Passing through Balamchaur again on our last day of trek was a somewhat surreal experience– like stepping back into an old pair of shoes. But not your favorite shoes, the shoes that are beaten and broke in perfectly to your foot, no, more like a lightly worn pair of shoes you’ve found at the back of your closet that perhaps you forgot you bought. Being back in Balamchaur felt strangely right, like in some sense of the word we were back ‘home’ even though we had only lived here for a mere two weeks. As memories of Balamchaur and our village home stay come streaming back into my mind, I thought it would be appropriate to share this piece I wrote to myself in my journal nearing the end of our stay:
I’ve gotten to the point where I can climb the ladder to my room, above the barn, with no hands and in the dark, but not quite both at the same time. We’ve talked a lot about the different stages that a group dynamic goes through as it develops over the course of a program: forming, storming and performing. The idea that at first everyone is figuring themselves and others out and finding their role and place in the group as it develops. Inevitably there will be turmoil and conflict within the group, but then through the resolution of that turmoil the group will reach its highest level of efficiency and cohesiveness. Who am I to say where our group is in that transitional process, but I can speak about some similar transitions I have gone through on a personal level during our time in our village homestay in Balamchaur that eerily models the Forming, Storming ,and Performing process– funny that. Maybe there’s something to it.
Perhaps the analogy of the Boiling Pan (which I completely made up right now, but am going to tell you came to me in a epiphany like moment in the form of a vision while watching smoke rise in our dimly lit kitchen as my host mom cooked over our fireplace) can act as a good framework for my story. When we first arrived in Balamchaur it was chaotic and rapid, much like pouring water into a pan over the stove one might say– turbulent and whirling as it is poured into its new container. We arrived in Balamchaur in the middle of the Dashain festival. People were coming in and out of houses and villages so fast it was hard to keep track of who was even in our family. The first days were spent trying to figure out the do’s and dont’s in this new setting that was quite contrasting compared to our previous urban experience in Kathmandu. What was my role in this new family? There was uneasiness and added challenge at this new rural lifestyle. New obstacles– trying to express myself in my limited broken Nepali. New, initially bizarre, experiences– buffalo sacrifices to Goddesses in jungle temples and tikka ceremonies performed by strangers.
I reached that second stage of the Boiling Pan analogy as Dashain wound down and I settled into my daily routine. Stagnation. The time after the water has settled and quieted in its new container. Days were long and uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to fill my free time. My choices were waiting around awkwardly at the program house or sitting uncomfortably at home amongst relative strangers, desperate to impress and please, but feeling rather lacking or incompetent in my new environment. I felt claustrophobic in the small village and close proximity to everyone compared to the chaotic city that I previously roamed.
But slowly and over time that stagnant water warms and starts to bubble until it reaches a roaring boil of performance. I have grown comfortable with my family– each day I am learning new Nepali phrases and sayings. My family teaches me the names of the farm animals in Nepali and I teach them their names in English. I’ve fallen in love with my barn attic room and have found comfort in falling asleep about the buffalo and the goats each night. My Ama has taught me how to cut saag and cook over the clay fireplace. I’ve found comfort in the smell of smoking meat and found peace sitting around the fire at night brewing roxi (millet alcohol) with my older brother. Hand washing clothes has become my favorite chore. I’ve learned so much from watching my family gardening in their rice nursery. Harvesting rice by hand with a sickle on the terraced hillside beneath snow capped mountains and the Himalayan sun puts the evening daalbat (traditional rice meal) into perspective– the commitment to this lifestyle. Balamchaur has revolutionized my idea of education as each day I learn new skills that I could never read about in a conventional textbook– skills that are synonymous with life here in the Annapurna foothills. Turning buffalo poop into biofuel. Harvesting corn and carrying by hand to the mill. Rebuilding the steps to our house with mud and stone. Gathering edible acorns from the leech infested jungle. And churning buttermilk with friends.
The days have been long and full so I have found myself substituting journaling with scribbled out run on sentences of poetry in my notebook– I’ll finalize my story of the boiling pan and end this post with a couple of my entries from village.
I sit in the smoke filled room
picking at my teeth with a pigeon bone
and sipping buffalo milk
while foreign tongues dance across the hazy air.
The dirt beneath my feet and a smile across my face.
Sitting on the porch
cracking acorns from the jungle in my hands
watching the full moon rise across the seas of millet behind the white mountains,
pink in the setting sun,
as they stare back at me through misty clouds
I am home.