In the morning, it occurred to me that I might be the first foreigner to enter my host family’s home, and I was most certainly the first American English teacher to spend the night here. I felt a bit guilty not being able to communicate with my hosts, but each of us knew we were an object of curiosity for the other. I soaked in every detail: the smells of wood, hay, butter tea, and cooking; the sounds of little mouse feet scurrying back and forth above the ceiling in the night; pigs grunting, horses munching grass and tearing it up from the roots; a sea of golden barley rippling in the wind; the constant sound of flowing water from the nearby small river; the early-morning chanting and recorded music from a hilltop gompa across the way; and the migration each morning of the family’s 20 yaks to their mountain-top grazing pasture.

I had a feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas (or Missouri, or Los Angeles, or anywhere else) any more. In Chengdu I felt like a foreigner; in Tibet I had the uncanny feeling that I had finally come home.

Family members in the barley field after harvest: Puba’s parents (center) with his young cousin Dorje Tsering (in front); his mother’s sister (far left) and her husband (second from right, brown jacket), and Puba (striped sweater)

On our second day, Puba took me on the moto to see the village of Bamei and to visit another monastery on a hillside. I got off at the bottom of the hill and walked up while Puba negotiated the frightful, bumpy road on the moto.

On the Road: Puba and me beside moto

I was informed that a “very important lama” lives here, but he was sleeping. We approached the gompa to the sound of a beating drum that accompanied rhythmic chanting. When the chanting ended a monk opened his door and came out to unlock the prayer hall for our private viewing. This one was small, with stunning murals and great hanging banners of exquisite silk brocade. I photographed a detail of the painted decoration above the entrance door.

Painted details above the door to the monastery’s main hall

Back in the courtyard, I was amazed by the litter, beer bottles, and generally unkempt grounds, through which chickens strutted. The contrast between stunning works of painting and sculpture and unsightly trash always surprised me (maybe it was also a natural acceptance of the presence of the divine in the everyday clutter of life).

Puba had brought a bag of bread from town, and before climbing partway up the hill to rest, we consecrated ourselves and drank from a sacred mountain spring, emerging from a long wooden spout from beneath a small shrine. We also refilled our water bottles with the fresh, clean water. As we sat and snacked on the hill, I got perhaps the perfect “Tibet” photo, of the small gompa set against its backdrop of rounded mountains.

Gompa against the mountains
Puba fed some crumbs to a group of roosters who had followed us, and the moment he stepped away to refill his water bottle, one of the creatures snatched the entire piece of braided bread that I’d been enjoying and ran off with it. Bastard.

The evil roosters who stole our bread



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s