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Families Bonded by a Kurta

I was lucky to be placed with such a loving host family. I always felt welcomed and cared for by them, and it was an immense honor to be accepted into their family in such a meaningful way.
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Regina Rudder
Nepal 2019-2020

It was a warm, sunny October morning. The heat of summer faded, and a pleasant breeze drifted over the rice paddies toward the front porch. My host sister, Unnati would soon begin cooking our morning meal of dal bhaat and I would brew our morning tea. This simple ritual had become dear to us. 

We sat together on the porch, discussing our plans for the day. She was in 10th grade and was studying agriculture at our local school. I was an Education Volunteer teaching 6th– 8th grade English. However, this morning, we were both enjoying a well-earned break from school. The April through October academic semester was complete, so after six months of endless learning, we were excited for the long holiday. 

Dashain, is one of the longest holidays in Nepal and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Hindu families spend ten days attending pujas (worship ceremonies) to honor the Hindu goddess Durga and to pray for prosperity. One of the most important parts of this holiday is the reunion of family. Extended family members come from far and wide to celebrate. The festivities include feasting, singing, dancing, kite flying, swinging on bamboo swings, and gifting new clothes. 

It was the eighth day of Dashain, and Unnati and I decided that we would go to a nearby village after our morning tea and meal. She wanted to play on their bamboo swing, and I wanted to visit the nearby temple. We agreed to do both and set off on our adventure. 

It was a pleasant walk through the jungle. The snakes that I had feared earlier in the summer were nowhere to be seen as the weather cooled. As we approached the village, I was amazed by the large bamboo swing. It stood over fifteen feet tall and swayed heavily as children played and climbed on it. 

My sister eagerly awaited her turn and flew so high as she swung. It was heartwarming seeing the revelry and the excitement in the children’s eyes. After my sister finished playing, we went to the local temple. It was small but ornate. We took off our shoes and stepped inside, breathing in the aromatic incense. Unnati said a quick Hindu prayer, and, after our brief puja, we journeyed back to our village. 

When we arrived back home, I was surprised to see my Ama and Buwa (mother and father) sitting on the porch, waiting for us. As we approached, Ama called our sister, Usha, and asked her to join us outside. Then, our brother Ujjal joined as. We were quite excited because Ujjal had been living away in Kathmandu, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that he had arrived home for the holiday. With the entire family present, Buwa ran back inside to collect a few small packages. 

He handed Ujjal a small plastic bag. Inside was a maroon shirt, cut in the typical Nepali fashion. Ujjal bowed his head in thanks, and Buwa handed another bag to Usha. She opened her bag to see a yellow flannel shirt. She put it on immediately over her kurta (traditional Nepali dress) and Ama warned her not to get it dirty. Usha blushed and took it off, packing it away for later. 

Then, Buwa handed Unnati her gift. It was a white and yellow shirt, and Unnati was thrilled to see that it was the same golden-yellow as Usha’s shirt. She admired her older sister and was glad their clothing matched. 

Lastly, Buwa handed me a bag. I was surprised because the gifting of new clothes is a familial tradition. Inside was a gorgeous golden-yellow kurta and it matched both of my sisters’ new shirts. I was deeply touched by the gesture and was very pleased with the matching color. My host family insisted that I wear my new kurta at the culminating celebration.

Regina and her host family celebrating the 10th day of Dashain. Regina (center) wears the gifted yellow kurta. Uddab (host father) front left, Subhandra (host mother) front right, Ujjal (host brother) back middle, Unnati (host sister) back right

On the tenth day, I donned my new kurta and my host siblings wore their new shirts. Our extended family came to the house, and we had a wonderful celebration. My Ama and Buwa received tikka (red dye mixed with rice) on their foreheads and jamara (barley sprouts) behind their ears. In turn, they placed tikka and jamara on me and my siblings’ heads. We all bowed in thanks and performed a brief puja to bless our family. Then, we feasted and danced and spent the rest of the day celebrating. 

Reflecting upon Dashain, I was lucky to be placed with such a loving host family. I always felt welcomed and cared for by them, and it was an immense honor to be accepted into their family in such a meaningful way. This Dashain celebration will always remind me of the strength of hospitality, power of acceptance, and depth of love. This was the day I was formally ushered into a second family and truly felt like I had a second home.

The gifted kurta