Mr. Liniville's Geography students write essays on their foreign trip experiences.
Willow Fitzgerald, ('10)
India – Sikkim
My homestay mother’s name is Laden Sherpa. She is 24 years old. When I asked her what her job, is she plainly said, “housewife.” Laden’s home is large and new in comparison to other homes in Damthang and she takes pride in it. Everyday Laden swept the floors, and she cleaned the stove after cooking anything. The mornings when Laden dressed her son, Pintshu, in his school uniform she was sure he was clean and impeccably presentable. The most important thing in Laden’s life was her family and home.
The first day I spent with Laden it was just the two of us. After I got settled into my room, I went into the kitchen where she was serving immensely large piles of rice to some of the men helping with our bathroom project. After they finished eating and she began to wash the dishes, Laden asked me if I did the dishes at home. I told her about my home and my mother.
Laden wanted to know everything she could about my life in America, she wanted to teach me about hers. She and I went through the Nepali phrase book, and she taught me pronunciations and asked me to correct her English. She also wanted to know what I cooked at home. I explained my kitchen with a fridge, a four burner stove, and an oven. She questioned why we have so much more than we need and wondered how we keep it all clean. I asked her about a bumpy, cucumber-looking vegetable, and she took it and cooked it f
or me. She called it Karela. It was nearly inedibly bitter. Laden said that all good mothers feed their kids Karela. Her mother taught her how to cook it. Later in the week Laden had some young neighbor girls over and she taught the girls, Maddi, and I to cook a traditional food called Momo. She is proud of her family recipes, and she said that she hopes to have a daughter someday so she can teach her to cook. Tradition is important to Laden. Laden takes pride in her cooking because it’s part of a self image that she works to keep up for herself and her family.
Also on the first morning of the homestay Laden told me that she wanted to fix my hair (it was a tangled, nearly dreaded mess). She brushed it out and put it in a pony tail, “Just like mine but shorter,” she said. Laden told me it was important that her home and family were respectable. She said her mother taught her this. Later in the week we went to see the statue of the Guru Padmasambhava, and Laden got all dressed up to go. She wore nice clothes and combed Pintshu’s hair. Laden works hard to mother a nice family and keep a tidy nice house. She talked a lot about how this was important to her culture and parent’s family. Laden Pintshu and his father do not dress or act very traditionally, but Laden likes to keep up some culture and history in her home for Pintshu.
I met some men in Damthang who told me they are refugees from Bhutan. Taming and Sunil stopped me when I was walking downtown, and they told me about how they were forced out of Bhutan because of religious and cultural segregation. They talked about their journey from Bhutan to Nepal to Sikkim and all their different refugee camps. They hope to go to America, Canada, or Australia, where they would be “safe from these problems.” Since I knew nothing about problems in Bhutan, I looked online for more information. I found that in Bhutan the government is trying to create a single language and mostly single cultured country by kicking out minorities. Nearly 125,000 Lhotshampas and Sharchhops have left or been forced to leave Bhutan. One sixth of the total population had been forced out in recent years, the highest per capita refugees in the world. These men were kicked out of their homeland because their culture and history are important to them.
In and around Darjeeling, there is currently a movement to create a state, including Darjeeling and much of the surrounding land separate from West Bengal. This state will be called Gorkhaland, named for the Gorkhas, who are native to the area. The day we were in Darjeeling, there was a rally to show support for the cause. All large vehicles in the city (including our bus)
were “borrowed” so everyone could have transportation to the event. It was hoped that every family could send one member. The entire city was shut off for the day. That night, when everyone returned from the rally, I spoke to a man who had been. This man owned a store near our hotel, and he told me that he would sell his store if it helped the cause. I think there was a weird translation thing, but he did get his point across. The self governing Gorkhaland will allow these people is an extremely important dream for almost everyone in Darjeeling. Gorkhaland is a major goal, and a big part of everyone’s life. They are all willing to do all they can do to make Gorkhaland happen by 2010, their ultimate goal.
Anissa Corser ('10)
Mongolia as a whole was an amazing country. I really enjoyed being exposed to their values and different set of beliefs. One of my best experiences was during our homestay when a bone-chilling cold had set across the valley, and it was determined to be too cold to do anything until it warmed up. Our homestay mother Bayira, our interpreter Badnaa, our cook Naraa, Hannah, (one of my peers) and I stayed inside the ger (like a yurt) for a couple hours just playing games. We played "Egyptian Ratscrew," and a game they call Anklebones’ (a game that uses a sheep’s anklebones.) We had been playing the Anklebone game for quite a while, then Hannah and I had went outside. When we came back, I was sitting on a little orange foot-high stool watching the Mongolians’ hands move faster than a machine. What I was more fascinated with was the behavior. of the women. I was amazed by the laughter; I had never seen older women laugh and chatter like I do with my friends. The hardest part for me to grasp was that these three women had met for the first time yesterday, and it seemed as though they had grown up together.
So I decided to attempt to understand why these women were able to befriend each other so quickly. I asked Badnaa and Naraa what they thought were the most important and admirable characteristics. Badnaa answered that being respectful, trustworthy, friendly, honest, and kind are the most important qualities. Also, earlier I had asked Badnaa what she liked about Americans, and she said she admired how we all think differently and are relatively open-minded. Naraa answered that being honest, truthful, and open-minded are the most important qualities a person can embody.
Badnaa also talked of Mongolian hospitality. She said Mongolians visit a lot and are very open. As opposed to Americans, who ask “can I visit,” Mongolians never ask that question because the answer is always “Of course." During our homestay, Bayira always made sure we were OK. We always ate first and during one of the really cold mornings, she graciously lent me her only del (coat). In addition, we visited with a Kazakh family and they cooked us a huge, special feast. The Mongolians also value respect. I asked a Kazakh lady what values were most admirable. She answered being respectful and being sociable (she described this quality by talking about parties and lots of friends.) Plus, when we were in the school, whenever anyone would enter, the children would all stand. Also the students were always dead silent; there was no trouble-making when the teacher was talking. I was extremely impressed with the 5th graders’ listening skills. The Mongolians’ respect for each other was astounding.
I also noticed how helpful, eager, and caring the Mongolians are. All of our interpreters and guides were constantly looking out for us, asking us how we were and if they could do anything. On a little hike, five people had not returned to the ger, and Badnaa was so worried. She insisted that we take binoculars and go out in the Land Rover to find them. After I got my concussion, all our guides were so caring, and the ones who could not speak English would motion to their head and then do the thumbs-up sign. Right after I hit my head, Badnaa gave me a massage, and then she arranged for the village head healer to visit me. Also, during my interview with Badnaa, she mentioned that her daughter lives with her parents. When I asked her why, Badnaa replied that her daughter hated the city so much, and even though it was an inconvenience to Badnaa and she was sad to be without her, she was proud to be able to make her daughter happy. Also, I was very struck by how eager and happy everyone is. One of our drivers always had a smile on his face. I never saw him once without the silly grin. Our other driver would laugh at everything, even things I didn’t find remotely funny.All the school children were so eager to be with us. One right after another, they would come up, shake my hand and say whatever English they knew, which was mostly: "What is your name?" They were so eager to learn whatever we were trying to teach them. They put their whole heart into everything they did. We played Red Rover with them and it was great fun. They loved to send the Americans "over."
One of the values they embody the most is being open-minded and nonjudgmental. Although traditionally, Mongolians have a set of beliefs they all follow, they are very open-minded toward each other. There were no cliques in the school. All of the girls would come up to me and introduce each other as their best friend. As more girls came to join, they were all introduced as a "best friend." Also, when we were with the Kazakh family, they kept repeating the phrase “don’t worry about our religion." Although the true meaning might have gotten lost in translation, I interpreted it as that they were trying to say that their religion will not come between us as people, and that it should not cause any stress. Once again, this displays their nonjudgmental views. All together, the combination of being nonjudgmental, caring, eager to help, respectful, and extremely welcoming is what enables the Mongolians to be able to kindle relationships with anyone.
Not only did the interviews enable me to learn about their values, I also learned a lot about their culture. There are many taboos in the nomadic way of life. I learned about Buddhism from people rather than a book. I also was really fascinated by how much importance they place on their family. One man named Iedri, that I shortly interviewed, said that family was the most important thing in his life. Badnaa, Naraa, and Iedri told me about their jobs and how hard they work to support their families. Naraa left her home for four years to work in Korea in a cell-phone factory in order to buy an apartment for her daughter and herself. Iedri said that his winter job was being a father. It was apparent that all the parents I saw really took time to be with their child. It was captivating to watch our homestay father play with his three year old son after he came back from a long hard day herding sheep. It was cool to see how much love the parents have for their child and how much time they dedicate towards them. Being exposed to their way of life and their admirable values really made Mongolia an incredible experience.
Daniel Wright, ('09)
From Senegal with Love – 2008
The song came on the radio and it all hit me. “Comin’ from the ghetto of Senegal, Af-ree-cah, Af-ree-cah.” Sitting next to me, the taxi driver and Abu Cisse were singing along with unimaginable equatorial fervor. The song, written by worldwide pop star Akon, who was born in Senegal, was all about their country and what they live through every day. I looked out the window at the unforgettable dust, inhaling the heat and the smell of the artificial air freshener in the shape of a baobab tree dangling from the rear window. I shook with the unavoidable bumps and the detours around the broken-down cars on the side of the road with the tires removed. Gazing into the mysterious faces of the people walking outside when they saw me, the only white kid some of them had ever seen, I watched their faces light up. Some waved to me until I was out of sight.
Abu stared at me too. “You know Akon? He is the lion of Senegal. He is a god here!” Abu is a 19-year-old tour guide with whom I had formed an everlasting bond over the past four weeks I had spent in Senegal. Abu had never left his home country. He stayed in school but worked as a tour guide in order to support his parents and five sisters. During my four weeks in country, Abu only wore three different shirts, but every day the shirt was clean and fresh. He owned one pair of tennis shoes, but kept very good care of them. Abu and I shared a passion for soccer and frequently discussed our favorite teams and players. He was a professional soccer player himself and played for a local Premier Division team, yet neither he nor his teammates had a pair of soccer shoes to play in. I eventually sent him a new pair of Nikes after I returned to the U.S.
Abu’s English was limited, but when he stumbled over a word or phrase, we automatically flipped into French. My fluency greatly facilitated communications with Abu, and I deeply empathized with him and his struggles with the English language. Because of my knowledge of French, I was able to communicate with the locals without the filter of translation. It has been said, “To speak another language is to live another life.” As a foreign interloper, I gradually became another person, a bit player in this deep African mystery. Though I learned so much from other Senegalese—the djembe drum maker, the wrestlers, the dancers, the village chief I stayed with–I think Abu taught me the most.
Abu is the happiest person I have ever met. Even though he had so little, he always could see the positives of life and thought of the tough times only as challenges to overcome. He appreciated every little item he owned and took nothing for granted. He knew that it was important to define yourself through the love in your life rather than your possessions—a lesson no doubt easier to learn in Dakar than in Steamboat Springs or Paris—and I have tried to absorb this mentality and bring it home with me.
From the questions he asked, it was obvious that he was just as curious about my unusual life as I was about his. He asked me about growing up on the windy plains of Cheyenne, Wyoming, then moving to France for junior high at the Lycée International outside Paris and adapting to a totally new culture. He wondered how I became fluent in French in only two years and how I knew so many different people all over the world. What was it like living and racing competitively in a ski resort, and especially—what is snow? That was one of the hardest things I had to describe, for the Senegalese simply couldn’t grasp the concept of snow and skiing. I finally came to an important realization: traveling only deepens the mystery. I found it incredible how two people from two such opposite backgrounds, almost extraterrestrials to each other, could form such a close bond in so short a time.
When it came time to depart, Abu and I kicked the soccer ball around one last time and reviewed our many inside jokes. He then took me around the corner from the rest of the group, telling me how much he was going to miss me and how he would cry every night until I returned. He crouched behind the wall, reached into his pocket and ceremoniously pulled out a beautiful gold ring. I could only imagine how much it must have cost him. He pressed it into my palm and told me that I must always remember him when I looked at the ring. On the bus I clasped the ring in my palm and waved goodbye to Abu until he was out of sight. The sun reflected off the gold and I noticed an engraving on the inside of the ring: “Love always, Bert 8-6-88.”