A Travellerspoint blog

Tea with the Principal and Teachers

I have had several informal discussions with the principal and today he invited me to his house for tea. He lives on the other side of town, the Hindu side, if you will, although he is Buddhist. He showed me all the reports he has to make to the district school authorities along with the grades he has to submit. This week, all of the kids will have at least two hours a day of testing so that he can submit the scores to these same authorities. He said things are different in Zanskar and Ladakh, where the district education officers do not require the same testing or insist on the same books. Apparently the reason is that Buddhists are in the majority there, and because the administrators are also Buddhist, they better understand the needs of the community. Here they are all Hindu or Muslim, and he feels this is the reason why they insist on following the government rules so closely. Not only that, even though the Himalayan Culture School is almost entirely funded by government money, the teachers receive a fraction of the pay that regular teachers receive, 3000 rupees per month, roughly $50 US, as compared to 20-30,000 ($350- 500US). The reason is that teachers in the Himalayan School receive what is called an honorarium instead of a government salary, because the school is run by a private foundation, like a charter school. It seems very unfair.

The principal said he has been with the school since it began 18 years ago, and that he makes a fraction of what he could be making in a public Indian school. It is enough, he said, but barely, to make ends meet. I think he wanted me to understand the difficulties of his job and the sacrifices he has made to stay in it.

Principal, Norbu, and Yours Truly at the school picnic
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On another day I had tea with Norbu, a young history teacher in his 30’s with a very gentle manner. He said he has been at the school for more than 10 years. He comes from one of the smaller and more remote villages, although most of his family now live in Jammu, where his parents run a clothing shop, and his brother is finishing his last year of engineering school. He is desperate to get a regular government teaching job because of the difference in salary. He has taken the national exam and will go to Kisthwar for an interview following the election in a few weeks.

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I had tea at his house a second time, along with another teacher. We discussed the American political system, which they seemed quite interested in, as compared to the Indian parliamentary system. We then got talking about the school, and both indicated that none of the teachers had been paid even their meager salary for more than a month. This is not the first time this has happened. Last year they went 8 months before receiving their paycheck from Delhi. Other government teachers receive their salary from the J&K government and so there is usually less of a delay.

What a system.

I happened to mention my problem finding bottled water, and later that evening Norbu, after checking with a dozen or more shops, managed to find some. I had to insist that he take money to pay for them. So for now at least, my water problem is solved.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:41 Archived in India Tagged me people Comments (2)

Teaching at the Himalayan Culture School

My first day of teaching began when I got two conflicting schedules from the principal, who, if his office is any reflection, is rather disorganized. In addition to English, I am also teaching social studies and science.

The kids have been very welcoming and enthusiastic, but the books being used and the curriculum taught is way beyond their abilities, no matter what their age. There were times when I went over material they had supposedly already learned, and although they could parrot the words, it was obvious they didn’t understand a thing. Not a good situation. I hope to discuss this with Tashi and the principal. The curriculum is no doubt dictated by the J&K government, but so much of it seems like a waste of time.

Morning lineup
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Morning prayers
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For the past several days I have been trying to use their assigned books, and then going off from there, but the kids are used to simply repeating often difficult English words without any understanding. When I try to get them to talk with me, I often get a yes or no answer without any willingness to go further. I have tried to start a story and get them to continue it, but even with the older kids I am lucky to get a sentence or two. Also if one of them says something, the others then simply repeat it. I think much of this is pointless. I will have to use much simpler materials if I am to teach anything at all. As an example, I did an experiment with the standard books in which I read a 2nd grade story, one they had already read and been tested on, to the 5th-7th graders. Generally, with a few exceptions, they were unable to understand the story after I read through it twice. I’m sure if English is too difficult then the other subjects are also a problem.

Fifth grade class
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I spoke to the English teacher, and he seems to be well aware of these issues, as is the principal. Not surprisingly, the principal said that he is forced to use these books because they are used throughout India. In Jammu, a large city, he thought that most of the students would be able to understand them. I’m not sure that this is the case, at least with the poor students. In the 5th grade class, only Passan was the exception. He lives in town all year long rather than in a village, and both of his parents are teachers and speak English with him at home. Most of the other parents don’t speak English, are not educated, and a number of them are illiterate.

Passan
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What can be done about this situation is another question. It is a bit like “No Child Left Behind,” with standards that are unrealistic, and forcing teachers to teach to the test because that is how they are evaluated. I doubt whether the teachers here are evaluated this way, but the kids are given standardized tests, and most of the teaching that I have observed is aimed exclusively at getting them to score well. At best, they will be memorizing and parroting without any understanding. On one afternoon I used a pre k book to teach 2nd and 4th graders and even that was a struggle.

I have found teaching to be quite tiring with four, 40 minute classes with the older kids in the morning, and then three more classes with the younger students in the afternoon. Lunch, however, always provides a nice break, especially with Tsering, her best friend, and neighbor's baby.

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The youngest kids that I teach are around eight, although the school has some as young as four. The younger boys especially can get pretty rambunctious toward the end of the day, and it is hard to keep things under control. After several days, I more or less gave up on teaching the youngest kids. They simply take up more energy than I have. While I have taught ESL before, it has mostly been with adults, and that is a very different experience.

Younger kids in school yard
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One of the youngest
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On one occasion, I gave the older students an assignment which we then read in class, to write about Gulabgarh or their village in the mountains. They said only positive things about each, raving about the beauty of both places in a somewhat repetitive fashion, while overlooking the garbage, the dirt, and the poverty. They seem to focus only on the good. On the one hand, this is admirable, and seems to reflect their enormously positive and happy outlook, but on the other hand, they seem to ignore the problems. When I discussed this with them they understood, but were at a loss to know what to suggest to improve things. They didn’t seem to think that talking to people would do any good, something that Tashi had already indicated. Several of the kids said that the rains would eventually wash everything away and make everything clean. Not likely, as there had already been plenty of rain and there was still garbage everywhere. There is no central garbage dump or landfill, and seemingly little motivation to create one. Perhaps if the many policemen would get off their duffs and fine people 10 or 20 rupees for littering, this would make a difference. Also not likely.

Older boys with my travel speaker
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Their female classmates
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Another time I asked the students to write about their favorite holiday. Usually, what I got back was a description of a Hindu holiday, Diwali, for example, that word for word came from their English book. Unfortunately, as in so many Asian countries, the emphasis is just on rote learning. I have had somewhat more success when I have created my own teaching materials, but this takes time and energy, and the kids are well aware that this is not what they will be tested on.

I don't want to be overly negative. Most if the students here come from impoverished backgrounds with little, if any opportunity for book learning outside the classroom. Considering that, many of them are obviously curious about the outside world, and more knowledgeable, at least about Indian pop culture, then I would have thought. The older ones know about Indian celebrities and pop musicians which is an accomplishment considering that many of them have not been to Kisthwar, which is not exactly a cosmopolitan place. Most of the kids seem interested in what I think, despite the language problems, and a few of the most diligent students have wanted me to teach them after their regular class periods. Often by then, I am too tired, but still this shows the initiative of the best and the brightest.

During this week of exams, there is not a lot of teaching going on, but they seem interesting in hanging out with me. Most of the time they prefer to play games, especially one called Kabbadi, a rough game of tag, and then pulling the person to their side of the schoolyard. The girls are every bit as competitive as the boys. I try and resist the games until the end of the school day, but it provides an informal way to communicate in English, and this may be more valuable than what goes on in class.

Author in back with one of younger grades
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Hamming it up from 2nd floor window
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The Himalayan Culture School has a website, http://hcspadder.com/ as well as a facebook page. They are always looking for volunteers to teach for a few days or a few months, as well as donations. If you want to experience buddhist culture in non touristy surroundings, this is an ideal place. You must be prepared for a very simple life with few western conveniences. The school or a villager will provide you with a place to stay and food. You can also contact Tashi at lonpoadv@gmail.com. Email is very slow so be prepared to wait a while for an answer.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:51 Archived in India Tagged people children educational living_abroad Comments (0)

Rockfall and Conversations

One day at around 5 PM, there was a giant rockfall at one end of town, a few hundred yards from the house. It sounded a bit like thunder, but went on for several minutes, creating a large cloud of dust. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the noise, assuming that it was thunder, which we had earlier that day, but then I stuck my head out the window, and not seeing anything, I continued reading. When the sound continued, I went to the front of the house which faced the opposite direction. The dust cloud was still quite visible, though most of the rumbling had stopped by then. Above, the Gulabgarh-Manali road had been cut in half by tons of rock debris, and several cars were stranded on both sides, unable to move. Tashi and I, along with half the town it seemed, walked over to see the damage. A couple of shops and houses had been completely destroyed, and there were several truck sized boulders on the road leading out of town. Although not visible, I was told that one woman had been killed when she went back into her shop. We all milled about for a time, until a group of soldiers and policemen, some with machine guns, came running up and insisted we clear the area.

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Road being repaired after rockfall
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I returned to Tashi’s house to find him sitting around with several other relatives discussing what had happened. The drinking had already begun. Soon after, the rain began to fall in earnest, a real problem given the almost constant rainfall of the last two months. It was the first actual rain since my arrival, but although each day was clear in the morning, clouds usually appeared in mid-afternoon. No doubt all the rain was a factor in the rockfall. These young and intimidating mountains are still unstable. As they are pushed up by the collision of tectonic plates, they are simultaneously worn down by the forces of erosion and gravity. Despite man's obvious presence, we are still visitors here. We are not in charge in these mountains. Nature is, and life is tenuous. It always is of course, but here the feeling is palpable.

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Later in the evening more people showed up at Tashi's including a pony man from previous treks, as well as some villagers who had worked as porters. Ram was also there, a man of about Tashi’s age, mid to late 40’s, who is headmaster of a government school, some 15K up the road. Or rather, 15K, and then a 3-4 hour walk beyond the road. It is a Hindu village, though Ram is Buddhist. He is well educated, with a master’s degree from a college in Manali. Now that he is headmaster, after 12 years of teaching, he only has to be at the school about 15 days a month. The rest of the time, he lives in Gulabgarh, where he has a house and also owns a small restaurant which serves Chinese food. His English was quite good, although with a thick accent that got harder to understand as he continued drinking. Apparently he too has been on a couple of treks with Tashi during the summer months, first as a cook and then as a guide. He has two daughters and a wife who in live in Jammu. This way his children can attend school there.

As headmaster, he earns about 40,000 rupees per month, and then his little restaurant brings in another 10 to 15,000. At one point, he and Tashi got into a drunken discussion about the benefits and disadvantages of a government job vs. the private sector. According to Ram, in a good year Tashi can earn twice as much as he does in just a couple of summer months, but as Tashi pointed out, nothing is certain in the trekking business.

Once again they attempted to ply me with wheat hooch. Although they made it hard to refuse, I managed to avoid drinking more than a glass or two, as the stuff gave me a headache the night before.

Ram, more or less talked my ears off, even telling me about his French girlfriend who he met on a trek in the late 90’s, when he was young.

“She really wanted to get married,” he said, but he encouraged her to go back to France and think about it. After that, he never heard from her again.

He made a point of telling me that I would be welcome to stay at his house, or any house for that matter in Gulabgarh

He said that the Buddhist community really goes out of their way for a guest and a foreigner.

I have no reason to doubt it. I can certainly say that Tashi and Puti have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable, like an honored guest.

Ram also questioned me about life in America, and whether kids there are the same as kids here. Not an easy question to answer. Tsering, Tashi’s 8 year old daughter seems incredibly responsible. She understands a fair bit of English, but like so many kids here, is reluctant to speak it. Even so, she goes out of her way to take care of me, just like her parents, without being asked by them to do so. She does things like getting me an extra pillow to sit on the floor, getting my water bottle so I don’t have to get up, etc. I doubt whether too many 8 year olds in the states would just take it upon themselves to behave this way. On the other hand, perhaps Tsering is just a great kid. Unusual. She certainly is a great kid, but I suspect she is not unique in this way.

After a few hours of rambling conversation, Ram came right out and asked me what I thought about him, obviously wanting my approval, the approval of an American, and someone he considers his better.

As he put it, “USA people on top of the world.”

How else could I respond other than saying that he seemed like a good guy.

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On a different night, Tashi and I sat around with his older brother, 55, here for a few days from Kabban. They were drinking local stuff, and I was drinking beer that Tashi had picked up for me from Jammu. Somehow we got started talking about Karma. Tashi believes in Karma, but only in his life time. He thinks that If you do good things you will reap the benefits of your hard work and diligence in this life. He does not believe that he was born in a poor family with nine other siblings because of bad Karma.

“What would you brother say about this,” I asked.

And then he translated.

The brother, not surprisingly, said he did think he had done something to cause his birth in such a poor family during a previous life, and added that I must have been a better person in a previous life to have been born in the US, and to have all the opportunities that I have had. He then looked at me, put his hand together, and bowed his head.

Tashi had previously told me that his brother’s children were also studying in Jammu. One was in engineering school and the other had passed the initial exam to go to medical school. And so I said, “If he believes in Karma in the way he described, then why is he sending his children to school?

Tashi translated this.

His brother said that sending his children to school is not the same and that their Karma is not the same as his.

This seemed somewhat contradictory to me. How could their Karma not be influenced by his, since they too were born under similar circumstances? I did not ask him to explain, as I suspect there was no rational explanation. I am sure that he would think my Karma was still better than that of his children.

Tashi and I continued to talk about the fact that there is no reason for his birth in poverty with few opportunities, and mine in America to a middle-class family. Just an accident and luck. He said that with hard work and a wider vision of what is possible, no matter where he was born he could make something of his life.

Amen to that.

He is clearly an example of this, especially in relation to his siblings.

He explained that one day, he and his younger brother went to a fortune teller.The fortune teller said that Tashi would be a kind of king, and that his older brothers and sisters would be beneath him, and more or less his servants. He didn’t believe this, but his brother who has more formal education than Tashi did believe it. Tashi’s beliefs have clearly evolved over the years, probably because of his western contacts.

He told me another story. There is a section of road somewhere between here and Jammu that has been the site of many accidents. The Hindu’s have built many temples there, thinking that if they did so God would protect them. More recently, a well trained engineer came to that location, and pointed out all the technical problems with the road in terms of the grade, width, sharpness of the curve etc. If these things were fixed, he said, there would be fewer deaths.

"So," Tashi continued, "it wasn’t the fault of God."

This was an obvious conclusion to me, but perhaps not to most people who live here. I didn’t ask whether the engineer’s recommendations were ever enacted by the J&K government, but I think I know the answer. Perhaps that's why people believe that God will somehow protect them. They know that can’t count on the government to fix things, so what else do they have?

The discussion continued about local politics. Apparently there are two contiguous districts in Kisthwar, each with its own district magistrate and administrator. One of them cares very much about the people, and in that district, the medical care you receive in the local hospital is free, and each person receives 20,000 rupees if they have a serious illness in order to help pay for their lost wages. In the other district there is no free care and no stipend.

I asked, “ Doesn’t this make people angry?”

“Yes, it would, but 90% don’t know. Of the other 10%, probably 8% are in the pocket of that district administrator, and that leaves 2%. What can you do with 2%? Nothing.”

It is not hard to believe that 90% are unaware. There are no newspapers here. No reliable internet. The only news is word of mouth. And yes, there is more access in Kisthwar, a fairly large city compared to Gulabgarh, but how many can afford it?

While these discussions were taking place we were all sitting on hard cushions, on a cold, concrete floor. Not that easy for me with my creaky, older bones, but they are used to it. For the first few hours there was no electricity, true for most nights, and the room was lit with a single candle. There has been no water for two days now, and the toilet and bathroom reek. I have been going to the school to shit for the past two mornings because somehow there is still running water there. As we talked, the smell of urine wafts through the room. At around 10, Tashi fired up the kerosene stove to heat up the remains of lunch, dried beans from last summer and potatoes mixed into a curry. There was also rice and chapatis left over from lunch.

Normally Puti cooks dinner, but she was not here. There was not that much food, but as usual Tashi gave me the biggest plate, his brother next, and took the smallest one for himself. They have consumed two bottles of local hooch, whereas I have managed one can of beer.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:18 Archived in India Tagged people postcards living_abroad Comments (0)

Description of Town and Life in Gulabgarh

The town is surrounded by towering snow covered mountains, pine forests, steep rock walls, etc.

View of bridge leading to Gulabgarh
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Unfortunately, like so many small towns in India, it is full of garbage on the streets, and in the narrow alleys near the houses. Tashi has said that he has organized a clean up a couple of times, but within a few weeks the place looks the same. People just don’t seem to get the concept and importance of cleanliness, and are content to live amongst the garbage and the shit, both cow and human alike, because that is what they are used to. Many houses seem to have some kind of rudimentary septic tank, but obviously not all. There is no town wide sewage system.

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Alley leading to Tashi's house
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Along side the main street is a three foot deep ditch with plenty of garbage, and so I have to watch where I step at all times. Cows and many stray dogs roam about chewing on the garbage.

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There are 40 or 50 small shops selling everything from food and clothing to cell phone sim cards. There is even a “Peace Hotel,” with “semi-deluxe" rooms, though I wouldn't want to stay there. Despite all the rain, the main street is dusty, especially when trucks arrive from Kisthwar. Making it here along the extremely narrow and boulder strewn road is a feat unto itself.

The town has about three thousand residents, some of whom return to their mountain villages for extended visits to family members, or to help out on the family farm.

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The Himalayan Culture School occupies a prime spot on a small hill in the center of town with prayer flags fluttering all around.

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Unlike other schools, this one operates from March to November because it is simply too cold during the winter, and there is no source of heat in the classrooms. Even now, in late April, it is still quite chilly here, especially at night in the uninsulated, concrete houses with minimal sources of heat. I can imagine what it would be like here in mid-winter, at 6000 feet. Many of the the children who reside with relatives here in the summer, return to their parents in their villages for the winter. These villages are higher, 9000, or 10,000 feet, far more remote than Gulabgarh, and there is usually snow all winter long. Animals and people keep very close company, ie, in the same room, in an attempt to keep warm.

Mountain view from school yard
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Relative to these villages, Gulabgarh is a metropolis with creature comforts, and yet life is still primitive here. Bathing is a luxury I have not had for a number of days, and everyone else bathes very infrequently because it is such a chore to heat up the water on an open fire, Doing laundry is also a major production, and I have more or less worn the same dusty clothes since I arrived. I am hoping to wash out some clothes today, or have someone in the village do it. If I can wash them soon, perhaps they will have time to dry in the sun.

After a week, there is no longer any more bottled water to be found in the shops. There was only one place that had it, and they have now run out. I have some trepidation about using the crude filtering system that Tashi has in his house. Thus far I have managed to avoid any major stomach problems.

We are also running out of toilet paper, and Tashi went to see if he could buy more. It seems like there is none left in the whole town, and at least one person said to him, in Ladakhi, “What’s that?”

Perhaps on his return from Jammu, he can bring some. He intends to go soon to check on construction materials for his house.

Drinking, eating, and sitting around the smoky wood stove are really the only forms of entertainment. Most nights seem like a party, as everyone knows everyone, or is related, and they often drop by to talk and drink, at least the men, and I feel some pressure to keep up with them. Tashi was complaining about it to me, although he drinks as much as everyone else. He also mentioned the lack of privacy in the town. These are my words, not his, but he feels that there is pressure to see everyone and check in, especially if he has not seen them in a while. He said he thought that there was extra partying going on as a form of congratulations, because he has started building his new house in Jammu.

I frequently take short walks in the town, and I am very noticeable. Kids openly stare and others just obviously wonder who I am and what am I doing here.

Two gentlemen in local shops
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I may be only one of a handful of foreigners to come here. Two others than I know of, Alex and Mari, have also taught at the school because they know Tashi, but clearly there has not been an influx of tourists. Now that I have been here a little while, I feel incredible respect for Mari, who spent about a month here, longer than I will spend, and while she was here Tashi was absent for almost the entire time. And then she came back again for another month. This is not an easy place to be for anyone not used to doing without western conveniences, but for a woman alone without having anyone to talk to for a month, now that is impressive. Okay, she is 20 years younger than I am, but still....

Posted by jonshapiro 06:24 Archived in India Tagged landscapes mountains postcards living_abroad Comments (3)

Arrival in Gulabgarh, Paddar

Next day we left for Kisthwar at 6 AM in a share taxi, for the 10-12 hour ride. I had forgotten just how crazy the roads can be in the mountains, and it was in terrible shape in many places due to the almost constant rain over the last two months. There were landslides and boulders in many spots, and par for the course, our driver went far too fast and often passed on blind curves. We finally got to Kisthwar around 4, and decided to push on to Gulabgarh after stopping to eat. It was still another 2&1/2 hours in a different share taxi The road was in even worse shape, and after riding in the front for a while, I asked Tashi to switch places with me because I felt safer in the back. I kept thinking about his older brother dying on this same road ten years earlier.

Tashi told me that his relatives were descendants of Ghengis Khan, although I was never able to confirm this. I wondered how his people could have ended up in such a remote place, through such intimidating terrain, well over a hundred years ago. His village, Kabban is still more than 10K from the nearest road. The road to Gulabgarh was only built in the 90's, and Tashi said it took his father more than 20 days of hard up and down climbing to make it to Kisthwar to purchase salt and rice. I thought it might be interesting to try and tell his family's story, but this proved more difficult then I expected.

Eventually, and thankfully, just as it was getting dark, we made it to town in one piece.

Main street not far from Tashi's house
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Gulabgarh is where he now spends most of the summer months, having moved down from his original village 15 or 20 years ago. His boys, age 15 and 17, are in boarding school in Jammu, and his 8 year old daughter attends the Himalayan Culture School, where I will be teaching. Puti, his wife, had just reached Gulabgarh earlier that day from Jammu, where Tashi has started to build a winter home because it is much lower and warmer. In previous winters they have run a simple dry goods shop outside of Agra, along with Tashi’s sister. I never realized what a jack of all trades he has had to be in order to make ends meet.

His house in Gulabgarh is a modest affair, with four cement rooms, furnished with cushions on the floor and a few wooden cabinets and beds.

My messy room
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There is no hot water because the minimal amount of electricity will not support it, nor will it work the washing machine. When I arrived to the smoky rooms, Puti was brewing up coffee (well instant actually) on a kerosene stove in the middle of the floor. She doesn’t speak English, but having heard Ladakhi again for the first time in many years, I managed to say Julay, which means hello, how are you, similar to namaste in Hindi.

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His daughter Tsering, a tall girl at 8 years old, who I’m told does speak a bit of English, greeted me a big smile, cute as can be. She did not answer when I asked her name, however.

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The one 20 watt bulb was flickering constantly and barely threw any light. After a time we went over to Puti's sisters house. She had prepared a meal of momos and other things, and Tashi and I chatted away, as we imbibed the local hooch, a kind of wheat wine. There were several other relatives there, though it was very hard to see them in the dim, smoky light. They plied me with more food than I could eat, and kept refilling my glass with the wheat hooch. We discussed the school, along with the foundation that Tashi has helped to set up, Education Access. He wants to encourage more donations so that they can build a dorm and a kitchen. The school now has more than 200 kids, age 4-16, many of whom come from the surrounding mountain villages. He has dedicated himself to trying to keep his community together, while also trying to improve their lives.

In a somewhat drunken haze, I asked him if he felt caught between two worlds? Not an easy question to answer. In spite of the fact that some of his other nine siblings have more formal education, he has clearly been exposed to much more of the world than they. After a time he answered by saying, we are all really of one world, and that everyone should get their fair share from the politicians (ie, the government). A nice sentiment, but I didn’t feel he exactly answered my question.

Finally, exhausted from the days travel, we went back to his house, where I piled on about four heavy blankets to stay warm in the chilly night. The stray dogs barking half the night didn’t help with sleep.

The next day we went over to the school, where I met the teachers, the principal, and spent a few minutes in each class with the kids.

The main administration building is done in the Tibetan style, and in fact I was told the Dalai Lama was here a few years ago in order to bless the school.

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Although the school is run by a private foundation, Buddhist Heritage, of which Tashi is now the president, it receives most of its funding from the government. There is also another public school for non-buddhist kids up the road a piece, mostly Hindu and a few Muslims. Although Gulabgarh now has a significant number of Buddhists, overall they are a small minority in this part of Jammu, unlike in Ladakh, which is on the other side of the Himalaya Range. One of the classes that is required for all of the students here is Pali, taught by a monk. They are also taught Hindi and Urdu, as well as English. All classes are supposedly taught in English, but as I later found out, most of the kids can understand very little and can speak even less.

That evening, after an unsuccessful attempt to get a sim card which fit in my phone, we sat around Tashi’s mother’s room near a small wood stove on the floor, also used for cooking fried chicken, which we munched on. She is a small, but very energetic woman in her 80’s, who is caring for two of her young grandchildren while they attend the school.

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As usual, they served me first, and gave me the best pieces of meat as the honored guest.

It turned out to be quite a family reunion. Tashi’s younger brother was there from his village, in order to visit his two young son’s age 5 and 6, who were being looked after by grandma.

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There was also an aunt from Himachal Pradesh, near Manali, as well as the wife of Tashi’s older brother, the one who had died.

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Puti was there of course, and several other kids. Once again, much arak was consumed, which is what the wheat spirits are called. Everyone was busy talking away, until the aunt started singing in a high sing-song voice. I was told the song was about how nice it is for a family to get together, no matter how fleeting the time, because all of us are only here for a short while. A poignant carpe-diem message, if ever I heard one. Despite not understanding the language, and missing many of the jokes, of which there were many, I felt very welcomed and included.

I left around 10, although the party was in full swing. I managed to drown out the dogs that night with my white noise machine. Just enough electricity to do so. It was another chilly night, but once again the day dawned fair and clear.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:09 Archived in India Tagged people postcards living_abroad Comments (0)

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