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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

A deck of cards

I’ve found a force stronger than language barriers, and it’s called a deck of cards. In the few days we’ve spent in the village of Alegaun, due to its optimal shade areas and proximity to the rest of the houses, my homestay has been chosen as the convening spot. The group will collect for hours at a time on our porch to play a game of Hearts. Occasionally my Baa (Dad) will come downstairs and stand outside of the circle of kids sitting on the floor, peering over our shoulders at the cards in our hands. One evening, recalling the countless hours I’ve spent with my Indian grandparents playing Rummy over cha, I decided to bring out my own deck and ask him if he wanted to play. “Rummy khadna?” He said as a smile crept onto his face. I nodded and patted the floor next to me, gesturing for him to sit down. In the two hours we played, I learned more about him than I had in the four days prior. For example, I learned that he’s really good at Rummy. Earlier that day he used the word “Boine” to refer to Sakun, my younger homestay sister. I had no idea what it meant but eventually figured out that he was asking about her. In the game, when it came to his turn, he pointed to himself and asked “Boine?” He calls me, my roommate, and Sakun “Nani”, so when he used the word “Boine”, he was calling her “Mine” or “My own”. Yesterday we played through a power outage and passed around the headlamp with each turn. Tonight we will play again. I look forward to it. It’s a funny thing, communicating without words, reading his thoughts only through his furrowed brow as he surveys his hand. I’ve learned a new language, and it’s called a deck of cards.