Okay, so although I haven’t been able to blog for the past half-month I’ve kept a journal. Although I won’t describe everything I wrote about, I’ll go over the highlights of each day based on my journal entries and the memories that stand out to me:
September 19th: (When I put quotation marks, it’s generally from my journal ~ that feels weird, but it also feels weird just saying it because I’m a different speaker now)
“Everyone is gathered in a circle on the carpeted floor of the tea/food room in SECMOL. It feels like a home amid somewhere totally new. The air is fresh and clean, and my toes are a bit chilly. Our matron, Marlin, hugs each student since they just returned from a trip. She is quietly strong and absolutely peaceful. We sit in a circle, about to begin a conversation.”
SECMOL truly did become a kind of home, although we were only there for a few days, on and off. We started off at SECMOL then went to Leh, then our village homestays (mine in Shartracour which I definitely spelled wrong), then back to Leh, then back to SECMOL, then to Dharamsala. SECMOL is an alternative school for students who have failed their exams before college, or who are in college and using SECMOL as a kind of dormitory. It is run as a community, with students alternating in positions from working with the cows, in the kitchen, as a representative to outsiders, etc. With each meal/ tea time you wash your own dish. The water was so clean, you could drink straight from the tap, a novelty in south Asia in my understanding. We bunked in two rooms, three girls in one and four in the other, the guys living in a separate building.
On the 20th, Sandesh Kadur, a BBC photographer, spoke at SECMOL. “His photography is incredible. It is about telling a story.” He spoke a lot about nighttime photography so that night I, along with a few other students, walked up the steep steps to the roof, where we spent hours watching the stars and trying star photography. I found myself atop that roof most of the nights thereafter that we stayed at SECMOL, sometimes with my ukulele, sometimes just the stars.
21st: I fell in love with prayer flags. We drove to Alchi Monastery, where I walked from wall to wall, color to color, my nose inches from ancient Buddhist artwork. “I sat in the garden outside the temple, breathing the thin air and staring at the prayer flags drifting. They moved slowly like breath, their colors sometimes bright sometimes faded.”
22nd: We began our stay in Leh, a really awesome town in Ladakh (northern India). It is at a high altitude ~ approximately 10,000 feet. To walk to town from our guest houses, we wound our way down a steep decline between taxis, cows, stray dogs, and people, the Himalayas rising grandly all around us. We also visited Matho Monastery and met Pheonix and Tashi, two deeply inspirational people I hope to meet again. I also found peanut butter that day, and dried apricots ~ it was a really good day all in all.
23rd: “I just saw a dead puppy. But the rest of the litter was happy and healthy, jumping and roiling around me with tails wagging and tongues out.”
That was a hard thing to see. The street dogs are not generally healthy in Leh; they’re feared due to two incidents where people were killed by dogs at night. They basically rule the streets at night, but are mostly docile during the daytime. When we returned to Leh a week-ish later, I found only four surviving puppies and met a man who showed Anna (I didn’t want to see) a photo of the mother eating one of her dead babies. The difficulty, for street dogs, of simply surviving is blatantly obvious here.
24th: This was when I began to truly miss home. It had a lot to do with marking four years since being with David. I didn’t truly believe that feeling would hit, though ~ I somehow thought myself impervious, I convinced myself that I’d be able to ignore any feelings of wishing for the people I love back home.
It was a good day regardless, though. I discovered the joys of filling up my ratchet Winnie-the-Pooh water bottle (which leaks paint onto my mouth whenever I drink from it) halfway with steaming hot water and the other half with cool water, to create a gut-warming combination perfect for cold weather. That day really did become the most emotional because it was also a wonderful day, where Anna, Jennifer and I found delicious tea at the Leh Ling café (Kashmiri Kawa tea), then met Rinchen, editor of Reach Ladakh ~ a woman-run local newspaper ~ then found ourselves at a sanctuary for injured or abandoned donkeys. “It was brightly painted with donkeys and quotes. We just walked on in, trying in broken English and Tibetan to see if we were okay petting the donkeys ~ we just stayed as he walked around us, feeding the donkeys. I immediately met a baby donkey who realized I could scratch him, and we spent the entire time together. It was sunny and wonderful.”
25th: We made our way to our village homestays, half of us at the village I stayed in, the other half in Man. I got pretty sick that night off of the Tibetan butter tea, which is basically a steaming mixture of butter, water, salt, and spice. I spent most of the night huddled in my sleeping bag, going from the warmth of my host family’s home to the small mound of dirt outside where it was okay to vomit. It was so cold outside. I definitely appreciate my health more now.
26th: We spent a lot of the day in our homestay’s kitchen with our family, chatting and playing cards. The next day (27th), we made last-minute plans to commission our bus driver to take us up the steep, winding “road” to where the nomads spend their nights and early mornings. That was beyond awesome ~ “Izac, Gilek and I trekked up to a monastery/meditation cave and it felt like we joined the prayer flags in their height and freedom. As we walked back, Gilek asked a woman, Sonam Padmo, what her role was (for my project). Soon she was asking us to take “tara” in her home. Her husband, Sonam Norbu, stuck his head out the door and called, ‘How are you?!’ We all laughed and followed them in. There’s no way to explain the feelings of peace and community of sitting in their kitchen-home, sipping yak milk boiled with a spoonful of tsampa added for heartiness. We chatted for a while, and S.N. was wearing an Orlando Magic hat (!) so I got Izac to take a photo. When we left, I gave them the katak I had in my bag. It was so joyful.”
28th: “God is love.” – Malik
“Air: what is all around us yet we do not see, what’s between us, what we share, that which is all around us. Like love.” –Jennifer
29th: “Jenn, Julia and I did yoga in SECMOL’s library and were walked in on by quite a few head-of-schools from mainland India who were visiting SECMOL for a tour. That was the 29th’s shining moment.
30th: “Saying goodbye to SECMOL was harder and more emotional than I expected.” I made real friends there, through music and dancing and talking.
Here’s where my explanation of days will become muddled, because I feel strongly about this: I have spent much more time in the past few weeks with music. It’s been raw and loud and out of tune, but full of human essence. A few hours ago, I found myself in a tattoo shop right next to my Dharamsala homestay, watching Anna get a lotus tattoo as Izac and three people we’d just met slowly picked up a rhythm and melody, until hours later we were all moving to the music and singing, random men walking into the shop and joining in. We ended on “Yellow,” and my heart melted. To be able to participate in this way of life is… beyond anything.