I have, after years of study and preparation, finally met one of the ani (Tibetan nun) face-to-face. The meeting gave me great hopes for this project’s success.
Stepping onto the grounds of Geden Choeling, the oldest ani gompo (Tibetan nunnery) in Dharamsala, I looked from door to door, saw nuns doing laundry, cooking together, thriving in their own community in exile from their homeland, and felt a rush of surreal excitement. This was Geden Choeling, the place I’d read about and imagined, this was the place. A true dharamsala – because the name itself literally means “Safe haven for the people of the dharma.”
Kalsang is a beautiful and somber woman from Eastern Kham, one of the small villages that borders China. She has high cheek bones, plum-colored lips, and serious eyes behind glasses. Her room is shared with another, older ani, who could not stay to meet me – an ani down the hall was sick with cancer and needed help cooking her meal.
I sat with Kalsang and Restored Voice Project’s interpreter and translator, Palden, in the small and cozy room that overlooks the Dhauladhar mountain range. The room is filled to the brim with Tibetan scripture and books, shelves divided only by two small beds that have the typical mishmash of thick blankets, yak’s wool shawls, and Tibetan pillows embroidered with endless knots, dragons, and sometimes English words (like one big “OK” in the midst of the Eastern designs, in a slanting sort of cursive font).
We were there for an informal introduction. No interview yet – I wanted to share a bit about myself and the project before launching right into the big questions, the tape recorder and the camera. I’m glad that I took this approach, because Kalsang is very shy and humble. If I had simply jumped right into the interview, I think she may have been uncomfortable. The difference between our first encounter and the time we parted ways, however, was great – the shyness had dropped, on both sides, and a sense of mutual interest and understanding seemed to be in the air between us, communicated between our smiles and intent eye contact. I cannot wait to spend extended time with her and to hear her story this Sunday. She will have much to teach us.