Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Sid & Andrea


This fabulous couple is a Mexican/Sindhi-Bengali mix who live in Mexico together!


Introduction....
I am *AndreA*. Even though nobody ever believes me, I am Mexican (parents/ grandparents ALL Mexican). I was born in Mexico City but I grew up in Guadalajara, where we currently live. 

My husband, Sid, was born in Mumbai; from a Sindhi father and Bengali mother. So he already had a very intercultural background even before marrying me! =)

We have a 5-year-old daughter, Bella, who is a superb mixture of the 2 of us and an authentic —multilingual, Hindu/Catholic, world traveler— global citizen. 

I recently started writing a blog, Indian by Serendipity, where I tell my story in my intercultural crazy family and other travel adventures. 

Three words that describe you…
Idealistic, Adaptable, Unpredictable.

Favorite childhood memory…
Christmas mornings were the most magical day of the year for me (my birthday being next in line!). I used to be so excited to see what presents Santa Claus brought for me that I had trouble sleeping the whole week before! On Christmas day, I would wake up at around 5:30 am, try to wake up my sister and brother (fail at it), go peek in the living room, come back, try to sleep some more, (fail at it) try to wake someone up to come open presents with me (someone had to share the joy and be a witness that I took only the presents that said MY name! Ha ha!). At around 7:30am someone would surrender and follow me! Excitement pouring through my veins I would run and start opening gifts like a crazy girl. After that I would play all day long with my new toys, refusing to interrupt even to take off my pajamas! I loved the mystery, the fantasy and the joy of having my dreams (whatever I asked for!) come true in that morning! 

You want to know the funniest thing? I still experience the same excitement by creating all the mystery and magic for daughter! I want to make sure that she will cherish Christmas mornings as one of her own childhood happiest memories. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
In an open air place… waking up in a new city knowing that adventures await! 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
In the Celebrity Solstice. We were both on-board cruise ship photographers. 


How long have you been together?
7 years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
His loyalty, equanimity and patience. He is almost as opposite in personality to me as it gets and I love the balance that creates in our relationship. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
I have many sweet ones, but the most hilarious was when the ship left Tortola without us! Tortola is a tiny island in the Caribbean, we had gone to the beach so we had NOTHING with us, no credit cards, nothing! Fortunately they let the Pilot boat take us to the ship. The waves didn't allow the boat to come close to the pier so we had to jump on TOP of it! When we reached the ship they threw a rope ladder down and we had to climb up! Our Manager was taking photos of the whole scene and laughing at us. At the moment it was one of the most stressful and scary situations I’ve experienced! It’s been really funny to remember!

(Us on the pilot boat!)

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Almost nothing! The first time I had contact with any Indians was when I went for my ship training in Miami. Before that, I had only heard of Curry, but wasn’t even sure what it was! Ha ha ha! Working on the ship I made a lot of Indian friends, and I was intrigued by their culture and their personality. Then they introduced me to Bollywood and I was hooked! 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
At first I don't think they took it very seriously. Ship life has a way of making things look like they belong to an alternate dimension. People come and go so fast. Every single week you say goodbye to someone you had started to care about. 

When I told them: “I am going to live in India” they freaked out! My friends have always known that I’m crazy and adventurous. But my family is very conservative. So they didn’t approve. I guess the scariest thing for them is the thought that if you marry someone from the other side of the world, then they’ll never see you again. Besides they knew nothing of India except what they hear about in the news: the poverty, the diseases, terrorism, dirt and pollution. That has been the biggest challenge for me​ and what inspired me to start my blog​! To show them the other side of India: the beauty, the richness of the culture, the highest quality human beings I’ve met there, the history, architecture, movies, and the delicious food. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
It has opened my mind. Having a close relationship with someone that comes from such a different culture has made me realize that ultimately we are all just human beings with our own motivations/dreams/fears trying to make the best of this life - and all that matters is being kind to each other and not judging.

Who proposed and how?
He proposed in our favorite restaurant in the Yeoor Hills in Mumbai. We love that place because you are all surrounded by nature. It’s very quiet and romantic (which is a challenge to find specially in Mumbai!). We finished a lovely dinner and the day before we had watched the movie: “Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani" so, knowing that I would understand without further ado he just popped the question: “Would you like to be my life partner?”. 

The most meaningful of it all, to me, was when I saw the ring… It has the shape of the “star”, like the ones I use in my name!! One day I’ll tell you the story behind them, but it ​melted my heart that he searched and searched for that ring to have​ a​ deeper meaning ​just ​for me. 

Describe your wedding…
It was a very small private wedding, we decided not to do a religious ceremony so we had just the court wedding.

What does being married mean to you?
Being married means sharing everything. It means that you have someone who is as excited or scared about your future as you are because it’s theirs as well. Being married is seeing life with 4 eyes + 2 brains with completely unique visions of the world and making sense out of it together.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We want to grow our online business, travel all around the world, and give our daughter the best education possible. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
The 2 most important messages I got in our Wedding Signature Book were these:

Decide to love again every single day. Decide to love each other even when it hurts, even when you don’t feel like it or when you think you can’t. Because the 
​secret of a Happy Life is learning to forget about yourself to make the other one happy”. M.O.

Life has got the strangest ways to get us together. Sometimes things are not easy but what matters is making the best of what we have. Love is always something you have to fight for, specially when you have the type of love that is real, magical and defies most things. I’m glad you found each other in the right time and place. Appreciate that, not everyone has that chance.” F.D. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Resilience, a joyful disposition, warmth. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
This is very different before and after having a kid. Before kids: we used to travel and go out to restaurants/coffee shops a lot! After kids: one night a week we dedicate it just for talking, once in a while we go out for breakfast some place new. We also love watching movies/tv series together! 


In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I got used to drinking Chai - before I only liked black coffee. I love Indian food (as long as it’s not too spicy!). Around 70% of my wardrobe are kurtis! 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not really, they live too far away. The only thing I can think about is that my mother has incorporated ginger and turmeric in her diet, as my MIL recommended them to her for their health benefits. And my MIL has started drinking green juice in her breakfast! Does that count? 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The extremely conservative traditions, the “fasting” festivals, the chauvinistic attitudes...basically whatever someone tries to impose on me just for being a woman, a wife, or a foreigner. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I am very respectful of other cultures and I always do a lot of research before I visit a place. So I don’t recall any particular culture blunders...It’s never too late to create one though! Ha ha!

What I can tell you is that they all make so much fun of my accent whenever I try to speak in Hindi! It beats me how can G/GH, K/KH, J/JH all sound so different!! haha Honestly! So one day I wanted to eat one type of cracker called “Khakra” and instead I said “Kachra” (which means ‘trash’). You can imagine the laughter it provoked! 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Before getting married, being far away fighting with bureaucracy, waiting for visas… It was very exasperating! I remember thinking: How can it be that complicated in this century to get married to whomever you want? How can our future hang depending on governments like this


What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: It’s always interesting, never boring!
Worst: Having to deal with the international bureaucracy!

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That the only reason someone would get into that kind of complication is out of a hidden interest (like getting a green card or something like that).Or that it’s very difficult to have a relationship with someone so different from you.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Mexican women?
That we are submissive, and look-wise we must be short, and have dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Oh, and maybe ​ride​ a donkey and wear a sombrero/poncho? Ha ha!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Actually, nope. Or maybe I have, I just didn't care about their opinion… Thank God, everyone dear to us has been great about it! Our families are more preoccupied about the distance from each other’s country than anything culture/religion related. 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples… 
Be patient and open minded at all times! Always understand that the other person sees things completely different from your ​point of ​view. Being aware of this helps understand them, figure out how to deal with it and not overreact. 

Also, patience, selflessness and adaptability will help you through almost anything.


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Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Blog Make-under!


Today I'm so excited to share my new, simplified blog make-under! I have wanted to update my blog template for a while, and make it less cluttered with simplified navigation. That's why I'm calling it a "make-under" rather than a "make-over"! There's no better time than after New Years to kick off a new blog design.

And voila! Here is a before/after shot so you can see the difference:


I kept the same color scheme of my signature pink, but I paired it with a beautiful feminine understated grey. So chic!


One thing I'm really loving is my top navigation. Having it on top keeps my header space clutter-free.

I also have my new follow buttons at the top of the right sidebar. And by the way, have you guys added me on Instagram yet? People are totally loving me there, especially with my photographic background!


I also installed a "Pin On Pinterest" button that flashes up when your mouse hovers above my image.


I am also loving these quick share buttons at the bottom of each post.


I also installed a "back to top" scroll button that takes you directly to the top of the page.

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What do you think guys? 
Do you like it?

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Our Joint-Family Vacation to Hawaii

We just got back from an amazing vacation from Hawaii that left me feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and insanely happy. It was a vacation that we booked last minute, fleeing from freezing cold Canada after Christmas to our tropical island getaway. We were also in Hawaii for our oh-so special 10 year anniversary and we did something so thrilling and unique (more on that later!)....

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time in Hawaii when I was under 8 years old (after that, we explored Asia) and it still stands true that Hawaii is a fantastic place for kids. I remember going on joint-family vacations with my parents, grandparents and 100+ year old great-grandma and all of us being on the beach together. This is an experience that I really wanted to re-create for my daughter too. My parents joined us for the trip and they had a wonderful bonding experience with Maya.

Hawaii is an easy destination for us, as it is a direct 6 hour flight from Vancouver. This time, we chose The Big Island because it is more low-key. Luckily, we went after New Year's, just as all the tourists were leaving.

This trip was one of our best because we got equal time to: relax, explore, family time, and couple time. It was amazing to spend the first weeks of 2016 in Hawaii - the year started off on a great note!

We spent a lot of days at the beach where I would float in the turquoise water and watch Maya play. Maya is becoming an excellent swimmer so I didn't have to chase after her too much (she was mostly chasing me!). I got to do a lot of water activities like paddle boarding, snorkelling, and kayaking. Maya joined me on all these activities, at the head of my surfboard acting like the captain of the ship!

Husband-ji has been refusing to go to Hawaii for years, but this time he finally came with us and enjoyed it a lot. He originally didn't want to come because he loathes the heat and can't swim, thus being cut out of a large amount of our activities. However, he was surprised that the weather in Hawaii was not humid, but pleasant. The best part of the trip was seeing him get into the water up to his shoulders - a major milestone against his fear of water!

Here are some of my favourite pictures from our trip:
















Stay tuned for more details about what we did on our 10 year anniversary!

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Tara & Yohei


Tara Kamiya writes a wonderful blog and she has been featured on TLC's Four Weddings!


 Introduction....
Tara Kamiya, American, Black/African American, born and raised in NYC, but now live in semi-rural Japan with my husband Yohei and our 3 children (5, 3, 1 year old).

Three words that describe you...
Creative, Passionate, Funny.

Favorite childhood memory...
Playing dolls with my sister. We loved to make them clothes and create these elaborate dramas!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
When I am alone to just think and create. Coffee, stationary, and decorative elements from nature.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
In a nightclub in NYC. His friends were having a party on one floor, and my friends were having a birthday party on a lower floor. He had been living there for 5 years. I had been home from college (NC) almost 10 years.

How long have you been together?
Married 6 years, dated 1 year.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
He is always calm and does his best to make sure we are all happy. He is capable of seeing the positive side of every situation. It is sometimes inconceivable how positive he is. I am envious at times of how little he worries.


 Favorite memory together as a couple...
There are so many. One of my favorites was when we were dating fairly early and he told me that we were going to have our pictures in the newspaper when they wrote about our family business. "This Japanese man has a good restaurant and his wife is black!!" It was hilarious...

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I had studied the Japanese language for 3 years off an on as a hobby because I had always planned to visit and I knew the English skills in Asia were not that great. I did not want to be limited. Thank goodness, because now we live here and I moved here having basic communication skills!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I told my family, but since I was getting into my 30s I think they would have been happy had it been a cow. They were just concerned that I was marrying a good person that I could build my life with.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
It has allowed me to experience the boundlessness of humanity. For every close minded person who does everything within their culture, there is a cult-like existence of people who refuse to follow all the cultural rules and spend their lives in their home-town. I have a whole circle of friends who are drastically different from what you might see on TV. One of my friends is of Russian ancestry, totally white, but can speak Amharic and married an Ethiopian woman.

Who proposed and how?
He made this elaborate proposal with a custom painting, a ring, and a gift. It was like a dream. When I was happy just to be asked I got so much more.

Describe your wedding...
We decided on having a garden wedding with a Native American theme. I think we were so bored of our cultures!!! We were also learning a lot about Native culture and wanted to show respect to the land where we both met.


What does being married mean to you?
It means being a partner, a healer, a listener.....so many things. Being married can be selfless, especially when you have children. A good marriage is about balance. Never compromise it.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Surviving the phase of raising children. It is the hardest thing I have ever done...and I have jumped from an airplane. We also love to travel and I am already planning a trip to Hawaii.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
It was from my dad. At our wedding he said, "your marriage is what you make it". It can be as hard or as easy as you make it.



What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
Communication and individuality. My husband grew up not seeing anyone foreign. I cannot imagine. Collectively, Japanese culture does not promote individuality. I like that there is peace here and people are considerate, but there is little balance in society and little tolerance for difference. I can give that to the children and hopefully affect those around our family in school and in the neighbourhood. They also never valued the mother in the family as a contributor mentally. There were no family meetings and things were not discussed as a family. He is not running a dictatorship. We are not living that lifestyle for our family. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
Our favorite thing is to watch a thought provoking movie and eat expensive snacks. It is something we can enjoy while our kids are still young and we can go whoop it up again once they get a bit older.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
I love sitting on the floor. I refuse to buy a sofa, especially while the kids are young. They have hot carpets and kotatsu in the winter. I also like the diet in Japan, I don't think I have eaten a diet of even 30% meat since I have been here. The portions are very small and I have gotten very thin (I had no idea that was even possible) just eating Japanese food.


Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
Greetings and respect are big. When someone comes home, before we eat. The grandparents have passed on since I have moved here and the funeral lasts a year! I was shocked that they are honored every year after, like an anniversary. There are ways to respect everything and it feels good.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
The lack of communication. It is common to find a grown man or woman with very poor social skills. Too much emphasis on the feelings of others. There is no balance. The lack of mental health. Suicide is still very high here (so I am told). I want to learn more about why Japan has not developed better mental health practices.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed... 
Not many, because I studied basic culture before arriving. But I did something that my mother-in-law said many young Japanese don't even know. I crossed my robe incorrectly. It is crossed one way for the dead, and the Kimono is crossed the other way. I still don't know right over left, or left over right. I supposed I could look it up though!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
Moving back to Japan. We attempted to live with our inlaws....well, on the same patch of land in our own house. I had no idea that they would want to control so much of our lives. My parents did not manipulate my life at all like that. They did not require so much "respect". I learned more about Daughter-in-Law culture and I was shocked. So, we moved into an apartment off of the land. It costs more to live, but I will not take on oppressive archaic parts of any culture. Sayonara in-laws!


What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: Stretching your life experience.
Worst: Not having those matching jokes from childhood movies, songs, etc.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
That you hate your own. People assume that if you marry out of your race/ culture that you hate your own race/culture. Goodness! This is who I ran into while I was working and having a good time and they happened to be outside of what I have known all my life. Instead of thinking that it may be interesting to find a mate outside of that which you have always known, people turn it into self-hate.

What are the biggest misconceptions about African-American women / Japanese people?
That African American women match all that you see on TV, every negative thing you can think of must represent all of us. That if you marry outside of your race/culture the mate must be an idiot.

Another one is that Japanese people are all close minded and rich. Japanese people work more than any other country (so I am told) so why would they not have money? There are poor people here, and there are open minded people here too. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
People are not rude, but they just have tons of questions. I guess we are still in a world where you don't find that African-American women and Asian men keep company together.... so to be married? Kinda original, I totally agree. I grew up in Queens NY, the site of the human genome project. I grew up in classes where there were students from 20 countries. For me it is normal to keep company with anyone! My best friends to date are black (African American), Korean (Asian), and White (Caucasian).

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
If I could do a one statement......"So we are supposed to eat together, shop together, work together, learn together in school, do business together and never marry each other?"

The internet has made the world much smaller. Many people from all over the world are meeting and marrying. I will not allow ignorance to push others' negative pre-conceived notions on to me or my friends. 

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My future Indian Mother-in-law pretends like I don't exist!"



Sharing a letter from a reader...


"Thank you for your wonderful blog. It helps me to feel a little comforted in my situation. I am an American dating an Indian. We have been together for almost two years now, and although we have progressed as a couple, we have had no progression in terms of his Indian parents...particularly his mother. 

He and his parents moved to the USA about three years ago, as he was attending college. I have never been formally introduced to his parents, but I have tried in my own way to somehow, just somehow, show them that I am a good person and that I wish to know them. He has told them that he has a girlfriend, and they reacted poorly - telling him that he was ruining his life by dating me (by the way, they do not even know me at all). His mother has seen pictures of me so I know she knows what I look like. 

Once, she came into my workplace and I assisted her but she acted like she didn't know who I was (I have a feeling she knew as she has seen pictures of me). She also deleted and blocked me when I tried adding her on Facebook, and I have even given a gift which she never thanked me for. It seems as though she uses every small opportunity to treat me with disrespect. 

It hurts me greatly and especially hurts MY mother, who wants me to be loved and respected because she feels I deserve that. My mother loves my boyfriend. 

My boyfriend and I have talked about marriage potentially in the next couple of years, but I am unsure if this problem will ever be resolved. When will this woman ever act decent toward me? His mother has acted so poorly toward me that I do not even wish to have a wedding if we get married. An Indian wedding is all about bringing families together, but I have felt no sense of family by his parents and the fact that they do not even want to get to know me as a person speaks volumes. Not only does this show they do not care about me, but they do not care about their son as well because if they did, one would think that they would care to know if I am a nice, safe person for their son to spend his time with. Sorry if any of this sounds disrespectful, but being in my shoes, I feel very wronged and pained. Can you offer any advice?"

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Dear readers, what can this bahu do?
Have you ever experienced a FROSTY Indian mother-in-law before marriage?
Do you think it is common to treat a son's foreign girlfriend badly before she's *officially* welcomed into the clan? (A sort of hazing???)
How can this bahu address her mother's concerns as well?
What can the boyfriend do to encourage a more welcoming relationship between his parents and his girlfriend?
How do you build a relationship with an elder who pretends you don't exist?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our Twitter Chat on Cross-Cultural Parenting: #MasalaFamily

(Img via Damian Zaleski)

Over the weekend, Brittany and I had a great live twitter chat with our fans, followers, and blog readers about various cross-cultural parenting topics. The chat was sponsored by Marion Claire Stationery and Festive Roots, who each gave away a prize to 2 lucky participants. And thank you so much to all our participants! It was so great to get to converse with you live because I am notoriously slow at replying to comments. We also had some great live questions from readers as well.

Our goal was to basically have a Firangi Bahu twitter take-over to share our experiences with each other by creating a supportive, engaging discussion.

It is wonderful to have a live interaction with my blog readers and share some tips and advice for our masala community. Brittany and I are going to be doing another live twitter chat next month about a different topic (soon to be announced) and we'd love everyone to chime in.


Here are some highlights from our chat:








Q8: I have no idea the closest thing I have experienced to an intercultural community is right now in this live chat lol #masalafamily

— K.Rivera (@Mex33) January 18, 2016





Reader questions:






To read the entire transcript, go to twitter and search #masalafamily
Click HERE to follow me on Twitter & stay tuned about next mon't live chat!

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What about you guys? Can you relate?
Can you answer any of my questions? Tell us about what works in your masala family!

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with Elizabeth Enslin on her book "While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal"


One of the best books I read in 2015 was "While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal" by Elizabeth Enslin. This book was a memoir about an American woman who fell in love with a Nepali man while studying anthropology in university, and then went back to live/work with his Brahmin joint family in rural Nepal during a local woman's uprising.

My mum read this book first, and handed it to me and said, "You HAVE to read this!" Curiously, I picked it up and gave it a try. Nepal is a country I know nothing about, although it is a neighbour to our homeland, India. I was surprised to find SO many similarities in customs between Elizabeth's Nepali family and our own crazy Tam-Brahm clan. I could relate to so much - struggling with the foreign concept of caste, living abroad, dealing with conservative elders, forging a bond with the women of the family, raising a child between two cultures, an interest in women's rights, and finding a home on the other side of the world. And as always, I loved the East meets West love story!

This novel is a must-read for our masala community, and I found it to be very inspiring.

(Img credit: Jerry Gaffke)

Today I'm thrilled to feature an intimate Q&A with Elizabeth Enslin about her book, "While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal"!


The memoir opens up with a gripping birth story, which takes places in rural Nepal - it instantly had me hooked. What are the fears you had about giving birth in a foreign country?
Elizabeth: Looking back now, I wonder why I didn't have more fears. I was in a phase of life when I wanted to shrug off doubts and open myself to new experiences. I was a graduate student in anthropology then and figured I could handle the challenges of cultural difference. My biggest fear had to do with my own mothering abilities. I grew up mostly as an only child and didn't crave contact with babies and children. I wasn't sure I was up to the task of motherhood. In that regard, I was lucky to be in Nepal, surrounded by people who love babies and children. 

Eastern and Western cultures have very different methods handling pregnancy, birth, and caring for a newborn. What were some things that surprised you?
Elizabeth: There's a lot of variation across cultures in the “East” and “West.” Even in Nepal, I saw how practices varied by ethnicity and caste. But one of the things that surprised me (even though I knew about it intellectually to some extent) was how seriously my high caste in-laws took notions of ritual purity around pregnancy and childbirth. In the last few months of pregnancy, I was shooed away from the cooked rice in the kitchen and politely invited to rest in my room during certain Brahman rituals. A more pleasant surprise: how much people loved caring for newborns. 

One of the most popular posts on my blog is about Telling Your Traditional Indian Parents About Your Intercultural Relationship. How did your ex-husband tell his parents about you? Did his parents have any reservations about an American girl joining their family?
Elizabeth: That's a story I tell in some detail in my book. My then-husband thought it best to ease into things, have his parents meet me before letting on that we were engaged. His pandit father had a lot of reservations about where we'd live and the caste status of any children we might have. The family worried about his elevated blood pressure for several days after my arrival. My future mother-in-law saw things more positively. She decided to embrace the opportunity for cross-cultural exploration and friendship. 

What advice can you give to young women who move to an entirely different country for love?
Elizabeth: The circumstances vary so much, I'm not sure how to generalize. I can say that love may not be enough to sustain you over the years even in familiar cultural circumstances, so consider how it will play out in marriage and family across cultures. Much will depend on whether your partner acts as your ally in any conflicts that arise. On a more positive note, I'd say that navigating those differences over the years can greatly expand your capacity for love, if you let it. 

Did you get any "reverse culture shock" when you moved back to the States after living in Nepal?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. I found it especially tough every time I returned to the US with a child. I had to remind myself that people don’t take the same joy in children here that they did in Nepal. 

You have a son, who is Nepali and American. Do you have any tips on raising a child between two diverse cultures?
Elizabeth: In each place, I made sure my son stayed connected to the other part of his identity and had cultural tools (stories, food, language, etc.) to define himself as needed as he grew up. But I didn't force any of it. For some time during his school years in the U.S., he turned away from identifying as Nepali-American. He was trying hard to blend in at school among mostly White friends. By high school, he began talking about his Nepali heritage with more pride and made several trips back to Nepal. I supported him in all that even though I was divorced from his father by then. 

Married to a South Indian Brahmin myself, I noticed A LOT of surprising similarities in the book between your ex-husband's family rituals and our own - including the status of being a Brahmin and all that comes with it. How did you deal with this entirely new mindset?
Elizabeth: Not well at first. I moved in with the family when I was pregnant and immediately encountered some oppressive notions around gender. I simply could not accept the idea that my body was polluted and dangerous because I was pregnant (or later, right after I'd given birth). But being there at that time also brought me closer to my mother-in-law who had long been questioning certain aspects of gender inequality. That laid the groundwork for a wonderful friendship. Once I moved beyond pregnancy and birth, I found it easier to see the Brahman rituals in a more distanced way. And I talked to many in the family who questioned things like menstrual seclusion and untouchability. Not everyone agreed on what rituals should mean. Eventually, I learned to do what I do in the US around holidays and rituals: partially put aside some critical thinking about symbolism and history and simply enjoy the celebration of family, friends and food. 

Your developing relationship with your mother-in-law was a beautiful part of your memoir. Do you have any tips for young women who are struggling to get along with their desi mother-in-law?
Elizabeth: There has to be some give and take and a huge capacity for forgiveness on both sides. I was lucky to have a mother-in-law who supported me from the very beginning. She was a political activist already advocating for women's rights. But there were moments around late pregnancy and birth where she favored tradition. That hurt, partly because I expected something different from her. But it was important for me to get past that hurt, to not hold it against her, so that we could both rise toward other possibilities. I can imagine other mothers-in-law in Nepal or India who would not have been so easy to get along with. I also had unconditional support from my husband. He defied the advice of elders and stayed with me during labor. He also took my side in standing up to oppressive practices around postpartum seclusion. If your husband won't stand up for you like that, it might be hard to get along with the in-laws. 

The rights of women in Nepal is a huge theme in your book and it is a fascinating read. In what ways are women's rights different in Nepal than they were in America, back then?
Elizabeth: I find it hard to talk about women's rights anywhere without considering how women's experiences are also shaped by class, race, caste, religion, geography, sexual orientation and other identities and social divisions. That's partly what my book is about. In Nepal, just as in the US, women may organize around "women’s issues," but at some point they face an issue which foregrounds those other identities/divisions and may call for more varied responses. For example, Dalit women in our village often had their particular concerns (e.g., exclusion from the temple area) dismissed by high caste women. One thing I find it important to emphasize for North American audiences is that - contrary to many stereotypes - South Asia has a deep and rich history of women and men challenging prevailing notions of gender. Women have been involved all along in struggles for democracy and social justice throughout the subcontinent, including Nepal.

In what ways have women's rights changed in modern day Nepal?
Elizabeth: Thanks to the work of many feminists and human rights activists, women's issues have become central to political debates about democracy and social justice in Nepal. And I see a lot of creativity in how Nepali activists are holding their government accountable to international agreements (e.g. CEDAW - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination), making reproductive health a human rights issue and organizing around gender equality in citizenship in the new constitution. But just like in the US and other countries, women activists in Nepal have to celebrate their gains while also organizing against forces that want to roll them back. 

Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake earlier this year. Were any of your Nepali family or friends affected there? What is the situation like there now?
Elizabeth: Most of the family lives in the plains, so they came through fine. One family member living northeast of Kathmandu had to abandon her damaged rental home and live in a greenhouse for awhile. Many suffered much more. I haven't seen the situation first-hand, but I think a bad situation has been made worse because of maneuvering by political elites (not unlike some power plays described in my book). In September, political parties pushed through a constitution that ignored demands from key constituencies. The result has been widespread political unrest. Many in earthquake affected areas at high elevations are now facing winter in makeshift shelters. And protests and blockades along the Indian border are preventing fuel, food, medicines and other supplies from getting through. I fear Nepal may be on the verge of another civil war that will be much more devastating than the earthquake. 

What is the best way people can help the survivors of the Nepal Earthquake?
Elizabeth: Giving money to charitable organizations is so personal. I continue to donate some proceeds from my book to Rural Health Education Service Trust (RHEST - a Nepali-run organization) for projects that improve women's reproductive health. That's an undeserved need (and human rights issue) that continues on through earthquakes and political conflicts. I've also donated to Stop Girl Trafficking, another program run by RHEST. Unfortunately, the earthquake and border blockade have escalated chaos and desperation in Nepal's hills and created more opportunities for human traffickers to do their work. Many young women supported by Stop Girl Trafficking have been giving back to their communities by volunteering for earthquake relief. If I had more money to give, I'd like to support Abari, an innovative Nepali-run organization designing and building earthquake-safe housing using bamboo and other local and sustainable materials. Given the current blockade, I'd also consider donating to large, international aid organizations (UNICEF, Mercy Corps, OXFAM) that have good track records in Nepal as well as the capacity (e.g. hiring helicopters) to get aid into mountainous areas over the winter.

This list from the Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies came out after the earthquake: http://anhs-himalaya.org/relief-agencies/. It is a bit out of date in some areas but includes links to many excellent organizations still involved in earthquake relief. 

Why did you decide to write a memoir about your life?
Elizabeth: I hoped memoir might be a good vehicle for shedding light on women's challenges and activism in the late 1980's. I wanted to counter stereotypes of women in Nepal and open a space for various voices, such as my mother-in-law's. 

Do you still keep a journal?
Elizabeth: Not like I used to, though I suppose we all keep a journal of sorts now on social media. I'd like to get back to old-style journaling, but I can hardly read my own handwriting any more. 

In what way did that period in your life (that you wrote about in your memoir) shape you in the years to come?
Elizabeth: It left some emotional scars. I still wish I could have given birth in a more supportive environment. But I also know I learned things about compassion and forgiveness that continue to shape me. That's something I hope to write about in another book. 

Where do you feel most inspired?
Elizabeth: I can find inspiration in a lot of different ways: reading a book, walking through a city I've never visited before, digging up potatoes on our farm. I live in a remote area of Northeastern Oregon, surrounded by natural beauty, so more and more I find inspiration without leaving home. 

What did your loved ones think of your memoir? Was there anything about it that surprised them?
Elizabeth: I worried a lot about that what family on both sides might think of my book. So far, everyone has been enthusiastic and supportive. No one has mentioned surprises. Perhaps they're just being polite.

What advice can you give to aspiring writers?
Elizabeth: Don't wait for inspiration. Sit down and write. And then revise, revise, revise. It's hard work and the greatest reward comes from joy in the process. 

What do you hope readers take away from your memoir?
Elizabeth: Part of what I'm trying to do is deepen our understanding and imagination of places the world often assumes to be powerless, passive. I go into a lot of specific details in While the Gods Were Sleeping because I hope readers carry with them - even unconsciously - some sense of what a local uprising of women in a marginalized place like Nepal looks like. With more stories like that, maybe we can move beyond a foreign aid paradigm of victims and saviors and work toward something more like solidarity.

What's next for you? What projects are you currently working on?
Elizabeth: I'm working a sequel to While the Gods Were Sleeping which will explore in greater depth the joys and challenges of parenting a child with family roots in both Oregon and Nepal.

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A huge thank you to Elizabeth Enslin for sharing this amazing book with our readers. For more information about Elizabeth and her upcoming books, please visit her HERE. To purchase her book on Amazon, click HERE.


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