I am in the most beautiful town staying with the most beautiful family right now. Dharamsala is in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and it’s quite cold and the mountains remind me of the Rockies ! So thats pretty comforting. This is also a very touristy area (so there are many cafes with wifi, yay!) but the majority of this town is populated by Tibetan refugees. I’m not entirely sure of the situation here, but from my understanding, they are here because they have been forced out of their country by China. And so they have illegally crossed the border and now live here, in India.
The family that I am living with is just the most incredible people I could have ended up with for the week. There is an Amala (Mom) and a Pala (Dad) and a little 3 year old girl. They are all so, SO beautiful and so, SO welcoming! Their home is about the size of my bedroom. We all sleep together in this one room on little cots. They serve me butter tea (litterally tea with butter and salt, yummmmaaay.) every second they get. It took me a while to figure it out but after every sip I take they refill my cup (I thought I was just going crazy for a while there). They make the most delicious Tibetan meals and feed me till I’m full as full can be! They speak a little bit of english, and everything they say is just fantastic. The little girl seems to love me, and its definitely mutual. I gave her a puzzle of the map of Canada and she’s done it a million times since I gave it to her. She loves to make me sit right in front of her and congradulate her with every peice she puts in. It’s really precious. When Amala and Pala realized it was a map of Canada they got so worked up and excited! They had so many questions. I pulled out a book of Calgary and some canadian postcards and showed them all these pictures. They kept saying “It’s so clean. It’s so clean!” It was great to teach them about where I come from, they’ve actually been the first that have been curious!
The toilet and shower are on the roof of this building and you have to go up stairs and through a little maze to get to it. I had a shower there the other night and the showers here are bucket showers. My family boiled me water and I took that up to the shower room to mix with the cold water. I had the honor of sharing this shower with a maggot! It was a wonderful experience! It actually surprised me how much this didn’t bother me. Asia has lowered my standards of so many things, I don’t even know what is considered okay nowadays.
My little sister sat with me yesterday morning as I was getting ready for the day. She sat and watched me put in my contacts (this has been a big hit with every kid that has watched this!) and even offered her help! When I washed my face I gave her a cloth too and she did it with me. Lotion too! She is really, extremely, ridiculously adorable. She also likes to observe me at every waking moment and shout at her parents with excitement with every weird thing that I do. I’m pretty sure that they all think I’m crazy because of her!
From my understanding (through the conversation in very broken english I had with them about them coming to India) they have been living here in this little apartment for 6 years. They walked across the border illegally into Nepal and then came into India. Pala was telling me that many chinese people tried to convince him that he was a bad person, that he was living wrong. So they made the (roughly) month trip over to India on foot. Its incredible to live with these people who have such intense lives. In Dharamsala there are many MANY classes and events regarding the political dispute between China and Tibet. It’s unbelievable.
Another thing that I am experiencing here are the monks, nuns and laypersons flooding the streets in mourning of the Tibetans that keep self-immolating in protest of the Chinese occupation. They carry signs that say ‘ Tibet is burning, world help us ‘ and ‘You can blow out a candle but not a flame’ and ‘China, stop killing in tibet’. It’s increibly heartbreaking to see this, it’s just so surreal. I mean, you read these things in textbooks and hear about it in the news, but to be here in person and watch this happening is just a whole different thing. Just a glimpse of these events bring me to tears. This morning I came across a banner with the faces of all the people who have self-immoliated due to these political issues and, I believe it was 1988, was the picture of the first person who did it. And in this picture, they were actually on fire. This is such a real and horrifying reality in this world.
Each morning that we are here we are painting a kindergarten school for tibetan children. It’s quite a bit of work, and just like everything else in this country the way we’re told to do this doesn’t really make alot of sense! The afternoons are filled with chaishop hopping and shopping, and our evenings are occupied with tibetan political movies, lectures or something else of the sort. And then each night ends with a meal with our families and then bed! It’s pretty great because my family goes to bed about 8:00. Actually throughout alot of this trip I’ve been going to sleep at such early times. When it’s 10:00 and I’m not asleep yet, I’m so surprised!
This morning I woke up with my pala at 6:00 and walked to the temple with him. It was wonderful to walk around the town and watch the sun rise over the mountains. He explained to me why he spun the prayer wheels (inside are mantras and with each spin is a way of saying these mantras) and what he offered in the temples (black tea for the monks). And at the end of our walk we bought some bread from a stand on the road for breakfast.
I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here in Dharamsala, it’s alot less intense than the rest of india. In fact, Joel, Charlie and I made a trip down to lower Dharamsala the other day and came right back up shortly after because we much preferred the relaxed, tibetan atmosphere to the intense, indian craziness down there. I also think that this town in the mountains is a nice transition from India to Nepal. Our next adventure! But before that, we have a hike here in the foothills and a chance to go to the Dalai Lama teaching on the 20th.
I would also like to mention how great it has been to talk to many of you lovely people in my life over the past couple of days. It’s reminded me that I’m loved back home (despite what my crazy dreams have been telling me!) and has got me looking foreward to coming home. But, of course, I don’t ever actually want to leave! But I love you and miss you all. Xoxo.
And I would also like to appologize for my horrible spelling and gramar! I think the asian ‘english’ that I laugh at all the time is getting into my brain, plus the lack of time I have to write these posts, plus my not being in school all lead to this mess. Sorry!