Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Halloween and Exhibition Presentations!

Ellie Healy writes......
The past two weeks seem to have been a blur. Halloween day was a party for all of us. The Ladakhis were having their presentations about their responsibilities (milking the cow, electricity, etc.). It was a full out affair, with the main hall covered in streamers and the Ladakhis in full traditional Tibetan dress. We had our Halloween costumes that we made, and had been wearing them throughout the day. Ruth was a witch (after watching The Wizard of Oz all of the SECMOLpas insisted that she was the wicked witch of the west), Conor was a vampire (they had trouble understanding that), Hannah was the cutiest pumpkin even (they too didn't really understand this), Emily was a Greek Goddest, Keegan was a ninja, and I was a black cat. Hayden had already left for his homestay at Lamauyru monestary, so he missed this day. When the presentations came around, we all had to find the most formal clothes that we had, because we were presenting along with our fellow SECMOLpas that we did responsibilities with. It was fairly long, but fun, because it was broken up with song and dance from the students. They had been practicing these songs and dances for the entire week prior. Our VIS group was asked to do a song, which we... obliged. We picked 'Yellow Submarine' by The Beatles, and Emily (even though she has an extensive background in dance) thought of simple moves for the rest of us to do. We weren't looking forward to it, but it went well, with our cut-out props of submarines and aquatic life. After the presentations, it was back into our costumes for the most amazing dinner, and passing out candy to everyone. The SECMOL students had watched E.T. but I think that most were still sort of confused. Following dinner was one of the longest dance parties that I've been to. Usually then end at 10 and eveyone goes to bed, but that night we were up till 1am. Keegan and I were the last VISpas representing at the dancing. Many of us still don't really enjoy the Ladakhi taste in music, but I've come to love it.
The following morning, all of the VISpas left for their homestays. Emily went to Leh, with Nima (a SECMOL student) to learn more about Buddhist and Muslim conflicts. Ruth stayed at SECMOL to map out SECMOL mountain. Conor went to the Leh housing colony to learn about housing development. I went with Chusket (another SECMOL student) to Choglumsar to learn more about Amchis. Hannah went to Choglamsar to work with children through art, who were affected by the flood. Keegan went to Choglamsar to learn more about the Tibetan conflict. It was the longest time that we had all been away from each other, and when we all saw one another in the SECMOL kitchen, it was one of the happiest times. But then it was time for work. We got back the Monday and had to present the coming Saturday. The week was mayham with everyone cranking out papers, posters, speeches, and videos. Holly and Nate were very merciful, having the date changed to the 14th. The day finally came and the main hall was in streamers again. The boys had suits tailored and the girls dressed in their best. Everyones presentations went amazingly. We spent most of the day and then took a break for a fabulous lunch. (I'd present more if we always got this good food.) Then we ended the day with a hike up SECMOL mountain with all the SECMOL students. Now there is only three days left for the VIS group here, and I can't believe it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monastery Festival!

Earlier this month we attended a monastic festival at Thikse Gompa (Monestary). Thikse is noted for its resemblance to the Polala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The magnificent gompa is the largest of all the gompas in Central Ladakh. The following is an account of the experience we shared at the festival.

Hannah Kay writes.....

I love visiting monasteries. I realized that I have thoroughly enjoyed every monastery that we have visited. I found the Thiksey Monastery to be exceptionally picture-perfect.

The murals on the walls drew me in. I liked that the paint had faded in some areas, proving the many years that have past since its creation. The artistic style was somewhat different, especially in the back holy room, and that style reminded me of works of art I have seen elsewhere. Perhaps this familiarity was responsible for my interest, but I am sure a part of it was the images themselves. These images were of animals, blood-thirsty creatures, and war; in essence dark images I have not seen in any other monastery. I suppose I am particularly drawn to these images because (again) I can relate them to past art I have seen. I am sure my affinity for the artistic style at the monastery aided to my comfort there.

I greatly enjoyed hearing the traditional instruments played. Walking through a room full of monks, I was impressed to see how young some of the musicians were. It made me smile to see an older boy take on the responsibility of drumming when a younger boy grew tired. The music they created resonated with my own childhood, adding to the familiarity of the monastery. On the ship the Ticonderoga (at the Shelburne Museum), there is a small model ship where you press at button and the parts start to move in accordance with the real sounds the ship used to make. The music sounded just like the model ship.
The festival was a spectacle. There was such a crowd, it was fun to watch families settle down with their snacks like families waiting for a parade.

When the festival began, I could only hear the sounds echoing down from the roof. Tashi explained that the fist stage involved the oracle drinking chang, and soon enough he was dancing on the edge of the roof. I was a little afraid he would fall off, for he appeared to be staggering quite a bit (which is understandable considering he had fasted for 30 days). Watching this dance of danger was equally amusing to watching the monks reach for his robes if he went too close to the edge.
Of course my favorite dance was the first one, with the four little monks (wearing large, painted masks of faces). I wondered what they were thinking as they stepped out before the crowd. I wondered if they were nervous, and who they wanted to please more, the visitors or the elderly monks.

Watching the festival was a lot of fun-their costumes were so colorful and elaborate. I would have liked to stay longer, to see the next stages of the festival. I also would have liked to explore the monastery more, for I am sure there are more murals to be found.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Exhibition Projects

A major aspect of the VIS Program for gap students is Exhibition, an independent project. Long-established VIS connections with people and organizations around Ladakh benefit internships that allow VISpas to delve deeper into local communities, and contribute to the work of organizations and local society. Research is often undertaken jointly with SECMOL students. Final exhibition projects include written as well as audio/visual components, and are presented to students, staff and invited guests at SECMOL, and to various communities back at home. VISpas currently in Ladakh have chosen their exhibition topics, and this week will be devoted to in-field research and project time to culminate in presentations at the SECMOL campus in mid-November. This fall’s group of VISpas have taken some outstanding initiatives in their projects!

Exhibition Projects Fall 2010

Hannah Kay: Flood Relief Efforts. Hannah will stay with a family in a flood relief camp and work with children of these camps using art as a way to gain a better understanding of their coping methods.

Hayden Chichester: Changes in Buddhist Practice. Hayden will stay in a Monastery to follow monks in their everyday lives and rituals to discover their perspectives on change due to modernization in Ladakh.

Keegan Glennon: Tibetan Refugees. Keegan is interested in perspectives on cultural identity from second and third generation refugees. She will live with a Tibetan family within the major Tibetan Refugee Colony and collect stories from school children there.

Ruth McGovern: Geology, Natural History, and mapping of Himalayan Mountains. Ruth will study the geology and topology of SECMOL mountain and surrounding areas, and is interested how the natural landscape can be a source of inspiration for art and poetry. She will lead a hike to teach SECMOL students about the mountain’s flora and fauna, and their medicinal or culinary uses. She will also build a scale model of the SECMOL Mountain, including trails she will map out and name.

Conor Dinan: Housing and Urban Development. To research the effects of urbanization on Ladakh, Conor will interview individuals, and people within organizations such as the Tibet Heritage Fund, to gain a greater understanding of why people choose to leave their villages and move to the city. He will stay in Leh’s major Housing Colony, and create an optimal design for future development colonies in Ladakh.

Ellie Healy: Amchi Medicine. Ellie will live with an amchi (a practitioner of traditional medicine), and also conduct research at the Ladakh Society for Traditional Medicine, to learn about healing techniques, and the changes development has had on traditional medicine.

Emily Goldthwait: Islam v. Buddhism. Emily will interview leaders of both religions to understand conflicts that arise among Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh. She will create a visual documentary about the Buddhist and Muslim households where she will stay.