When I used to contemplate where home is for me, I never thought that I could find it in Turi village, Sleman district, Java, Indonesia. On Ash Wednesday (celebrated on the Tuesday instead) our host mother took six of us to mass. Even though I only know a few words of Bahasa Indonesian, I felt right at home. The entire congregation sang along and took me right back to my church in Madrid, Spain. If I closed my eyes, I was standing with my family singing along. I thoroughly enjoyed knowing my cues to pray in Spanish while everyone else around me recited their own in Bahasa. As I was taking in the beautiful church and watching my fellow students experience the celebration, I slowly, and all at once, fell in love with Indonesia.
My new home is slowly forming around me. Every day I take in a new part of this experience as the country slowly takes me in as one of its own. Some people say, “Home is where the heart is,” and they could not be more right. My heart is in Spain, in the U.S.A, in Costa Rica, and now in Indonesia. Sure, I have only been in the country for less than two weeks, but I have never felt more at home.
After another delicious lunch on our third day at the Jixiangcun artist colony I am sitting on a low bench next to the kitchen/dining room, basking in the warm sun. I’m sitting behind our instructor, Jacky, listening to him speak to the grandfather (Yeye) of the family that lives here, farms the land, and takes care of the buildings. He is in his seventies, small, thin, deeply tanned and wrinkled. His cheeks are sunken, his mouth small, his hands heavily calloused from years of work. He smokes like a chimney. As they speak quickly, I catch a few words here and there: gaigekaifang (the Reform and Opening Up policy of 1978), Mao Zedong, chifan (to eat), dadi (to take a taxi), but for the most part I let the conversation, in speedy and accented mandarin (Yeye’s), wash over me, trying to absorb language through osmosis.
I can tell when the conversation changes topics, as Yeye starts to gesture to me and to Zack, my classmate who is standing nearby also listening. Yeye gently taps Jacky’s knee, urging him to translate for us. Jacky tells us that Yeye has said that he thinks that it is yuanfen (karma or destiny) that we have all come to his home and met him. He says that though he is in his seventies, he is happy to take care of us now, and to wait for even twenty years for us to come back to visit. He then tells us that this period of our lives is the golden time to study and to learn, because just as Archimedes said about levers, if we put enough effort into our education now, we will get out so much later that we can change both our lives and the world around us for the better. This is what I imagine he has said to his nineteen year old grandson Haji, who is studying tourism management at the Agricultural school in Kunming.
Yeye’s words are incredibly sweet, and though it is incredibly difficult for me to understand his accent despite a few years of studying Chinese, he communicates his appreciation of our presence in silence – smiling and nodding hello, and even admiring the amazing painting Annya has whipped up in a few short hours. But it’s not as simple as he makes it sound. Haji – the first family member to go to college in many generations, is unhappy, forced to study something he doesn’t like because of his grade on the gaokao, the test that determines Chinese students’ fates. That possibility – the possibility of doing something you aren’t passionate about – seems to be at least a partial motivation for all of us students to come to China: we are here not only to learn about this huge and diverse country, but also to learn about ourselves and what we want to do with our lives.
Yeye would understand this, if I could explain it in my crude and broken mandarin. As Jacky told me after I asked about the few words of his conversation with Yeye I understood, after the Communist revolution Yeye had traveled around the country, working every job he could find, until he realized that he really wanted to be here, in Lijiang, farming. Haji seems to feel the same way.
I can sympathize. In the morning, when I wake up to see the sun rising behind the Yulongxueshan (jade dragon snowy mountains) and see the sun shining on the mountains on the other side of the lake from the bathroom window, eat meals made from the vegetables grown on the farm, and see how friendly the people in the village are, I can imagine how peaceful and pleasant life here is. This family is as attached to their home and their farm as I am to my small apartment in New York, but if Yeye is right, this adventure, this short period of learning and self-growth will make us happier as adults and help us to shape our environments, even if we always fly back to our nests in the end.
Our rooftop for the last few days has been a magical place; from morning tea at 6:30 am to Nepali classes, group discussions and personal reflection. However, it provides a lookout post to admire and observe the bustling city beyond the walls of Happiness Guest House. When taking in my surroundings in the early morning light, or the afternoon sun, a few things are hard to miss. For one, the second largest Stupa in the world takes up much of your view. The prayer flags are overwhelmingly beautiful and everywhere. Another aspect of the landscape from the roof is all noticing all the other roofs. They too have prayer flags and people. I have enjoyed observing Nepali’s from afar in their natural habitat. Some encounters are just conversations or cleaning.
Yesterday, I observed a funny situation. I was sitting and admiring the rooftops, the mountains off in the distance, and the smog. First I heard the sounds of children playing. Then a little boy appeared on a roof near by. He was yelling to his sister, I believe, and climbing around on what I think are water tanks. It did not look too safe, but he seemed fine. Soon after, his sister followed. She was older and a bit more cautious. They exchanged words that I did not understand. After, their mother appeared. She scolded the boy for going somewhere he shouldn’t (under the water tank) and smacked him on the head in a firm but gentle manner. She sent the kids off the roof to play elsewhere. She then began cleaning the roof and scrubbing the floors, but noticed I was watching. She stopped and laughed a little, said hi, waved and smiled. I smiled and waved back. Then she returned to her chores.
This interaction incorporates many aspects of Nepal that I have encountered thus far. 1. Nepali’s are incredibly kind and happy. They will smile and wave, greet you and listen to you try to speak in very broken Nepali. 2. They are very clean. Every surface is swept multiple times a day, even if it is a dirt, hard packed floor. They care very deeply for their things and themselves. 3. Children who are cared for have an adventurous, happy and fearless spirit. They explore, but are careful of the rough edges around them. 4. Lastly, children are everywhere.
All of these aspects of Nepali culture were observed from the rooftops. I can only imagine what the mountains, the people, and the city will teach us.