The last time I was in Ale Gaun I cried.
The last time I was in Ale Gaun there were Bougainvilleas.
I remember fiddling with the mala Ama had put around my neck and trying not to cry, not to fidget and accidentally smudge my tika. Ama was looking at me with concern, as she had for the past few days. I’d been upset. My personal life was falling apart and I was trying to keep it together.
In Nepal, just like at home in India, people know your business. Whether you want them to or not is besides the point. A lot of life takes place in public and it is rare that you can retreat into your own room, behind a closed door and cry your eyes out. So if you have to, you end up doing it in front of your homestay mother or sister … or village. And while this lack of privacy might be uncomfortable, it lets you feel what it truly means to be part of a community. Your Ama will make you tea at unusual times and give you extra ghee. Your students will hand make you dream catchers and lend non-judgemental ears. Your one and a half year old sister will place a hand in your lap and wonder why it’s you who is crying. As you walk through the village people will stop and say hello, offer you tea or tell you to sit. You’ll stop wishing for a closed door to feel sad behind and instead be grateful for the audience.
When I left Ale Gaun in April, the future seemed uncertain. I felt safe in Ama’s house. There was a routine, there were flowers. I had no idea what was next. Yes there was a flexible itinerary, but very little clarity on what would happen when I walked down the hill, across the bridge and got onto the bus.
Of course, nothing happened. Everything happened. I finished a beautiful semester, I went to Hawaii with my family, I got my heart broken again, I ran a summer program in my favourite place on Earth, I ran, I read real books not on my Kindle, I spent time with my friends, I laughed, I wondered, I told people how I felt everyone morning on Instagram. And then got on a plane to come back to Nepal.
As I sat on the bus on my way back to Ale Gaun, I was hesitant. How would it feel? Would my body remember what my mind had tried hard to forget? I stopped thinking those things when I arrived at the familiar porch and saw Ama’s smiling face.
The routine was still there. So were the flowers.
The Bougainvilleas had turned to Marigolds with the change of seasons. As Ama put an orange mala around my neck and pressed her finger to my forehead with tika, I still held back tears. I can’t communicate very well with Ama. She speaks Nepali and I speak none, but just as anyone who has ever experienced a homestay before knows, it doesn’t matter. There are some things that don’t need a shared language to understand. I hope she understands. I bent down to touch her feet and hoped that although she would immediately tell me to stop, she’d quickly bless me with her strength, wisdom and grace.
As the flowers changed, so did I. Just like last time, I didn’t know what was waiting for me as I made my way down the hill, over the bridge and onto the bus. But what I did know was that even though the flowers change, even though I change, there are constants in mothers and that is something we should never forget.