfortable aspects, just cuz I think they make interesting tidbits, but I was startled and frankly ashamed to not have expressed just how fantastic our time in Nepalwas.
I mentioned two of my three brothers already, all of whom are fantastic buds that a guy is lucky to have, and all of whom I am proud to call my kin (plus my sister! I could go on but I feel like I’m bragging.) I am already blessed by them, but in Nepal I picked up more.
K and I lived in a room, in a building, next to a school, in a neighborhood, outside of Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. The owner of the building was a…shall we say: taciturn…little fellow, and though his wife smiled enthusiastically and greeted us with a robust “Namaste!” every morning, her total lack of English (and our Nepali being limited to “My name is Tilak, I like vegetables and the color blue”) made a more substantial friendship rather difficult.
But we were far from bereft of friendship, because in the school next door (Kalika, one of the two schools we taught in) lived Saroj Subba and his wife Anita (I never saw it written, so I’m not sure if that is a westernized form or not). Subba Sir is a teacher at Kalika as well as the property guardian, and was our liaison and assistance with all things scholastic. (That’s K and Subba Sir on the third floor.)
Anita made our dal bhat, twice a day, delicious without exception, all summer long. The guest culture of Nepal is “The guest is a god” which included not letting us help with the preparations or clean-up, but we enjoyed a nightly game of seeing how much we could get away with helping. By the end I could sometimes wash a few plates before she ran me off, and K was allowed to help cook. (Which is great because now she makes a mean dal bhat herself. Here she’s crushing garlic and ginger with the big stone roller.)
But Subba and Anita were much much more than just our feeders. They invited us into their home, in all the profound senses of the word. They invited us into their faith, culture, and family. Some of my favorite memories of Nepal are participating in the Hindu rituals of their humble home.
One of those rituals was Janai Purni. (Note: I will describe it according to my experience and explanation of it while there. When I looked online for confirmation, I basically found the same article plagiarized on half a dozen different sites, which describes something different from what we experienced. Thus this disclaimer. This blog is not a text on Nepali Hindu-Buddhist tradition, just what I learned while there.)
Where was I? Janai Purni! Janai Purni takes place on the first day of Gai Jatra, the weeklong Festival of the Cow. Gai Jatra is another whole post, in fact it’s second on my longstanding mental list of post-to-be.
On Janai Purni we were invited up to the Subbas’ room (Subba is their surname, but what Saroj Sir went by most of the time) where we had a tikka ceremony, but with something extra. After lighting the Ganesh lamp and incense, Anita performed a ritual cleansing with a pinch of rice (which absorbs your sins/impurities and is then thrown out the window) and sprinkling of water, then blessed me, as my sister, and tied a Janai around my wrist.
The Janai is a sacred thread that seems to have two manifestations.
The first (according to my googling) is as a marker of male adulthood, and is bestowed in a ceremony called Bratabandhan. This Janai has three threads, which represent body, speech, and mind, and when the knots are tied by a Brahman the wearer gains complete control over all three. He must wear the thread for the rest of his life. We did not have a Bratabandhan ceremony.
Janai Purni (or Purnima) is the day when these threads are changed, if they have become frayed or defiled (for example by touching a woman who is menstruating), and for us it was a single thread, which granted protection from evil spirits.
Anita had already blessed me, and afterwards I blessed her in kind, including a tikka and a ritual gift of money. (My Western money-consciousness wished I had known this beforehand and so brought more cash with me, to sneakily pay them back for all their hospitality, but I’m not sure this would have been appropriate.) This two-way blessing was repeated by K and Subba Sir.
Then the sisters served the brothers a portion of a special rice pudding, with dried dates, coconut, and raisins, which tasted better than anything, eaten there in a familial circle on the floor of their room, which was fairly Spartan in décor, but luxurious with hospitality. Subba set aside a little of the pudding as an offering to his mother, who died the year before.
The Janai on this day is tied onto each man by his sister. So when Anita tied one on me, and K tied one on Subba, done in appreciation and recognition of our time together, they became our brothers and sisters.
So I have four brothers and two sisters, spanning the West Coast of the USall the way to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. And more blessings than I can count.