Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Firing up the publicity machine...

While Jenna and Jane prepare for their big night at the US Embassy in Kathmandu, Tom sat down with Bruce Bryan of 101.5FM in Roanoke to talk about the film and the premiere. You can listen live Sunday Morning, August 1 at 8.am. or listen live or after the fact at the station's website:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Pleasure, please: An Ambassador's Invitation, from Jane, July 29

Today Jenna and I picked up four invitations, for Jenna, Amchi Tsampa, his daughter Lhakpa Dhoma, and me. We must R.S.V.P. by phone as well as present the invitations at the security gate. Each invitation is individually printed, and embossed with a golden great seal of the United States of America. The text of mine reads:

The Ambassador of the United States of America
and Mrs. Scott H. DeLisi
request the pleasure of the company of
Ms. Jane Vance
at the screening of "A Gift for the Village" with the Amchi Lama
followed by Buffet Dinner
on Saturday, July 31, 2010
at six-thirty o'clock p.m.

Included in each envelope is also a nice synopsis of our project and an introduction to the film.

Dress, praise the gods for my sake, is casual. Jenna has bought a beautiful salwar khameez--a long, flowing top and Arabian pants--in hot terracotta shades, so she will look ravishing, whereas my beauty will reside (where else?) in my necklaces.

I am so proud of my team, that this film now creates an evening event for an American Ambassador and his guests. How exciting.

I am so grateful to be part of a collaboration based on gifts. The heart of our film, in my mind, happens when Jenna speaks, near the end: "The gift happened long before the festival." She talks about reciprocation, and the synchronicity and confluence of so much generosity when two cultures really come together to share an experience.

We can't wait to bring the film to American audiences as well, once we are home. Jane

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

E-mail from a Prince, from Jane, July 28

Today we have a wonderful e-mail from Jigme Bista, the Prince of Lo, in western Nepal. It is proper to say "former" Prince when you are here in Kathmandu, but out in Upper Mustang, that disentitlement is never spoken. Nepal's governmental structure is in flux, but the twenty-five generations of royalty in Upper Mustang is hundreds of years older than the current feuds, and Prince Jigme is so elegant and articulate and compassionate that I will always remember him simply as the Prince. Here is his e-mail:

Dear Jane,

A big congratulation to you on your documentary film!

Although we, the people of Lo (Mustang), don't know much
about modern art, you've touched our hearts and minds with your art and
inspired us. The various colors that you used in the painting and the amount of
detail you paid attention to is remarkable. I hope there will be aspiring artists in Mustang in the years to come.

I say this with immense gratitude that you have in a way contributed
in conserving our culture and traditions. I'm certain many will watch it with
great interest and enthusiasm.

I wish you luck and happiness.

Best regards,

Jigme S. P. Bista.

(Former Prince of Mustang)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ashes and Names: July 27, from Jane again

I can't help but notice that this is our 108th blog post. Buddhist malas (prayer necklaces, like Catholic rosaries) have 108 beads. A very lucky number.

Today, our chivalrous, handsome, selfless guide for the extreme Upper Mustang trek, Narayan Bhatta, wrote me a very sweet e-mail in response to a request he made early on our last morning in Jomsom, when he told me that he had just learned he had a new son--born in the wee hours of July 23rd. He requested that I give his son one name--which will stay with him, and be joined by a Nepali name, once the priests decide which name is right--in about five months.

I wrote Narayan with my suggestion, and tonight, I got this response:
Dear Jane mom
Thank you so much for your kind mail, i feel so good mom, and glad to have a son name, thank you so much for lovely name, from now he's name is Emerson Bhatta.
This news marks one of the sweetest parts yet of our bridge now between America and Nepal. Emerson Bhatta, like my own son Emerson, is family.

My friend in Blacksburg, Alwyn Moss, has written about the importance of naming, and Narayan's sweet e-mail has got me thinking tonight about this idea, about names, and giving a name, and naming what you give.

If you do not give something a name, you may not see it.

If you never see it, you may not believe there is anything there to take care of.

If you have no obligations toward it, you have no need to give.

And, as the proverb from the poorest slums of Calcutta, India, teaches (quoted in Dominique LaPierre's great book, City of Joy), Everything not given is lost.

Jenna and I love that proverb. So does our friend Lucinda Roy.

Everything not given is lost.

Before I left for Nepal, I visited my student Morgan Harrington's mother, Gil. I wrote to Mrs. Harrington because I had two of Morgan's essays, in the original, with two of her drawings.

I had contacted detectives early during what turned out to be 101 days of searching for Morgan before we all learned that she had been murdered. Morgan was in my Creative Process class the semester before she died, and I loved her. She sat in the front row. All of my other students in that class remember her, bright, beautiful, witty, humble.

Just a week after Morgan was missing, a wonderful, gentle, patient special agent came to Blacksburg and interviewed me for two hours, talking about Morgan, her writing for my class, my impressions, every angle of intuition and possibility I could brainstorm. I wanted with all my heart to be helpful.

The agent allowed that if Morgan were alive, and in some kind of hostage situation, she might--possibly--somehow--be allowed to see who was trying to write to her, in which case, he advised, it might be good if I wrote to her, as her professor.

In those 101 days, I wrote sixty e-mails to Morgan. She had expressed a strong interest in coming to Nepal with me one day, and especially in seeing the Elements Temple at Mukhtinath which 8-year-old Ella Hoffman wrote about a few days ago. I promised her that I would take her.

After her class visited, Morgan also said that she needed to show my house and the paintings to her parents. Yes, I said. Please bring them to my home one day.

As it happens, Morgan is in our documentary, three times. First, when Jenna filmed a class at my home--each of my Creative Process classes comes to my home for dinner at the end of the semester, while I teach a lesson on Visual Yoga and Narrative Art--the class she happened to film was Morgan's. There is Morgan, sitting on my living room floor, beaming, as she takes in the large paintings all around her.

Secondly, we also use a still photograph of Tsampa when he was at Virginia Tech, after teaching my class for an afternoon, all of us standing before the chalkboard. In the photograph, a group shot, I am standing to Tsampa's immediate right. To his immediate left stands Morgan, looking especially beautiful.

I had not contacted the Harringtons during the 101 days of their ordeal, when Morgan was missing. I did not know them--only their daughter--though she had written intimately to me of her intense admiration and love for her mother and her father. I did not want to cause them any grain of additional pain, being a stranger, contacting them possibly at some wrong moment.

But before this trip to Nepal, I wrote to them. I introduced myself, and explained that I had some of Morgan's work, and that I wanted them to have it when the time was right. Before a hard trip to Nepal, with the uncertainties of our long trek, I wanted to be sure I contacted the Harringtons, because I had what belonged to them.

Gil Harrington wrote back to me immediately, with breathtaking graciousness, and invited me to her home--just days before I left on this trip.

I drove there, and I can not remember spending a more powerful few hours in my life.

For me, Morgan's professor, to be led upstairs to her room--to see the copy of the Amchi painting that I had signed for her, framed and opposite her bed--to see Morgan's closet, her walls, her own stunning paintings--to see the house that was her home--to sit with her mother--to be with Gil while she read the incredible, detailed dedications that Morgan wrote about both of her parents--to comprehend that Morgan had INSISTED that I keep these papers. "But Morgan, these are YOUR papers. Make me a copy. You have gotten A's on them, really strong A's. Your parents will want to see this work," I had said at the end of the semester. "No," she had said, "YOU keep these."

And although we met during the week of my departure, Gil and I felt so much kinship that we squeezed in Morgan's wish for her parents to come and see my home, and the paintings, before I left for Nepal. I didn't know I could love anyone quite in the way I love Gil, but I love Dan that much, too. What incredible human beings, BOTH Dan and Gil. We had the best evening together, a feast of companionship. No wonder Morgan wrote with such wisdom and compassion. No wonder she was so beautiful.

Gil and Dan gave me the extreme honor of bringing some of Morgan's ashes to the Himalayas.

I carried them in a beautiful packet which had Morgan's photograph on it, hidden among my traveler's cheques and identification cards. Often, I checked the packet, and looked at Morgan.

When our team reached the west of Nepal, I had to give her up.

And I found that I was terribly emotional, really resistant, to give up Morgan's ashes.

But I had carried them to give them, the way you give a name.

And as I have given two Emersons, I gave Morgan to two places. She is at Mukhtinath, the Elements Temple, at 14,000 feet, and when I delivered her ashes there, dozens of Tibetan nuns happened to be chanting on three sides inside the shrine, like a vibrating hive of otherworldly bees. I have been to Mukhtinath three times, but this was the first time nuns were there, singing prayers and smiling and nodding as our team came in--the only visitors--and smiling, as I wept, to give up part of Morgan.

The other part, I gave to Tsampa, after explaining Morgan's murder. He took the other part of her ashes to do an extremely special ceremony on Dhumpa Mountain, where the air is full of dakinis, sky-dancers, female wisdom-beings who can contact a consciousness after it has left its body, who can remove obstacles for that consciousness, and who can empower a happy and richly enabled rebirth. Tsampa's tradition and training are rare, and his rituals are old and strong. I was thrilled that he offered this gift to Morgan. This was the greatest honor I could have hoped for her ashes.

And so, like a name, they are given.

The third and final time Morgan Harrington appears in A Gift for the Village is her name. When what you have is a name, and you love that name, you give it as a dedication. At the end, our documentary is honored to carry and to give Morgan's beautiful name.

Everything not given is lost.

I also believe in the sweet corollary: Everything given goes on. Jane

from Jane, July 27

Hi Friends, Yesterday was my 52nd birthday, and our team spent it in great places. Our dear friend Sunil, whom I met as a driver for The Kathmandu Guest House 15 years ago (who now counts as family, and who has been to our homes in Virginia, and who has welcomed us into his home more times than is conscienable) took us out of the congestion and into the countryside.

The Kathmandu Valley is shaped like a circle, twenty-five miles in diameter, ringed by the Himalayas. On some edges of the valley there is still a sense of clean air, pastoral green, and wildlife. We went to those greener places.

We started in Patan, a former kingdom unto itself, with possibly the richest collection of wood and sundried brick pagodas and ornate resplendent Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Valley. We saw the Temple of the Thousand Buddhas, temples to preservers and destroyers and creators, temples to rare forms of certain gods and goddesses, temples so old that their central stone images--having been touched so much over the centuries--are soft illegible stone forms, worn down like fading sandcastles. We saw tables and tables of split coconuts, red hibiscus flowers, marigolds, neem leaves, and sequined gauze napkins, offerings to the images.

In the shops, we saw some of the best bronze statues in the world, and small exquisite Buddhas carved with the help of the artists' magnifying glasses into the spines of conch shells. We saw crystal Padmasambhavas and crystal phurbus, studded with emeralds and raw rubies.

We visited an old village, Bungamati, a sleepy two-street settlement which is a carver's village. I bought a sublime camphorwood Buddha, smelling like eucalyptus and peppermint all at once. Pema and her husband Tenjin Serap Thakuri found us--thanks to our friends' cell phones and Tenjin's motorcycle--and she presented me with a red birthday blessing scarf, a wooden sugarbowl, and a bronze protector Buddha. Hand in hand, I walked with Pema, past the watertank where the water buffalo were being allowed to bathe and dally; past the small clusters of mallards, past the old women with their earthen feet crossed at the ankle, past the medieval brick homes with their huge braids of red chilies and garlic hanging Rapunzel-fashion.

We drive on to Chobar Gorge, where Manjushri's sword--in mythological time--cut the earth, and the Kathmandu Valley, having once been a lake full of Nagas, drained.

We visited many amazing places, like the hilltop village of Kirtipur, where the fierce god Bhairav is worshiped in his tiger form, Singhabhairava. Dozens of cobwebbed buffalo skulls hung on the old mural walls there, with ghee-gooey bronze bells in huge metal snarls, and weapons in the multiple hands of all the wooden hipshot gods and goddesses on the second- and third-level pagoda temple struts: each weapon, a way to cut your own ego, to remove your mind from old habits of self-worship and other forms of illusion that lead to our old friends, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion. I for one need the whole arsenal.

Back at the Guest House, I had a message from the Cultural Affairs Officer for the American Ambassador here in Kathmandu. The Ambassador requested that I write a brief biography of Tsampa Ngawang, the amazing individual in the painting I began in 2001, which became the ostensible Gift for the Village. The Ambassador also requested an early copy of our documentary, so that he could tailor his remarks on the evening of the 31st, when we attend an event at his private home, in honor of our film. A runner from the American Embassy picked up A Gift for the Village this morning. I was told I will be asked to speak about our project, to forty assembled dignitaries and guests. What an honor, to have our film requested by the Ambassador! As another honor, the Ambassador has also extended airplane tickets to Tsampa from Jomsom to Kathmandu and back so that he and his daughter Lhakpa Dhoma can also attend the film event at his home. So Amchi Tsampa flies to town today.

Thanks for my birthday wishes, from my old friend Waruna, in the hills of Sri Lanka, and from my children, and from such great friends. Much love from Kathmandu, Jane

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Landscapes: A message from Ashleigh

When asked what I might like to write about on the blog, the first thing that came to mind is the indescribable landscape of Jomsom, Kagbeni and the trail to Lo Manthang. I feel certain that the particular combination of colors and textures that make this land an astonishing work of art is indescribable, but I will do my best:

Seabuckthorn kindness,
A smile like rain quenching thirst,
Mr. Bhakti gives.

Jomsom sits by a river that has carved, for endless years, painted canyons of tundra-like majesty. Sheer, steep cliffs made of scree and compressed threads of prehistoric sediments. Cy and I find, in winding conversation, that this place reminds us both of the Beartooths in southern Montana mixed with the mountainous deserts of Idaho with a hint of California scrub. But, comparisons will not do: the wind of this valley is unlike any current I have every met.

Animals graze in high mountain-top pastures, quietly hidden in the clouds. I love how farmers set their animals free during the summer months--they can look after themselves as the rains fall on the valley. Amidst the rock and dust and afternoon wind that howls and screams and beats on our faces and fingers, are green fields: of the greenest I've ever seen. I realize how skilled the Mustang farmers are with their systems of irrigation. As the documentary shows, Mustang farmers have built wood-cast and stone channels that guide the flow of the waters so it will be most effective. People of Mustang are proud of their land and excitedly show us the way to their fields and describe every plant new and old, its properties, challenges and successes in growing AND offer us gifts of fruits and jam to take for the journey. Like Mr. Bhakti of Marpha, a town just an hour's walk from Jomsom. He greets us with great enthusiasm and quickly rearranges his day so that he can be our devoted guide. His name suits him: Bhakti means Devotion in Sanskrit.

Mr. Bhakti is a very accomplished man. He calls himself a social-worker. Even in our brief visit, I gather that he is a dedicated community leader. With great English, Mr. Bhakti weaves stories of apricot trees, Maoist infiltration, global warming and medicinal flowers. He offers us seabuckthorn berry juice and handfuls of fresh apricots: two varieties, local and Kashmiri. "Different taste," he says with a smile. He leads us along a pathway that opens at the edge of green fields. Each field is marked with a white stone at the center. The stone identifies to whom the field belongs. He joyfully shares news of his latest projects: he recently built solar powered showers and a clothes-washing tap for the lower caste people of his village, who cannot afford to wash. "This way, in my village, there is a smaller gap between rich and poor." He also talks about how, in Marpha, prices are adjusted for those families who cannot afford to pay full price on food and goods. What a noble man. His commitment, his devotion to making change happen NOW inspires me to commit to a community and, with courage and humility, become the change I wish to see in the world. Many thanks to our friend Mr. Bhakti.

Who can paint the wind?
Prayer flags in Upper Mustang.
Dust-storm dancing, blow.

...and so this is Kagbeni: the gateway to Upper Mustang, the gateway to restricted territory. From the edge of town, we see the door to the canyon, cliff-crossing trek that will lead us to Lo Manthang. Prayers are carved in stone and fingertips turn prayer-wheels to offer blessings to the wind. I imagine, for a moment, that wind is the breath of the world and we now reside in one of the windiest stone villages on earth. My face is covered in a layer of dust; my eyes squint with a thousand tiny sand crystals peeking through. The wind sweeps prayers and breath and even energy, perhaps -- but this sacred, quiet expanse nourishes the exhaustion back to life: as if we could be liberated of all our lesser qualities as the wind passes through. And what remains? A strong skeleton of possibility: naked and ready for seeds of newness. This is where I am: Kagbeni; wind-city; the gateway to Upper Mustang.

Fantastical world.
Red rock and windswept daydream,

This land makes me feel quiet. How else to respond to something so unbelievable? The painted canyons carved like the red-heartwood of madrone or fallen oak; scratched by the claws of a giant cat: panther in the sky, snow-leopard paw. This land makes one believe in fantastical creatures. What else to say? I feel quiet. Riverbed, sharp canyon, speckled tundra, snow-capped peaks, irrigated green harvest. Pema Dhoka runs from the field to greet us. Her hands are covered in ashen earth from digging potatoes. She rushes to make us tea, make us lunch. Hardly stopping to take a breath, but always smiling. She loves to shower us with the gifts she knows, the abundance she grows and the spirit of the windy land she calls home. Gratitude.

Jaw drops at first sight,
Silk riverbeds grow gray gold.
Painted canyons hum.

Jane calls out: "Isn't this beautiful!" I laugh a little through my smile thinking of how I would be blind to disagree. I am drowning in disbelief: entering into a fantasy world where sheer red cliffs rise from silk riverbeds whose stones are fossilized history books of what flows and grows and changes as water passes over rock. What is most shocking is the contrast of colors and shapes and textures. The red-orange drip-castle shapes of Canyonlands, Utah (stretched in breadth and height) rise through a magnifying glass toward the sky. And burnt-purple embers burned by ash, not by fire; resin cooked in smoke, not in flame. The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like sugar on gingerbread cookies. No -- more magnificent and robust than gingerbread cookies. ...The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like like clear shoe polish, but more surprising. With my camera angled just-so, I try to capture the palette of colors laid bare before my eyes: Quartz white speckled with river-stones of blue, gray and golden-brown. Dry-wood brown sediment compressed flat by weight and time. Virginia red-clay angled like shards of glass or books stacked sideways. Dusty-green paint, almost like ether, speckling the tundra, but smoother than speckled. And the riverbed mud shines like fools gold. I resist the temptation of stopping every few meters to snap a photos of the marble blues and grays and whites: swirling, curling, playing with the trickle of the tiny streams like hair-strands or witch-fingers. Swimming in beauty. We walk across scree and sandy earth and wind plays with our scarves and hair. The climate is extreme: when the wind blows, it Blows. When the sun shines, it Beats down like a hot iron. When the clouds roll in, they are low and full and heavy. We enjoy the rise and fall of this land: remarkable and remote.

...Remote for but a few years longer. The government is funding the building of roads into Upper Mustang. As we walked out of Kagbeni, we had to share the road with a monstrous leveling machine. The one whose wheels look like a centipede rolling, rolling, rolling and flattening the rocky earth: making way for more landslides, more traffic, more tourists sleeping in the back of tour-buses. I felt like an insect in the Ferngully Forest, being ground to dust by the neon noise. After the unlikely and incredible bridge built by 10 years of hard work on A Gift for the Village, perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of our journey to Lo Manthang is the timing. Machines move quickly: uprooting earth that has kept the secrets of this land for centuries.

But for now, my heart is grateful to witness the grandeur of the gray-gold rivers, the blood-red pulsing canyons, the blue-ether painted watercolor mountains, the sharp snow-capped magic high peaks, and the sunlight-colored generosity of the friends and strangers we meet. Thank you, Jane and Jenna, for welcoming me on the journey. Just breathing here expands my belief in what is possible.

A different trip with kids......

We are back in Kathmandu. Back to hot showers, towels, beds with sheets and pillows and the Kathmandu congestion and chaos. The difference between upper Mustang and this city is astounding. Here are more comforts and variety of foods, there we had serene landscape and primitive living.
I guess my focus has been how different this trip has been for me because of the girls. Our friend Pema, who lives in Kagbeni at the famous Red House, went with us to Lo. She said that we needed 7 people, because 7 was luckier than 6. She took her horse Sakpa for Ella to ride. Before we left for the trek, the girls came running into our room telling me that Pema showed them how to milk her cow!
Carol, Pema has the sign that your students made for her when she visited your classroom framed and hanging in the Red House!
When we get past Jomsom, the toilets are squats, not commodes. Ella would try, but she just couldn't let go when she was in there. She was so worried that she would get her clothes wet, so I started undressing her from the waist down every time she needed to go. Suddenly, she announced to me that she could use the "squattee" by herself and didn't need me anymore. We teased Mary that although she was potty trained before Ella, Ella was "squattee-trained" at an earlier age than she was.
Our second night, Mary woke me up at midnight (we went to bed at 8) with a stomach ache. We have to get up and get dressed and get a head lamp to go to the toilet (which is a separate, closet sized room from the bath (shower) room. Actually, there isn't a toilet at all, but a squat, and Mary has the distinction of being the first to throw up in a squattee. That night for me was anxious, because after 2 days of trekking in the middle of what feels like nowhere, I was scared to death that Mary was really ill and I was wondering what I was going to do. There were no cars...would I stay behind with her for a day and let her rest? I thought I could get her a horse but would she be able to ride? I knew Narayan would help me but in the middle of the night I didn't know what that help would be, so I lay awake, questioning for the first time my decision to bring the girls with me.
Thankfully she slept the rest of the night with no more vomiting, and announced at breakfast that she was fine and ate 2 packets of oatmeal. She wanted no part of riding Sakpa, she wanted to walk. I could have danced with joy. I love my tough girl!
Ella draws a lot of attention. Several times as we walk through villages, especially the older women will blow past all of us and walk up to Ella, smiling and holding her face in their hands. Because of her short hair, she is often thought to be a boy, but she takes it all in stride and smiles and gives them her sweetest "Namaste." They are sweet to Mary, too, but she is taller than most of them, and I don't think they realize she is only 12.
The girls don't mind the DAYS between showers. The only warm one on our trek was at Pema's sister Thari's guest house. There we were also able to wash out some laundry, by hand, in a bucket in the shower. I got to do pants, underwear, shirts, socks times THREE! Ella helped me rinse and hang everything on the line.
The trekking is HARD. I am well aware now of how old and NOT in shape I am. I think, after a 45 minute steep, zig-zagged climb, that it HAS to be the end of climbing for the day. But no.......we start descending, then cross a stream, then back up we go. Then we do it two more times. My legs feel like a combination of twisted knots and jello. Whenever one of us stumbles on a rock or slides on loose dirt, we say, "Nice Yak-Dance!" The porters are great, and one of them stays right with each of us. They are very watchful for dangerous places, and especially great about knowing when to get Ella off her horse to walk. We see wild blue sheep, running up and down sheer cliffs that I can't imagine a bug walking without falling.
Watching Mary walking way ahead with the strong girls Jenna and Ashley, watching the porters shower Ella with protective and playful attention, listening to Narayan, our guide, tell the girls the story of why the mountains are three different colors (ask one of them to tell you), the shock of walking into Karma's kithcn in the Dancing Yak and seeing Ella in her chuba Pema gave her, chopping greens and cauliflower and washing dishes, acting quite at home....these are some of my many memories. And they solidify my decision to bring them here with me.
We miss everyone back home. Mary and Ella talk about who they want to see, who they will tell/show different things, what they want to eat when they get back to Blacksburg. Ella REALLY wants a Mike's burger. Please know that all of your comments are like the baked chocolate Snickers...real cherished treats.
Thanks for thinking of us.
Love, Reba

Muktinath and Jomsom, by Ella

We got back from our trek! One of the villages we stayed in had a hotel called the Mona Lisa. One of my favorite places was Muktinath. We saw a blue fire, trickling water and nuns chanting all in one place. It is called the agni (fire) temple. It is also called the elements temple because earth, fire, water and mind are all together. There were many prayer flags, almost as many as the monkey temple. Jane hung prayer flags for her brother-in-law Neal and her former student Morgan. Jenna hung prayer flags for her aunt Ree, Kelsey, Kendall and Wilson and another strand for Cindy and Tyler.
We stayed in Kagbeni at Pema's house. She gave me her horse Sakpa to ride on the trek. He was the best horse I have ever ridden, aka, the only horse I have ever ridden! But every stumble and trip he did, I still loved him. Pema also gave me a Tibetan dress called a chuba that belonged to her oldest daughter, who is also 8. Her name is Tcheten. Her middle daughter is Nima she is 6 and her youngest is Sela Lillian she is 1 or 2.
In Jomsom we stayed at the Dancing Yak. I worked there! I washed dishes while squatting on the side of the sink with Laxmi. I cooked and served food, and cleaned. It was very very fun.

About the porters, from Mary

We had the best group of porters anyone could have. Along with Narayan, our guide, seven total. Seven is a lucky number, and a lucky number it was. Tek, our runner, always ran ahead to make sure we had rooms to sleep in at night. He was fun, and was always willing to lend a hand. Monoj was sweet and was always walking with someone and waiting if one of us was held back. Menesh was kind and always helpful. Roshan was a bit quiet at first, but warmed up quickly and was joking around. Lexman, who gave Ella the Nepali name Kangi, meaning younger, or smaller, was fun and always had an arm around Ella. Binaya was quiet, but also loved playing around with Ella. last, but not least, is our guide, Narayan, who loved joking around and was always checking to make sure we were ok, if the food was ok, and was always saying, "little bit up, little bit down...", which wasn't always the case. We had a race once, against Narayan and I, on the way to Jomsom from Kagbeni, and I beat him. Lexman called out, "Mary's won the Jomsom race, Mary's won the Jomsom race!!" It was sweet. Narayan had his back-pack on though. I think we should race again, without the pack. We also liked to arm wrestle. He beat me both times we played(I'll beat him next trime though!!!).They loved playing Barrel of Monkeys, and always wanted us to pull it out after dinner, or anytime we were resting. One night in Chele, after dinner, they brought out baked snikers. At first we thought it was a joke, but to our surprise, there it was, right in front of us, snikers rolled up in bread and baked like a crossaint. It was great!! After that when Narayan asked us if we needed anything else after dinner, Ella and I would say, "Can we have baked snikers?" It was fun. In Kagbeni, one night we served them their food!! They had always served us our food, and there we were, serving them!! We all had a good laugh out of it (Great idea Jenna-la!!). That same night, they sang us the trekking song. They all have beautiful voices. On our last night with them in Jomsom, Jenna, Jane, Ashleigh, Mom, Ella and I laid out little gifts for them and their children (If they had children), and when we called them up to see their gifts, it a treat to see the looks on their faces. They were so happy. Narayan has a little girl, and a newborn son, born on the night we were in Jomsom. Tek has a little girl, Lexman has a two little boys, not to mention he also has a twin brother, and Manesh has a little girl. The next morning, while we were getting ready to fly out of Jomsom, the time came to say good-bye. It was hard and heart-breaking to see everyone who we had been so close to for so long leave the airport slowly. Narayan and Lexman flew with us, but didn't fly with us to Kathmandu. We miss them all and hope in the future, when we come back, we get to have them again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 24, from Jane

Good Morning from Kathmandu. Please don't worry: after this post, the other team members' voices should chime in. Last night we conferred about which of us would like to write about what parts of our experience. Ella and Mary were the first to pipe up. But I'll let them (and Jenna and Reba and Ashleigh) say what they have decided as their topics.

What I chose to write about is our return to The Cave of the Snow Leopard.

Three years ago, in 2007, our Gift for the Village team became (as we explain in our documentary) the third group of climbers to reach this recently rediscovered cave, which is chiseled out of a sheer 16,000-foot cliff. The back wall of the cave is entirely covered with fresco, a thousand years old. In our documentary, we theorize about who may have painted these excellent panels, and our conclusions hint at a tremendously unexpected story about the cave's artist.

As a flightless gnat would labor with a sense of inadequacy and even deformity to climb and descend skyscraper after skyscraper, so we struggled. This ascent, or series of ascents, was the most difficult of many intense climbs, although I am not speaking exclusively about technical difficulties like elevation or angle.

Here, you do not proceed with pride, and pride is a hard backpack to leave behind. There should be no frivolity on this walk. This climb is a pilgrimage, because the cave frescoes which have watched a thousand winter blizzards swirl past are painted prayers, homages and thanks to a series of the artist's teachers. This place is a cave which honors the idea of relationship, teaching, guru wisdom, and humility.

Be quiet here. See the beautiful landscape on the way to the Cave, of course, but turn your mind toward what you do not see. Do not poeticize your lovely heartbeat or your flights of gratitude here. Do not marvel about your skin tingling or your smile broadening to fit the enormous landscape. Be quiet. Stop seeing yourself.

Tsampa has taught me this much.

To reach the Cave, you must walk for hours past Lo Monthang, which is itself described as the Holy Grail of remote places.

You must enter a tiny village and find the Keeper of the Key, a local man whose ancient, wrapped rag contains the Key to the Cliff Door. He must walk with you past the Valley of the White Rocks, where, a quarter century ago, a glacial avalanche sent down a shattering of icy river and hundreds of thousands of huge, tumbling, snow-white boulders, some like basketballs, some like elepahants.

This torrent hit Chosar Valley at midnight. Ninety percent of the homes, the animals, and the villagers were never found. The Chosar Valley, with its white boulder tombstones, covers that midnight of agony. The Keeper of the Key, walking with us, was a young child at the time. He lost most people he knew, his village, and its landscape. He told his story to Pema, who translated for us, as we walked through that Valley, the Valley of the White Shadow of Death. I could not help but think of the skeletons beneath us, in archaeopteryx positions, the fossils of a terrible night.

You walk past a sky-burial site, a long flat boulder, a little like an ossified lounge chair, shin-high. The rock would not be noticeable except for the heavy ropes that tie around it, and, since Tsampa showed us last time, for the nearby rock, under which are tucked three rustworn handmade blades belonging to the sky burial priest, and the rag-clothing he wears during the rites he perform.

In Tibet, there is a saying: Everyone should see a sky burial at least once, in order to understand impermanence.

But first, allow me to explain: in Tibetan Buddhism, there are five types of burial, to match the five elements.

Earth burials, in Upper Mustang, are virtually impossible, because there is no earth to dig. The land here is rock, or rock-silt. Water-burial isn't tasteful, because, although a chopped corpse benefits the tiny fish in the rivers here, the body pollutes the water for the villagers downstream.

Cremation, or fire-burial, is a highly respectful form, but costly to the Mustangis. Our friend Pema explained that the wood which is piled all along every Mustang home is not primarily firewood, but "our wealth, and our duty." At death-time, a family needs enough wood to cremate the body. Not having this wood is considered shameful. Upper Mustang is high-desert, and wood is rare; there are no trees to fell--only the bonsai-twisted stubs of tortured juniper or other low-scrub. But this wood is necessary for a cremation, and fire is considered extremely clean. A cremation is an honor.

There are two other kinds of burial in Tibetan Buddhism. One, the rarest, is mind-burial. Mind is the fifth element as Tibetans organize the universe. (In China, the fifth element, or sometimes the sixth, is, instead, iron.) Highly-accomplished practitioners of Buddhist mind and body control can decide consciously to leave their body in order to choose a specific rebirth. Tibetans believe in a space between death and rebirth called The Bardo. In this in-between realm, which is not a holding tank, but more like a wind-tunnel, your consciousness goes careening.

Think of your after-death consciousness as a Kleenex blown forcefully into a completely dark wind-tunnel. You go zooming and twisting and fluttering, upside-down, a parachutist without a familiar body, but with some sense of your own blind being. It is a terrifying disorienting tumble--UNLESS you have trained for it. The meditations that His Holiness the Dalai Lama does, for instance, prepare his unbodied consciousness for this ride. Only, he will be able to steer.

There are Tibetan lamas (teachers, priests) so accomplished and learned that they can not only speak to a dying person's mind as the body dies, to help instruct the mind during the transition into the windy Bardo, but who can find a consciousness even after it has tumbled and taken rebirth, and educate the consciousness about how to prepare for the next death and the next chance to steer into a better next rebirth.

Sky-burial causes rainbows--not big arches--but tiny wisps of rainbow, which jet more like butterflies. The rainbow body of a mind burial may last for days, like evanescent northern lights, but in the daytime. Tibetans point to a place in the distant landscape and say, "Ah! Such and such lama has died. See the rainbow body."

But back to the fourth kind of burial: sky-burial. Sky-burial is the most visceral, and, for my temperament, the burial of choice. A corpse is taken to a long-frequented rock (as in, hundreds of years of use), like the one we stood before on our walk to the Cave of the Snow Leopard. A qualified Buddhist cuts the hard corpse into cubes, and powders them with roasted barley flour. These cubes are scattered out to the lammergiers, the giant condor-like Himalayan vultures. They are called the corpse-eaters, and I have one of their gigantic feathers from this trek. When I am home, I will make a strong painting called The Corpse-Eater's Feather.

These birds know the ritual. The body is cubed and fed to them, and they take flight. Their enormous messy nests are dinosaur confabulations that you sometimes see high on the most inaccessible cliffs. Their fledglings are fed with the power of the corpses that their mothers have gulped, and then the young lammergiers grow their own feathers. The birds fledge, and reincarnated forms festoon the thin air.

The ropes on the rock, Tsampa explained three years ago, are to thwart the lammmergiers' over-eagerness. Yes, they know the ritual, but the birds would just as soon get to the point. These animals are so massive, their talons so tiger-like, that they sometimes pick up entire corpses and lift them up to their cliff-nests. But this frenzy reeks of greed, and the sky-burial wants to show hor forms give to one another, not take for themselves. Thus the ropes: they hold down the impulse to take too much.

Such are the landmarks on the way to the climb to the Cave.

And then, on a frighteningly thin cliff edge, you find, preposterously, suddenly, a door. A door with a lock.

The door is built into nowhere. It is simply a door, in a door frame, upright on the trail itself. There is no building anywhere.

The door divides, seemingly, nothing from nothing.

It can be opened only with the Keeper's Key.

I was told three years ago, after much discussion as I first beheld this cliff-door, that it stands as a kind of compassionate warning. Its meaning? After this point, the trail really becomes difficult.

Our Roanoke friend, Stephanie Koehler, saw a photograph of this door on my bedroom wall, and by now she may have written a blog about it.

I told Stephanie that I am awed by the idea of this social symbol, this physical prompt that what you are about to enter is extremely difficult. What a gift! A door to tell you the truth. There are few enough such doors. Conversations with my friend Suzi Gablik feel like this door. Even being near my children Iris and Emerson, and seeing how they tailor their studies toward the opportunity to help people, feels like this door. Every word and every idea my best friend Jenna shares, how I always see her treat people and think of what other people need, feels like this door. My team, and why we have worked so hard to make this film, feels like this door. I see the two sides separated: where we learn and love--at any cost--and where we have nothing but our own self-interest ahead of us, a ghastly-thin, fearful trail. May the gods always provide such doors. May all sentient beings be allowed the fortune to go beyond them.

The last part of the trail is "improved." This year, there is a thin wire, somewhat staked into the ground, wrapped in a twirl of hairy yak rawhide. You can hold this "rope" to scale down one of the worst vertical descents. Because of this "improvement," you now pay one hundred rupees to continue from this point. Pema slipped here--badly--and would have dropped thousands of feet to her almost certain death. But two porters caught her. And then we reached the Cave.

In three years, the Cave of the Snow Leopard has suffered more damage than in its lonely thousand. In 2007, I did see a set of claw marks from a snow leopard's stretching. Those parallel marks seemed the best signature in the Himalayas.

This time, there were other problems, and Jenna spent much of her time there, explaining how much good work the guide had in his power, to ask people not to rest their hands on the surface of the paintings, and not to carve out indentations to hold sticks of incense. And definitely not to redraw the faded lines of the worn faces. The Cave is not ruined, but many of its subtleties are gone.

Still, I visited with old friends. In 2009, I made an oil painting called The Cave of the Snow Leopard, for which I used our photographs of the frescoes for the background. The King of Lo, and the monastery restorer Luigi Fieni, really liked this painting. It was wonderful to be near the unruined details of some of my favorite panels. And to observe a few new details, a few new secrets.

Photography is no longer allowed in the Cave, which seems a kindness, at this point.

We heard later from Luigi that one visitor in the intervening years has brought her infant to the Cave. But Mary and Ella are the youngest self-propelled kids ever to see The Cave of the Snow Leopard, which looks out onto Tibet, and where, I like to think, snow leopards on the far cliffs had their green eyes trained on us.

Last night, I got an e-mail bearing unbearable news. My old friend Anna Sankei died three days ago of a heart attack, in Lier, Norway. She was waiting for a bus to go to a ceremony where her older daughter, Tina, was to receive a medal for her six months of military service in Afghanistan. Her younger daughter Agnes would have been there too.

I met Anna on our first day of class, freshman year, 1976, at William and Mary. We were the two who were early, waiting for the door to be unlocked. The course was called Contemporary Religious Thought. By the time the professor and the other four students arrived, Anna and I were friends.

She lived in a place where she liked to find ostrich eggs in her garden, which she would bead. One day I could visit her village, she said, across the Rift Valley, in Kenya. I would see many giraffes on my way. I should notice their eyelashes.

That Thanksgiving, Anna spent with me, at my parents' home in North Carolina. She lived with two rather cheerless nuns, back in Virginia, who never knew about my naughty father's gift to Anna, as she took the bus back from Raleigh to Hampton. She carried two huge bottles of Johnston County moonshine, strong enough to unlacquer your living room furniture.

Anna sang "Oh, Shenendoah, I love to hear you, oh, away, you raging river," in the prettiest Kenyan-English I have ever heard. My tears stream to think of that singing. We were eighteen years old then. In two days, I turn 52.

I did go to Anna's Kenyan village. I met her beautiful mother. Anna showed me lions, wild ones in the bush, and she showed me the Mara River hippos. She told me that the Cape Buffalo were the only grouches in Africa. They would charge just out of meanness. I took my baby Iris there when she was four months old. I loved Anna that much.

And Anna brought her daughters to see me, in America, twice. Jenna took Tina white-water rafting. When Agnes was a little girl, she hid in my wood shed, because she didn't want to leave.

This morning, having awakened to a full day in which there is no Anna on this earth, I must braid a bridge to cross this sadness.

I must see a door on a thin cliff-trail, and go through the door.

I must send my mind spinning out to Gil and Dan Harrington, because there is no Morgan on this earth, and to my niece and nephew Maura and Vance, because there is no Neal on this earth, and to my friend Bailey, who rides Emily Jane Hilscher's favorite Virginia Tech horse, Impulse, a swatch of whose mane now flies in Upper Mustang (thank you, Bailey, for helping me honor your friend and her love of horses; Emily died on April 16th in our Virginia Tech massacre).

I must be small. And see the swirls of all the elements diminishing every form as I also diminish.

But: in the brief time I have to see, I must love as hard and as impassively as the snow leopard gazes. Love, in order to find the most remote safe places, past the most daunting doors, in the most treacherous wilds. I must see from Kenya to Norway to Virginia and North Carolina to Kathmandu, and see from now to yesterday and now to tomorrow.

All we have are these doors and these bridges. This good vision, this astonishing view, our brief gardens. "Safe" means only a place where what we do reincarnates, finds some other form; where, amazingly enough, what has been beautiful is not altogether lost.

My love to Tina and Agnes. Your mother was a strong and beautiful woman. She loved you both so incredibly much. She was brave enough to be unselfish, and to act with kindness toward whomever happened into her life, whatever the impact, whatever the seeming impracticality of the broad reach of her heart. I will always carry your mother, wherever I go. I will never forget Anna Sankei. Farewell, beautiful friend. May we find one another again. Jane

July 23, from Jane

Hi Friends, We are back in Kathmandu, safe, sound, amazed. Thanks for the great comments and responses here and on facebook. Thanks for caring where we are.

We woke at 4:30 in our Dancing Yak bedrooms in Tsampa's home, to learn that Narayan, our guide and friend, had gotten a call at 2 a.m. that his second child, a little boy, had been born, in Gurkha, in central Nepal. We knew about his birth before the grandparents: Narayan's parents don't have a phone. It will take some time for a village friend to take the news to them. Narayan has asked me to give his son one American name, to go with his Nepali names. This Gurkha boy will carry the name Emerson.

We had sweet tea, carried our backpacks downstairs, and waited to see if any flights were able to penetrate the woolen clouds that hang so thickly during all of Nepal's monsoon season. Mostly, for days and days, no flights have been able to come in or out of Jomsom's tiny airstrip. But today--flights.

I could not believe our fortune.

We flew, and the flight was one of the most spectacular treats I have ever enjoyed, and not just because I knew we were avoiding the rain, the mud, the uncertainties of moving with our baggage downtrail, through waterfalls and grungy flood-prone river-villages.

We flew over the land before time, close to the tops of dozens of green bulging mountains, over tiger and python jungle. Slivers and nicks of white, as we approached, grew into tremendous waterfalls, dozens of them, and overarching the verdure were the breathtaking granite-faced Annapurna goddesses, the 26,000-foot snow-faced immortals. We flew easily and calmly through dawn-colored clouds and over villages too small to have names.

I remembered the scene near the end of David Lean's beautiful film adaptation of E. M. Forster's great novel, A Passage to India, when Dr. Fielding and Stella stop the car just to stand and look up at the closeness and the enormity of the Kashmiri Himalayas. They can say nothing in response to the magnitude of these things. Only Maurice Jarre's score can speak the emotions of being near the Himalayas. Not being crushed by them seems so improbable, so generous. The mountains feel bigger than concepts which remain theoretical, bigger than the universe, bigger than eternity.

And then we landed in Pokhara, a world aways from western Nepal, and then we got our next flight to Kathmandu, and before noon, we were all seated at Pilgrim's, waiting for our masala dosas and palak paneer and buttered naan and fried rice. We are in culture-warp shock, for the flights to have worked, and to have catapulted us back to Kathmandu so flawlessly. Just days ago we were having audience with a King in a faraway medieval palace.

To celebrate our safe return to Kathmandu, I ordered a dozen peanut sticks from the German Bakery, which will be ready tomorrow. They are not unlike biscotti, not too sweet, not as good as my friends the Passalacquas have made, but pretty damned wonderful, cinnamon and peanut. Which reminds me: Carol Fox, I am scandalized that you want to join the pack of chocolate-carnivores and that you lust in sympathy with my team, for those deep-fried Snickers. (Thanks for the great comment, Carol! We miss you and Joe.)

Tonight maybe we will apportion certain topics for each of our team members to write about, but for now, hot showers, laundry, food choices, the greatest bookstore in Asia--just next door to the Kathmandu Guest House, publicity for our film ("Madame, I have read about your team and your film in our newspapers"), and an upcoming dinner with the American Ambassador, to show him A Gift for the Village.

I am so proud of our team, and of our film. We are really looking forward to our American premiere at The Taubman Museum in Roanoke on September 16th. Please plan to join us that evening. And sometime before that premiere, I have the honor of giving a Lunchbox (midday) Talk at the Taubman Museum. I think I have been given 45 minutes. My Virginia Tech students will smile to think of Ms. Vance trying to condense ANYTHING into that brief slot.

Much love from all of us, back in the crazy city. I love this crazy city. Jane

Thursday, July 22, 2010

from Jane on June 22, in Jomsom

E-mail is a snowflake in an updraft here: it exists, but may quickly disappear toward some faraway infinity. Still, we hope so much that you who are following us, my Tech students, our families, our friends, know that your support (and comments) matter so much to us. At The Dancing Yak Hotel, we have arranged gift piles for our porters and our guide, Narayan. After dinner, we will present these amazing young men with their presents and tips, to thank them for taking us through the roughest territory in our collective experience.

I want to say again that 8-year-old Ella and 12-year-old Mary Hoffman, Reba's girls, were absolute champions on this adventure. Mary now carries the nickname Jenna Junior as an honorific, because she walked nine-hour days at extreme altitudes on rocky, treacherous slopes and cliff edges with NO problem, and Ella is now an accomplished equestrian, having ridden Pema's noble horse Sakpa through most of Upper Mustang (though on the wildest cliffs, Ella walked--without any complaint).

Reba is so happy that the girls are thriving, loving the great people here, and gorging on dhal bhatt meals--rice and lentils and curried vegetables. On the last night in Upper Mustang, Narayan, our lead guide, brought in fried Snicker bars, coated in oily hot dough. As the only team member who would rather eat cardboard than chocolate, I had a view of my team as chocolate-carnivores, absolutely POUNCING on this dessert--and I am NOT just talking about Mary and Ella.

Cross your fingers and squeeze your amulets that the plane flies tomorrow morning, and that it flies safely. It really will be a small miracle if we are able to fly on schedule. The monsoon clouds look like Michelangelo's torsos. Muscular and unprepared to be easily bypassed.

Anyway, we can't wait to share our stories. Out the window, there are teams of pack mules ringing their neck-bells as they head down Main Street. There is also a very occasional motorcycle, weird with its huge noise. Jason and Sherrie will remember the roasted peanut rooftop restaurant down the street--Jenna and I had those hot peanuts as a treat today.

We look forward to having more leisure to write in Kathmandu. Hope all of you are well. Jane

from Jenna

Hi Friends and Family.
We have made it to the gateway of the Annapurna. Tomorrow we either fly to KYM or we wait one more day then we walk out. Today is cloudy and there was little chance that the 6:30 Am flight would go, but just now-- 12:56 it took off. Wish us luck.
There is so much to tell,but since my computer is SLOW and missing a few important keys, I will save the stories for KTM.
A few notes: What fun to travel as a group of 7 women (and girls)!! our friend Pema joined us for the trip to Lo as well. Unfortunately Tsampa could not. Mary and Ella are at home here. It is fun to watch them!!!
Jason, Sherrie, Tom, Debra, Eric, and Joey we miss you!! Pema says she loves you all and misses you-- Sunil Sarita and Tsampa also asked about you all. Debra the honey made it. Tsampa was thrilled. You have a beautiful Bhatt piece on the way, and tell Joey I am working really hard on his wish list, esp the ball tree. Jason thanks to you my pack was no problem in Lo (but I do have some GREAT blisters on my feet)! We did make it to the cave again--- more about that later.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21, from Jane

Hello Friends and Family, We are all well--and Mary and Ella are strong and perfect. We have just ten minutes ago shuffled back into Kagbeni after ten successful and amazing days and 155 miles into Upper Mustang, where the King of Lo as well as the Prince and Princess loved A Gift for the Village and where indeed our film showed on the left outside wall of the Royal Palace. We have many stories to tell, but I have to go drink tea and soup. Every one of us is completely fine, amazed by our experiences, and rich in our hearts. Pema of the Red House made the entie trek with us, even up into the Cave of the Snow Leopard. Tomorrow we walk back to Jomsom, and then the next day, the 23rd, we attempt to fly to Pokhara and on to Kathmandu. Otherwise if the winds and clouds are playing havoc then we begin the descent by trail eventually to Pokhara, and somehow or other back to Kathmandu. On the 31st of July we have been invited to the Ambassador's home to show our film. By then, pray, we will have bathed. So so so so la! Victory to the gods! Jane

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 8th, from Jane

Hello Friends and especially our BMS friends in exile, I may be 13,000 miles from home, but let me say first that I am so sad that our School Board has taken the decision to move the Middle School to Old Christiansburg High School.

We have made it to Jomsom in the Annapurnas. Our flight happened yesterday, solving many frightening problems.

This morning, Pema Dhoka Thakuri from a village three hours up the Kali Gandaki came to the Dancing Yak because word had traveled upvalley last night that we had arrived. She is the Tibetan friend who came to stay with us in Blacksburg two years ago. It is so amazing to see her!

And Tsampa was standing at the edge of the tarmac to greet us, and so was Cy and Karma, Tampa's wife, and Lhakpa Dolma, Tsampa's daughter. It feels GREAT to be here!

Yesterday we were ushered into our new rooms--built on the back side of the hotel--with our OWN bathrooms! An we were given a basket of Tsampa's orchard's fresh apricots which ALL of us can't stop eating. Ella says they are the best things she has ever eaten. And pretty soon, we were hiking--across the iron bridge, up to Dhumpa Lake and monastery, where the air is full of dakinis, the locals say--sky-dancing female spirits who can intervene in the lives of people, and who are present but not visible.

We are in high country now, with snow-capped mountains all around us.

And last night we showed the film to Tsampa! And to his family, and to friends. The Dancing Yak was the theatre. What an uproarious great hour! I think we will have a reshow tonight. Everyone was thrilled, and it was anarchy in the audience, laughing and being amazed and yelling out approval and joy. Jenna videoed. WOW.

The thang-ka I painted in 2001 is hanging up and looks completely at home. We have made it to the first position of the Dancing Yak menu, where the hotel lists its specialties and services, for example, having a Tibetan doctor on call, or being able to help a tourist rent a trekking pony. But the first listing: Amchi thang-ka of Holy Man Tsampa Ngawang lineage portrait hangs here.

It is thrilling to have made it here, and thrilling for Emerson to be back in the really high mountains with me, and wonderful to see Ashleigh and Mary and Ella drop their jaws at the land and the vistas and the sheer age of the buildings here--and great to see Reba walking with her completely free fossil- and bone-hunting daughters--and as always, a privilege to be with Jenna.

Tsampa looks as young as ever-- Emerson says he looks exactly the same as the last time he saw him.

We are full of apricots, popcorn, dhal batt, greens, AND summer worm/winter grass liquor, a rare Tibetan herbal (well, for a vegetarian, the summer worm part is disturbing!) concoction to celebrate the film and to give us long life.

Our love to everyone. E-mail is expensive and unpredictable, but the trek to Lo is on schedule, and our friends are here with us. Emerson will be leaving with Cy tomorrow to head downtrail on foot--should be a spectacular adventure--and it looks like we are on target to show A Gift for the Village both in Kagbeni at the Red House and to Raja Jigme, the King of Lo Monthang. Love, Jane

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

a few side notes from Jenna

ON BIKING: did i mention that i had to ask which side on the road to ride on and several times during our ride in town I could not figure out why cars and motorcycles were heading straight for me? In Nepal, I am pretty sure there is a law saying that anytime you are driving a car or riding a bike or motorcycle you should beep your horn or ring your bell as much as possible. I have to say that Ashleigh was much better with the bell ringing than me-- I was so busy dragging my feet to stop the bike on down hills and trying to figure out why everyone else was on the wrong side of the road to worry about the darn bell. Thanks Ashleigh-- your bell ringing saved us a few times!

ON FLYING TO JOMSOM: I have to say that i was really nervous about the flight. We were looking out the airport window at a cloud covered sky and a light rain and the lady told me "Jomsom weather very bad mam, very difficult for plane land" After waiting 5 1/2 hours we were led onto the tarmac. tHE RAIN HAD STOPPED AND THERE WERE HINTS OF BLUE SKY, BUT NOT MUCH, (oops caps) We were told that the pilot would take us up and see if he could land. It wasn't until I saw the female co-pilot look out of the cockpit and smile at Mary and Ella that I started feeling okay about the attempt. Then as were were just about to take off the pilot looked over his shoulder, surveyed the FULL flight of 16 passengers, smiled and turned back around. It was if he was saying, I see you, I see who you are, and I will take care of you. The flight is no more than 20 minutes. Today, after 20 minutes, we had circled about five times, dropping and ascending to dodge clouds-- mind you our pilot was flying by sight! no instruments helping with navigation, only altimeters and a few other gadgets....

ON HIKING: that last two days, despite the oppressive heat we have done two amazing treks to the mountain tops around Pokhara. Ella joined us for the trek to the World Peace Pagoda and Mary trekked to the top of Sarangkot Mtn. today. It feels good to be getting our legs ready for the long trekking days ahead. Our walks took us up steep rock stair cases, threw villages and rice fields, past men herding water buffalo in for the evening and women carrying massive baskets of corn or rocks, or buckets of water on their heads. It never ceases to amaze me where women have set up their tables or blankets full of goods-- we climbed up a steep rock ledge to find women up there waiting for us. As we trek threw villages, we are greeted in one of a few ways..."Namaste-- which country?" or "Hallo-- what your name?" "Come, just a look, no cost to look."

ON BLOGGIN: As I was nearing the end of this blog, my computer started beeping, as if the timer to an explosive was counting down-- I tried to post, no luck, I tried to copy and save, no luck, so I called over the attendant who simply nodded his head back and forth side to side and ran his fingers a few keys on the keyboard and the beeping stopped and the computer seemed to unlock. HUM????? I hope this is the last blog for a while. If it is, it means we have flown. Keep your fingers crossed for a clear sky and safe journey. Also, as i am typing there are 3 laughing geckos in sight of me. We see them everywhere and they really do laugh. There was one right above Mary's head as we ate dinner the other night.

I'm going to post now before a gecko drops down on my keyboard and the beeping starts again!

July 6, evening, from Jane

Hi Friends, My eyes are drooping but I wanted to wish Blacksburg Middle School no amputation and no dislocation.

On our unexpected day in Pokhara, Jenna and Mary and Ashleigh and I walked up to Sarangkot, the big hill between Machupuchchare and Phewa Lake. From this hill, hang-gliders take off. We walked in fields and along the one switchback-looped road, past mahogany and neem forests and stone walls covered in ferns and wild crown-of-thorn. This was a really vertical walk, and I for one was as drenched from the exertion as if I had jumped in a swimming pool.

At the top, we met a little girl named Pushpanjali, thin and beautiful-eyed, but extremely forward physically, touching our necklaces, and wanting us to sit near her. I wondered if she might be a child who at Blacksburg Middle School would be one of my special kids, and I guess so: her older sister gestured to Pushpanjali and said (to our sadness), "No mind," shaking her head. Maybe not, but we would have taken this little girl with us so quickly, if we could have spoken to her easily, and if there weren't a Great Wall of regulations to barricade such a bond. She was cheerful and lithe, and happy. She seemed bright, but eccentric, possibly repetitive, or plaintive, in her affection. So far, where is the flaw?

On the drive downhill (because we decided to take a car down, to avoid the time of evening when black cobras cross the road), let's just be glad that our raft guide was in the front seat. Our driver seemed at one point distracted by a vision in the faraway distance,, and our car began to drift toward the cliff. Jenna TOOK that steering wheel and turned it, and the driver was good-natured about the correction. Go Jenna! May your raft guiding always extend to other service fields, like saving your friends from a car-flight over a Nepali precipice.

So again we try to fly tomorrow. Looking in the direction of Mustang is like looking into a mix of octopus ink and milk. I can't imagine the break in the clouds that we will need, but then again, not much of what we are doing is easy for me to imagine, even when I am seeing and being here. Like watching the silk Amchi shirt-artist: a blur and whir of stitchery keeps turning into adventures which keep turning into gifts which keep turning into friendships and then back into celebrations. Sounds as if I am drunk, but in fact I am too tired to lift a beer.

Goodnight, Pushpanjali. You may never remember us in your life, but we will never forget you. Tiny wisp of a mountain girl, walking near the stars, looking down on Phewa Lake from such a height that you could believe your own mind is nothing but clear light and empty endless sky-space. May all your dreams be as fresh as cloud and as light as mist. May flowers be bright every season of your life. May your unchecked sweetness and enthusiasm heal a thousand sadnesses in your village.

We miss our friends and family. Iris, you are always in my heart. Love, Jane

From Jane, July 6th

Hello Friends, We are NOT in Jomsom, but instead still in Pokhara.

The skies this morning were heavy with low clouds, and although we were at the little airport by 5:30 a.m., we had to wait until about 11 a.m. to hear that the first four flights to Jomsom were all totally canceled but that Agni Air WAS going to try the fifth and final flight of the day. So our team of seven and a sprinkling of locals (sixteen, counting crew) boarded the tiny twin-engine, with some trepidation and some hope.

And although we came face to face with the mighty Goddess Annapurna (over 26,000 feet, her stone face), and although we circled and circled among the thick clouds, our landing was not to be. Jenna gave thumbs up to the pilots in their open cockpit when they announced there was no entering Jomsom today. We appreciated the attempt AND our crew's reluctance. Flying into Jomsom--as our documentary shows--is not cake. You have to commit to a ravine, descend along the river, arc hard in a bowl, and stop before the runway turns into a mountain face. Today, the ravine was a cauldron of cloud, and, as Nepali pilots like to say, our clouds have rocks in them.

So we came close.

Fortunately we are already booked for attempting the second flight tomorrow morning (Usually if you miss a flight, you are pushed to lowly stand-by position, stressful for us since we are a group of seven, and don't want to split up). But the Agni representatives were excellent, and stored three of our heaviest bags at the airport, making tomorrow morning's attempt a little less burdensome.

Still, our position is not easy. Each day we can't fly, the roads--sorry, the "roads"--to Jomsom are more waterlogged and possibly blocked by mudslide or rock-avalanche. Each night in Pokhara is another $30 per person for an air-conditioned room--an expense we weren't counting on, ideally. A jeep is devilishly expensive, as quoted here in Pokhara, and so we have our friend Mingma in Kathmandu trying to get us a better deal on a good jeep. May I add that having a shop owner connect a phone here to our friend Mingma in Kathmandu is itself a trip.

If we DO opt to be driven, we will do so ONLY in a good jeep, not on public transport. Jenna and I have seen the roads, and a public "bus" on those "roads" is outside my definition of reasonable. We have considered a heliocopter, but we doubt we can afford the option.

Anyway, we spent a decompression lunch upstairs at a familiar restaurant and navigated everyone's response to the mild trauma of circling but not being able to land in Jomsom.

Most disappointed was Mary, partly because her ears ached a little fom the flight and partly because she so much wanted to land in our next place and get that much closer to snow leopards.

Mingma informed us, upon my asking the dire question of whether any of our Upper Mustang fees would be refundable, if we can not get to Kagbeni at the appointed time to start the trek to Lo, that no, unfortunately, our contract is signed and the fees are paid for the special permissions given by various government ministers for us to enter the Forbidden Kingdom. Those are big bucks to have flutter out of our grasp. And big hopes to lose from our grasp.

So wish us well, getting to Mustang. My young cousin Cy is there (he took the local bus, but, for the life of me, I can't feel great about that choice for my team), who informed Emerson last night by crackly phone that there may not be a working projector in Jomsom, and therefore we may not be able to show the documentary where the festival was held, which is a shame. But in the walled fortress-city of Lo, there IS a generator, a projector, and a King expecting us and the documentary.

All we have to do to show A Gift for the Village there is, first, to solve the puzzle of how to outwit the monsoon sky and its wrath upon the roads, and, second, to walk 155 miles. As our friends here often say: Is problem? No problem.

But outside the ring of obstacles I have described, what an amazing event in Pokhara yesterday! I met a young man, Udhav Shrestha, 23, and his handsome father, Krishna. There was something about Udhav. I wish I knew how to recollect exactly what made me sense that he was an artist. All he did is name some prices on t-shirts. But there was something...

I can honestly say that until I SAW Udhav I had not had the idea, but something in his expression...

I said, "I have a project I want to suggest. It may be impossible, and you can simply say no. I can not imagine you wlll say yes, but there is something in your face, something in your smile, which causes me to ask."

So I showed him a photograph of the Amchi Painting.

I told him about our project, our documentary, about Tsampa Ngawang and my long support of Tibet, and I read him the Dalai Lama's letter endorsing A Gift for the Village. Udhav listened.

I said, "I wonder if you could, with silk thread, reproduce this Amchi painting--in silk--on a black t-shirt. I know it is complicated. It is possibly impossible."

Udhav smiled and shook his head, as if in disbelief, and then introduced me to his father, who had been listening, and who said, "I think you are very lucky. If you had asked any other person in all of Pokhara, not one other person would even try. I don't tell you this as a selling point. But to do what you ask requires more than tailoring skills. As it happens, yes. We are father and son, and yes, we can do this work. We are the only two within sight of Phewa Lake who can sew like artists. How did you know to ask?"

Hopefully, Tom Landon can link our site to Krishna and Udhav's business, Shrestha Embroidery Shop, where you can see the kind of artistry these men have, although I can not imagine that ANY custom design on their site can compare to the Amchi shirt I am currently wearing. Their site is: www.embroiderynepal.weebly.com. As soon as we can, we will send a jpeg of the Amchi shirt, so you can see for yourselves.

Unbelievable. Quite a feeling, to have your large Tibetan lineage painting sewn into a silken t-shirt design, before your eyes, with son and father bent over the hoop, and the son reminding the father how to shape the grimace of the snow lions' faces, and the father working all the necessary colors into the peacock feathers (each, smaller than a cumin seed).

I think we will take a walk today. Just to stretch our legs and work out the kinks from the disappointment of not being able to land in Jomsom. Not yet.

Love to all of our family and friends, Jane

Monday, July 5, 2010

From Mary

Wow! Pokhara is Hot! At least 100 degrees when the sun is at it's peak. I hope it's not that hot in Blacksburg. After being in Pokhara for a few days, a mountain trek is welcomed. Jane and I are getting ready to go see a shirt she's having made by a silk tailor-artist, of her painting. Hopefully it'll be good, But it might be horrible. We went to Devi's Falls the first full day we were here. There was a waterfall (Of course,)and a double rainbow in a area off to the side. There was also a wishing well with Ganesh on a isolated perch, the edges going off into a shallow well. Of all of us who tried, Emerson managed to get a rupee coin on the island and have his wish granted. As we were leaving, I saw a really beautiful brass Snow Leopard, but the woman priced too high. As everyone else was browsing other stores, Emerson goes back and buys the Snow Leopard for me. That almost put me in tears. I then saw a necklace with a pheonix and a dragon around a marble and Jane gave me 100 rupees to get it. That was very nice also. Then, when we were at the Tibetan Refugee camp, we went in and saw the woman who were making the rugs, and one pats her bench for me and Ella to get up. She even showed us how. Then Mom got a huge Wind Horse, Ella got a small square Snow Lion, and I got a medium-sized Black dragon. This morning, we got up early to go out on the Lake, which I kept calling a river. On the way there, we got caught in between a dog fight. The bad thing was, the fight followed us. So as Jane was getting ready to get Emerson, I tried to join up with the rest of the group, but was cut off several times. I finally got through though. When we got out on the lake, We paddled over to a temple on the island. There were many pigeons, but in the water over a certain point, was a huge school of fish. When we looked through the polarized lenses, it was so much clearer. On the way back, There were a couple bottles out on the lake, Ashley, Ella , Mom, and I (Our boat), We went to go get them. It turned out they were buoys. Then we went to a German bakery, 2 hours before lunch. Lunch for Ella and I was a plate of French Fries. Mom didn't come because of her ear-splitting headache. Don't Worry Mom, I've been there before. So, now we are going for the T-shirt. Hope it's good!

a quick post from Reba

Holy cow. I just read through the rest of the team's posts. It seems that I am traveling with a team of gifted writers, my oldest daughter included. I am grateful I will have a wonderful travel journal with these blogs when I get home.
This morning we got up and out at 6 am to get breakfast and get on the lake before the sun got too hot. As we walk up the street from our hotel there is the occasional shop owner opening up to start the day, but mostly everything is closed....even breakfast places, much to Ella's chagrin.
We were joined by a large dog wearing a collar. A healthy-looking male who trotted along with us, weaving in and out of the 6 of us. Emerson had not joined us yet. It wasn't long before another couple of dogs, who seemed scrappy and steet-wise, joined the parade. One was a cute female dog who seemed sweet. Jane and Jenna have warned us not to touch any dogs, and the girls remember this now. But we talk to them and they wag their tails and trot along......then more dogs peel off from their intended paths to hook up with the women and dog entourage. Yeah, you can see it coming, can't you?
First came a few warning growls and positioning of bodies between the female and the other males. Jane told us to stop and let the dogs go on ahead of us, or we were about to be in the midst of a dog fight. We stopped. So did the dogs. We walked faster. So did the dogs. We crossed to the other side of the street....and here came the dogs. They seemed intent on hanging with us, even with the distraction of rivals in the mix. We even stepped up into the outside section of a restaurant (it wasn't yet open) and several of the dogs even followed us there, continuing to snarl and growl at each other.
Finally, the dogs lost interest as we got further up the street. We learned that no one serves breakfast in Pokhara before 7 am. We decide to head back to find Emerson, by now it is 7 and we knew we could find somewhere to eat. We choose a nice outside table by the lake and order black filter coffee (not Nescafe) and scrambled eggs. Jenna and Ashley order banana porridge and Jane ordered an indian breakfast. She's all spicy, all the time!
Three of the dogs find us again. They came right up on into the restaurant, wagging and waiting on a handout. We resisted the temptation to feed them, but our young waiter who was so polite looked at Jenna and said, "Your dogs, Madame"? Jenna sweetly told him no (her face revealed, "Sure, I brought them with me from America!") and he ran them out, and they were not patient enough to wait for us to leave.
We finished our breakfast, discussing our all-time favorite films then our plans for the day, which included renting boats to paddle to the little island of shrines in the middle of the lake.
I'm not sure what kind of internet, if any, is in Jomsom and beyond. If possible, we will post again. If not, the next time you hear from us will be when we return from our trek.
We miss everyone back home, and love you even more.

now i feel grounded here...

From Jenna
It was strange for the fourth of July to pass with no fireworks....
After our biking adventure yesterday and canoeing on the lake early this morning, I feel more at home. off and on the last week I have thought about my friends running the rapids on the New River and the mtn bike trails I love so much at the pond. the only thing I need to do now to heal my mild homesickness is work in a garden somewhere and eat a BIG salad and some icecream! Jason and Jon, please tell me what foods you are eating from the garden and how the flowers are doing......

To add to Ashleigh's description of the ride, I must fist say that the bikes in Nepal are just like the ponies in the high mountains-- COMPACT!! i was riding the biggest bike they had, and it was still a bit small. in the end, it was probably a good thing because there were no brakes. All i had to do was drag my feet on the down hills. I loved riding between the water-fulled, terraced, rice paddies and watching men, women, children,and water buffalo harvesting, planting and plowing the fields. I am always amazed how well people here use the land and how hard they work. Water from mountain streams is channeled and diverted to the fields, and each field drains water into the terraced field below it until it is returned to a creek or the lake at the bottom. It was 200 rupees to rent the a bike for two hours-- that was the best $2.65 I have spent in a while.

We were up early to get out on the lake before the heat and sun made it unbearable. Jane, Emer and I shared a wooden canoe, and Ashleigh, Reba, Mary and Ella shared one. Fewa Lake runs the length of "Main Street" in Pokhara, it is lined with poinsettia TREES, jungley forests, blooming jasmine and bougainvillea vines. We were hoping to see monkeys playing in the trees, but they must have been taking it easy because of the heat. In the middle of the lake there is an island with many little shrines. We are able to tie our boats up and walk around the island. Surprisingly enough, several women had loaded up their bracelets, necklaces, small statues and purses and set up tables on the island. Because people bring offerings to the shrines there is also a nice pigeon population hanging around hoping for a treat. Reba commented that it felt pretty lucky to roam around the whole island without getting pooped on.

Ella had 5 rupees that I gave her the other day. She was trying to decide what to do with it, and in the end she picked a sweet old Sadhu wearing saffron colored clothes to give it to. It was very sweet watching her walk up to this holy man with her hands in prayer position as she said "Namaste" and placed the rupee note in his hands. Carl, Naomi, and Hugh you would be proud of your girls! today Mary took one of her drawings to a tailor and discussed the idea of turning the design into an embroidered short. She discussed the color, size and even negotiated the price. In the end she decided that she should probably wait till KTM to get the shirt because she did not want to have to carry it on the trek.

Jane's bag was found!!! Our wonderful porter Naryan will bring it when he comes to the mountains. What a relief! It is hard to believe that in this 104 degree weather she could possibly need the fleece tops, capaline underwear and wool socks from that bag, but she will need them when we hit the high mountains.

We leave our hotel at 5am tomorrow-- for a 6 am flight. The 20 minute flight is going to be exciting-- the small twin engine plane will probably transport out team of 7 and maybe 5 other passengers. we will take off, climb and climb and climb over the snowy peaks and then descend into the village of Jomsom. This time the runway will be paved, but the first time Jane and I were here it was a gravel runway. I already know that Tsampa and his wife Karma will be there to greet us with blessing scarves to drape around out necks. I am hopeful that little Laxmi, the street girl Tsampa and his wife took in a few years ago, will be there as well. We all fall in love with her last time. She is between Mary and Ella's ages, and we are looking forward to the girls getting to know each other.

Write us if you have a minute, today will the our last EASY day to read comments until we return to KTM in 3 weeks. J

Bicycle Adventure in Pokhara

A Joyful Hello from Ashleigh

In her last post, Jenna mentioned being on edge of a bicycle adventure: I am still beaming from the fun. Rather than ride our mountain-bikes (functionally speaking: beach cruisers) up the mountain to the World Peace Stupa, we decided to follow a small road that snakes along the edge of the lake. Asphalt turns to dirt and gravel; city turns to mountain huts and terraced rice fields. My heart soars as we steer our bikes, sans brakes, between slurping mud puddles and sharp rocks. "This feels like running a rapid," I say to Jenna, the expert raft-guide who always chooses the smoothest line. I laugh as I fly over the biggest rocks and dodge the puddles on edge. As my pedaling legs dissolve into my joyful smile, I am reminded of what a country mouse I am. Remember the children's story? I can play the city life for a little while: the electric glow, the exhaust pipe face-powder, the loud sounds of street shops, stereos and car horns. But how I come alive when I fade into green! Village life, knee deep in rice-paddy mud and oxen-drawn plows, holds the alchemical magic that accesses my brightest glow. This is where I recharge.

Jenna and I laugh our way through small roadside stops like the Hungry Feel Guest House and the Benign Cafe. We laugh again at the two young Nepali men who follow us for miles on their motorbike: just smiling and staring at these two crazy women pedaling so freely. "Where did Tom and Lisa Hammet live when they were here?" I ask Jenna. "I hope it was here in the rice fields," says Jenna. "Just what I was thinking," I reply as I nearly swerve off the road, lost in the beauty of green.

We return our bikes after the gorgeous adventure and walk to the hotel dripping mud and sweat. A pot of lemon tea, a shower, reunion with the glowing faces of our team: what a way to live an afternoon.

July 5, from Jane

Apologies to those of you who are following the blog and have had plenty already of Jane-thought, which may have seemed nice and organic in your first few bowls full, but now may have cooled for you, and started to taste pasty, like so much old oatmeal. But I doubt our ability to communicate easily if at all starting hopefully tomorrow, thus the impulse to write while I can.

This morning, though, we had a sinister sky, unbearably low clouds, not right for allowing our hummingbird flight into the high country. I fear that we may not be able to fly tomorrow morning if we have a sky like today's. I am feeling like a bad trip organizer since we COULD have flown yesterday morning. Luckily, Emerson pointed out that my horoscope today encouraged me to "let go quickly of your dumb ideas."

Before attempting to fly up to Jomsom village--hopefully tomorrow morning, though the clouds have me worried--I am thinking about what it is you decide--what gods and which thoughts guide you--when you willingly go into a place of higher risk, or imagine the risks as greater.

I do always remember how the urbane French theorist Roland Barthes died: not in the Himalayas, or along the Amazon, or on an expedition like Shackleton's icy polar imprisonment, but in Paris, I think, as he crossed the street, distracted. He was hit and killed by a laundry truck.

I also always remember what the Tibetan lama Venerable Dudjom Rinpoche said when someone told him the sad news that a dear friend's health had suddenly declined and that the friend would most likely die. "Yes," the Rinpoche smiled, "Of course he will not recover. We are all dying."

There was a time when the inevitability of a Buddhist response like the Rinpoche's made me roll my eyes, seemed merely clever, or troublingly aloof and blithe.

Now I try to steer by a set of prayer flags that I think I see fluttering in front of me, knowing the boat (or tiny airplane) that sails them is always already disintegrating as I glide. The prayers printed on the flags I strain to glimpse announce wishes: may all creatures suffer less; may we all gain wisdom and compassion; may the Buddhas of the five directions prosper, inspiring good intentions, non-violence, right action, and right livelihood. May we, to recontextualize the title of an essay I love by my friend Suzi Gablik, see and be moved by Art and the Big Picture.

A great article by Sushma Joshi (e-mail her at sansarmagazine@gmail.com) impressed me in yesterday's Kathmandu Post, called "Killing our Nagas: Our disembodied society views the rvers as spearate, rather than as part, of the social fabric." The article highlights the noxious and sordid condition of the Kathmandu Valley's rivers and alludes to the Buddhist idea that Nagas, river dieties, are responding to the disrespect that forgetful and selfish humans have shown to their own life-sources.

Joshi sees her own condescending relation to the Buddhist literature she has grown up learning--sees how she has been directed in her education to relegate Buddhism to "inventive and charming" parable. But "Scientists predict water shortages all over the continent [of Asia] in the coming decades. Predictions are dire--millions may be without drinking water. Thirsty times have begun." Like D. H. Lawrence in his Sicilian poem "Snake," Joshi rethinks what really repels her in this world.

Joshi remembers that "Killing snakes was forbidden in Vedic times. Snakes, myths said, were the embodiment of Nagas, serpent guardians of rivers and rains. They carry the elixir of immortality. When Nagas were protected, the monsoons arrived on time."

Immortality and death are not oxymoronic. It is in the turning of the continuous wheel of life, death, and rebirth where immortality resides. After all, the contribution of any human being can be only to nurture and celebrate life before the point of death--to fly or raft with faith and gusto, to do as little harm as possible where you are--and, importantly--to do as much GOOD as you can, while you can.

No choking of rivers allowed. No breaking of spirits or hearts. No desecration. No cynicism. No armchair sarcasm. No apathy. No giving up. Or to put the pith otherwise, as my friend Jenna likes to say (quoting a t-shirt she admired), come to the end of your life in a great slide, like a baseball player giving 100% to reach home base, dirty, sweaty, exhausted, and thinking, "Amazing! What a ride!" Jane

Small Wonder

July 5th: Greetings from Ashleigh

While lazing around the hotel in the blistering afternoon heat of this surprising tropical village set in the gaze of some of the highest, snowiest mountains on Earth, I smile at how familiar Pokhara feels to my travel-worn feet. Banana trees
surfing the breeze, electric-chirping cicadas, curiously independent toddlers dancing through the streets: have I been here before? I sit quiet and calm and think to myself: not every day has to be a revelation or a revolution, for that matter. Why is it that we so often place what is new and novel on a pedestal that glares at what is ordinary and similar and strangely familiar? Some of the most extraordinary gems of life hide in the soft shadow of every-day moments. The kind of moments that are easy to live thoughtlessly are full of mica-like gifts just waiting to be recognized by seeing eyes. I laugh at myself for how I have to coach myself through the beauty of a lazy afternoon; how I have to remind myself that the binding glue of a journey does not reveal itself all at once like the light explosion of a festive sparkler; how I am integrating the many teachings of Jane's Creative Process class, of Yoga, of vagabond feet into the present moment: re-weaving theory as practice. And just then, as I am lost in thought and laughing at myself in joyful quiet, Ella and Mary boom onto the seen with grace and invite me to play. Of course! And out of the ordinary afternoon, heavy with tropical laze, booms the firework-wonder of two young girls who remind me of the magic hidden in the walls of the hotel garden. We dance through the green and pink buzz and speak in British accents as if we are tour guides pointing out every movement, every sound, every small wonder hidden in rocks, in trees, in rusty spiral staircases and mountain views: bliss blooms in the crystal-shine of our silly voices. How grateful I feel to learn the world through the eyes of these two sisters, Mary and Ella, whose eyes, like telescopes, find new constellations hidden in the everyday sky. We sing ourselves silly: a round of In The Jungle that lets us try our hand at harmonizing. Such fun: barefoot in the garden; raising our voices in song. Thank you Mary and Ella: for your eyes, for your laughter, for sharing the joy of spirited song. You remind me why I want to spend my life learning from children. -Ashleigh

Sunday, July 4, 2010

from Jane, July 4th evening here

A breeze! The internet shop I have chosen is open to the lake, and now that it is dark outside, the air is sweet. It carries frangipani tree-perfume and Nepali filmi music and albino gecko chirps and NO pitchfork heat.

At dinner tonight, under a thatch upstairs restaurant roof, Ella, having split a pineapple pizza with Mary (please put "pizza" in quotation marks), was looking out at the street life, and swaying to Nepali music, more and more vigorously--in her own world--in the literal rhythm of this place. Reba leaned over and said, nodding toward Ella, "Too bad Nepal has shut Ella down."

Mary and Ella get to alternate at lunch and dinner who gets to choose which dish to order for them to share, and they are being good cooperative sisters, only occasionally jealous of who has the camera.

Mary said to me today, as we were walking, "I am so glad I came on this trip, Jane. i feel so privileged. But not in the way of that Kathmandu guy, Aslan."

"Were you suprised at how rough I was with him, Mary?" I asked. She paused. "No. I wasn't surprised. It doesn't surprise me that you would protect me. You thought he wasn't safe. So you became rough." "I did. And it made me shake to speak to someone that way. My hands were shaking. It doesn't feel good to be rough, but I knew it would have felt worse to tolerate him near us. So I don't regret being rough. But it didn't feel good. Do you understand?" "I think so," Mary said. "You aren't naturally rough. Just when you need to keep us safe. But I'm not sure I will ever be able to be rough like you. I hope so, though. It was awesome."

So our friends in Kathmandu have alerted me that I have an early birthday present: they have found my missing backpack, and our guide, Narayan, will be bringing it to Mustang before we meet to head into the Restricted Territory. So I will have a sleeping bag liner and cold-weather gear after all. Amazing! Thanks to Jenna for realizing what I didn't have (MY BACKPACK!) before I did, and kicking into gear to send the alert out in time.

Ashleigh and Emerson, and our already-trekking teammate Mika, young people in their twenties, like all my Creative Process students at Virginia Tech, or like my Blacksburg High School friend Jessica, who is taking care of my gazillion cats when she is not impressing the Coach of the Metropolitan Opera House (GO JESSICA!): Jenna and Reba and I (the elders) are SO proud of you, as we are of Mary and Ella.

What a team. Happy 4th to our friends and family back home--our extended team! Jane, The Rough Elder

from Jane on the 4th of July

Fourth of July in tropical Pokhara: the entire region is a lit firework. Sizzle-heat.

I had no idea it WAS the 4th of July today until I was wondering today's date for this post, and now, I think of fireworks in my back yard, with Jenna, and with my friends and my neighbors, the Bowyer family, and Sammy and Izzy Robbins and their family, and Iris and Emerson being the firework masters on the lawn near the apple tree, just outside my painting room.

I love fireworks, and have always tried to afford them. I love what Truman Capote said, that fireworks were his favorite art form. But as we would shoot off sometimes two hours' worth in my back yard, I always felt a little conflicted, enthralled by the fizz of colors, but also sorry for the sleeping birds, who lose their magic at night, and can not fly, either from their fears, or toward their needs.

I will measure this 4th of July in threads instead of sparks.

Today, we visited the Tibetan Refugee Center on the back side of Pokhara, where there is a carpet workshop. I bought two small square carpets of Tibetan wool: a yak for my son (Emerson picked it out--rose, dull magenta, and tan) and a snow lion for my daughter (Iris will love the colors--apricots, sage, and pale blue). Both the yak and the snow lion will live in Charlottesville, in my children's apartments, this fall.

We saw the work-room where the carpets were hand-loomed. It was a Tibetan woman named Dawa (whose name means "moon") who packaged these purchases for me. She liked my necklaces.

In Martin Scorscese's film, Kundun, about the life of the Dalai Lama, I can never forget the scene when His Holiness has had to flee Lhasa and finally manage to reach safety at the Indian border. The handsome young Indian soldier who greets the young Dalai Lama approaches and says, "Excuse me, sir. May I ask: Are you the Lord Buddha?" And when the exhausted Dalai Lama finds the strength to reply, He answers: "I think I am like the moon, reflecting in water. When you see me, you see yourself."

See that film, with Philip Glass' gorgeous musical score, if you haven't. I weep each time I see it. Think of fireworks, fireflies, yaks, snow lions, the moon, the thread, and a free Tibet. Jane

it's a sauna here

Greetings from Jenna in Pokhara, I was up at 5:30 am hoping to watch the sun rise over some of the largest peaks in the world-- Annapurna I and II, to name a few. Once in a while the clouds broke and revealed the snowy peeks, which seemed so surreal, because the temperature was already in to the 90's on the roof of our hotel.
Now, at 2:30 in the afternoon it is over 100 degrees. Everything seems even more lush and jungle like than I remember-- lots of banana trees and poinsettias trees (though not in bloom). I look forward to canoeing on the lake tomorrow before the heat sets in.
Today we took a jeep up to Devi falls and Tibetan Refugee Camp-- what a great surprise to step off a market street, through a gate and to the edge of a deep water fall (for all of my river friends-- it's not runnable). We saw beautiful double rainbows and amazing rock formations carved from flood waters.
Ashleigh and I just bought a map of lake side Pokhara. We were going to rent two mtn bikes and try our luck riding to a hill top temple called the World Peace Stupa.

I have really enjoyed seeing Nepal with Ella and Mary's eyes. They bring so much to our experience and they are doing so well here-- bargaining on the streets, trying new foods, and asking the best questions. People respond to our group favorably because we are traveling with kids--- way to go Reba. What a gift you have given to us all.

Jane my not post this, but you should know that yesterday as we were about to board our flight-- we discovered that her backpack with all her trekking gear did not make it to our hotel. The last place we had it was when we put it on the plane to Nepal. Jane was so busy making sure we were all okay and that all the bags with gifts for the nunnery had arrived, she never noticed the missing bag--somehow we all missed this one bag. She did not really need anything from the bag in KTM, but as we prepared to leave the city for the trek, she realized it was gone. We have our friends at Gurkha travels trying to track the bag down, and we are hopeful our porter can bring it from KTM when he comes. Keep your fingers crossed!!!!

more later after the bike ride-- wish me luck-- the bike has no shocks, there are not helmets for rent and I don't have my padded biking shorts, not to mention we have NO idea where we are going. Should be an adventure.