Facing the Clouds
by Tenzin Phuntsok
I was going to be at a summer camp for one month, away from home to live and learn alongside local students. The purpose of the program was to allow international students to become more culturally aware of different learning environments and build lasting relationships with other students. Coming from an American background and having privileges that many other countries don’t have, I was very nervous about how I would assimilate to their ways and live a very different lifestyle in a third world country. It had been over five years since I had last visited India. Once we reached the camp, several screaming kids gleaming with joy surrounded me after discovering that I was from America. I was told that these five to ten-year-old children were all orphans abandoned by their family and were brought here to have an education. My mind was pouring with questions on how can one express such happiness and contentment with their lives when they come from such a depressing background? Even when owning nothing, they did not hesitate to run up to me with contagious smiles up to their eyes and offered me bits and pieces of what seemed to taste like bitter expired chocolate.
On my visit to the local Indian market, I was quickly met by a teenager carrying a blue ballpoint pen and a slightly crumpled paper as she rushed up to me and mumbled something in Hindi. I was nearly frozen as a flustered look smeared across my face. With her broken English and hard accent, I could only understand that she was raising money for a cause and insisted that I donated two-hundred rupees. I had felt accomplished by my offering until a local broke the news that she was a regular scammer and that the money I gave her would not go to the mystery cause. For some reason, there was no disappointment or anger raging in me, because I knew that she must have been helpless with no other choice. Instead, I saw this as indirectly helping her, and as long as she used the money to improve her quality of life, I have positively impacted her. This event led me to question why some people in life have it easier than others, like her, who have to survive by committing unethical deeds. That day, I learned to use my privileges for the better because not everyone is blessed with a silver spoon to simply live a normal and happy life.
The clock struck 4:00. It was yet another mundane day at work. I grab my dusty, lightly-powdered apron and head to my bright yellow, almost blinding colored Kia Soul. It had only been about two weeks since I got hired as a dietary aide, and I was already exhausted. My supervisor quickly greeted me and appeared to have a worried look on his face while twiddling his thumbs. Two residents and two staff had tested positive for COVID-19 on my floor. The clock struck 5:00. It was time to deliver the food to the COVID patients, and I firmly tightened my mask band until it was pointy enough, and until I had felt as though no air or virus could enter. The room was closed off with multiple “Do Not Enter” signs and a white, ghostly looking curtain over the place. The clock struck 7:30. While sitting on a bench, an older man walked past me and stopped and stared at my uniform. He quickly straightened his posture and looked at me with warm and nurturing eyes. He said, “Thank you for all you do. If it weren’t for people like you, people like us wouldn’t have a place to live our final days.” I was in utter shock and frozen like ice for a few seconds. My heart felt so light, and all the burden I thought I was carrying just vanished with those words. I was reminded of my role: it was to serve the elders and provide them with the highest quality of life they can receive.
I blankly stared at my Chromebook screen, mindlessly scrolling through Indeed and clicking through jobs as if it was a clothing rack. My sister, who was also on Indeed, applying for jobs, suddenly stopped typing. She expressed her concern about why I needed to make money at such a young age. I told her I wanted to start early to gain experience and build a record to get into the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. She and I both knew how hard it was to get in, and after a few seconds of silence, she widened her eyes as if an epiphany had occurred. She suggested that I applied to a senior home as a dietary aide.
When my sister was in high school, she also worked for three years in a senior home facility as a dietary aide. Although she warned me how hard it could be from working under harsh conditions, she fully encouraged me to apply and said how beneficial of an experience it would be to my future career in the healthcare field. I aspired to become a nurse and was always intrigued by the whole process of dedicating your life for a stranger on their road to recovery. By working in a healthcare environment, I saw this as an opportunity to see what it’s really like behind the scenes.
It was my first day of work, surrounded by five nurses in a small, compacted area with voices blaring on top of another as if it was a competition on who was the loudest. My dietary partner forgot to put the chicken alfredo sauce on the noodles and served them with just the noodles. Of course, they had every right to be angry, but all the blame and pressure was on me. Without hesitation, doing my partner’s job, I added the alfredo sauce on each plate. I mentally cursed my sister, but I realized that mistakes are inevitable, and learning from them and growing as a person is what truly matters. That incident taught me how to quickly act upon problems even when in stressful situations.
The dreadful day we were all avoiding came unexpectedly, one beautiful sunny day in the summer. Still sleeping on my bed, Princess, our foster dog, laid calmly with her tiny body facing me as the morning sun glistened and revealed her shiny black fur. I received an email about a family who fell in love with Princess’s picture and was interested in adopting her. After all these weeks of caring and loving her nonstop, I had forgotten that I didn’t own her and that my family was just a temporary stop to her forever home. Clearly out of it, I snapped myself back to reality and mentally prepared myself for the meet and greet. We were greeted by an older family who rushed to Princess and showered her with cuddles and treats. Their hyper four-month-old lab mix was jumping up and down, and for the first time in a while, Princess was playing with another dog. My fears and anxiety on how she would live the rest of her life disappeared as I was reassured by the new loving family and her new buddy. It was a bittersweet moment as I kissed Princess goodbye and left their yard.
On the way back home from school, my friend, Annabel, introduced me to her new dog. I was immediately in love and expressed my jealousy to her. I’ve always wanted to adopt a dog, but my parents were against the idea of commitment. I quickly learned that she did not adopt the dog but fostered. I knew that if I wasn’t allowed to adopt, my parents might come around the idea of temporarily keeping a dog to see how it’s really like. My friend warned me not to get too attached to the dog as it’ll hurt more when letting them go. I brushed off what she said in disbelief because deep down, I knew I just wanted to care and love a dog, and it didn’t matter for how long.
Like any other day, I scrolled through the PetHaven Facebook account and saw a new post on four German Shepherd and Pomeranian mixed puppies looking for a foster home. I was filled with happiness as I ran around my house, screaming for my parents to come. We decided to foster Princess since my dad claimed she looked the most “fierce.” My mother, who once strongly rejected the idea of even owning a dog, was sending Princess’s pictures to her siblings. While busy preparing for Princess’s arrival, I slowly forgot about Annabel’s warning.
It was only on my vacation to India in 2012, where I was exposed to the overwhelming population of stray dogs roaming around, some starving with their protruding ribs as if they were freshly eaten turkey. The local Indians and even my grandparents saw these dogs as a nuisance to their lifestyle and would, unfortunately, scare them off, and some would even take extra measures to beat these helpless dogs. I was committed to helping these ill-fated dogs however I could in India and was devoted to loving and serving dogs even after coming back to America.
From my experiences of facing adversity in the world portrayed in this personal narrative, it accurately indicates that I am hardworking, can overcome obstacles, and seek the road of determination. My first experience was traveling to another country and having culture shock at their lifestyle. Still, I discovered that the pursuit of happiness doesn’t derive from wealth but how you can stay content in challenging situations. A stranger entered my life in the midst of giving up, and reminded me how important I am and motivated me to keep going with just a few words. This experience reminded me of my role as a caregiver and, even more, a human being. Lastly, a difficult decision to learn to let go of my dog and being okay without them taught me the importance of committing to your task to do the right thing. These stories taught me to rise above the difficulties that I may face in the world and hurdle through every obstacle, keeping close my values and beliefs until I reach my goals and face the clouds to success.