Tomorrow (March 4th, 2011) marks exactly the half way point of my India Study experience. I finally called home the other day. The first question I asked Mom was: Nej nyob li cas lawn os? (How are you all?) She gave me a simple and familiar answer: Peb nyob li qhub xws os. (We are the same as before.) I had expected this answer; it was as obvious as 1+1=2. Her answer shouldn’t have surprised me.
She’d given me the correct answer to my question, the answer that every Hmong language speaker would answer if they were asked “How are you?” It’s just like in English: “Hello. How are you?” “I am good.” Or in Spanish: “Hola. Como estas?” “Estoy bueno.” Of in Bengali: “Nomaskar. Kamon acho?” “Phalo achi.”
But this time I was afraid of the certainty of that response. For some odd reason her response frightened me. Everyone and everything is still the same as before? What? Nothing’s changed over there? She went on to tell me that my siblings were still going to school like usual, Phia and Nyab still come home every weekend to visit, Yia is still carless after the car accident in December, Walee is still being a stubborn teenager, she’s still the same as before. Through my mother’s voice I can picture all of them still living their mundane lives; they were still breathing the same Minnesota air, seeing the same downtown St. Paul view, hearing the same I-94 freeway rush outside, eating the same jasmine rice from Golden Harvest, and sleeping under the same Hudson Road house.
How could that be? In these past 2 ½ months I’ve breathed gallons of different air, saw a different downtown, heard a different freeway rush, ate a different type of rice, and slept under a different house. My whole life’s changed in these 2 ½ months and nothing has changed for any of them. I’ve had to learned a different language (Bengali/ Bangla), learned to eat with my fingers, learned to communicate with strangers, learned to put up with the overcrowded metro, learned to ride auto rickshaws with complete strangers I’ve never met in my life and will probably not meet again, learned how to convert the U.S. dollar into Indian rupees, learned how to buy guavas on the street, learned how to eat spicy food, learned to ride a taxi, learned how to take public transportation, learned how to deal with people who play the staring contest, learned about a civilization that was ancient years old, learned how to see the world through my mother’s eyes, learned what I meant to be Hmong and why it is so important to me, learned the value of being educated in the U.S, learned the significance of my education, learned the worth of being a woman, learned the beauty of life, learned the rhythm of frustration and ecstasy, learned right and wrong and all the things in between; I’ve learned so much in these past 2 ½ months, I feel like a whole new person. My world’s been flipped upside down (or right-side up) and my mom was telling me that everything is still exactly the same as before?
My deepest fear about going home is that I will go back to where I left off. I’m afraid that I will go back home to my mundane life and continue right where I last left it; I’m afraid of forgetting about my experiences here in India, all the crazy and bizarre things that happen every day here in India. I’m scared that I will just jump right back into my car and turn the AC on and stroll down nice highways without a second thought. I don’t want to go back and fit perfectly into the comfortable box I used to live in; hang out with the same group of people whose attitudes may or may not have changed. It’s like the T.V. When you turn the T.V. off on a certain channel and leave it for a while for school, class, work, etc. and when you return and turn the T.V. on it’s still on the same channel. That’s what I fear the most: that when I turn on the T.V. it may still be on the same channel, exactly the same place I left it.
I am becoming my dragonfly.