Formally known as menstruation. As with my previous post, you might ask why this is a thing for me. It wasn’t something that merited a lot of thought and attention…until I got married to a Nepali.
This week, international media picked up local news on the death of a woman during chhaupadi, which is the Nepali practice of isolating a woman in a small hut when menstruating. It is officially outlawed, but is still practiced in rural parts of the country. In this current news, the young woman died of snake bite. A few months ago, during winter, a woman died of suffocation from smoke from the fire she made to keep warm.
To my understanding, based on how I was treated when I had my period, the practice seems to stem from the idea that a menstruating woman is impure. Because of this, you cannot participate in ceremonies and cannot give nor receive tika. I think it’s more about impurity in a spiritual sense rather than dirty in a physical sense, but it could be a combination of both. Clearly I am no expert in this subject, and can only speak from my own experience. But what I can say is that isolation, in some form, is still commonly practiced even in modern urban Nepali homes.
Its biggest effect on my daily life revolved around food. It seems that a lot of Nepali traditional beliefs and practices are food-related. Basically, you cannot go into the kitchen and you cannot touch anything in the kitchen. You cannot prepare food. If you are thirsty, you should ask someone to get you a glass of water. And they can’t give you the glass directly. They should put the glass on some surface and then you can pick it up from there.
Because the second major thing is: you cannot touch anyone. I think it’s okay to touch other women, but you should definitely avoid touching men. I don’t know for sure what’s okay and what’s not, so as a rule of thumb I just try not to make physical contact with anyone.
There are variations to these, depending on who calls the shots. Aama (Scott’s grandma) is very strict. Aunty (Scott’s mother’s sister) is pretty relaxed about some things. Aama requires you to have your own set of eating utensils that they transfer food into, and you eat from, and you wash and dry separately. Aunty is okay with me washing my plate along with everyone else’s as long as someone else gives them a final rinse and puts them away. Scott, in a moment of laziness, simply sprinkled some water on the plates and declared them clean. To each his own, I guess.
Aama is also very strict about her personal purity, so I try not to sabotage that. If you have your period and you sat on the couch, she would rather remain standing than sit on that couch, even if you’re not sitting there anymore. So for three days, I mostly stay in the bedroom. At some point it felt boring and restrictive, but in the past months when I’ve had bad bouts of period cramps and back pain, I sort of missed being in Nepal where I could just lie in bed the whole day and do nothing.
What made me uncomfortable at first was the fact that my period was public knowledge. Even my father-in-law would know about when I had it. It was certainly weird being asked whether it was my second or third day. On the other hand, it normalizes the experience. It’s a big deal in the sense that there are a lot of “rules” around it. But on the other hand, it comes up in daily life conservations with such ease that it then becomes…not a big deal.
Do you have any period-related traditional beliefs? Do you still practice them today? What are your thoughts on purity and menstruation?