My alarm sounds at 7:30 AM. I turn to Laura and shake her awake in our cozy, pink canopy bed. Together we mosey our way outside to brush our teeth and wash our faces by the tap where we can hear our yak grunting from inside the shed. After chowing down on a bowl of noodles, potatoes, and yak meat for breakfast with our three sisters, Cho Pa, Nyung Ja, and Tso Jyal, and our aama, Laura and I are off to stroll the streets of Sakor.
We turn a corner and see a man herding cows and yaks in the field. We turn another and come across a group shoveling dirt on a road. Another, and we meet a crew of adorable kids jumping rope and laughing together.
Today we leave Sakor, our hearts full of love and compassion for our beautiful village families. As I sit next to Zack on the train headed toward Turpan, I ask everyone to reflect on the time we spent in Sakor, making note of the things we want to take with us:
1. Fe: The work ethic. On my first day, I helped my host mother and sister clean up the road leading up to our house; they had been working all day; me, only three hours. The sun was scorching. I couldn’t believe my 9-year-old sister had been out there all day. I am amazed and humbled by their dedication to doing diligent, thorough work, even in the mid-afternoon heat.
2. Laura: Bubbles—but let me explain. The minute I gave our little cousin Jo Ma a jar of bubbles, her whole face lit up. It made me realize how much I take the little things for granted. Everyone in this group is fortunate enough to have access to most anything at home, but up in the mountains of Sakor, it takes at least an hour car ride from Rebgong, the nearby city, to get a shipment of a small sleeve of cookies. It really made me take a step back and consider my privilege, and the smile on Jo Ma’s face was precious, something I will always remember.
3. Bea: My aapa. He brought me so much joy. He welcomed me into the family with open arms, and by the end of the homestay, he truly felt like my own grandpa. Every “thumbs up”, every smile made me burst into laughter. Aapa’s willingness to be silly was a huge comfort and reminded me that at any age, it’s important to not to take life too seriously.
4. Makayla: The sense of hospitality. Sure there was a language barrier, and I come from a very different lifestyle at home, but that didn’t stop my family from taking us in, feeding us, and taking care of us. We didn’t need language to communicate; just a kind smile, some gestures, and lots of laughs. I am so grateful to have been not just a guest but a daughter in my Sakor family’s home.
5. Wade: The generosity. The things that go without saying. A friend would be over at my house for a few minutes, and my host mother would encourage her to stay for dinner. She would start setting my friend a plate before we could even respond. I was really nervous for the homestay in the beginning, but my mom’s big heart and radiating warmth made me feel right at home.
6. Corvus: The excitement of the kids. They were so intrigued by us and eager to play. I would see them working all day in the field along side their parents or grandparents, and it was nice to make them feel like children again; we would play loudly and messily, shouting and jumping rope in the middle of the village. It was a hoot.
7. Uttam: To give back in any way you can. Our homestay coordinator Sham explained to us that during the season of collecting caterpillar fungus (a traditional Chinese medicine), the adults go off to the mountains, leaving their children behind. Sham takes the village children with him to his apartment in Rebgong to house them, feed them, and pay for their schooling. He has moved into a smaller apartment and cut down his own living costs to have more money to take care of the kids, sacrificing his own leisure to better provide for them. He has showed me the importance of staying connected to your community and practicing selflessness.
8. Annika: The sense of trust. I had a 6-month-old sister who was ill during my homestay. There was an unspoken understanding that when the mother was not around, aama would take care of the baby; if aama wasn’t around, an aunt or a friend would surely be there. Even children would look out for one another: I saw a group of 9-year-olds watching over a 2-year-old, none of the children related by blood, as they played together on the road. Blood-related or not, everyone has each other’s back. The whole village felt like one big family, and it warmed my heart to see the community as a whole caring for and trusting one another.
9. Madeleine: The community’s kindness and compassion. I was quite sick during the entirety of the homestay, and my family showed great concern. It was so nice to feel looked after, cared for. I unfortunately did not really get a chance to make a close bond with my family since I was out of commission, but the day I left they all came to say goodbye. In such a vulnerable place emotionally, I feel lucky to have had so many people, strangers, invested in my well-being.
10. Mel: Living simply. Throughout my gap year, I have been trying my best to engage in simple living, resisting the world of materialism that I find to be empty and meaningless. During my homestay, I asked my homestay partner Laura what she believes to be the basic human needs. She said: food, water, sleep, shelter, and love. The “love” made me chuckle, but she’s not wrong. I thought of our own homestay family and how they make meaning by carrying out these basic needs, doing so with a deep, profound love for one another and their community. You don’t need much to live an honest and genuine life. In fact, I find that less is more.
We are sad to leave Sakor, but we thank our families for the amazing memories and lessons they’ve taught us. We shall take these things with us as we continue with the course, at home, and beyond.