It’s hard to know what to say right now. I love traveling to remote places because it removes me from the 24/7 “the-sky-is-falling” news cycle. Not that I really pay attention to the news while I’m in Los Angeles. There was once a time when I was super engaged. The news was my way of connecting with the world. But then I grew up a little and realized that the best way to connect with the world is to disconnect and experience it for myself.
I say all of this and yet the news of what’s happening in Gaza has found me in this tiny guesthouse in the mountains. My heart breaks because I know that I’m not getting the whole story. Some parts are better than reported, and others, omitted entirely. The privilege of who gets to tell a story is a tricky one to identify. History seems to remember the story as it has been edited by the strongest party. Voices are left out to fade into the wind. I wonder what’s really happening over there right now.
Every time I come to Mcleodganj, I think about my very superficial experiences in Palestine. I didn’t go to Gaza (it was 2010, and no one was allowed in or out at that time). But I remember being struck by how… well… normal… life was in the West Bank. You expect refugee areas to have open wounds, but they don’t always show their suffering on the surface. Sure, there were parts that seemed to struggle, but from where I was standing, most people just wanted to get on with their lives as best they could. Even the title “refugee” isn’t all-encompassing. People living in exile still like to cook. They still sing in the shower. The teenagers like to talk about crushes and celebrity gossip. There is poetry and partying and people walking to work.
(Granted, I’m a visitor. I have the privilege of leaving. I may get stopped at checkpoints and borders, but they’ll let me pass. I belong somewhere, and it’s a place that everyone knows. I’m only an observer, and so many things are hidden from my view.)
And yet, there’s also something going on in the background. I notice it here, too. An unspoken push-back. Little hints of– pay attention! look at what is happening here. There’s an important human need– the need to belong– that is denied in these situations. Whether we like it or not, our histories make us who we are. And when a power erases those histories, whether it be through bombs or banning a language from schools, it leaves a mark. And it grows through out time. It gets passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes it comes out overtly, people throwing stones or shooting guns. But most of the time, it flares up calmly. Gently, even. In the midst of conversation or in a line of poetry, or in the recesses of a morose joke.
In our language course the other day, one of the Western students asked her Tibetan partner where she saw herself in 5 years. What her dreams were. What she wanted out of life. All the answers were the same.
“I will go home to my family. To Tibet.”