Love is a human universal.
Although there are surely a myriad of reasons why SIT includes a homestay in this program, I think the most subtle and unexpected of these is when it really works ~ when the student realizes, one morning over breakfast, that they have found a family where they never expected one.
I was initially nervous about the homestay; I knew it’s an important way to immerse yourself in the culture, but I’d heard bad as well as good stories. During my first dinner with Amala, Pala, and Sangay I remember picking at my food and feeling that uncomfortable urge to be entertaining as well as quiet and polite. Halfway through dinner Amala looked up at me, laughed, and said, “Relax!”
Since then, I’ve spent most nights with these wonderful people, experiencing Amala’s cooking (she’s provided me with recipes which I’ll post soon) and listening to Pala discuss local and international politics. I’ve learned how to eat stir-fried potatoes, pumpkin, and eggplant with pieces of pale (pahl-ey: a round piece of flatbread) with Amala’s advice and laughter. We’ve shared endless stories about our homes and hilarious cultural differences ~ you try explaining our custom of saying, “Speak of the devil!” when someone you’ve just been talking about walks in. Tibetans say, “Now, you’ll have a long life!” instead.
This morning was my last breakfast with them. When I woke up I just laid in bed, and that was when I realized how much I would miss them. They have opened up their lives to me. Amala taught me how to wash my own clothes, and since them I haven’t brought them to the laundry shop once. I’ve learned that if you sit on cold concrete (playing music on the rooftop), you’ll get sick (I got really sick haha). I now know to walk on the floor with sandals instead of barefoot (although I sometimes get away with barefoot if Amala doesn’t look down ~ if she does, she sends me right back to the hallway to get sandals). Amala taught me that you should only do yoga before a meal, not after. You must drink warm water after eating, or your stomach will hurt. If you cut up an onion and place it in the center of the kitchen table, no one will catch the cold that one of the family members has. Extra food goes to the birds, or the dogs. You must not take a shower after dinner ~ at least, wait an hour.
And there’s so much more.
So, back to breakfast. Amala called, “Sara-la!” and I answered, “Coming!” lurching out of my bed and slipping into the sandals outside of my bedroom door. I walked into the dining room and Amala grinned ~ I was still mostly asleep. Usually I eat before everyone else because of class, but since there wasn’t class today I was part of the family breakfast. Amala had already laid out my gonga (fried egg) and poured my milk tea. The sunlight was flooding through the open window, giving life to the steam rising from our mugs of tea. I jumped up, ran to my room, grabbed my camera, and came back. Amala and Pala laughed as I took photos, moving things on the table around a bit. Later, as we all began to eat, Amala told me, “Get out your camera again! It is better to take a photo when the plates are full.”
It astounds me how easily it is to love people. I think that we love each other ~ humans to humans ~ easily enough, but I mean a deeper sort of caring. Perhaps each of us experiences it differently; maybe it takes something specific for each of us, maybe it’s like a puzzle-piece thing. But perhaps it’s so much simpler than that. I don’t think it takes much at all.