I am thoroughly enjoying the return to routine here in Dharamsala, though of course the routine is a bit unconventional. We have been splitting our time between our host families’ homes and three hotel rooms in town where we keep our luggage, take showers, and reconnect with each other. Breakfast and dinner are eaten at “home” and the afternoons are spent in class or doing schoolwork in one of the many WiFi enabled cafes around town. It’s a weird system, but then again nothing on PacRim is normal.
Despite all the running around, this place has given me a sense of belonging unlike that of many of our previous temporary homes. Maybe its something about adjusting my internal clock to the daylight hours – waking up around 7am and crawling into bed, exhausted, no later than 10pm – that just feels good. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that someone is awaiting my arrival at the end of the day, curious about my experiences and interested in sharing theirs. Whatever it is, I am so grateful for the chance to make ties here and feel a little more connected to my surroundings.
Anna and I were lucky enough to have been paired with a family that’s “totally our style” as we like to say. They’ve shared their home with plenty of students before us, so they know the drill. But even beyond that they seem to have the same understanding of life’s transience that we on PacRim have become so accustomed to. They are the epitome of “go with the flow,” not fazed by our consecutive bouts of stomach flu, always ready and willing to offer help in any way they can, and more than happy to fit us into their daily routine. They have the best kind of generosity – not stifling or superficial, but genuine and relaxed; it is as though we are visiting old family friends. We are given a considerable amount of independence, but the degree to which we are cared for, and cared about, is never in question. I can’t help but think that a family with a similar attitude would be hard to find back home.
Also telling is their attitude toward the increasingly tense political situation in Tibet and amongst the displaced Tibetans abroad. Rather than resorting to dogmatism or negativity, they have an unyieldingly confident and practical attitude toward their situation. It is as though they know what needs to be done to achieve peace in Tibet, and are just doing their part and calmly awaiting the outcome. When I asked my host mother about whether or not she had ever considered gaining Indian citizenship, she replied with a calm face and a slight shake of the head, “No. I’m going back to Tibet.”
Her blasé attitude proved to be quite misleading at times, most memorably on March 9th, the day before Tibet’s National Uprising Day, when Anna and I followed Amala to the temple, completely unaware that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in attendance that day. The unusually tight security and overwhelming crowd should have tipped us off, but unfortunately they didn’t. We remained completely oblivious until the moment we were ushered through a narrow pathway of people to a space in front of His Holiness’s throne where we quickly bowed our heads and tried to catch our breath. And Amala hadn’t said a word all morning! I take it as nothing but a reflection of her wisdom and respect for the way things are. There is no need to make a fuss in her mind. Things will happen as they happen, “step by step, one by one” as she always says.
I am left wishing there was more I could do to express my gratitude for everything they’ve done for me and for my experience in Dharamsala. It reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, which has proven relevant to my experience on PacRim time and time again. After leaving the comfort and routine of his home for the first time, the main character comes to a realization about the nature of his relationships with those he meets:
“There was a language in the world that everyone understood…It was the language of enthusiasm, of things
accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.”
I’ve never known this to be truer than after my homestay experience. Despite the language barrier between my family and I, their generosity and constant kindness spoke volumes, and inspired me to be selfless in just the same way. On top of that, their ceaseless faith and devotion to their nation said more about them and their Tibetan heritage than any book or class ever could have. I have to believe that by this same token, I was able to express my gratitude, appreciation and respect for them as well.