roof of the world

“Silence is an answer too.”

We came back to Nepal with the sole purpose of spending a month back at the Kopan Monastery in a retreat known as the November Course. We arrived on the last night of Diwali and could see the city lit up from the dark sky. This was unusual in part due to routine electric outages and the fuel crisis which were pervading and further depressing the country. Add this to the devastation from the earthquake and you have a disaster. So it was surprising but lovely to see that Nepalis were still able to find a way to celebrate.


Arriving back in Nepal felt like a breath of fresh air. If you’ve ever been to Kathmandu, this is a funny statement because the air is thick with pollution. You can never escape the veil of dust and fumes. But immediately, I’m struck by how soft people talk and their calm and (no it’s not everyone) how peaceful people seem in their lives of faith and purpose and devotion. I felt self-conscious and brash and loud and over-anxious. I felt a little lost. When we were last here we’d been traveling for over a year and I had settled into a routine of living a simple life and I suppose a calm. What a juxtaposition – I hadn’t realized how much of that feeling I’d lost.


With one day before our class we walked around Boudha and gathered supplies and warm clothes to get us thru the month in the cooler climate and early mornings. That night as I was sharing a beer with Ez is occurred to me that maybe I should take a pregnancy test. We had just started trying and I assumed it would take some time, but little pieces of the last few weeks starting clicking in to place. The extra emotions, the tiredness, the nausea I felt at the fish market in Dubai. In a sort of disbelief I went into the bathroom, took the test and walked out with what looked like a positive result. But it wasn’t totally clear. The next morning I took it again with the same result, but this time feeling it was positive.


When we planned this recent trip we had discussed volunteering and trying to get pregnant before going to the monastery. I felt like we called this into being by simply speaking the wish aloud and in our hearts. It felt surreal and like an omen that the beginning of this new little life would be in the surrounds of such a peaceful setting. I had new inspiration to work on my myself – to align my mind with my heart and prepare for what changes lay ahead.


Our time at the monastery was deeply personal and I don’t wish to belittle it with quips or stories or try to make it or myself sound more grand and spiritual that it was. It was a month of tough work, reflection, boredom, tiredness and overall beauty. I took refuge at Kopan in every sense of the word. And I felt grateful for having my life intersect with so many new intentional people.


We often say this baby must have good karma to have been conceived in Malawi while we were doing work we loved and found meaningful. Then being in the presence and energy of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings. I feel so grateful that my baby spent some of it’s first weeks in such a powerful spiritual place. As LZR (what Ez and I call him for short) would say “wow wow wow wow, amazing amazing amazing.” Or something to that effect anyway.


A month passed quickly and as we said our goodbyes there was a sadness but also excitement as we headed to a clinic to finally confirm the pregnancy. When the results came back I cried, and I felt a closeness to Ezra as we hugged for what was one of the first times this past month. We were adjusting back to a life outside a monastery, reconnecting with each other and now connecting with this little being growing inside my belly.


We spent our last few days in Kathmandu with our dear friend Bill. We met him in the Philippines and now spent time with him here walking around and catching up on life and trying not to get run over or run down by all the traffic. And then we readied ourselves to go back home. The next step unknown.


the land of snow

“There is a Tibetan saying: ”The more you travel, the more you see and hear.’ At a time when many people are not clear about what is actually happening in Tibet, I am very keen to encourage whoever has the interest to go there and see for themselves. Their presence will not only instill a sense of reassurance in the Tibetan people, but will also exercise a restraining influence on the Chinese authorities. What’s more, I am confident that once they return home they will be able to report openly on what they have seen and heard.” -H.H. Dalai Lama

Auspiciously on March 10th we booked our tour to Tibet.  This happened to be the anniversary of the 1959 uprising.  We saw a marked difference that day in Nepal with extra police force in the streets armed with riot gear.  It was a bit unnerving. We wouldn’t actually leave for Tibet for over a month but it was a warning of what was to come. DSC05661 - CopyIMG_6165 - CopyDSC05723 - CopyDSC05707 - Copy We started our journey to Everest Base camp by driving through lunar-like landscape in the world’s highest plateau.  I grew up hearing stories about climbing Everest and it was a bit surreal standing there and trying to absorb her greatness.  After our time trekking in Nepal I have a greater appreciation for this massive undertaking, if only understanding what challenges the altitude and cold must present.  I happened to be reading Into Thin Air (I know I’m about two decades late jumping on that bandwagon) and couldn’t help but imagine all the triumphs and tragedy. Only days earlier 16 sherpas were killed in an avalanche as they were readying the high camps.  It definitely has a certain magnetism for the adventurous and crazy alike.  DSC05884 - CopyDSC05886 - Copy DSC05903 - CopyDSC05910 - CopyDSC05939 - CopyWe’ve all heard about the conflict between Tibet and China, if only seeing the Free Tibet stickers.  So we did not decide to visit lightly and gave considerable thought before going. We heard that Tibetans were having an especially tough time at the moment and the reality of this trip was quite shocking.  Monks were protesting the only way they could, by lighting themselves on fire.  This was controlled by punishing the already empty monasteries and their families.  As a tourist you felt the tension and you saw fire extinguishers everywhere.  Our permits were checked multiple times a day at checkpoints, and we’d have to wait outside town for our designated time to enter the city.  We were also on a tour, something we’ve never done before, and our only access to visit this fine country.  Our guide Bai Dom gave little information and occasionally away from cameras and microphones (the car was even bugged) she gave us little tidbits of information about the Dalai Lama and the difficulties they endure, such as not being issued passports. (She dreamed of going to India or Nepal.) Not wanting to get her in trouble we didn’t ask our questions and resigned ourselves to our fate.  We didn’t want her to be “finished” as she eloquently put it. I tried to use these weeks as an opportunity to experience what it must feel like (which I can’t begin to imagine) losing your freedom of speech and all those “rights” us Westerners hold so dearly and so righteously.

DSC05956 - CopyDSC06006 - CopyDSC05983 - CopyDSC06040 - CopyDSC06112 - CopyDSC06113 - CopyDSC06161 - CopyDSC06234 - Copy All that being said, we were still struck not only by the beauty of the landscape on the “roof of the world” but there was still the hum of a strong spirit and perseverance.  The monasteries may be mostly empty but the dharma remains strong in the country.  You see it on the street in the form of hundreds of pilgrims circumambulating the monasteries and twirling prayer wheels.  Prayer beads are more often found in hand than a wallet or purse.  These people are devout and humble and compassionate.

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While our interactions were severely inhibited by the government, every experience we had was so positive with the Tibetans we met (whether in Nepal or Tibet).  A new friend Tsering gave us good luck amulets as we set out on our journey, which we wore every day. This exemplifies the kindness of character we encountered. This also gave me great ammunition for teasing, as Ezra started wearing four amulets at once. Did he need so much protection? But then he started pointing out my clothes were from a “free box” and my “wife beater” was pilling. Was I really one to talk about being stylish? Touché.

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DSC07202 - CopyBai Dom explained that to make a Buddha statue holy you must take it to a monastery to be blessed and filled with holy objects.  We bought a statue and she took us back to the Jokhang (the most important pilgrimage site in Tibet) where the monks agreed to fit us in.  Sometimes the wait is weeks. They seemed amused and walked by watching and smiling as we prepared our Buddha by beating out all the plaster inside. The next day we returned to collect our “true Buddha,” blessed and now our daily reminder to work towards being more compassionate.  I carried him off in proud arms – aware that my pride is something to work on.

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This was a difficult trip for a number of reasons.  We did not go thinking it would have the same spiritual heart as years past, but I was troubled at times as to whether we should have gone at all. I feel it would be disingenuous to say it was awe-inspiring without mentioning the turmoil, as it would also be untrue to say it was all negative without pointing to the beauty. As Ezra put it, “there was such a pervasive dichotomy between spirit and oppression, hope and sadness, faith and sterility, storied culture and cultural revolution.  In spite of myself a strong sense of melancholy and sardonicism pervaded the trip for me, as we saw (and read between the lines) the oppression the Tibetans have experienced and continue to experience. It may sound hackneyed, but freedom in all its forms is something you take for granted until you visit a place like this. Maybe Tibetans are blessed to have such strong faith in a religion that teaches non-violence, believes right and wrong actions don’t go unnoticed, and feels that this life is ultimately only a stepping stone to the next.” DSC07693 - CopyDSC07731 - CopyDSC07739 - CopyDSC07916 - CopyDSC07936 - Copy 7758_10152931763820284_940766489_nDSC07781 - Copy