When I walked in and removed my shoes, the birthday boy looked up at me with big brown eyes, curly locks, and one arm sticking out of the neck of an oversized shirt that said “Wooster College.” He smiled and hopped around and did a few somersaults. He was certainly happy for his second birthday! There wasn’t a toy in sight, but the kids entertained themselves by pulling up Nepalese music videos from Youtube and dancing around. It seemed like the whole neighborhood was crowded into this one-bedroom apartment. My student, Kewal, explained that everyone was invited to Bhutanese birthday parties: family, friends, and neighbors. I was honored to be on the list, and even more so that everyone tried out their English skills on me.
Several people sat on the floor of the living room mixing ingredients in a big bowl. They explained to me that this was to be the filling for the momos, or dumplings. The filling included cabbage, onion, beef, ginger, and many spices. I had eaten the delicious momos before, but I had never been involved in making them. Soon, a few people taught me how to pinch the wrapper around a spoonful of filling. It was surprisingly easy! We then placed them on a four-tier steamer. When one person stopped, another person took their place. Everyone, men and women, took turns helping out. They couldn’t have done it any other way, though, because they made hundreds of them!
Kewal took me and some of the children upstairs to another apartment. There, people were eating lunch. Bhutanese people use their hands to eat, but the host was well-aware of Americans’ utensil-using habits and gave me a spoon. We ate perfectly cooked rice with some kind of dal poured over it and spicy goat on the side. I am not a big meat-eater, but it was actually pretty tasty! As we finished up, Kewal’s husband told me I could join them any time. He said, “When we die, we can take nothing with us. That is why sharing and loving are the most important.”
The best part about my service is that I learn so much in return. My students teach me without even trying. They teach me that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. They teach me that having a strong community can truly help you get through the worst of hardships. They teach me that family and friends really are the most important part of life.