Every year on the 1st of April I will always be reminded of that day in 2005 when my wife and I landed at the airport in Srinagar, Kashmir. Barely 48 hours earlier we had wrapped up one season of our life in America and set out on this new adventure, not fully knowing what might be in store. The irony of arriving on April Fool’s day was never lost on me. We were young, idealistic, and probably a bit foolish to make this move. In the years to come we frequently would feel like fools as we made our best efforts learning how to do life in an entirely different language and culture than our home.
I probably have at least one thought about Kashmir that pops into my head every day. Something that triggers a memory or something about America that strikes me as different from Kashmir. Lately I think about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting life in Kashmir and how my Kashmiri friends are affected. But April 1st is different. That anniversary day usually makes me more reflective. A day where I pause and consider the full impact of Kashmir on my life. Where I remember what it felt like in the beginning to arrive and get settled.
I smile when I recall the beginning phases of learning the Kashmiri language so I could better participate in the community around me. There is one memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget. My wife and I were walking through our neighborhood bazaar on our way to meet with a tutor for language classes. The classes had only been going for a week or two. As we passed by a vegetable shop an elderly woman who had a large basket of spinach by her feet spoke to me in Kashmiri. I recognized three words she said – spinach, head, & put. I looked at my wife and said, “I think she wants me to put the basket of spinach on her head!” Without waiting any longer I decided I to take a leap of faith and put the basket on her head. Once the basket was on her head, the woman casually walked away as if nothing unusual had just occurred. I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t wait to tell our language tutor. We might actually have a chance to learn this difficult language!
There are many moments like that from my years in Kashmir, ones that I want to capture in time and never forget. They are precious to me because they represent a unique place in this world that profoundly impacted my life. I am still processing, unpacking, and sorting out that impact well over a year after returning to America. April 1st reminds me of this.