Occasionally in the late afternoon a few friends from work and I will go get our favorite snack – beaten rice and curd (rice treated and flattened into the consistency of a dry cereal mixed with yogurt), topped w/ a little sugar. My attempts to pay are an ongoing game as somehow they always cut me out of the rotation. The only exception this day was that I announced it was my country’s independence day and that in celebration the least they could do was let me pay. Prakash and Ajay refused my offer, but later that night they told me we had been extended a formal invitation that we could not turn down to go have fish at Arjun-dai’s house (Arjun Kumar Dahal is the president of NESPEC, dai is an affectionate suffix denoting “older brother”). Apparently, after a little pow-wow they decided to help me celebrate in another way.
Along with some other friend from work we squeezed into the larger of the two rooms in which Arjun, his wife Indeera, and 4 year old son Insome live to have a true feast. Arjun-dai squatted with Indeera serving food onto our plates then handed them out with a flourish, proclaiming “gender balance” in case we hadn’t registered his application of the concept of which many of the men I work with are vocal advocates.
They had managed to buy a “big fish” from the market and we picked our way through the meat and bones of the stew (some of us less gracefully than others) along with a variety of curried and pickled vegetables and the watery dahl and mountain of rice that is the staple of all our meals. By the time I had cleaned off my plate and made it out to the hand pump, most of the men who had managed to eat twice the amount of food in half the time had already washed their hands and left their plates in a pile, as is customary for guests to do.
Arjun-dai was pumping the water for me to clean my hands and I asked Ajay, who had waited w/ me to finish and was also washing off, for directions about where to scrape the remains of my plate. He indicated I should just leave it in the pile. But knowing that Indeera would most likely be left to the whole stack herself, I decided to risk a mistake in appropriate guest etiquette and began organizing the dishes, insisting that I would help. “But you’ll need soap” Ajay said, in one last effort to dissuade me. At which point, with out missing a beat, Arjun-dai reached to a nearby ledge grabbed the soap and mangled brillo pad and handed it to me with a grin. We all started to laugh as I began to scrub and Ajay looked at us both, slightly dejected. “Here, you can rinse,” I said, and followed with a wink and, “Gender balance.” After a few minutes had passed, Indeera and the rest of the company had gathered outside to watch us. We were finished quickly, but not before Prakash had grabbed my camera.
As we rinsed our hands and feet and went back inside the house laughing, Ajay said, “This truly is independence day!” And for sure, it is one that I’ll never forget.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Jul 10th, 2014