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    Posted March 17, 2014 by
    Beijing, China
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

    My Mosuo Sister

    In the fall of 2011 I studied abroad with the program SIT in Kunming, China. Through this program I was able to travel up to Lugu Lake to do research on how tourism is effecting the Mosuo's walking marriages. The Mosuo are a matrilineal ethnic minority. I stayed there for two weeks. This experience opened up my future, not only because I was living in rural China, experiencing something no other foreigner has had access to. I became a member of a community, a member of a family, and I survived two weeks with out showers, running water, and toilets. The pig pen outside was my bathroom and every morning while I used the bathroom I had a beautiful view of the sunrise in the valley. This experience shaped what I have done for the last three years of my life. I returned to see this family the following summer and I lived with them for another two weeks. What made this experience was my little sister.
    On the first day together that summer we sat on Ama’s bed (The eldest woman in the house holds bed, which is located in the main central room of the house.) My little sister took out pictures of me, which I had given her on my last visit. Then she took out the family photo album and showed me pictures of herself at her coming of age ceremony, which had happened at the last Spring Festival. After this moment we were instant best friends. She would take me to houses in her village for me to conduct interviews; we would cook together, color, read, walk, explore, take care of the animals, and herd the pigs. I fell in love with this little girl. I called her little sister, and I wrote my senior thesis for her. I wrote it so that one day I could give it to her. I wanted her to know about her culture and how it is being effected by tourism.
    At the end of my research I had fleas, I hadn't showered in two weeks, nor used a toilet, since they lack running water and bathrooms. I hadn’t used Internet or spoken English in two weeks. I was done. So I had arranged to go back to the tourist town the next day. I told my little sister. She looked up at me and said no, I don't want you to leave tomorrow, I want you to leave the day after tomorrow. So I changed it, I could suffer through another day of fleas to spend another day with this little girl. I left on the back of my older brother’s motorcycle with tears filling my eyes, waving goodbye as people brought the cows out to the fields. And I knew I would be back to see my little sister.
    This family had become my family. After graduation I moved to Beijing and on my first break I went immediately to Yunnan to see them. I brought with me photos that I had taken on my last visit, as well as my senior thesis, which I translated into Chinese so that my family could read it. The roads were snowy and I had every family member calling me trying to get me to their house over the snowy mountain pass. I finally got to the end of their driveway and tears rolled down my cheeks. I walked into my house, everyone was there, teary eyed as well. No hugs, just looks filled with tears. We sat down for dinner with various neighbors. After dinner I first pulled out the photos and everyone passed them around pointing out their friends. Then I handed my sister my thesis, and said, “I wrote this for you.” I had spent a year of my life waiting for this moment, the moment I would be able to give what I wrote to the girl I wrote it for. She read through some of it, then other family members fought for it. When they read a good enough amount and saw the words of their friends, they looked up at me and said thank you.
    I spent a couple days there exploring with my little sister. When it was time for me to leave, there were tears again. And this time there were huge hugs. My mother (Ama) looked at me before I left and said, “every year you must come once.” So I left knowing that I would be back again to see my family.
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