Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homestay Reflection

The following was written by Ruth McGovern during her homestay in Takmachik:

My homestay in Takmachik was simply wonderful. It seemed that every Ladakhi I met was friendly, open, and very generous. They loved to smile and to laugh, and to talk very loudly and visit friends. There was always more than enough food prepared for guests, which were frequent and usually seemed unannounced, though always welcome. My abi-le (grandmother), in particular, warrants a description, as she was truly something else. Enthusiasm, spirit, and hope are often qualities attributed to the young, but here, they belong to more than just the children. The older people I met were strong, lively, and fun. They still possessed an aura of excitement and energy, and they were very active in the various household chores-collecting dung, cooking, hauling firewood, etc.
My abi-le was like a young girl grown suddenly old. She had a bounce in her step, and sometimes when she was waiting to leave, she would dance and sing a song of nonsense to make me laugh. She was quick to smile and quick to scold, but she would also lie her head down in your lap and let you stroke her hair as if she were the nomo (little girl) and you the abi. She wore long braids, tied in the back in the proper fashion. Yak fur was woven in to make it look longer and thicker. Her face was wrinkled, but not too ancient, and she ambled around with considerable ease and agility. She would spring up from her seat, cross-legged on the floor, with such abruptness that it made my own knees, though 40-50 years younger, ache at the sight. She was eager to teach us Ladakhi, and she went through the household items rapid-fire, pointing and naming them in Ladakhi so fast that we could not hope to keep up, yet she knew this too and came back to each item several times and waited, if not patiently, then at least with good humor, as we tried to move our mouths in new ways in order to pronounce the tricky Ladakhi words.
One of my favorite parts of the homestay was walking up to the summer home with her-about an hour and a half walk up the river bed into the mountains. She walked at a steady pace and carried a heavy load on her back. When we came to a river crossing, she would leap across nimbly, and her footwork was well-practiced and assured. She stopped often to gossip with friends , but her style of visiting was very unique. As soon as a house was in sight, she would begin to yell loudly the name of her friend or neighbor. If she received a reply, she would either carry out her conversation by shouting as loudly as possible, or she would skip down the ravine wall and up the steep bank opposite for a quick chat. Often she would return with her wide skirt full of apples or apricots, and we would sit and eat some of the juicy, delicious fruit before moving on. The summer house was very traditional and felt very ancient. We drank salt-butter tea (an acquired taste) and made chapatis and vegetables for a late lunch. I also met her husband, who was carving sticks for an addition to their house down in the village.
My favorite place to walk in Takmachik was up on the hills above the village. I walked up past stupas and piles of ibex horns and up onto the next set of hills. Occasionally there were cows grazing up there, but mostly I felt like I had the whole plateau to myself. (The wonderful thing about the mountains here is that it feels like you could walk anywhere because it is so open.) The last full day I walked up there hoping to journal. Instead, I found a nice black rock out of the wind and curled up underneath it and fell asleep. When I woke up over an hour later, I was neither alarmed nor confused about where I was, and the mountains behind me felt familiar and almost comforting. I took that as a good sign; I felt like I had somehow connected with the place as well as the people.
What I experienced in Takmachik was that the quickest way to a Ladaki's heart seemed to be to act Ladakhi-that is, to be happy and friendly. Laugh a lot, smile a lot, be as jolly as you can, for they were truly happy people, and they loved to share their joy with you. Also, drinking at least 4 cups of butter salt tea each time it is offered seems to help (and numb you to the taste)!

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