Only until you lose something do you truly realize its value. Living in Majkhali with our homestay family was an experience in loss: losing running water, a Western toilet, consistent electricity, air con, and sanitation. But more importantly, I lost my inhibitions, all my hangups, my dependence on modern technology, and my materialism. In turn, I gained a connection with nature, people and my surroundings that I had never before had.
Sijbren and I arrived at our homestay from an arduous hike uphill with our fifty-pound packs. Immediately, we were greeted with the congenial faces of our two homestay mothers, welcoming us into their homes and lives for the next week. And for that week, we felt more at home than I thought possible, despite the extreme difference from my New Jersey suburbia.
In my school, I was taught that delivering running water and smooth roads and gas lines and telecommunications were the basics of a modern civilization, but I have since crushed all of those connotations. Having to trek through a field to bring water from a water pump to our homestay’s communal water pool made me appreciate water—not just its existence but the effort it takes to transport it. I found myself using less and less water (definitely no more than the amount that could fit into one reused yogurt container!). Lugging a heavy cylinder of natural gas up a flight of stairs to the kitchen makes me appreciate the warmth of Dal chawal on my tongue infinitely more.
Only I noticed these differences though. For my homestay family, this was normal life. And past these small differences, their life wasn’t too different from my own, at least for the younger generation. My eldest homestay sister Himani was finishing her master’s and was engaged. My elder homestay brother Sagar was getting a PhD in math. Shivani was in 12th grade in the commerce stream and was an avid follower of cricket. I could honestly see myself in my younger brother Rahul, who was in tenth grade hoping to become an engineer and was a state Volleyball champion.
But I couldn’t ignore the differences, especially the ones that loomed over the entire experience. Before leaving for college every morning, Himani cooked in the kitchen and did laundry, the domestic work falling on her in the more gender-constrained society. I only met my homestay father once in the home as he was a day laborer who worked far away. What struck me the most was the amount of effort Rahul had to fulfill to accomplish essentially the same goals as I had two years ago. He woke up at 4:30am everyday to do school work and left at 6:00 am to travel 17 km to his private school. Despite the similarities and differences, life was without a doubt more difficult.
However, more difficult doesn’t mean worse. I found myself full of gratitude for all the things around me. Waking up to the sun rising over the Himalayas could never get old. Distancing myself from the outside world made me appreciate the now more, and writing this from Jaipur, I know I will always keep that feeling with me.