As someone who has always harbored the wild goal of travelling to every country in the world, I have always been interested in things capable of transcending cultural, linguistic and political borders. Although these things are becoming increasingly few and far between, things such as food, a smile and dominoes have always been reliable, universal ways to communicate with people with whom you otherwise share nothing in common. As our group’s time in Ladakh neared its midpoint, I discovered a new such mode of communication, which I realized had been sitting under my nose for the past 18 years.
Just a few weeks ago, our group arrived at SECMOL, (Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh), a school based in sustainability and experiential learning, aiming to reform the current education system currently in place in Ladakh. Our group arrived very curious, excited and ready to learn, however still completely unsure of what our role was in the bustling, organized chaos of SECMOL. As SECMOL is a completely student-run facility, we started out by helping students complete daily responsibilities they were in charge of, in order to keep the school running. Once this was over each day, we slowly developed the tradition of pulling out a deck of cards during our chai (tea) breaks, and playing some of our favorite games including but not limited to, “President,” and a Nepali game not dissimilar to “hearts.”
During the beginning of our time at SECMOL, cards was something limited mostly to our group, as none of us had the immediate initiative to reach out beyond our comfort zones, and invite our soon-to-be friends to join us. By our 3rd day, however, this finally began to change. We started teaching the game “president” (a favorite of ours) to SECMOL students, and soon the game was spreading rapidly in popularity across campus. Cards, I realized, had become another such mode of communication capable of transcending every barrier that stood between our group and SECMOL students. Thanks to these 52 sheets of paper, we had broken the immediate borders between our two groups, and were able to have much deeper, and more meaningful interactions with each other. We soon began to realise that for every difference there was between us, there were always 10 more things we had in common. Many of us come from cities with thousands of people across the ocean, while many SECMOL students come from villages consisting of 8 houses an hour’s drive away from the school; Despite this, however, we found that most of us aspired to university, shared a love for the same music, or most common perhaps, is that none of us were sure of what to do with our lives.
Despite being such a small and insignificant thing, these cards helped us transcend a myriad of barriers in order to make some very deep and lasting relationships with our new friends at SECMOL, ones that when the time came, we were incredibly sad to leave. As borders of all types become increasingly more rigid in our ever changing world, it is now more important than ever to find these small, inconspicuous agents of discord and connection.