Restored Voice is entering into the last stretch of its field work phase. Today the final damp, chilly gasp of winter is passing through these hills. Rain and cold keep us prisoners around densely smoking scrap fires or in cozy cafes with fogged up windows. I watch the weather move around me in a way I never can in St. Louis. At this altitude, the clouds creep wetly through town and across neighboring hills and mountains, shrouding familiar sights in mysterious glamour. Somehow, a clear view of mountains in the sun humbles me, but when those same mountains turn misty, I feel excitement and restlessness. The sense of impending adventure arises. I’m unsure why this is and it has me wondering about past lives again. Spring should be starting up any day now, and as beautiful as the snow has been on the deodar pines and temples, I am indeed ready for a steady stream of warmth and sunshine.
Losar, the celebration of the Tibetan New Year, came and went relatively quietly this year. Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong (sort of like a PM), asked his community in exile not to celebrate Losar with the traditional dances and music this year, in light of the ever-increasing number of self-immolations in Tibet. If you ask Tibetans around Dharamsala how they enjoyed their Losar, as I did many times, most of them will say, “Ah, it was okay. This year, not so big. We are sad.” Last year, and this year also, Chinese officials forced Tibetans to celebrate, and taped the farce to show how “happy” Tibetans are in the occupied region.
Each day I am more impressed and motivated by the thriving community of Tibetan artists, careers centers, NGO’s, and resources and assistance available around this beautiful, hilly town.
Today I met with the Tibetan Women’s Association, which empowers Tibetan women living in communities not only in Dharamsala, but all across India and abroad. Seeing women working for women and ready to have frank and decisive discussion about the progression of their community always invigorates me, as well as further solidifies my belief in the power of women. No matter where you go in the world, small groups of strong, dedicated women working together create progressive environments that nurture and challenge. I am excited to learn more from TWA in the future.
Afterward, as per TWA’s suggestion, I crossed town to meet Dolker, a woman working at the Tibetan Career Center. With her firm gaze and unabashed discussion of women’s issues, violence against women, and the need for sex education, I stumbled upon another wonderful resource in the world of Tibetan women. She immediately had a handful of suggestions for me, from groups to check out to events for attending.
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.”