Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lost in Mcleod, Found In Nepal

I had a wonderful time in Mcleod Ganj, it was a great excursion and well worth it, but it was definitely time for me to go. My bus left yesterday evening at 6pm and two good friends whom I had met over the days and weeks were there to see me off. Leaving at 6, making two stops in the middle of the night for food and a bathroom break, we finally arrived at Majnu Teela (the Tibetan community) in Old Delhi at about 6:30am. Weak, feeble, shaky with legs that had been rolled up in my lap for 10 hours I got my gear together and argued a price for a taxi to the airport. No pre-paid taxis here, when I said, "Hey wait a minute, a pre-paid taxi from the airport to Majnu Teela only costs 350rs!" They just laughed and said 600 was the best they could do, so shut up and get in and be grateful. I was, and I stretched out with legs fully extended in the back seat and got settled in for the hour drive.

All the connections went fine at the airport and I landed in Kathmandu at 2pm and got back to my family's house around 3:30. Its really nice to be back here, I'm already feeling grounded and productive. Today is the Buddha's birthday so a lot of celebrating is going on. Tomorrow, the 28th, is supposed to be another bad political day for Nepal. Its supposed to be the deadline for the new constitution but from what I'm hearing it sounds like it will be delayed. I was really worried about flying in so close to this potential disaster but then when I found out today was the Buddha's birthday I felt a profound calming energy that seemed to put things back in their place. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, hopefully not another serious strike. Two good friends from Naropa are here in Nepal now and have been e-mailing me to come meet them in Boudha. We'll see how things go tomorrow but its fun and exciting to know that a few of my college buddies are not too far away.

I will contact Rajan either this evening or tomorrow and I plan to head out to Darkha to once again join in with the school work in about 2-3 days. Rajan is saying that now it is time for transporting and installing the tin roof, and then cementing and plastering the parts of the walls we want to be smooth and neat looking. Basically because of the stone and mud construction the outer and inner surfaces of the walls are not very neat and clean. To do them all in concrete and plaster would no doubt look really good but would also be expensive and not necessarily needed since its not a common style for them. So we have decided to just create a few spots that will be smooth and neat, on both the inside and outside, and these will be used for some art or other stimulating visuals.

Aside from that everything is really close to being done. Just in time for the monsoon, which will be starting around mid-June and would have put an end to our work for the time being. So for now I will stop and head back to my room where I think a nap is waiting for me, I am beat and my brain is feeling dull. I'll put more up here soon!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Formal Update

Here is some information about where things now stand with our Ganesh Himal Primary School in Darkha, Nepal:

The building itself was turned from a 3-room school into a 4-room school during the last day of our last visit. As we were walking out we had a meeting and came to the conclusion that our funds would allow for it and this would provide the teachers with an office room, as well as storage for all books and materials. Before we went off to have lunch and then catch the jeep, we were hurriedly setting up layout strings to give our work crew a visual idea of how this extra room would have to go. The land is sort of curving and at this point he building also had to turn in order to stay on stable ground, so the end result is that 3 rooms are all connected in a rectangle, and the fourth is coming off at an angle.

Currently, in my absence, the final details are being finished by our trusty, hard-working crew of local villagers. I hope to make it back for an opening ceremony.

The political climate is as finicky as ever and I'm struggling now to decide on what I should do. Many friends in Nepal are saying that things are clearing up again and its safe to get around in the city and businesses are open. But then there are some concerning articles coming out, such as the one I just received from my mom about a 23-year old Colorado girl who has gone missing in the back country of Nepal. Everybody outside of Nepal is advising me to wait here in India until things are really, finally and completely settled. These situations, large strikes and protests in developing countries, can take a turn for the worse at any moment. You never know what could happen but the potential for something big is there; civil war is even possible, and is a common topic of discussion and concern.

Tonight, Saturday, my parents are holding a slide show event at the Porch in Santa Margarita. I imagine things will go much smoother now that we have a story, and pictures, and witnesses to go off whereas before we were strictly speaking in terms of what was possible and what are hopes and plans were. Also, we got an article printed up in the New Times which explains a little of what we're doing and also advertises the slide show event. I will post the article below.

I am staying busy with many little projects around Mcleod Ganj now, still living in my little prison room. Today while standing along one of the streets talking to a Japanese friend of mine who I had met the previous week, a group of people walked by and then stopped and turned to face me. Immediately I recognized them and pointed an accusing finger saying, "Ah Ha, I knew I would run into some Naropa kids up here!" Yes two friends from Naropa whom I know fairly well, but not entirely. They knew me and were pretty shocked to see me. I will surely see them again and we will have a lot of catching up and reminiscing to do.



Classrooms in the clouds

A young man's dream brings a school to a mountain village

BY KATHY JOHNSTON





PEACE THROUGH EDUCATION
Santa Margarita college student Danny Chaffin (kneeling) spearheaded a school-building project for boys and girls in a remote village in the mountains of Nepal.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAN SPRAGUE-CHAFFIN
While education in SLO County flinches under each swing of the budgetary ax, a Santa Margarita college student is focusing on building schools for children in a much poorer country.

With the support of friends and family, 22-year-old Danny Chaffin has formed a nonprofit organization, raised funds, and helped inspire an entire village to hand-build a new school in a remote Himalayan community in Nepal, stone by stone. Due for a grand opening this summer, the school will change the lives of dozens of girls and boys eager to learn.

It’s a story that seems right out of the pages of a bestseller—in fact, Greg Mortenson’s books about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, provided a blueprint for the effort in Nepal.

“Each step of the way, we asked ourselves, ‘What would Greg [Mortenson] do?’” said Jan Sprague-Chaffin, Danny’s mother. An elementary school teacher, she became deeply involved with her son’s dream of building a school in Nepal, along with his father, Don Chaffin.

Their journey began when Danny, then 19, volunteered to teach in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. He fell in love with the kind, warmhearted people of Nepal, especially the children, and vowed to continue to help them.

His connection with a family of renowned Nepali artists flourished, and soon young Karma Thupten visited the Chaffins in Santa Margarita and exhibited his spiritual, Buddha-inspired paintings in San Luis Obispo (see “Where the vengeful, enlightened and incarnated play,” New Times, May 15, 2008).

Meanwhile, Danny enrolled at Naropa College in Colorado to major in peace studies, and decided to start changing the world through education, one school at a time. He formed a nonprofit called Humanitarian Acts in Nepal Developing Schools, known as HANDS in Nepal, and asked his friends in Nepal to pick out a village in need of a new school.

A successful fundraiser in Santa Margarita raised several thousand dollars, and other donations poured in. Danny took his mother to see the chosen school site, a bone-crunching bus ride and grueling two-day hike through steep mountains from Kathmandu. Last month he met up with his father, a craftsman carpenter, who traveled to Nepal to oversee the school construction project in the remote village.



Stones into schools
A free slide show and talk about building a school in Nepal will be presented at the Porch in Santa Margarita on Saturday, May 22, at 6 p.m. For more information, call 459-4010. Tax-deductible donations for books and teachers’ salaries can be sent to HANDS in Nepal, P.O. Box 738, Santa Margarita, CA 93453. You can read Danny Chaffin’s account of his experiences at handsinnepal.blogspot.com.

“For less than the cost of a building permit in San Luis Obispo County, we built a school in Nepal!” Don, his father, told New Times shortly after his return to Santa Margarita.

The villagers had already created a terraced area in the steep hillsides for the school, and each family provided someone to help with the stone-and-mud construction.

“It was so thrilling. We were almost in tears to see how well the villagers had organized themselves. They set up a carpenter shop to mill logs from the forest into the door and window frames, using chisels and hatchets. The women carried the rocks from the fields. The boys brought the mud. The men built the walls. They didn’t need my help—they were already doing it,” Don said.

The new school has four classrooms, each with a stunning view of snowy Himalayan peaks and a rushing river in the gorge below. Separate latrines for girls and boys have been provided for the 80 students, and two teachers from the village are ready to start work.

“It just made our hearts burst with happiness to see this actually happening,” he added.

Danny’s original idea was to dedicate the new school to his late brother Sean, who died in an accident on Bishop Peak a few years ago.

“But slowly, that became less important. We realized it’s not about us. It’s their school. We’re just providing the opportunity to achieve their dream,” Jan said.

She’s already using her Nepal connections for education. Students at the Guadalupe school where she teaches have written notes to their counterparts in Nepal, complete with colorful outlines of their hands. Under the direction of teacher, Julee Bauer, they collected coins and bought hackysack balls to send to the children. The Nepalese students outlined and colored their own hands in reply, along with notes about themselves under greetings such as, “Hi California” and “Hi Dear Friend.”

For now, Danny is volunteering with Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, India, after so-called Maoists shut down much of Kathmandu in a massive strike. But he’s already thinking about building his next school.

“I feel like Danny has become a leader, and we just follow along,” said Jan. “We had caused ourselves suffering by trying so hard to earn money. Now we’re trying to generate donations, and we couldn’t be more poor and more happy.

“As Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.’ We’re working to help others. The more you do that, the happier you become.”

Award-winning journalist Kathy Johnston can be reached at kjohnston
@newtimesslo.com.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Miss My Dog!

I just returned again to Mcleod Ganj after a little mini excursion. I had packed up my stuff and checked out of my room at Pink House and I thought that was the last time I would be seeing this place and these people again for a while. My friend Tenzin had come to get me on his motorcycle and I was planning to go from his home in Bir to Delhi by bus, and then to Kathmandu by plane. So I checked out and followed Tenzin up to the Tibetan Childrens Village (TCV) cafe which is located in a central position in Mcleod. Here he had left his bike and so I dropped my backpack off upstairs to wait for me in the good company of the Tibetan orphans who work at this cafe. The employees, whom I had come to know fairly well after going there almost daily for a delicious, largely proportioned, and inexpensive latte, are all kids from Tibet without family. The TCV is a large operation with something like 500 young Tibetans living there (probably a lot more actually) and this is one outlet that provides them with some work.

After dropping off my backpack we quickly wandered around through the usual street vendors. I was looking for unique gifts for friends since I thought I wouldn't be back, but alas here I am at the old internet cafe. Within an hour we were on our way. I sat on the back of Tenzin's flashy looking street bike with my big backpack strapped tightly to my shoulders. It was a real treat to get to travel in this way. Riding through the back country of India on a motorcycle, not much traffic, just beautiful and exotic landscapes.

We stopped at a zoo on the way that Tenzin had wanted to show me. As we pulled to a stop on the side of the road we lost balance trying to dismount and had to dash away from the bike as it fell to the ground. A car of Indian tourists was also pulled over to the side and they watched us in amusement. From this point on the road we could see over the cement walls of a large pasture with about 5 big black bears romping around inside. We stood there in awe for a while watching the bears at play. Two of them were chasing each other, or so it seemed, around the perimeter. I likened this to be the effect of caging wild animals, they seemed to be doing this out of necessity so as not to be driven mad. The shiny black coats of these animals seemed very inappropriate for the heat of the Indian plains. I sensed oppression, but Tenzin sensed romance. He was certain the bear in front was a female and the one lumbering behind was a male in heat. He thought it all too funny and turned to the car of Indians to explain what was clearly happening.

From the zoo it was another hour to Bir. It only got more secluded and more beautiful the further we went. We made a few more detours to some Monasteries and to a good place for tea that Tenzin knew of. Around 4pm we made it to our destination and pulled towards a cement wall this time being very careful about the balance of each other as we dismounted. Inside the wall was a fair amount of open land, some of it plowed and ready for planting, some of it wild and neglected. A small little house was right at the edge of the land and we walked up to it and then inside the open-air porch where Tenzins father was sitting, looking deep in thought and serene. I took a seat on one of the bench beds inside and Tenzin talked to his father and then brought in a few things for a snack while talking about his family and the house we were in. Over by one of the windows was a book shelf packed full of all sorts of books in many different languages, and down on the bottom right shelf was a stack of old tapes with names written by hand on them. "2 pac, Biggie, more 2 pac, Wu-Tang, Hip Hop mix." Tenzin explained with pride that he was the first in his town to discover American hip hop. I played him a few of my own favorite hip hop cds, namely "slum village" and "artifacts," which show more of the light-hearted side of hip hop, with intelligently poetic lyrics directed more at art with a lot of inspiration derived from old jazz musicians. He couldn't get enough of it and wouldn't stop asking me to make him copies and write down names. I love when people get excited about music.

After checking out everything in his house he took me down to the place where I would be staying. A nice quiet guest house in the main part of town. The town was a one-street, 2 restaurants, 4 shops sort of town with not much in the way of tourism. This was made apparent when I began ordering meals again at the proper Indian price of 30rs, 50rs equalling one U.S. dollar. In any place that has been exposed to tourism it is impossible to eat at real prices. One young Indian friend of mine dubbed this the "skin effect." White skin, double price. But in places with little to no tourism it becomes fun and empowering to purchase many, many things with one dollar. The only foreigners who come to Bir are serious Buddhists and serious Paragliders. It is a hot spot for both, but as explained, in a serious way. The monasteries around this part of India are big and booming with little Tibetan communities surrounding them. I visited many, but one in particular could be considered the main attraction. It was called Deer Park and is home to the famous Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, the wonderful movie producer and writer, the creator of "The Cup," and "Travelers and Magicians," and "Milarepa," and the book "What Makes You Not a Buddhist." The monastery was fantastic, a few Westerners were reading in front of their guest house doors. Tenzin and I did a kora around the main temple and then hit up the gift shop.

One of my goals at this time was trying to attend a teaching of some kind. I wanted to do something structured and productive and attend some class or another but knew it would be hard to find something to suit me. Most of the classes require a pre-sign-up and a month long commitment. Back around Christmas when I was still in CA I had gone to a White Elephant party at the Blancs, and there had talked to our friend Lars at length about Shanti Deva, the author of The Way of the Boddhisattva, what is known as the bible of compassion by Buddhists. Lars had told me he had attended a teaching about the book while in Dharamsala many, many years ago, and he told me if the opportunity ever came up I should try to get in on something like that, that it really opens up the meaning of the book to new astounding levels. I love that book and the whole time I've been here I've been hoping to stumble across something like a teaching on it. Alas, while in the Deer Park gift shop I came across what I was searching for. Against one of the walls inside was a rack of home made burned cds in simple packaging. They were numbered and had short titles and a sheet tacked to the wall gave a kind of directory on what was what. It didn't take long to come across a series of about 5 cds with the title 'The Way of the Boddhisattva.' These were a group of teachings that Dzongsar Khyentse gave over a period of 5 years in different locals around the world. Each cd held about 3 hours of audio on it, they were in dvd format and as I found out later can only be played on a modern stereo or a computer, but I am so excited to be in possession of this and can't wait to go through each chapter and learn more about this profound teaching on equality, patience, acceptance, and aspiration, among many other things.

I stayed for two nights in Bir. On my second day Tenzin and I took a taxi to a newer and more elaborate monastery. It seemed too modern and well designed for this part of India. While returning to the main part of town Tenzin abruptly told the taxi driver to stop, and then turned to me in a hectic fashion and sort of rhetorically asked me if we should go to the cafe that was there. We were actually right at the concrete wall of his own home, across the street from which there is a lovely cafe, and this all only a five minute walk to the main downtown where my guest house is. After a brief moment of putting too much weight on the question of staying in the taxi or getting out (I once learned at a Zen retreat this is called the paralysis of analysis), we both just got up and out and paid the driver and sent him on his way. The cafe was awesome, a great out door seating area with about 5 American looking tourists sitting around one of the tables. We ordered our drinks and chatted, then when one of the American guys came over near us Tenzin said with a smile, "Hey, this is my friend, he is from America too, so you guys like talk now okay?" We did as we were told and I found out that this nice fellow was from San Francisco and knew only too well what I was talking about when I mentioned SLO and Atascadero. He was there for paragliding and I got to ask a lot of questions that I had been holding on to ever since I learned that this place was famous throughout the world for paragliding. He said the longest ever paragliding flight to date was recorded here. Being at the foothills of the Himalayas apparently provides the perfect environment for strategic hot air pockets and other useful air conditions.

While I was at the cafe I picked up a Lonely Planet India book that was sitting among many other good reads on the public book shelf in the seating area. I opened almost right to the section about Dharamsala, and after reading what they had to say about Bir and its paragliding attractions I turned my attention to the description of the Norbulingka Institute. The first sentence of the information said, "This wonderful place is home to a variety of Tibetan arts and crafts and offers a Museum and tours and many accommodations for tourists." I was sold at "wonderful." I had been meaning to check out this popular spot and thought maybe it would offer some classes or something to add structure to my current floaty state of life. Talking to Tenzin I learned everything that was omitted from the guide book. He informed me that everything inside the Norbulingka compound would be alarmingly over priced but that I could find cheaper lodging and eating outside from the Indian-owned places. He said there was bus leaving at 8am and I quickly decided that I was going to be on that bus.

In the morning I woke up at 7:15 and got outside with Tenzin in tow, who had slept on the extra bed in my room, at 7:50. We stood there in a sleepy daze for 5 minutes before finding out from some of the folks standing around that the 8am bus was outta there a bit early. Tenzin said it was alright and there was another bus at 8:30 that wouldn't be as direct but would still work out. I got on that bus, Tenzin explained to the driver where I was going, and I settled into my seat and pulled out my head phones and day dreamed while looking at the scenery. I had to switch buses twice and the whole trip was about 4 hours in length, a much longer ride than the two and half hours it took on a motorcycle. Finally arriving at Norbulingka by Taxi around 1pm I immediately went into a little restaurant to get the local scoop about how things work around here. Outside the entrance to the Institute were about 6 shops, 2 or 3 of them cafes and restaurants, one of them an internet place, and one or two of them just general stores selling a variety of things. The restaurant I first went into turned into my favorite spot. It was called Om Restaurant and the proprietors name was in fact Om. It was just him and I and he turned out to be a great guy. He said he had been a cook in a Delhi hotel restaurant for 5 years but hadn't been making enough money. He opened up his own place here and was now making almost 3 times what he had made before. He was a satisfied individual and he gave me the run down of the area. (His cooking was fantastic and priced without the "skin effect" at 35rs.)

The Norbulingka Institute, a name I could never properly say, was a pristine retreat environment. It was home to many work shops with mostly Tibetan students learning a particular trade; weaving, wood carving, thangka painting. Just inside the entrance was the guest house on the left, very expensive and classy, and a cafe on the right with tables set about a garden with pools and running water everywhere. As I walked straight into the interior I felt like the place was strangely deserted. I seemed to be the only person walking around, except for the many gardeners and attendants. At the center of the compound was a beautiful temple with gigantic thangkas hanging from the ceiling and an immaculate golden Buddha seated on a shrine. I walked straight up to the alter and bowed myself in prostration as I had learned to do so well from Tenzin. Then I explored and eventually found my way up to the second level where a cool, birds-eye-view of the statue and artwork could be seen. On the walls around the balcony I was now on were intricate thangkas painted on the wall, maybe 30 in total, almost life-size portraits of Buddhas and renowned teachers. I was taken by surprise when I came across one, far off to one side, that had a very realistic depiction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's face imposed on a traditionally painted body. It was funny but actually looked really good. At the bottom of the painting instead of the usual symbolic objects of offering such as a mirror, bowls of water, a representation of music, etc. there was a globe with a peace dove flying across it. It was awesome and I pulled out my camera to snap a picture but my batteries gave out on me. I got frustrated but decided to forget about it and just savor it in my memory. (I returned the next day with fresh batteries and got many good pictures of it.)

I made my way back through the luscious gardens to the cafe where I ordered a cappuccino and a piece a cake and took a seat at one of the classy French-cafe style tables. As soon as my treats were brought out to me a dog showed up at my feet and pulled a convincing begging routine, almost as good as the Saddhus and cripples who wander the streets in tourist areas and whose English vocabulary consists of "Friend, yes? Something please sir," combined with an out stretched hand. This dog was patient and I couldn't resist so gave him a few crumbles of cake but quickly withdrew from petting him after seeing the scary looking fly/tick thing come peaking out of his fir. But even so the company of a dog, even (or maybe especially) a begging one, was making me home sick for my own little white terrier. Another dog showed up at my table wanting to get in on the action but by that time I was done and was getting ready to head back out to the Indian guest house that I had checked into earlier.

I was resting at my room in the guest house when a sudden down pour began. I went out onto the balcony to observe the dense shower and ran into my neighbor in the next room over, an Indian man who I found out was working on a Hydro-electric project in the area. We talked about each others work, the rain turned into hail for a few minutes, and then I told him alright, I'm getting back to my nap, maybe I'll see you around later. When I got up to go out again I was feeling really good and now waved to all the shop owners who recognized me from the few times I had walked past. I stepped into the internet cafe to check my e-mail and look up a few things, as well as try to convert my newly acquired Way of the Boddhisattva cds so I could listen to them on my discman. I had little to no success with my efforts and was just getting ready to give up and move onto the next thing when the girl sitting next to me spoke up in clear, precise, even American-accented English. "So, where you from?" she said to me and I looked at her a little confused. She was clearly Indian, Hindi, and a moment ago she had been speaking Hindi with the employee. I said, "California, and what about you?" She said she was born in Ontario by her Indian Hindu parents and raised as sort of a mixture of East and West. Her parents taught her the ancient Hindu traditions as well as the Punjabi language of their homeland, and yet she attended Western school and spoke to me with complete understanding of my background and the strangeness of being in India's environment. It turned out she too was working with an NGO in a nearby town but working within the medical field and had finished school and had joined up with this particular group, knowing that she would have an advantage speaking the native tongue. I told her I was suspended in a state of uncertainty and I was using books as my main means of entertainment and passing the time. I told her now my main objective when going on the internet was looking up authors, e-mailing people for book suggestions, etc. She laughed and again said she knew exactly what that was like, apparently a common thing in this field of work, down time. Many things are out of our hands and we are at the mercy of the foreign environment in which we are.

This girl was one of the fastest talkers I've ever met. Speaking at lightning speeds but very academically correct always. This way of talking and jumping around and going off on tangents gave created a dream like feeling that only increased when she said "Hey, I just finished a book, my apartment is just down the road come with me and you can see if its something you want to read." Out we went talking a hundred miles an hour the whole way as if some grave disaster were lurking on the horizon and we had to discuss some very important matters of humanitarian work before we were doomed forever. At her apartment she introduced me to her two room mates who had just arrived from Delhi, then she pulled out the book and let me check it out while she found some paper and a pen to take down all my information. The book was called "The Solitude of Prime Numbers," written by an Italian author whose name I forgot. It looked really interesting so I said yeah I'd love to read it. She mentioned something about getting it back to her in a few days and I told her about how I was planning to be out of there by the next afternoon. "But, I said maybe we can trade books, for keeps," and at this I started thinking about the V.S. Naipaul book I had just finished that afternoon while having coffee with the dogs. I thought I had surely left it back in my room having no use for it anymore, but then I opened my bag and let out a laugh seeing it there, ready to be traded. I pulled it out and handed it to her, giving a brief summary. It was called "Half a Life," and was about a young displaced Indian boy making his way through the modern world of England, eventually ending up in Africa. We happily traded and then I was sent on my way, with a lightning speed thank you and good night from my new friend. As soon as I left the drive way area it started to down pour again and I had to take shelter under the awning of the only shop on that road.

When I made it back again to town again I went straight for the Om Restaurant where my friend was waiting for me, saying as I walked in, "Yes, my friend, your dinner is ready!" I sat down and he began to serve me some delicious little dishes, salads, rice and dahl, potatoes, etc. I bought a beer and shared it with him. As I finished up the Indian Hydro-Electric worker came walking in with apparently a co-worker. They said they ate all their meals, everyday, at this restaurant. For lunch Om packs up their chapatis and potatoes for them to take to the job site. This fellas sat down and within minutes were ordering me to come sit with them and have some deserts and more beer. A party materialized out of thin air, and all the other shop keepers came over to join in. Every time a beer was ordered it was divided up evenly among 5 or 6 glasses, refusing this or one of the treats like curd with sugar, was out of the question. After something like 3 hours we were finishing up. I had been invited by this man, whose name is Dinkar, to come see their job site in the morning. I decided to take him up on the offer. At one point during the many lengthy and often choppy conversations we discussed the different eating habits of Americans and Indians. When I was asked what we usually eat for breakfast I said a few things like, "you know toast, bagels, eggs, coffee," before Om interjected saying, "I know what Americans eat for breakfast... pancakes!" With that it was settled, we would be having special lemon pancakes in the morning.

I woke up good and early and met up with Dinkar at 8:30 for our pancake feast. It was delicious and Om was happy to have been able to re-create a little something from home for me. We finished up our tea and then hopped into Dinkar's car and zipped off to where their work site is. I ended up getting a lot of reading done in my new book while Dinkar and his co-worker took care of the typical morning work in their office. Then we set out to hike up to where the construction of the hydro dam was under way. Really not all that interesting as I had hoped. The massive tunnels he had promised we could walk into the previous night were actually not really so easily accessed so we never got to check them out. I spent a lot more time with my head in my book, after asking as many questions I could think of about the operation of a hydro electric dam. At lunch time we headed down to a sweet spot in the river where a good swimming hole was and we stripped down to our undies and splashed around in the icy water. Then we went to the tea stand where the car was parked and had a quick snack before driving back to the guest house. When we had returned Dinkar asked me what my plans were and when I told him I was hoping to catch the bus up to Mcleod he replied by offering me a ride saying that his co-worker was going home to his family for the night, and it was good time for him to get away as well. He had been staying at that particular guest house for about 2 weeks now and was ready for a little change of environment. I was stoked and told him I would be ready to go whenever he was done with work. He said to meet him at 5. I killed time by going back to the Norbulingka Institute and having another coffee with the same cool dogs, then using the internet, then going back to my room to read and read and read.

At 5:30 we were on our way up the steep mountain road. It was a great drive, but my friend seemed to be slipping into a very introspective silence and we barely exchanged more than a few words the entire way. When we made it Dinkar seemed determined to find the best place to park and wouldn't settle for anything less; we spent a long time covering the same ground before going back to the original parking area we had passed on the way in. I checked into Pink House again but was told the room would only be available for one night, and then all the other rooms were booked for the next few days so I would have to re-locate to an entirely new guest house the next day. I wandered the streets with Dinkar poking into shops and sometimes into hotels in inquire about a room, never having much luck. Then it began to get late and so I treated Dinkar to a little dinner before parting ways with him.

The next morning I was woken up by a knocking at my door and was already aware of what that meant. Yes it was Javid, the owner of Pink House, very cool and friendly Kashmiri Indian. He just wanted to remind me that guests were expecting to arrive that afternoon and they would need a little time to get the room ready, not that I had messed it up that bad. So I quickly got my things together and hauled my back pack up to Javids office where he let me keep it while I went searching. Out on the streets I ran into an Indian friend, Ajit, who works in a book store here and he offered to take me around and ask for cheap rooms for me, since the "skin effect" does apply here. After checking out two guest houses that were completely booked I got a little worried, but then was greatly relieved when we found a place with a single room, no TV no bath, for 175rs a night. I jumped on it and quickly fetched my back pack and moved in. I love this room, so bare but so comfortable. Very small with two beds, a nice window with no glass only a screen looking out over the valley below, and really cool book shelves embedded in the wall. Tonight marks my third night of staying in this room and I'm still very happy with it. Its the kind of environment that forces me to stay focused and not get carried away with distractions and being lazy.

(So again this is sort of another personal journal type of blog, I promise to get more informational stuff up soon. I am tying now to fix up our website as well with all the new information about what we're up to with our work and how to help.)

(I promise to soon write about the school progress!)