“Raising a girl is like watering your neighbour’s garden.”
I had the opportunity to travel to a remote village in Nepal over the weekend with my fiance Mohan, his parents, his grandfather, and other cousins, uncles, and aunts. There were many of us and that in itself was overwhelming. It was also the first time I had properly been outside of Kathmandu Valley; and we drove for hours. The village was so rural that there were no roads or paths for us to travel on, so we had to ditch the jeep and continue on foot. It took us nearly four hours to walk, climb, and stumble to get to the little mud houses where we were staying, all in the monsoon rain fall.
My first experience of life outside the city was surprising, but I enjoyed the rural and peaceful nature of the village life. That was the hard part I thought I was going to struggle with – the thin hay covering on the bed to sleep on; no washing facilities apart from a local spring; and a village toilet. But I took to life in the village well and did not make a fuss. Instead, the hardest part I had to struggle with was the women’s roles in the village. In Nepal, around 81% of Nepalis live in rural areas. This is something that is carefully concealed by the tourist hubs of Kathmandu and Pokhara. This large portion of the country has an ideology about women that makes it hard to move forward.
On the way to the village, we stopped for food and my father in law and uncles all drank beer. After such a long day of travelling, Mohan, his younger cousin, and I also wanted a small glass of beer along with our rice. Mohan and his cousin were allowed a drink, but the uncles told the waiter to take my glass away. I had experienced something like this before after visiting a friend’s dai, or elder brother, and bhauju, elder brother’s wife. They had first offered me a drink, but then said they would have to ask Mohan whether or not I was allowed to have any alcohol. Similarly, every single time we went to a restaurant or a shop, the bill and items were always given to Mohan. He was always the one they expected to pay, and it was so strange not to be acknowledged. However, I did not make a fuss with Mohan's uncles and continued eating my rice with water instead of beer. Little did I know this was just the beginning of what I would see.
Whilst we stayed in the village, the men sat outside chatting and the women were the ones who did the work. I helped out in the kitchen whilst Mohan got to attend a meeting about the development of the village with his uncle and dad. It was so strange as I was mostly separated from the men and sat with my mother in law and aunt. So many people crowded around Mohan, asking him about his Masters Degree and his place at the London School of Economics. Room was made for him to sit in the middle of every photograph and the attention was always given to him. I started feeling a bit angry at his special treatment whilst I just sat in the corner, with no one asking after me and my achievements.
Throughout the whole weekend, when alcohol was served, I was not allowed to drink. Also, if a man or an elder wanted to sit down, the women were the first ones to move out of their seat and make themselves busy, as if it was shameful that they were sitting down. When there were meals, the women would all stay in the kitchen and only come out to serve the men. Only after this was done did they eat, in the kitchen and out of the way. I felt so uncomfortable watching this take place and at the end of our weekend, I just sat and ate with the men anyway. That made me feel even more uncomfortable, because I was not doing what I ‘should' as a woman.
On the last night, we traveled to Pokhara, where one of Mohan’s cousins lived. Mohan and his cousins were going to visit another cousin who lived round the corner. Mohan told his parents and they were concerned that I was going, and said that I had to stay at the other house with them and the rest of the uncles and aunts. I just felt so frustrated that I was being told who I could and couldn't see when the guys were able to go off and see their cousin. Luckily, after Mohan argued with them, they allowed me to go and meet her.
Over the duration of the weekend I slowly realised that it was not just a village attitude, but the attitude of Mohan’s extended family. His aunt even had to cover her head and bow to elders. Also, as the youngest daughter in law, she was made to sleep on the floor for four days even though she was four months pregnant. Since arriving in Nepal, I get constant requests to stop being so serious if I do not have a permanent smile on my face. But then after Mohan's cousin made me laugh so much after talking in English and making me feel at ease, Mohan realised that I would be in trouble for laughing and making noise. Nepalis still like their women to be seen and not heard.
When we arrived back home in Kathmandu, it was after 11 PM. I was so exhausted that I just got into bed and slept. But my sister in law had to wait up to let us into the house, and then she started cooking rice, daal, and vegetables for all the guests to eat at midnight. Not to mention that she had to be up at 5 AM for her college. I was so shocked and angry. These are things that I am going to have to do when Mohan and I marry. But how hard is it to eat a meal on the way back home to save anyone having to cook at such a ridiculous time?
Even as I walk around on my own in the day, I am aware of men staring at me. It makes me increasingly uncomfortable, especially if they whistle or shout things after me. I feel so angry that Nepal treats it’s women so poorly. It makes me even angrier that I will come and stay here and lose my independence, freedom, and rights of being a women. I tell Mohan that I would love to swap lives with him for a day and experience his Nepal. Although it is not perfect being a woman in the UK, at least I feel, for most parts, like an equal.
Namaste! My name is Hanna. I am currently living in London with my Nepali boyfriend 'M'. I have just come back from living in Nepal with him (and three generations of his family) and have left a piece of my heart there! I blog about our adventures of being in an intercultural relationship and different obstacles that can occur. I believe I am truly blessed in my life and want to share that with the world. Follow me on my blog Nepali Love Story to keep updated on my spiritual and cultural life long adventure.