"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

Saturday, April 11, 2009

quoth the raven

"So, how do you think Tibet has changed you?"

The chat box in Gmail waited for my response. I was connecting with a friend a world away, and she put that question to me after listening to (watching?) me rave about my adventure here.

I began typing, "well.. I think floss more."

Yes, that's right. My poor, persistent dental hygienist back home never knew that it would take sending my occasionally-flossing self to Tibet to get me to ascribe to the recommended routine. But, there you have it.

Not to say that this experience hasn't changed me in ways more transcendental than dental cleanliness; as I told another friend, the perspective of viewing America from the outside looking in, and of being here, in Tibet, the media's new go-to for a solid oppression piece-- well, that perspective can't be bottled and sold. I am learning patience, ("learning it daily, learning it through pains to which I am grateful," RM Rilke). I have learned that connections to other humans, however improbable, are made through smiles, laughter, and a willingness to listen, regardless of language barriers. I am learning the universals of humanity.

On the topic of forming connections, I recently met Vicki Flaugher, of Smart Women Guides, via the social networking tool Twitter, and she has expressed interest in this project. As a result of our interactions, she invited me to interview on her radio show;

The interview with Vicki Flaugher on SmartWoman Radio aired Wednesday, April 15, 2pm Central Time. It was a great interview and I enjoyed meeting Vicki; the podcast is online and is a free download at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/SmartWomanRadio/2009/04/15/SmartWoman-Radio

Thanks for listening!

Today we had 8 Chinese workers here to lay tile in the new dorm building, and I was assigned the task of making sure they didn't mess up the radiant heating cables. Why I was given this job when my Chinese consists of "how much is that" and "no, you're crazy," I'm still not sure. I did my best to look fierce (Tyra would be proud) and walked around holding a notebook and pen, like what, I was going to sketch them a Picasso if they messed up? They just ignored me. While looking fierce, I enjoyed observing their short, compact selves mix cement, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, ash falling into the soupy mixture. Seriously, every breath they took was filtered through their cheap, Chinese-Marlboro knock-offs and the smoke stirred with clouds of cement powder in the sharp air. So glad I was on-duty to receive a double dose of carcinogens. I was snotting cement from my nose afterwards.

Whenever a problem arose, as one seemed to every five minutes, there would be an interlude in the cigarette-cement process while voices rose and arms were flung about in gesticulation. Then someone would say something wise, and the arms are returned to the default resting place behind their back while they chew over the new information and an old stub.

Their technique works for them; the new tile looks decent. We just have to wait four days for the cement to set, thus forcing us to climb in and out of Shangbo's kitchen through a window.

There are 51 girls here and I know that I've referred to them as a conglomerate body in this blog, but that is not because I am not interacting with them or learning their individual personalities; it's because I can't, for the life of me, get their names straight. They all have dark hair, dark eyes and similar body builds. I told them apart, at first, by their clothes. Due to climate and lack of washing machines, you'll often wear the same articles of clothing several days in a row-- a blessing for me because I could be like "Oh, it's the crazy one wearing the purple scarf" or "the one with the Honda jacket is really sweet." Right. So that continues for a while and I'm feeling like I have a handle on their names, and then, in typical female fashion, they play a game of Musical Clothes on crack, and my feeble beginnings at associating names with apparel dies a swift, sudden death.

I guess it keeps me on my toes. I dish it right back, though, in the daily war I wage on the mis-pronunciation of my name. I'm typically referred to as Dechan Wangmo, my Tibetan name, but when the odd, bold individual makes an attempt at my American name it always comes out "Genewa." There is no hard "v" sound in the Amdo language so the "v" is replaced with the closest sounding consonant, a "w." I carefully sound out my name, placing emphasis on the v, my upper teeth on my bottom lip when saying "geneVa." As a result, my name has evolved into a harsh ghost of the former, "joon-nee-VAH." At least it's progress.

To accompany that constant soundtrack, there is the guttural, old sound of giant ravens who frequent the town and sit on our buildings, casting ominous shadows over the ground. Their wingspan looks to be between 4 and 5 feet; they are enormous and every time I see them, I am reminded of the motif from Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain." If you are familiar with "Cold Mountain" you'll know that the raven is a symbol of freedom from worldly constraints and an emblem of independence to the ever-traveling protagonist, Inman. Unlike Poe's poem, in which the raven is a harbinger of death, I embrace the sight and sound of the huge birds and remember that I am here to abet the independence of these girls, and that through education, they can be free from the constraints of society's marginalization.

So quoth the raven.


  1. literary references and juxtapositioning: A+. Yours sincerely, Wilfong.

  2. I just came across your blog. I think it's awesome that you are in Tibet, experiencing 'on the ground' an issue that is so incredibly important (girls + education). Thank you!