The other day I had the incredible opportunity to go with the women from my placement, Dolls4Tibet, for a day trek up to Triund. The trail up is approximately 9 km long and it took our group close to 3 hours to reach the top, this of course included time for essential chai and snacks. This trek was not like any I have had before. Along the way many of the women would stop, pull out their cloth bags they had brought and venture off the trail to gather medicinal herbs and flowers. Once they had returned to the trail they would explain to me the medicinal purpose of each plant. By the end of the journey almost everyone had an entire bag full of flowers and herbs. Throughout this trek I realized that they see the greater potential of these plants, while I had only seen the aesthetic value. This experience has shown me that the way individuals are brought up may influence the values that are placed on different objects and or beings. These values then seem to determine which cultural knowledge is passed on to future generations.
Throughout our preparations for our India Field School, we learned the importance of authentic cultural exchange. With this notion in mind, during the trek I took the chance to discover more about the lives of a few of the women from my placement, as well as attempting to share my own life experiences and trying to find some commonalties. I have learned that humour is universal even with the language barriers. For instance, while one of the girls was using nature’s washroom, her friend that was across the valley on the trail began to point and yell what I can only imagine were humorous remarks as we all broke out in uncontrollable laughter. A few of the things that I have learned about their lives have really struck me and have allowed me to reflect my own privileges, the culture I grew up in, and my own family dynamics. For one of the girls it had been her first time travelling through Mcleod Ganj, even though she has lived in Dharamsala her entire life ( approx. 5km apart). By reflecting on this aspect of her life, I have uncovered some of my own privileges and restrictions that I had been oblivious to.
I am looking forward to getting to know more about the women at my placement as well as discovering more about my social position and how I can use my newfound insights in my everyday life and volunteer work.