A day in the mountains

As the sun rises, Maya and Sima – the two cooks at Lhamo’s house – are already up and rolling the chapati.

The town wakes up keeping the constant practice of patience after a night filled with dogs barking – who sleep during the day when it’s sunny and fight during the night to keep their bodies warm.

But Lhamo’s family doesn’t pay attention to it. They are busy taking care of people and their own Buddhist practice. Maybe loud noises don’t even bother them, because they choose to spend their energy wisely. They also believe dogs are protecting the town at night from the “bad people.”

The father, an 84-year-old man who goes by the name of Sopa, comes down the stairs meditating on mantras as he heads outside to the front patio to feed the crows.

Bruno the family dog, stands beside him. He is the cutest but meanest of them all. No one messes with Bruno – or else, you’ll walk away with a bite. Somehow he more or less behaves around the guests. However, a sign indicates to keep the rooms locked, otherwise Bruno will piss on your belongings.

Yeshi comes back from Puja (worship) and perfumes the house with incense, to clean the bad vibes and ask for protection. The incense contains burnt pieces of fabric, for the people who need clothes. It also contains burnt food, for the people that are hungry. The idea is that the smell of the incense will reach beyond Lhamo’s house, to give all human beings what they need.

I witness all of these morning activities happening around me, as I sit in the living room working on this blog.

While I write, Matt spends part of the morning on one of the balconies practicing Vinyasa Yoga – aligning his back to keep it away from getting tight.

Around 8:00am, the house is up and ready for breakfast. The dining table has pots with porridge and pancakes. There is also a big thermos filled with chai. Omelettes with bok choy and carrots land in our hands as they come hot out of the kitchen.

Two hours later the house gets quiet. Everyone is gone for their volunteering program.

Matt walks to Sakya – the Tibetan monastery where he teaches English to someday-to-be monks. He loves it there. The kids are charming, smart and eager to learn. They also call Matt “Sir” – something I think he enjoys in secret.

I have a little bit of a walk. The daycare I volunteer at is 20-minutes up the mountain, in a part of town called “Upper Bir” where the Indians live. I do this back and forth twice a day (in the morning and after lunch). It serves as my daily workout, since it is a good hour-and-a-half of cardio.

Up until now, everything that I’ve described in this post may seem idyllic. There is something simple, romantic and old world about the start of our day. But the more time we spend here, the more I notice that Bir is not without its problems. Obviously because, what place isn’t?

For me, reality hits when I show up to my volunteer placement.

The daycare is a little modest house built by the community. It is there to serve Indian children with working families in need. This is financed by the government.

However, in my time there I’ve been noticing two recurring issues.

Parents very often don’t make the time to drop their kids off before going to work. From what I understand, they don’t see it as a priority. Instead, they just take their babies along with them while they cut grass (an activity that’s dangerous since they use big sharp tools to do so). We never know how many kids will show up at any given day. It could be 10 or it could be 1.

The other issue is, Sofila – the woman hired to run the daycare and who’s ultimately responsible for the kids – takes advantage of the fact that she gets volunteers to do her job for her. She spends the days talking on the phone or chatting with other women, while volunteers (which is only me at the moment) have to cover 4 hours of activities for the kids – if they show up. Not only that, the kids come to us dirty, sick and hungry. I haven’t seen Sofila or the other woman wash their hands even once before they eat. In fact I haven’t seen them clean their noses when they struggle to breath.

After the first two weeks of frustration and bringing it up to Lhamo, I had to take a step back as I was getting upset about the whole situation. I had two options: change projects or try to make a difference. The Scorpio/Aquarius in me took over – there’s no question: I decided to fight the good fight.

I thought: “These people don’t need a volunteer to take care of their children. There’s the main woman and her assistant to do this. What they need is someone to make them responsible to do their jobs (so I won’t do it any longer for them) and most importantly, for someone to teach this community about personal self-care.”

After talking to Lhamo about it, we agreed to turn the program into Hygiene classes to teach the women that work at the daycare and the kids the basics: washing hands before every meal, cleaning up the kids when they are sick, brushing teeth, and so on.

This initiative will begin tomorrow when we will be bringing supplies to the daycare. I’ll spend the week (which is my last in the program) teaching everyone how to be a healthier community.

Wish me luck.

After being challenged by this situation, I come back home. We have the rest of the afternoon free. This is the time I enjoy the most. Matt and I go for a walk, read, write, catch up with our families, go to one of the local cafes or take a nap. We were craving a few weeks like this after our New York living bootcamp. I’m glad to report we’ve been managing to do just that.

At around 5:00pm dinner is served at Lhamo’s. Maya, Sima and Yeshi always do an excellent job. We usually get rice, chapati, chai and 2 or 3 vegetable dishes.

One of the most exciting things about living here is to see all your veggies go from the soil to the plate. The place is surrounded by plantations. You can see a piece of bok choy, garlic, parsnip, etc come out of the soil, be cleaned up and get transported to the local shops. Experiencing the whole process takes cooking and eating to a different level.

Along with the healthy meal, Yeshi sometimes brings some apples or papaya which makes me very happy. I grew up in a household where my mom always made it a priority that we had fruits every day. This was in Mexico City, where the offering was always juicy and delicious straight out of the local markets. Now, when we get a treat like this over here, I get to remember the times we were all together in Mexico. We are now spread out all over – some in Mexico City, some in California and me in India for the moment.

After dinner, Matt and I watch an episode or two of something on the iPad, as we get cozy inside our sleeping bags we were smart to bring (it’s really cold at night in the mountains!).

We go to bed around 10:00pm, just in time for the dogs’ show to begin.

We welcome a new day and the above gets repeated.

More lessons learned:

– Always help where you can. Even if it’s frustrating, unfair or just annoying. We need to remember to lead by example, so if we quit or aren’t there we are showing the world we just don’t show up when we are most needed.

– When noise bugs you, just think like Lhamo’s family and turn it your mantra: “This is happening because the universe is protecting me or showing me something – Somehow.”

– How to cook yummy garbanzos the way Maya does: Boil garbanzos until they are soft. Keep the water. Sauté garlic and onions with olive oil and Garam Masala. Add the garbanzos (including the water) to the garlic-onion-garam masala mixture. Reduce a little bit of the water, season and serve.

4 thoughts on “A day in the mountains

  1. Thanks, Karen. I especially enjoyed this entry. You’re writing is starting to flow; the daily experiences inter woven. Stay safe.


  2. Can certainly understand your annoyance and frustration. Hopefully when this part of your journey is over, you will have made a difference. Can’t wait for your next post.


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