It’s been nearly two weeks since I wrote, and I do so now as an act of pulling my brain and heart out of the fog from within which they have sought to reside.
I’m not in India anymore.
Everyday I state to myself the obvious because it’s hard for me to believe. Or maybe it’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just I don’t want to, or I can’t figure out how that changes everything about how I now need to live. If I’m not in India anymore, then how am I supposed to act? What do I need to let go of? What am I allowed to keep?
I have paused to ponder over the past few days how I would view this new country different if I had come from the States rather than from India. I have no doubt that coming here first I would’ve fallen in love with Laos at once. I don’t have hostile feelings toward this country at all, but I find the difficulty is that I must begin to relinquish the immediacy of India so that my heart can be free to love another culture again.
Coming from India, Laos feels incredibly western (a fact I’m told might change if I had the opportunity to go out into the villages). The houses seem huge, the menu diverse. There are white people everywhere—especially within the social world of my host family. Last night I sat in a beautifully furnished living room with a fully decorated Christmas tree, soft couches, and perhaps 12 western women sharing snacks and coffee. I could’ve sworn I was somewhere back home. So every day I’m faced with a choice not to compare one lifestyle to another, a choice to push past the culture shock and refuse to judge.
The change comes slowly. I cling to similarities like the lack of carpet and the way the bathroom is arranged. I’ve submitted to using a fork again, but only part of the time. I’m still washing my clothes by hand and I’m still wearing my saris and salwars because there is nothing else in my suitcase (but I’m not sure I’d stop even if there was). Jennie likes to refer to me as princess Jasmine. I sit on the porch and I can still see palm trees. It’s still hot outside. There are mosquitoes. Motorbikes fill half the streets. These things tell me I’m still in Asia.
And in Asia there are always new adventures to be had, like riding perched side-saddle behind Eric on my borrowed bike while he peddles us back through the streets of downtown from finding a shop to air up the tires. Then I took the bike with my own two feet and peddled down the street while traffic passed around me, my salwar scarf blowing behind. The scents of Lao spices and rice shops and a million other unnamed things hit my senses in waves. Then I lock up the bike and enter a completely western bakery where I sit in a room with air-con, eating a bagel for the first time in over four months and writing this post while working on letters for graduate school applications. And I try to put all the pieces of several different worlds together somewhere inside of me.