Restored Voice Project’s research phase is reaching its close, with only a little over two weeks left in McLeod Ganj, and India!
The journey has flown by, and simultaneously also seemed take a lot of time and patience. January and February were full of set-backs, whether they be related to health, inclement weather, or the logistics of creating contacts with the nuns themselves. I knew, as I made my plans, that there would be struggles; I simply had no way to predict what they would be! But arriving with contacts made and plans laid out has been a saving grace – if I had started from scratch upon arrival, there would have been absolutely no way I could have finished my research goals in three months.
And if I had hadn’t done that preliminary outreach, I wouldn’t have found my interpreter, Tenzin Choekyi, who has been the final and most necessary piece to this new kind of puzzle. Choekyi possesses the perfect energy for this project – she is genuine, collected, reserved, and warm all at once. She is present. She invites your confidence and affection within minutes of meeting her. With her working hard at my side, RVP has already progressed past its goal (in terms of number of interviews), more than tripling the amount of interviews I had in the first seven weeks of my stay. The next few weeks give us time to meet even more amazing women than planned – and to plan for the journey home.
After waiting four years to return to India, I find myself with mixed feelings, knowing that my departure arrives so soon. I am very ready to be back home, writing in my living room with my green tea, orange tabby lap-warmer, and stacks of books on Tibetans. However, when will I have the chance to be back in India again? This uncertainty is something that Buddhism would advise me to embrace. And while leaving India may be bittersweet, I can rest assured knowing that I will be happy to be home as well as reflecting fondly on the country within which I’ve now spent a year of my life. My bonds with my Indian family have been strengthened and refreshed, and new bonds have been made here, up in these steep, forested hills, between Tibetan refugees as well as volunteers and researchers from around the world. I’m going to miss the welcoming, good-humored monks who greet me every day and offer me a seat beside them – even if I won’t miss being woken at 4:30AM every day by their gong, cymbals, and chanting. And I’m going to miss the warm, affectionate, mostly wordless communication exchanged between myself and the women who also live in the compound.
All that I’ve learned and experienced is churning inside me, not yet ready, but fermenting into what will be a complex and savory wine. I can’t wait to get down to transforming these thoughts and experiences into literature – and, even more exciting, to receiving the translated transcripts of the interviews. That is when the manuscript can really start to take form.
Well, I’m off to see about whether I can track down some of the rare and elusive ngagma (Tibetan Tantric female mystics), who are a very different type of “Tibetan nun.” Their practice has been dying out, but there are some attempts to revive it here in Dharamsala. Cross your fingers for some mystic women’s stories!
love from Baghsu Road,