A Lha Volunteer’s Views on Dharamsala

 Name: Mary Beth Ellis (USA)
Position at Lha: Beginning French Teacher

Nothing could have prepared me for the mass of humanity, horns blowing, and debilitating heat that awaited me, a lone female from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, at the Delhi airport. I didn’t know exactly who was meeting me or where we were going, but an instinctive trust had been developed online with a certain Katie and Rabsel at the Lha volunteer headquarters, and I somehow knew that everything would be O.K. They had arranged the midnight taxi to a Tibetan hotel, the bus ride to McLeod Ganj, a wonderful guesthouse, and directions to the Lha volunteer headquarters, where I would soon find a sort of home away from home among fascinating teachers, administrators and students.
My whole experience was like my first night in McLeod; I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep or adapt because there were hundreds of dogs barking, ubiquitous car horns, people talking, roosters crowing (I thought they only did so at dawn) and a nearby air cooler buzzing. After gazing out my window for an hour, though, I realized that the air cooler was a babbling brook, the canines happily reminded me of my own back home, and the whole sound pattern blended as music to form the perfect score for the cinema of distant twinkling lights and swaying Buddhist flags on the foothills of the Himalayas.
How easy it was to settle into the gentle tones and magical sights of unfamiliar sounds and sites. It seemed that everyone’s mantra was, “Be kind.” One meets no strangers here. It seemed like the answer to my every request was my hotel manager Amin’s constant reply, “Everything is possible in India.”
My French classes at Lha were amazing. I have taught French for many decades, but I never imagined a group of such eager and competent learners. The students seemed to have the attention and concentration of trained meditators, and they were amazingly helpful. They anticipated the teacher’s every need.
I soon learned that my lesson plans had to be longer, as these new Francophiles were so motivated and learned so fast that I could cover two days of material in an hour. Considering some of the stories I heard about the hardships some of these refugees have endured it is amazing that their flame of optimism and determination has remained burning. Thanks to the Dalai Lama’s teachings on how to use adversity as a way to grow and due to Tibetans’ own unwavering determination to remain positive, the light of a great culture continues to grow and spread to lucky people like me and to the rest of the world.
As I walk down the streets every morning and am greeted with, “Hello” or “Bonjour” from about every fourth person passing, I know that I am at home here and that I’ll return. I am so very grateful to my students, the Tibetan people, my new friends at LHA and to the Dalai Lama’s influence for this amazing place and experience. Who could have imagined an environment so impregnated with the Buddhist view of “All life is One.” Sufis and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Christians, Jews, Westerners, Easterners, people, cows, dogs, cats and cars all mingle in the very narrow streets on a daily basis, and it all works. This has been a profound lesson in living, which I will take with me the rest of my life. Namaste.