This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Tiger at Pema Choling


The first thing we heard yesterday upon our return from trekking yesterday is that "Jing Mai was killed by a tiger!"
Jing Mai - one of the monastery's four dogs - is nowhere to be found.  After some loud noises the night before, she was suddenly gone.  Nawang adds clout to his tiger explanation by noting: "Baloo (the alpha dog) was so scared by the tiger incident that every time he hears us call Jing Mai's name, he gets really nervous again and starts looking around everywhere."

I laugh, thinking about the first day I arrived here and saw the HUGE y-shaped bone hanging in the kitchen and was told it was from a cow that was killed by a tiger just days earlier.  They're pretty big on tigers here.

UPDATE 18.June.2012: Last night Nate ran into the kitchen saying, "Hey! They're headed out on a tiger hunt tonight! Nawang's leading it!"  We spent the rest of the night laughing and joking about what they'd take with them. The final verdict was that Nate - at 6'2" and about a whole foot taller than all the Sherpas - would be the one to wrestle the tiger. Dorjee picked up a four-foot long iron pole and armed Nate, who also picked up the kitchen cleaver. So funny.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Name-Giving & Nepali Culinary Favorites


Several of my little monks have received new names!
After the Nyune festival last week, celebrating Buddha's birthday, one of the Rinpoches gave some of the little guys new Buddhist names in a sort of rite of passage. Two days prior, the ones to receive new names had their heads shaved - all except for a tiny tuft of silky black hair at the very crown of their heads.  My first introduction to the naming ceremony was the reply when I returned home from Nyune and asked about the new hair styles.

The little guys are so proud of their new names and adorable seven-year-old Pemba insists that I call him Ngawang Ludup.

Speaking of names, I've received a few new ones myself. The first Nepali I was given, in Kathmandu, was Sita.  But when I got to the monastery Pasang told me, "No, no, not Sita - Sila. Sila is beautiful lotus flower."  Sita, a popular Nepali girl's name, is the name of a Hindu goddess. I can see why the Buddhists wanted to rename me.  So I've been responding to every variation of Sira-Sita-Sila until yesterday, when Cook - who is the biggest joker of them all and constantly singing as he meanders about the kitchen refilling mugs of milk tea - greeted me as "Bipana."
"What? Bipana? Me?" I pointed to myself.
"Yeah- Sapana, Bipana" he grinned, pointing to the other volunteer, Sapana, and then to me. Apparently the song he's always singing about Sapana (which means 'dream' in Nepali) has a line about "sapana, bipana," bipana meaning "awake."  So that's that; add another name to the list!  It's kind of cute, though, how he takes care of us and gives us little nicknames, so I don't really mind.

Cook is really a good guy. The first week I was here, I ran out of balance on my pre-paid cell phone. I ran next door to the house that has a little store, but it was padlocked - the owners were out.  He approached me as I was walking back, asking what I needed.
"Recharge card," I said, pointing to my phone, "Ncell recharge."
"Oh, store closed now, maybe buy Phakding later."
Ok, I guess I'll be making a trip down to the little village of Phakding tomorrow, I thought to myself, secretly dreading the 40-minute walk back up the giant mountain I'd come to find myself living on.

About two hours later Cook comes into the school house while I'm teaching English. I thought he was just curious; between meals he doesn't have all that much to do and if there's no one lounging in the kitchen it could be quite boring.  But after a few minutes he came up and handed me a recharge card worth 500 Rs. (rupees) - about $6.  He must have gone down to Phakding for supplies and remembered me; it was such a sweet gesture.

And ever since day one, when I explained to him that I can eat everything made of rice, but nothing with anta - wheat flour - he's made sure to always have a meal for me. Usually if everyone's having noodles for breakfast he'll make me fried rice; if they're having tsampa (barley flour that you pour tea over in your own bowl and mix up into a thick paste), then I'll get beaten rice cereal - kind of like rice crispies but flat and really hard and tastes like cardboard. But if you add enough sweet milk tea it's alright.  He makes light, puffy, steamed ti-mo-mos out of rice flour, and even started making his thick, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth homemade noodles out of rice flour.  Chapati, a flat Nepali bread that is thicker than the Indian naan, is usually made of wheat flour, but yesterday I walked into the kitchen and they were making them of rice flour.  We had chapati filled with fried potatoes for dinner - out first taste of potato since they're just now coming into season - and it was absolutely delicious!

My heart was melted yesterday when I walked into the kitchen in the morning after being sick all day the day before. Cook was nowhere to be found, but Pemba (12) and Kagi (14) were boiling a huge pot of water.  Pemba greeted me and then poured some batter into a giant frying pan. He flashed me a huge grin, "Your breakfast," he pointed to the pan, obviously proud to be the big guy in charge, taking care of everyone.
"Pancakes! Yay!"  My favorite breakfast here are the rice flour pancakes that Cook started making for me on random special days.  Kagi was unwrapping about 50 packages of Wai-Wai Noodles (like instant ramen noodles), so I knew that Cook had left the boys specific and pretty easy instructions for breakfast while he was gone for the morning.  I was so impressed and thankful that he thought of me and even had the boys make my favorite breakfast!  Despite the fact that I haven't had a shower in a week and sleep with giant insects every night, I feel spoiled here.  Compared to everyone I know in the US, these boys have practically nothing and yet they not only share everything they have, but they reserve the best for their guests and always present it with the biggest smile.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lesson 3


"If it doesn't bite, don't bother."

Anyone who knew me when I was a kid and witnessed one of my hysterical reactions to a large flying bug might be hard pressed to believe this, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can't be bothered to run, swat, kill, or even care about the moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and spiders which plague every living thing here.  I'm completely outnumbered; I'd be incredibly stressed out if I allowed myself to fear them, and I'm not willing to let this stupid aversion to insects affect the only eight weeks of relaxation I foresee in the next two years.

After my second night in Kathmandu I woke up in my bed in the hostel with a huge cockroach on my chest, and after my second night at Pema Choling I woke up with a giant spider (3 inches in diameter) in my bed. Every night I hear the pitter-patter of insect legs on my down sleeping bag, and if I turn on my Kindle for some late night reading I'll have summoned in thirty seconds a collection of the region's arthropods which only a biologist would envy.

The first (and only) night I tried reading late without illuminating -in addition to my Kindle light - the bare light bulb adorning my ceiling, I was fighting a flock of moths circling my head when, to my horror, a long line of mini-cockroach-beetle-looking things emerged from a hole in the wooden shelf built into the side of my bed, climbing out quickly in an orderly fashion and then spilling onto my neatly-folded pile of clothes.  I didn't want to squash bug guts into all of my clothes and had no more energy to chase them back into their hole, and I knew deep down that any efforts to exterminate them would only result in more appearing the next morning and that a vicious cycle of frustration would ensue, so in a moment of brilliance I chose the Buddhist thing to do - accept my suffering for what it is. I closed up my Kindle, bugs and all, pushed it onto the shelf, carefully avoided poking any of the long, skinny, multi-legged insects wallowing around next to my pillow, and retreated into my sleeping bag, zipping it all the way up and pulling the drawstring really tight.  I pulled the little tiny hole left at the top down to my mouth level  so as to prevent suffocation, and then, curled up in the dark with only two layers of fabric to protect me from the creepy crawlies of Sherpa land, my only thought was how my dad always told me that if I wasn't happy and wanted to change my attitude, the best way to do it is to just start smiling.  And that's how I fell asleep: happy, smiling, and even laughing a little as I rolled over a few times and felt the muted crunch of the unlucky invertebrates who interrupted my late night reading session.

Every structure here is built from either stone, wood, or some combination of the two. The long building of rooms in which I live is completely made from wooden slats.  When we returned from trekking last week one of the other volunteers had left, so I moved into her abandoned bed, mostly because the nun who lived above my old room had a habit of mopping her floor in the morning and the water would drip right through the slots in her wood floor that doubled as my ceiling.  No more waking up to dirty rain now, but there was a trade off to be made -- 14-year-old Pasang, who lives above my new room, wakes up at 5 AM to start his chanting and seems to like to stomp around a little first thing in the morning, starting the incessant shower of dust and dead bugs that assaults my bed all day.  I've given up trying to keep anything clean, and plan on either throwing away or heavily sterilizing all garments upon my return to  the modern world.

Overall, though, I really have learned that it's rather pleasant to not worry about the little things crawling all over.  Plus, Cook told me that nothing in this region will kill if it bites, so there's not even a legitimate reason to fret.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nyune Festival - Part III

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Nyune Festival - Part II

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Nyune Festival - Part I

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