My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Monday, July 31, 2006

Kyi Ani

I was not planning to update but I saw this article about a documentary made about a 70 year nun who lived underneath my old apartment on TIPA Rd with tons of dogs in a plastic shack. I have fond memories of her and her dogs, and how she was amazed that I could speak some Tibetan.

My first memory of her was when I first moved into my apartment. I was walking through the maze to get to my room and carefully navigating around the many piles of dog poop to be found. She was is the pathway picking up the poop. I asked her what she was doing and she said one word "Kyakpa" shit in Tibetan, meaning that she cleaning after her many dogs. And of course I remember the dog fights that broke out almost very morning, and the late night barking.

I do know that some Tibetans disliked "Kyi Ani" Dog's Nun in Tibetan, which made me sad, for last these dogs were loved. My Tibetan tutor, Pema, who helps with getting her and other elderly Tibetans sponsorship has related the stories of her experiences of deal with her to me. Every now and then when I see her on the street she will stop a bit just to say high. Last winter her doggy shack burned to the ground and afterwards when I came back from South India, I heard that many people pulled resources together to build her a new and better house. Some people at first suspected that someone might of burned down her house for spite. I hope not. I my self have not seen the documentary but I hope to before I leave.


Release of another Tibetan Documentary Film
Phayul[Monday, July 31, 2006 10:53]
By Phurbu ThinleyPhayul CorrespondentDharamsala, July 30 -

With big budget feature films still a far-off distant dream for many Tibetans who have taken up film making as their professions; it is, however, not unusual to see young Tibetan movie making enthusiasts from surprising us with their small improvised budget documentary films from time to time.

Lining up in the list is Mr. Kelsang Tsering Khangsar, who today launched the Press Premiere of his first debut documentary film, titled, "THE JOY OF LIVING", at 4:00 PM local time at the Tibetan Community Centre McLeod Gunj, Dharamsala, India.

The story of the film revolves around a true life account of an elderly Tibetan Buddhist Nun, Anni Sonam Tsering and her unconditional love of street dogs that ultimately transforms her life to devote her time completely taking care of these hapless dogs for the last more than 30 years.

Anni Sonam is among the first groups of Tibetans who settled in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala after invading Chinese Communist forces finally occupied Tibet in 1959. Since then, her life has been a constant struggle for survival. In spite of all the difficulties in her personal lives, her natural sense of sympathy and consideration towards other creatures has not faded from her life.

For Tibetans in Dharamsala, this unique story of Anni Sonam is not new. She is popularly known to the local Tibetan people as 'Khi Anni' meaning, 'The Dog's Nun' a symbolic gesture that her unyielding service that she renders for the well being and needs of those helpless street dogs are acknowledge by many.

Despite simple production, Mr. Kelsang has made his full attempt to capture the various facets of the nun's life and her usual day to day playful routine with her pack of dogs.

Although the idea to bring this unique story on screen was conceived by Kelsang way back in 2003, it took him more than three years to actually make the film. The main reason being lack of financial and other concrete supports.

But, all these short comings has, however, not deterred Kelsang from his idea of showing the story while Anni Sonam, who is now over 70, is still very much a living example.

In this 52 minutes film, Mr. Kelsang portrays Anni Sonam's uncompromising sense of responsibility and the extend of sacrifices she made either in saving the street dogs from human brutalities or from day to day hunger. It explores the founding of a relationship between Anni and the street dogs that simply forced her in accommodating these poor creatures in her own dingy shaft home even if it means adding extra burden in doing regular clean ups from their messes .

Unlike in her youthful past, where she had been able to feed dogs with her own meagre savings of the day, today, Anni moves from door to door collecting food for her dogs. And this has become her daily routine.

Life has now become unimaginable to this tireless Anni without the company of these faithful dogs, who never fail to wag their tails whenever they see their loving guardian coming along. She means more than a mother to these street dogs and she has accepted these creatures her own family members. It is visible from the film that the indefinable bond of love that has developed between them has given so many reasons to Anni to believe that her living has, in fact, become much more joyful than ever.

In showing this unique story of Anni Sonam on screen, Mr. Kelsang seeks to add a little spiritual dose to the viewers by awakening our inner beings and reminds us - "when a relationship is bound by love, there is no end to sacrifice".

An alumnus of Tibetan Children's Village School, Mr. Kelsang Tsering finished his graduation in Political Science from Punjab University, Chandigarh, India and also a diploma degree in Correspondence Studies in Mass Communication from the same university.

Kelsang has to his credits the experience of working in 5 major Tibetan film projects including the much known recent Tibetan feature film, 'DREAMING LHASA' by Ritu Serin and Tenzin Sonam. He also worked in two International feature films- VALLEY OF FLOWERS and LOOKING FOR COMMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD.

It is his experience of working in these projects that helped him in making his first self-financed present documentary film. As of now, Kelsang is looking forward to the release of another documentary film titled, "DHARAMSALA", directed by Sahil Segal, which is due to be released very shortly in October this year. The film is now at its post production stage and Kelsang has worked as an Associate Director for it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Time is a passing……

Finally we, here the temporary and non-temporary residents of McLeod Ganj, have been able to see a break in the clouds that has covered us for the pass 7 or so days. So far, as far I am aware there is no tap water at home or anywhere else in McLeod Ganj for that matter. Water, Water, everywhere but not a drink!!! Well not exactly, since we had several days of continuous rain. Up the hill for McLeod Ganj in the Israeli “settlement” of Dharamkot, a mud slide has damaged the pipe or series of pipes that is responsible for providing our aquatic needs. But the Tibetans don’t worry, they just use rain water, which I was thinking, be better to drink than the tap water. I have seen Tibetans watching their clothes, and their bodies in the torrential pour. Buckets have graced the roofs and the roofs edges as water collecting agents. So life is not hampered for the locals, but for some foreigners it might be a bit of an inconvenience.

Once one sees the plumbing infrastructure that mazes itself in and around McLeod Ganj, then it is easy to understand why water could be a problem. All throughout the town the pipes are not bigger than a ½ inch to an inch in diameter and there are many of them bunch together and then jotting off to their corresponding destination. All these pipes leak, some more badly than others, and they all lay above ground. This was one of the first things that I actually noticed about McLeod Ganj when I got here. I thought that if I wanted to be a really evil person, I could go out late at night with a bolt cutter and cut people off their water. From reading of older accounts of McLeod Ganj it seems that this system has just been installed within the last 20 years. I know that it will be any American plumber’s nightmare to see this chaotic labyrinth of piles. When I was chatting with Jeremy Russell, a scholar from the Norbulingkha Institute, he told me that the plumbing system is bad because is keeps the Indian plumbers employed for they are the only ones who understand the mess. I have seen many times where people are trying to fix their water problems and make it worse. If the “powers that be” fix the system and make it smarter then the plumbers fear of losing their jobs. What are we to do? Just leave it as it is.

The road that I walk on to go to TC MEC is now missing a chunk. I noticed how that a few days before there is a pile of sand about four feet high that is piled next to an edge of a stone support wall that is about 20 feet high. When I was waking pass this pile in the rain I noticed that the pile was gone, so I was thinking that it was used up in the construction of the new edifice that is being built below it. When I got to the pile I then noticed that the pile was still there but just sunken into the ground. As I turned the corner I saw two cracks in the stone wall that made a big V leading from the lower ground. The next day when I went to volunteer it had fallen and the construction crew that was working on the building was now working in repairing the mini landslide that happened.

McLeod Ganj has pine trees all through the mountains, which come to find out was planted by the British. Pine trees are not known to make really deep roots so when it rains like it does here; they fall really easily and at times create landslides. There are deciduous trees here but they are all shrunken from the Gaddi people who cut off their leaves for fodder.

At TC MEC we are now in a pinch for volunteers because of the weather and we have lost one volunteer because she did not like the director. Another volunteer went to speak to her to see what the problem was, especially since we had made our entire summer teaching schedule around her, since she was going to stay for three months. It turns out that the lady might be a little bit crazy, at least that is what I have heard for the volunteer who spoke to this woman. So because of that we have a gap of a few days without a teacher in which I will more than likely take over. After August begins there will be some new blood to fill in the shoes of the volunteers that have left. With me being volunteer coordinator I am trying my best, but it has been difficult since our system had a virus that messed things up. But it is not detrimental.

Last Monday we had a staff meeting to say goodbye to some of the volunteers. Two older guys who stuck it out with us all spring. These guys are 50 years and above and they have braved the tough terrain of Lahaul/ Spiti. One of them wrote the science curriculum for a school in Spiti and the other will return next year to volunteer at the Tabo Gompa, the same gompa the HHDL says that he will like to retire in. I would like to go there some time; the people for these areas are ethnically Tibetan and speak a Tibetan dialect. Due to it isolation it is said to be just like Tibet was before Chinese occupation at least in some areas. The Moravian missionary, Reverend HA Jaschke who spent a considerable amount of time in Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh and constructed a Tibetan English Dictionary and in his book he saw these areas as no different from Tibet itself that is being because he lived in this area in 1851. I hope that all we go well for the fellow who will spend time in this area.

There we were also having a conversation about the crazy people that we have met in Dharamsala. I know for a fact that I have met a bunch and more seem to be cropping up all the time. There is a new Tibetan dude who thinks he knows Kung fu making a total fool out of himself. Anyways, I was telling them of my experience with the mango squirter that I had mentioned from HHDL’s birthday party. It turned out that this very dude at the temple had severely beaten up five Tibetan men. The guy is German and his mother had brought him here to McLeod Ganj to see if Tibetan Medicine could cure her son from the psychosis that he suffered from. The day of HHDL’s B-day the mother left her son at the main temple to his own devices to go sight-seeing, thus leaving her mentally ill son to mingling amongst Tibetans. That was a bad move on her part. The wife of one of the volunteers, who herself was volunteering at Delek Hospital, was treating some of these Tibetans men who had been beaten up and she said that he did a number on them. We evidently heard that the police had issued a warning to the guy and mother telling them that they are not allowed to enter the state of Himachel Pradesh again. After hearing this story, I was glad that all me and my friends got was some mango gook on our clothes.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Where in the world is the HHDL

There are several rumors floating around McLeod Ganj amongst Tibetans that the HHDL is now in Amdo, Tibet. A friend of my host family said that his father had called him from Tibet to tell him that HHDL is in Tibet. But the Tibetan-Exile-Government officials have clearly stated that he is not in Tibet but here in Dharamsala. Some folks are saying that they are lying because folks are hearing the opposite from their relatives in Tibet. It is really interesting to see how this kind of the stuff gets to spread. If it is true then they don’t want anyone to know about. But I too have suspicion that someone inside Tibet could just be playing with the emotions of the people just to see their reaction. But of course I do not know anything.

At TC MEC all of the computers we rampaged by a virus so they were re-imaged, so we lost tons of information and I have been trying to recover as much as I can. So all week I have going through all the old back ups, updated and going through all the sent email files so that I try to retrieve some the lost stuff. TC MEC is full of volunteers right now, which is great and TC MEC they have buying all kinds of stuff. They have made a staff room for all the volunteers to chill in with nice furniture and a computer with broadband. And there will be more computers coming for the computers classes that they have. They will be hiring a full-time Tibetan English teacher and have hired a Tibetan computer teacher full-time. So this place I think in the future will be more like a real school and it won’t be dependent on volunteers so much. I think that this is good, especially that this will give the school a better sense of continuity than it has had in the past beside just having the Director of Tibet Charity, India and TC MEC.

With my new tutor, I am learning many new things. He lived in the US a few years ago, and he watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi with the George Lucas at his pad and told me some interest Star Wars facts that are Tibetan related. One that I knew already was that the Ewoks speak hyper fast Tibetan, Mongolian and a bunch of other languages all mixed up.

The named Skywalker comes from the Tibetan word mkha ‘gro pronounce Khandoe. mkha means “sky” or “space” and ‘gro means to “go” or to “move”. Thus, one who goes or moves through the sky, easier English “Skywalker”. And he said the Yoda’s character is designed from a famous rinpoche; through I have forgotten the lama’s name.

My tutor lived in Texas for a bit, and he had Dharma center there. While he was there he got to go to a Navajo festival where he was given peyote and did a sweat lodge. The people didn’t tell him exactly what peyote was (besides that it was medicine) so he got very sick and vomited a lot. He told me that he was sick for a few days. During these times too he was a monk. I couldn’t image how that must have been for him. He knows a lot about the etymology of Tibetan words so I learn a deeper meaning to the words that hear every day. So, I am happy with him, I feel that I have lucked out, though I still miss my old tutor.


Friday, July 14, 2006

It is not McLeod Ganj; it is in the Clouds Ganj.

The rain here comes in gusts of water that carve through the mountains. After the clouds eventually clears aways rivers that have just been recently created on the nearby mountainside can be seen. There are days when everything in ones sight of vision has utterly disappears behind the mist. We can see in the distance the encroaching clouds as it swallows this densely pack hill station. During HHDL’s teachings there was a cloud that was engulfing the temple right before it unleashed it’s moist laden burden. An Italian woman who was sitting behind me asked me if that was smoke. I said “Nah, woman, that ain’t no smoke, that’s a straight up cloud coming up in here”. Shocked was she.

So living in the beginning of the monsoon is like living in the cloud. Some of the storms that have descended on here are extremely wrathful. Thunder and lightening like that I have never seen before. I had to walk to my tutor's pad in the rain one day. Where I lived one has to walk down a whole bunch of steps in get there and as I was walking up for home, as rivers of water were flowing down. All of the trash that had been chillin’ at the top of the stairs must have had a nice fun wet ride towards the bottom. All the sewer drains were working in overdrive as rivers of water rushed through it in great crashing noise. And what really pissed me off, after all this water, was that that night I turn on the faucet in my bathroom to brush my teeth, and guess what? NO WATER. I am like, “Shit, we done had tons of water pour out the sky just hours ago, and now there ain’t one drop to brush my teeth with, go figure”.

Now I am in a battle with the mildew that is invading my room. Many things that I own is being overran by mildew. Even my Amala don’t have no suggestions for me, and there is not really too much I can do. There ain’t no sun, how can stuff get dry without it. I will try to use some watered down bleach on the mildew to see if that helps since some of my clothes, like my coat I want to keep. Regardless, I am glad to be here experiencing is monsoon. In way I thought that it is not a true Indian experience with out experiencing monsoon. I do have some good rain gear, so that is good. I got really soaked one time and I said not again.

TC MEC is opening for business again, this time I am not teaching this time, which is fine with me; there are plenty of qualified teachers who are doing a great job. I am working in the office with the director, organizing incoming volunteers and writing letters to sponsors and editing stuff. I like this quite a lot as much as teaching.

I am not sure if whether everyone is aware of the bomb blast in Mumbai on the trains but it is quite a big deal in India plus it is always good to know what is happening one the other side of the globe, since we are sharing it anyways. One thing that I have thought about in retrospect was that India deals better with this stuff than the United States does. Think India is used to have terrorist attacks as compared to the US, where if our invisible defense bubble pops we become vulnerable because our bubble is not as strong as we were lead on the believe.

Today I had just finished having lunch with Nangkyi and her mother, we had such a wonderful time, well, at least I did. They are leaving soon, so this was our only chance to meet.
It was good to talk to Nangkyi since I have not seen her since I left Berea. We might be able to meet after was returns from her jaunt.

Well, I guess I will keep it short, not much going on, besides rain I guess. Much Love to all those out there, especially my friends and acquaintances in Berea, Kentucky who have been actively reading this blog, see you at the end of September. Hey, I need a place to crash when I get there. Holla at me if you know of somewhere cheap or free and a job too since I will need money to return here to Dharamsala next July 2007.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Thrungkar and Rap speak

On the way home a few days ago, I ran into a Taiwanese lady. We get to chatting a bit and after a while she tells me, “Wooow, You talk like rap!!” I was a bit taken aback by this comment since I do not possess the lyrical improvisational talent that rappers possess. I told her that, “We’ll I grew up in New York” thinking that this will quell her curiosity, and then I get, “Do all people in New York talk like rap?” My immediate answer was, “No”. That pretty much ended our conversation, but it has had me thinking that since I have been here, that for many folks, I am the first black person that some folks have ever met including foreigners from East Asia, Tibetans and Indians. Most folks think at that I am either from Africa or the West Indies due to Cricket. As I think about this I find it that at least I paint a positive representation for black folks in these Asian parts. Which can not be said for other nationalities, I am thinking about the Israelis in particular, who do not possess such a good rap in India.

Since I have been here, I have heard stories of a black monk from New York, who studied at Sera Mey Gompa in South India and at the Sakya Gompa in Dehra Dun. People told me that his Tibetan was fantastic as was his debating skills and his ability to produced the “yang” (Multi-phonic overtones) that use for the recitation of prayers in tantric ceremonies. My new Tibetan tutor told that they he has not heard a westerner spoke Tibetan so well. He also said that he was the one westerner who truly internalized the Tibetan character. This fellow to be is like a ghost since I have heard so much about him and his talents and I am glad that he painted a positive picture from black people who interact and learn from Tibetans. In way I was grateful to him for it helps me as I traverse the rough terrain of learning the Tibetan Language. My praise goes out to this black monk for New York that I have never met.

There is a soap opera that plays on XZTV (sorry the link is in Chinese), the Tibetan station from Lhasa, Tibet. The story of this soap is about a Chinese girl who marries an African man from West Africa and moves there. It is quite interesting for the fact that first, this doctor was in China and had to convince the girl’s family to approve of their marriage. After her family approves she goes to West Africa where now the Doctor has to convince his family to approve of his marriage to a Chinese girl. Because of this show a few Tibetans have expressed that I look like the African doctor, and one monk even calls me Malika which is the name of the doctor. The interesting thing about the Tibetan station is that most of their shows are originally in Chinese and dubbed in Tibetan. They even have shows about Tibetans shot in Chinese and dubbed in Tibetan.

Yesterday on the 6th of July was the Birthday of HHDL which is known as Thungkar. It so happens that George W. Bush and HHDL share the same birthday, weird heh!! Anyway, there were festivities happening at the temple which including a lot of singing and dancing. Unfortunately I did not bring my camera because I thought that His Holiness was going to be there. But HHDL has been sick, and sick enough for him to cancel his tour to Europe. Usually if he were there cameras will not be allowed, and it would have sucked if I had to walk home because I had a camera. But James brought his camera and I will gank some pictures from him. I do have to say that I have fallen in love. With whom you say? Well not any one person in particular, No No No!!! TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) has a bagpipe and drum corps and all the women are quite accomplished snare drummers. It is with this lot that has received my crush. They were all rocking those drums with exquisite skill. I am a sucker for women who can rock at on some drums. Nuff said about that. All the other performances where great, including a group a children who were so adorable, with there little kiddies voices. Another one that was my favorite was a mask dance that is traditionally done by men. At the end of their dance the performers took off their masks so the audience found out that they were not men at all, but women. There was quite a ripple of shock and amazement that what the audience felt.

There at the temple I had finally ran into Tenzin Nangkyi fellow BC student while I was circumambulating the temple. I also ran into the sister and mother of another BC Tibetan. After all that, me and my friend Erika were having a chat by the offering stack, which consisted of a huge stack of “Kaptse” or Tibetan biscuits with candy and fruit on top of it. Erika was just chewed out by two older Tibetan men for getting to close to it, saying that it is holy. She was just checking to see how it was stacked. It looked similar to the way one stacks the sticks of wood for playing jenga. A few minutes later, I noticed a white dude with a short mohawk making funny faces. Tibetan folks are walking around him and staring at him saying that he is crazy. Erika who was sitting next to me told me that his was holding his breath until his turn blue. He then comes to the offering pile and starts eating away. I tell him that this pile is an offering and that it is not ready to be eaten until the ceremony is over. There had been ceremonies all week. Anyways, my friend James comes up and tells him the same thing, and then all of a sudden I have just realized that I had been squirted with mango stuff. I had it all it my hair, my pants and shirt. Also James and Erika who were sitting next to me got jizzed by this mango. It happened so fast, but as James was talking to mahawk dude, the dude took a mango from the pile and squeezed it causing it contents to be projected all over me and my friends. There were Tibetans looking on as this took place, but none did anything. Especially since a few moments earlier Erika was schooled just for looking at the offering pile too close. I told her that Tibetans might have a different attitude for the insane. Since Erika is sane, Tibetans will assume that she should know better, but for those who are crazy, their crazy and of course they don’t know any better. Well at least that is my assessment.

Two events have also been happening that affects Tibetans; one is the opening of the Nathula pass from Sikkim across the border to Tibet on the 6th of July. Another is the demolition of the Majnu Ka Tilla Tibetan settlement in Delhi which now I have just read that this will not be demolished, and of course the opening of the railway from Beijing to Lhasa. Tibetan Activists in Dharamsala has had several events including a hunger strike and a march in opposition to this railway.

My family was going to have a party on Thrungkar but Pala was very sick, thus no party. Pala is not sure when he was born so he, like many Tibetans will celebrate their birthday either on Losar or on Thrungkar. It would have been fun, since I will get to see Tibetans get stupid drunk. Oh well.

I have a new Tibetan tutor; he is an ex-monk from Namgyal Monastery. We have only met a few times, but he knows how to teach which is good. He is not like Pema, who I still miss very dearly, but this tutor, with his knowledge of Dharma will be good for me. He so far has told me that my Tibetan pronunciation is good, but I need to work on “downloading Tibetan to my tongue”. This is quite true and the hardest to do since that will take years to get used to.

TC MEC will start school again this Monday which is the start of a new term, my last one with them. I would like to leave with quote that I have heard from a German lady who live a long time in the US and has been living in India for 17 years. This is what she so wisely says, “In India, everybody says ‘No problem, No problem, Madam’, but in India everything is always a fucking problem” direct quote from Priya.


Sunday, July 02, 2006


HHDL’s teachings have ended. I am bit sad but I enjoyed them and I am looking forward to when I can get to the point with my Tibetan where I will not need the radio for the translation. Throughout the teachings it is fine to have but also quite cumbersome, especially when it came to bad reception or the translator not having enough time to finished his translation. I think that we lost a lot of information through it. But at the same time there no doubt that the translator was excellent and I have total respect and admiration for his profession.

The way it was set up was that there were two translations going simultaneously one in Chinese and one in English. The Chinese translations were provided over the loud speaker after HHDL finished speaking. The English ones could only be heard over radio. I am assuming that it must have been the Taiwanese Sangha that requested the teachings and that is why that Chinese translation was over the loudspeakers. The first and last prayers were chanted in Chinese. This caused a bit of a dilemma at times since some times the Chinese translator will finish before the English one. Since HHDL could only hear the Chinese one, the English translator will have to translate while His Holiness was teaching and keep up with the new information coming in. I remember from Amaravati, that the same translator had to translate with no breaks coming from HHDL. I also knew that at these teachings there were a Korean and a Russian translator translating to the people that sat immediately around them.

There, I was able to find a new Tibetan tutor of which I am excited about. I have been without one for two months now. I found out that my first tutor Pema, who I thought was in Manali, is actually in Spain. I felt a bit betrayed for she lied to me, but also I understand that she did not what others to find out. There are times that I hear my family talking about; who married to what westerner to go to the west or whose child got a scholarship to study in the US, or who got to go Europe, or who got political asylum, etc. I find it to be quite an obsession with trying to get to the West. I hear it so much. I understand, but I do get annoyed with it at times. Like I say, I wish everyone to gain what they desire. Anyways, I will meet with my tutor tomorrow and I will see how it goes.

Tomorrow, TC MEC will commence registration for the second term, and then class begins the next week. The 6th of July is HHDL’s Thrungkar (Birthday) which means some celebration of some sorts happening on that day. The weird thing that I find is that George W. Bush and His Holiness the Dalai Lama share a birthday. Two totally diametrical opposites, one brings war and the other peace.

Not to forget the World Cup final on Sunday the 9th. My own birthday just passed on the 30th of June. What can I say, another year gone by. My only birthday wish for myself is that I continue to strive to grow as a positive human entity as the years role by.