i can smell the ocean
the salt in the air
and i can see you standing there washing your car
and i can see california, the sun in your hair
and it’s a winding road, i’ve been walking for a long time
i still don’t know where it goes
it’s a long way home, i’ve been searching for a long time
i still have hope, i’m going to find my way home
Laugh. Funny that as I sit down to write, this is the song that is playing on the computer. I should be heading home – I said I’d probably be back around 4:30 or 5:00 and it’s 5:00 now. There is so much to tell. Life is full full full. I was thinking how I often write about INDIA or NEPAL – the things that are different. The “exotic” makes it more interesting, right? No. But that’s how I tend to think. That’s not really what makes things interesting or good or beautiful. And right now, one of the best parts of my life are the students with whom I am working. And a friend named Laura from the U.K. Where am I in my life right now? I have this sense of being in transition. This is not an unusual thing for me, but I feel that I am moving from a place where I am here at home in India and Nepal to a place where I will be working to make a home for myself in the United States. About a week ago, I am walking down my road from home to work. Paved and smooth, it winds along the edge of the hill with houses above and below – the fields are plowed and ready for corn to be planted. I take out my cell phone (yes, now owner of a mobile phone, although I am not very good at using it) and dial the 12 digits that comprise my parents’ current number where they are staying in New Hampshire. The phone rings. Twice. Thrice. I hope for an answering machine so at least Ana and Tod (my parents, whom I often call by their first names) know that I’ve tried to call. “Hello.” Ana’s voice sounds like she is lying on the floor next to me in my room in Kathmandu (the sleeping arrangement while my folks were visiting was the floor in my room). “Hi! Mum!” I am thrilled to be able to talk to my mum, it’s been over a month, which right now feels like a long time.
I walk quickly to work, passing a quick namaste or a smile to neighbors whom I know on the road. I arrive at Mountain Hut (our program house) and seat myself on the steps to catch up with my parents. My dad gets on the other line and they can both hear me at once. I hear about the possibility of work in a little town in southern Massachusetts. I find myself picturing me at home with my parents – a 3-5 minute walk from the ocean, a YMCA nearby. Perhaps I’ll prepare Nepali food for them. I imagine Thanksgiving (a holiday that had next to no meaning for me as a child) around a table with Ana, Tod and Mandla. The foliage outside may be yellow, red, and orange. Or perhaps it’s too late for that and it’s the in-between time of no snow and no leaves, the ground hard and gray. The conversation ends smilingly. “I miss you both a lot! I love you.” And I realize that I do. I miss my parents more now than I did as a college student; more than I have over the last year and a half.
Darjeeling, early morning. I make my way up the flight of stairs to the hilltop upon which sits a Hindu Temple as well as a Buddhist holy place. The steps flatten out into a ramp that curves around the temples in the center. The view in all directions is shrouded by prayerflags that criss cross in a tangled web of color. “Hey! Namaste.” Eric, one of the students, pulls me out of my thoughts. I smile. “Namaste. How are you?” “I’m good, headed for coffee at Sonam’s Kitchen. You want to join me?” Eric asks. He is dressed as he normally is – blue carhart pants, heavy plaid shirt, non-descript tan hat pulled down over his short dark hair. “You don’t have to twist my arm over coffee.” Sonam’s Kitchen is the only place in this region that sells real coffee, strong enough that it’s almost syrupy. The last sip of coffee definitely crunches. We walk to Sonam’s, which we find, disappointingly, closed. “Well, let’s walk around a bit and then come back,” I suggest. We make our way down from Sonam’s and then turn up to the East. The road climbs steadily up and out of the town center. The houses are spaced farther and farther apart. At one point, these incredible pine trees rise up to our right, standing as straight sentinels on the hillside. As we walk we talk about place – where we are from and how this affects who we are.
The questions seem so pertinent right now. Who am I? And where am I from? These two questions have so long been a major part of my identity – the questions more so than the answers (although the answers are important too). Right now I am here in Kalimpong. And I am working to be present – as much as I can be, for it is a gift and a privilege to be here. But I also have a sense that I am ready to leave this place soon. As I spend time with my host aamaa here, receiving her blessing of a kiss on my forehead each time I leave the house, I realize that aamaas are important. And I want to spend time with my own aamaa and baabaa. Having come back to this place, Kalimpong, one of the places that I am from, I find myself looking forward to another place, one that I have been from in terms of the people in it (friends from college, Mike from camp whose second baby has just arrived, my brother, friends from high school, my parents, grandparents) but one in which I have not yet really lived as an adult. And probably a geographical location that is new. It’s exciting! Smile.
So that’s where I am right now. Kalimpong looking both presently and fowardly. I’m also late to getting home to my aamaa. So I’m headed off.
Love and peace to all of you.