Five Cats, 22 Orphans and 24 Nuns

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August 19th 2006
Published: August 19th 2006
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Grandmother's BabiesGrandmother's BabiesGrandmother's Babies

A stray cat that I'm now the parent of, and her four kittens, about 4 days old.
FINALLY - pictures have been added to this entry!

Also, for a complete photo gallery of the girls' school, visit: Gallery

These days, my studies are slow. I have no official teacher at the moment, so I'm feeling frustrated and a bit downtrodden. My conversational progress seems to have halted and I'm not sure how to advance to the next level, especially without a teacher. I spend a fair amount of time in the presence of Tibetans so I have lots of language exposure, but I can't seem to make some very necessary jump to really understanding language at its regular speaking pace. Some days I wonder if I'm just wasting my time, but I imagine this must be a natural part of the learning process, so I'm sitting tight and waiting for the next thing to manifest.

Much to my surprise, I'm now a mother! About two weeks ago a beautiful calico cat snuck into my friend's kitchen and gave birth to four adorable kittens. Since most people here are afraid of cats, I took them all to my house where they now live, happily cuddled up in my down sleeping bag. Once they are weaned,
New Clothes and Happy FacesNew Clothes and Happy FacesNew Clothes and Happy Faces

Here are Dockpo, Chenyin Tso the school principal, and I, posed with the girls on the day of their first bath and donning of their new clothes.
I will have to find another place for them to live, but for the moment, it is nice to have five furry little bodies around. It's hard to figure out what to do with the mother, however. She is very sweet, but requires a lot of care - there are no pet stores or pet food here so I'm constantly cooking up fish soups and beef soups for her to eat. And since she's a nursing mother, she's always starving, following me around, meowing loudly for more food. Really, I think she eats five meals a day.

I'm starting to do some work with my friend Dockpo, who I wrote about in a previous blog. Dockpo's primary interest is to further education for Tibetan girls - and over the last few weeks he has driven all over Amdo to rescue orphan girls from bad living situations. On one trip, he piled 10 girls into his car and drove them over 18 hours to his home, where he has dorm rooms set up for them. Every one of the girls was carsick during the trip - a royal mess! Now, he has 22 girls, aged 6-13, and he is raising
Nuns ChantingNuns ChantingNuns Chanting

Part of the group of nuns who attended the three-day festival.
the funds to feed, clothe and school them. I'm helping with some of the details - shopping and finding supplies for the new daughters, hoping to raise some money for their care, designing a website, and assisting in the long-term planning. The girls just started school this week - all marching together on their first day behind their new father - each of them newly bathed and dressed in matching red tracksuits, carrying a backpack filled with pencils and notebooks. It was an amazing sight - 22 happy, clean faces embarking on a new life of opportunity.

Surely, the road will not always be easy. Many of the girls came from truly horrible environments - parents who sold them, gave them away, or just neglected them. Dockpo had to purchase some of the girls from their "owners" - people who bought them to use for different purposes. A few of the girls, according to my Western perception, seem to have the emotional scarring of having suffered different kinds of abuse. There will be hard times, without a doubt, as these girls grow into their new lives and safe, loving environment. Dockpo is a wonderful father to them - affectionate,
Behind the ScenesBehind the ScenesBehind the Scenes

Dockpo and three of his relatives who helped to run the prayer festival, including making butter lamp offerings all day, every day.
wanting to provide them with the best care and supplies possible. Currently, his mom is the cook for all of them - a huge job - but once funds are raised, a full-time cook will be hired, as well as a person who will look after some of the girls daily needs - bathing, bedtime, laundry, etc. Hopefully before long there will be funds to build bathrooms, showers, and a real kitchen. Everything is extremely rustic right now - truly Third World conditions. If any of you would like to make a donation to this project, please let me know. Funds can easily be put in my bank account in Michigan, and I personally will do the shopping for whatever you'd like to supply. Winter is swiftly approaching, and the girls will need warm winter clothing, so that is a pretty major priority now too.

Another wonderful event I helped with this week was to host a prayer festival for nuns. It's traditional for Tibetan families to invite monks into their homes each year - supplying offerings, food and accommodations while the monks chant prayers of blessing for several days at a time. Dockpo has long since had the
Young DakiniYoung DakiniYoung Dakini

Taking a break from prayers, the young dakini spending some time with the kittens.
idea to do the the same thing - but instead, he wanted a festival with only nuns. To my knowledge, this has never happened in Tibet before. Fortunately, with the help of a very generous sponsor, we were able to host a three-day festival at his home this week. There was a fair amount of resistance to the idea. Nuns are not viewed as real practitioners here - they are trained to be extremely submissive, and in Dockpo's words, most people just view them as beggars. Many heard of the festival and thought it was a bad omen - a house full of nuns - perhaps it was a sign of the dharma's decline. It was hard to find nuns who were willing to come - most of them were too embarrassed, or felt too poorly about themselves to feel capable of participating. Finally, we managed to get 24 of them - bringing them from nunneries all over Amdo.

When they first arrived, many of the nuns were afraid to even enter Dockpo's home. They would not make eye-contact with any of us; they would not drink the tea offered to them, or eat the food they were given.
Many Tibetan Women TogetherMany Tibetan Women TogetherMany Tibetan Women Together

Then nuns and girls, grouped together on the first day of the festival.
Dockpo's brother and several other monk relatives were there to help with the event, and the nuns were much too shy to even speak to them at all. I became the liaison between the two worlds, helping with the logistics, and doing my best to make them feel welcome and comfortable. After the first day, they relaxed quite a bit - there was lots of laughter and I think a fun time was had by all. During their practice sessions, they filled the house with beautiful, haunting tunes of blessing. Sometimes I chanted with them, or just sat with them, enjoying and absorbing the uniqueness of the moment - a time for female practitioners east and west to come together and pray. Dockpo and I plan to publish an online magazine, highlighting the event and bringing attention to this kind of work. Next year, we are hoping for 50-100 nuns, an event of much greater scale.

Of course, my kitten family had to come along too. There was a nerve-wracking 24-hour period when the mother disappeared, so in between managing details, practicing, and everything else - I was hand feeding four 10-day old kittens every two hours. The kitties

Here I am with Odsel Drolma, the wife of one of the Lamas who helped run the festival. She worked each day to serve the girls and nuns.
were a wonderful addition to the festival - orphan girls and nuns cuddling and playing with them in their free moments.

Having so many underprivileged girls and women together was moving in a way that is beyond words. On the first day, the little girls were ceremonially given their new clothes and belongings - combs, long underwear, toothbrushes, sneakers, and a pretty hair tie for each. One by one, they were called forward and given their gifts. With smiling, excited faces, each waited her turn with hushed anticipation. Meanwhile, the nuns were on a break and they watched the gift giving. All of us were so touched; it was as if the air was infused with kindness and generosity and appreciation for the female spirit. There are few things I can remember in my life as moving as that moment.

So there we were - 24 nuns, 22 orphan girls, five cats and a support team of about 15 - all living and practicing together in one house for three days. It sounds insane - especially when you consider there is no bathroom, no real kitchen, no electricity in much of the house - but the whole thing

At the end of the festival, each nun received a silk offering scarf.
went quite smoothly. I was heartbroken when it came time for the festival to end. Each nun was presented with a katag - a ceremonial offering scarf - and a monetary offering. Each was invited back for next year's festival and encouraged to bring as many other nuns as they could.

As we drove away, en route to my Dawu home, the entire gathering surrounded our car to see us off. We were truly exhausted, dirty, cold and damp from the rain, but held in an incredibly warm sense of love. We headed out the driveway, past the baby goats and dilapidated sheds. I laid my head back with a heavy, satisfied sigh as my eyes brimmed with tears of joy.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


New OpportunitiesNew Opportunities
New Opportunities

With new opportunities come new smiles, the most gratifying part of doing this kind of work.
The Youngest OrphanThe Youngest Orphan
The Youngest Orphan

Dockpo's sister Shangbo with the youngest girl, Yangkar Kyid, just one-year old.

19th August 2006

Long time no pecan bun
Hi Wangmo, This is amazing, heartbreaking and disturbing! I'd be happy to donate some money for these girls and women. What a wonderful opportunity to really help some people. Should I put the money in your Paypal account or is there another way?I recenty discovered that Paypal takes a large percentage. Also, can I forward this link to some other people. There is always a chance that someone else will feel compelled to donate some money. You seem very critical of yourself but it sounds like your doing great. Love, Rachel
21st August 2006

Amazed, again
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful experience with us. Chris and I miss you terribly in Ann Arbor, but are awed and humbled by the important and amazing work you're doing in Tibet. We would also like to help with your friend's incredible project. Let us know the best way to handle donations. Lots of love, Julia.
1st May 2007

Thank you
Hi Wangmo, I was searching the web for some info about Tibet and Kusum Lingpa and came across your journal. I can't stop reading about it, even though I'm at work. Such a wonderful work that you've done! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. The pictures are so beautiful too! Best of wishes, Stephanie

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