Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Update on our Friends in Tibet

Exactly one year ago I posted an entry titled Tibet Trekking. Scroll down to read the post. In that entry, I related the story of Dekay, the granddaughter of one of the elders of the village we visit on our trek each year. I had met her in the village and after a few translated discussions through our local guide Tenzin, decided to sponsor her for a year of English school in Lhasa, the capital, where she had never been.

What a life change that must have been for her! Would she miss her village? Would she study hard and learn English? Would life in the capital change her?

I did not return to Tibet this year, instead sending our trustworthy and accomplished guide Kathy in my place. Kathy had been an in-training guide last year with me and so knew the tour well. I asked Kathy to meet with Dekay and to give her my gift of another year's English school tuition if she judged all to be well. Here is her report:

"Dekay took her first day off from school in a year and spent it walking around with our group on our first full day in Lhasa. It was amazing to actually be communicating with her in English. She has obviously been working very hard and says she often spends weekend days in the Barkhor listening to tour guides speaking to their groups in English or conversing with friendly English-speaking travelers when she can.

On our last day in Lhasa, after the trek, Tenzin took me to visit Dekay's Aunt in the tea shop where she works and Dekay sometimes helps out. I drank tea until I thought I could hold no more and Tenzin translated for us while we chatted. Then Dekay, Tenzin and I went to see Dekay's school. It looked very run down by Western standards, with peeling paint and sparse classrooms, although they had painted cute motivational sayings in bright colors on the wall in English like "It's easy! It's fun!"

Dekay showed me her English book. It was book 5 of a series of workbooks. They do a lesson per day, which seems pretty fast. We also ran into her teacher in the street near the school. He says she is one of the best students. He is also young and handsome and I later asked Dekay if she thought he was cute and she just giggled. She's a sweetheart and I'm happy to report that city life does not seem to have corrupted her at all.

Next we visited a stationery shop and I bought pens and pads of paper for her whole class of 40 students, plus some extra supplies just for her (pencil box, highlighter, etc.) and a coloring set for her Aunt's young children. I also bought a globe for her teacher and showed her where you and I live. It was hard to get her to select things for herself. Shopping for her was probably the highlight of my trip."

Needless to say, on my behalf Kathy paid the next year of school tuition for Dekay. Recently, Dekay has obtained an email address and we write once per week or so. For Dekay, it is an excellent opportunity to practice English. For me, it is a reminder of my friends in Tibet and how the world is so small despite our differences.

Note: I did not supply photos of Dekay for this post as it is sadly still best in China-occupied Tibet to downplay contact with locals. The photo is of our group of trekkers with guide Kathy (lower right).

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