Now that it is about a week until we leave McLeod Ganj, we are thinking of all the things we want to do and accomplish before we leave. We have made great progress with Simple Gifts, making arrangements for smoother transer of funds, finding out more about the children we are sponsoring and their educational opportunities, visiting the Ser Khang Hostel, identifying a new child to sponsor etc. Tomorrow afternoon we are going to start making a video of me talking to choenyi with the help of our wonderful interpreter Lobsang. It will be a new project for David – so I reassure everyone (including myself) not to be nervous or self conscious. I think we are really pushing the limits for Choenyi as her whole life has been in the company of nuns and monks in the strict lifestyle of the nunnery. But she has been wonderful and brave to try these new things and she continously communicates her gratitude on behalf of the children and families we are helping.
This gentlemen, Lobsang, seems to be the manager of the Hostel. He agreed that looking after 10 teenagers could be a challenge! HE very kindly gave us a tour and made us feel at home. Of course our visit was totally unexpected, as we had no way to communicate with them beforehand!
Here are all the students. The girls had just finished washing their clothes in the small river that runs right by the Hostel. There is something very different about being around children and teenagers that have not watched 30 hours of American TV every week for 15 years. They are clear and bright. They are genuine and………….hmmm…..can’t think of the right words to describe. It is a wonderful experience to talk to them and watch how they interact with each other and with us.
Yesterday we took a 40 minute drive to visit a potential partner with Simple Gifts. This Tibetan Hostel houses high school students whose families live in the remote areas of the Himalayas where shcooling stops at grade 8. The 2 children that Simple Gifts is sponsoring would be able to continue their education if we continue to sponsor them. We took this trip to see what it was like, how it is run etc.
The first photo is of their daily routine. You can see it begins very early and includes prayer. They attend an Indian school about 3 km away and are home in the afternoon when they continue their studies until evening. This photo is Choenyi ( my friend and liaison person with the children in school now) Next to her is the woman who teaches the children Tibetan. They speak Tibetan of course, but in the same way we take “English” right through high school, so do they.
This is the countryside surrounding the hostel. It is an agricultural area (Indian) peaceful, green with streams running and trees and bamboo. The mountains in the distance are clouded over at this moment.
This is the hostel room. Right now there are 8 girls and 2 boys in residence. They are from the same area (Spitti – about 15 km from the Tibet border) so they all knew each other before they came here. Iamgine being so far away from your family and everything you know! Everything was spotlessly clean and orderly.
Choenyi is the nun that I tutored in English last time I was here. She is also the liaison person betweeen the children who are being sponsored by Simple Gifts and me . I went to visit her again this week and gave her the vests that were knitted for the nuns. David was there to take pictures. She was very happy and appreciative. She said the sizes were good and that many nuns are now much warmer because of these. She tried one on and modelled it, and pointed out all the good features – delighted. She also pulled out a hat of a very simple style knitted by Pam McGuire with the extra wool from a vest. SHe said these are also very very good and help them keep warm at night. Thay cannot wear anything on their heads outside their rooms, but inside is OK. These are a very simple style that Pam has created, so I told Choenyi – we will send more. Anyone who can knit can make one of these (even you, Doris!) so it will be easy to supply more in the future.
As Choenyi and I were slowly communicating in very brokem English – she had an idea and left her room. She came back a moment later with a young Tibetan woman – who speaks perfect English! Lobsang is visiting her mother for three months in the nunnery (she joined the nunnery when she was widowed) and has lived the last 15 years in New Jersey. What a God sent! Now the communciation channels are fully open and we are having in depth conversations.
Choenyi says the children Pema (girl, approx. 12 years old in grade 3) and her brother Rigseg (10 years old, grade 4) are doing well in school. She has pictures of them in their school uniform for me to take back to Canada. She told me there are many many poor families living in the region – some children are able to attend school, others not. There is so much need, so we talked about all the possiiliites and I asked if there was a way to benefit many children in a small way. After many hours of back and forth, we have come up with a few ways. Some children at the Monastery School have supplies and proper clothes and others do not. So she will take some money I give her and buy school supplies for them – things like pencils, paper, and shoes! Choenyi says the families keep repairing the children’s shoes (canvas) over and over, with much sewing and stuffing inside. She asked if it was OK to buy some children shoes – I said of course!
Choenyi visits Spiti Region once a year, so when she goes in 2009 she will purchase these supllies and distribute them to the children most in need. I gave her 2 disposable cameras that she will bring and take pictures of the children, the school and the village. She will bring the cameras back to MG after her trip (May?) and then will wait until someone I know visits MG and they can bring the cameras to the west to get developed and sent to me. So as you can see – if we are lucky – we will get pictures in about a year!
Choenyi keeps thanking me for all the effort on behalf of the children, I thank Lobsang for making herself available for all these conversations and Lobsang thanks Choenyi for her willingness to serve as go-between. We agree we make a good team! Lobsang is here for another months so we will have many more conversations to clarify things, make arrangements and so I can learn more.
HH Dalai Lama has been in hospital since we have been in MG. He had gall bladder surgery about 10 days ago – and this morning we heard the news – he is coming home today. Anything we may have been planning to do is out the window – as well as the plans of everyone else in town. Meetings cancelled, shops closed. The streets are super cleaned, Tibetan Prayer flags line the street he will be driving on to his home next to the Temple, huge banners are displayed over his route, Tibetan flags flying boldly. The street has Tibetan Buddhist symbols painted on it. School children are released, nuns and monks are given permission to go out and be part of the welcoming that lines both sides of the street. We all wait – his timing is understandably ambiguous, there are Indian army soldiers walking up and down the street and EVERYONE in MG is out. The oldest folks (prayer beads in hand, standing patiently praying) young parents with their children, babies on backs, school children, westerners, journalist etc. The great thing is that there is enough of a route and relatively a small number of people – so everyone gets a place on the side of the road – everyone will be able to see him as he passes. The signal is given that his motorcade is approaching and everyone rises to their feet, palms together. He looks happy, rested – beautiful smile. It is a cause of much celebration and joy – knowing that he is once back here with us.
Somehow (who says we need to wait for reward in heaven?) we are blessed with being the recipients of a knock on our door at 7:45 every morning and 2 cups of steaming hot chai! This is a miracle we will definitely miss when we return to Canada. Any way, the day starts with hot chai, hot shower (I insist on hot running water in our accommodation) and meeting friends for breakfast at the little restaurant next door that is run by monks as part of their monastery. If I am fortunate I have awoken at 4:30 am to hear their low chanting and bell ringing next door. We might have good homemade thick Tibetan bread, good omelet, hot chai, porridge with banana etc. we meet always with Anna and David – sometime others may join us. We share what we are up to for the day and set a meeting place for lunch at 1 pm. Joseph has been helping with Tibet Watch, I have been meeting with the nuns. Sometimes David and I go for an excursion around town – showing him some sights, alleyways, paths, views he has not seen yet. We meet for lunch and plan an afternoon activity – could be hiking, walking about 2 km downhill to the Indian town at the bottom of the mountain. That walk takes us past the Tibetan government-in-exile buildings, library, Hospital, Tibetan Medicine Academy, Tibetan archives and museum buildings – a very big complex, through a little village and on a path that pops us out in the middle of a very busy market in Dharamsala. On this walk we might meet other westerners and share a little conversation and stories, cows (of course) dogs of all shapes, sizes and conditions, monkeys, parakeets, exotic flowers and plants, nuns, monks, refugees from other parts of India who have come here to work (digging ditches, hauling bricks, sand or rocks up and down mountain sides) and on and on. Always new sights and always a good workout – even though it is down hill all the way! We meet at an eating place around 6 pm – anything from chowmein, momos, cold toast with rancid butter, warm milkshake, excellent bruschetta with broiled vegetables, tempura vegetables, lemon pie, hot ginger, lemon and honey (this is always a favorite as one of us seems to be working our way through a cold and/or sore throats and coughs), Lots of conversation, laughing, story telling etc throughout the evening until bedtime. David shows us all the spectacular photos he has taken during the day. It gets dark at 6 pm and starts cooling off quite quickly. Anna is staying at monastery about 1 km up a dark road so Joseph escorts her to the bottom of her trail. Joseph plays guitar or flute – did I mention he bought a second flute in Rishikesh? I read.
Today I went to the Geden Choeling Nunnery and went to the room of Choenyi – and found her there! It was a very warm welcome and much happiness and hugging going on. Wangmo (the younger 16 year old nun whose younger brother and sister Simple Gifts is sponsoring) was also in the room, getting her books for class. We talked for a few minutes and her English is much better and she is not so shy. She gave me a picture of her brother and sister in their school clothes (the picture Choenyi had sent me that I never received). Choenyi and I talked for a bit, but I kidded her about not studying English – that Wangmo’s was better than hers. She agreed. To do any of the serious conversation about future ventures of Simple Gifts and our banking arrangements etc I will need to get someone to help us communicate. I know there are some nuns who speak very very good English.
It was great to see her and I assured her I was in town for some time and we would have many good times to talk and be together.