Hello, beautiful friends!
It’s been such a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to post ~ I have sooo much to catch up on, but it’s been incredibly peaceful to spend each night with my sunset-colored journal and my favorite pen.
We only arrived in Dharamsala a day and a half ago, before that having spent about two weeks in Ladakh (northern India). I’ll write more about that experience later; for now, I want to spill my mind in regard to these first few days in Dharamsala.
Driving up, most of us were crowded in a few adjacent seats on the bus tossing questions back and forth and answering them with a bit of thought. As we ascended a mountain we looked around in awe of the thick foliage and monkeys which would pop out of the green for a moment, before slipping in again like a question mark. The clouds and fog grew more dense until we couldn’t see beyond the immediate horizon of a mountain’s edge.
Just a few hours after our arrival, we were walking home with our homestay families. It’s become something I can easily fit into now, like a pair of well-worn shoes ~ the role of being a homestay student. My Amala, Senchoe, is half my size and full of vitality. She walked me down an enormous hill from the main square (packed with small shops and colors), constantly pushing me back from taxis swinging around a blind corner. When we made it to her home she reminded me over and over again of the signs marking where I should turn, her quick smile flashing as I became increasingly confused as we code-switched between my extremely limited Tibetan and her impressive but somewhat limited English.
That night, I met my Pala, Wangchuk, who works for a local newspaper. I also met my homestay sister, Dolkar, who bounces around like a wild thing and keeps me laughing constantly. I want to skip ahead to last night because it fills me with happiness ~ when I got home, a bit tipsy from passing a water bottle filled with local rhododendron wine back and forth with Anna, Julia and Jennifer, our feet hanging over a ledge above endless mountains and free-flowing fog. You could taste the fog ~ fresh, like change. But I’m telling the story of last night with Dolkar: when I got home, everyone, including a young man and woman who I’m pretty sure are related to my Pala somehow, was gathered in the living room. As soon as I sat down, Dolkar and Kunsang, her friend from school, shyly looked at me and began to read me stories from children’s books. Each girl read a page then let the other read a page of her own book, looking to me for affirmation with the harder words. Eventually I found that they’d migrated so Dolkar was leaning on my left side and Kunsang on my right. Whenever one girl’s story would end, she’d leap up, grab another, and hurry back to the couch to be in time for her turn to read.
Later that night after dinner, the girls insisted I play “thief” with them ~ a card game much like Go Fish. Soon, though, Senchoe had placed a huge Tibetan instrument in Kunsang’s lap and the girl was playing a traditional melody as Dolkar corrected her every-so-often, both girls singing and grinning. Kunsang decided that, in return for hearing her music, I should dance… which sounded horrifying to me ~ in front of the entire family ~ so, instead, I pulled out my ukulele. “Sing! Sing!” They insisted, Dolkar curling up in front of me, staring up at the ukulele. I sang a bit of an Ingrid Michaelson song, and Senchoe, who had been in the bathroom, ran out and insisted I sing again. Then commenced an hour or so of the ukulele being passed hand to hand, everyone playing and singing their own tune.
Dharamsala, so far, is a home.