To say that the trip to Nepal was life-changing, goal-affirming, or unforgettable might be saccharine. It would also be true. Before going on this trip, I am ashamed to say that I had really only looked at countries like Nepal as third world countries; underdeveloped and poor. All that has changed. Now I have memories of impressive mountain peaks that reveal different levels of beauty from whichever view you may choose to observe, of endless green fields, and the wonder of seeing the red sun rise in the early morning. Yet, the interactions with the people were what I most enjoyed on this trip, especially with my host family.
In the beginning, interacting with my host family proved to be an awkward experience. After my host mother brought me to the family, Nick (who was also living with the family) and I actually sat in the chairs the family had provided for us and stared at our family for almost twenty minutes. Obviously, Nick and I wanted to talk to our family members, but because we didn’t know any Tharu, we had no idea what to say to our host family and our host family could not say anything to us. Because of this, our host family would often burst into laughter while Nick and I nervously grinned. To break the tension I presented my host family with some American gifts, notebooks to be exact, that I had brought for the children. It would prove to offer only a brief respite from the silence but, thankfully, Nick had brought Jenga as a gift for the family. It was amazing how easily such a simple game helped to bridge the linguistic and cultural gaps between us and our host family. With Jenga there was no language barrier. When teaching the rules of the game, speech was not needed, only a simple demonstration. We barely talked as we played, just laughed, cheered, groaned, and we were still more emotionally expressive than we could have been if we could have used words to talk to each other. Eventually, Nick and I couldn’t always rely on Jenga for communication with our families. Most of the time we would just sit in silence with our families and talk with each other in our language while our host family would do the same. Samita, our host sister, was always trying hard to get Nick, me, and the family to interact when these moments of silence happened. She would encourage us to teach them Go Fish and tic-tac-toe, and at one point she and our other host sisters taught us how to play this bizarre game where the players just pull each others ears. Nick and I had no idea what was going on in that game, but I don’t think either of us had ever convulsed with as much confused laughter as we did then.
On this trip laughter, as well as Jenga, was helpful in relieving the tension that comes from cultural differences. Sometimes neighbors would come over to play Go Fish and one of them once asked me “Do you have any fours”, except he had pronounced fours like “Porsches”. This led to a hilarious misunderstanding as I thought he was asking me If I had a car. Our host family had a good-natured laugh at that, and Nick and I joined in after them to avoid insulting anyone. Similarly, when Nick and I mangled Tharu words, our host family would laugh and so would we. We didn’t mind because laughter was needed so all of us wouldn’t take this merging of cultures as something frightening where every mistake made would be devastating, but just a fun experience.