Snow Spotted Mountains and Himalayan Goodbyes

Summer 2007, Himalayas, India

The last day’s class had nothing to do with lessons. It was my turn to learn from them. They were fluent in unconditional love. Not wanting me to see her cry, Sonum Dolma smiled up at me and pushed her face into the crux of my arm. With so many women in their lives, I was grateful to be called their sister, “Ajee Kristance.” If nothing else, I was thankful for their unabashed kindness.

Panpa Lamo dancing

Panpa Lamo dancing and laughing.

Panpa Lamo hid behind her balloon and I could see her eyes welling up. As soon as she noticed my gaze she faced away into the corner and wrapped herself deep into her dark red robe. I watch her wither in the bend of the wall and felt my own eyes mirror hers. I was worried about Panpa, normally she’s the class clown, the one girl I could count on to make me laugh. She was having as hard a time with us leaving as I was. It was our last day, and the realization was hitting us all.

Holding a reflection of Panpa in my eyes, I turned to watch Tanzin Faldon and Tanzin Kaldon release their balloons into the air. They were always together, both a little shy but sweet. They ran over to where I sat on the wooden bench and bounced the balloons towards me. I laughed through misted eyes and saw a blur of blue and orange. I grabbed a blurred balloon and tied a string to it. The Tanzins squealed with delight and rushed off to play.

Girls with balloons

Successfully tying a balloon is not easy!

Little Sonum Petit slowly approached me. She’s called Little because she is so young and there is an older girl with the same name. “Ka la ta ta rah,” she whispered and gave me a hug. “I love you too,” I whispered back. Not yet a nun, she wore a tunic and her head was covered with an off-white cloth. She reached her hand up to pick at the scab under her nose, Tandup quickly stopped her and reapplies a healing white cream to the area. Tandup was Panpa’s other half. Only three years younger than Panpa, thirteen-year-old Tandup was constantly making everyone squeal with delight, entertaining us with silly voices and crazy antics. Her and Panpa made a hilarious duo.

Young nun sitting with girl.

Tandup reapplying Little Sonum Petit’s cream.

Suddenly, Sonum Dolma is snuggled under my arm. Only eleven, she was nearing her time to become a nun. Like Chetan Dolma, she learned quickly. Over a month before, I was sitting on the steps outside the kitchen, reading a novel, when Sonum’s brilliance came to light. She leaned over my shoulder to look at my book and I let her hold it. She began to read it aloud, pronouncing even the most difficult English words. After that, even though she went to school in the village, she joined our classes on her days off. I’d be starting the long journey to my familiar home tomorrow.

Last day fun with balloons

Playing with balloons on our last day.

The next morning, surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs and snow spotted Himalayan peaks, the nuns chanted outside the monastery. Their faithful voices reverberated through the valley. I slid out of my sleeping bag, cracking my back after another sleepless night on an uneven wooden board. I balanced myself on the raised broken slab, two boards really, one overlapping the other. My legs cooled against the metal bed frame. Foot by foot, I wiggled into dust stained blue and black sandals. I quietly unlatched the wood slat door and ducked to fit under the clay opening. I ran a hand through my hair to shake out any whitewash crumbles I may have brushed against on my out of the cave.

Standing on the small hill above the nunnery, I looked down and saw deep red robes crouched around the yard. The red bundles emitted powerful prayers that urged the sun to rise from behind the mountains. It rose into view of the dome where the village quietly breathed. It was strange up there, I kicked a rock off the cliff and watched it tumble, stopping a few feet short of the road. The dust took its time settling back into place. It never rained around there, I’d only seen one rainfall. I missed home.

View of nunnery

View of the nunnery in low light from the cave.

To someone in the future reading this: did you ever think of me as more, as strange, as however this journal remembers me? Did I break down ideas? Shatter a pedestal? Can I help you know that all people are just people? Can I help you appreciate the flaws? Understand the idiosyncrasies? Maybe even love the horrible? If you don’t love those who are terrible, who will?

Don’t give away your soul for it, your heart, but give away the never ending stream of kindness that is possible to emit.  I know because I’ve seen it, right now I see it.  No, not your now, but my now, my summer of 2007, my 20th year of life.  Yes I was 20, don’t you believe it?  It’s probably still happening somewhere in the universe, swallowed into the stream of all time.

Teacher and student

That red dot is a massive zit, not me appropriating Hindu culture.

I can only imagine who is trying to read my thoughts, trying to decipher my misspellings and horribly messy handwriting.  I don’t know who, if anyone, will ever read this, I don’t know if you will be shocked, relieved, disgusted or anything when you read the way I recorded my history, when you read my journal.  Do I have any wisdom to offer?

Green grass and brilliant blue sky

Footpath between Village Pangmo and the monastery.

“A storm is coming,” Chetan Dolma, the brilliant fifteen-year-old nun who spoke English beautifully, touched her hand to her head and lifted it towards the sky. I’d been teaching English to the Tibetan Buddhist Nuns all summer, Dolma and I had grown close.

“A storm is coming,” she repeated. “A dragon is walking and when it’s legs release the thunder it will start to rain.”

Even without the dragon’s rain, the fields stayed green. The Himalayas were always releasing snow and pouring it down the mountainsides, keeping the stream behind the nunnery filled with fresh water.

There was something different about the wind up there, the thunder, the lightning. Golden Blue Tārā gazed down from the spaces in the clouds and watched over the devoutly Buddhist valley. The storm was not particularly anything. It wasn’t so loud or so bright or so strong. Being that close to the heavens I knew that Dolma must be right. Just a gentle stroke in the sky, the lightning reverberated into an eerie rustling in the air. I was forever changed, I smiled at Dolma’s god and settled back into my new familiar.

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  1. Rose L on August 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Good byes are difficult

  2. mplanck on August 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Kristance, that is such a beautiful recounting of your experience in the mountains of Tibet. Such vivid and tender portraits of the nuns you taught and grew to love. I love reading your blogs.

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