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.
The Tibetan Nuns Project, the organization with which I used to volunteer and which inspired this project, has recently updated their website. It looks wonderful – so much more sleek, beautiful, and personal.
Also, there is a page featuring some of the stories I read when I conducted my research in Seattle! These are the very bios I encountered in 2010 that spurred my idea for RVP. Take a moment to look through them – these are the women who will be featured in Restored Voice (except that their narratives will be much longer, and their photography will be present as well).
You will see immediately why I find these women so inspiring: