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.
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.