Thursday, May 22, 2008

"No momo" no mo

My long weeks of trying to get momos from Indian restaurants are over.

I have arrived in Dharamsala, what feels like yesterday but was really at 5am this morning. On the long overnight bus ride from Rishikesh (via Dehra Dun), I met a lovely girl from Austria and an absolutely radiant man who was returning to his adoptive home - he fled Tibet 12 years ago.

I was expecting a heavy Tibetan presence, but this is even more than I was expecting. I've barely seen any Indians since arriving here... the population seems to be almost entirely Tibetans (many via Ladakh), mingling with just hordes and hordes of foreigners, some of whom don't seem to feel like visitors here anymore. The expat community is pretty stable, as far as I can tell.

What's nice here is everything. The people here are by far the warmest of anywhere in India I've been. This morning, waiting in the square for our hotel to open, we bought Tibetan bread and chai from a street stall - and then were offered more, home-made, by a quiet girl in the crimson robes who'd been in a taxi with us, and whom we'd thought couldn't speak English. At 6am I was put into a bare but warm single room with an entirely unblocked view of the Dharamsala valley. I finished Ondaatje's "Running in the Family" with the windows open, smelling the morning fog and waiting for the restaurants to open. At 7 I was wandering the streets, mothers tugging their children along beside me, humanity piled on top of itself despite the stillness. Book shops, chai stalls, long narrow stores full of warm clothes, cafes putting out cakes and sweets I didn't recognize. The smell of real coffee. The valley right there. My mind gone quiet and no pictures popping up of personal car wrecks. A cautious, rich peace resounding around the cavern hollowed out by years of anger and loss.

I think it's too bold a comparison to say that I see a similar peace in many of the people here. Anyway, I haven't felt that fine in a long time.

Breakfast of tsampa porridge with banana and honey (okay, so I wish E. were here) and coffee. The restaurant had a copy of the official journal of the Tibetan government in exile. They are keeping a detailed and, I imagine, invaluable history of their unfolding conflicts; there were 25 pages of newsbrief-short reports of monks being arrested, peaceful protests broken up with big guns, spiritual leaders of communities being subjected to "patriotic re-education," which consists mostly of swearing oaths to China at gunpoint. NGOs informed that their communications with all bodies outside China were being monitored, and that any complaints - anything, actually, other than reassuring the world outside that all is fine, yes, the protests are dying down, thank god, the Chinese are handling it wonderfully - will become the subject of immense legal trouble. I bristled, and remembered an article I read in The Economist a few days ago: China making mining deals with the Congo, its own unprecedented growth, its search for resources sending it everywhere. It now consumes a third of all the world's steel. What are these people going to do?

Bittersweet, being here, but I feel at home. I need to learn how to stare directly at conflicts that seem impossible to win. We all do.

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