My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Many Moons ago….

This blog entry is dedicated to Thomas Marshall aka Lil Jit, a young man that I had the privilege of workimg with at the Tokico factory in Kentucky before I returned to Dharamsala. He had recently passed away in a car accident in Richmond KY during the holiday. He was only 19 years, but his potentiality was incredible, it sadden me to hear that he had passed on and thus these my first words from India in a while are written with him in mind. R.I.P.

Well what can I say; this blog has been totally inactive since I arrived in India six months ago. I was totally meaning to be really good about updating when I arrived, but since I dropped my laptop on the floor of a friend trying to answer a phone an hour before I was to be driven to the airport, that had place a damper on my ability to update properly. But now, that is no more. It took me about 3 to 4 months to get my computer fixed, and by that point I was so busy and out of the habit of updating and now so much has passed that I won’t even bother trying to start from the beginning. I guess I will describe certain events that I deem to be important or semi noteworthy thus far.

As many of you know I am continuing my Tibetan Language studies as IBD Sarah College and it has been great for the most part. It has taken me quite awhile to get used to living here. For thing, there is not too much around here, beside farms and farm animals and a tiny shack shop behind the college called “Babu Ram” where we can get a mean chai and a spicy omelette. No dancehall clubs, not much as far shops go, or restaurants for that matter. There is the local village from which our college bears its name, but it is not exactly podunk either. It does not take too long to get to some action like McLeod Ganj, which many times requires being squeezed like a sardine in a can on the local bus to Lower Dharamsala and then enduring an even more compacted shared taxis ride to McLeod Ganj. In McLeod Ganj or as I haved called it “MC Ganj” or just “The Ganj”, there are people to visit and stuff to buy and more diversified grub to eat.

As far as Sarah food goes, all I can say it that it gets the job done, except the time when they served bitter gourd, for that night the squat toilet became my dearest friend. The food is not bad but it is not good either. The International students are infamously known for bitching about the food but I thought that it would have been a lot worst that what it is, but at the same time I did live off of garbage for four years of my life so my taste buds have a have a slightly higher tolerability level than your average westerner. Anyways, if there is the need to get a break from Sarah that is easily possible.

At first, I was heading up to the Ganj almost every weekend. And that was either because some one I know was in town, or a party or something. Like when the tall beautiful Sarah whom I had met during the beginning of my first stay in the Ganj two years ago was back and we got to hang out lot. Tomer and Cassie, a hip ass couple that I used to just kick it with two years back were in town for a bit. Jason Fults, who is on a Fulbright Scholarship living in Delhi, gave me a visit with his friends. Antwon a Senior from my alma mater Berea College was up here with the SIT (School for International Training) Tibetan Studies study aboard program, so we got to hang out quite a bit. It was really nice to have all these friends around. Oh and how can I forget? My very first Tibetan teacher who taught me Tibetan three summers ago at Cornell University in Ithaca NY was working with SIT, Gen Thinley La. I was really happy to see him. I we got to hang out a lot. I actually stayed with him in his hotel room during one of the HHDL’s teachings with was way cool. I later came to find out that his niece is attending Sarah.

But after all these folks had left I haven’t been going up to McLeod that much unless the HHDL is giving teachings or I need some thing or to visit my old host family. So that also makes it a bit tougher to update the blog. The internet connection down here isn’t so hot, sometimes it works and the other times…… well you know. There are folks that I need to visit, like my college mate Palkyi who I ain’t seen in months and who I owed a lot to like for dealing with my broken Tibetan and watching my stuff while I went to hang out in Manali with Jason Fults and Molly when I first arrived six months ago. I went looking for Palkyi last weekend but she done moved. Her uncle had given me a nice warm sleeping bag since it getting a bit nipply down here at night and we are not allowed to have a space heater our rooms. Since I haven’t written in a while my writing will suck ass, but it will improve if I try to write every weekend or so.

So how can I describe my new college, well I probably can’t but I will give it a whirl.
I live in the boy hostel which consists of both lay and monastic folk and mean ass looking wasps that have a thick yellow line on their bums and these little birds that whiz all over the dorm hallways, I love these little birdies. The bathrooms are communal on each floor, but I was lucky to get my own room with a toilet which is a blessing and a curse. When the stomach goes off the toilet is an utter blessing, but when it is really cold, due to the fact that all the rooms which have bathrooms are north facing, or when the water runs out thus meaning that I can’t flush the toilet it then becomes a curse.

When class first started it was monsoon season so water shortages were not too common, but afterwards it was mighty dry and that also meant that the communal toilets stunk way bad. The boys here are great for the most part, many still don’t talk to me. I think that mostly that they are not sure just how to digest me. The story is the similar with many of the other International students. I knew that I am one of the first black person that many here have ever met. Most folks here have met plenty of white folks, but a black one is uber rear here. Some students love rap music and make a stab at speaking Ebonics. A few have expressed to me their love for things black such as Bob Marley, NBA, AND 1 Mix tape, Ebonics, etc… But that too has led to some weird tension, for since I am the only person for miles that they can practice their Ebonics with I find that many will just ignore that I can speak Tibetan. Even our teachers do it and it get to be a bit discouraging. A few students will not even think of speaking to one of us in Tibetan unless we kindly asked. This has been the major beef between us. It sucks, but I am also used to it from living in MC Ganj and I have learned to always speak Tibetan, for if I did not my Tibetan would have never gotten where it is at now.

I am a bit proud that they are interested in my culture, because it is for once that something of which I belong to is seen in a desirable light, where it would not have been happening to such a extent 30 years ago. Plus I love to share my culture with those who are willing to get to know me. But I am still a bit cautious because the representation of the U.S. minorities that they are getting in India is still coming from the multi-national corporations like MTV, thus I am glad that I can be a freshly representative. It is bad enough the US racism is being passed along with consumer globalization.

But I have to keep my eyes on the prize which is to learn Tibetan well and thus I continue striving for such attainments. Living here is interesting, we get the second Saturday of every month off, so usually on those Saturdays one experiences what your modern Tibetan young man is into as far as music goes, for here there are a few who love to make their tastes obviously known. The tastes here are much same as well as being eclectic, in the same hour Tibetan exile pop, Hindi pop, 80’s and 90’s pop and rock all the way to Akon and Chamillionaire can be heard. There have been many a time that I will be sitting in my room laughing hysterically because a song. Like “Country Road” for example, I would have never thought that backwoods West Virginia will be a place where Tibetans belong, shit I couldn’t go there myself. Many of course I find down right cheesy.

One thing that I really love about the Tibetans is there love for singing out loud at all time and not having a qualm about it. For generally, one will find Tibetan folk rather shy but on the other hand, they easily walk the halls singing their favorite song. These songs range from Hindi, Tibetan, Chinese, and Western songs, to having a monk vibrate the entire dorm with the deep throat singing that Tibetan monks are famous for doing. Speaking about throat singing, one day some of the Tuvan students told about a Tuvan group that was going to perform at Lower TCV, I was soo excited since I am an amateur throat singer myself and hadn’t until that time had ever seen an actual Tuvan throat singing group. This group more than fulfilled my expectations, they were just incredible. It is one thing to listen to Tuvan throat singing on the CD player, but live was off the hook.

What was I blabbering about…. Oh right, Sarah!!! That’s right, in some aspects I have found Tibetans not as shy as they have let themselves out to be and Westerners to be shyer than what they let themselves out to be. It is through this Tibetan inspiration that I have been slowly losing my shyness for singing and studying out loud which I find to be a beautiful study habit. In most, if not all Tibetan traditional learning arts, memorization is a huge part of learning. Coming from the West this is quite looked down upon, but here is it utterly compulsory. In all the classes students have to stand in front of their class mates and spit out word for word a certain text. For us in the International Tibetan Language course we have been encouraged to memorize certain mnemonic grammar poems that lay out the essences of Tibetan grammar. I wished we had something to the same effect in English and Spanish when I was a kid. Those who study Tibetan Medicine or Buddhist Dialectics are required to memorize corpuses of texts which to me seem un-imaginable, but they do it. I have seen it so many times; I am amazed at how the Tibetans here at Sarah can remember things, like a computer searching for the right file. I greatly desire to learn this skill, and I know I am a bit too old really at near 30 to be as good as one who has been doing it since their childhood, but from I have heard from the westerners who are in the Buddhist Dialects course, that the more you do it, the more one can memorize in one sitting. That’s how they do it, start off small and slowly build up. Since memorization involves doing it vocally one reading comprehension, reading speed and vocabulary will increase also.

The International class is truly international; the class consists of, Korean, Australians, US, German, Tuvan, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Romanian, Bhutanese, Chinese and Indian students. Many of us have studied Tibetan before and many have not. Our teachers are fantastic, with one outstanding problem, which is they were never trained to teach their language as a Second and Third language. We are more or less taught like how they were taught Tibetan. Too many questions at times tend to annoy the teachers and at times they don’t know how to deal with. We love to ask questions. But they will get used to it if they continue teaching to International students. Our classes consist of vocabulary and spelling (dag yig), grammar (brda sprod), Buddhism 101 (nang chos), Tibetan colloquial expressions (kha skad) and conversation class (bka’ mol) all about an hour each and this month since our Buddhism teacher and other students went to South India to attend a teaching given by the HHDL, so we have a calligraphy (yig gzugs) class instead.

Also every morning at 6:30 am there are morning prayers that are mandatory for the Tibetan student but not the International students, but I go for it a good way to start the day, in improves reading and I get to practice at the same time, but the Tibetans spit out the prayers way fast, like Slayer thrash metal fast on crystal meth, because they have been reciting them since primary school and have them memorized, but now I am getting used to it. We have mandatory study time from 7 to 9pm and sometimes the old man that every calls “Warden Pa la” will come to your room to make sure that you are studying. So that keeps us pretty busy. We have only two huge exams, one which passed about a month ago (mid year) and one at the end of the year before we leave. I have never studied so hard for anything in my life and I am loving it. I truly feel that this is what I am supposed to so.

Since I have been here we have be blessed to receive the 17th H.H Gyalwang Karmapa, the Prime Minister of the Tibet Government in Exile Samdhong Rinpoche, and the two amazing Tibet movement activist, Tenzin Tsundue and Lhadon Tethong. We were also able to watch live via satellite HHDL receive the United States Congressional Gold Medal Award. Sarah was in charged of welcoming the HHDL when he returned backed to Dharamsala after receiving the Gold Medal, since the local airport is walking distance from the campus. That day was very beautiful. The picture of the HHDL in the corner was taken by one of my classmates that day.

We have had concerts where Jigme of the JJI Exiled Brothers played and a new but very popular duo Sonam Gonpo and Urgyen Lhundup wooed the crowd with the dance moves, love songs and hilarious comedy. Still to this day after their concert these words are constantly being echoed throughout the Boy’s and Girl’s hostel “Ngea sempa kher song ke so, Ngea sempa lak song la sooooo”. Which means something like, “You have carried away my heart, and have lost my heart”. Sorry the translation is wicked bad, but Tibetan love lyrics are uber cheese in English. And how can I forget the little 5 year old Tibetan B-boy who’s got some moves on him. He’s the nurse’ son and I can’t for to life of me figure out where he learned his moves but he got a groove on down good.

Some of us we’ll have our share in performing at Sarah, like last week there was a conference held here at Sarah in which Tibetan students came from colleges all over India to discuss various topics pertaining to Tibet. On the first day a concert was held to entertain the student guest. Me and two of the German students, Kay and Lina, performed an instrumental with me playing lead yadiki aka digeridoo, Kay on back up yadiki and Lina drumming on a small Guinean wooden slit gong. It was way nice, and the other performers were incredible including the students from Tibetan Music and Dance school up the road and the four really cute Tibetan girls doing an innocently sensual dance to a Hindi pop song. In about two weeks or so we the International students well have to perform again to welcome the students that will be arriving here from the States through the Emory University Tibetan Studies Study Abroad Program. Right now we are still in the planning stages of our performance, each class will have to do one. It has been told to me that the International students rarely performed for these functions.

By the way, the classes at Sarah are as followed from lowest to highest. International Tibetan Language Class the one I am in. The skad yig ‘dzin grva aka language course, the Himalaya Class for folks from the ethnic Tibetan regions in India such as Ladahk, Spiti Sanzkar, Lahoul, Kinnaur, and Sikkim. The ‘tsams ‘jor aka Bridge course for Tibetan students who are not ready for college level work in Tibetan, and the 3 years of rig gnas, aka the Bachelors degree course in Tibetan Studies. There is also the nang ‘gro rig pa aka the Buddhist Dialects course which stays down at Sarah for about 2 to 3 years and then moves on up to the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics Campus aka mtshan nyid grva tshang in McLeod Ganj for another 12 years. That class is mostly for monastics, but there are slots lay folks.

Anyways, I am going to try out for one of the lay folks slot in the Dialectics course. I have been thinking about this for the longest time and it now seems that this is what I am supposed to do. I could learn this at home to, but I feel that the hands on approach of learning traditional debate methods in Tibetan will allow me to learn this art more thoroughly than I will be able to in an U.S. university, plus it is way cheaper. But first I will have to take a test and exactly when this test is given remains unknown. Probably in 2 or 3 three years from now. Better 2 than 3, for I will need to stay here the entire time until which I can take the exam. The other International students who are in the course now are very supportive of my plan to take the exam. My parents are also very supportive and this makes me happier than anything in the world, even though I have not been close to them for years their supportive encouragement to follow my dream means so much to me.

There are several obstacles that stand in my way, mainly dealing with funding. When I have time I will apply for every scholarship that I can apply for, other than that, I am asking folk who are interesting to sponsor me or to suggest any ideas for funding. If any one knows of any scholarships or work that I can do for two months out of the year when I will be on vacation where I can earn $2000 to $3000 dollars will be greatly appreciated. Not one person will have to be responsible for the full price but maybe several persons can help. I am a bit scared about put myself out there in blog o’ landia like this. But this one way to help someone fulfill their dream and aspiration. I already have one person who has agreed to help me with the funds. The tuition for the course runs at about 4500 INR a month being about $120 dollar a month, depending on the strength of the Indian Rupee, for about 12 to 13 years. I know that it is pretty heavy. I am pretty well decided about this and there is nothing else in my life as far as my education and career are concerned that I want to do. I am studying like a dog to get this done. This is it, I have found it. I have always believed that it takes the help of other to bring about the positive change in a person or in society in order for that person to fulfill their life goal and bring benefit to the world. This is my life goal. If you are in the least bit interested in helping or you think that I am totally whack, please respond here or email me at or I guess that is all that I have to say, I hope that you have enjoyed my first blabbering from this blog from my second stint in Dharamsala. There is more to come. Please forgive my syntax!!!