The word “village” threw me off. Driving down the road into our first homestay in a rural Tibetan nomadic community, I was immediately struck by the mere emptiness–the simplicity. The landscape was sparse: grassy hills under a cloudy blue sky. The homes? There were only four, the exact number to house our group, spread out with great distance in between. Not a tree in sight. Fields of grazing yaks filled the landscape. And that was it.
Still, we came here to partake in a different way of life, so we jumped right in. With a small group of three others, I stepped into a small, mudbrick home, guided only by our Tibetan host mother, with whom we didn’t share a language. Here, we didn’t focus on discussion questions or group dynamics. Instead, we sat nervously, sipping our hot yak milk around the stove, hoping not to accidentally offend our gracious host. Of course our stay began with simplicity, given our lack of shared norms or relationships.
As the days went on, the lifestyle became routine: early morning was yak herding; then breakfast; then out to the yard to shovel yak poop for fuel; some days we did laundry in a bucket of warm water; other days we made coils of dried grass to absorb water in the roads; then we came in to chop ingredients and make our lunch. As our lives became routine, our relationships did too. We would laugh together with our host mom. She would motion for us to eat more, and we would rave about how tasty the food was, as we rubbed our bellies to show that we were full. We laughed as she joined in on silly songs or handshakes. She laughed as we tried to pronounce Tibetan words, howling with her whole body whenever I said the word for “beard” while gesturing to my face. The language barrier was no longer a barrier, as we talked to each other constantly with expession and gesturing, without ever the necessity for a precise understanding.
With that, we began to see clearly a different, simpler way of life. Every day is consistent: a routine of expected chores and obligations that the village is completely prepared to address. Less stress responding to unexpected factors. Limited contact with the outside sustains this consistency–they are by no means “cut off” (they have phones, cars, and even TVs), but they are very conscious of which technologies to adopt, maintaining a significantly self-contained lifestyle. And in this self-containment, they completely produce a majority of their resources. Food is largely provided by the animals or gardens. Fuel is gathered from the yaks. Mud provides insulation. The morning chores preserve the simplicity of lifestyle.
We may not have had running water, or common ammenities per se, but a simple way of life certainly had its perks. A few days in, I felt remarkably relaxed–not the common, Western image of relaxation that features a beach and a healthy fix of laziness, but the sort of relaxation that pairs with fulfillment after a day of hearty work. Relaxation characterized by time well spent.
Some other perks of the “simple life:”• I enjoyed the freshest yogurt I have ever and will ever eat in my life.• The night sky, completely uninhibited by light pollution, showed more stars than I’ve seen in my life.• Warmth and small homes gathered us around the stove at night for time together without distraction, filled with lots of direct joy and laughter.
At home, I’m rather happy with my plumbing, indoor personal space, and plugged-in connections to the world. I should be wary not to over-glorify their lifestyle–many people would be quick to embrace a lifestyle different than their own, without taking the time to appreciate its limitations.
Rather, my focus is on living one’s values. To me, it seemed that the rural Tibetan lifestyle aligned perfectly with their values, prioritizing family, joy, and stability, and minimizing distraction. It makes me consider what I could achieve by working backwards from my values: establishing what it is that I consider important, and then building my life around it. It makes me think that we too can be intentional about which distractions are worth while–we too can consider a simpler life.