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Reflections on a Nomadic Homestay

The landscape of my home stay with Tibetan families in the mountains above Qinghai Lake is imprinted on the backs of my eyelids, green and blue boring through my active visual life, allowing me to feel the serenity I felt when I was there. It reminded me of Ireland, and of the solitude and simple beauty that I have gone there to seek in the past. Of course, the yaks and the appearance of the people are wildly different, but in many ways I felt that the souls of these shepherds were akin to their brothers and sisters on another continent.

The Tibetan nomads are intensely connected with their animals, their land, but they are also wary, separate, and in control. Often, in cities or in the wilderness, I feel that I am under the thumb of nature or the world around me, that I am not in control. That lack of agency does not to appear in the Tibetan nomads, partially because it seems to me that they have ceased to struggle against nature in the same way I do; they have an indelible confidence in the natural world. With the changes in weather, extremes of the climate further polarizing, some of the former predictability of the conditions in there in the mountains is gone. How was my host family unable to flinch as we sat in our tent at 10 pm under the light of a single fluorescent bulb with hail pouring down, threatening to cut holes in the tent, and lightning flashing on all sides?

Coming from a home of three people, I understand the bonds of an only child with their parents quite well. My parents and I, no matter our quarrels and our differences, are a tightly knit unit. The family I stayed with above Qinghai Lake reminded me immensely of that. They did not demonstrate affection in the same way I do with my parents, but every interaction showed love, support, and respect. The son, about 7 years old, was full of energy, but he did as he was told, even anticipating his parents needs. He was never disciplined; there was no need. This was in strong contrast to my previous home stay with a Tibetan family in Rebkong: the 4 year old girl was constantly in trouble with her parents for her bad behavior and disrespect. What allows for such a large difference in parenting styles and in a child’s behavior? Does the life in the city have that large an effect on the personality of a child? The solitude, the independence, the wherewithal that is necessary in the nomadic lifestyle probably causes a child to learn how important obedience is rather early on. With taking care of livestock and living off the land there is no room for error.

It is a life without walls, without Western ideas of comfort, but a life full of weathered hands, wind-beaten cheeks, whispered emotion, milk tea, hard work, and warm blankets inside tents that lie right beneath the starry sky.