Tar is a village of nine houses nestled in the mountains over six kilometers away from the nearest road. In the early morning, the sunrise turns the mountain slopes to gold. At night, stars fill the sky all the way to the horizon, and the longer you stare the more appear. It was here that we had our first homestay experience.
Sophie and I stayed with an older woman named Sonam, our ama-lay, who was aggressively hospitable and who firmly opposed us helping her in any way. Her generosity disregarded the limitations of our stomachs, so by day two of our five-day stay in Tar, Sophie and I had become experts in both smuggling food out so that we didn’t have to eat it and forcing ama-lay to let us help her in the kitchen and in the fields.
Our host-father, aba-lay, showed up rather unexpectedly our second night. He shook our hands, sat down across the room, and immediately began eating straight flour with a spoon. It was a dramatic introduction.
The fourth day, ama-lay trekked into Leh to visit the doctor for a check-up, and Sophie and I had some quality bonding time with aba-lay. That night, while he was making dinner, I decided that it would be the perfect time to take a quick shower.
Tar is frozen solid for four months out of the twelve. It’s not quite that cold yet, but the nights are bitter, and our washroom was poorly insulated. Cement floors and a tin roof, surprisingly, don’t do much to hold in what little heat the daylight brings. I’m not sure why I decided it was the perfect time to douse myself in freezing water, and by the time I realized that maybe this was not my best plan, I was past the point of no return.
There I was, shivering in my borrowed Crocs, trying to figure out how to get as clean as possible and keep all of my fingers, when Sophie knocked on the door to tell me that aba-lay had boiled a kettle of water for me.
It’s such a small thing: a kettle of water. I’m not sure why it stood out to me so much. I’ve boiled water for other people before, though usually I was making tea, not giving them hot water to shower with.
I think part of the reason I was so floored was how the action was simultaneously thoughtful and done without thought. Aba-lay knew exactly what I needed to stave off hypothermia (seriously, don’t shower at night in Tar), but he didn’t even have to think about how best to be kind. There was no consideration or deliberation, there was just immediate action.
You have to be a special kind of incredible to open your home to strange foreign students who can’t speak your language and who sometimes forget to take off their shoes when they walk into the living room. I think that special kind of incredible makes kindness second nature. Or maybe it’s the kindness that drives you to be a host. The people of Tar lack so much of what I take for granted – indoor plumbing, central heating, electric appliances – but they make up for all of it with their kindness and their generosity. Even that aggressive hospitality comes from a place of caring.
I want to embody the kindness of Tar, and that instinctive generosity and caring spirit that let me take the best shower I have had in India thus far. I will always remember ama-lay and aba-lay for opening their homes to me, and I plan to emulate their instinctive and effortless kindness.