"Should I save or savor the world?"

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.

This makes it hard to plan the day.

E.B. White

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

is your nose running?

Then you better go catch it! Yes, bad joke, but it describes perfectly our lives here at the Sengcham Drukmo Home. A shout out to my mom for convincing me to bring Kleenex packets; they've been put to excellent use on many noses, including my own.

*I posted three blog chapters at once, so please go to the right side of the page and find the links entitled “Last Night In Xining,” and “Goodbye China; Hello TAR!” They are written in that order, with “Is your nose running” posted last. I had to wait for our internet access to kick in here at the home before I was able to post, thank you for your patience and, as always, thank you for reading!


Sam will attest to the fact that I absolutely hate smelling like food, but if that is the only problem I have to overcome while here, then I consider myself lucky. I spend a lot of time in Shangbo's kitchen, as does the rest of Dockpo's family. It is information central, with heat, light, and food, and as a result, I come away smelling like dinner.

Dockpo's family is great; Zoba is the oldest. He is a monk and we have struck up a great relationship centered around our languages, but also in an amiable exchange of non-verbals. He teaches Buddhism and Tibetan Grammar in the monastery. Dockpo is next, and is clearly the driving force behind the mission of the home. Shangbo is the younger sister, and speaks some English, and I've been working with her on pronunciation and vocab. She has a German husband, who is currently in America, and she was actually a mail-order bride for her German husband, who, after meeting/marrying him in Xining, she “learned to love.” She lives at the home, and cooks for the family members and cares for the youngest sister's daughter. Shangbo is funny and sweet, and definitely wants to improve her English, which makes my job easy! The youngest sister, Semnyit, is a teacher of Tibetan Grammar at a school about 70 kilometers away. She speaks a little English, and has an infectious laugh. Semnyit stayed for a couple days to visit her daughter and I had the pleasure of meeting her. Dockpo agreed to care for Semnyit's 3 year old daughter when Semnyit and her husband divorced. And, last but not least, is Drokri, a 19 year old guy who was adopted by Dockpo's mother when he was little. Drokri is the resident big brother for the girls and delivers the wake-up call in the morning. He is on call to rescue shuttlecocks from the roof, mop floors, serve milk tea and be a generally friendly person. Drokri is attending school now, and is in the 9th grade (most students start at a later age than Americans-- usually they are lucky to be in school by age 7.)

Theron and Reuel would be quite proud of my newly-acquired skill of holding half a sheep leg in my hands and using a knife to carve away chunks of meat to eat. There is no clean way to do this, but, I'll admit, it is satisfying. I know I'm offending every vegetarian friend I have, and, believe me, I almost offend myself, but it's necessary. Actually, a lot of Tibetans are vegetarian; because of globalization they have much better access to fruits and vegetables that are impossible to grow at altitude. Buddhism does not dictate vegetarianism, but it does suggest the idea that animals and humans are equal. Eating meat used to be inescapable in this climate, but it was confined to eating large animals only. The idea is that one yak will feed many people, where as one fish feeds one person.

Eating is done with chopsticks, and we gather around a central table with different stir-fried food items that we place on rice or noodles. Everything is hot-- hot water, hot tea and you quickly understand why the Tibetan eating culture is defined by the slurping noise of quickly ingesting hot liquid/food before it cools in the freezing air.

During the day, it has been a pleasant temperature. Well, pleasant if you're wearing long-underwear and a good coat. At night everything freezes again and I wear the same amount of clothes to bed as I wear during the day. I have barely noticed the altitude; I might have been slightly short of breath while cleaning the yard on Sunday, but I am quickly acclimating. And I would gladly sacrifice my full lung capacity in order to appreciate the view, uninhibited by smog or haze. The weather here changes in an instant. Because of the valley situation, it will be cloudless and clear for five minutes, and then change to a solid block of cloud cover and driving snow in two minutes.

There is no heat in my room except for a stove pipe from the yak dung/coal stove downstairs, which does little against the large, curtainless windows in my room. Thankfully, I was raised in Maine, and I have experienced no greater discomfort than I have at home during a power outage. Although, the air is extremely dry, and I wake up fighting a terrible sore throat.

The bathroom is a porcelain hole in the ground right outside the main gate, inside a little wall, no ceiling and it is a daunting walk to face at night. I have been supplied with a wash basin and water heater in my room so that I can wash my face at night. The water heater is perfect also for boiling my drinking water, and I get my main supply of water from the well in the yard which only has one setting: torrential. It almost knocks me over every time I use it, but I'm learning quickly.

Yaks wander around the town in clusters of 5 or 6, digging through the trash for juicy, rotting supplements to their diet of the short grass growing on the nearby mountains, where they usually graze. Just yesterday, they ambled through the gate into our yard, and we had to shoo them out, like big, hairy dogs.

Speaking of dogs, every house in the village has a large, Tibetan dog attached to a chain and the dogs crouch in each front yard outside the main entrance. The dogs are big, like a large German Shepherd, but are brindled and black with brown ruffs and are hairy to the point of ambiguity. At night, they bark to each other like that scene in “101 Dalmatians” with the dog telegraph or whatever. All night long, no matter what time you're awake, they're barking. It's just part of the background noise.

Ollie (my Siberian Husky puppy) has been well-received by all the girls, and now has 50 girlfriends who wait on him hand and paw. The girls, at first an ambiguous body of strangers, are now separating into personalities and recognizable characteristics. They range from quiet and contemplative to crazy and slap-happy, ages 4 to 15. But they all love to sing and they sing together every morning and night, and love to sing in the classroom. I am going to teach them some easy songs that will help with English recall.

I have lost track of time; I'm not intensely aware of the date or day of the week as I would be at home. I've kissed culture shock goodbye, and am fully happy to embrace these moments. “and you learn slowly to recognize the very few things in which something eternal endures that you can love, and something solitary in which you can gently share.” RM Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet


  1. Do you bring your quotations ready-made? Or did you bring a suitcase full of books? You're awesome.

  2. so amazing to read this adventure unfolding..it is as if you were just here...I look forward to more blogs...glad you are safe and sound and in place

  3. Geneva,
    SO happy to have finally caught up on some of your experiences. Though we only spent a few days together, I feel as if we understand one another like friends who have worked so diligently to do so. I know you are strong and your heart yearns for exposure to that of which is unknown to so many others. I wear your shirt when I need to feel a little more sensitive ;) and I think it does the trick... or atleast people look at me funny! ( i even wore it for a video I sent to the service learning group ).
    Hope you find everything you are looking for and give everything you have to give. You have the power and the courage and I will keep you in my thoughts when I wander high into my mountains here. I wanted to share something simple with you... The other day I was having a hard time, so I wrote an author of a book that touched me and he replied simply as: "What is your soul calling you to see, do, become?"

    Just remember this when things get tuff after a month, two or so... as they should, it is only natural. And, we learn more in the tough times. BUT, what I realized was, for me atleast, it was during these tough times that I forgot to ask myself this question.

    Best Regards Geneva,
    Vance Walstra