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Taking the North Country to Northern India

Becky McCluskey

Settling In: October 12, 2004

Making momos

On Thursday I had a cooking class with this Tibetan guy, and his mother was there, and she was the funniest little old lady ever. She would say stuff to us in Tibetan and it would sound like she was yelling, and then her son would be like, she says you did a good job, and then she would laugh with this big toothless grin...it was hilarious...she sort of reminded me of the grandma from Mulan. Anyway, it was an interesting class, we made potato and vege momos (momos are a lot like chinese pot-stickers) but it was really hard learning how to fold the dough the right way. We spent like an hour-and-a-half just practicing folding, but we got to eat them at the end, so it was worth it. Later that day we went to the Buddhist temple in town and saw monks having debates (an interesting process...they slap their hands...i'll explain some other time) and shrines and what not. After that we went to the Tibet museum which was really shocking and sad because I didn't realize how bad things were and still are for Tibetans in Tibet.

On Saturday I started my homestay. I live with my amala and pala (mom and dad) and their two kids. The kids are so adorable! The little boy is two and their daughter is six. Neither of the parents speak English very well, but they've had people stay at their home before and there are never really any awkward moments because the kids are always talking, laughing, or crying. Last night the little girl was trying to show me how to dance--she dances all the time. I looked like an idiot but it was fun and she had fun laughing at me. Oh, and my pala works in the monastery, so we live in it.

Milarepa debates Dharma Lodro

The first night I was home alone with my pala when I heard chanting outside. When I asked him about it he brought me out to the courtyard space and there was like, 50 monks sitting and swaying as they chanted together--my pala said it's called their puja or something like that. Then he took me up to the temple part which I had seen before, but inside one of the rooms was a whole group of monks. They were sitting in two groups on either side of the room with an open space in the middle. In the middle part a monk was standing and debating with these older monks (when they debate, one monk is standing while the other monk is sitting). When the standing monk makes a point or asks a question they slap their hands together to emphasize what they are saying--its makes an interesting show, even though I have no idea what they are saying. At one point, four monks were standing up and were pushing each other and talking at once. Then all the sudden, the four stopped and all the monks (sitting and standing) made this weird noise and then they all slapped their hands--it was so cool. Anyway, as I was standing there watching this Indian girl came up and said hi to me. She introduced herself as Lecki, and when I said my name is Becky, she thought it was the funniest thing ever. She ended up taking my hand and leading me through the temple. She introuced me to her parents, showed me how to pray to the Buddha shrine, and then kissed me on the cheek before she left...it was so strange but I loved it.

On Sunday I saw the Dalai Lama. Granted, it was only for a few seconds as he was driven past in a car, but still, you could feel the excitement in the crowd just before he drove by, and just seeing him gave me the chills. I'm hoping living at the monastery might give me a chance to see him again, but so far I haven't been there a lot because I 've been so busy. He actually stays in this palace place behind this gate thing, but my amala said he comes to the temple to pray and stuff...so I 'll keep my eyes peeled. Anyway, that night our group went to the movie theater in town to see the documentary Cry of the Snow Lion. It is an incredibly good documentary (and it shows a little bit of where I am, like the sign for the Tibetan hopital is across from where we were staying when we were at the hotel here) but it is sooooo sad. Anyway, while we were waiting outside in the street before the movie started a "parade" of monks and people walked by singing this song and holding candles and signs in protest of the scheduled execution of a Tibetan monk. I don't know what he did but the Chinese are planning on killing him on December 2nd, without a trial. There is something about the reverberations of the monks voices as they chant/sing that is incredibly moving. Anyway, if you ever get the chance, definitely watch that documentary.

So now my next two weeks are pretty much planned out already. I live with my homestay family and have breakfast and dinner with them. Then every morning our group gets together at 8:00. I 'm taking a 5-day massage course which I think will be good because yesterday, the first day I was there, it was a lot of fun. Then today I 'm planning on starting to tutor a nun in English, which I 'm a little nervous about, but when I talked to her she seemed really nice, so I 'll see. And then about twice a week or so we have Hindi class for an hour, and on the weekend when I have a little more time I want to try another cooking class or a hatha yoga class.

Now, to answer some of your questions:

  • The head shaving was definitely not premeditated (is that the right word?). Two girls in my group did it and I saw them and kinda wanted to, and then four other people said they would shave their heads if I decided to shave mine. So now all of the girls in the group except for one, and one-and-a-half guys have shaved heads. The half is there because one guy shaved his hair back in California but left a Mohawk.
  • The food I 've had has been really good so far. I've had everything from Lays Indian Magic Masala potato chips to pizza to dal to banana lassi's (mangoes are out of season :( ) to different currys with naan, to momos, to weird korean food, to crepes to rice...so yeah, there are a lot of options.
  • No, I haven't slept on the ground at all. In Delhi we stayed at a hostel which had beds. When we first got to Mcleod Ganj we stayed at Kalsang guest house (its a hotel) where there were beds, and now in my homestay I sleep on a bed, but my bed serves as the couch as well because it's in the living room. Not much personal space but it's only for two weeks.
  • I have no idea when we are going to Benares. From here we are going to Rishikesh and I 'm excited because Autumn said that her contact there said that we must have a special group, because all these well-respected religious teachers and people are coming to talk to us.
  • Which reminds me, has anyone read Autobiography of a Yogi? because I have to read it, and its kinda dull but it's so incredibly amazing, because this guy's life is like, full of unbelievable "miracles," although he would just attribute it all to the fact that he is like, spiritually in sync with god or whatever. Ahhh, I ramble on, back to your questions.
  • It gets cold at night but usually not too cold. Although the past two days it rained and so it got chillier.
  • I sort of get international news. There are Indian newspapers that are in English that Autumn has read out of, because some of the articles are so funny sounding--like this one about these two guys who were at a family reunion who got into a fight, but it was finally broken up after they sacrificed a goat, and at the end of the article it said that alcohol had been present at the reunion. At my homestay I watched television for the first time here. It's interesting because some of the stations that are in Hindi have English mixed into their commercials. Oh, and the commercials are really funny, but even better are the Hindi soap operas. Its horrible acting with funny music in the background--I loved it! But yeah, they get CNN and the BBC, so I can see some news in English, and it's interesting watching the programs because they have a much more global perspective than news stations in the U.S.

So, I think that answers most of the questions people asked me. I 'll fill you all in as more stuff comes up...

miss you lots,

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2004 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475