Some of my English speaking friends have been complaining about not getting any updates from my work in India lately. Truly, I have only been updating in Norwegian in www.shenpenaid.com, as things suddenly got a little personal last year when I fell in love with my Tibetan collegue. And perhaps it was even a little “unprofessional” of a foreign aid worker to move in with a local, causing a great surprise in the village in Sonada. So my blogs got quiet… I feel very fortunate to have met Urgyen who always have been my best helper in the work here in Sonada, and who shares so many important values, like helping others with a non-tiring and light heart. I feel I met the warmest man in the Himalayas.
We live in a big damp flat next to the monastery in Sonada, with a beautiful garden. It lies between a football field where the monks often play football or practice playing ceremonial instruments without breathing pauses while walking (which often is a lot of noice!) and the 3 year retreat center nearby where 14 monks entered 3 year retreat on the last full moon. There was a big ceremony for them in the monastery before we walked them to the retreat door where the retreat master made auspicious prayers, and we waived them through the doors they will not exit in 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. Sometimes I hear them doing pujas, when my mind is quiet.
Have been working this fall visiting many training centers for skills training in the Darjeeling hill area, to prepare for a new project we are starting to help local youth learn skills to make a living. Many people have harldly nothing to live on around here. Maybe just one cow. Technical institutes, hotel and cookery, computer training, nursing schools etc. It has been a very interesting experience to see the Indian institutes, and not to mention the chaos of obtaining information. The last month I have been shopping a lot to clothe the coldest of the children, mostly the small ones in the hostels. Have also worked on planning Shenpen´s next warming project, solar water heating for more than 200 children in the hostels. If all goes according to plan, we will install the solar panels by end of January. I can´t wait to see if the water really will get hot! You never know in India…. But I have faith it will work, since our solar man, Mr. Mandal, is very experienced in working in the Himalayan regions.
Still it is a fact that it is easy to get tricked in India, and Iafter more than two years here I can still blow up when I realize I am getting cheated, while Urgyen is trying to calm me down saying I have to understand that in India the highest value is maximum profit, and businessmen naturally try to get the highest possible prize. I must´t blame them for it. Yet to my Norwegian trained mind, where the highest value is honesty and fair prize, I feel it is wrong to cheat and I get selfrighteously pissed off. While the merchant is looking at me with a blank non-understanding stare. What if I had made a joke of it or something, which would have been much wiser. Or just wiggled my head and happily walked away.
Living in the Himalayas is also filled with beauty and mysteries. The nature has magnificent views, and people live together in a different way than in the West. They are just more together. Let´s say someone in the village dies. The villagers will come in hoards and support the diseased person´s family who will never be alone. Because if they are left alone, they might become more sad, and the villagers try to prevent that by being together with them. Living with the Tibetans, I feel that almost everybody has a spiritual view in life, and tries to practice the Dharma, somehow. Everybody looks to Dalai Lama. His picture is everywhere.
The other day I came from the clinic in the afternoon and passed the 8 stupas next to the road built by Kalu Rinpoche. At sunset Tibetans do Kora (make rounds) around the stupas. I saw a very old man, walking veeeery slowly with his walking chair, which he had to lift every half meter and place before him again, circling the stupa doing his spiritual practice, even if he could hardly walk and it was a very great effort to him. I passed him and looked at his smiling face, so happy and relaxed even in the midst of physical exhaustion. Tibetans can be like that. Doing their koras and their manis again and again and again. It´s their way of meditation. Especially the elders.
I recently went to visit two elder´s homes in Kalimpong, a few hours travel from here., to find out whether there is a need for more elder´s homes for poor Himalayans (Shenpen mission). It turned out there is a great need. One of the centers was founded by the Third Jamgon Kongrul Rinpoche, where elders and children live wall to wall, an elders home and an orphanage all mixed up. The elders get life from the orphaned children who have many grandparents. A wonderful sight, with a school and eye clinic next door. And of course, the Tibetan elders were sitting in the prayer room together doing their manis with malas and prayer wheels. Joyfully practicing Om mani pedme hung.
Now before Christmas I miss Norway. All the children here have gone home for winter holiday, and it is getting quiet. I just had a Christmas dinner in a Glenary´s restaurant in Darjeeling with the staff in the clinic and hostels. And they have gotten Christmas cakes. Honoring the staff is not very common around here.
Today I bought a big star to hang in our window, and tasted the Christmas chocolate I just got from Norway in the post. Lucky me. By the end of the evening the star managed to short circiuit the whole sitting room. Indian wiring must be seen to be believed.
Life is good, even thought it is bloody cold in the Himalayas now. I´ve got a super thick Tibetan style wrap-a-round with fur inside we jokingly call “amala”, which means mother in Tibetan. I look like one of the locals, almost. So many people know me in the village – walking down to the market many people smile and greet me and say “Urgyen”. He got famous when he suddenly moved in with a foreigner. It spread like wildfire in the village. The friends hurriedly “married” us last winter with a white scarf ceremony. You can´t just move in together. So for the locals we were married, even if no one asked the question and no one said yes. That is already a long time ago.
Unfortunately, when loacals speak to me, I cannot have any real conversations since I am pretty illiterate in both Nepali and Tibetan. Hoping to improve. But smiles still work, and people are very friendly. And luckily the educated speak English. Sending children to an English school is the big thing in the village. But few can afford it. The poverty is striking sometimes, and my heart really goes out to all the women who work in construction carrying incredibly heavy loads. I really wish one day we could do something for them.
This will be the first Christimas in my life without my dear father, who died on his 77. birthday in October. Luckily I was there with him and my family. Now when he is gone somehow his good qualities stand out, and I feel so grateful especially for the music I got from him, so many melodies, and so many times picking blueberries or going skiing with a view, or having deep conversations over tørrfisk (dried fish). He died the same week as Lou Reed. And now Nelson Mandela. So many people to be grateful for. When Mandela died, I thought, like all of you, about his qualities; the love and compassion and forgiveness and wisdom in his life, and how extremely valuable these qualities are, how they resonate in absolutely everybody. The Buddhists call it Bodhicitta. I think these qualities are the Philosophers Stone itself. I wish us good luck in cultivating them!
May all our aspirations come true!
MERRY CHRISTMAS + HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Love from Heidi
Sonada, 22. December 2013