Will Hodges ’15 and Tia Jonsson ’16 describe their experiences with beliefs and customs different from their own:
Will: Shuffling into the dimly lit classroom, we shyly joined a group of students. Here, we were told, seven boys study the traditions of their ancestors. By learning the ways of their local religion, dongba, each student carries on his forefathers’ ancient, spiritual lineage. As we took our seats amidst their lesson, it became obvious that every one of the boys was pious and attentive. To them, school represented duty — an oath to their families that needed to be taken with the greatest sincerity.
In many ways, the school itself was as modest and unassuming as its scholars — the campus only consisted of seven quaint buildings, all situated around a courtyard and temple. While its footprint was small, an array of windows all opened to the expanse of beautiful rice terraces and cloud cloaked mountains. It was hard not to feel a sort of spiritual stir as we witnessed these young boys faithfully pursue their education here. We had heard that the study of dongba had been rapidly losing its appeal due to the undeniable draw of the city and better work. It was inspiring, then, to meet the few boys left who had rejected materialism and humbly accepted a life of simple means. It seemed to me as though they had dutifully resolved to live simply while being worthy of their heritage.
I kept wondering, though, how these boys could be so content with so little. I suppose it’s because, through their religion, they were capable of seeing the world as something greater than themselves. I believe all of us at Deerfield could learn a lesson or two about selflessness and dedication from this group of seven kids from a valley in rural Lijiang. This was an experience none of us will soon forget. I hope we can all impart the pieces of wisdom we learned here in our community at Deerfield.
Tia: Our group took a bus (way too big for the little streets we were on) up to a winding driveway with rows of crops on either side. We walked for about two minutes along the driveway until we reached a local Lijiang family’s home. As we approached the house, a little baby started crying but the rest of the family greeted us with smiling faces. Prior to our visit, our tour guide told us how in this particular village, there’s an emphasis on women working. She said that the women cook, clean, take care of the kids, have a job, farm, and take care of their husbands. She said that the men lead an easier life of drinking, smoking, hunting, and watching TV.
When we entered the house, it seemed as though there were multiple generations living there and the idea of the women working and the men relaxing definitely was part of the dynamic. At the home, we cooked with two women (one with a baby on her back) while most of the men who lived there walked around the home and smoked. The boys in our group didn’t carry out this custom as they, too, participated in cooking the meal. At the end of our visit, we all enjoyed the food we made with the friendly family.