June 17, 2009
One of the things we love about Tibet is our addiction to Diamox, the medicine Barb and I are both taking to ward off altitude sickness (I actually first typed attitude sickness, which it may be helping with, too). One of Diamox’s great attributes is that it puts you in a deep sleep at night, and you are REM-MING all night long. For instance, I have dreamed that I was making love with Lapo Elkann (the 30 something heir to the Fiat fortune who wears the greatest suits and shoes), while at a going away party for my dear friend, Angelina Jolie. A few days later I dreamed that Angelina was wrapped up in a blanket, lying in a foetal position, and said to me, “I am your little squirrel.” Yes, I replied, with great affection,“You are my precious little squirrel.” I also dreamed that someone in my family had been through training to be a plastic surgeon, and they said I could have plastic surgery on my nose for free and it would be a great opportunity because the supervisor would also be there. I thought I would go ahead and do that, despite not really thinking I needed a nose job, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw that, indeed, I had a snout on the end of my nose that was just like a pig’s, so surgery was probably in order, after all.
Barb has dreamed that her left arm was a large wing made up of bright orange begonias, and her ex-boyfriend had a complementary wing of bright red begonias. She has also wandered with her grandmother for hours in a hotel looking for her grandmother’s room, and has been unable to culminate making love with somebody (she doesn’t know who—some cute guy) because she is in a room with eight doors and a plethora of people coming in and out serving coffee.
On our way to town one day, we are excited to see Khandro carrying two bags of garbage into Gansi. Yesterday, I had told her not to toss a biscuit wrapper in a field, and she looked at me with total amazement. Waste management hasn’t caught up with the Tibetans—rather like the US in the 1950’s when people would toss a garbage bag out the car window when they were out for a Sunday drive in the countryside. Big fines, recycling and trash pick up at your front door took care of most of that, but those are strategies that have yet to reach us on the Plateau. So, we are thrilled at the environmental breakthrough. As we chug toward Gansi in the taxi, she asks the driver to pull over to the side of the bridge, and lifts the two bags. I assume there is a trash site nearby, but she is about to toss it out the window into the rushing river.
Once again, she is totally taken aback by the screams of protest from Barb and I, and brings it back through the window to be deposited in a barrel in town, with a look of “Whaaaaaat’s the problem?” on her beautiful face.
We know that many of the people on the tours this summer are bringing clothing for the kids in the village. So, one I ask Khandro for a list of all the children in the village so that when the tour guests come, we can distribute those fairly and also buy clothes and toys for the kids in town. Great jackets and dresses abound (being China, everything is a rip off from some manufacturer who sells in the West—you can buy a North Fac jacket that looks like a real North Face or an Ozark Jacket that has a label saying Zarko). They’re a little short on the spelling. On the screen saver at the internet place, it says TES TO LIFE and NO TO DRUGS). Khandro sits down with me after dinner and in one fell swoop rattles off the names of 92 kids and their ages, from 1-18.
I am asleep when she and Nyima Dakpa come in to shake me and wake me up—they are concerned because she has forgotten 6 more kids that live at the edge of the village, so their names go on the list, too. I try to imagine remembering 98 kids’ names and ages, without a falter before I drift back to Diamox Land.
Today we go to town with Nyima Dakpa to buy a small two-burner gas stove for the tour camp site, since we have realized that hauling tons of dried yak dung with us will not work and my plan to have one of the silver paneled solar cookers is dashed when Khandro looks at me with skepticism and has me lift it to see how much it weighs–probably 150 lbs, not so easily hauled along with all the rest of our stuff (I probably could have gotten away without buying microscopes, but I did think the tour guests might want to look at bugs and leaves in Tibet)
Khandro is thrilled about the gas stove, but also scared as it keeps lighting up with a flare. She asks how Americans cook. Do they use an open yak dung fire? Do they use gas? When I tell her many people in the United States have electric stoves, I have to draw her a picture to get the idea across. She keeps looking up at the light and saying luk? (electricity). For someone who lost part of a finger and has 4” round scars all over her body from being electrocuted as a child–unconscious for five days–when she touched a live wire hanging out of a socket, she’s understandably a bit gun shy. By the puzzled look on her face, I can see that I never do bridge the concept between electricity and cooking.
Later on, Khandro shows us who’s boss and gets back at our know-it-all selves by wrestling with us, something that Tibetans love to do—I’ve been in many a wrestling scuffle, trying to hold my own with people who work in fields all day and run up and down the mountainsides—it isn’t easy trying to take down a Tibetan on their home turf, but we give it a go.
In the afternoon, we do the usual and go out to the path in front of the house to wait for our yaks to come home from the hills. Everybody else is out there, too, because that’s what happens at 7:00pm, 365 days a year in Oh Szang Village.
Above: Last of the Yaks Come Home from the Mountains
We open the gate to the courtyard of the home and wander in with our yaks–they don’t need us, they head straight to their stalls under the house. In the courtyard, Khandro starts playing around with her kids, chasing and wrestling with them and pretending to be the Chinese police beating them with truncheons.
Her 14 year old son, Thamdin, laughs and marches around the yard, imitating the rigid form and goose-step of the police and military we have seen in town. It is disconcerting for Barb and I who are on the sidelines, but just part of getting through life for them. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger comes to mind as a maxim that seems to have daily use in Tibet Land.