Today was jam packed with interesting things, so prepare yourselves for a looooonng journal!
School for the Blind
If you remember from our plane trip, we brought 2 reams of braile paper into Tibet for a blind school. Today, we spent the morning visiting the Tibet School for the Blind and hearing Sabriye’s story of how she started it. This was quite an amazing story!
Sabriye is a 31-year old blind woman (I think from Germany) who studied Central Asian Studies at Bonn University. Because no blind person had ever studied this before, she had to develop her own methods to help her with her studies. This included inventing a braille script for the Tibetan language – which she created on her own. After she graduated, she defied governments and popular opinion and traveled into Central Asia to teach English and Braille to blind children in small villages. By the way, she did this on horseback.
One thing led to another, and she made her way to Lhasa where the stereotype for blind people is that they are useless and should be put away. She came here to prove that blind people can be completely independent and, as she says, “We can even read in the dark!”. Eventually, she raised the funds to start the School for the Blind in 1997.
Since then, it has grown into an amazing organization – all because of the tenacity and intelligence of this incredibly woman. We were quite spellbound by her, and are convinced that her IQ is off the charts. The School for the Blind is well known and very respected around Lhasa and we were all ready to whip out our checkbooks by the end of the tour (if we had checkbooks, that is).
Sabriye has written a book, but it has yet to be published in English. There’s also been talk of making a movie of her story.
Lunch at Crazy Yak’s (Dunya)
After the Project for the Blind, a few of us went looking for Crazy Yak’s Restaurant but it turns out that it’s now Dunya – where we had dinner the other night and for which we smuggled alcohol. Because we were hungry we ate there again and enjoyed every bit of it!
Sera Monastery for Debates
Later this afternoon, we headed out to Sera Monastery to see the debates. The debating was held in a lovely courtyard with lots of trees and lots of monks: at least 100 of them! Unfortunately, there were also many tour busses of tourists who insisted on walking through the middle of the debating throng and taking ridiculous pictures.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, the debate involves one Buddhist monk who stands and makes his argument, and one monk who sits and listens and refutes. When the standing monk finishes a major point, he stamps his foot and claps his hands together in a large movement to emphasize his opinion. The sitting monk will just sit there and listen and quietly counter the argument.
Today’s debates were much more interesting than yesterday’s because it seemed that the monks were truly passionate about what they were saying. After we had been there an hour and a half or so, some of the standing monks had dug holes in the ground from stamping their feet through the gravel! There was one particular monk who I sat and watched for a good hour. I have no idea what he was saying, but he and his debater were having a wonderful time:
Alex, our young Swiss traveler, thinks the monks are very cute and is quite attracted to them. This makes us all laugh because most of them are (supposedly) celibate. So we’ve enjoyed teasing her about her “monk lust”.
Climb on the Mountains
We walked behind the monastery with Mark and Laura looking for the loo, but only found a path and some beautiful rocky hills. On top of the hills was a bunch of prayer flags and some other tourists, so we decided to make the climb. We regretted it after about 1/2 hour as the rocks were tougher to climb than they looked and the altitude was definitely affecting our oxygen intake. But we made it to the top successfully and it was worth it for the view!
At one point on the top, Mark dropped his lens cap and had to scramble down the rocks to retrieve it. The three of us found this quite amusing and gave him a hard time about it.
Dinner at Lhasa Kitchen
Later, we went to dinner at Lhasa Kitchen but the largest table wasn’t big enough for all of us. So we sat at the “kiddie table” with Mark, Laura, Lisa, Ken, and some bizarre old woman who claimed to be a Tibetologist and had somehow attached herself onto our group. (We later decided that she was a pathological liar because she really didn’t know anything at all about Tibet except the basic stuff and was weird all around.) Jon said that he was going to engage her in conversation, but when he looked over to start talking she had her finger half-way up her nose. So he decided to leave her be.
Regardless, we dad a good time exchanging jokes with Mark, Laura, Lisa, and Ken and being generally childish and silly.