02 June 2011

Eastern Hospitality

"I still haven't tried the lemon ginger honey tea," said Rachel as we sat in Nick's glorious Italian eatery.

My jaw dropped. "What?! It's delightful! You must try it!"

"Well, I want to . . . ."

My mind wandered, as usual, to life after field studies, and I remarked, "I want to make lemon ginger tea when I get back to America, but I don't know when. We don't usually invite guests over and offer them tea like the Tibetans do, you know?"

"Well, you can if you want to!"

Hey, wait a minute! I could do that! How nice that would be, to fix up some lemon ginger tea for my friends when they visit and to invite unexpected visitors to come inside and have some tea.

Hospitality in India is not what I am accustomed to. Dr. Aziz in A Passage to India goes into debt, spends the night at the train station to ensure punctuality, borrows a slew of servants from his friends and rents an elephant to ride just to provide Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested with the ideal picnic breakfast at the Marabar caves. While I haven't been the recipient of such an elaborate excursion, I have certainly experienced Asian hospitality! I wanted to list everything, but that wouldn't be possible. Here are a few examples:

The adorable TCV students have excellent manners. The most surprising event of my field study so far was my unexpected temporary position as a computer instructor. Through some misunderstanding, when I arrived at the class I meant to observe the students informed me that I was the teacher. Well, all right! Fortunately, I am well versed in classroom games. The students well extraordinarily well behaved--they would ask my permission to enter the room, they applauded when I told them about my research, and at the end of class they all stood and sang, "Thank you, teacher, have a nice day!" Later, when I was waiting for the bus, a cute little boy opened his newly purchased chips and offered me one.

In the staff room I've been offered tea, boiled water, biscuits, bread and chickpeas, bananas, daily lunch, a place to sit, and interviews for my research. The teachers are happy to show me to my classrooms, the lunch building, or the bus stop when I'm lost. The computer teacher invited me to his class and even lent me his copy of the class textbook for my reference.

My host family would never allow me to sit on a hard surface without a cushion if they could help it. Every morning Tashi asks me if I slept well, and each time I return home Amalah asks how my day was. This is in addition to delicious breakfast, dinner, and lemon ginger tea every day, a place to sleep, and immediate attention to anything I request (I am extremely careful with my requests). Sometimes they turn on the BBC because I can't understand Tibetan television. And it's not just me who receives special treatment--Amalah will make a cup of tea for any guest who comes over.

Hospitality is present in my own culture, but different. I think we are generally less concerned with it. I've learned from Dr. Aziz and many Tibetans, however, the conventions of hospitality in India, and I'm excited to make lemon tea for my guests when I'm home again!