Our first full day in Dharamsala began at the Lha Charitable Trust in McLeod Ganj. As James called each of us up to meet our mutual-learning partners, everyone was giddy with anticipation. My partner and I learned a lot about each other as she led me up to a gorgeous waterfall in the mountains. I learned that she had only escaped the oppression of Tibet a couple years ago. It was a long journey; she constantly worried about the possibility of getting caught by the Chinese. Over the past few days I have heard many awful stories from the refugees, but actually hearing it directly from this new friend who has had recent first-hand experience was a much more jarring awakening to the situation. She talked about how when she was in Tibet, she wasn’t fully aware of all that was going on, as much of the Tibetan news was carefully filtered by the Chinese government. She hopes to improve her English fluency and join her older brother in New York. There, she’d like to share her story with others, as well as help spread meaningful Buddhist teachings. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to get an American passport in order to finally return to a hopefully more peaceful Tibet.
Eventually, we headed back into town and sat down at a cafe. I asked her what she wanted to work on in terms of her English studies and she happily whipped out a book written by the Dalai Lama. She flipped to her bookmark and started reading aloud. As we went along, we paused to work on the pronunciation of difficult words and she would often stop me and ask for a definition. It was frustrating when I couldn’t think of a straightforward synonym, when the words she wanted to learn were completely abstract concepts, and when the language barrier seemed insurmountable. However, once I began to get a hang of things and was able to give an explanation that clicked, seeing the look of sudden realization and excitement on her face was incredible! Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to our partners for the day and head over to Men-Tsee-Khang. We all sat in a circle and introduced ourselves to the group of astrology and medical students. We heard more stories from people about their journey over to India, as well as from those that have lived here their entire lives. We wanted to hear all the amazing things they had to say and they were also very curious about our lives back home. The games we played together to get to know one another and give them a chance to practice their English were loads of fun. By the end, everyone was cracking up and feeling much more comfortable. Once we had finished up our volunteer work for the day, we headed out for dinner and team building. It was a great first day of work and an exciting taste of what’s to come in these next two weeks.