I love the way woman dress around here, all layers, shawls, beads and bangles. It is like Bohemian Chic asian style. The type of dress is called Kurta Shwals and they are the common for women of a certain age (mine). Young girls start wearing the Kurta at about 14 or 15 the age when the primary education is over and they either continue education or pick up the slack at home. Older women often will be seen wearing saris or slightly different versions of the kurta/sari combo.
The long kurta tops are worn with punjab trousers, or what used to be known in 90’s fashion as Hammer pants. As much as they look like a good comfy pair of scrubs, I found them quite uncomfortable. There seemed to be just too much non-stretchy fabric swishing around the legs for a fast walking westerner and for someone who perfers to sit on chairs rather than squatting for long periods of time. I wear my kurtas over jeans or western style slacks and no one is offended. The kurtas I chose were a little subdued compared to the ones that can be seen on woman around here, but most of the other styles were a little too rhangi changi (colorful) for me. I can be fashion adventurous at times, but three different patterns and color schemes I really don’t think I can pull off.
Like most things, color has different significance here. Red is the national color and the color women wear after they are married. White is considered the color of death. An oldest son will have to wear all white for a year after his father dies. Though they are getting used to seeing it, our white wedding dressing are not a symbol of celebration and are quite shocking to most Nepali.
Rhangi changi aside, I had a chance this past week to visit a fabric factory. There is a special kind of fabric made in Tansen called Dhaka fabric. The particular factory I visited is a low dirt/mud house like the bottom floor of a college dorm with only the tops of the windows peeking out. The whole structure held 12 looms, though only 4 were functioning while we were there. The looms in total are about 8 or 9 feet tall so that in the tiny building the loom operators sitting about 4 feet below ground level. As I looked in the windows of the factory I was seeing the tops of the looms and the operators were below.
We asked the women who were working there that day how much fabric they were able to make. They told us they make about 3 or 4 meters a day and they will work for 10 hours a day. They are paid about 30 rupees an hour, bringing the grand total to 300 rupees or $2.80 USD. These woman were strong, coordinated, and hard-core. Working the big treadle while at the same time working the foot peddle and loading thread. This is considered a good job for women here. I thanked each of the woman for showing me their work, letting me take their pictures and for contributing to my kurta shwals.
There is something so sad about the choices that women here have to make about their lives and the lack of options for them. I pity them for their lack of options but not for their characters. They are not passive or weak women. I get the impression that though they have hard lives, they are proud to hold their families and the country of Nepal on their strong shoulder. I’m supremely grateful for the options that I have as a western woman and the choices that I get to make. I am awed by these asian sister and look forward to knowing more about their lives here.