Dwelling in the Unfamiliar

Dear Readers,

I wrote to you before I left for Nepal about accepting changes; dwelling in the ever-changing present moment. Here I am sitting in the Lukla airport waiting for my flight to Kathmandu, the flight that will separate me from my American friends. I will soon find myself dwelling in my difference away from people who share in my origin, my first language, my background. I sit here in excitement that fades into fear; it is this fear that I have been waiting to meet.

During my trek, I encountered the most beautiful places to lay my eyes, meeting even more beautiful people. I found my thoughts often wandering to the theme of familiarity as I was in a new place each day. This theme became more apparent the day that one of our guides left us early for Kathmandu.

Lhakpa, pictured in the yellow shirt, had been with us since the start of our trek. We had journeyed back to her home village of Hill—the place we helped with some post-earthquake rebuilding efforts. It was in this this village when I began to ponder the idea of home—the familiarity of childhood friends, surroundings, and land. What makes up a person’s sense of home?

Our sense of home contributes so much to our sense of identity; a contribution that is often unrecognized until it is no longer there. Identity is precarious in this way. It is comprised of what we are not. I do not identify as a boy, so I identity as a girl. Just one general piece of difference creating a spiral of identity choices, identity markers by way of my clothing, my long hair, the way I approach people. Once aware of such markers, their foundations often come into question—foundations that largely lead back to our larger community, our society’s conception of what is normal, what is appropriate.

Returning now to the day of Lhakpa’s departure. We had spent the previous day hiking to a destination near her eldest brother’s home, and so she and her husband spent the night there rather than in the lodge with the rest of our group. It was about thirty minutes away; that morning our group hiked to his home to meet with Lhakpa and her husband and we were invited into the brother’s home for tea. Soon it became time for our group to leave and for Lhakpa to begin her journey back to Kathmandu apart from us.

We learned that she had not seen her brother for nine years. As she shook each of our hands goodbye, her face wrinkled and her eyes were heavy with tears. She was leaving pieces of her familiarity, pieces of her sense of home. At that moment I was struck with a flood of thoughts leading me to a new template in which to understand the displaced, the people who have been forced from their homes either due to natural disaster or political issues such as ethnic cleansing, genocide, or civil war. Lhakpa’s sadness, her tears, resonate on a much larger scale for those who have been displaced, for those who can no longer visit their familiarity because their homes have been destroyed or they are barred due to political reasons.

Within this line of thinking, I am reminded of a morning during our trek. We were in Namche Bazaar; it was a very clear day and a few of us ventured up on a small day hike to the Everest View Hotel. We sat there drinking coffee outside with a view of the highest peak in the world—Mt. Everest. As I sat there, I thought to myself how surreal the moment was. Looking at the pictures, I remember thinking to myself that I was in a picture in that moment. The mountains that morning reminded me of some of the refugees I have met back in America.

I looked at each mountain and I saw what a million people before me saw—beautiful strong pieces of land, majestic and solid in appearance. However, some members of my group who will attempt to climb a few of these peaks brought my attention to the turmoil that surrounds these mountains. The tips covered in snow, indicative of the freezing temperatures, were surrounded by clouds in transit. These moving clouds were signs of the heavy winds that the mountains endure tirelessly. Looking at these mountains, at first glance we see only beauty and strength; it is only when we try to look from the mountain’s perspective that we can gain a glimpse into its turmoil.

On one of our last days of trekking, a woman I was with shared some wisdom that I will surely carry with me. Her brother had been in a terrible climbing accident in the 1980s resulting in the loss of both of his legs. Since this time, he has cultivated a gratitude for his accident, a sincere affection for the life lessons he learned in the aftermath. This woman told me that her brother advises to do something you are afraid of each day; a piece of advice worth storing inside my head.

Our fear can paralyze us; my fear has paralyzed me in the past. It is only once we face these fears, once we dwell in these fears, that we can transform them into non-fears, into love. So, here I am, dwelling in my fears and my difference on the cusp of a new journey away from my familiarity. Each day I will be reminded of the lessons and friends from my trek; I will think of the mountains and I will dwell strongly in my turmoil that may surround me. I will operate from a place of love as I encounter the unknown each day. I will transform my fears into beauty slowly as the come to me.

With love,

Jennifer