Camellia Travels the World: I Wish You All the Happiness

November 6, 2019

Time flies so fast! We already departed Chile and came to our third destination, Nepal. We come, again, at the best time for celebration. Navratri is a ten-day celebration in the autumn for harvest after the monsoon season. Dashain is the tenth day and the biggest day of the festival.

On the ninth night, there is a mask dance. Only selected community members can perform this. Once they put on masks, it is believed that they are possessed by gods. They start dancing from streets, going around neighborhoods, until they reach the Durbar Square in the center of the town.

We were lucky to catch the tail end of the festival and spend time with our host family. After an exhausting day of celebration with other family members, our host parents came home early and performed the whole ritual for us. As they were preparing, I snuck in to watch the process. One crucial element in Hinduism is Tika. Elders put tika on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with abundance in the upcoming years. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Each family has its own “recipe;” generally, one would mix rice, yogurt, and red coloring from roses to make tika.

Me getting tika from our host father.

After everything was set, we went in pairs, kneeling on the mats in front of our host parents. Our host dad put tika onto our foreheads to give us blessings and a black mark to protect us from evil. Then, he said a prayer in Nepali, which could roughly be translated as: “I wish you all the happiness, health, luck, and all good things happen upon you.” At the end, he also patted our heads. Then, our host mom gave us a handful of things: new paper money, a new coin, a fruit, and some sweets. These symbolize good harvest and wealth.

Family Photo. In the front are our host parents, and in the back are our host siblings .

Having this cultural experience was already incredibly amazing; yet, something even more miraculous happened: the Kumari (living goddess in Hinduism) came to our neighborhood to give blessings.

To be named a Kumari, a young girl has to pass dozens of tests to prove her righteous deity. For example, she should have never shed any blood (got any scar) or lost any teeth. She should not be afraid of evil. To test her bravery against evil, the candidate will be put into a dark room with masked men dancing around and heads of animals illuminated with candles. If she expresses any fear, she will be ruled out. Once a girl becomes a Kumari, she will stay in Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city, and perform rituals for the disciples.

Kumari rarely comes out of the palace, but only for special occasions. In the past, Kumari would go to the king’s palace to perform rituals for royalty. After the abolishment of monarchy, she has been paying visits to the neighborhood of the descendants. Four families in our neighborhood are connected with the king, including my host family. Thus, she came to our neighborhood and stayed in the house of the senior member in the community.

Patan Durbar Square at night.

At nine o’clock at night, she was carried into the community by her father. Many children ran to meet the Kumari. They worshiped her by touching her feet, and some put her feet onto their heads, getting blessings. Then, she was brought into the house and closed the door. My host brother said that the Kumari had to perform a series of rituals secretly. After a moment, her father came to re-open the door to the line of people waiting to receive blessings.

It is a mental juggling practice for me to comprehend the role of the Kumari. From a western point of view, the role of Kumari is so radically against individual’s rights: she has no freedom of movement as she cannot walk; she cannot talk to anyone other than her family; she used to not receive any education (now there will be a private tutor for her); and she “retires” once she receives her first period. Yet, for Nepalis, the Kumari is the manifestation of the divine female energy. She is the living vessel of Goddess, as she embodies innocence, courage, and spirit. So, should we appreciate the role of Kumari as a cultural and religious tradition or critique it with our western “civilized” ideologies?

Anyway, this was a once in a lifetime experience, and I truly appreciate being able to participate in this celebration.

Another important element of the festival is gambling family members will gather and play cards together. By the way, I won enough money for a meal!


Camellia Travels the World: An Extraordinary Journey Begins

August 28, 2019

Hello, everyone! I am Camellia, and I am a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy. I am from Chengdu, China, and fun fact, it is also the hometown of Giant Panda. At the age of fifteen, I boarded the plane from China to the United States to pursue education. During these six years, I have not only learned critical thinking and empirical reasoning, but also Frisbee playing and Netflix binge-watching. In other words, I think I have taken my root on the other side of the world; and, I decided that it is time for a new challenge.

Therefore, I applied for the International Honors Program with SIT. This has been my dream program since freshman year; it is unique because IHP gives me an opportunity to contemplate with one theme on a global scale. Gladly, I will also be with thirty other fellow enthusiasts and a director throughout the program. We are from different universities, we represent different cultures, we have different hobbies, yet we are all coming together for our shared passion for human rights. Over the next four months, we will closely examine the causes of struggles for human rights, the relationship between human rights and activism, and the comparison of “Human Rights” and “human rights”[1]; Moreover, we will travel to four drastically different locations: New York City, USA; Santiago, Chile; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Amman, Jordan. At each location, we will take classes with local faculty and stay with host families to learn and experience the authentic culture.

This journey is deemed to be extraordinary even from the prequels of my traveling. Long story short, I had to go to Boston for my Chilean visa, therefore I came back to the US a few days before my program. Everything went smoothly until I found out my flight from Newark to Boston was cancelled. It was already 8:30 pm, and all the other United Airlines flights were completely full. At that moment, my heart was filled with despair and my eyes were full of tears. All I had in mind was that I have to get to Boston in time. Thus, I cancelled my plane ticket and made up my mind to rent a car and drive, even though I had been tirelessly travelling for the last 20 hours. When I went to the carousel, I noticed another lady waiting for her baggage. I collected my courage and asked her if she was interested in carpooling with me. Amazingly, she agreed, and we even found two other girls wanting to share the ride. In the end, we embarked for our road-trip to Boston. We talked non-stop for almost four hours and learned a lot about each other: Elisa is from Italy, and she comes to the US to visit her high school host family in Boston; Sneha has just gotten her Master’s degree, and she is going to Boston for a job interview; Erin is on her way back to Boston for an important meeting the next day and her husband’s birthday… Now that I reflect on it, I would never have met these incredible people if I only sat quietly on the thirty-nine-minute flight; maybe the cancellation was not so disastrous after all. 

On our way to Boston. Elisa could not believe how much traffic there was at 11 pm in NYC.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “A good gain takes long pain.” I have finally got my visa after everything, and I am ready to start my journey, hopefully without any cancellations or delays. I will be sharing fun stories, travel tips, personal thoughts, and anything you ask throughout my trip. So stay tuned and wish me luck!

Me trying to paint my “selfie”.

 


[1] Stephen Hopgood delineates the two spheres of human rights in his book, The Endtimes of Human Rights, where “Human Rights” represents “top-down” influences while “human rights” relates to “bottom-up” movements.


%d bloggers like this: