Posted on April 20th, 2011
Make up your mind with the sand in your shoes
I don’t know where I’m going.
A sapling knows nothing but dirt on the ground, I suppose.
The dirt and sand under my feet these days keeps changing, sifting in my shoes.
In the village, a circle of girls look up at me with their arms outstretched, waiting for my lead.
I hesitate only long enough to feel the weight of their expectation before modeling the rest of the Macarena, shaking a little more than needed to encourage their tidal wave of giggles.
In a little nook off a side street, with no giggling girls, an old tailor is quietly, intently mending my order.
He asks of my home village without looking up from his work.
I paint him a picture without looking up from mine.
I must look occupied in my writing,
not standing aimlessly, not purchasing or eating or taking pictures- just sitting, just writing.
Maybe I’m in a movie. Maybe I’m cliché.
The people on the street steal second glances at me, sitting so casually, as if I belonged.
But, in the furnace room of a village house in the Himalayas, I do belong.
The mother sitting near me,
sharing her tea and plain white bread before everyone else awakes,
is not my own.
Yet my bare feet find a familiar spot and the cat instinctively curls up under my bent legs.
She flits about the room, humming as she washes dishes, makes chai, stokes the fire-
she is all moms, with that tune.
And with it still ringing in my head, I know where I am.
The dirt in my shoes has softened my calloused heels along the way.
We made our way through the narrow ally, the dirt path covered in snow in some places and the wind biting through our thin layers. We arrived at our home stay in Alchi around 5:00, welcomed with steaming cups of butter salt tea. Our house was rustic: the cows lived under the kitchen, the bathroom was just outside the house, a small hole dug in the dirt, and we had no running water or heat. However, our host mom welcomed us with warm and open arms. We filed into the tiny kitchen, the only place in the house that was kept warm by the stove, and sat along the perimeter. I could feel the distance between us as we tried to communicate without any knowledge of each others’ culture or language.
Many times throughout this trip I have been amazed at the power of music, whether to communicate feelings that cannot be expressed in spoken word or to provide the only possible communication when spoken language is not shared between people. Even though we knew no Ladakhi and our host family knew no English, we were able to laugh, dance, play and interact with one another on a deeper level than spoken language could have allowed. A few nights, we sang for our host family as we prepared dinner. I was amazed, once again, at the power of music across cultures. Music is a wonderful medium to communicate and on a few occasions our host mom would attempt to sing along with us, though she didn’t know the words or tune. These instances, when all barriers of communication were dropped and something deep within us connected, I learned more about my host mom than any length of conversation could have allowed.
There were sinners making music and I’ve dreamt of that sound. – Iron & Wine
Though these differences exist, sometimes making it difficult to connect with others, I am reminded to look at them not as something negative but as something to be celebrated. Sometimes their music is the most pleasing to the ear. Sometimes it’s what echoes in our dreams.