Saturday, February 26, 2011
She explained that she had been very close to her grandfather who was a Tulku, a high lama. He died. And was reincarnated as this small round-faced, beatific Tulku standing among his friends on the steps of the temple at Gangtey Goempa.
"Have you spoken with him?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "Many times."
"What do you talk about?"
"Everything we talked about in his previous life."
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Every day my mother-in-law, Lhamo, sits on the bed or on the floor of her daughter’s house working her prayer beads. She holds them close to her heart, turning one bead then another, each bead a prayer. Her mouth puffing little bits of air, prayer, energy, chanting om mani padme hung.
Her life is about resting now, after a lifetime of cooking, feeding people and animals, washing, tending a kitchen garden, sweeping, churning butter, making cheese, raising children, chopping wood, praying, weeding, weaving, there was lots of work in the village, although her life was relatively easy. Namgay’s father was an astrologer, so his people weren't farmers.
Every so often she’ll rub her nose or wipe off some dust on her kira the way old people do. Her dress is a woven piece of fabric worn long and straight to the ankles. It wraps around her body and is held at the shoulders by two giant clips or coma, and cinched at the waist with a wide cloth belt, maybe 12 inches wide, in the style of Bhutanese ladies of her generation.
We were drinking tea together and I looked down and saw a tiny kitten poke its head from the big pocket made by the folded kira, called a hem chu, between her shoulders and her waist. Lhamo’s hem chu was bulging. She pulled the kitten out and put him down on top of two others sleeping beside her on the bed, making a furry kitten pile.
“You have so many things,” Chue lesha chala yeu, I said in Dzongkha and patted her front.
She smiled and shook her head. Her grandchildren tease her about all the things she carries, saying she can go anywhere in the world at any time because she’s always packed.
“What’s in there?” I said.
“Lesha chala” So many things,” she said. Pa pa pa. She kept chanting.
“Let’s see,” I said and pointed to my eyes and then to her hem chu, to make sure she got the message.
Shy but delighted to be showing me her treasures, she began fishing from between the folds of her kira. She pulled out a big kichu, or knife, maybe seven inches long, hand made, in a sheath covered in barking-deer skin. She made the knife cover herself, she said as I admired it.
Then came the beautiful wooden bowl that looked to be at least 100 years old, made to fit a cupped hand, smooth and polished, and glowing with years of use. There was an ever so tiny silver rim and a small delicate foot. I’d seen her pull it out of her kira many times, wipe it with the end of her jacket and put it on the floor in front of her. She’d sit cross-legged, like the rest of the family. A bangchu basket held her rice, the bowl her curry. She always carried it with a red cloth that she used to clean it when she was finished eating.
Next came a Tibetan purse of red and yellow felt, ancient and worn, with tiny pink and turquoise lotuses embroidered on it. Leather straps with turquoise beads at the end made a drawstring. It held her medicines from the traditional hospital, powders, pellets, roots, something that looked like dried seaweed—maybe 20 packets in all, remedies for the aches and pains of getting old. They were in zip lock bags I’d given her, purveyor of American culture that I am.
As she would pull out each treasure, she would first look at it and then hand it to me to inspect. Something spongy wrapped in tinfoil— the cake I brought her-- a couple of other unidentifiable food items, wrapped in a handkerchief. She saw the humor it, the absurdity of carrying so much stuff, like a woman with a big handbag.
Next she presented an old Raj Era tin that she opened to reveal many tiny watch pieces, faces, gears, springs, hands, tiny screws and numbered faces—all from different watches. She closed the tin and handed it to me and said something I didn't understand. It took me a moment to figure out what she wanted.
I was to take the container of watch parts and have someone in one of the repair shops in Thimphu put them together as a working watch.
“Of course,” I said, delighted at the absurdity. I nodded my head and otherwise made affirmative gesturing body language. I put it in my pocket.
She wanted a watch for her grandson who had finished first in his class in school. It’s easy to get things fixed in Thimphu. Could someone possibly make a watch out of this little tin of parts? Stranger things have happened. There is so much ingenuity here born out of necessity. But there’s no need to make a watch; I can buy a watch in one of the shops in town. She doesn’t have to know.
I help Lhamo collect all of her things and seal them up and she stuffs them back in her hem chu. One large, flat blue green turquoise bead has escaped. She picks it up and tries to put it in my hand. I refuse. We do this three times in the Bhutanese custom, the polite way to give and receive a gift. Then I take the bead.