Location: Dharamsala

I woke up at 7:00, which is the latest I’ve woken up so far this trip, and got ready for the day. I remembered that it was my birthday and I was excited to spend it here in Dharamshala. We started up the stairs at 8:30 with laundry bags in tow while avoiding the multiple slugs that came out to greet us on this rainy morning. After our usual breakfast at Common Ground Cafe, we met up with our learning partners and Valentin, and I decided to go to a nearby cafe to study with our partners because the rain was still pretty heavy. At the cafe of Shangri-La Hotel, I worked with my learning partner, Lobsang, on more vocabulary, reading stories and poems out loud, and writing answers to questions I gave him. We also talked a surprising amount about American politics. Due to the questions I was asking him, he talked a lot about his work, painting thangkas, traditional Tibetan paintings depicting Buddhist deities, and his plans for returning to Tibet, which was long-term and incredibly planned out.

After studying with Lobsang, the group went to an Indian restaurant where we all shared different foods. We then went to the laundromat to drop off our bags of laundry. It was there that I found out that we might be able to hear from the first openly transgender individual in Tibet’s exile community.

At the Tibetan Children’s Village, we got into small groups and held conversations with the children in Grade 4 until they decided it was time to play. Even though they can be exhausting at times, they are fun to be around, and I usually learn a lot from them. After practicing and playing with the kids, we went across the street to Lha Charitable Trust in which we volunteered to be a “teacher” for conversation class. I had three Tibetans in my small group today, two from Kham and one from Amdo. I was taken aback by their kindness during the conversations we had and the eagerness and gratefulness they showed to me.

We then had free time on the streets of Dharamshala, where Caroline bought me a mala, prayer beads, as a small birthday present. Soon we had to go to dinner, which was at a small Italian place with a beautiful terrace overlooking the mountains and valley. There we met Patrick’s longtime friend Thinlay Gyatso, a Tibetan translator who created a project where he collected stories from Tibet’s refugees.

The speaker was interesting and talked about his escape and his experiences traveling back to his hometown and Lhasa. The food was incredible, but the night was not over yet. As the sky darkened, Valentin came onto the terrace carrying a cake with several small lit candles and a single #1 candle (because apparently, some kid ran off with the #7 candle). I blew out the candles and made sure everybody got a piece of cake. When I thought this was already the perfect birthday, Rose and I were given our phones back to play music on the restaurant’s speakers, and so our group got to dance to a variety of American songs that we have missed in our time in India. As I queued up my music, I received many texts from friends and family members wishing me a happy birthday. In the middle of our dance party, an Indian man asked if I wanted some “Punjabi tunes” and I happily obliged. His family got up and started dancing as well. After the man and his family left we played our music again, not caring if the other restaurant patrons were judging us. It ended up being one of the best birthdays ever. Thank you to everyone for making it such a great one.