Archive for December 18th, 2009

Tibetan Friends

Tibetan friends, Pokhora, Nepal
Welcome to Pokhora
Boatman before sunrise

Before sunrise I hired a boatman to row me across the lake so I could hike the alternate route up to the World Peace Pagoda overlooking the lake side town of Pokhora, Nepal. I arrived at the monument just after sunrise as the Himalayas came into view   – I sat in silence inside the Japanese Monastery as a monk hypnotically beat a drum and chatted a peace mantra. A anti atomic bomb reminder hung prominently above. When he saw me, he gestured to come forward and I expected a request for a small donation.  Instead, he opened a small brass jar and gave me a peace of hard candy and nodded silentlyl; he then went back to his chanting and rhythm drum work –  I went back to listening silently. Hours later, after tea and enjoying the view from the Stupa before the bus of Korean kids came up from the other “easy”  side, he was still sitting in the same place, performing the same brain focusing work.

World peace Pagoda

Upon returning to Pokhora lakeside, I was in a particularly calm, peaceful, and generous mood so I decided to look at some of the small souvenirs offered by the Tibetan women who carried their offerings in small day packs.  For days they had patiently and politely asked me to make a small purchase to “Help” and I had equally patiently and politely declined.  Today was different however and I knew that If I looked ,I would be compelled to buy a little something to help them out. Unfortunately, there were 7 women who sell in the neighborhood of my hotel so one by one I had to look and buy.  At the end, I had more stuff than I possibly needed given I had also bought some stuff trekking. So  I simply bought something from one seller and gave her another piece I had previously bought.  I didn’t haggle on the price and they all knew that I knew that I was over paying; but really….the prices were stupid cheap by our standards and they had made these pieces that were there means of livelihood.  I maybe spend $50usd. Who would have known that this small kindness would be returned a hundred fold in the days to come


The next day, I remembered that I had 1.5kg of Tang left from trekking that I was not likely going to use, and I also had several kilos of popcorn that Angin’s mother had graciously given me after Angin told her I eat it all the time and loved the small mountain corn.   Given that I could not ship the popcorn and had no way of cooking it, I figured I would offer it to my Tibetan sales women and ask if maybe they could pop a little bit for me. They were very grateful and recommended that I walk to their refuge camp and see the Tibetan rugs – I did but unfortunately the Maoist had told them, while carrying sticks, that they must close for the day in solidarity of the strike.

Boys of Pokhora

Side note: from what I have read in the local papers, I am empathic to the Maoist position and what appear to be legitimate grievances. That said, having young thugs with stick close poverty stricken shops, including my tiny barber stall, is just bullshit and in no way can be good for the country.

Now the Tibetans of the village, being the great adapters, figured this would  simply be a good time to have a town meeting, which they did and discussed the upcoming democratic elections being held in Dharmasala (the exiled capital of Tibet, which is in India). Tibetans are not Indian, or Nepali citizens…they are literally exiled and refuges with no citizenship, 50 years after the invasion of Tibet from China in 1959, but fortunately the Indian government has largely stayed out of their affairs as they maintain an exiled government. And fortunately the Nepali government has also largely left them alone and allowed the establishment of refuge camps.  At his point, there are children of children  of the original Tibetans who fled their homeland.

Tibetan women weaving belt (in violation of the Moaist imposed strike)

Returning, I ran into the women (~30-~65 years old) and told them I could not see the rug factory, but I did sit in on part of their town meeting and an old man translated for me. They gave me some of the popcorn that they had popped and commented that this must be “high county” corn, which it was, because it was “so very good”. They told me to meet them by the selling tree the next morning because they were going to bring breakfast.

Black tea, with butter, and a LOT of salt, equals Tibetan tea.  They say it is an acquired taste and maybe after years that is so, but it is pretty awful and I have drank a good many cups in the last weeks seeking the allusive “acquired” part.  We drank our tea and ate Tibetan bread and then I jumped into a jeep and headed for my paragliding adventure.

Flying was truly a remarkable experience and acting like a bird as the thermals took us higher and higher was impressive.  But I could not help but think about my friends in town, who brought me breakfast and who were selling jewelry in hopes of making a few dollars, if that, a day.


Unfortunately flying is also like being on a carnival ride and 40 minutes into my hours flight I was releasing my Tibetan Tea and  bread to the good humor of my French pilot. We descended very quickly and a coke largely fixed the taste in my mouth.  I walked an hour back to town thankful for the experience and went straight to bed.

Egg Delivery

The following morning I had planned to leave Pokhora but another strike was planned and thus I opted to leave the day after.  Following breakfast the girls found me (they never once asked me to buy another thing), and bought black tea while I purchased some bananas and tangerines from the street vendor.  We drank tea, ate fruit and laughed about me getting sick.  When they inquired about when I was leaving.  I told them my plans and they explained that if I could stay, I could come back to village, stay at  their brand new guest house, and celebrate the 20th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama  winning the Nobel Peace prize. You know, why not; besides one of the women – I found out was single, in the appropriate (as defined by this culture) age category (over 30, over 20 is actually fine here but does not work for me) nice, and quite attractive. I was not looking for any romance but interacting with single women is simple different than those who are attached. I packed my bags, checked out of my good but sterile hotel and walked back to the refugee camp with nothing but a name as a reference.

“You must be Mr. Robert, we expecting you,  thank you much for being guest at new house, and helping our community, your room is prepared for you”.  And what a nice room, a great young cook who prepared wonderful meals on a two burning portable stove, and a welcome from 800 Tibetan refugees the next day.   The guest house was build with donations from westerners and contains 4 rooms.  It employs 5 young camp members who are well educated but have no prospects for jobs.  The idea is to create there own jobs in a sort of “teach a man to fish” way.   All proceeds go into the general community fund. I was thrilled to be here and very happy that I was getting a good service for abiet slightly elevated price –  but the money was going to help the many rather than benefit a few.

Preparing food

I got up early but not early enough because when I got to the outdoor kitchen I found team B (there are three teams in the camp, and each team takes on the community duties for one year) hard at work preparing food for all inhabitants as well as those even less fortunate in the surrounding Nepali village. I drank more Tibetan tea as I took photos and tried to stay out of the way.  Buy this point, everyone in town seemed to know who I was (along with an aspiring Nun, we were apparently the only Westerner invited. Their were three young Australian girls who were volunteering there for a month), and it was all smiles and explanations regarding what was being prepared on the wood and propane stoves.  Every seen a Wok that is big enough to fry multiple  Kilos of rice?  Big.

Prepare food

I went to the flag ceremony led by the camps monastics, and spun the prayer wheels while chanting the now familiar mantra which is said to be untranslatable because it encompasses all of the Dharma, or wisdom, of Buddhism. Each prayer wheel has this same inscription written on it, and I discovered that inside each cylinder is filled with small pieces of paper containing the mantra as well.  Thus you are saying, and amplifying this mantra thousands of time with each revolution of the wheel.

We went to the blessing for His Holiness and I was ushered forward to pay honors as well.  I was self conscious as I did not no how to show respect but simply followed the lead of those in front of me; when done, the Lama  smiled broadly and clasped my hand and nodded.

Food for 800

We feasted on buffalo, dal-bhat, sweat rice with fruit, and really good yogurt. “I thought Buddhist were vegetarian” I inquired to Choezom as we ate alone while  the old women whispered.   “Did not Buddha teach that one should refrain from killing”? “ Oh yes” Choezom replied, “ That is Buddhist teaching, and we do not kill anything,,,,, but the Buddha said nothing about eat if dead, so ok  we eat… bought the buffalo from someone else who kill”.  And thus we get a perfect insight into the adaptability of the Buddhist philosophy.

Monks and secular boys

In the afternoon Choezom and I walked along the river, through a local part of Pokhora, and amongst the rice fields.  We sat on a bench together for awhile and while I have no idea what she was thinking, and we did not discuss, I had a strong feeling of awkwardness until I regrouped and recognized that here was a kind friend and a wonderful person and enjoyed the remainder of the day with that thought alone.

Tibetan friend making yarn

While the rest of the village ate again (I do not know how that was possible) we drank Nescafe coffee in her tiny back yard  adjacent to the semi-indoor kitchen that she shares with 2 sisters, one brother, and one brother in law. We talked of travel, of places I have been, was going (some she had visited as a guest of other travelers)  and places she hoped to see one day. We talked about the plight of the Tibetan people, why the police had showed up at our celebration today (at the request of the Chinese government to the Nepali government to ensure ongoing intimidation and compliance ….according to the Tibetan perspective which I understand fully is only one perspective).

Choezom and village child

Then we danced and danced some more. Young, old, ancient….we all danced.  We danced until the power went out…literally.  And I watched how a community works; everyone watches the children,  and while I do not hold babies as my family will attest I held a few this night.  And everyone monitors and enforces appropriate behavior; when one young man had obviously been drinking, he was escorted off the dance floor.  When he first refused his friends, his parents stepped in while other looked on approvingly and then started dancing again. During the day, two teenage boys got into a bit of scuffle and when the one boy would not calm down his quite elderly mother pinned him to a wall in front of the entire community.  Choezom explained to me, that tomorrow the parents would hold a meeting with the two boys to ensure the problem would not fester or potentially grow. It was impressive to see.  And yet, Choezom explained to me that it has it downfalls.  “What are those” I inquired.  “You see all of these people are my extended family, so getting married here is like marrying your brother, marrying your brother who you grew up with, who does not have a job and who has no prospect of getting one”.  She said this is in a perfectly factual manor with no bitterness or even perceived longing…just a simple way that I have noted, particularly amongst the Tibetans and the mountain Nepali’s, and one that Choezom herself described as simply “The way things are….we do not concern yourself with the ways things are, as that is a waste of time.”  At first I thought this was defeatist but then I saw plenty of action that proves that is not the case.  The difference here verses my perspective at home is, here they only focus on the things they can change and they actually do seem to know the difference as the prayer recommends.

Village grls

I new I was leaving in the morning and had that awful feeling you get when traveling after you meet wonderful people, you know you have to go, and in this case in particular I maybe actually needed to go, and yet a part of me wanted to stay….. At 4am I got up as Annie, the aspiring nun was heading on a sunrise sight seeing trip around Pokhora with Choezom and my other friend as guides.  We said our good-byes in the dark and they each gave me a scarf (I forget its specific name but they are for safe travels)  Angin had previously given me one as well, so now I travel with three. I made a donation to the community and tried to help my friends out a bit as well, and told myself  if I am every in Nepal again, I will come back and see the dear people of Tashiling refugee camp. Next time I will help chop the vegetables.

My Friend Choezom


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