I groggily awake to the sound of Alessandro, my roommate, rustling around in the bathroom and check my watch. Damn! I slept in. With my wits barely about me, I stumble around the room to get ready, tumbling out the door and down the mossy stone stairs to the golden sun-kissed lawn on which we were meeting, craggy Himalayan peaks a soft blue in the distance. Before I can relish the victory of arriving on time, I’m struck with a “happy birthday!” Damnit, I remember, It’s my birthday.
Normally, I really do value and enjoy my birthday. It’s a time to feel appreciated and spend time with family and friends. Who would pass that up? I love dancing, singing, picnicking and generally making a fool of myself with people that love me and celebrate the anniversary of my birth. I love waking up to beaming smiles and loving embraces from Mom and Dad before I’ve even eaten anything. I love cinnamon challah french toast in the morning and heartfelt cards over dinner and confetti cake in the evening. I love this time home with those I care for, which is exactly why the second I remembered it was my birthday I wanted to go right back to bed.
Given the two days I had spent with Himalayan Studies Group B, I couldn’t have been happier with the depth, humor and intelligence I saw in each member of our new family. In everyone I saw kindness, sincerity, enthusiasm, curiosity and everything I ever could have hoped for in the most uncertain variable of my gap year, but it still didn’t feel like home yet and I still wasn’t ready to admit the last birthday I’d have home for the next five years was a year behind me.
Despite my ardent pessimism, when Nick and Rishi came up behind me during an orientation session in the Dragon Den (our classroom) with a beautiful chocolate cake, I couldn’t help but smile and, for a moment, forget my birthday home sickness. As a group, we walked down to the dining hall to enjoy the chocolate goodness and was met with more birthday love from Mamit, Krishna, and Purno, three of the guys I’ve come to know who work in the kitchen. They threaten a dance off tonight and i say bring it!
After the initial burst of happiness from the cake, I sink again into my previous state of pessimism. By dinner I feel tired and just want to be back at home with my family. My rational mind decides to return to me. “Look around,” it says. “Be here and remember how lucky you are to be here with these people on this insane adventure.” I pause, breathe, and feel a little better.
I call my parents after dinner. I hear them beaming with loving joy as we talk about my first few days in Nepal and even get to tell my little sister I love her on her way to school. I return to the dining hall with an elevated heart to booming music as the promised dance party begins. Just Mamit, Krishna and a few of my fellow group mates are dancing and move slowly at first, but quickly get comfortable and start grooving. Before long 14 of us are jumping and moving to a fantastic mix of blasting Nepali and American pop, sweat poring down our glowing faces. We end with “September” and go ham to finish it off. We say goodbye with sweaty hugs and final birthday wishes, and I return to my room, drenched in sweat, the vital energy of dance and human connection coursing through my veins as I flop onto the cool embrace of my bed. Home would be nice, but so is this. Here’s to three more months of change.