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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Fortnight Has Passed

Whew... This is the first post (I've always cut deadlines close. It makes me feel alive.). I'll start off with a bunch of "I feel" stuff, just to get things going. I feel like I've been here forever, and I feel like I just got off the bus. I'm starting to feel comfortable, like I'm at home, which is weird. Navigating Bylakuppe and Kushalnagar (the nearest town with groceries, internet cafes, shopping, etc., about ten minutes by rickshaw from Bylakuppe) is absolutely no problem, and we have mastered the art of catching and riding rickshaws. We even haggled 10 rupees off our price with Raju this morning. I speak enough Hindi to get by without serious discomfort, and most people speak enough English to fill in whatever gaps there are. It's no more strange than going to the more legit Mexican food places in Phoenix, where legit = no hablan ingles y las comidas es muy bueno. I've become more and more grateful for the Hindi classes I took last year, and I'm even more psyched to learn more when I get back in the fall.
A road in the Kushalnagar outskirts
A road in Kushalnagar proper. Our favorite tailor has a shop just off the right of this picture - buying clothes off a rack is so American, so 2 weeks ago.

I feel a little restless, as our Protected Area Permits have not yet cleared and we have to be, in our host's words, "a little invisible" in the community because we are, in all truth and technicality, illegals. But I only feel a little restless, because our stay at Karuna Home (known to locals as the Ashram) has been wonderful and more productive than I could have guessed. We are saving loads of money, about 700 rupees a day, and we are in the wonderful company of Khube Rinpoche and his incredible staff. Just this morning Rinpoche, who was a monk for decades before disrobing and opening his home for the disabled, gave us teachings in meditation and Buddhist philosophy. If you want to talk about a gatekeeper into the community, he's the best. He knows everybody and is respected by the same. The police are turning a blind eye because of his assurance that the PAP is coming soon, and our transition into the community has been smooth and easy, if a little less sudden than we were expecting. There's even a certified nurse on staff full time at Karuna Home, so the little acclimatization sicknesses travelers to India are prone to have been carefully watched and compassionately cared for. Aja Nurse, as most call her, is a great friend and a hilarious conversationalist, excited to use her English and get to know a couple of Westerners. Our interest in the Tibetan culture has been warmly received by the folks we've explained our projects to. Aja Nurse and Tsering, the music teacher at the Karuna Home, broke into song when I explained my project to them. They sang the wedding drinking song (if you don't finish your bowl of chang at the same time the song finishes, you have to drink another one), and Rangzen, the Tibetan freedom song written by the famous Yak Band. So, as I said, our time here has been productive, restful, and only a little restless.
The red rectangle shows the location of the Karuna Home
This is an older picture - the grounds are much more filled in with greenery now, and there are a few more buildings, but you can see the offices in the foreground, the classrooms on the right, then the dining hall, then the housing for the children as you move towards the background. The housing for volunteers, teachers, and folks like us is on the left. They have built a playground and more housing for volunteers since the time this photo was taken.

Lori and I both feel excited, though, to get into the community proper and begin the projects we have planned. We contacted the Organic Research and Training Center about a week ago, and Damdul is excited to have her come on board. I have an in with the SOS school, and I have presented myself as a gratis drum teacher. Also, we love our lodgings in the Karuna Home (hot water, good electricity, and 3 square meals a day? This is India?!), but living in Namgyal's backyard is appealing as well, as we will get to deal with the trials and joys of living in the only slightly tamed jungle. I'll put up pictures when I get to a computer that has a card reader and isn't in an internet cafe, and you'll see what I mean. Namgyal is the man, too. He's more than a little bad-A, because he's ex-military, but he is as nice as can be and understands the questions and unknowns we are dealing with as first-timers in a Tibetan community. He is very laid back, and reminds me of the islanders I've met.

So, this basically sums up our story so far! We have met many people and learned many things, and I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to live with and learn from the people in this remarkable place and community.

For those of you who are interested in the Karuna Home, here are two links. One is a testimonial and the second is the official site. Aunt Sue would be especially interested, methinks.