One thing more amusing than adjusting to a new culture alone, has been adjusting as a family. These days, I struggle with indirect communication and relationship-over-task. The greatest challenge for my husband has been the necessary daily negotiating and pushing required in order for our “cottage” to be livable (by our standards).
Tyler would rather live without electricity, a fridge or even a wood-burning stove, than to confront. In a world where the man’s voice is the only one that carries weight, this task has been solely on him. He has been growing skilled at persistence and making requests 14 or 15 times before they are completed. As his wife, I have been learning the art of exercising patience (because he usually gets the job done better than I would, but with more time and more chai involved). I am also learning the task of what to let go of (our cottage’s lime yellow painted exterior walls alongside faux brick walls, green doorways and red tin roof), and what to make a big fuss about. Yesterday one such need for negotiation arose…
Tyler was studying at home while I was in class. He began to hear the familiar sound of hammering, and when he looked on the balcony discovered that the entire balcony (the beautiful red and black wrought iron railing) was getting covered with a bright pink and orange floral plexi-glass.
Our yellow/green/red/faux-brick house was getting a florally-smothered balcony, which stretches across the length of the house.
Tyler instinctively knew this was not going to be something I was going to “let go”. He stepped out onto the balcony and asked the workers to stop nailing the floral plastic up. The worker insisted that the landlord had assigned him to do this. As they began yelling back and forth in their separate languages, Tyler threw his hands up in frustration and exclaimed, “NO HINDI, NO ENGLISH!!” To this they looked at each other and started laughing, and the worker bellowed back, “NO HINDI, NO ENGLISH!!”
By the time I walked down the mountain and the house came into view my stomach turned. Our lovely (albeit colorful) cottage now had a pink and orange grandma-pattern covering half the balcony and this florescent plastic overshadowed the whole hillside of red tin roofs. My step quickened and my heart beat fast. I was glad Tyler had called ahead and warned me. I arrived in time to step out on the balcony and convince both workers in Hindi that we were less concerned for our safety and privacy (the purpose for the floral plexi-glass) than we were for how UGLY it looked. I told them how much we wanted to be able to SEE the valley from our balcony. Not the flowers on the plastic! This slowed them down a little, with Tyler standing beside me and nodding to everything I said. He was looking at his worker friend like, “I told you so!” The workers started murmuring to each other, “Madame doesn’t like it… she wants to see the view… Should we take it down?” Within moments the landlord arrived and when he heard our collective strong feelings against the floral stuff, he said, “Well of course, shouldn’t it be clear?” We both nodded vigorously and exclaimed how wonderful that would be.
Next, he turned to the worker and started yelling at him. Something about, “Of course clear is much better! Where did you get this stuff? This will just not do! Of course you need to put up clear plexi-glass!!”
The worker looked shocked because obviously the landlord had assigned him to put up the floral stuff. But since this is a shame-based culture, and it’s better for the landlord to save face than the worker, he took a deep breath and started exclaiming, “Yes sir! Good idea. The clear will be much better!”
Tyler and I did everything we could do to not laugh. We stood next to each other on the windy balcony nodding vigorously at the landlord and affirming how good his tastes are and how many people will want to rent this beautiful cottage for years to come.
After the whole ordeal the worker said to me, “Your husband is a good man! He is good to us.” I told him, “Yes I am a blessed woman” and he heartily agreed with me. I felt so proud.
Today the clear roll of plexi-glass is propped up on the balcony and ready to put up.
More valuable than the grammar lessons we struggle through each day is the ability to read people, to read their intentions, and to bestow dignity and value to them. I still smile when I imagine Tyler losing his patience on the balcony and yelling, “No Hindi, no English!!”
Steam is rolling off my coffee and winter has come swiftly to the Himalayas. A week ago we could wear short sleeves as we hiked to school and now we shiver in our sweatshirts, hovered around our space heater, waiting patiently for the landlord to finish installing our wood-burning stove. The archaic rusted-over metal box stares at us from the corner in our bedroom, empty and cold.
But warm is my coffee cup because our landlord gifted us with a microwave, and warm are our feet at night because local friends told us to get rubber hot water bottles, and these keep our flannel sheets warm till morning. We are blessed by a beautiful view and a lovely balcony. But we are more blessed by the friends we are making along the way. Friends we have made because my husband knows that people are more important than things.