Twice on this trip I have heard my name exclaimed with a question mark from a voice I did not expect. Disembarking the train in Rishikesh amongst a sea of people and in a Tibetan restaurant in Dharamsala.
“Sarahjoy?” “Sarahjoy, are you Sarahjoy?”
One was a student from Alaska, the other from Portland.
Most of all, as I reflect back on these small world moments, I remember the Dalai Lama’s joy not in being seen, but rather in seeing others. What I and my student enjoyed together was this kind of seeing. As we embraced a familiar face thousands of miles from home, we were each reminded that all of these faces are family and that each of our destinations are essentially the home in our hearts. We could then extend this recognition to those unfamiliar faces and those destinations that weren’t yet “home.”
Monks at the Bakery
After my sick days, I was out walking in the marketplace. I could tell I wasn’t entirely well yet when I walked by the bakeries and could delight in the sight of the monks crowded around the delicacies, but couldn’t summon a craving for one of the enticingly decorated pieces of chocolate cake or cardamom shortbread cookies. Everything looked terrific and my traveling companions, those who weren’t yet sick, verified this. But the only thing I could enjoy were the throngs of shaved-headed, red-robed, sandal-footed monks making their choices and laughing with each other.
I suppose that was sweet enough for me on that afternoon!
Tibetan Thai Restaurant Waiter
Julie took me to the “Thai” restaurant for my first dinner. (A Thai restaurant in Dharamsala run by Tibetans really reflects the playful diversity of this region. It’s truly international here!) Our waiter recognized Julie, who had been here with most of our group the other night on her birthday. With every interaction – menus, orders, food delivery, packing up left-overs – he smiled to the point of nearly breaking into song.
Though I only ate half of my soup and two small pieces of cheese pizza (the restaurant also served Italian, Tibetan and Chinese food!), I felt better by the minute.
Chicken Noodle Soup
My mother used to serve us Campbell’s when we were sick. At Breitenbush, we made our own chicken-free version. When I was no longer a vegetarian, I’d make my own for a friend who was sick, or buy a can at New Season’s. I’ve gone to the Thai restaurant near the yoga studio for their version. And this past Fall, when I had a sudden fever and head cold, I was served Mrs. Grasses chicken noodle soup, which I’d never heard of prior to that.
Here in India, during my “sick days,” I was served Tibetan chicken and vegetable soup with glass noodles.
It truly is a healing food! I laughed as I sipped it in…how is it that across oceans and continents there is common language in chicken noodle soup??
The Lama Said We Had Big Noses!
The Lama came to give us meditation instructions accompanied by Tenzin, who was his translator. Among other things, he said that in his teachings you bow your head slightly to keep the throat from getting dry. You also focus your gaze on the tip of your nose, which he then demonstrated.
Tenzin translated both of these points well.
The Lama spoke again and pointed to his nose.
Tenzin told us the Lama thought this might be hard for us because we have bigger noses! Everyone laughed. It was especially funny because Tenzin certainly had the biggest nose in the group!
After our meditation instructions, during which time I found the Lama to be serious minded and a bit dull, one of our group members asked him to chant.
It was then that we learned that he had once been famous for his chanting, though now he only teaches the boys to chant. Through Tenzin’s translation we learned that he felt his chanting was not very good anymore and that he had just had a cold, so it might even be “bad.”
He had several false starts, apologizing each time. Then once he lowered his voice into his throat and got going he had to cough. At the moment he coughed he also broke out laughing, which relieved me of my earlier perception of his seriousness!
After laughing, he dropped back into his voice and remained there for about 5 minutes of deep throat chanting (made famous by Gyoto monks such as himself). We sat mesmerized by the sound, one that none of us would know how to make.
Garbage Bin as Home
There is a leper in the marketplace who has only half of one foot and no toes on the other. I can see this clearly because he is wearing sandals that are falling apart. But also because every time I walk by he is sitting in the same place, in the garbage bin. He leans against the inside of the bin with his blanket loosely, uncaringly wrapped around his torso. I didn’t once see him beg, or speak to anyone, or eat.
Last night on my way to the hotel from the restaurant I did see him asleep in this bin. And that’s when I realized that this is his “home.” He might be the saddest experience I have had on this journey. With the children, I suppose I still hold a sliver of hope.
We went in search of an ATM. The first one was malfunctioning so the metal “garage door” was closed. The neighboring shopkeeper sent us to the bank, which he said would be open even though it was 3 pm on Saturday. Once located, we exhaled; it was closed. We wandered in search of the other one we had heard rumor of, near the Carpe Diem restaurant and the Post Office. After looking for some time, we asked again. “ATM?”
We were sent in another direction. Up a hill to the left we went into the OSHO bookshop and Health Food Store. As I had only 25 rupees (50 cents) to my name, I envied Kathy’s spontaneous purchase of “home-made” dark chocolate with nuts. The shopkeeper directed us to two more ATMs. Harry went down the hill to the first one, a bank ATM, while we waited, saving the hills for certainty.
He came back with mixed enthusiasm. The ATM was open but wouldn’t read his card. It said “Try Again in 24 Hours.” We walked down to try my card.
Though it wasn’t more than 5 minutes between his transaction and our arrival, the garage door to this ATM was closed now too!
This was feeling like a strange movie!
We walked down to the next ATM where we were able to enter and encountered a small Indian man sitting cross legged on the floor doing what appeared to be nothing. He said “No, no, not yet.” We asked him when it would be functioning. “Maybe Monday, at noon.”
We left, amused at the unfolding. (I was also amused/perplexed that a person’s job was to sit by the ATM and tell people it’s not functioning. This was not the first time we encountered a person sitting in the ATM as their official livelihood.)
We walked back toward our hotel and toward the shop where I had set aside Ganesha and Buddha statues for purchase after the ATM.
Just as we were be-moaning our luck and laughing at the situation, the garage door of the first ATM magically slid open!
And we were the first people there!
I asked the locals, who had fixed whatever was ailing the machine, if it would give out real or photocopied money?
“Oh,” they said laughing, “there are sacks of money in there!”
“Not like Monopoly money?” I asked.
“No, no, all good.”
Language barrier and all, our exchange was playful and you could feel the relief on both sides. We wanted money; they wanted us to have money to spend in their shops.
And that was precisely what we did. At the neighboring shop we went on a spending spree! In fact, the group was shopping so furiously that we cancelled yoga class for the afternoon.
Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner
At the Tibetan restaurant where we celebrated Tibetan New Year, with momo‘s, traditional Tibetan snow pea cakes, special sweet rice, and milk tea, the exuberant owner came to our table to make an announcement about their next big event. Coming up on Tuesday, they would have a special Irish chef in town to prepare the Saint Pats meal, as he put it. They would also be having Celtic music.
We wondered if they would serve Guiness and corned beef! There’s no shortage of potatoes and cabbage here, but we have yet to see a dark beer in Dharamasala. Too bad we’ll be in Portland by then.
Prayer Wheels and the Joyful Leper
In the center of town is a temple where you can circumambulate and spin the prayer wheels. After spinning my last wheel I walked into the street and turned toward our hotel. The first encounter I had was a huge “Hello! How are you?!” from a man sitting on the street covered in a blanket. He joyfully reached his hands up to say hello and I realized he had leprosy.
I’ve seen several people with leprosy by now but was taken by the childlike nature of his joyfulness.
Just before handing him my leftovers I realized (or assumed?) he would not be able to take the rubber band off the package himself. I untied it carefully and handed it to him.
We shared a moment of gratitude. Him for the rice and vegetables, and perhaps the kindness on my part. Me for the chance to express my generosity and faith.
The Last Supper
Oh boy…our last supper in Dharamsala and my appetite was entirely back. I downed a glass of beer, a sizzling chicken platter with French fries (yes, here in India – and it was darned good!), grilled vegetables, bites of Michael’s dinner and part of a shared brownie. Whew! It’s good to be alive and well. And I’m delighted to head home in vibrancy and radiance.
I wonder how the yoga will feel in the morning!!