Headed Home!

We had a closing retreat for the program with a “favorites crawl,” visiting people’s most beloved spots in McLeod Ganj. Next, we all packed up and headed to the train station for an overnight train to Agra. The night train experience, complete with sleeping accommodation, is a definite must for any traveler in India! In Agra, we saw the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort (see our group picture below). Finally we made our way up to Delhi. In Delhi, we spent a day that mirrored our first day – complete with amazing food (dosas.. yum) and a Hindi movie! After an emotional but laughter filled dinner, students headed to the airport and they are on their way home. This is our last post for the semester, but feel free to ask students about our class-created magazine that details their wonderful research and other experiences not discussed in the blog!

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Look at All They Learned!

For the last three and a half weeks the students have delved deep into research, research on diverse topics such as Tibetan art in Exile and Dharamsala’s preparedness for Earthquakes. I have witnessed the students going to and from their interviews with different people in this Tibetan community in exile, read article after article, challenge their own assumptions with the new information they were absorbing, and overall become very involved and passionate about the questions they had asked of their research.

To conclude this research period, last night the students presented in front of their Sarah College peers. They each took turns presenting their findings and after each presentation they opened it up for a question and answer period. The students did an excellent job presenting their research and then being quick on their feet with some quite difficult questions from some of the Sarah students.

It is always nice to come back to the Sarah campus where we began this program. It has become a home to many of us. The students got a chance to show the Earlham style of research and presentation and also had the chance to witness Sarah’s educational methods during their time with their Sarah roommates. Their roommates, who got to see them from the beginning and then see all they have learned in their final presentations. It was a wonderful way to celebrate their hard work this semester.

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Thanksgiving: We Came, We Ate, We Gave Thanks

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I (Becca) love being home on Thanksgiving. I love the preparation that I observe while I hover around the kitchen, not allowed to do much because my mother takes over and does not trust my cooking skills. I love the friends and family that come over, all of the babies in tow. I even love the weather, waking up early to run the “Turkey Trot” in the freezing cold and then going home to the coziness of the fire in the living room. All of these things made it hard to miss my first ever Thanksgiving during my semester abroad in 2013. That semester we had our own Thanksgiving and we continued that tradition this semester in 2015.

The couple days before, I took all of the students’ recipes around the city for some grocery shopping, which is much different in India than it is in the States. I went to multiple produce stands, some grocery stores with an odd assortment of goods, and even the one place you can find cheese in McLeod Ganj that is not paneer. Once all the groceries were collected, we were ready to open the kitchen to start cooking. That morning the students came to Julie’s kitchen in pairs or alone to make their delicious contributions. We had a lot of food, ready for our guests to arrive. We had invited lots of friends of the program, our teachers from Sarah College, Gen Passang-la, the Geshes who help make this program possible, and some fellow Americans who were also in need of a Thanksgiving celebration.

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There was a wall set up where we could all write what we are thankful for, everyone wrote multiple things. As we sat around the table to eat, we had our mashed potatoes and other Thanksgiving favorites as well as the Tibetan contributions of momos and tingmo. It was a feast! We sat around the table laughing and chatting, some of us practicing our Tibetan, which led to more laughs. As I thought about what I was thankful for, I can say that I am incredibly thankful for the people who have made this program come together: all of those at Earlham and Sarah College, Julie and Gen-Passang-la, all of the students who have transformed and grown in so many ways throughout this semester, and so many others. I am so thankful for this opportunity to come back to India with this group, to continue my exploration into Tibetan studies as well as come back to this place and the people who I have grown to love so dearly. I really love Thanksgiving, and having our group come together with some of the people who we love here in Dharamsala was the greatest treat and way to celebrate. I think we are all feeling grateful for this opportunity as it comes to a close and we could not possibly give as much thanks as necessary.

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Tibetan Studies Under Karim’s Microscope

My (Karim’s) decision to come here has remained the same to me since I first heard about this program. I grew up thinking that everyone had a normal life except for me and my people, the Palestinians. Meeting people like Wangchen at Earlham College has broadened my knowledge; there are other occupied people in this age. It gave me two opposing feelings; ones that could never be felt at the same time. It comforted me that my people are not the only oppressed people in such an explicit way. The comfort came from the fact that these two peoples could learn from each other and show solidarity or highlight the intersectionality of oppression. I have not been disappointed by this expectation. Educated Tibetans, here in Dharamsala, knew what was going on in my home and have always expressed solidarity. Below is a picture regarding this topic I found right outside of Yak Restaurant at the top of Jogiwara Road in Mcleod Ganj.

The other feeling I had when I first heard about Tibet was loss of hope. The fact that the world can allow the theft of more than one people’s land and rights around the same timeline pains me. After moving to our guesthouse, I have been able to talk to more Tibetans on the street in an informal way to get more about their views. You can see the same bitterness when talking about conflicts when both a Palestinian shares their story or when a Tibetan does. Regular citizens like me or you start feeling helpless. I can not help Tibet. I can not get myself all of my rights just like that even if I tried. I have learned here that I can raise awareness about Tibet or try to support Tibetans in Exile by supporting certain agencies that will uplift the Tibetan community and give them more opportunities.  I hope that my work at Wild Yak Studio/Hope Gallery has been helping Tibetans by telling their stories, supplying computer and music lessons, or encouraging more creative jobs for Tibetans like filmmaking and photography. My goal right now is to encourage more Earlham students to come here and learn about Tibet and its culture that has been shoved behind China’s plans of exploiting Tibet’s resources and homogenizing its people under the names of nationalism and modernity.

I could not get myself to get interested in Buddhism, but it was really amazing to see the devotion that such a people have for their religion. The Dalai Lama has been able to unite his people under his name in an inspiring way. Julie’s class and its way of applying mathematics to our topics here was what helped me the most with understanding the Tibetan government and the way China has chosen to divide Tibet. Additionally, learning Tibetan Language with Wang Bhumo could not have been better. She is one of the best teachers I have ever come across and I hope that she continues to accomplish her dreams of preserving Tibetan culture in Exile, both in India and the rest of the world. Finally, Passang’s class was what I was mostly interested in. It is similar to the kind of history classes I have been able to take at Earlham. The class helped understand the conflict and the way Tibetans have chosen to tackle it. I often stumbled upon a question of preserving culture vs. achieving freedom (or actively struggling for freedom). Should Tibetans adopt a Buddhist Middle Way view, just like the Dalai Lama advocates, or should they actively push for change? I have my own opinions about this and have been fortunate enough to find Tibetans who share the same opinion as me, but I do not think it is appropriate for me to decide or pick; it is up for the Tibetan people. If they are not allowed to live freely in their country, then they should, at least, be able to express their preferred method of resisting the Chinese oppression. I hope that in my independent research, I will be even more able to get a variety of opinions about the continuously developing Tibetan identity in Exile in relation to their thoughts about what is to be done for Tibet and Tibetans still living in Tibet.

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Audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

This week, we were granted the opportunity of a lifetime. On Monday, we had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that lasted one and a half hours. We were joined by students from two other universities, Simon Fraser University from Canada and Antioch from the United States. His Holiness began the audience by giving a 30 minute teaching about compassion and religion. He emphasized the importance of recognizing everyone on the same fundamental level and understanding that we are all human. He went on to say that every religion has the power to do good and motivate people to do the right things in life. Something that really stood out to me (Antonio) about his teaching on religion was that he expressed many times that humans cannot solve the problems they created only through prayer. He expressed that the change must come from us, from within, not only just through praying. There must be a sense of motivation within us that drives us to make the right choices.

Each group was originally given three questions to ask but due to the lack of time, we were only allowed to ask two questions. From our group, Minda and I (Antonio) asked a question. I was personally satisfied with the answers His Holiness gave us and after talking to several other students in our group, we all seemed satisfied with the answers that were given. At the end of the audience, we all gathered around the Dalai Lama and took a series of group photos.

This entire time I couldn’t believe I was looking at the Dalai Lama sitting 15 feet away from me. What we did, many people in Tibet risk their lives to do. It was truly a highlight moment in my life for us to personally meet His Holiness and it is a memory to be cherished forever.

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From New Mexico to Indiana to India

I (Antonio) was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a Chicano family. My parents raised my brother, two sisters and myself in a little chante, a small home, in a barrio that ran alongside the railroad tracks. In my barrio, my people were very focused on preserving our Chicano traditions, culture and identity which were being lost every generation. For me, I realized this is a big issue that my community faces. Our abuelos and abuelas are fearful that as each generation is born, a piece of our identity is lost. This is not just a fear that is driven by blindness or unreasonable thinking, but it is a fear driven by facts and observation. In New Mexico, our abuelos and abuelas have fought hard through the Civil Rights movement to keep our cultural music and traditions alive. Today, within this younger generation that I am a part of, there is a lack of interest in cultural, and traditional arts and ways of life. Growing up, culture has been a part of our everyday lives from the things we ate, to the music we listened to, to the way we thought, to the language we spoke and to the people we met every day. We are very fortunate to still have our culture that derived from the times we were a part of Mexico and even before to our indigenous ancestors and we must not forget our roots and history that shaped our Chicano identity.

At 11 years old, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to move to the land that was founded by my ancestors. I am a descendant of the Chilili Land Grant, Chilili is an old indigenous word, where my family on my mother’s side are heirs of the land. Chilili is a self-governing land grant that is protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which was implemented in 1848 when the United States forcefully occupied the northern part of Mexico known as Aztlan. Here in Chilili is where I learned the importance and value of my culture and people. But it wasn’t an easy transition. I began to ask myself, why can I live in this land grant that is one of the last standing while my father’s land grant was no longer following traditional roots? My answer was that this was a part of us losing our identity. My father’s homeland called Llaves, which means “keys” in English, was once like Chilili. But over the years, the Llaves Land Grant dissolved and was no longer self-governing but is now completely controlled by the state. This is another example of how we are losing our culture and identity not just by losing interest as each generation is born but also by the assimilation of our Chicano culture into this idea of American culture and forgetting about our roots.

How does my past relate to the reason why I am here in India? It was difficult for me to leave my home and attend an out of state college because of how close I am to my culture and community. But I am glad I did because of the various opportunities that are available to me. Before attending Earlham I knew very little about the Tibetan cause and the situation that is present inside of Tibet. I came to India to learn more about Tibet and to learn from the Tibetan people. I felt the importance of learning more about Tibetan identity and understanding the ways to support the Tibetan people in their struggle against forceful occupation. My stay in Dharamsala, India living alongside Tibetans in exile has been difficult at times but has allowed me to learn much more about their cause.

Living inside of the Tibetan community I can see how important the Tibetan identity is to the Tibetan people. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama first fled to exile in India, he established many institutions to educate Tibetans and also various institutions that will preserve Tibetan lifestyle for generations to come. These educational institutions such as the Tibetan Children’s Village, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics and many other schools like these focus on preserving Tibetan language and culture. The Institute of Buddhist Dialectics focuses mainly on teaching Buddhist Philosophy in depth and works much like a monastery. Since His Holiness first came to India many monasteries, nunneries, temples, and educational institutions have been built throughout India all with the vision to preserve the Tibetan Identity. I was able to observe how these institutions functioned as we stayed half of our trip at Sarah College the College for Higher Tibetan Studies and the other half at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and visited many temples, monasteries and TCV schools. I noticed at Sarah College almost every student of the college was there to preserve their identity as a Tibetan regardless of if they came from Tibet or were born in India. They were enrolled in Tibetan language, Buddhist Philosophy, Tibetan History and many other courses. The students I talked to have a vision to work toward the Tibetan cause, whether it is with the Tibetan Government in exile, Grassroots Organizations, Monasteries or as Educators at different schools in Exile after graduating from their studies. The students of Sarah College have the focus of preserving their identity and recognized that it was important to them.

The Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, IBD for short, has a very similar vision. At IBD you can find Tibetan and international monks, nuns, and lay people studying Buddhist Philosophy. IBD works similar to a monastery and anyone who attends has the opportunity to receive the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy. What I found interesting is that the students of IBD have diverse reasons for studying at the institution. Many plan to teach Buddhist philosophy to both Tibetans and foreigners for the reasons of transforming themselves in accordance to Buddhist principles and also to expand Buddhism to the west. By teaching Buddhist Philosophy to many people around the world they are able to spread awareness of Buddhism as well as awareness of Tibet and the Tibetan cause. Buddhism is deeply engrained within the Tibetan culture and plays a big role in Tibetan identity. So these efforts to teach and preserve Buddhism within the Tibetan community is very important to the longevity of the Tibetan identity.

The Tibetan Children’s Village schools and schools alike also share this vision. Traditional Tibetan songs as well as history and language are taught in every grade level. Other subjects like math, science, English, Hindi ect. are also taught to ensure that Tibetan students are also keeping up with the pace of the world and the society they live in.

All of these institutions were established to ensure the preservation of Tibetan identity and culture. Every day that I speak with locals in the community or when I’m in the classroom I can see the hard work that is put into preserving this identity. Since the day I arrived, I cannot help but to keep thinking of my own culture and identity. The Tibetan people and Chicano people have a similar vision to preserving our identity and culture but we do face many problems. Tibetans also suffer from a split between the younger generation and the elderly generation. The split is caused by many factors, one is the debate between a complete independent Tibet or the Dalai Lama’s approach of the Middle Way/ autonomy. The second split is modernization. Many Tibetan elders worry that modernization and globalization along with the occupation of their homeland will lead to extinction of the Tibetan identity. Within Tibet, many young Tibetans have fallen in love with Chinese pop music and fashion that it has become very popular within the younger generations. Outside of Tibet, influences from the West are strong. Also within Tibet and in Exile, the Tibetan language is slowly changing as Chinese and Hindi are being incorporated. But I would like to point out a very important observation. Tibetan youth are not losing interest in their own culture and identity, in fact it is the opposite. There is a strong sense of Tibetan pride that many Chicanos lack in the United States but I will discuss this later. Inside of Tibet and in Exile, there is a movement called “White Wednesday”. What this movement focuses on is pure Tibetan identity. On Wednesdays, Tibetans wear traditional Tibetan dress, speak proper Tibetan, listen to Tibetan music and eat Tibetan food. This is a very popular movement within the Tibetan community around the world. Along with this the majority of Tibetans speak out for their homeland and many of them are a part of Tibetan grassroots organizations.

In no way can we equate the entire Tibetan cause to the Chicano movement because there are many differences but we can relate the two in some ways. What I have been thinking about since I have been out here are these similarities. When we classify ourselves as Chicano we are embracing our indigenous roots and not our colonizers from Spain and later the United States. In the 1840’s the United States had a vision to expand West and control indigenous and Mexican land. My ancestors land was forcefully occupied and recognized as a part of the United States. We are now separated by a wall and are seen as minorities in our land and our brothers and sisters are on the other side and are seen as “immigrants.” What is happening to Tibet now happened to my people a century and a half ago. We gained autonomy inside the United States but that doesn’t mean we are completely free and life is good for us. Because of our history, we still face racism and inequality within the system and have struggled ever since our occupation. In the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s we were beaten and detained for protesting alongside our African-American, Asian and Native American brothers and sisters because of the color of our skin and because of the United State’s colonial mentality and violent history. So with these factors, I wonder if the Middle Way approach and autonomy for Tibet will lead to a similar future for ethnic Tibetans. Today we can see that Tibetans are already considered a minority and face great oppression and regression in their own homeland. Their nation is dissolving and becoming a part of China much like us with the United States. One reason why Chicanos have lost interest in their own cause and tradition is not because they don’t care, it is because they have grown up in this system and all we know is American pride.

Our history books are not written to portray our actual history but instead the atrocities our people have faced are played down and the idea of equality nowadays is portrayed. Much like Tibet their history is being rewritten to portray a different reality. With this lack of education our mentalities are shaped to what our oppressors want it to be.

This stay in the Tibetan community has been personal for me for these reasons and have made me closer to my own culture. I feel that I have learned much from the Tibetan people and these things can be incorporated within our own movement. But now, more than ever before, I stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people and support them in their fight against oppression and occupation of their homeland. I admire the Tibetan people’s strong will to preserve their culture and identity in hard times. I hope in the future they are granted their wish to live freely as Tibetans in their homeland and I hope their voices are soon heard by the international community.

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Norbulingka Course

Last week we went to Norbulingka to do a workshop on Tibetan art, specifically wood painting. The grounds were beautiful with lots of flowers and indigenous plants to the region! Prior to the workshop we got a chance to see the artists at work. There was much thangka painting, woodworking, and metals. The art looked incredible and extremely tedious to create. Especially the thangka painting was really cool to me (Will)! For our workshop the master first had us trace various pictures onto small wooden boards, then we had to trace them again with fine glue syringes. This was the hardest part for me. After we let the glue dry we had to paint them in. The key to making the painting pop was the shading, also very hard for me. Although others in the group slayed it. We had two days to practice then on the third day we made our final piece. After the varnishing everything looked a million times better! The experience was great and I really enjoyed learning Tibetan art!

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On the left is some of our work. On the right is the group at the end with the master (1st row) and the organizer.

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Host Family Farewell Dinner

The evening before we moved out of our host families homes, the members of the program gathered together for a wonderful dinner at Norbu House. All of the host families, along with our various teachers, and some other people who have helped with the program were invited, and we spent a pleasant evening on the terrace, the heaters keeping away the night chill, looking out over the valley, while the last of the Diwali firecrackers could be heard in the distance.

The dinner was a delicious selection of vegetarian Tibetan food, with cakes and tea for dessert. Wrapped up with short and simple speeches thanking the host families and all who had contributed to the success of the program thus far, the dinner provided time for each student to spend a nice, final evening with their family before parting ways the next afternoon. It also may have provided an opportunity for the host families to trade stories about their various experiences with us students. Unfortunately, these stories, if they were told at all, were told in Tibetan, and I (Minda) still have a long way to go before I can start to understand what is said in most Tibetan conversations. I did, though, have a wonderful time sitting with my host mother, while my host brother played games with some of the other host siblings at another table. I will truly miss my host family, and am so grateful for the way they accepted me into their lives over these last few weeks.

Note from Julie: Some of the host parents are uncomfortable with having their pictures posted because they have family in Tibet that they are worried about. So instead here is a picture of some of our monk friends (Geshe Kalsang la – head of IBD, and Geshe Jampel la – head of Sarah) who attended and a picture of the little ones enjoying the bubbles we had for them!

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Happy Diwali!

Last night for the group’s Diwali evening Passang took us to a local organic farm outside of lower Dharmsala. There we met the father and main care taker of the farm, Devinda (see the photo below). He is a wonderful man who strives to be as environmentally friendly and self-sustainable as possible. He showed us around his farm where he was growing ginger, star fruit, bananas, guava, litchi, and much more! He told us about his life and how closely related he is to the Tibetan community as he worked as a Hindi teacher at TCV for many years. Later on in the evening we met a American traveler who was WWOOFing (WWOOF = World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for the farm; he told us that the best part of working there was that he would be eating the food he picked in the morning for dinner.

As dinner time approached many guests came, and we all sat on the patio and watched Devinda’s family do Hindu prayers, afterwards they gave everyone a blessing and we commenced to the delicious food. We all ate around a big bonfire and danced to what ever music was playing. Manny fire crackers were lit and it was really hard to say good bye. Diwali is such a happy time for the Hindu community, and I was glad to be apart of it for the first time.
Much thanks to Devinda and the hospitality of his family!

Happy Diwali!

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Ama Adhe: Political Prisoner

For Passang-la’s Tibetan History and Culture class we had the amazing opportunity of meeting Ama Adhe. Ama Adhe, often referred to as the mother of the younger Tibetan generation (Ama, meaning mother), is an important woman to the Tibetan community. She is a voice for many political prisoners and has a powerful story to share. In the first years of the People’s Republic of China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, Ama Adhe stood with her community in the Kham region of Tibet. She and her fellow Khampas were trying to be a strong force against the sizable stronger force of the Chinese. Enduring embarrassment, torture, and violence, Adhe and her fellow Tibetans witnessed the massacre of their neighbors, and many were imprisoned for their resistance. Adhe was among them and remained in Chinese prison and labor camps for 27 years. When she was finally released her son had passed away and her daughter was a stranger to her. Tibet was a much different place and she made the decision to escape to India to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, like many other Tibetans who are now living in exile in India and other places around the world.

Once in India and having met His Holiness, the two decided that her story was one that needed to be shared. Her story would help spread awareness of the situation in Tibet and she made it her mission to share that story throughout her life and work for peace for Tibetans and for the world. She wrote a memoir, “A Voice That Remembers”, and even at the current age of 86 she meets with students and people like us hoping that we will share her story, and work for freedom for Tibetans and the protection of the basic human rights that are violated both in Tibet and too many other places around the world. As we sat with her, she shared stories with us and as she began to tear up at her memories, I (Becca) felt a certain heaviness and a reminder of why I am participating in this program for another time as the program assistant. I was reminded of my previous experience and the impact it had on me, and how easy it was to forget once I was back in the Earlham busyness and out of the Tibetan community that I was led back to and find myself currently. I remember the people who I have met while living in this community and the stories they have shared with me. I remember the hope and the fight that so many Tibetans in exile have expressed to me. As we gathered around Ama-la at the end of our time together, she took hold of our hands and held them for a while. The current Tibetan studies program and I are now challenged with the question of how we will do her justice and share her story and continue to support Tibetans, even when we leave this semester program that is suddenly feeling much too short.

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