Reunion of Spirits

Reunion of Spirits

Xperitas Community Partnership Program: Jampaling, Nepal

My wife Sue and I were excited to join the Xperitas team for our second trip to Jampaling, Nepal in October of this past year. It had been fifteen years since we first experienced this Tibetan “island of tranquility” nestled in the Pokhara valley along the Seti River Gorge. This time around we were welcomed lovingly at the Pokhara airport with khata scarfs by Tseten, the leader of the refugee camp in Jamapling, and Tashi Dawa, an old friend who also works for the Tibetan communities. Our vehicles were loaded up for the hour-long ride to our destination.

Tseten and Passang
(photo by Karen Dunning-Wells)

After getting settled into our lodging above the school offices, we had one of our many home-cooked meals graciously served by our cooks, Ricksang and her sister, Chumi. The ensuing meeting at the community center gave us a chance to meet our village leaders and learn about the project and events that were to unfold during our stay. It was an experience watching the leaders decide on the project and organize a plan of action with our leaders Jan and Jim Smith. Our project was to create a new concrete cooking and work surface next to the community center.

Chumi and Ricksang.
(photo by Karen Dunning-Wells)

Our program fell on a holy week celebrated by both Nepalese and Tibetan people. We were invited to a camp ceremony on the first weekend and enjoyed the community’s hospitality as we experienced traditional music and dancing. We also met our new friends and fellow project workers and their families. All in all, it was a wonderful entry into our stay.

Soon thereafter our team leader, Jan Smith, and community coordinator, Passang, began securing the necessary materials for our project from a local village. We reorganized firewood and moved and installed base rock to the work area to prepare for the installation of the concrete surface and cooking stations. The Xperitas team worked hand in hand with our Tibetan friends, carrying sacks laden with concrete and depositing them one at a time in the work area. It was an amazing example of teamwork and commitment. The Tibetan people are extremely hard workers and the women are amazingly strong and resilient. There was much laughter and exchange while we worked in concert.  

Our project site.

After dinner each night, our team meetings provided an opportunity to reflect and share. One often experiences raw emotions when reliving moments experienced by daily circumstance and interactions within the host community. Team meetings were a time for probing the corners of our hearts in a way that does not happen in coffee shops or subways. We were building true friendships. Becoming more aware of simple things that have meanings. Opening up to the moment. Feeling love embrace our hearts. There is a pureness and a holiness to Jampaling.

You can touch foreheads with the faces of heroes. You can dance with women made from courage and fortitude. Their smiles will burn into your memory and become a part of you. A visit to an elder’s home can turn into a history lesson about a country taken, a people’s escape in cloth-wrapped feet, walking the frozen trails of the Himalayas to the safety of Jampaling refugee camp. Mustang warriors who fought for their homeland. All these live here.

Coupled with the project mission is the cultural exchange we experienced. During free time, we took hikes around camp, allowing us to witness a day in their lives. We were invited into homes for tea, shared time and made new friends. We visited the school and preschool where, according to the Dalai Lama, our mission should be to “bring happiness to one’s self and the society in which one lives.” If you bring a jump rope, you can experience real joy and laughter on school breaks. Bring a soccer ball and you can get tired.

During our stay in Nepal we were fortunate enough to take two cultural excursions. One was a long trek through a Nepali mountain village, up to their holy sanctuary. Here, we witnessed the amazing way they honor their God with offerings and prayers. We also visited the two other Tibetan villages in Pokhara. Each of the camps has a monastery where the monks live, worship and chant. They are beautiful, holy places to experience. One village has a visitor/business-orientated perspective, where visitors can learn how they spin wool and handmake exquisite carpets (and buy some, too). A small historical museum displays the Tibetan history and their existence through time, and the connections with our country. We ended our excursion to Pokhara at the Nepalese Gurka museum and learned about their fierce fighting commitment to freedom and exemplary courage in battle.

As our community project was complete and time was short, the community organized a going-away party at the outdoor prayer shelter near the monastery. We were given many khata scarves in thanks for our work and commitment to making their community a better place, and for our friendship. We took our seats and were blessed by the community as they performed songs and traditional Tibetan dance routines. We took our turns and sang American traditional songs like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad “and “If I Had a Hammer.”  Everyone enjoyed this special time that was very emotional and filled with love for one another.

Celebration and gratitude
(photo by Karen Dunning-Wells)

As we exited camp for home, we lumbered back to Pokhara for an overnight stay at the Lakeside Hotel. My wife, Sue, and I had arranged to have lunch with our friend Tashi Dawa at Paljorling Tibetan Refugee Settlement where he lives and works for the community. Our friendship was born from our first mission in 2005, when Tashi was our Team’s community leader.

Our lunch was memorable. It gave us a chance to experience life up close and personal in Paljorling. Tahsi’s kind wife Soham was busy cooking three versions of delicious momos in their small kitchen. It was very enlightening and humbling to experience their daily life. It reminded us that we are very fortunate. The Tibetan’s live an austere, basic existence – but always wear a smile and have love in their hearts. During our visit, Tashi invited his father to visit us and were honored to meet this brave man who fought underground during China’s invasion of Tibet. There were many hugs, smiles and stories!

Me and Tashi
(photo by Karen Dunning-Wells)

Over the years we became quite close, communicating by email and social media. We followed the lives of their two growing sons, who now school in India. They take the 36-hour-long bus ride full of passengers back and forth from India to Nepal on school breaks. Tashi and Soham also take trips to visit them at school. One of the most thoughtful experiences I had with Tashi was when my wife became ill. Tashi made continuous prayer journeys to holy grounds in the mountains for Sue’s health. He also performed Tibetan rituals for her cure by hanging prayer flags, releasing and setting free fish in the streams and praying in the temple. He is a good man, friend and a model Tibetan. We love him so.

In our five journeys with Xperitas (formerly Global Citizens Network), I have learned from leaders that making close friends with the local residents can sometimes prove to be problematic in different regards. While I totally agree with this cautious perception, and support it, I also have learned that if two people open their hearts to each other in truth, honesty and love, miracles can happen.

Jampaling will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Me and my wife, Sue, wearing our khata scarves.
(photo by Karen Dunning-Wells)