Last Thursday was Holi, the Hindu festival of color. In India, people take to the streets wearing white, carrying bags of rainbow-hued powders that they throw at everyone they encounter. In Nepal, the color is applied more like tika: people come up to you, wish you a happy Holi, and smear their hands across your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin.
No, in Nepal, it’s not a good idea to wear white on Holi. Because in Nepal, Holi is an excuse for a country-wide water balloon fight.
My host family elected to barricade themselves in the house, because of fears of everything that could go wrong with the holiday: allergic reactions to the powder, balloons filled with cow urine or worse, acid attacks. They didn’t want me to go out, but I insisted. Dressed in ratty clothes, I made my way to Elsie’s village, which is about a two or three mile walk east-ish of my village. When I got there, I was mostly color-free, due to the old “see crowds of young people coming and dodge into a group of old women” technique.
Elsie had a full schedule of Holi house visits with many of her students. As we walked, we got squirted with tiny water pistols and bombarded with makeshift balloons, and her students’ mothers decorated our faces with red powder. However, the real fun was yet to come.
Our big destination for “playing Holi” was an ashram (in this sense, an orphanage) where many of her students live. We got there and were greeted with big smiles by children and adults alike. They patiently waited for us to put down our bags and cameras before the carnage began.
Everything became kind of a blur after that. I remember getting pulled into the muddy lake of the vegetable garden by a horde of laughing kids, but I went water-blind after that when someone dumped a brass water jug over my head. There were cups and bottles, too, and water balloons (some of which didn’t break, if the bruises on my arms can be believed), and of course, that old classic—the hose.
After two minutes, I was more soaking wet than I had been since Lisa and I jumped into the river in Gorkha (in October). And if Elsie was any way of judging, my face was bright red, with streaks of black and silver. We got our revenge, though, grabbing stainless steel tea cups and diving into the fray.
Eventually, the water ran out, and the kids and adults formed a song and dance circle. Even though the sun was bright, a balmy breeze ensured that everyone was freezing in their sopping cotton clothes. Despite clapping along, my hands were numb for a good 45 minutes after we stopped playing.
I followed Elsie on a few more house visits. They were up the side of a hill, which helped us warm up very quickly. We finished up our day with a snack of fried egg, chiurra (beaten rice), and dal mat (a kind of snack food made from spiced fried lentils and other salty crunchy things) that her aamaa prepared for us. We tried to wash our faces, but the thing about Holi colors is that they’re made to be pretty water-proof. My hairline stayed red for a few days. But all in all, we had a blast, and the kids did too. As did the adults: an innocent-looking granny threw a bucket of water on me as I walked back to my village.
But I made it home with only one ruined outfit, a few bruises, no urine-soaked clothing, no acid burns, and most importantly, no allergic reactions.
|A few colorful Nepalis.|
|A cold and colorful Nepali.|
|Cold and colorful Americans disguised as Nepalis.|
Dance party time!