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Goodbyes, the Dalai Lama and a Photo Shoot

Aaaaaah, I just spent at least half an hour writing and it all just cancelled itself!

Right, here we go again...

 Last Friday Vivian and me taught our last classes, and the goodbye shaped up to be a majorly emotional event. (I still can't believe four weeks are already over- seriously, where did they go?!) During our morning advanced class we got the students to write about their role models. As was to be expected, all of them talked about the Dalai Lama and many about their parents. What we really did not foresee was that half of them mentioned us as well! I knew that they are lovely students, really keen to learn and extremely appreciative of the time we're giving them- but I was so not expecting that... So that was the start of what shaped up to be an extremely emotional two days. After class, we invited a couple of students to our goodbye dinner the next evening. Two of them in turn renewed their previous invitation to come visit them in Myanmar to where they'll be going back to in a year. And the others wanted to know when exactly our bus is leaving so they could come see us off!!! The students in our afternoon class were even sweeter- three of them ran after us after class to give us white scarves. They are a traditional Tibetan parting gift- with motives woven into them symbolising protection. (They are beautiful- though I haven't been able to find out yet whether one can just wear them as normal scarves- I've never seen anyone wearing one so far...) What is more, one of each our scarves was wrapped around an envelope. One of the monks who usually comes to the beginners' class and comes across as really shy wrote each of us a letter! Amazing, especially considering his level of English and how long it must have taken him to write them... (funny story; he also included a picture of himself. Vivian's is conventional enough- with him standing in a temple together with another monk. But on mine he's up in the mountains, wearing shorts and a tank top- you can see his robes flung across a rock in the background. Just really unexpected from a monk... ). And another (Thai) monk invited us for lunch the next day (more of that later).

We spent the rest of the day trying to organise our travel for the next weeks. Turns out booking trains is the one thing Indian's do months in advance... So train availability ended up being a major factor in planning our route. Unfortunately, we won't make it down to Mumbai after all. Instead, we'll spend nearly all the time in Rajastan - with plenty of time for camel safaris. (Not looking forward to the heat- but having dry clothes will be a nice change).

Then yesterday we listened to an introductory lecture to Buddhism- from the Dalai Lama!! By a huge coincidence he happens to be teaching this weekend! So we went and got registered during the last week (I think I already mentioned that) and then set out at 7.30 yesterday morning to go to the temple and attempt to get a seat... Apart from McLeod Ganj being more crowded than we've ever seen it, the whole event was surprisingly relaxed. We got there early enough to find a place against a wall of a balcony (not too keen on sitting for 4h without a backrest). We sorted out our radios - he obviously speaks in Tibetan but there's simultaneous translation into a couple of languages which one can listen to with a FM radio. And then we waited... The place filled up considerably, but the atmosphere was still really pleasant and not pushy or aggressive at all, as one might expect with such crowds... When he arrived, our seats turned out to be doubly lucky- as the side of the platform we were on directly overlooked the square over which he walked to the temple so we got a really good look. You can tell he's getting really old- but at the same time he just has the warmest smile and took his time getting to the temple to bless as many of the audience as possible (a lifelong dream for most Tibetans). The translation turned out not to be simultaneous which although it doubled the duration of the teaching was really nice as we got to listen to his voice first before we heard the English version. I'm extremely happy I went- not only for the experience of having seen and heard him once, but also because although I know something about Buddhism, it was great to get a founded introduction this way.

As soon as the teaching was over, we and two of the other girls volunteering with us rushed off down the hill to make it to our lunch date with the Thai monk (or the second orange monk as we often call him- due to the colour of his robes). We rushed because initially we had been planning to make it back in time for the afternoon teaching session... That didn't quite work out. One reason why I love this place so much is just the randomness of it all- you almost invariably set out to do one thing and end up doing everything but that... This afternoon was another perfect example of it. Well- we did actually have lunch (absolutely amazing Thai chicken soup, with some Chinese vegetable and rice). But other than that... It started off with finding the place were he lived. He had given me instructions the day before (down the hill, next to some school- you see that green house down there? that's not where I live. but it's opposite. Intrasolar, intrasolar (still no clue what that meant). welcome house.) ok... we bumped into him again on the day at the temple and he specified which stairs we had to go down (though after about 10 minutes we gave up asking him for a time when we should be there- "maybe 11.30. I think everyone has had breakfast. Teaching not longer than 1- good?" So we just went after the teaching finished- and set off down said stairs. He'd said something about a green house and left so when we got to a wall with 'green flat' or something of the sort written on it we gave him a call so check if we had to turn left there or continue down. 'Down?' 'Yes, yes, left at fraw'. 'Sorry, where do we go left?' 'Fraaaawwww' ... eventually we gave up and just continued looking.. We found it eventually (orange is a great colour to be wearing if someone needs to find you in the middle of green mountains!).

Once there, the place was great. Gig (that's his nick name) lives in a room with a balcony with a gorgeous view of the mountains. As said, lunch was absolutely delicious, and he's a really nice guy- even though he talkes A LOT. He really reminds all of us of a child because he will just say everything that comes into his head (including during class). But he does it in an adorable way - and is hilarious (though not really aware of it). After lunch (we were already not going to make it back to the teaching, but it had been worth it!). We all got up to leave and were saying goodbye when someone suggested taking one picture together. This is were things got slightly crazy - Gig got a massive professional camera from out of his wardrobe. We ended up staying another 1.5h as he insisted on taking all our portraits as well as a series of group pictures. We really didn't have any choice. Looking back, it was a really great idea and we actually did get a number of great pictures . But at the time the whole thing felt extremely absurd, particularly as none of us were wearing any make up whatsoever, where in comfy clothes for the teaching, and had run up and down the hill about three times that day. (indeed- after the first pictures he told us to wipe our faces!). It just was too funny- also as he kept making these really weird noises (mmmmmmmmmmmmmhhhh) as he was looking through the lense... But as I said, some of the pictures are actually really nice- and what better souvenir of that afternoon could one wish for??

That just leaves the goodbye dinner yesterday evening. Far less eventful (except for the bit were one had to climb through a window onto a rickety balcony and back through another window to get out from behind the table). But it was a great evening and the perfect end to our stay here. Most people we invited (and some we didn't invite) came, including two of our students. A month ago I definitely wouldn't have thought I'd spend an evening chatting to a monk who was eating pizza and continuously texting on his phone... No worries, there's pictures (he gave me his email to send it to him and instead of his name wrote 'monk of tibet' in front of it...) I just can't say enough what amazing people I've met here... as much as I'm really looking foward to seeing more of India, if Vivian weren't here to drag me onto the bus tonight I really don't know if I'd be able to leave...


Right, lunch time here. Our last momos in a while...

29.8.10 08:46


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