Hello and tashi delek, friends!
RVP has now been in Dharamsala for a month. In that time, I’ve acquired an interpreter, an intern, a better understanding of Tibetan culture and Tibetan issues, meetings with local NGOs and nunneries, many new friends, and about a third of the ani-la’s (Tibetan nuns) interviews necessary for the publication. And more are to come! Next week – Dolma Ling and Tibetan Nuns Project down in Sidhpur, a valley in Dharamsala with a spectacular view of the mountains. I look forward to writing more about Dolma Ling – it is a place that is as powerful as it is beautiful.
View within Dolma Ling (photo property of Restored Voice Project)
The book is now much fuller and tangible in my mind. My instincts on the structure, goals, and spirit of the project were solid – descriptions of the project have been met with support and enthusiasm from the Tibetan community, which is most important to me. The ani I’ve interviewed have been so thankful for the chance to speak, and flush with emotion and smiling humbly at the thought of our support. I always take the time to explain how we came together to make this happen – how many individuals, not an organization or institution, wanted to hear their stories, to learn from them. They are generally at a loss for words for a moment, in response to this. The constant oppression they and their people have faced is tempered by our interest and concern. I thank you again for your support. And when the book is published, you’ll see the words of thanks from the women themselves.
Dharamsala itself is a beautiful and vibrant city, full of researchers and activists. I meet someone new every day who gives me fresh inspiration.
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.”
After much travel, I have arrived in Dharamsala – affectionately called “Dhasa,” Dharamsala and Lhasa combined – at last. Surrounded by Tibetans, their gorgeous script, and the humbling mountains, I feel that the journey of this project has finally begun.
The monks and nuns are a constant presence on the streets. Old and young, they wear puffy quilted vests and sneakers along with their chougu (Tibetan monastic robes). Each time I see the swishing burgundy fabric, I feel this immense excitement, as well as shyness. After traveling all this way, with such anticipation, I find myself at a loss for words every time I see a robed woman in the lanes of McLeod. The desire to speak with them, coupled with months of research and admiration from afar, has me feeling like a schoolgirl facing her crush. But I’m already in communication with TNP India, and my interpreter is finalized – I’ll be meeting the nuns very soon, so my giddiness will have to be subdued. The next few days will be spent polishing my interview questions. I plan on spending time with the women before we sit down for the interview itself – get to know them, and tell them about my life also. I believe that this practice will encourage more equity: I am not simply an outsider asking questions, getting what I want, and then leaving. I want this to be more of an exchange, a sharing.