"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

Monday, April 6, 2009

created for the common good

After the hiatus of illness and the sadness of Ollie's departure, I am looking forward to my remaining time in Tibet with the readiness of stoicism and with anticipation for the stories untold.

Class with the girls has been going well; some days are better than others, but hopefully I'm providing something salvageable in each lesson. The issue of language barrier is almost non-existent and I've adapted into different forms of communication which sets the stage for different kinds of learning. We do a lot of game-playing; using the "Simon Says" philosophy I divide the girls into two teams, giving a command to the two girls who represent each team, like, "open the door," "write 'teacher,'" "walk to the stove," "look at the clock," and so on, awarding the team a point whose representative has the first accurate response. The girls love it! We also play a game I played in my Spanish class in high school called "Flyswatter." I write all of their vocabulary words on the wall in different colored chalk, pull up two girls, hand them each a badminton racket and call out a word, which they then must touch with their racket. The hope here is that not only must they learn the correct pronunciation, they're also learning the way the word looks.

We started learning numbers during my first lessons back after being sick, and I've been using jump-ropes to help them learn numbers (ie counting skips), and will teach them a couple rhymes like "one, two, buckle my shoe" to make it fun. Next step? I think we're going to tackle questions with "who, what, when, where and why." Wish me luck. Beyond that, I think we're going to move into stories so that they have imaginative context for their new vocab words. A craft is in order as well, probably to learn colors.

Fingers crossed that I'm not shooting in the dark with my techniques; I guess Steve Sclar (the next US volunteer) will be the judge of that!

The background to class has been noisy construction. We've had a slew of Tibetan workers here every day pouring concrete and prepping the yard for grass-planting. The new building has a deep red coat of paint and should have floors put in soon.

The snow is a daily occurrence, it usually falls in the late afternoon or early evening, continuing into the night. It's a clean and fresh awakening, and inspires deep breaths and appreciation for nature... until it melts by 2pm, revealing the Ramen wrappers and odd pieces of debris stuck in the mildewy mud. And the fresh awakening gives way to a rude awakening. We have got to work on the littering thing.

Sunday, April 5 we celebrated International Women's Day. It is traditionally celebrated on March 8, but Dockpo was still en route, US to China.

Me, wearing a traditional chuba, and Shangbo

The girls emptied their large bedroom and turned it into seating and tables for all of us and our guests (pics on facebook). I wore a traditional chuba and enjoyed how warm and comfortable it is! Our guests were the honored second-highest llama in Tibet and his accompanying high-ranked monks, as well as some other businessmen who are important friends of the home. The event was steeped in tradition, with the girls lined up along the walkway, arms extended, holding welcome scarves and chanting as the guests arrived. We sat at the long, low tables that were covered in bottled beverages and sweet things as Tsoreh (second highest llama) led the group in chanting. He was about 60 years old, wrinkled and sage-like, with a kind face. Dawa Hamal, a female reincarnated Buddha and resident here at SGH, sat to his immediate left at the head table, with the other monks and myself seated further down at the head table facing the rest of the room.

Tsoreh made a short speech, addressing women's equality and saying that there is no place in Buddhism for gender discrimination and highlighted me as an excellent example of women as equal and powerful. Three girls then gave short song performances, each beautiful and distinct, and then we presented Tsoreh with gifts. I was handed a $100 bill (GO USA!!) and a pure white welcome scarf to lay across his old hands. The meal ended, and the guests left, Tsoreh placing his hands on my head and blessing me as he was escorted to the car. As soon as the car doors shut, the girls made a mad dash for the barely touched food (it was a pretty stilted event) and we spent the remaining afternoon playing and eating and singing.


As is their custom on Sunday nights, the girls set up a dance floor in the classroom and spend hours shimmying and shaking (Tibetan style) to their latest pop music. Since the moment I arrived I have been beseeched to teach some American dance and last night I finally made a CD with a few swift iTunes purchases and taught the girls the American club staple, "Soulja Boy" dance. If you're familiar with the dance, you know that it is in the hip-hop/R&B style, with loose movement and casual appendage placement (I can't believe I just analyzed Soulja Boy), and the girls are used to British Raj-type movement with careful and controlled movements. So, the improv "lean wit it" style will take some time. But they liked the dance and I can't wait to teach them others like "Cotton-Eyed Joe," "Cha Cha Slide" and "Nut Bush City Limits." I included some other American hits and girl-power songs (Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson) and it was fun to hear familiar music.

On a different note (pun intended), I had a conversation a while back with Dockpo about the philosophy behind the home, and wanted to put it in my own words here. Education is fundamental; it is the point at which; it is the catalyst; it is the beginning. By providing education (and an education-friendly environment) these girls are provided the opportunity to create themselves out of material new and strange when discovered in the annals of information access. With their uniqueness and their knowledge, the hope is that they use their platforms to generate compassion and care for others. It becomes an obligation to put Self last and to prevent harm to your Fellow Human. Why is education necessary to achieve such an internal goal? The reasons are superficial; with education comes affluence, problem-solving, networking and communication abilities to enlighten others.

I was pleased to hear Dockpo's thoughts and enjoyed the opportunity to put mine into a more cohesive format. I stumbled upon this quote a while ago, and it seems fitting. At the opening of Bowdoin College in 1802, President Joseph McKeen declared that "literary institutions are funded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true, that no man should live to himself, we may safely assert, that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education, and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good."


  1. Very wonderful journey and job. Good Luck!

  2. I really like your analysis both of soulja boy as well as the intertwining philosophies of education. (Please, will you teach me how to dance?!) That the reasons for education are superificial is something I've been grasping all year, yet it is comforting to know that that superficiality transcends itself and can be built up to action and "common good." I will be thinking about what to do re: finances for the building project, and am so looking forward to seeing you again!

    My deepest condolences regarding Ollie. I'm so, so sorry. Here's to the Happy Hunting Grounds where we'll play with our besties again some day. Much Love.

  3. My dear, you have a beautiful heart and soul and I know what you are going through regarding the loss of your Ollie as I too am still aching over the loss of my Furby. I agree with r. high. I know we will all be reunited again because this love that we have is an eternal love.

    I am finding your blog fascinating!

    Peace, Love, Understanding and Respect,

  4. my first visit to your blog (got linked on twitter) and i'll be back. very interesting work and i'm glad that you're journaling it for us.