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.
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.
^ Radio Free Asia keeps us updated on the estimated number of detainees in Tibet.
There has also been a mass resettlement of 400 Tibetan families recently, as well as students detained by armed forces for protests against the new law in March that officially eliminates Tibetan from schools. Reporters Without Borders (RSF, “sin frontier”) have information regarding Yonten Gyatso, the dissident monk attempting to spread outside information through the gridlock of Chinese censorship authorities (see also the article by Radio Free Asia: “Lhasa ‘Like a Vast Prison,'” describing body-scanners, check-points, and armed policemen in groups at every turn).
Stay tuned to the Restored Voice Facebook page to stay updated on the escalation in Tibet.