It’s not quite light out and I hear Amala (respected mother) stir. She gets up, washes her face, and throws dried yak dung on the ashes in the round black stove to build the fire up quickly. The smoke curls towards the opening in the roof, and is caught by the first rays of sunlight. It is very cold out. I snuggle down under my sheepskin to stay warm. I can see my breath and I don’t want to get out of bed yet. Amala hums a little folk tune, as she begins to make tea
At the faraway remotest places,
The eagles are singing.
The birds are flying,
And my parents and lovers are waiting.
The Snow lotuses are blossoming,
The springs are flowing.
The prayer flags are swinging,
And I am singing.
Luh yah leh lah sor…
Luh yah leh lah sor... ...
She has a beautiful voice and she loves to sing. She doesn’t know that I am awake yet. Then, I hear Mola’s (grandmother) familiar click of her prayer beads, as begins to roam about, murmuring the sacred formula, “O mani padme hum…”
Morning is the best time of the day, but when there is frost on the ground outside, and even frost inside the stone house with its dirt floors, it is just too cold to get up. I poke my nose out – still cold. Brrr…. too cold to get up yet.
Amala is making momo’s (a dumpling-like bread with yak meat inside) for breakfast. Mmmmm, good! I like these so much better than just tsampa (toasted barley flour). I wonder if I can have milk tea again today, like the younger kids. Salt and butter tea, made with rancid yak butter, is definitely an acquired taste. I guess it is OK in the afternoon, and on cold days, but I prefer starting my day out with the sweet milk tea.
It has been a good summer on the plateau. Traveling to different areas of the grassland so the yaks could get fat was great, the views have been spectacular, and the wildflowers abundant. The black tents of the nomads are such a symbol of a way of life that, up until a few years ago, was so foreign to me. Made of yak hair, spun, woven into strips and then sewn together, they are so functional, and so easy to move. (And with so little privacy). The lifestyle of a nomad is so simple and carefree. Not much to do during the day but watch the yaks graze. Sometimes we rode around on motorcycles. Sometimes we danced. And sometimes we just sat and talked. With summer over, it is good to be back in the stone house. To Amala, and all the others, life continues on at the same pace, regardless of whether they are living in the tent, or the stone house. The daily patterns are the same. We do, however, have more privacy in the stone house than in the tent. I think that ‘privacy’ is a very western concept. Most people here think, “Why would anyone want to be alone?” I guess I just need to learn how to bathe and dress ‘privately’ with others around.
The milk tea is ready, the warm momo’s await. Time to get out of bed as the sun rises and it's light moves from peak to peak, awakening the new day…
(photo by M.C. Goldstein & C.M. Beall)