"No!" I whispered back "I don't want to interrupt that guy chanting over there!" nodding towards the man in the long white robes. "What language is he speaking?"
"That's the Brahman, or priest, and he's chanting in Sanskrit. You're SUPPOSED to ring the bell...it's the way you say 'Hey! Gods! Wake up! Pay attention! I'm here to get my blessings!'"
At that, I laughed. Right out loud. The young couple kneeling at the Brahman's feet turned and smiled at me, and since I'd interrupted them already, I figured I'd ring the bell.
Although I've lived in Salt Lake City over a decade, I never knew there was a Hindu temple here until I met my Indian friend Munees.
We met at the most unlikely place to meet a Hindu: at a Brazilian steakhouse brimming with waiters whisking around skewers loaded with sizzling grilled meats. I'd planned a dinner there to introduce my Brazil-loving sister to my other Brazil-loving friends. At the last minute, she decided to bring Munees, her friend who works as a mechanical engineer in the very small, very white, very quiet Soda Springs, Idaho.
Munees totally didn't get his money's worth at that restaurant, but was very fun to chat with as he ate what he could. His parents often show him passport-sized photos of girls, he said, hoping he'll allow them to arrange his marriage to one of them. "I'm the type of guy who studies 4 months before buying a car! There's no way I'm going to choose a life partner just by looking at a little photo!" he declared.
As we left the restaurant, he asked "Do you happen to know any nice Indian girls you could introduce me to?" I couldn't think of any right then, but emailed him about a week later:
"Yesterday I was at 7-11 and saw a cute young woman who looked like she might be from India, so I talked to her on your behalf. But it turns out that she's from Nepal. If you're interested in dating a Nepali 7-11 clerk, the next time you're in Salt Lake City, let's go get a Slurpee together and meet her! Since I really don't know her, I can't recommend her as someone you should bet your entire future on, but once I ate at a Nepali restaurant and the food was delicious, so that's at least a good starting point. :-)"
Which is why Munees was in town the day we visted the Hindu temple. We stopped at 7-11 first, and the Nepali girl wasn't there, but we did succeed in getting Munees his first Slurpee. (I love cultural exchanges...an introduction to Hinduism in exchange for an introduction to Slurpees...definitely not a fair exchange, but a fun one!)
Munees gave me a humorous Hinduism-for-dummies temple tour, first showing me the 9 bad luck dieties. You must walk around the platform where they stand, carefully arranged so that none face each other, circling the platform 9 times as you chant something like "Ignore me! Leave me alone!"
He pointed out the animals carved in front of many of the dieties, representing their vehicles ("their Lexus" he explained). Elephants are often found in and around Hindu temples: carved ones in Salt Lake, living ones at temples in India. I inquired about the food sitting in front of the gods--left there by worshippers, he explained.
As we prepared to retrieve our shoes at the end of a delightful evening, the Brahman intercepted us. This kind man with white vertical lines painted on his forehead as a symbol of his priesthood offered each of us an apple, made sacred by the fact that it was an offering left by worshippers. I was honored to receive such a gift.
I love being friends with people who are different than myself. Not only does it help me to better understand the world, but also to better understand myself. Case in point: I never realized how often I say "Holy Cow!" until I started hanging out with a Hindu. I say it less now.
Another benefit of friends different than yourself is beautiful, enriching life experiences, such as the time Munees informed me of his rapping talents, cranking up his car radio so I could hear him rap along with a Tamil song. He even wrote a rap in my honor. In English. That's a gift you don't get every day...thank you Munees!
And, Munees is hilarious, making him an especially fun friend. He once sent me a list of the places he'd like to see before he dies, and listed "the drive-in theatre in Soda Springs Idaho" as the grand finale! The last time I saw him, he described a blind date gone wrong. The girl was beautiful, but they had nothing in common and struggled to keep the conversation going. "You know you've got a problem when the only question you can think to ask is 'What is your favorite color?' on the first date!" he wisely observed. "By the way...." he paused "...what is your favorite color?"
Once to show gratitude for some small way I helped him, he offered to help me get elected president of the United States and get my face carved on Mount Rushmore, completely confident in his ability to rally the 3,000 voters of Soda Springs Idaho in my favor. Since I'm not funny, I especially love people who are, and am especially impressed by people who can be funny in their non-native language.
Here's a photo of the two of us on the evening we visited Antelope Island:
If you know any nice single girls that would enjoy getting to know my fun, smart friend Munees, please send them my way. [Editor's Note: After reading this post, Munees asked me to clarify that he's open to dating non-Indian girls too.] Perhaps Munees will take them out for a slurpee!