On Wednesday night this last week, I tagged along with my homestay brother to the Patan Durbar square to meet some friends and celebrate the Dashain times, for many a religious holiday steeped in tradition and meaning, for my homestay brother who has not shown much religious sentiment to me, it is a break from school and a time when the usual city norms loosen up. Thus, off we went to the Durbar square. We found his friends, most of whom I had met before and got along swimmingly, lounging outside a small beverage store, smoke and laughter rising and spittle splashing. A rambunctious group, I felt very comfortable. My brother and I settled into the circle, some of us sitting on stools, some on the low brick bench, others leaning on strategically placed motorbikes. Besides the occasional bathroom break down the near-dark alley, the eight of us heartily enjoyed each other’s company for the next couple hours.
While much fun was had that night, one conversation I had with the oldest and most outspoken member of the group, brought about sincere reflection. He was expressing to me his idyllic visions of “America”, of course referring to the United States of America, America being the composite of three continents. Not only was he expressing in what ways he thought the US was great, he was doing so comparatively to Nepal, with a rather harsh tone. However, this harshness would periodically sway to deep national reverence. There were many, many things brought up in this conversation that I could write about, but one in particular stands out. This friend, mero daai, exclaimed the bondage he experienced at needing to live in the family house his whole life. He grimaced as he spoke of the societal rejection awaiting him should he take leave of the family home and go his own way. Not knowing quite how to reply I gave a crinkled smile and stuttered. He then asked me when I moved out of my parents house. I had just turned 18. He is 24. Then with a fascinatingly quick turn of mind he divulged his respect for this cultural tradition and how even if he didn’t work or try to do something with his life, he would be supported by his family, with a place to sleep and plenty of food and if he ever chose, a job in the family business. Oh and the Grandma’s homemade raxi. I could see and feel both his frustration and adoration. I could see the confusion of a young man birthed from deep tradition and coming of age in a globalizing society.
It’s interesting, since being in Nepal, I have come to feel a lot of respect for many traditional ways, the intergenerational household being one of them. They have made me think about how I want to live my life, in a way that is different from my cultural norms. For the Spring semester of this school year I will be back in Boulder, where I grew up and where my parents still live, attending Naropa university. As of yet I have no housing arrangements for the coming semester and I find myself wondering why I could not live at my parents house, occasionally sleeping at friends houses. Both my parents and I would save a lot of money if we weren’t to pay rent for another place to live, and cooking for three instead of two is merely a few extra carrots and another half cup of rice.
My own considered plans raced through my mind before he even finished his exclamation. But you know how I responded. How could I, age 20, tell a 24 year old that it’s not so bad living at home with mom and pop, while I am not only allotted the freedom to leave home but to travel across the world. He told me how much better he thinks America is. I replied, a bit more skillfully than the crinkled stutter, that yes life in the US offers many things and yet I am here in Nepal, and there has to be some reason for my impetus to leave home, to go searching.
Both in contemplation and gay with the nights aire, we looked at each other, we saw each other and we laughed at each other. For a moment we saw the futility, we saw the bottomless possibility of worry, we saw each one and the other reaching in our minds across some great blue expanse to a distant land where it would be ok. With a wry smile and sigh we chuckled, cheersed and resigned to the joy of good company, at least for a moment arriving in contentment.