Monday, February 1, 2010

Said, Unsaid, Unsayable...

I must apologize that I have not been diligent in keeping up this blog. Sometimes the day to day motions of living distract me from what I am really trying to and want to say about my experience, here. Or perhaps writing it all in my journals has kept me from saying it here...

It is hard to get my mind around all that is happening here...all that is said, all that goes unsaid, all that is unsayable...and even more difficult to explain to anyone who is not here with me.

How can I describe what it is like, to be teaching English to Tibetan refugees and monks? That you have to learn to think in entirely new ways because words fail, and because sometimes concepts do not even exist in one another's cultures? I learn as much, and probably more, from them every single day.
Sometimes the most ridiculous things get said. I am collecting quotes...priceless unexpected deep and often plain silly interactions. It's like watching a group of pre-schoolers who have found a new toy or learned a new way of expressing themselves.
Sometimes hilarious misunderstandings result. It is hard to explain "slang" or "figure of speech". But we have all agreed to make silly mistakes together (and trust me, my mistakes re: speaking Tibetan and doing culturally acceptable behavior are much more embarassing than theirs!). When we say something wrong, we gently correct one another. And so we learn, and so we grow.

There is so much I want to say TO their joy and courage and determination continually astound me. But because of lack of words in Tibetan, it goes unsaid.
Some things go unsaid because I am afraid...afraid to alienate the people who have come to mean the most to me.

There is much that is unsayable...whether because there are no equivilent words/concepts or because it would not be appropriate, given that I am a foreigner.

When I question my purpose here, I have to remind myself of my student who says that without me, he would not have words to express what he has wanted to say to western travelers for 15 years.
"I have only one wing", he says, and flaps his arm awkwardly. "But when my English becomes good I will have two wings, and then I will fly!" (I know he is paraphrasing something the Dalai Lama says but it is so touching, so clearly on his mind).
It is amazing to me, because I am not an English teacher. I do not even remember the correct names for all the parts of grammar, for heavens sake!
But every day, I show up, even when I feel like I just cannot do this anymore.
I show up because I love them, in the most simple meaning of the words. I want to hug them the same way I hugged my pre-schoolers when I was a teacher's aide.

I learn every day from their amazing insights, am constantly amazed by their playfulness and joy. I feel a glow when I am in their presence...something that I lost from my western life when I was about 12 years old...

Some days I feel isolated, left out. I am still a foreigner, after all. I still cannot hope to comprehend their ways of interacting and expressing themselves in their own language and culture, what is ok and what is not.
I often miss the modern amenities of life in America, but I know that when I leave here I will cry for the loss of
the beautiful connectedness I have found with these radiant beings.


  1. That is fantastic and moving. I envy your commitment and your experiences. One day I hope to live up to your example!

  2. Tammy

    I find your story so inspiring, you are an amazing woman.

    Love and Light for the onward journey
    Julia x x x