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19 August 2009

Overwhelmed with India again.  But perhaps this time I have realized that it isn’t India I love, but the haven of my Tibetan community here.  It’s almost unthinkable that halfway around the world I have a place—I can walk down the street and see familiar faces, mouths that light up into smiles, who recognize me, reach out a hand to wave, to embrace.  Even after two or three days of unpredictably stressful travel—so much that I am shaking in my skin—I still feel as if I have returned to a home.

I am not used to traveling alone.  The journey is never as expected, and I know this well, but the stress of the past two days was almost unbearable.  No way to get to the Tibetan quarter, $120 hotel room that should have only been $10, a taxi strike the next day, no buses to Dharamsala available until the 22nd, two days before I leave India altogether.  So commenced a $200 and 14 hour long taxi ride, at the mercy of my male taxi driver, burdened by ten months of luggage…”I am a woman… I am alone…I should not be doing this…”

Notes from Delhi: Sitting in traffic—the honking, the no-line driving system, the chaos—Children who were barely taller than my mid thigh had to cross the street.  They put their hands up high and glared at the oncoming stampede of the craziest drivers in the world, and they halted that madness, made it stop for them with the presence of royalty.  I realized, in that small moment, that even though I had about 15 years on them, they were older, wiser, more savvy than my years could claim.  For there I was, shaking with frustration and fear in the back of a car. Afraid of my loneliness, my self-made decisions, my terrifying ability to choose a wild path…

When I arrived in Dharamsala, a place that had become a series of strange, distant dreams for just over a year: The look on my “Amala’s” face when I knocked on her door at 2 in the morning could inspire even the most anxious person to feel relief. She asked me how my mother was in America.  She asked me where my friends were staying.  When I replied that I’d come alone, she said, “Oh! Chahlee is so strong!”  I lay awake for much of that night questioning whether it was strength or insanity that got me to her house.  I took a sleeping pill to forget the past 48 hours—decided I should call a therapist in the morning.

But then I awoke to the sun rising over that grand Himalayan foothill, the prayer flags swaying across the way with the tall pines.  And Amala already had hot water boiling for my shower (rather a bucket bath), and momos (dumplings) frying for my breakfast. I forgot the morning sounds here—the sweep of a broom, the soft voices in tones and syllables I am familiar with, but don’t understand.  The small river, nourished by the recent monsoon flowing between the crows’ caws and the flapping of prayer flags.  And of course the cows, and the shuffle of slippers (flip flops) on the concrete. I began to ease back into the three-month-long life I once had here.  I began to relax.  My mind caught up with my physical presence in this home away from home.

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