It’s been quite some time since I last wrote. I am now sitting in the office in Kalimpong with not much to do since the students are off on their ISPs (Independent Study Projects) and the program will not be here in Kalimpong next semester, so there’s little to do to prepare for the coming semester, as all preparations will be done in Kathmandu. This is going to be a newsy email as opposed to a usual descriptive one, but I have been thinking about my writing and how it has been similar to giving you snapshots with captions, or colorful but small pieces to a much larger puzzle in which I have left many holes and omissions. So, I am going to write a little bit about the big picture of my life as well as giving myself a little sidenote by which I make sure that I have said that I make no claims to be an expert on India nor Nepal. I have been able to be a part of small pieces of both of these incredibly rich and complex countries and I have participated in some of the cultures of each. I am not even an expert on these small pieces of which I have partaken and shared yet smaller tidbits with you – I am merely a journier, I can only tell what I have seen through my own blurry vision. I think it can sometimes be dangerous to write of another culture because all many of you, my readers, have of the culture are my words, a poor representation of anything bigger. So with that, some information.
So, as many of you know, I have been working in Nepal (August 2007 – January 2008) and then here in Kalimpong (February 2008 – present) for Pitzer College in Nepal/Darjeeling. This is a study abroad program that I came on as a junior in college. I had never previously dreamt of either India nor Nepal, they hardly appeared on my world map, and I think I would have been hard pressed to find either one had I been asked to. I was keen on a program that would immerse me in a culture and for which there was no previous language requirement. This program fit beautifully, and I think that I had the happiest semester of either college or high school (and I had some pretty awesome semesters) while I was here in Kalimpong (located in the bubble of the state of West Bengal, just west of Darjeeling, yes Darjeeling of the tea). The job working for Pitzer was a dream come true for me.
What is the job? In Kathmandu, it was primarily acting as support staff for Margie, the program director. This meant grading student papers, helping to set up lectures and field trips, attending said lectures and field trips, contributing to the Nepali-anguage speaking environment at the program house by speaking in Nepali with the students, organizing the library, doing photocopying, and being a general resource and role model for the students. I lived in my own room at the program house and had my meals with the other staff who lived there. A really cool part of the program is the study trips which include a trip to Chitawan National Park (in the plains of Nepal), another trip to Bandipur (an ethnically Newari village in the hills to the west of Kathmandu) and Pokhara (the gateway into the Annapurna region of the Himalayas, a tourist town if ever there was one blessed with incredible panoramic views of snowy-capped mountains) and then finally a 5 day trek and then 12 day stay in a rural village in the hills near Pokhara. I was able to participate in each of these activities as a member of staff.
In February, I was shifted to Kalimpong to replace the woman (a dear friend of mine) who had been the program assistant here. My experience here has been completely different from my experience in Kathmandu. Here, I am the only foreigner on staff, the only person working for the program to speak English as a first language. Thus I am sort of the students’ primary go-to person. This was especially true at the beginning as they struggled with various aspects of the host culture as well as the very tightly structured nature of the program itself. Here, instead of living at the program house, I stay with the family that hosted me when I was a student. My bond with this family is close, and I feel natural living in their home, walking to work each day and returning to spend time with my family. I have very much enjoyed the company and conversation with people who have lives outside of the program. It has been a breath of fresh air. Plus there is nothing like home-cooked food or the care of a family member. The challenge of this has been to not feel guilty about the time I take for myself. This has more to do with me, I think than with my host family, who are all understanding that I work and come home tired in the evenings, not necessarily wanting to get to work helping make dinner or having long conversations. But I certainly have had none of the empty lonely time that I sometimes had in Kathmandu and frequently had during my time in south India last year.
My contract with Pitzer ends in June, at the end of the semester, and I have chosen not to renew it. I feel that it is time for me to return to the United States, to spend some time with my family and dear friends that I have left there. It’s an exciting prospect, returning to the US, spending time with my parents, moving in with my friend Grace in San Francisco, applying to seminaries for 2009. It’s also sad to think about moving away from this part of the world and my life and friends here. I guess I hope and am pretty confident that I will continue to return, to live and work here. We shall see how my life unfolds.
I am planning to continue writing these emails and updates. I know that I have a lot of people on this list, and I plan to spend some time recompiling it when I get back to the United States. If you’re interested in hearing about my life, my readjustment, my adventures and thoughts, when I’m back in the US, I’d say, please email me and let me know, and I will be sure to include you these.
Please keep me in your thoughts as I make this transition.