Yesterday was the festival where women dress up in their really nice clothes, sometimes their bridal wear, and fast for the long lives of their husbands. Last year, I spent some time with Priya on this festival, and she surprised me by eating apples and sweets and other things while fasting. So this year, I was expecting Jaya to do the same, but she keeps a complete fast from sun up to sun down. She woke up around 4, did a pooja (special worship) and then had a big breakfast. She didn't have anything to eat or drink again until 5pm, after she did her second pooja and then had some milk. Around 8pm, she and her husband went to a special spot where the moon is showing, and they did the moon pooja, then had dinner. I didn't watch, but she and her husband told me that they take a flour sifter, hold it up to the moon, and then to the husband's face. When I asked what it meant, they said they weren't sure. (If you watched the Bollywood dance video several posts back, they celebrated this festival in the song)

On Sunday I went to Jaya's to get mehendi done. Her husband did a very sweet gesture, surprising her by hiring someone to come to the house to do it. Mehendi is henna. It's done for festivals and weddings, and is considered very beautiful, like jewelry. When I get it done, I am always so happy I live in South Asia because it's so fun to be a woman here at times like that! It goes on in a thick paste and hardens, and you have to let it stay on for awhile before letting the pieces fall off. When it comes off, the henna is light orange, but by the next day, it's a dark brown, and stays on for several days or weeks. Here is Jaya, her sister-in-law, and me showing off our mehendi. Between the white skin and almost 9 month pregnant belly, I bet you can't guess which one is me! ;) Jaya actually told me while we were getting our mehendi done that I was "so lucky" because my mehendi would show up so dark on my fair skin. I had to laugh at the irony of our two cultures, both wanting what we don't have!



We can't go very far South Asia without seeing a man in a turban. Now, if you're like I was before coming to South Asia, you have an incorrect assumption about the people who wear turbans - you probably think they are of a different religion than they are. I don't know the statistic, but probably close to all of people wearing turbans worldwide are actually Sikhs. It is part of their religion (Sikhism) to wear turbans, because one of their rituals is letting their hair go uncut for a lifetime. So they wrap their long hair up in a turban, and also carry a comb with them at all times. I've been told the comb is to represent that they care about hygiene and being presentable. Most Sikhs live in South Asia, but they are also found all over the world, as I'm sure most of you know.

The Sikhs that I have been in contact with are very friendly people and love to laugh. I've heard from several other Western women the same comments about Sikh men - we've noticed that most of them treat us and other women with respect.

Their turbans are like a personal statement. I've heard the most devout only wear a dark blue turban. Children wear smaller turbans, since obviously they have less hair to wrap up. And then a lot of men match their
turbans to their outfits. My national friends have told me these men are very stylish!

Sikh boy

These men color coordinated their turbans to their outfits!:

Hopefully, if you were like me with assumptions about men in turbans, now you can identify correctly whether or not a man is a Sikh.


love is in the air...

People in South Asia show their affection to their friends in ways that may seem...strange...to the average Westerner. While the American guys I know will give their friends a nod, a hand shake, or at most, the three-pat hug, South Asian guys and gals like to show more affection to their friends of the same gender.

No funny business going on, these men just like to walk arm in arm.

They may not even be best buds, but this guy wanted to drape his arm around his friend.

Men (or women) walking hand in hand is not something you even look twice at.

"Brothers don't shake hands. Brothers hug!"

So the next time you're out walking with your best friend, put your arm around him/her to show just how much you love being buddies. But only if your friend is of the same gender - otherwise, it's just scandalous.


festival season

I talk about it a lot, but I don't think I've ever elaborated on Festival Season. The time frame depends on the lunar cycle. This year, it's mainly in October and ends with a bang (or a cracker!) in early November for the Festival of Lights.

First, there is Nine Nights, a festival that is celebrated for, you guessed it, nine nights. It's going on right now. Each day, a different goddess is worshiped. In the middle of the Nine Nights is a 2-4 days festival and worship time for the goddess who they believe is kinda like the mother goddess, and who represents femininity but is depicted as a warrior. The devout will fast during this time, but it's not the same type of fasting we know in the States. They actually eat a lot of what they call fasting foods. Apparently people end up gaining weight during their fasting, so there was an article in the paper the other day to give tips to those fasting on how to not gain weight...during a fast.

Then, on the 10th Night, another festival is celebrated as the culmination of the 9 other nights. People will build a large effigy of a legendary evil guy who was defeated by the good guys (again, according to legend) and then they all gather and watch the evil guy burn. I've been seeing lots of these large statues being made all over the city. We passed some yesterday on the road to Kishori's.

Several days after the 10th Night, there is the Husband/Wife Celebration. That's the day many women dress up in fancy clothes or bridal gear, fast all day (again... often a different type of fast), then they wo
rship the moon and eat dinner with their husbands. And then finally, The Festival of Lights. It's the biggest celebration of the year.

I can't forget to add in a very important celebration that took place yesterday (which happened to also be the most auspicious day of festival season, according to Jaya). It was My Birthday! :) I was so surprised at how many gifts and treats I received this year - much more than last year or the year before! Since I went out to Kishori's yesterday with my supervisor and our friend who does translation work for us, they both brought me gifts. Then Kishori had everyone there eat a sweet in honor of my birthday and she also gave me a new suit! When I got home, our neighbor had brought a mousse cake to us because it was his birthday too, and then Jaya came over. She brought me a black forest cake, which she made us all feed to each other while taking pictures! She also gave me a new suit and some flowers. Such sweet gestures from my national friends!

Husband took me on a date last night to a nice East Asian restaurant. Then we went to another cafe for dessert. Both places look really fancy but are much cheaper than you'd think! At the cafe, I got even more chocolate. Except for a small nibble this week, I haven't had chocolate or sweets at all in 7 weeks! So you can imagine that the entire day was a shock to my system. I wasn't even able to finish all my dessert (sacrilege!) because I so full of sugar already. It was a great birthday!


bridal shower

Today I hosted a bridal shower! It was a lot of fun, but I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about it. I was wondering what cultural faux pas I was going to commit today without even realizing it. Were the red and gold flowers I bought actually a symbol of death in the culture? Did having an odd number of chairs mean I wished them bad luck? Was it wrong to serve coffee before chai? I had no clue, and honestly, if I did something wrong, I'll probably never know it anyway.

The hard part was that I was throwing somewhat of a third culture bridal shower, because the bride is South Asian, but she is a cousin, and she is also very Western. So for example, on the invitations (which were just printed on regular paper and passed out to everyone at the office), I was going to put this picture of bridal mehendi, until husband wisely suggested I call her sister just to double check if this picture was appropriate. I did, and her sister kindly told me that the wedding was going to be about as Western as it gets - white gown, no bangles, no mehendi, etc. So the invitations turned out like this.

The shower was pretty much last minute, a thought from some ladies in the English weekly group I attend. I offered our house, and since my "American cookies" (chocolate chip :) were specially requested, I made those. But other ladies chipped in with South Asian snacks and cake, so I really didn't do much. Another lady led a time of special requests for the upcoming wedding and marriage, and then the bride's sister led us in some games. There were about 20 ladies in attendance. Sounds a lot like American bridal showers, wouldn't you agree?

What's a bridal shower without food?
The mother of the bride is Auntie. (For those of you who read the baby blog, she is the same one who is loaning us the awesome baby crib) She was videoing all day.

The bride was asked to reenact the proposal.

The toilet paper bridal gown game transcends all borders. She's beautiful, isn't she?


your opinion is needed!

"DVD's and books," was my response to my mom's question, "What do you want for Christmas?" She asked which ones, and now I'm at a loss for words. I don't know what DVD's are worthy of owning. Let me clarify...I don't know what chick flick DVD's that have come out since about August 2005 that are worthy of owning. So with that in mind, I need your help! What are some movies you think I'd enjoy having? One of my favorite things in the whole world is to put on a movie and scrapbook. But it has to be a certain kind of movie to scrapbook to. Here are some examples of what movies I already own that I watch a lot: Failure to Launch, Hitch, Mona Lisa Smile, Chocolat, Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, Notting Hill, You've Got Mail, etc.

So please comment and tell me what movies I've missed since being here that you think I'd enjoy. (Side note: I don't watch R rated movies, but most of this type aren't anyway.)