As many of you know from recent e-mails, language learning remains my A-Number-One focus these days… It’s rapidly growing more complex with each passing day. Happily, I am now getting a (rather long!) break from classes for the next two weeks. A bit more on that later…
After nearly three weeks of classes, I’ve finally pinned down the alphabet (all 46+ letters!) Numbers are slowly coming along, too. And each day my “reading” grows smoother. (Imagine listening to the Nepali equivalent of this all day: “Th-uh… cu-ahh-tttt… aan-duh… thh-uh… ha-ahhh-ttuh……” They’re very patient & encouraging with us students.)
Interestingly, it seems that a culture’s lexicon often reflects what’s most important in that culture. (Consider, anecdotally, that Italians have many words for “love,” while the language of the Alaskan Inuits reflects their nuanced appreciation of different kinds of snow.) I was interested, therefore, to know what sorts of things are significant in the Nepali culture. There are something like five different words for rice (the recently-planted kind, the growing kind, raw rice, beaten rice, cooked rice…) and just as many words for various kinds of rain (reflecting the centrality of monsoon patterns in this part of the world).
When I asked my Nepali friend Shreya, she noted that there are, in fact, specific technical terms for every member of the family, based on their relationships to each other. Astonishing specificity. In some cases, people don’t know each other’s names, because they refer to one another simply by how they are interconnected: “Didi” for older sister (or any female older than you, related or not), same for “Bahini” (younger sister), “Chachi” (“father’s younger brother’s wife”), etc.
Additionally, I am learning verb conjugations for each “level of respect” (high-, mid- and low-forms for both “you and “his/her,” each of which in turn have their own forms for a “yes” answer versus a “no” answer… It definitely adds up!) My head was spinning after this week’s sessions, but I’m trying to be patient. I’m told it will come with time. All I can say is, as challenging as it can be to learn a new language, I’m just thankful that I didn’t have to learn English as a second language. At least there are consistent rules in Nepali! (Funny how being an adult learner gives one a whole new perspective on one’s own language and culture…)
Right now, goats are screaming outside my window, and they’re about as happy as our American turkey’s are in late November, and for the same reason… Only here, I’m noticing, the final product isn’t exactly handed over in a neat, vacuum-wrapped package like it is in supermarkets back home. But I’ll spare those gory details.
Animal sacrifices are in fact a significant part of the Hindu festival Dasain that’s going on now and for the next two weeks. Dasain is one of the biggest holidays in the Nepali calendar (and also the reason that I can leave tomorrow morning for a week of hiking; the Kathmandu valley will essentially shut down for the next several days). It celebrates the victory of Hindu’s gods and goddesses over the demons, and each day involves numerous rites and rituals closely observed by my devout Hindu neighbors. In addition to the tens of thousands of animals (goats, sheep, chickens, buffalo) that are ritually slaughtered, these next few weeks also mean kite flying for Nepali children, card games over chiya (tea) for the adults, new clothes for everyone, and road trips to visit one’s extended family.
Well, as mentioned, I leave early tomorrow morning for a six-day trek in the KTM valley. So excited to be getting out & moving about again! Apparently the first day involves a pretty tough climb, but they say the views of the Himalayas are worth the work. More pictures to come…!