For weeks I had this recurring urge to drop everything, run up the rocky path to the nearest road, catch a taxi down that nauseating switch-back road off of this crazy mountain and never return again. As the cold had descended on us and we could confirm that our newly-built apartment was in fact very quick and shabby construction that would not contain the heat of an old wood-burning stove for even twenty minutes, we had begun to experience the shear work that it takes to remain comfortable (i.e. reasonably temperate and fed) in the Himalayan foothills.
One night I had a breakdown when trying to quickly wrap some presents for family that would be tucked into a suitcase the next morning. We had thought ahead and purchased tape and scissors for such a moment, and I was piecing together magazine pages to make wrapping paper, when we realized that the best tape I’d found in the market wasn’t worth a rip. I sat on the bed with pieces of magazine and cards and twisted, unsticky tape lying all over my meager presents and just had a teary pity-party while my husband watched helplessly. Except he was busy venting about how the fire wouldn’t start and had smoked out our bedroom again, and how the cold mountain wind was pouring through the window and door cracks and he couldn’t, for the life of him, keep the room warm. Little Man was coughing in his sleep in the next room, which was cold but smoky. We were a sight to be seen and definitely not something I ever imagined or would be proud of.
Our local friends had been telling us since October that this has been the warmest fall in a while, and our house was so cold compared with theirs—what would we do when winter REALLY came and the rain and hail started? I tried not to think about it. We had scheduled to be gone for almost a month over Christmas to several cities in the plains, and I focused all my attention on our get-away plans.
The night before we left winter descended. Hail accosted the tin roof in torrents at 5am—it sounded like a firestorm—the power went out so we quickly fetched Little Man from the other room and brought him into our warmer bed. By 7am our alarm went off. We had an hour to finish packing, boil water for bucket baths, and get ready to climb the hill with our suitcases… and it was very cold and dark. All I could think as I willed myself to get out from under our flannel sheets was, “I’m out of here!!”. And for just a moment (long enough to get myself out the door) I thought, “See you Mountain Town. I won’t be back!!”
But helping us out the door were our neighbors K, A and A, a momma and two college-age kids who love Little Man and we love them back. They brought a Christmas gift for Little Man—a plastic cricket bat and ball and pins—and A helped us carry him up the hill to the taxi while we carried the stroller and suitcases. And as I giddily rode down the mountain I also dwelt uncomfortably on the thought of this wonderful, local, non-believing family who have been an absolute gift from God. And in this season in this particular, poorly-built house, we have had the closest relationship with neighbors (with whom we have little in common) that we have ever had. And with all the effort of daily life that I want to get away from… that gift of relationship and proximity is something I cannot ignore. And it might be worth all the cold and useless Scotch tape and sheer work-to-survive. But I haven’t decided yet.
So we have started off the holidays in the apartment of close friends in the Big City. The tree is up with twinkle lights and even at 7am I can hear the horns and engines and population outside. There’s a lush green park across the way and I’ve loved each morning in this city I used to call home. It’s familiar and comforting. And we really needed that.
But it’s also an environment where neighbors don’t come by and they don’t want to be friends. They have their lives and their balconies and they don’t talk when you pass by. And this works for our friends whose lives are full-to-overflowing with colleagues and ladies and sweet children in very dark places who desperately need them.
But for me right now, I’m learning to live a simple life that’s slow enough to stop and talk, to check in on neighbors, to help shoo a pesky monkey or serve some chai. It’s not very impressive, but I know it’s right where I’m supposed to be. And I’ve never made much time for people when it’s not planned for, but now I’m gradually learning to do that. And if that were the only thing I learned in our windy mountain town, that would make it all worth it.