Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Monk / Monty

Monk - Rabbi Monty's true identity is strictly confidential. If I revealed his real name or location I'd probably have to join a monastery myself. Well, I mentioned you, so I hope your craving for human contact is that little bit more satiated.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Nostalgia by Weblog

It's been such a long time. I always had a love-hate relationship with writing here. When I was in India and knew lots of friends were reading I always felt uncomfortable after I hit the post button. It was to do with the problems of representing yourself. As from-the-heart I could have hoped to write, my words were never me. So returning to the UK I stopped self-publishing. Now I would see my friends - why would I need to forge some alternative cyber-relationship with them via an online diary?

Today, out of curiosity, I went to my blog and looked at my guestbook. I had two random messages from people I didn't expect to hear from. Both brought a smile to my face. Now I'm writing for old time's sake, I think. I've been tempted to tap something out partly because I wonder if anybody's still listening. Maybe only Dave in California, one of my first readers. If you are... hi Dave! London Burning Man decompression, 11th December, same day as Santacon. It's going to be HUGE! Or perhaps one of the people I met travelling will stumble across this. Ofer, Roy, Kevin, Toby, Itamar, Carlos, Carla, Shimrit, Simran, Danielle, Ayelet, Marie, Katia, Hilla, Stephanie... Holding a special place in my heart for all of you.

Monday, July 19, 2004

It felt like we were in Lord of the Rings

The first night we stayed in a flower covered meadow, where horses grazed around a gently bubbling stream and snow covered mountains gleamed in the distance. Scant preparation for the day that was to follow, in which we climbed into a landscape so barren and bleak that we celebrated any sign that human life - in the form of other trekkers - had been there before us.

It felt like we were in Lord of the Rings - the perpetual mountain path, and always the Mordor-like peak of Parang-La towering ahead - so we called our pack-carrying donkeys Frodo, Sam, Smeagle and Gandalf. We became quite attached to them over the course of the week. When we finally reached the huge glacier at the top of the 18,000ft mountain pass, we were happy for our two local guides to rush the animals down the other side to get them out of the snow. We took our time ourselves, picking our steps across the fields of ice. At the end of the week, having wound our way across the flat river valley floor, we reached Tso Moriri, a deep blue lake measuring 45km around, home to nomadic herders and their horses, sheep, goats and, incredibly, yak.

All this was a far cry from running management seminars for Longsho, the Tibetan youth movement, or watching game after game to select the Tibetan national football team. But perhaps it wasn't so distant from the six-day meditation retreat I did in McLeod Ganj, where I learned to concentrate on one breath, one step, one moment at a time.

So, I'm in Leh now, medieval capital of Ladakh, and one of the most interesting, picturesque cities I've ever visited. On Thursday I fly to Kolkata, where I'll spend a few days with my brother, who's volunteering with an Indian NGO for the summer. And then a week Wednesday, 28th July, it's back to England. To all those who are around, I'm looking forward to seeing you. And to all of you, I hope you're enjoying a fantastic summer.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I'm up in the clouds

Have spent a gorgeous few days in the barren Spiti Valley. Shabbat I was in Kibber, the world's highest settlement connected to electricity and a road and a village with charm overload. 4,200 metres high. Had more of a shabbat hike than a shabbat walk.

But now it's onwards and upwards, 8 days' trekking through the mountains towards Ladakh. Just three of us and a couple local guides, who will take us over a 5,600 metre pass and towards the closest you can come to Tibet without messing with the Chinese.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Spiti

The bus was due to leave New Manali at 6am yesterday morning, so oversleeping my alarm and waking up at 5.20 almost sentenced me to another day in the Himalayas' most touristy of tourist villages. It was only because I waved across the river to a rickshaw driver relaxing with his early morning chai and bundled my stuff into his vehicle (losing my trainers in the process) that I made it in time. Then the bus was utter chaos. The Manali-Spiti bus had been cancelled and merged with the Kullu-Spiti bus, so now we had two sets of passengers and two sets of reservations but only one set of seats. It emerged that the ticket office, knowing of the cancellation, had decided to double book the seats and make a bit of extra money. I, on the other hand, didn't have a ticket at all. An Indian passenger sold me his absent friend's ticket for the seat next to him, but that was already occupied by a woman from Kullu and her ill looking child. I was standing and squashed and the journey to Spiti, over a couple of mountain passes and round bend after bend after bend, lasts 11 hours. But such is the Indian experience, I reasoned.

Yet, by any evaluation, the journey turned out hugely enjoyable. Once we were over the freezing, cloud-covered Rhotang Pass we descended onto the spectacular Spiti side. We snaked between towering valley walls and alongside the ever present, cheap coffee-coloured river. The clouds couldn't get over the mountains, so the sky turned clear and blue. After we stopped for lunch I joined the Indian guy who'd sold me the ticket and the other westerners - an Israeli girl, a Spanish couple and a German boy - on the roof. We lay or sat on the bed of backpacks and soft cases, let the sun beat down and enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen.

We arrived in Spiti's main town, Kaza, at 6pm. I say town, but it's still very quiet with hardly any foreign tourists. From every point in town you can see the gargantuan rocky hills and ravines.

It's 3,600 metres above sea level, so the Spanish, the Israeli and I all had headaches last night. The air felt lighter and I kept feeling dizzy. It was like my awareness was blocked and I felt like doing nothing. I did manage to get my guidebook out and read it takes about 24 hours for the body to adjust to the height. I've taken it easy today and sure enough I'm feeling almost back to normal. We've been gathering our strength to set off early tomorrow. We'll be getting a jeep further into the valley, where we'll stop at a lake and numerous Tibetan Buddhist gompas and monasteries.

In Manali I felt I wanted something more remote, harder, more solitary. Well I've got it. That I've attached myself to a group of tourists waters that down a bit. But Saturday, when they plan to move on from Tabo, the next town, and I want to rest for Shabbat, I may find myself more convincingly alone.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Observer's Paradox

My giardia is gone and I too have left Dharamshala. Now that my volunteer work is finished, I have a month to travel. So I'm in Manali, staying in a gorgeous guesthouse among apple orchards, pine trees and fragrant but (I'm told) barely potent marijuana bushes. I had a very relaxing day today, straying out only for a shabbat walk along the river in the nearby forest. The main street is best avoided, truly a North Indian Costa del Sol for Israelis. It's not the Israeliness I have a problem with, but rather the synthetic atmosphere. My friend Jay has a theory that it's easier to perceive God/Being/Now in the country than the city because modern urban life is designed to cater for our desires. So too with tourism. It's obsever's paradox. We come looking for authenticity and our very presence prevents it. All the restaurant and shop signs are in Hebrew and trance music blares from every interior. I just ate dinner in the Third Eye Cafe - Ayin HaShlishit if you prefer - watching an Indian waiter dance exactly like an Israeli and listening to another speaking Hebrew better than mine. There was to be a trance party tonight, started yesterday and continuing on into tomorrow. But someone forgot to pay off the police and they shut it down about 5 this afternoon. For me, Manali is a stop-off, en route to the deserted, desertified Spiti Valley. I'll be travelling with four very nice, very chilled Israelis, exploring the villages, walking in the mountains and moving on to the equally remote region of Ladakh.

On a different note, on Sunday 11 July (also my birthday) you can catch the UK debut of Tibetan film We're No Monks, showing at Screen on the Hill in Belsize Park. It's about the Tibetan community in McLeod Ganj, where I've been volunteering the last two months. The director will be giving a Q&A session afterwards. Funds from ticket sales go to the Tibetan Jewish Youth Exchange (the project I've been working with) and the Tibet Relief Fund. Email mekella@broomberg.co.uk if you're interested in going.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Being a football fan is an exercise in religious truth

"The reward is proportionate to the suffering." (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 5)

It's times like this I'm not sorry I'm abroad. If England had got through last night I might now be slightly envious. The collective hysteria cuts both ways. How much higher is the high when, at the instant of relative footballing glory, you're in a pub with tens and hundreds of hoping, shouting, drinking, jumping compatriots? Conversely, how much lower is that low? You can't have one without the other, not without being a bit inauthentic. If you want those moments of sheer visceral joy you've got to take those others, the moments of deflation and disappointment. You can't pretend to love it when you win and not care less when you lose.

The events of last night have made me think being a football fan, I mean really throwing your lot in with a team, can be a religious experience. It's almost a cliche to say your team's stadium is your place of worship, where you idolise the players and sing songs of praise. (The sports team is actually my favourite analogy for non-dualistic, omnipresent God: the team manifests itself in the current players, fans, management staff, board, stadium and so on, but none of those things are the team itself, which will continue to exist through new players etc.) But I'm not being metaphorical. Supporting a football team is an exercise in learning religious truths. It teaches you how to accept, which is to trust in God.

Let's be clear. I'm not talking about some deity of football who you think will eventually send your team glory. That's the "we still believe" of Skinner and Baddiel. I'm talking about the real and the unchangeable, which football eventually leads you to accept. What is, is.

I know I can't change the Portugal match's outcome. But it doesn't stop me involuntarily trying. My mind struggles against what happened. I walk around today replaying it all. The injury, the substitutions, the disallowed goal (sorry, I needn't go on)... in short, all the little incidents that combined to make it go wrong. To me it's 'wrong' because I've firmly attached myself to a specific outcome. So I resist the truth. And I feel pain and sorrow.

Hang on a minute, you might say. Where is the acceptance? How is attaching yourself to certain results the best way to learn about the real? 'Whatever will be will be' - but surely the non-football fan, the indifferent observer, is in a much better position to know it?

Yes, but he's not learning. He knows already. Or at least he thinks he knows. Maybe he pontificates about the stupidity of the supporters. "They're so irrational. How stupid to be happy or unhappy depending on a win or a loss, something they've got absolutely no way of affecting." Thing is, maybe he loses his wallet on the way home and spends the rest of the night worrying and regretting.

By the time it went into extra time last night I was nervous and shaking, my head pounding and my heart running double speed. I wanted so badly not to lose. For that reason, because I was scared pain would come - and I didn't want the pain - I tried to detatch myself. Portugal were attacking. I tried to see it as shapes on a screen, men in coloured shirts kicking a sphere, something I didn't really care about. I tried imagining we'd lost already.

Near impossible. And in any case, inauthentic. Still, I wanted to be calmer. So I tried something else. I looked for the part of me which was already calm. I found it was my awareness. Though the rest of me was a wreck, I could still watch, perfectly. Not my eyes, but the consciousness my eyes report to. When I found it, I calmed down. My body became less frantic. I started to smile and laugh a bit more.

I still cared. I still celebrated our extra-time equaliser. There was still an 'us', still a 'them'. Actually all that was just as strong. But there was also that part of me that was constant and unaffected. It's not that I was keeping something back, splitting myself off and steeling myself to avoid the pain. Rather I just noticed what was already there. And when we lost, I accepted.

At least I thought I did. After the match I went with my friends to a trance party by the waterfall. We danced, sat and chatted till the sun came up. On the way home the events of the football started to creep in and haunt me. Today, as I said before, they've been replaying in my mind. The point is I still attached myself to the result. The desire was and is still there, no matter what I pretend.

So again, why do I say football is a lesson in detatchment?

Because I can't learn unless I acknowledge the attachment that's there. You can't pretend you're further along the process than you already are. In fact, the combination of desire and disappointment is the process.

So is it leading to football renunciation? Is it x number of World Cup and European Championship penalty shootout exits and then I'm free, no longer a supporter? No. We keep coming back for more, don't we? Suckers all the way.

No, I'm free from football only to the extent that I'm free as regards everything else as well. In the meantime, there's no need to do anything apart from continue to wish fervently that England win.

And we continue to lose. And each time I feel pain. And each time I eventually accept. And the cycle repeats and repeats and it's all got to go somewhere. It's true of life in general, only with football the process is more concise: more intense, faster, clearer. And nothing more is at stake than a game.

I repeat:

Supporting a football team is an exercise in religious truth.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Self-fulfilling prophecies

Wonderful news! I have giardia.

Saw a nice doctor with an Australian accent who told me about the veritable sea-monkey I'm supporting in my stomach. I took four big antibiotic pills in a single, one-off dose after lunch. Apparently it kills the creatures within two days. Oh yes, this is warfare. That said my body is relatively happy with its new inhabitant. I'm not in belly-clutching pain. None of that belching or swollen torso stuff you hear from others.

It also seems I was supposed to get ill...

Friday I bought a new book, Osho on Sufism. Before making the twenty minute climb up to Dharamkot and Beit Chabad for Shabbat, I had time to read the first chapter. Osho talks about a guy who fasted until he was on the edge of bodily death, just so he could observe the part of him that was unaffected. The body needs fuel but consciousness is "the lamp that burns with neither wick nor oil". He ends the chapter by telling his audience: when you're ill pay less attention to how bad you feel and more attention to your consciousness. Just see if there's a part of you which stays the same even as your body's suffering. What happens? 24 hours later I have just that situation. I can test it out myself.

After Friday night dinner, Menachem, one of the Chabadniks, asked if I wanted to arrive early the next morning so I could go in the mikveh - the Jewish ritual bath. I'd never been in a mikveh before. I thought to myself, why not? So I told Menachem OK, I'd come in early. Then - no torch, because I didn't want to use one on Shabbat - I made my way back to Bhagsu in the dark, letting my eyes adjust.

Next day they gave me a towel and I went in the mikveh. Some stairs down to a narrow pool of untampered-with rainwater, funneled in from a catchment device on the roof. The water was dark and I couldn't see how deep it was. It might have been what I was reading, but I thought the best thing to do was to take the plunge and just observe. It was cold, but not that cold. I submerged myself, over my head, seven times, as is the custom. An hour later I had neck and muscle pain and a pressure in my head. But I wasn't unhappy. Funny, but the whole day seemed like an opportunity.

Later that day I spoke to Boaz, a rabbi visiting from Israel. Boaz had been telling lots of stories to all the people who'd come to Beit Chabad for Shabbat, but all of them were in Hebrew. I tried my hardest to understand, but the best I could do was pick up a few words and the general subject. He promised me that if I came back the following day, the evening before he flew back to Israel, he'd tell me a story in English. When Shabbat went out about 8pm, again I made the journey home in the dark.

I spent the next day resting.

I read a little, the second chapter of Osho. It's a story about a blind man, who finds himself at a friend's house at night. The friend gives him a lantern for the way home. The blind man asks why on earth he would need a lantern when he can't see. The friend says it's so other people see him coming and don't bump into him. The blind man is convinced. He takes the lantern. But five minutes into his journey someone bumps into him. The blind man gets angry: "What's wrong with you? Couldn't you see my light?" So the stranger informs him: "But your lantern's gone out." The blind man had made the journey countless times. Only when he thought he was carrying something to protect him did he get careless and get in someone's way.

I read all this and rested, but by the evening I was feeling worse. What started as flu symptoms was now a stomach problem (although I hadn't yet learned about my new resident). Still, I wanted to see Boaz before he left. I liked the idea of making a journey especially to receive a story promised to me. I grabbed my torch and walked up the hill.

Boaz told me his story, about a small Jewish community in Russia and how they escape the Tzar's decree against them. It's about the highest goal, giving your whole self to the glorification of God.

I'd got what I came for. I said goodbye to Boaz, took the present he gave me - a little wallet with a copy of Psalms, a Tanya (the quintessential Chabad commentary on the Bible) and a charming passport size photo of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, the only graduate of Berlin university to go on to become the Messiah (allegedly). I made my way down the hill again, going quite quickly, zig-zagging round the rocks. I thought about Boaz's story, to squeeze out all the meaning I could.

What happened? I slipped. I wasn't really hurt. Maybe a little shocked at first, but when I realised I was OK I sat there in the path, an amused smile on my face, bordering on laughter. Of course, perfect. There I am, fallen into the grass and there it is in my left hand: a lit torch.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I'm approaching the end of my time in Dharamshala. After the end of next week, when I'll have finished running this newly-begun office management seminar for the future Longsho workers, I should be heading for Manali en route to Ladakh, where the monsoons never arrive and the landscape is rocky desert year-round.

Right now life is still quite simple. I run the seminar for about half the day, catch a yoga lesson in the afternoon - if we've finished by then - and watch at least one of the Euro football matches in the evening. The cafe next door to my guesthouse has set up a TV especially for the football and has extended its opening hours. My friend Toby and I are some of the only Europeans there. It fills up mainly with Israelis who get very enthusiastic about the fate of the other European footballing nations, mainly because their own national team is never good enough to get to the major competitions. One Israeli friend of mine here, Roi, is a self-proclaimed honourary England fan, says 'we' when discussing the team's fortunes (or lack thereof) and commiserated with the rest of us on Sunday night. The details of which I needn't go on about. Just the basics then. We watched it in a video hall in McLeod Ganj, making the half hour walk from Bhagsu to get there for the quarter past midnight kick-off. What made it worse, at the end of the night, was the number of Tibetans there supporting France. Their prerogative, but it was still something to get pissed off at.

The Tibetan football tournament and my role as selector are now happy memories, although I'm still in contact with a newspaper in England, hopeful they'll run an article I've written about it all.

Seems all my posts are about football these days...

Seminar has started OK, though I know it's been a bit dry. Am going to have to try and lively up the presentation, because it's down to me to set the tone for everybody else. So far we've covered where the youth movement is right now, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and the future of its steering committee.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

It is now

This has been my daily routine for the last seven days:

Get up at 6.30, having gone to bed at about 11 the night before. Meditate for an hour. Have breakfast. Hang around Bhagsu with some of the friends I've made. Then watch 3 hours of passionate, sometimes comic Tibetan football, played at high pace on a caked-over Sahara of a pitch.

How I've enjoyed this week. Every day seemed to be more eventful, the football more entertaining, the sense of the big occasion that little bit bigger.

In Bir versus Dharamshala we got the crowd trouble Kalsang-la, the Tibetan manager, so feared. A Dharamshala player went to take a throw in by the Bir supporters, all 50 of them. A couple of them launched some empty plastic bottles the player's way. He picked one up and threw it back in the general direction of the stand, at which point one particularly drunk looking Tibetan got down and tried to get to the player and, I assume, attack him. One or two Bir players had to restrain the guy and send him back to the stand. Two lone Indian police men stood on the side of the pitch the whole game and at the final whistle the fan was taken to a room by the official seats, my new perch for the tournament (goodbye gantry). I think he was just given a talking to by the sports association officials. The Tibetans like to keep this sort of thing internal. They don't want their own spending the night in Indian jails.

What else? Oh yes, a real streaker the other day. Half time in the first game of the day and he jumped down and sauntered to precisely the centre circle, where he dropped his pants and mooned all four sides of the ground. The crowd pretty much egged him on. And that includes the Buddhist monks.

By Friday, after the semi-finals, I'd seen enough to choose the new players to add to the existing Tibet squad. I sat down with Kalsang-la and Thupten-la, the first team coach, and we finalised our decision together. The 12 were announced yesterday, immediately after the end of the final and the presentation of the trophy.

3,000 people there yesterday, over double the previous crowds. Kathmandu won on penalties, after a 2-2 draw with the team representing the Tibetan unit of the Indian army. A great game, played in perfect sunshine. The army came in having scored five goals in each of their last three games. They were faster, more powerful and more creative, but Kathmandu played a defensive game and put their captain, a professional in the Nepalese league, up front for counter-attacks. Kathmandu went ahead twice and each time the army found just enough to equalise. The first army goal was the goal of the tournament, a flick up and smashed volley from one of their established national players. But he and two of his team mates went to pieces in the penalty shootout: three penalties, three misses, and Kathmandu put all of theirs away. If this is what they're like under pressure, it doesn't bode well for the Indian army.

The Kathmandu number 5, that 17 year old Rio-like defender I mentioned in my earlier blog entry, had another accomplished, mature game, justifying his place in the new national squad. He's the first player I thought to select and he's probably my favourite of the twelve. I've become pretty attached to them over the course of the tournament. Got to know their different styles and weaknesses and strengths.

It has been such a positive experience to be so involved. Kalsang-la tells me the team will probably go to France next year to play in a tournament of non-FIFA countries. Fancy a trip to Paris, anyone?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How many?

My friend Yael was in Thailand when her Thai friend asked how many Israelis there are in Israel.

"6 million," she replied.

He was frustrated. "No, not how many are there in Thailand. How many in Israel?"

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Some cows are on the pitch...

There's that same match day excitement, the same regular stream of people walking to the game. Only this definitely isn't the Tottenham High Road. And the most commonly sported colours aren't blue and white but claret and saffron, because many of the fans are Tibetan Buddhist monks, dressed in their usual robes. The route is along a road through a forest, until a path branches off and climbs up the hill towards the Tibetan Children's Village.

I arrive and meet the Tibetan manager, who points me towards my seat, a plastic chair in a metal-grilled box, high above the half-way line. I sit there waiting for the other selector to arrive. He never shows.

I take in the scene. There are about 1500 people here for the opening ceremony and first two games, Pokhara v Mysore and Bir v Kathmandu. They're sat around the rocky stands, which don't resemble old football terraces as much as they do rice terraces. One of the stands is plusher than the others. They've set up a lavish awning on top and laid out a few seats for visiting officials and dignitaries. This is where the Tibetan Prime Minister will take his seat, having addressed the crowd before the matches.

Among the very few advertising hoardings, featuring such sponsors as the McLeod Ganj Taxi Drivers' Union, are some official slogans and words of encouragement. "May the best wins." "Winning and losing are part of the game." "Cheer Up! All the Best" And my personal favourite, "Participation is more important."

While I'm looking around, a large black cow walks onto the pitch on its own accord. A small cheer goes up. Is this the equivalent of a streaker? The cow saunters across the sand-covered surface as if in time to the victorious Tibetan music playing over the loudspeakers. No police or stewards run on to remove her. She just continues serenely on her way until she reaches the other side of the pitch and the staircase out. She exits the arena as freely as she arrived.

A school marching band come on to get the ceremony underway. They beat their drums as all the tournament's teams walk on. There's a good sense of occasion. The loudest cheer is for the Bir team, who've brought a couple hundred supporters the 60 km or so. One enthusiastic fan runs across to hand his team captain a Bir flag (to add to the one he's already holding). He gets a cheer as well.

Of course, I can't understand anything the Tibetan Prime Minister says. I've let a Bir fan come up and take the seat next to me - until the other selector arrives. I ask him to translate but he doesn't understand the speech either. He says the words are too lofty.

At the end of all this, the Tibetan national anthem, the shaking of hands and the team photos, the football finally begins. Pretty early on, I can tell I've got my work cut out. The quality is not good. Every so often I see a player do something remarkable. I scribble down his number, a note to keep watching him. Then, almost without fail, he produces something undeniably awful soon afterwards. It’s OK though – I’m used to this at White Hart Lane.

Pokhara, the reigning champions, are clearly the better side, much more composed. They go into a deserved 1-0 lead through a massive 35-yard shot from the right wing. Mysore, who are playing in England kits, take on a suitably English attitude – making up in strength and determination what they lack in skill. It pays off when their number 25, who’s been otherwise terrible, slams the ball against the bar from far out. The Mysore captain follows up to equalise.

Half-time and I make the trip across the pitch to see the Tibetan manager and discuss the missing selector. He tells me he’s the other selector. It’s good to have someone on each side of the pitch. But right now the second half’s starting, so – despite this wisdom – I can take a seat with him among the dignitaries.

For a while, it’s all very pleasant. I’ve got a better view here: no metal grille, so I don’t feel like a terrace supporter in the dark days of European football hooliganism. Plus there are people serving us tea and deep fried Tibetan biscuits. But then, ten minutes into the second half, chaos breaks out.

The winds have been getting stronger for a while now and the air’s heavy with moisture. There’s clearly a storm on its way. When the rain comes, we’re fine under our awning. Most of the fans are OK too, having brought their own umbrellas. But then it really picks up. One of the 30ft-long metal poles, wedged against the stand to hold up the awning, comes loose and falls towards the fans 40 feet below. Someone shouts out and, miraculously, it hits noone. The officials get to work taking the other poles down and collapsing the awning, which at one point threatens to fly away in the ever-increasing wind. I look across the stand to see what the Tibetan Prime Minister’s doing, but I think he’s left already.

The football stops for a couple minutes – the referee’s become aware of the near disaster – but, commotion over, they quickly get back under way. Meanwhile, I’m now exposed to the downpour. My box (let’s call it my ‘gantry’) is all the way on the other side. I pack in with the other supporters under the only covered bit of the main stand, under the previously covered VIP area. We can hardly see the football, but we’re all very cosy and amused here. I'm faintly aware of two dogs that have run on the pitch and have started sniffing each other right in the middle of play. The referee blows for full time. Must have been the quickest 45 minutes of football I've ever seen - or, rather, not seen. 1-1.

In between the two matches, the rain lets up. Now’s the time to get back to my gantry. But when I get there, I find it’s been taken over by about 30 Bir supporters. I bet this never happens to Sven. So I tell them: “I’m sorry, this is a selector’s box. You can all stay here just as long as I can get to that chair at the front.” I must say, I do feel pretty guilty chucking a Tibetan woman off the seat.

The second game is much better. Bir go 1-0 up, sending their fans into a rapturous round of “We will rock you.” But Kathmandu’s class shows in the second half and they finish 4-1 winners. And there’s some new talent too, a tall Kathmandu centre back who’s strong in the challenge and brings the ball out with a confident, loping stride. Someone to watch in his next game. The Bir fans, so vocal and upbeat before, filter out before the final whistle, dejected and ready for the couple hours’ trip back. I, on the other hand, cannot wait until tomorrow.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Almost there

I know you're all getting very excited about the football. Not long to wait. Will there be a new name on the trophy this year?

Yes, as the ads across town all read: "So Long Awaited! The very prestigious Football Tournament, In memory of our late Gyalyum Chemo 'The Compassionate Mother of HH the Dalai Lama', is now being organised by the Tibetan National Sports Association." As of tomorrow, Saturday 5 June, teams from Chauntra, Delhi, Dharamshala, Dehra Dun, Kathmandu and Mysore will battle it out, 2 games a day for 8 days. And I will have to sit through every single one of them, spotting the talent to make Tibet a footballing force.

Father Abraham

Just got back from a two day visit to Longsho summer camp. 45 Tibetan teenagers and 10 leaders in an idyllic school venue, bordered by tea fields at the bottom of the Himalayas. Bit like Jewish camp, only the weather's more consistent and even the harder looking boys are better behaved. They don't have the confidence we do yet. Most of them came over from Tibet when they were 7 or 8. Now they're learning about being Longsho leaders themselves. Some of that Youth Movement mythology, that's so vital, is starting to get more entrenched. That's a good thing. Funny to see the stuff that's made it over via the exchange. 'Father Abraham' in Tibetan. Ladders. Duck-duck-goose. Nostalgia comes in the strangest of places.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Communication

I didn't mean to suggest that keeping things bottled up was somehow a wise option. Communication is vital. It's the social currency, how we understand each other, make connections and give vent to thoughts and emotions that could otherwise overwhelm.

But I'm aware I can also use conversation and relationship to gain approval and check the opinions and identity I've constructed for myself. As if it's not real until I've told someone.

I found a few days of silence useful - it allowed me to see where I was away from the dependencies, clamour and competition of the outside world. But make no mistake. Retreat is the exception, not the norm.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

My news

Since the retreat I've moved to Bhagsu. It's quieter, greener and more peaceful than McLeod Ganj and a 15 minute walk when I want to come into town.

On the work front, Longsho are holding their summer camp in a couple days. They're well into their own preparations and my possible input is mimimal. I'll visit for a day or so, just to see the camp in action and understand what all this work is for.

Thursday night I'm set to attend a briefing meeting with the Tibetan football manager and the other members of the selection committee. Yes, it looks like I will be choosing the team. Everything crossed.

The team still needs training videos and books. Send what you've got to:

Kalsang Dhondup,
Tibetan National Sports Association,
C/o TCV Head Office,
Dharamsala Cantt - 176215,
Dist. Kangra (H.P.)
INDIA

Thoughts, returning from retreat

1. Silence is invaluable. When you make the commitment not to speak, you stop trying to impress. In most conversations there's the desire to project an image of the self. Out in the real world, we fear silence because we're not comfortable with the unadulterated moment. It comes from an ingrained sense of our own inadequacy.

2. Giving up on communicating with peers can force us to really confront and engage with things. We tend too much to rely on other peoples' opinions, and this stops us from developing. Of course we can trust the wisdom, intelligence and experience of others, but only to a certain point - then you have to take over. Those people are not you. They have a different set of issues, circumstances and understandings. Two people can speak the same language and use the same words but still talk at complete cross-purposes. Progress - in anything - has to come from personal work. That's why you can't really change anyone. They have to want to change and the best you can do is give them the tools.

3. There isn't very much to know, it's just really hard to know it. Knowing something intellectually is a world away from grasping it deep down. That's why, for me, studying the truth isn't enough. It needs to be accompanied by meditation and practice.

4. Meditation is meant to reinforce truths but also to wipe clean the lens of our perceptions. Without our false beliefs and the confusing assumption that we need something to be happy and whole (a self-fulfilling prophecy), those truths are already there.

5. There are doctrinal differences between various religions and spiritual philosophies, but mainly the differences are in approach. An example: Yeshayahu Leibowitz contrasts Christianity's crucifiction story with the Old Testament akedah, the near-sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham was required to overcome his personal desires, emotions and ethics to kill his son for God. In the crucifiction, God allows his own son to die for the sake of humanity. The difference seems massive. But both are stories of human completeness in God. The Christian myth requires its adherents to trust and know that God's love is real. It exists. We don't need anything. The Abraham-Isaac model is a call to let go of the things we think we need, of the need to need, and to discover that God's love is real.

6. Leibowitz says that nothing in this world is inherently holy. The bread isn't sacred until you say the blessing. He's right. Our experience of the divine, which I understand as virtually identical to unsullied awareness, can't occur in any external object. It can only take place at the site of our consciousness. That's why the bread is only holy when we deliberately act to bear witness. The link between observation and observance is more than linguistic.

7. Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. What do I mean by the world to come? The state of knowing peaceful completeness. Not attaining but knowing. Shabbat is rest, rest is this realisation. There's a danger for someone who hates their job and feels they need shabbat in order to escape and become themselves. Their shabbat rest can't be perfect because they believe that without it they're incomplete. Instead, we should try to take that realisation of our own completeness and bring it into our awareness throughout the rest of the week. Shabbat is not a thing acting as an addition to ourselves. It is rather the space to see ourselves.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Back by popular demand

Not me. The guestbook.

Don't diss the comments though.

OK so I'm back too. Meditation retreat. Didn't speak for 6 days. A lot of things made sense. Then I came back to the world. Application is a lot more difficult. But I'm getting there.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Kashmir

Went to Kashmir for a couple days. Beautiful, green, cool, quiet. Moderately militarised.

Now back in McLeod Ganj and off on a 6 day meditation retreat. See you all the other side.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Tourist

It's easy to be cynical.

You arrive, get into a routine. Drinks and meals on the hillside rooftops, shopping in the clothes stores, where everything's a bargain by our standards. Whatever you need is here. A bit of yoga, to balance the body and mind. Some cooking lessons, to bring home those exotic tastes, a souvenir of your trip to create and recreate when you've reabsorbed yourself into western life.

The poverty and misfortune around you is disturbing, but what can you do? Maybe give a few rupees to a beggar. He won't recognise you tomorrow. He'll probably ask you again in an hour. A lot of them have leprosy. It makes you stop and think - again - how fortunate you are. But then you meet someone who volunteered at a lepers' hospital. She tells you most of them can be cured but they're able to earn a better living on the streets.

So you harden your heart a little, even though you don't want to. When it softens again it grows calloused in other places. Now it's the other tourists. We're all consumers of the exotic here, dissatisfied with our lives and romanticising the east. Here is where you're going to find a bit of enlightenment, and it's on the cheap. Get a course, get a teacher. You walk through the market and view the fruit and veg. On the wall above the stalls, are the notices of the other market. Reiki, crystals, vipassana, dream interpretation, drumming lessons, tabla. You come to sneer at the buyer. "What about your own culture? You'd probably find as much inner peace doing ballet lessons in Islington. All you have here are a couple weeks and the projections of your wishful thinking."

And then you open. You have to. You talk. This Israeli guy has been studying the tabla. He already plays three or four instruments. He'd like to travel more but his teacher is here. In the autumn he'll follow him to Varanassi, the centre of Indian classical music.

This other guy has been doing Reiki. He explains it. You're disarmed, because he is authentic. I mean, you actually like him. He has a sense of humour. He knows what irony is.

When you decide to try something yourself - even though you're still a tourist, even though it's with no commitment as yet - you remember: here is a real discipline if you want it. Find the right thing and you're reminded: this doesn't exist because we need a choice between lifestyles. For someone, this is what truth looks like.

Above all, you discover the following. How superficial or serious you find anywhere of even minimal complexity, depends on the superficiality or seriousness of your own attitude. When you're cynical, how are you going to see? So too your relationships. Your friendliness and respect will reveal to you people who want to be your friend and already respect you. If you find someone closed and cold or, more commonly, just apathetic and uninterested... it could be they're a wanker. But probably you're seeing your own fear and negativity reflected in the behaviour of those reacting around you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Living in the Mind

I've been here for two weeks. I'll no doubt be here for at least 6 more before I get to explore more of this or any other country. I've seen lots of people arrive and leave Dharamshala and I keep having to remind myself I'm here for a different reason. I'm here to do a job, to help this Tibetan youth movement. It's a good job. It's my priority.

But with Hannah and Rob gone and my sessions for the Tibetan youth workers beginning in earnest, I thought it's time to look at some of the many classes on offer here. Yoga. Reiki. Meditation. Tibetan or Indian cooking. The tourists flock here for these things.

I met an Israeli and an Iranian, both of whom had been on a Tai Chi course. It was just beginning again. Three hours every morning for three weeks. 8000 rupees (about 110 pounds) - hugely expensive for this part of the world, but these two people told me it was special.

I turned up at 8.30 the next morning. The spot was idyllic, in a clearing in the forest about 500 metres above the main town. I'd never done Tai Chi before. We started with some simple exercises, shifting weight from one foot to another and swinging our arms. The teacher, a Canadian-born Chinese guy now living in Amsterdam and teaching his way across India, had a good voice for it. He put us at ease and let us get on with it.

Something happened a few exercises in. We were standing rooted, lifting and lowering our arms very deliberately, trying to feel every millimetre of air. Eyes closed. After one or two minutes, my head felt very warm. My chest felt constrained and I had a general tingling sensation all over. I kept going but within seconds needed to sit down. Once I'd rested I got up to try again, but almost immediately the same thing happened. Next time we broke to sit in a circle again I told the teacher. He said it was quite normal. We were channeling energy and my body wasn't used to it. I was amazed and started looking forward to stretching my stamina and capacity.

In between exercises the teacher would give readings, things he said he'd learnt from various teachers and gurus. "You are not the mind & you are not the body. The 'I' underneath is pure consciousness, pure love, pure beauty." Or more mundanely: "The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. If you have shitty thoughts, you'll have a shitty life. If you have beautiful thoughts, you'll lead a beautiful life. Think about it."

It's not that I disagreed. But something about the way he spoke made me wince.

No more energy fireworks in the Tai Chi itself. But at the end, when we were holding hands in a circle, concentrating on sending round a pulse and a chant, it happened again. I had to open my eyes and deliberately detatch.

The teacher told us we might start feeling very tired after practicing. We might start sleeping 10 or 12 hours every night. I went up to him at the end. I said I was concerned it might infringe on my responsibilities to this organisation I was volunteering for. He looked at me and smiled.

"Nothing has happened yet. You're living in your mind, in your fears. Yhis course is about self-mastery. You have to do it and see what happens. You have to be OK inside yourself. You're not going to gain any benefit from any job until you're OK inside yourself. It's up to you. You can go on living in your mind and your fears or you can work with us on developing yourself. If you don't want to be free, that's OK."

Not humble. Not compassionate.

I felt he should have added: "Oh and by the way, it'll cost you 100 pounds. No installments, please."

I decided against the course. I'm going to some yoga and cookery classes. And I'm getting on with running the seminar. Feeling good.

Brand new. Good for you.

Page had a makeover. I think it looks a bit neater. Working on links and stuff. Comments instead of guestbook for now.

Monday, May 10, 2004

While we're on a football kind of theme, thought I'd get down the story of Rob's and my attempts to watch the second leg of Chelsea's Champions League semi-final last Wednesday. The time difference is 4 and a half hours, so the 7.45 GMT kick off was quarter past midnight over here. Now this place isn't Thailand - there aren't bars with TVs or restaurants where football fans can be sure of catching any game that's on. Yes, there are foreigners' haunts, but most tourists here dress in loose flowing robes and start the day with two hours of yoga rather than a hangover. No, McLeod Ganj is dead by 10.

Last Wednesday I legislated for all this. My guesthouse (run by Buddhist monks) has a TV in the small front lobby. I went there in the day and asked the guy at the desk if I could watch at night. My friend and I would promise to keep the sound down. I was told that a monk sleeps at the front to keep guard, but I could wake him. Relieved of his guard duties, he could go off to his own bed. Great - it sounded almost like a favour. This was what I heard anyway.

Rob had been in the habit of going to bed quite early. To make sure we both stayed up, we went to the internet cafe next door to mine and set up shop for a couple hours. Rob was bleary-eyed by the time we left at midnight, but he'd made it.

We crept down the alley leading to my guesthouse and pushed open the door. There was a harsh grating sound. The monk on duty, it turned out, was in the habit of propping a small chest of drawers against the door. We slid in but the monk was startled. "Who there?" he called out in the pitch black. I whispered: "Umm the guy at the desk said we could watch football here now. He said you could go to bed." Silence. Then: "One second." The monk turned the light on and we saw the extent of his 'guard duty'. I swear he'd set up a king size sleeper in there, padded down with quilts and cushions and pillows and all. He stood in his pyjamas blinking at us. "Some mistake," he said. "There lots of monks asleep round here." We didn't have it in us to persevere. We'd have been bastards if we had.

Back on the empty streets at ten past 12, we were not to be beaten. We walked up to the bus and taxi stop, usually so busy, now so dead. But there in the darkened 1st floor window of the nearest restaurant was a security guard and a blue flicker. A TV! We ran up the stairs to the door, where the little Indian man came to meet us.

"Sorry, closed."

"But we want to watch football. We saw you have a TV."

He let us in, as if 'football' was a sort of password. And then we saw the TV. Black and white, attached stick-up aerial, portable - 4 by 5 inches. The game was on ESPN, a satellite channel. But no problem, he told us: "We get signal from next door." This turned out to be a somewhat creative description of the truth. We fiddled with the dial and got a grainy version of the Cartoon Network. And a loud hissing noise. Rob and I had to laugh.

I was about to suggest I take a quick run up the road, to see if a fully equipped late night sports bar had decided to materialise in McLeod Ganj in the last two hours, when the security guard told us to stay. He went behind the bar. I thought he was making us drinks. Instead he emerged with a full length cable of wire and a knife. He cut away at the ends until the inner conductors were exposed. Then he wrapped one end around the TV aerial and opened the window. He leaned outside and up and wrapped the other end to one of the cables strung between the street telegraph poles. Within seconds we had picture, sound, commentary, football. Small football. Greys and whites against dark greys. No Ron Atkinson. But you can't have everything.

We asked our new friend if he had ever done that before. "No," he said, matter-of-factly. I don't know, maybe it wasn't dangerous at all.

For what it's worth, Chelsea played brilliantly in the first half, got the tie back, then threw it all away. Ten minutes from the end, with Chelsea needing 3 more goals to go through and playing like turkeys, Rob went home with a dodgy tummy. The security guard still got excited every time Chelsea went forwards. I explained the two-leg structure for the second time, though I'm still not sure he understood. I wasn't even going to attempt the away goals rule.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Hannah and Rob left last Thursday. Since they left I've been much more solitary, even in the midst of the Dharamshala bustle.

Spent the whole of Friday night and Saturday day at Beit Chabad, which operates as the local Jewish community centre in the wilderness. I think they do an amazing job, providing community and Torah miles from home. Got to learn with the three main organisers on Saturday morning, before services. Whole of Shabbat was a real pleasure.

Today it's been head down to work on the seminar I'll be running, first with the current two Longsho movement workers, then with the new workers and regional representatives from Deckyiling and Darjeeling. Think it's going to be quite hard work.

Feel like I'm entering a new phase. Would like to do something - explore the country, go trecking, take some classes - but I'm not going to have the time for a while. Need patience and maybe a few new friends.

Friday afternoon I walked for half an hour to the Tibetan Children's Village to meet with the head of the Tibetan National Football Team. Had seen a sign up in town, asking for foreigners who could help out. Thinking I might be able to spare some time, dreaming of international football management, I decided just to turn up. I found his office pretty easily, alongside the school administration offices.

School administration? Yup, the guy is an ex-PE teacher who, through the efforts of a Danish football enthusiast who passed through Dharamshala in 1999, is now in charge of the 'national' football team. He shook my hand, sat me down at his desk and took me through some background. So far they've played one international, in Denmark, against Greenland. They lost 4-1 - went 1-0 up but conceded 3 goals in the last 7 minutes. The fitness is really lacking, I was told. They completed that tour with a 2-1 loss to Monaco and a 5-1 victory over Zurich. They're entering a new phase now, planning to play teams in India and also to gather talented kids from Tibetan kids around the country, grooming them for a better, stronger Tibetan squad. All this has the blessing of the Dalai Lama, but it's hardly national priority number one.

Unfortunately, my managerial career is probably going to have to wait. He's really looking for qualified referees or coaches. Or money. I said I'd help him publicise by putting a few 'wanted' notices up in town. I think he only had one up and it wasn't exactly eye-catching. I've put the ad together now and emailed it to him. You never know - he might change his mind and incorporate me into a two-tiered continental style management team.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Moish Geller read my blog (see entry for 15 April). In retrospect, hardly surprising - a google search for his name brings up my page first! He wrote that "it's a rare treat to see how others see you when they think you're not looking" and he's right. That's one of the reasons I like blogging: I'm never fully aware of who's reading, so when I let my guard down or throw caution to the wind, readers see a side to me I might not usually show them. In some ways, it leads to more honesty.

But I realised yesterday, thinking about this whole process of interaction since Boombamela, there's lots more going on here. That honesty I just mentioned is severely limited.

I meet Moish by the festival entrance. I'm already projecting a certain image of myself by the way I'm dressed. It's maybe not quite 'me' but it fits better than other looks. In that first conversation there are assumptions made on both sides, evaluations of the way the other speaks as well as appears. Then we have a smoke together. Maybe I'm more open then, but I'm probably also more cerebral and confused. Moish leaves me and my friends and I sober up. I'm already evaluating the experience I just had. Even on the basic level of memory, my sober self is reconstructing the unfolding of events experienced in a different state of mind. I have my feelings about the conversation, but also about my reactions to the situation, both current and previous. Plus, while I talk the events over with my friends, my reconstruction is shaped by the image I inevitably want to them.

It might be worth saying here, I think of myself as quite an honest person. I don't set out to present a particular 'front' to different groups of people. But I think a lot of that goes on subconsciously and inevitably. Maybe not quite inevitably - one can more easily let go of the need to protect the 'self' by working at losing one's fear and going beyond the ego.

But all this self-projection is going on in this situation. And then we have the blog. I try to relate what I think happened - which, as we know, is already problematic. But now I'm aware of a wider readership. What I said earlier, about never knowing who's reading, cuts both ways. As much as I think I'm writing from the heart (and, come on, this is only a blog), I can't help but be influenced by a sense of how I want to appear. But there's also self-esteem: putting others aside, my writing impacts on how I see myself.

Moish reads my blog. He interprets what I've written about him and compares it to his memory of the events, most likely reconstructed as well. When he writes to me he's presenting both a version of those events and a persona through his very writing style and content. So how I see him and how he sees himself are probably factors for him too. (Moish, you've lived longer than me, and may well be very comfortable and secure in your identity. In which case there may be less to do with self-esteem in your case. I'm just trying to show all the potential 'slippages' in the train of communication.)

When I read his email I react, according to the core of self that feels threatened by his criticism. This process will continue as long as we send emails each others' way without ever really knowing each other. But the self-protecting strategies of the ego - these do become evident. We tend to be able to see them in the communications of others but not in ourselves.

Is there a way out? Yes. To recognise and make explicit that this process is going on is to not let it rule you. I think whenever we become aware of something inside ourselves, an emotion or thought or desire, we objectify it. We realise it's not essentially us, but that it's just passing through. Thus we're more able to let it go. It requires equanimity and fearlessness and honesty foremost with yourself.

I chatted with Hannah about this yesterday. It was too tempting a thought sequence to keep from my blog. But the obvious point is this: by sticking all this up here surely I'm projecting again, even while I'm acknowledging what's going on.

Which is why blogging is always wrapped up in ego.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Along the narrow streets of McLeod Ganj are three ‘cinemas’. Equipped with DVD players and massive projection or flat-screen TVs, they show 4 or 5 different films daily. For 30-45 rupees (40-60p) you can just about always catch a showing of topical classics like Kundun, Himalaya or Gandhi or recent big releases, like Monster, 21 Grams or Big Fish.

Yesterday I saw Baraka, a film friends have been telling me to see for ages. I was blown away. It is an extraordinary movie, a ‘state of the planet’ work of art, that opens your eyes and leaves you humbled and powerless. Woven into 70 minutes of original music are images of the full gamut of human and natural life: from the incomprehensible beauty of the earth's landscape and natural processes to the seemingly instinctual reverence and rituals of different cultures and religions; from people in the throw of unwieldy, global, dehumanising systems to the intricate rhythmical patterns people form as they simply move and live; from humanity’s massive capacity for cruel destruction to the hugest, most beautiful (and yet totally temporary) structures that we are capable of building. It made me aware of how our desires rule and ravage the world. And it made me realise how little we see of the bigger picture through our day to day experiences. When I emerged onto the bustling walkway, the colours seemed more vivid and life that little bit keener.

Friday, April 30, 2004

There's been almost constant rain since my first night - relentless, heavy rain, with lightning that seems somehow to cause power cuts. As I just overheard someone say in one of the cafes, it's like monsoon two months early.

This morning went well. Suddenly, hot water! I saw the light on my boiler and was out of my clothes in seconds. Then, after my shower, I found a clothes shop next door to the guesthouse. When I left the UK friends advised me to pack next to nothing and then buy new stuff in India. How was I to know all the Tibetan stores would be closed for a couple days out of respect to the hunger strikers outside the UN? So finally, I could buy an umbrella and some waterproofish trousers and save my trusty grey pair yet another day out and about. Yes, this morning was a good morning. Even managed breakfast before my 9.30 start.

Pema showed me around to various appointments in the area around the library, where the offices of the government in exile are. I met with someone from the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, who told me about all their research; someone working at the Environment and Development desk in the government, so I saw what a govenment in exile actually do (by necessity, not much - mainly monitoring and pressuring); and a public relations guy from the Tibetan Medicine and Astrology Institute. Also saw the monastery and the library. Pema's a bit of a joker, fun to be around. But the whole morning felt official and again I got much more of an insight into community life via their institutions.

Now Shabbat is coming in here in McLeod Ganj, this upper part of Dharamshala, and I have to make some last minute preparations. Hannah, Rob and I are planning on going to Beit Chabad where they lay on a traditional service and meal. But the rain just keeps on coming down.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Longsho workers, Namsay and Phantok, are helping me to settle in before I sit down with them to plan the 'Running a Movement Office' seminar. My induction into Dharamshala life started today. Namsay and Phantok took me and Hannah Freedman to the museum and the Tibetan Youth Congress. The museum gave me some background on the Tibetan exile. There was a good quote there, perhaps something TJYE could use, from a member of the Tibetan government. In order for Tibet to survive in the face of Chinese attempts on its culture, he calls for a Tibetan cultural revival, in the communities both inside and outside occupied Tibet.

Tomorrow, Pema, who works at the Tibetan Welfare Office, is going to show me round the library and human rights organisations. Monday I lead a session at the leaders' meeting, helping all the leaders to write programmes for the camp they're running for teenagers, starting in June.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I cannot believe I only arrived in India about 36 hours ago. I was met by a Tibetan travel agent, a friend of one of the Longsho (Tibetan youth movement) leaders, and he took care of everything: transport from the airport, guesthouse in Delhi, bus to Dharamshala. I spent one hot day in ugly Delhi (although the red fort, the enormous former seat of Moghul power, was very impressive) and one uncomfortable night on the bus and now here I am, in this strange town in the hills. On the one hand there are Tibetan monks and cows wandering the streets and Tibetan prayer wheels spinning by the road-side. On the other, it's crawling with travellers and lined with restaurants, chai-shops, ethnic clothing stalls, notices for yoga courses and cinemas - all designed purely for the tourist. It has a very unreal feel, as if they copied it off Boombamela or something. Actually, Boombamela is probably bigger than Macleod Ganj, as this upper part of Dharamshala is really called. First building I entered after my guesthouse was a restaurant in which I bumped into Hannah Freedman, Jon's sister. So I've been hanging out with her and her boyfriend all day... the Longsho offices, cups of chai on the hillside, a movie. My Tibetan Jewish Youth Exchange induction to Longsho begins tomorrow morning. I have lost all concept of time and have not fully registered that I've arrived.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

It's testimony to life in London that I've written not a word on being back. At first I rested, voluntarily bound by the double yom tov (holy days for the end of Passover). Then I was relaxed - maybe overly so - and while I was happy to see friends and hang out with Naomi (a welcome addition to my life these two weeks, a spark that kindled in my final week in Jerusalem), I went leisurely about my India-preparation, putting off any serious planning. Then it came in a torrent at the end of my second week. Meetings and the pressure of having to produce, only I was still meeting with friends. By Thursday I felt like I was chasing myself, perpetually running behind, always rushing. I was ending up half an hour late for meetings in which I was discussing the time-management sessions I'll be running for the Tibetans!

Friday though I met with Cheryl Sklan, a professional trainer and consultant and a friend of Tibetan Jewish Youth Exchange (TJYE), and she put things in perspective. I don't need to take the entire seminar on my shoulders. I don't have to be the expert on everything. I will be in Dharamshala to design and oversee the programme. The outgoing workers, Namsay and Phantok, can work with me as the seminar leaders. I should make as many contacts in the community as possible, and not be afraid to draw people in as facilitators. Basic, obvious stuff, but really useful.

So what is it I will be doing in India? Briefly, there is a Tibetan, Buddhist youth movement there - Lonsgho - which runs clubs and camps for teenagers, empowering and educating them in their culture through informal education. I benefited from something similar in UK Jewish circles. TJYE allows people like me, with a little experience in youth movements, to help the leadership over there to establish Longsho and make it more self-sufficient. As I've come from the Civil Service and their needs lie in specific areas, I'll be leading a seminar on project management, organisation, how to run an office and how to make the most of communications - things like that. I've set up a second blog, simply to monitor TJYE volunteer work (starting with my own).

If all goes well, the seminar will start in Dharamshala in mid-May and be finished by the end of June. As I fly tomorrow morning and don't fly back until the end of July, I have a couple weeks to travel before the seminar and a good month afterwards. Yesterday I flicked through my Lonely lanet guide to India, and salivated at the prospect of barren Himalayan hikes, mountain-top monasteries calved into the rock, the Taj Mahal, the Indus valley, the Manali-Ley highway... I know that people make plans and God laughs, so maybe I shouldn't anticipate so much. But it's hard not to - when before it's sunk in I'll be on a plane propelling me into the unknown.

I have security for when I come back. I interviewed and got the job as Masorti young adults projects coordinator, running educational, cultural, social and community programmes for Masorti Jews in their 20s and 30s. I take over from Clare Hedwat, who did a fantastic job and will be a very tough act to follow. India, I reckon, can only help.

Updates when I can. Keep reading.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Now my guestbook has got really obscure.

But, without knowing a lot, I kind of like what Hamish said. I think Zoros is another term for followers of Zoroastrianism. I'm assuming Hamish is someone who just happened to stumble across my site, and not the nice lank-haired Oasis-obsessee I went to school with.