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A Struggle and a Bond

Ama (Nepali for Mother) speaks English. As we talk, she tells me that she only knows a little bit of English and that she has not practiced the language for a long time. I quickly learned that she knows much more English than she let on. However, talking in a foreign language is still difficult. Her words don’t sound like exact English and Nepali is much easier for her to understand. So I have taken up the challenge of trying to learn Nepali. Ama loves to teach me. When we drink our chia (Nepali for tea), she tells me Nepali word for some English words. Probably because food is the basis of our relationship, I have learned mostly animal names and cooking terms. Suddenly we have a topic of conversation in the kitchen. She teaches me the words for everything, smilling and chuckling at my horrible mispronunciation. Teaching Nepali has filled the space of silence when the spurts of awkward small talk end.

Even more than the learning, my mistakes have bonded me and Ama. Together in the kitchen she told me cheese is paneer. Paneer sounds incredibly similar to "pani" the Nepali word for water. So when I exclaimed, "we are going to fry pani!" Ama burst into eruption of giggles, her round face lighting up as she reminded me the difference of the two words. Soon, I realized me mistake and we were both making a ruckus with our nonstop laughter. Baba (Nepali for father) even rushed in the room, the worried expression on his face relaxing as he understood the noise was from our giggles. Even later as Ama served me dinner, she smiled with a hint of laughter on her lips when she scooped the paneer.

Learning Nepali has been difficult for me, especially when my family speaks English so well. But I know the rewards of learning will be so great when I saw the grin on Ama and Baba’s faces as I told them with enthusiasm, "Man Parcha kana!" (I like the food!). They laugh whenever I butcher the pronunciation of their native tounge and I laugh with them. So I will continue to ask "Nepali word?" about every item in the house because both my language successes and mistakes have resulted in some of my favorite moments with my new Darjeeling family.

Hopefully next post, I will be able to finish with the Nepali for talk to you later but for now, English must suffice.