We were supposed to go get Ama Dunmajhet but Karjam felt that there were still a few last touches on sprucing up the house before she arrived. It had snowed about an inch during the night, more than the dusting the previous night, and so I decided to get out from under K's feet and head out for some snowy photos. I headed toward the nearer temple, intending just to take a few photos as soon as I got high enough to have a good vantage point. My feet took me closer, still. As I was setting up my camera, I noticed a herd of yaks cresting the hill to my right, heading to the mountain to the left of the temple. I positioned to get the perfect shot of yaks in a row, stupa and temple buildings behind them, but the herd kept growing and growing until I was surrounded by over 100 quiet shuffling yaks, with a few horses, cows, and cross-bred yak-cow hybrids as well. It felt pretty magical, just me, the temple, a woman herding the yaks with a baby strapped to her chest, and far off in the distance some hardy souls who were already circling the stupa. The yaks didn't bother me in the slightest, as yaks are patient and intelligent animals accustomed to humans. The downside to the entire experience was that each time I turned on the camera, or turned it off, or adjusted the tripod settings, or took the lens cap off, or replaced the lens cap, or pressed the trigger button to take a shot my hands screamed with the cold. I bunched the fingers together inside the gloves, but it was deathly cold-- on my walk out the steam of my breath had caught my glasses and frozen-- I had to use my fingernail to scrape off the ice in a large enough spot to see through.
Karjam and I had not lit the fire in the morning, but fortunately after a few minutes we headed to Zhyibuk's house, where the living area was, as usual, toasty warm. Tserdin and Hlamo were, however, conspicuously absent (Zhyibuk joked "they're gone so we don't have anything except tea and bread"). Shortly I was informed that they'd gone to Maqu so that Tserdin could get a hysterectomy. I am all for family planning, but this struck me as odd, both that the kids (3 and 5?) knew it (okay, maybe they didn't understand), and that Tibetans who live in rural areas are allowed 3 children under China's family planning policies, and they usually take advantage by having every allowed child.
In the warm house (the fire stoked by Banko in the absence of the women) I tried just taking off my boots and putting my sock feet near the stove, discreetly for a short time, then re-booting. Over half an hour later I realized that this had not worked, although it had brought feeling back to an acceptable level, so instead I had to strip off my socks and try again. In the meantime I goofed around with the kids and drank cup after cup of green tea. Zhyibuk's house is the only place that people ordinarily drink green tea of the places we usually visit. A different kind of tea that looks like it's made from the whole plant (sticks and all) of some bush is the usual type here, it's dark, heavily caffeinated, and often brewed with milk (this time of the year that means milk from pouches from the store, not fresh yak milk). We brew ours without milk and add milk for those who want it, but at many households I just choose to drink hot water.
We were supposed to move onwards from Zhyibuk's with water from the well for Tubko's household, but while we were there Ani Sanko (Ama Dunmajhet's sister) stopped by and asked Karjam to drive her daughter and daughter's family (who were visiting from Linxia, her husband is not Tibetan-- I couldn't tell if he (Ga Ping) was Han Chinese or Hui), with belongings, out to her son's nomad encampment. Karjam couldn't say no, but part of this process had to include hanging around at Ani Sanko's house while everything got prepared. Karjam doesn't like visiting her, because 1) she's a poor housekeeper 2) she's had a depressing string of bad luck 3) the combination of 1 and 2 pulls at your heartstrings. She is, however, fun and lively-- due to the Chinese speaking son-in-law she's picked up a little Chinese (although I can barely understand him, much less her), and she's super generous. I couldn't leave without a new string of prayer beads and a bowl/cup with the 8 auspicious Tibetan symbols on it, with a smidgen of butter (for richness), two apples, and two disks of bread. It took forever to get out of her icebox home, especially since her dog (not tied up) had recently had (at least three) puppies, and was extremely dangerous (except to Ani Sanko, meaning we all had to have her help us across the yard).
K and I then drove the family out to their camp, but on the way there Tsebae called. So, instead of heading to Tubko's to get Ama, we had to return to Ama's house, open the gate for Tsebae, help her sort her stuff, then drive her and her eldest to where her (string of expletives) husband was. Then at last we were able to drive out to Tubko's house. When we got there only Rinchin, Rinchin's deaf brother, Jolo, and Ama were there. After a lunch of tsampa, and afraid I wouldn't have another opportunity I insisted on walking out to the sky burial site. Jolo escorted me past the dog zone, then turned back. As I walked, I reflected on how much easier it had been when I rode to the site on horses with April and Karjam. Certainly long before I had arrived I felt toasty warm everywhere, even my fingers and toes. From a long distance away it was apparent that there were not that many new prayer flag arrays, that trends in how to erect the prayer flags had changed, and that the volume of total prayer flag displays had increased significantly. Last time I visited it seemed the newer style was to use a type of parasol or umbrella style, and flag trees were also common, but now there were two types of display dominating-- rows of thickly hung vertical flags, and extremely long flag strings across the gap between the steep hills lining the site. As I got closer I had to pick my footing with care-- tattered prayer flags, human bone, and shards of sutra-inscribed slate littered the ground. Stepping on or even over Tibetan writing is a huge offense, and I was sure without needing to be told that I should treat the bones with respect. Chanting "om mani padme hum" I gingerly explored the site, wondering which of the two newest displays had been erected for Apa Lorae. I took photos of the tattered prayer flags, and the newer ones, trying to do a decent job and leave quickly as I was worried that K and Ama would be waiting. Sure enough, when I crested the hill on the way back I was shortly greeted by Karjam blowing the truck's horn.
|The sky burial site from a distance|
|This is what the parasols that I loved photographing a few years ago look like now|
After stopping at Zhyibuk's to pick up two of Karjam's bags he'd been storing there for more safety (now that Ama is home, one of the three of us will generally be home, allowing for less worry about thievery-- a constant concern around here, whether it is of yak/sheep/horse rustling or more standard B&E.), we finally were able to show Ama Dunmajhet what we'd done to her house. Her reaction was as good as or even better than we'd hoped. She thought it was really beautiful and that it felt like a new home. More, she commented to Karjam that the changes meant she wouldn't be constantly faced by Apa Lorae's absence in the surroundings he'd once filled. She's never slept in the room we fixed up, but now she will. The color, the flooring, the hearth for the stove, all these things we did make it feel really different.
As it got dark K went and fetched Tubla and Ahyangtso from the Nyingma temple (the farther away temple). When Apa Lorae died he was not "done" with a series of Buddhist tasks--such as circling various temples, spinning various prayer wheels, and doing prostrations at various sites. The kids, especially the two girls, are finishing a lot of these tasks before the 49 days are up. They circled the large prayer hall at the Nyingma temple 500 times (total for both of them) and have to do another 500 the next day, to finish that task. I would have gone with K to get the girls but I was exhausted after all the activity of the day, and stayed home to cook. I made veggies for Tubla and I (Tubla is being mostly vegetarian these days!!!), and Ama cut up meat that I made into a big meat and noodle soup for the other three. The girls spent the night on Ama's old bed, going to sleep earlier and leaving Ama, K and I up around the stove, talking.
|Even last time I came here it was impossible to find so many good veggies in Maqu. Now I dine like this! Nummy!|