Monday, May 28, 2007

painting schools and other things

A couple of days ago my friend Chen said to me, "so are you coming to paint the school tomorrow?" I had no idea what he was talking about, but it sounded great. "Yes," I told him.

When I first arrived in Dharamsala, I was in bed by 11 and awake by 7 or 8 every morning. Each day, my bedtime seems to be getting a little later, and unfortunately, so does my waking time.

So the next morning, I'm ashamed to say, I almost had to pull myself out of bed to meet the rest of the volunteers. We met out in front of one of the restaurants in Dharamkot and together continued on to an Indian school in Gamru village, overlooking Dharamsala.

Our job was to turn the dirty and peeling walls of this elementary school into a clean place to learn. We started by taking all of the pictures of the walls, and then we sanded, and only then did we start to paint. There were four rooms and a hallway to paint, which we did in green, pink and orange. Even after the paint was on the walls, though, the school still looked manky, so we wandered around painting grass and flowers and leaving handprints and designs all over to cover the black stains. I think the kids are really going to like it.

The institution is a charity school opened three years ago by a young British guy named Phil. The 160 kids enrolled study at a tuition of about 140 dollars a year, which is paid for solely through donations. Our group of volunteers was organized by a woman named Orly, a healer and traveler. The group was all Israeli, but a real mix of personalities and ages.

By the end of last week, I was able to start eating again, which I've been doing with vigor ever since. Dharamsala really is way more interesting without a fever and digestion problems, but I guess even those who have never visited India could have told me that.

To say that I am staying in Dharamsala is kind of a lie. I am staying in Dharamkot, a small tourist village overlooked by Upper Dharamkot, a humble little Indian town. The tourist part of town is really just that, and it is mostly inhabited this time of year by Israelis and some Europeans. Days are spent waking up whenever (between 5:30 A.M. and 10 A.M.), eating a nice breakfast, then going off and doing whatever. People learn yoga and massage and nutrition, relocate from restaurant to restaurant, knit, write, play music and walk. It's never boring here and there are always different and new people to meet and spend time with.

When tourists refer to Dharamsala, they usually mean Dharamkot, Baghsu or Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama. Most people never even really go into Dharamsala itself, which is a regular Indian town.

Aside from painting the school, I've also visited an ayurvedic doctor, hiked to a beautiful set of waterfalls, started learning to knit, and tried planning the jembe I want to build.

I've also discovered the Bayit Hayehudi, the alternative to Beit Chabad, which I have inadvertantly begun boycotting (listen, I really don't know what made me sick, but the last thing I ate before vomiting last week was cholent). The Bayit Hayehudi is a great and open atmosphere, and has a certain kind of energy I have really been missing here.

I'm going off to Amritsar tomorrow for a couple of days with some friends I've met here to see the changing of the guards at the Pakistani border and to watch the sun rise and set over the Golden Temple.