Thanks for the articulate and impassioned email on the candidacy of Barack Obama. I have to say that I feel more than somewhat removed from the world of presidential primaries. I am instead steeped in the life of being the only U.S. citizen on staff here welcoming in a group of incredibly bright, inquisitive and eager college juniors, trying to give them some of the tools to embark on this semester which they will spend immersed in a different culture. More importantly, I think, I am trying to be available to provide a listening ear. For whatever they need me to listen to. I’m really really impressed with the group so far! I just got off from an hour or so long conversation about how distressed one student was to realize that it is not just in the united States that people struggle to differentiate themselves from others, pushing others down, in order to gain more clout for themselves. Not only in the United States do people assimilate into the larger norm in order to gain power.
For a young African American man who’s grown up in New York City and spent a good portion of his life attending private schools, questions of race, identity and power are huge. As they are for a European American woman born in southern Africa and living and working in small town India. These are the questions that I miss from college. The conversation that I have sometimes with my parents. There is the question of how to make change – do we have to do it by following the rules or is there some way we can say that the game sucks, it’s rigged (for the most part) and just throw it all out and make something fresh? I don’t know. But I think these are such important questions to ask. You wrote to me some time ago about your trip to Dubai and the question of how women are treated.
My thoughts are in a letter somewhere between Kalimpong and Santa Fe. I think it’s so important that we keep asking these questions. That we keep struggling.
They’re so hard for me! I have such a hard time with what’s right and wrong and I think for me sometimes it’s easy to say, well if I’m being a good person on the small scale, with the people around me, it’s enough. I don’t think it is enough. At least not when I really sit back and think about it. I guess living here and being part of this community is a conscious choice at least about the small scale that I want to be a part of, and I guess that’s a big step.
These are good questions as I think about my own future. This student reminded me how diverse the United States is. There is so much that I can do there as well. I can choose where and how I want to live in the United States just as I can here.
One of the other excellent conversations I had with a student yesterday was with Derek who explained how wasps pollinate ficus trees (of which banyan trees and bodhi trees are members) here in India. And then we discussed a little bit, at least I listened intently to, the wonders of house flies. Smile. He’s eager to learn about the farming and floriculture that happens here in Kalimpong.
And then a third student, anthropology major and avid rock climber, Eric and I discussed some of the more recent anthropological theory and the question of “what am I doing here?” in terms of being somewhere else to learn about another culture, as well as the implications of what I am doing here have for this community. I think the latter question is particularly pertinent in regards to this program. How does my living here as a student and then returning three years later to work for a semester affect the community? How does it change my host family?
So I’m being challenged a lot. Life is good. Kalimpong is beautiful…. rolling hills. The town is situated on the side of a horse-shoe shaped hill, so you can see the bazaar’s stary lights glimmering at night. When it’s clear – it’s been really foggy of late. Winter flowers are just finishing – the poinsetias that grow wild on the hills as well as being planted in gardens and walls, and the marigolds. The spring flowers are coming in: I’ve even seen tulips and daisies, reminiscent of springs on the east coast and in the midwest.
I’m tentatively planning to be back in the US in July and then to come back here for August, September and October. Visit the people that I’ll need to visit before I leave (back to Simi Gaun and also down to Tamil Nadu and Pannai). I’d also like to see some places that I haven’t had a chance to visit yet (Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Lumbini) and finally to maybe do some hiking in the Himalayas. I’m planning to get back to the US again for Thanksgiving. It’d be nice to be with my family for it. I haven’t been with them for Thanksgiving since I was a senior in highschool – a while. I did call the last two years. And then? And then we’ll see. I’m thinking seminary applications. Smile. Berkeley calls….
Anyway, it’s a cool gray morning here. The sun promises to peek out at some point. I get to start orienting students about families, which is super exciting – they move into their families on the 18th, in five days. That was by far the best part of my experience – my home stay. The other morning my aamaa was talking to me, and she was like, you don’t have to pay rent or for food while you stay with us. You’re my daughter, and it doesn’t make sense for you to pay to stay at home. Smile. What a gift to feel that i have mothers and sisters and brothers in so many places. My aamaa also gave me a lecture on how the most important thing in religion is love: maayaa. And how going to church or doing puja or fasting doesn’t mean anything if you don’t love others and act on that love. I wonder where she’s developed these ideas – whether she’s learned them from other people or developed them on her own or a mixture of both.
Life is good. Beautiful – blooming poppies remind me of California. I don’t think I miss it, though. Just the people there. I reckon my missing of this part of the world will be acute for some time after I leave. I’m not sure that I can ever leave it forever.
What about you? .
I hope life is full of challenging questions and beauty.
Peace and love,