The past week we have been primarily volunteering, though also juggling a bit of illness (for Anderson), plenty of reading, and now research on Tibet. First, the volunteering:
Anderson has just completed his first week of teaching Lha's Intermediate English class, which runs from 9am until 10:20am. All of the 20+ students are Tibetan, except for a South Korean couple on holiday who are also seeking to improve their English. Most topics have at least some Tibetan overtones, obviously, but focii thus far have been on writing and then reading English, as well as improving vocabulary and grammar. The students are "typically Tibetan" in that they are rather shy, but inquisitive and confident at the same time. So far they have written pieces on "The Future Of Tibet," and on "Things They Like" - thrilling topics indeed - but many of their paragraphs were very interesting, and today one of the students even wrote an entire parable about a thief mistaking a tiger for a cow, which in turn meant he was mistaken for a king!
About half the class actually does the homework, but they are all good-natured and definitely put out a lot of effort: they realize that education, and the English language due to its international prevalence, is the path to a better life and more opportunities. Liz remembered something from her youth, Daily Oral Language - with sentences full of misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, etc. - so that has been the daily warm-up to get every one's brain switched from Tibetan (or Korean) to English. Next week, our last here in Dharamsala, will orient more on the students' weaknesses, most importantly prepositions, vocabulary, and reading out loud. Many of the students have never attended formal school, so their confidence when singled out from the group can be a bit low. For example, forming groups of 2-3 students takes an eternity some days, as does finding out who actually did their homework (usually more people did than initially admit to it!).
Anderson also taught the Super Beginner English class one day, which proved much more of a challenge than the Intermediate class, although fortunately the game of Hangman proved to be rather popular! The volunteer teacher for that class never showed up (who does that, really?!), but another teacher has been handling it these past few days. Lha also has other projects we ca help with: Liz painted new signs for their library, which has a plethora of great books, and on Monday afternoon we are planning on assisting in rearranging the library onto some new shelves - fun, fun!
Liz, meanwhile, has been volunteering at Rogpa, Dharamsala's baby-care center for working underprivileged Tibetan families. However, unless your Korean is rather advanced, you might prefer the amusingly-translated (by Google) English-version of the Rogpa website. The 30-40 babies (all under 3 years old) that attend are absolutely adorable, hilarious, and all-together irresistibly lovable, with the only minor downside of things being the changing times! Mostly Liz and the other international volunteers (between 2 and 5, plus 6 full-time Tibetan employees) play games with the children: blocks, play-doh, singing, races, etc. Liz handles the morning shift, from 9 am until noon, so the last part of her day is a quick medley of potty-breaks, snack time, and nap time! Her week isn't over quite yet, she also has to work on Saturday, although she did have Wednesday off due to a religious holiday, though conveniently unannounced until she arrived to a locked-up building that morning... Bad news for Anderson, though: Liz is completely in love with all these cute Tibetan babies, and its rather hard as a gangly Westerner to compete with such sweet round-faced children! It's easy to awake early when there are smiling faces waiting to kiss you, touch your tattoo, and shyly play with your hair.
We will both continue with our same programs next week as well, and we are undecided on if we will depart from Dharamsala for Delhi then on Saturday or Sunday. We have both taken a break from conversation class these past few days, we each had attended six straight beforehand, but there has been an abundance of volunteers lately for that, so we aren't feeling too bad!
The monsoon is definitely here, the past couple of days have been rainy, and right now a downpour is competing with the pounding techno music from a nearby shop. Makes us very happy that we have our plastic ponchos!
Our friends Iain & Claire should be arriving here today, so that will be a welcome change - some friendly faces of fellow travelers! Though, because of our volunteering, it is now pretty much impossible for us to walk anywhere in town without seeing one of our students, or in Liz's case parents of children, which is nice versus the usual sea of unknown people we merely wander amidst.
So... currently we are debating our future plans, beyond the first few weeks of August cruising around northern India with Anderson's cousin Reannon. Nepal is still atop the list immediately afterwards (Kathmandu for sure, along with a possible visit back to BBAS Memorial School where we volunteered), but afterwards things get quite murky quite fast:
The issue of visiting Tibet is rather complex, for both moral and ethical reasons, as well as feasibility and economic factors. To share in our dilemma, here are a few links:
Facts & Allegations Concerning China
The Complexity of Travel and The Permits To Do So
A Lonely Planet Discussion re: Recent Olympic-Related Activism & Its Repercussions
Also, here's a link to a semi-humorous, in the "awful truth" sort of way, anti-Chinese Olympics website:
Race For Tibet!
There's plenty more on the web, and elsewhere, in regards to the current situation in Tibet, as well as elsewhere in China, but unfortunately due to government censorship if you reside in China, you aren't able to read any of it...
Ultimately, visiting Tibet is akin to visiting Burma/Myanmar - it is a foreign-occupied country, suffering oppression, a lack of religious freedoms, the denial of freedom of speech, a systematic destruction of culture, etc., etc. Thus, we are seeing and experiencing more of Tibet here in Dharamsala than we would in Tibet. Tibetans there cannot even speak, or have photos, of the Dalai Lama: to do so risks imprisonment, beatings, interrogations, torture, etc. The Chinese government also controls all tourism, so we would be monitored and guided virtually at all times, while paying an exorbitant price to do so. At the same time, it clearly would be very interesting and eye-opening to see Tibet for ourselves, although in many ways we feel like speaking, freely, with Tibetan refugees here in India is a much more authentic and informative experience than the alternative...
It's a tricky issue, one we still haven't made up our minds about, but obviously we are looking more so at other options than we were earlier considering. Maybe we're headed to Thailand after all, who knows?!
Have a good weekend, if you're at 10,000 Lakes we are very, very, very jealous of you!
Peace and much love,
Anderson & Liz