Sunday, October 14, 2012

Redefining Wealth

Pema Chholing Monastery, 500 years old
Today marks two months since I laced up my boots and walked out of the monastery for the last time.  As the older monks tied kata prayer scarves around my neck and backpack, the tears were already threatening to slide down my cheeks. Even now, my heart overflows with emotion at the mere mention of Nepal.

Never has it been so difficult for me to leave a home, landscape and community. And, since my first trip overseas to Belgium, I've never been so drastically changed by an experience. It was only last night that I realized this, while standing over the stove, cooking what has become my standard dinner and also a comfort food: boiled white rice with steamed vegetables.  With my busy and unpredictable student lifestyle I find it handy to keep various frozen veggies on hand for those nights when I get home after the grocery stores have closed. Last night was one of those nights.

After putting on the rice, I grabbed the veggies I'd left out to thaw and poured them into the wok pan. I realized I didn't have quite enough to feed my roommate and the guest I'd spontaneously invited as well, so I went back to the freezer to grab another bag of mixed vegetables. I started to pour those into the wok when suddenly I was overcome with emotion -- thankfulness, reminiscence, nostalgia, but mostly thankfulness washed over me.  The sight of all those brightly colored vegetables filling my pot to the brim evoked an inner cry of, "Look how rich I am!  I can afford to eat as many vegetables as I want!!  I can pull them out of my freezer any time I want!"  It wasn't my roommates' protein shake, nor the croissants or chocolates. It was vegetables. 

Have you ever longed for vegetables? Coveted a few leaves of boiled spinach? Hoped for a few slices of carrot? Wished that a tomato might magically materialize in the kitchen, or that there was enough cabbage for everyone to have a salad instead of a hint of cabbage flavor in its boiled broth? My three months at Pema Chholing changed something fundamental in the way I see the world. My idea of wealth and luxury will never be the same. My sense of enough and needs will forever be on a slightly different scale.  Vegetables will always remind me how blessed I am.


Ani, a nun who lives up the hill, proudly shows off her kitchen. One of the oldest and toughest women I've ever met.

During a festival week someone brought us a basket of giant vegetables.
We were all excited, especially little Pemba.

Homemade yak butter - a real luxury!

My little boys: Pasang, Tashi, Nima

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