Greetings from wonderland, where it snows on Easter. Whatever happened to global warming? Don’t worry, we’ll get that in June! Honestly, I had never realized how gorgeous and clean the US was until I entered Newark airport after being in Delhi, and then on to Maplewood, with the pristine streets, the sidewalks, and cars stopping to let me cross, rather than seeing how close they could come before I leapt over the cliff. I felt that I was in a movie set. I remembered that only a few days ago I’d walked around Majnu Ka Tilla in Old Delhi and out to the entrance to escape the beggars, and was so appalled at the huge stinking pile of rotting garbage that I didn’t even stop to take a photo. I later talked to an Indian woman on the plane who lamented this appalling situation. So many newly rich people, she said, and still no help for the homeless, no clean water, no reliable sewage system. But lots of government corruption. These are her words and the words of many other Indians, not mine.
Let me backtrack. Cary and I walked our last kora at the temple on Monday morning, after which we were lucky to meet a young English couple at the cafe–Clair Cooke, who works as a financial news reporter for Bloomberg in New York and Bombay, and Navdeep Singh Kandola, who describes himself as a Yorkshire punjabi. They had just come from the Punjab, where Navdeep’s family has a farm. He is returning to do organic farming, having already started a collective. A farsighted couple who sees the need to preserve the planet while improving people’s health. More power to them!
After lunch we were overjoyed to see about five groups of monks involved in more debates, this time much more fiery than on the previous night. There was some good-natured shoving and at times several monks would gang up on one particular opponent. I was amazed at the synchronization of some of the arguments, where several monks would clap and stamp at the same time, as if on cue. Of course, not understanding the language, I didn’t know what led up to the crescendo and finale. And it all happened so fast that pictures were impossible.
At 6 PM I reached the “luxury” HImachal bus near the square and was overjoyed to see that Dolma and Tamara were also there to send me on my way. I had reserved a seat on the aisle, since the drive was very circuitous and if my seat partner got sick, he or she could just hang out the window. Yeah, that was the plan. All went well for the first half hour as the sun was setting and passengers were being picked up. At 10 we stopped for dal bhat and tea and by midnight, after two more stops for smokers, things seemed to be settling down. Then, my seat partner took a dive over me and just made it to the stairwell, where he lost his dinner. His parents, old Tibetans sitting in the seat in front of us, who soothed me with their mantras in the early morning, started upbraiding him for getting sick. Poor fellow, he needed sympathy not a lecture. When the bus began to stink, which was instantly, I suggested that we trade seats, so I could open the window, wrap in a blanket (this time I came prepared) and breathe some fresh air. When the temperature moved close to zero, I closed the window and managed a little sleep before our 7 AM arrival. Remind me never to take another bus!
While hanging out for the day at the Wongdhen House, I met a marvelous English woman, Linda Vickers, who had recently been in a Buddhist monastery in Scotland doing two years of practice. She is a psychotherapist and gave me some welcome insight into the kind of practice Cary will be doing. She said it is strenuous and exacting, but she never knew how clear the mind could be, nor how focused. Sounds like something I should look into? I wish I’d met her sooner. Just before I left for the airport, Anna Sibbald showed up and both women saw me off. Anna had spent the day helping a master Tibetan thangka painter from Norbulingka get papers to visit New Zealand.
The ride to the airport, due to massive traffic, was slower and less perilous than previous ones. When you arrive there, I might add, you are given FREE luggage carts, unlike in the States where you have to pay for them. I stood in a long line outside, waiting to enter. Once there, a policeman refused to let me in, since I had no printout from Continental for my E-ticket. (In three months it’s bound to get lost, but never leave home without one!) “Just go over there.” he said, pointing somewhere, and get a lift and go downstairs and you’ll find Continental.” Yeah, right. After wandering, helplessly, in circles, a sympathetic official took me by the hand and led me to Continental, where I exclaimed to the Sikh sitting behind the counter, “I’m going to kill someone and it might as well be you.” He laughed and, later, sidled up to me at the gate with the question, “Have you killed anyone, yet?” So much for the Dalai Lama‘s teaching on compassion.
At Majnu I was bitten by a lot of little gnats. (I hadn’t wanted to use those coils while I slept, for I thought they might be bad for my health.) I was scratching like mad to the point where I thought I had head lice. Did I get them from the headrest on that crumby bus from Dharamsala? Or maybe it was my fatigue and irritation with the woman next to me on the plane who kept pulling my arm, roughly, to get me to let her pass. I finally suggested, when she woke my only sleep, that she ask her friend to move and not me…we were in the three seats in the middle aisle and she felt it necessary to pee every half hour. Then I felt guilty for my lack of compassion and helped her the rest of the way. I thought she was old, but she was only fifty. I couldn’t believe it.
And then, after 15 hours of acute gastric and hip distress from so much sitting, my son-in-law, Gary Shippy, picked me up and said, “Well, I’m getting to work early these days, since I was here yesterday circling the airport for an hour and now I’ve finally found you.” Can you believe that I thought I would leave at night and get there on the same day, since I thought the US was a day behind. Martha, too, went to the airport and waited, since Gary had to go to work. I thought that was really nice. She felt it was her mistake for not realizing how long the flight was. I owe them big time!
I must say that whatever I ate last week at the Peace Cafe in Dharamsala is still with me and I wonder if I’ll ever be normal, again. (My kids have wondered that for years!) I received a few sympathetic words from my two friends who suggested the cafe, but mostly they said that I had spelled Kamal Mc Gowran’s name wrong and that Melanie was from Valais, the French part of Switzerland, not Geneva. Now I have it right, in case you want to visit. And, just because they like to live dangerously, they had another “delicious” lassi from that cafe. Just you wait….
It doesn’t take long to get into what the Buddhists call “samsara.” I call it the hamster syndrome (all day on that little wheel) or the homecoming bug. No sooner have you arrived before you start with the dirty refrigerator, then move to the plants, plucking all the dead leaves, then lollygag into the laundry, which leads to a clean up of the basement, which leads to the realization that the sump pump is working too hard, possibly explained by the water bill, which comes to your attention halfway through the day, when you discover that somehow 67,000 gallons of water seem to have been used in a house that never uses more than 3000 a month. You call the company and they say it’s not an emergency unless you have a swimming pool in the front lawn and your basement is flooded and, yes, they’ll take a look at it on April 19, by which time you may have leaked another 67,000 gallons. Well, when that gets too heavy, and you vow to return to Asia where life is simple, you go to the super market, hoping that you can remember how to turn on the car and steer the monster without hitting a Mercedes coming up the street (those tiny cars in India can maneuver much better, even, than a small Toyota). At the market you discover that oranges are 2 for $3.00, not 2 rupees each, and the same goes for bananas. You stand at the checkout counter saying to an incredulous clerk, “My, but prices have gone up in three short months,” before dropping a small fortune which could have fed and housed you for a month. Never mind the shock at the gas pump. Or your attempts to remember how to use a cell phone, or where you hid your wallet with all the credit cards in it. (in the sock drawer. But of course!). When it gets late and you don’t want to go to sleep too early, you turn on the TV, which, thank God, is now in English, and trade Bollywood for reruns of Judy Garland‘s last concert or “As Time Goes By.”
I’m thoroughly enjoying the book Cary gave me, Destructive Emotions. How Can We Overcome Them? A scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama. It’s the compilation of one of his Mind and Life series conferences, edited by Daniel Goleman. It’s very complicated, but good for the tired brain.
My Easter ended with a glorious production of August Wilson‘s “King Hedley II” at the Signature Theater in New York City with Paul Sharar and the Goodmans. The tickets had been purchased long before we knew how bad my jet lag would be. It was the only one of Wilson’s plays about the African-American experience and heritage in America, decade by decade in the twentieth century, that I had missed, and I was eager to see it. The play took place in the 1980’s and was thrilling, but New York was cold, the winds sweeping off the Hudson River and snow flurries giving me a sample of midwinter that I had so assiduously avoided.
Thanks to all of you who have had the temerity to tackle my blog and who have so generously commented on it. Watch for the pictures, which will definitely be coming. And keep checking Cary’s blog for her adventures in India, Nepal, and Tibet. www.carypeterson.wordpress.com