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 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.
I think it’s time for an update on the situation in Tibet:
Tibetans have been clamoring for the freedom to express themselves – culturally, religiously, and of course freedom of speech and press – and we’ve seen tragedy strike again and again. 62 Tibetans have now self-immolated. 62. As I’ve expressed in my previous posts, I agree with the Central Tibetan Administration and H.H. the Dalai Lama on this – these individuals are desperate, and they are committing the ultimate sacrifice because they feel the world will not listen.
Remember, the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949. Tibetans have done everything they could, first appealing to the UN, fighting back against the incoming PLA troops, and then peaceful protests, for decades. They simply have never had the resources that the PLA has always had at their disposal (to give you an indication: when China invaded Tibet, the entire plateau only had three radios. Also consider than when the PLA first marched into Lhasa, they arrived with over 20,000 troops – all of whom had horses and empty stomachs – the fragile agricultural balance and carefully maintained surplus that Tibetans had kept going for four centuries was depleted and destroyed in roughly a few months. Mao may have called himself a Communist, but the poor farmers and working class suffered first).
Today, people are suffering from poverty, imprisonment, police brutality, the destruction of their culture, and a general lack of freedom (take, for instance, the 19-yr-old monk arrested yesterday for having a cell phone).
As you may know, we saw 7 self-immolations in 7 days last week – the highest frequency yet. Supporters of the Tibetan people have demanded change in its wake. However, there is finally some good news. The world is listening.