Thursday, July 16, 2009

Guest editors

The Mighty Mighty Readership of SLNC has spoken, and we have heard all four of your voices loud and clear. You want to hear from the Nag Champiettes. Actually, no one said that, but every good piece of writing needs a catchy intro, so....

Ben says:
Let's do a describetion about the Buddha. No, don't type that in! What are you doing, Dad?

OK, um, we went to Thikse Monastery, and we saw the Buddha. It is a Maitreya Buddha. It's gigantic. Its eyes were kind of curved and long, and it has flowers growing up its arms, it has blue long and curled hair, and he has a crown which has the representing of the for [sic] buddha families. He has a conch shell tilak, he has golden skin and red unders of his feet and hands, and blue eyes.
Should we put in some pictures?
Yeah, how?
Like this:

Do you want to say anything about the pictures?

No, not really.

[ed. note: the Buddha's face is ~15 feet tall] Is there anything else you want to say about Ladakh, or your trip, or anything else that's going on?

Nope, nope nope...[walking away]

Ok, Caitlin, you're up:

Do my voice in Bold. When I'm talking, make it Bold. No, don't type that. [ed. swats hand away from delete button.]

Ummm... .... daddy, don't type this...

[dramatic sigh]

OK, type what Caitlin has to say now!

Four days ago we came into Leh. The first day we went to the Leh Palace. It was cool, but it was just basically empty rooms. We came back to Leh and had lunch. Next day we went to the little monks' picnic. It was lots of fun. I played cards with Geshe-la and the older little monks, and also I took funny pictures. Can we put in some of my funny pictures now?

Um, I dunno. Let's see. Nope, sorry, all the funny pictures of the picnic are on mom's computer. So...?

Then, at about five we went to Thikse monastery's guest house. It was ok. Then the next morning we went up to see Thikse monastery. Just very quickly, there were lots of tourists, it was pretty cool, but we've got pretty much the same stuff at our monastery.

ed. note -- please note the last sentence, which the kids have not yet adopted as a personal motto. The Tibetan above dedicates that particular prayer wheel to a soldier who died in 1999 in Kargil fighting against Pakistan.

We had lunch there, and then drove in to Leh.
This is when I was starting to get sick. We found an awesome guesthouse called Maryul, then Dad and I went horseback riding, that's where I want the pictures.

My legs got sore and the white horse which I rode for the first part, had lost one of its stirrups the day before, so I had a rope stirrup which was very uncomfortable [ed: see pic above] It was also windy and rainy, but we had a lot of fun because I just love to spend time with my dad doing just about anything No! don't type that!

Next day we hung around Leh, and I met the guest house owner's daughter. Her name is Lhandol, she's really nice, we hung around together some and had breakfast together this morning.
Then we did more important stuff like get water, drop off laundry, go shopping, etc., which isn't as fun but which I cheerfully endure because I know its important for my family. Dad!


Here, you type in what you think I should say: My dad is awesome, I love him more than anything else in the whole world. That's what it says. When are you going to type about me getting sick? Ok, sorry.

For the last couple days I had a stomach infection. It wasnt getting better, and also the medicine was really yucky and I threw it up, so last night, Mom and Dad called a doctor. (AMA: you listening? House calls. For $11. You bout to get outsourced) Everybody done? Oh, yeah, now I'm all better, and my new medicine tastes ok.

Now I want to say something. Probably he got sick from playing in the stream at the picnic. The water was disgusting. And I saw garbage floating in it.

[He did sort of present giardiasistically, but that takes a long time to gestate, supposedly, so who knows what it was. Swimming in Indus effluvia probably didn't help. I paid my penalty in extra escorted trips to the bathroom, including in the dark and awful public Ladakhi toilets.]

Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Did you write in what I'm saying? Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore. Albus, Albus, Albus, Dumbledore.

So, we've had a few days off in Leh, and now that we've surveyed the varieties of Veg Cheese Kothay and had more pancakes and french fries than anyone really needs to eat in India, I am forgoing the International Association of Ladakh Studies Conference today (thru Sunday) and we'll head home after the usual raft of shopping.

Also, Dolkar now has a roof. Hooray, specially since it rained on Monday and Tuesday.

Thanks for helping me to placate the children Are you done yet? here in the Internet cafe while Maggie attends to important email. As usual, a promise of more substance to come soon, but not very soon.

PS--if you want to call us, Likir Monastery's main phone number is 11-1982-227140. Ask for KEE-REES, and then expect to wait a while. I'm genuinely not encouraging anyone to call, but it occurred to me that no one really knows how to reach us if needed. Now you do.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Sweet than Bitter

Suggested soundtrack for this post can be found HERE.

In 30 days…

…I won’t be able to look out my window and see the snow-topped Himalayas.

…I won’t be able to turn my kids loose to go climb and explore and build caves right outside our house.

…we won’t be able to mosey across the street and spend an afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of an ancient monastery with a jolly and playful friend who happens to have the keys to everything.

…there won’t be any more Kashmiri apple juice.  Especially not at $1/liter.

…I won’t see 48 sweet smiling little boys shyly grinning at me every time I go outside.

…there won’t be friendly strangers herding their cows past my house, waving and shouting out, “Ju-lay!” all day long.

…the day won’t start with happy kids calling, “KEED-ISS!” in hopes of seeing my husband on their way to school. 

…no one will drop off sacks of dried cheese or peas as a housewarming gift.

…pairs of shy monks will no longer turn up at my door to deliver food and tea all day long.

…my kids will not be swept up by friendly monks for a walk, game of Carrom, or impromptu Ladakhi lesson.

…I won’t be able to sit in the yard knitting while I watch magpies careening against a backdrop of acid-green trees and craggy, barren, beautiful mountains.

…my family won’t be lulled to sleep by the burble of a glacial stream. 

…I won’t get a Ladakhi/cooking lesson, nor will I give a mini English lesson every time I take out the compost,

…I will live in a home with many fewer windows and not nearly as much dazzling sunshine.

…I’ll sweat again.  A lot.

…I’ll have to shave my legs again.

…going to the store won’t be an adventure full of fun, a chance to learn a new language and make a new friend, even if the store has nothing at all that I needed to buy.

…I’m going to be spending a lot more money for everything.

…my kids will probably be watching more TV and having more computer time.

…and so will Chris and I.

…I won’t be able to go sit in a Buddhist temple or teaching hall anytime I want.

…an enormous Buddha won’t be watching over me and my family.

…my husband won’t be able to get up at 5am and after a quick walk, spend a few hours working in his office before coming back home for breakfast.

…my days won’t be shaped by the singing and chanting of monks and the ringing of bells. 

…I won’t see knitting-inspiration every time someone takes off their shoes.

…our family won’t have the option of  feasting on Ladakhi food in the monastery kitchen for lunch and dinner every day.

…I will have to wait much much longer for veg-cheese khotay (pan-fried momos).

…we won’t be in the midst of a community so instinctively and uniformly oriented toward mutual support.

…going into town won’t be nearly as exciting and as highly anticipated as it is now.

…my family won’t spend nearly as much meaningful time together, drawing, reading, exploring outdoors and playing games.

…varied and interesting people from all over the world won’t wander down my street and through my house everyday, ripe for conversation and the sharing of travel tales.

…my family won’t be so closely enveloped by a foster family of the most cheerful, light-hearted and genuinely caring people I’ve ever met. 


And in 30 days…

… my bedroom, my children’s bedrooms, the dining room, living room and kitchen will all be separate, different rooms.

…my bathroom will have a toilet, complete with toilet seat, a shower and tub that are not just knobs sticking out of the wall, and it will be inside my house.

…hot water will come out of all the hot water taps anytime I want it to.

…hot water will come  to those taps from a great big tank in the basement, to which I have to do nothing, instead of a huge kettle sitting on a wood fire.

…I will keep my food in a refrigerator and cupboards, not a cardboard box.

…I will be able to bake, in an oven, in my house.

…I will have all the coffee I want.  Lattes, even.

…I will be able to walk to the library with my kids.

…we will wash our laundry in our own washing machine, with hot water, in our basement, anytime we want to.

…food will come from a grocery store that I can reach in a matter of minutes, any day I need to.

…I will be reasonably confident that any store I walk into will have the items I wish to purchase, and that I will be able to get a fair price, even though I’m white, and without an argument.

…I will be able to wear shorts and sleeveless tops without fear of being thought a brazen hussy.

…my husband and I will be able to hold hands (or even smooch!) in public without scandalizing all and sundry.

…my children will no longer fear cheek-pinchers every time we go out.

…my snot won’t be black from all the dust and dirt in the air.

…toilet paper will no longer be a scarce and precious resource.

…I will be able to eat good deep dark chocolate whenever I want it.

…my kids will be able to order food in a restaurant or eat at friend’s house without fear of it being nuclear hot and unpalatable to them.

…I will be able to take a hot shower more than twice a week and not feel the least bit guilty about it.

…there will be electricity 24/7, pretty much no matter what.

… my presence in my house, my activities and my husband’s work won’t be a source of curiosity and consternation to tourists who randomly walk thorough my yard, taking pictures of my friends without asking permission first, lost in the fiction of their 'spiritual adventure' in India.

…I will wash my dishes in a sink, in my kitchen, inside my house, with hot water, standing up, with the lights on, anytime of the day or night.

…my family will be able to get out a glass, turn on the faucet, fill the glass with water and drink it directly. 

…we’ll be able to brush our teeth and rinse the toothbrushes under the tap.

…I’ll be getting back to birth work, and hopefully midwifery training.

…I will be able to call friends and family on the phone anytime I want.

…we’ll all be able to see and hug and talk to all of your that we love and have missed so very much for the past 10 months.



Sunday, July 12, 2009


Just a few shots from around the monastery...


For the uber-curious, my dad has movies of our humble home (so I know you've already seen them Mom!), but for the rest of you, a few shots of what we see everyday and our little corner of the Likkir.  

We live in a room (about 250 sq. ft.) that was previously a classroom.  Now that they've got Caitlin for an English teacher, the kids don't seem too upset about us taking over their room...
The room faces south and west and so gets wonderful light and stays very warm. 
Above, that's us on the right, the room that juts out toward the back - affectionately called The Aquarium... The shot is taken from the main walkway of the monastery - on the left are monks' quarters and just above those is the giant golden Buddha. We're on the second floor with the other classrooms, the school director's room and 2 bathrooms (squatties, no hot water).  We cook in our room on a two burner LPG stove and do just about everything else in there too.  

The little monks all live downstairs, about 10 to a room.  They also eat and debate and chant and pray and do homework downstairs.  They cook in a building across the courtyard, which you can see below, on the right.  We wash our dishes just to the left of the grassy area, at a tap which gives nothing but ice-cold glacial run-off.  And occasionally we do our laundry in buckets there too.  Behind the chorten at the far right corner of the building there is a dirt yard where the kids play and the entrances to all sorts of wild and wonderful hiking paths, caves and other gnarly stuff to explore and get dirty in.  
And finally, Tashi, the monastery dog...


The man who runs the little shop just below the monastery has recently set up a traditional Ladakhi loom to work on when business is slow.  Caitlin and I popped in for an introductory lesson the other day and I have to admit that my opinion of myself as a fiber arts maven has taken a serious hit.  I'm in awe of what he can do with basically amounts to a bunch of sticks and string.  


I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who wax romantic about Indian train travel (2AC still doesn't cut it, I don't care what my husband says), but I have discovered a strategy for making the inevitably lengthy waits at stations much more enjoyable (assuming the weather is tolerable and my children are fed, watered, and not in need of a bathroom) - make friends with anyone and everyone. 

It is surprisingly easy to do when you're armed with a camera and a smile.  

Or a guitar...

I especially love this picture for the great cross-section of Indian society that it shows.  You've got everyone from that rather posh looking Sikh in white on the left to the waving kids who swept the train cars - on their hands and knees, with only pieces of discarded plywood - to the beggar woman directly behind Chris.  The trains truly are one of India's few equalizers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


The Dol-kar (means White Tara) never leaves Likir without picking up a couple riders. More details tomorrow. For now, here's a taste of our chariot in action.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I was high on that mountain, when Daddy let me driiiive

Ok, I forgot the camera twice now, so you'll just have to believe me.

Maggie fell on a boulder in the dark and busted her coccyx a bit (no permanent damage, but very painful) and so I took Grampy and the kids to Leh by myself. After a much delayed departure, Grampy flew from Kushok Bakula RInpoche Airport, and after that, who knows. The kids and I et breffis, I mangled a little business, and then by hook or crook we managed to scare up a Tibetan with some horses and went for an awesome (if slow by anybody but a 5yo's standards) ride across bridges, over streams, through rocky desert, and up to the foot of Stog Palace.

Next day my friend Dawa Tsering lent us his qualis, and we zoomed to Hemis for the mask dance festival. There was so much waiting around that we only saw the one dance, and then we ahd to back to Choglamsar to deposit Dawa;s daughter Nyilza back at her house with her mother, and then back to Leh to get OUR CAR!

It's a maruti gypsy, with no roof, 4wd, and about a 1.1-1.3 liter petrol engine. This morning on the way back into Leh I hit 98kph, = top speed of 60. I tried to explain to the monk with me why this car would never work for America, but to no avail. Anyway, it frees us up some and lets us be more independent, plus Ladakh is some fo the most fun and exciting driving anywhere.

Pictures when we have 'em. Everything else is good.