I’ve been grappling with so many thoughts since our motorcycle incident on Tuesday night. Few of them have to do with the actual accident, as we were all wearing helmets, going slowly, and no one was hurt past some bruises and scrapes. (A drunk man on a motorcycle passed is too closely and knocked us over.) I might be the most hurt, with a very sore shoulder and hugely bruised knee with a cut. We went to the hospital after where they x-rayed my knee, but it was working fine with no terrible pain in the joint so I knew it wasn’t broken. M and I were with my good friend on the bike and he felt so terrible even though it wasn’t his fault. The drunk driver’s bike was confiscated by the police and he was made to accompany us all to the hospital and pay out of pocket for the check up, x-rays, band aids, everything.
So it was fine. I had texted my Nepali sister before we left at 8:30 to tell her we were a little late. Then I messaged after the accident and told her what had happened but that we were fine. She responded and I thought it was all good.
It was almost midnight when my friend brought us to the house. Here’s where things got crazy. My Nepali sister came out of the house and literally flew off the handle at him. She was screaming at him that he was a terrible person and she was going to report him to the police. I started yelling that it wasn’t his fault. I was screaming, “oh my god, I’m an adult, why are you upset with him” and she was screaming that only a really bad man would have brought me back so late without calling them.
I was completely dumbfounded and very upset. My friend left quickly as he could not get a word in anyway. I was mortified and confused and embarrassed. My sister then went on to rant and rave about how he must be after me (sexually) and he must be unfaithful to his wife. I kept interjecting that if she’s upset at me for being late and not calling her to come pick me up, then that’s on me and I’m an adult who is responsible for myself and my daughter, not my friend, who had done everything I asked of him. If I’d asked him to call them, he totally would have. But I said I’d messaged them so it was fine. My fault, not his!
Herein lies the problem. In Nepali culture, men do not go around with women after dark no matter the circumstance. If he does, he’s suspect. Nepali people are extremely suspicious of one another’s intentions. I’m told all the time that Nepali people are not good, whereas I’ve never found this to be the case, not more than any other people for sure. Also in Nepal, if a man is out with a woman I guess she is considered his responsibility… I can’t help but find this incredibly insulting. I’m American and certainly no man is more responsible for me than I am for myself! Also, we’ve been friends for seven years now. I’ve never found him to do anything that I found aggressive or uncomfortable, obviously, or why would I keep hanging out with him? My Nepali family considers him a stranger but I don’t.
All of my Didi’s (Nepali sister’s) actions came from a place of love. I am her guest and she feels very responsible for M and I. In her culture what happened was unacceptable. In mine, it was completely fine. There’s no way to really reconcile the differences. If I could go back in time, I’d have called her to come to the hospital to set her mind at ease, but in America if something minor happened, and everything was fine, I probably wouldn’t have even told anyone til the next day. Now if someone is expecting me and I’m really late, as a guest I’d notify them and that’s what I did. I had no idea that Nepali people are so terrified of what can happen at night and so unaccepting of a man and woman (and kid, I guess) alone in the dark. Alone even on a bike just coming home!
Even understanding where they are coming from, eventually I just felt more upset. My Nepali family was laying on the shame, saying what if my daughter had a broken bone and the embassy found out? Ummm accidents happen. We’d taken every precaution and I have travel insurance. Children in Nepal almost never wear helmets and my friend still went and found M one and she was wearing it. The embassy would help us if we needed it but why would I be in trouble? I didn’t need anymore mommy guilt than I had already, and here my family was railing into me that I should feel guilty, and that if I was alone maybe that would be one thing, but with a baby I shouldn’t ever have been out after dark. (And I almost always am, in America, so maybe I was a bit ignorant of the perception, or the real dangers, but I was also with a person I knew well and trusted.) I didn’t appreciate the perception nor the feeling that somehow I am not ultimately responsible for my daughter.
In Nepal there is a community sense of obligation and responsibility for children. This can be a wonderful thing and something I was looking forward to experiencing with my own child, but in this case it created a problem for me. I choose where to take my daughter and who with, but my Nepali family sees my choices as a direct reflection of their hospitality. If something looks unseemly to them, then it is. I feel completely the opposite… Just because something looks unseemly doesn’t mean it is. And also, it’s nobody’s business if it is! But here? Everything is everyone’s business. If a woman hugs a man, people stare and whisper. They automatically assume you are lovers, even if that person is your relative.
Part of traveling in culturally different areas is learning to appreciate the good things about your own culture. I’ll appreciate more than ever the fact that in America when I take my daughter somewhere and don’t come home until late, no one questions me or assumes anything bad is happening. I’ll appreciate the fact that my mom taught me to be self-reliant and to trust my own judgment more than anyone else’s. There’s ups and downs to both ways of doing things, but from a distance I can finally appreciate what “home” means for me: freedom.
So, now my Nepali family says that if I’m staying with them I can’t see my friend or go out with him. Like I’m 16 or something. I’m 32 and a mother, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to decide who my friends are or who I expose my daughter to. He’s been nothing but kind and generous with us, and if it means something that he’s hanging out with us and not his wife, well, seriously none of my business. And I don’t think it’s strange at all that someone who has been married like 12 years wants to go out with friends or visit them when they’re in town. Again, completely opposing cultural perceptions, and there is no middle ground to be had. Luckily it won’t be an issue since my friend has gone trekking (he is a guide) and won’t be back before we leave. Out of respect I won’t have him come to their house or tell them about talking to him, but it feels quite ridiculous to me.
There is so much I love about Nepal and its people and culture. I don’t intend to stop coming here… I just know that for sure I will have my own apartment and that way no one can claim full responsibility over where I go or what I do, and my god-awful independent American ways won’t trouble my hosts. The older I get, the less I care about fitting in, and the more important I find it is to create a space all my own. I’ve learned the hard way that staying with other people, even people you love and who love you, can be tricky and ultimately problematic. To preserve my sanity I have to come from a place where no one can control me with their judgment, even if it’s well-intentioned. Making appointments with family and then visiting them, or spending the day or even night with them, is vastly different than staying long-term. I’m uncomfortable with this aspect of the culture so next time I will simply prevent the issues from occurring. Live and learn!
Now my body is aching everywhere from the accident. M seems totally unaffected, thank god, but I’m paying for it with my muscles. Ugh! We have three days left and I think I’ll be less reluctant to leave after these events. I need to reenter the Western world and collect myself and my thoughts.