Right now, I am sitting on the roof of my family’s house, looking out over the valley of Chokati, filled with rice fields and clouds, storms hanging over us like mountains. I am a 19 year old American- I wear my mother’s old skirt, a t-shirt I washed by hand for the first time 3 days ago. My hair has been braided by my homestay sister and my feet are dirty from walking along muddy paths all day. The air smells like smoke and is full of the sounds of goats chewing on grass, children calling to one another and laughing. It is late afternoon, the night before the most important day of Dasain, and in a few hours, I will be eating daalbhaat with my family, watching young mothers with babies tied to their backs and stooped old men with smile wrinkles and topis make their way down the street. A few hours after that, I will fall asleep on the small cot in my room, listening to the waterfall pouring itself into the valley.
These are only facts, some of the simplest ones I can think of. Recently, I have found that I need to seek out the simple facts of my current existence, if only to orient myself against the overwhelming backdrop of the most complicated facts and unanswerable questions that my group and I are faced with here, in perhaps the furthest place we’ve ever been from home. Like the fact that although we are physically living with our families for these two weeks, we couldn’t be having more different experiences of life. For us, life in Chokati is a learning experience, an experiment of sorts, completely temporary and erasable; we will stay for awhile, but eventually we will leave, moving onto other parts of Nepal and other parts of the world. For most of us (privileged as Americans, and inclined towards Adventure), our experience of Chokati, of Nepal, will eventually fade into a pleasantly fuzzy memory, just another stamp in our passports, one patch in the bright and busy mosaic of our lives.
Meanwhile – long after we march down the valley in our Patagonia trekking pants and Osprey backpacks – life in Chokati will continue. The families who live here will continue walking up and down the dirt paths, aging farmers will keep buying cartons of Pilot cigarettes from the local store, hunched over grandmothers in cholos and beads will continue to bend over steaming plates of daalbhaat. Hundreds of pots of milk tea will be made. Children who clung to us during our stay will grow up and forget about us. Many of our homestay sisters and brothers will move to Kathmandu to find work, but they will always come back home. For them, life in Chokati is life, not just a segment of a long-winded adventrue, one that, for us, ends safely back in a sturdy, well-insulated American house.
They will continue facing the everyday struggle of Nepali life, things that despite our very immersive experience, we will never fully comprehend. Because a perfectly synthesize homestay doesn’t exist- it can’t. During our stay, we will learn the roads that weave through the village, we will start to recognize the faces of Chokati’s people, how to shower properly at the public springs, the rythms of rural life. But that is an entirely different experience than staying on here year after year, making the same meal every day, looking at the same mountains, knowing the life stories of everyone in your town. As young students who have the opportunity to choose what we will do with our lives, who can travel all over the world, who don’t (unlike our Nepali peers) have to worry about marriage and children fro a long time, we can’t imagine what that feels like.
Maybe, at a certain point, it is in fact useless to fixate on the unbridgeable gap between ourselves and the people who open their homes to us and just focus on the simple things that we do share. We both love playing cards, the heads of newborn babies, we both roll our eyes at our sisters when they are being annoying. We both, certainly, know how awkward it is to share a living space with someone who doesn’t speak your language. They are tiny things, facts of life so insignificant we would never stop to think about them normally. But here, in a homestay, they become vitally important, they form a bridge between our seemingly unbridgeable experiences. Perhaps, in this particular context, placing emphasis on the simple things is just as important as leaning into the more difficult ones. Perhaps zooming in will actually help us see the broader picture.