Dharamsala is still treating us quite well, though seeing HHDL has been somewhat deprioritized (practically sacrilegious, we know) due to the fact that the teachings are lengthy while the English translations are rather sparse. If only we understood Tibetan! So far we've only attended one other teaching, two in total, although we will go to at least one of the remaining two days, maybe even both. We have found out that at 2 pm every day there is an organized explanation of the teaching, with a Q&A session, so we will attend that as well, in hopes of getting a bit more out of the very technical Buddhist teaching.
We have spent the last 3 evenings volunteering at Lha, an education-oriented charitable trust. We are involved in their nightly "conversation class," which draws many motivated and excited Tibetans, the majority of whom are around our own age, who want to improve their English speaking. There is no set topic, it is just an hour of free-spirited discussion, but obviously politics, religion, and America have been key focal points thus far! We are learning a lot as well, possibly even more than some of our students, as we get to discuss the realities of being born Tibetan. Almost all, if not all, of our students were born in Tibet, and chose to leave their family and home behind for the freedom and education available to them in India. This means they traveled, often with a large group of fellow refugees, for weeks over the high mountain passes of the Himalaya, escaping Chinese persecution just like the Dalai Lama himself (along with the government-in-exile) did back in 1959. Other than phone conversations these Tibetans-in-exile have no contact with their families, and are unable to go back home, as they only have Indian refugee status and lack a Chinese passport. A lot of what we hear and learn is rather shocking and disturbing: to speak of the Dalai Lama in Tibet will get one arrested; most Tibetans living in Tibet have no idea about what China has done, nor about the outside world at all; almost all the monasteries and libraries in Tibet have been destroyed - remaining monasteries are essentially a joke, monks wear robes but learn little about Buddhism; families are punished when members seek refuge in India, so most of our students didn't even tell their parents they were leaving Tibet; China has been forcibly displacing ethnic Tibetans with ethnic Chinese - Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, now has more Chinese people than Tibetan people living in it; etc., etc. It is a heartbreaking education for us at times, and we consider ourselves reasonably well-informed :-(.
However, this means we are even more motivated (and excited) to go to Tibet, and plans are shaping up to join our friends Iain & Claire in October to do exactly that - hopefully things will work out! All the Tibetans we have spoke with came to India at least partially for education (something effectively unavailable in Tibet under the current Chinese military rule), and they strongly believe that we, as Westerners, ought to go to Tibet and see things for ourselves, in order to share what we see and learn with the rest of the world. It's a weighty obligation we will be happy to undertake, though going to a land full of oppression will undoubtedly be challenging at times.
For now though, while many things that we speak about are sad, their never ending enthusiasm for life and learning, combined with their unerring optimism, means we have already gained a deep appreciation and respect for the Tibetan people. Subsequently, we have decided to spend the rest of July in Dharamsala, enjoying this beautiful place and taking advantage of its wonderful opportunities to learn and volunteer. Anderson has agreed to teach an Intermediate English language class, which will meet every morning for 1.5 hours, starting once HHDL's teachings are over. Both of us will possibly also teach a less advanced language class in the afternoon, since it is also currently lacking a teacher. Liz is hopefully going to volunteer as a babysitter of Tibetan babies in the mornings - the program enables their parents to work without the concern of childcare (or lack thereof). We will also continue the conversation classes, all three we have attended have been very enjoyable and educational, although leading a discussion for an hour can be more mentally taxing than we initially surmised! We still plan on taking Tibetan cooking classes, and will probably take a few Tibetan language classes as well.
Lha also has an extensive library of English-language books, the first of its kind we've found in India, so we are taking full advantage of the multitude of excellent books they have available for free checkout - a wonderful change from having to buy a book at a bookshop, both read it once, and then losing half the value at least when we trade it back in to purchase another...
We've found an amazing restaurant, called Norling's, so we eat most of our meals there. We've tried other restaurants, obviously, but they just don't measure up :-). Norling's has great Tibetan food, an extensive menu with large portions and low prices, so we are gastronomically quite content. Dharamsala also has an abundance of street momo vendors, 5 momos for 10 Rs, so we pack in a few appetizers as well; there is also a great bakery here with fresh baked breads, pastries, and even cakes (without the "plastic frosting" problem that plagues many an Indian cake) for when our sweet-teeth are chattering!
If you are interested, here is a map of the entire Dharamsala area, that has everything labeled quite well. We are staying/living at a hotel in the village of Dasalhani, which is across a small valley from McCloudGanj, sort of beneath Bhagsu. That map is taken from a local (and free) publication called Contact, that has interesting articles on Dharamsala, plus many advertisements for all the available services/opportunities here.
In totally unrelated news, if you are at all interested in the universe around us, check out Galaxy Zoo, where you can help classify all the galaxies around us - very interesting having just read Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything, possibly the best science book ever written.
Well, that's enough links you probably won't click on anyways, hope all is well, and you ought to have some thanthuk (Tibetan thick-noodle soup) for dinner, you'll definitely enjoy it!
Peace from Dharamsala (or Dharmasala as we too often misspell it :-)
Anderson & Liz