The Mountains

We enter a home through the courtyard and sit around a few pieces of orange-and-ash coals in a metal bowl on a slick concrete floor. The TV is on, a soap opera. The lives of manicured Asian divas seem out of place in this frigid, concrete cell. By the door, a woman holds a sullen baby who is not yet two.  The woman is friendly, almost chatty. She is a college graduate and married into this family. No one says it, but we all think: how did she end up here?

I stick out anywhere I go in this country, but it’s more so here. Stares, not necessarily friendly ones. Later in the afternoon we’ll pile in the back of a silver van and wind up a terrifying mountain road to a small village. Once we arrive, our suspicions are confirmed: we do stand out. “It’s the out-country-people from town!” Curious eyes have already confirmed to the town gossips (i.e. every elderly person who wanders at will in and out of their neighbor’s home) that the foreigners walking around the valley town this afternoon are living in their village tonight. Instant notoriety.

I’m thankful to be here, but it is cold. In the 20s, I think, most of the day and I don’t want to know how cold it gets at night. My friend teaches me a local maxim. Essentially, it says that it is hard for those who have been brought up in comfort to endure  a hard life. She’s right. I hate hate hate the cold and 5 layers doesn’t seem to help me much here. I love to camp but in backpacking you’re always walking, which keeps you warm. Here, it’s meals and talking and sitting and watching TV. Every home has a TV… apparently that’s piped in to bring the common language (and worldview) to every corner of the nation. So we shove our rumps together on tiny benches and hope that sitting shoulder-to-shoulder will keep us warm. One of my friends is from a colder part of the nation and he braves the cold without gloves. Other people get frostbite in his hometown, he says, but for some reason his fingers “have never gotten fat.”

 

I’m not done yet–more pictures to come–but it’s dinnertime, I’m hungry, and these friends promised us soup if we can make it down soon. Consider it done.

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