Nepali Family

When I went to San Francisco a week ago, I anticipated meeting my Nepali friends and a few other people related to the concert they were headlining. I didn’t anticipate being made a celebrity myself. Through a misunderstanding (or more probably a joke), someone told the MC that I was from CNN. The MC told the entire crowd, in Nepali, so not a word was misunderstood, and I spent the rest of the night hiding behind my camera so I didn’t have to say “no, it was a misunderstanding” to an enire room. That took a little grace, but what it did for me was automatically introduce me to each attendee, and invite the boldest ones to come talk to me. And they did. It also thrust me right back into the culture that I love so much when I go visit Nepal. I think conversation really begins once you’re navigated a misunderstanding, especially across language barriers. And through all that I got to relive a lot of the minutiae of the culture itself.

 
One of the beautiful things about the Sherpa culture (and I speak specifically of Sherpa here because I can’t say for sure if most other Nepali cultures do this), is the way they relate to their friends through their words. As we passed through villages in Nepal our guide, whoever it was, would talk long and deep to several of the faces we passed by. Hugs, connection and obvious history, even though I didn’t understand a word besides the Sherpa greeting. When we went on our way, I’d ask “how do you know her?” simply to hear the beautiful answers:
-She is my village sister
-He is my cousin-brother
-She is my sister of my cousin-brother
 
and less commonly,
-He is my cousin
-She is my sister 
 
What you need to bear in mind is these labels often have nothing to do with bloodlines or family tree. They are terms of affection and tell the listener exactly how close these people are to them personally. I don’t know about you, but my American family culture has exactly zero of that. When I was a kid we actually spent a lot of effort drawing lines between family and “everyone else.” So I love this method of endearment with my whole self and I have adopted it a little bit, when it’s appropriate. Also, I’ve found it’s entirely helpful when introducing yourself and your people to other Nepalis.
 

Once I answered the “No I am not CNN” questions to almost everyone at the concert individually, and to the most curious answered, “no, actually I am just covering this for my own work,” and, “actually, I am here to support my friends and see them since they came to my country from Asia.” and to the really curious, “Yes, they have done the same for me when I was in Nepal,” then we got to the good stuff. The stuff of culture and history and how each of the people at the concert have come to live in San Francisco… The question that came to me most that evening? “How do you know Milan, how do you know Gambu?” And over the music in a packed room, I was able to simply say, “he is my brother,” and be understood.