Too huge for the Catholic bus.
Everyone here’s been asking me, so I’ll just say it: Yes, it is pretty lonely now up in my room. It’s definitely strange to come up to sleep and not have someone to pow-wow with, and to go down in the morning to a table set for two instead of four. Janis, Sharmila, you are missed.
But, I gotta say, I think their last weekend was pretty fun. All four of us Westerners made it out to some portion of the Nongkrem Dance mostly thanks to Darihun, the UUNEI’s treasurer and our gracious host in Smit. She made sure we were warm, well-fed, and present at all the big Festival events. More specifically, she introduced me to Parle-brand cheese crackers (similar to Goldfish and equally delicious in their fake cheesiness) and Maggi noodles, both of which I really like. For all things, thank you, Darihun!!
Some background: the Nongkrem Dance celebrates the royal family of this region’s part of the Khasi tribe. The festival originally took place in Nongkrem – Janis’s partner church village – because the royal line is said to have started there, but the syiem (chieftain) moved to Smit (he also has a residence in Shillong) and thus the Dance moved as well.
The major events at the Dance are the traditional Khasi dances (a Kong Barr School teacher, Sir Maths, was one of the lead dancers!), a huge open-air market (which we perused, but from which we only bought sugar cane), and the goat sacrifices. The women, including the queen and her nieces, did a dance that consisted of moving around only using the movement of their big toes. Darihun’s daughter has actually learned this dance at school, but was too shy this year to take part (she’s only three). In the evening, she did show us her dress, and Darihun thinks she’ll probably dance next year; I wish I could be there! The men’s dance was more complicated, with all sorts of coordinated motions in circles around the area in front of the chief’s house. I loved all of their beautiful traditional outfits.
I saw four goats sacrificed, and after the first one I accepted that I was going to feel a little odd as an American vegetarian and decided just to watch. I’m not sure what to say about it, but to note that I was surprised that the men doing the sacrifice could cut off a goat’s head in one chop.
The most difficult part of the Dance for me was watching Sharmila say goodbye to her students, Kyntihun, and Wanrilung (not to mention saying goodbye to Janis the evening before). All the girls were sobbing when we took them to the bus. Sharmila is definitely missed throughout Kharang!
Also this weekend, I went with Dari to an enormous Catholic event in Shillong. The local bishop presided over an outdoor mass, and later in the afternoon there was a procession through the Fire Brigade and Laitumkhrah districts of Shillong. I gathered from the bishop’s sermon that the day was in celebration of the main cathedral’s dedication, and it was a great opportunity for all the Meghalayan Catholics to come together. I really enjoyed the day, and Dari was really happy to reconnect with old friends and to visit the cathedral, which she’d never seen before. It’s very beautiful. Also, Dari wore the jainsem that Jon and I bought her as a congratulatory gift when she received her (very good) beautician exam results, and I’m glad that she looks so pretty in it.
The only issue I had with that day was being way too huge to ride the “Catholic bus” home. The Catholic bus is different than the regular bus for the following two reasons: 1. It runs on a Sunday specifically so Catholics can get to and from Shillong (there’s usually no public transportation on Sundays) and 2. It’s even more ridiculously packed than usual. I felt really sorry for everyone sitting near me because my legs are a good percentage longer than everyone else’s here and I stole their space. Sorry, Catholics!
In Children’s Village news, the walls are almost entirely up! I think they will be finished by this afternoon, and then the windows will go in. The walls also need to be plastered and painted, but that will happen after the doors and windows are finished. The workers have also started on the foundation for the outdoor bathrooms and kitchen, which will be connected to the orphanage via a short passage. I hope to have a copy of the finalized floor plans e-mailed to me from the architect soon so that I can share it with all of you!