Alejandro in India: "I have learned that we have to eliminate negativity from our lives".
|Alejandro together with Naroha, another volunteer in the India project.
Alejandro had spent his whole life reading about Tibet, but thanks to his solidarity trip, he was able to see first-hand how compassion and hospitality are experienced. He collaborated by giving English conversation classes for Tibetan refugees and developing a PPP. to facilitate their study. On his return, he brings back new friendships, incredible experiences and a reflection: "we must eliminate negativity from our lives, because it only leads to unhappiness".
What was your day-to-day life like?
The days started quite early because it was dawn at around 5 a.m., and since then it has been difficult to sleep, and cars and motorbikes are constantly passing by on the street, honking their horns!
After a few laps in bed, I would get up around 8 o'clock and go to one of my favourite bars for breakfast. Conversation classes started at 11am.The teacher would give a lesson in grammar to the pupils, just after the end of the grammar lesson. One would enter the classroom, take a cushion and sit down somewhere. Then the students who wanted to talk would sit around him or her, and the conversation would begin. On the blackboard they would write a topic to break the ice a bit, with three questions to talk about.
The class, if you could call it that, lasted an hour. Then I used to go back to my room and do some work, either on my regular job, as I continued part-time while I was at Mcleod Ganj, or on the app I was developing for the project.
At 4 p.m. I would meet with the students again for the next hour of conversation. This was usually done, weather permitting, on the terrace of the building. The views were absolutely exceptionalThe monkeys often wandered among us, watching us with more indifference than anything else. Again, three questions on a particular topic were proposed to loosen the students' tongues - the best conversations I had during this time, no doubt!
After this last session I would go out for a walk, have a bite to eat or a cup of tea somewhere.. There were many days when I went to visit my Indian friends, shopkeepers in shops where I bought something, and I would stay with them talking and drinking tea until the end of the day.
|Monks meditating in one of the temples of McLeod Ganj
How did the idea for the PPP come about and what is it for?
The app is a tool to make it easier for Tibetans to study. Given the huge differences between the languages they speak there and English, it is very difficult for them to learn. They really have great difficulty in doing so! So, seeing that they didn't leave their mobile phones for a moment, I decided that it might be a good idea to adapt an app I had made a few years ago to the project. I published it this week, I hope the students will receive it positively!
What were your students like?
There were two types of Tibetan students. Monks and lay people. The monks were characterised by a fairly acceptable level of English, high in some cases, and a calm and quietness not often seen in the West. They were rarely without a smile on their faces and were always ready to engage in conversation. The secular students were more disparate, but most were also of a fairly high standard. One of them became one of my best friends back in Mcleod Ganj, we met several times for photos and teas. We went for long walks.
|The landscape surrounding the projectThe McLeod Ganj is spectacular.
Can you tell us a nice story that Tibetans have told you?
A monk once told me a story. The man must have been about 60 years old and his English was quite good. He told me that as a child he lived with a nomadic family. Apparently he was very good at making bows and arrows, and sometimes traded them. He did not sell them for money but for mantras.. When some other boy wanted to buy one, he would tell him a number of mantras he had to recite in return, and until he did so, he would not give it to him. In addition, mantras were bet on who could hit the target by shooting the bow. The one who got closest to the centre of the target would choose how many mantras the other had to recite, and he would be sure to collect his prize properly.
What did you like most about the solidarity trip?
Meeting so many different people. I have dealt with Tibetan lamas, novices from other Buddhist orders, street vendors, or travellers I met in the hostel.
It has also been very rewarding to be able to help these people learn, and to do my bit to improve their conditions.
|"People are very aware of Tibet," says Alejandro, a volunteer in Tibet. India.
What do you know now about the struggle of the Tibetan people that you did not know before?
I have always had a great interest in Tibet and everything related to it, so I was already well versed in the subject. What I have learnt has come mainly from contact with people who have experienced the situation first hand, and who are always aware of the fact that Tibet is occupied and that its culture is under attack.
I was particularly struck by some of the things I saw in the Tibet museum, on the grounds of the Dalai Lama's residence. Apparently China also prevents Tibetans from continuing their nomadic way of life. The repression suffered by the Tibetan people in their own country has reached such a point that, for example, if in any shop they find that someone is keeping accounts in Tibetan, they close the shop.
It is a pity that in the West it is such an unknown case!
What has surprised you most about Tibetan culture, their way of looking at life, their way of relating to others, etc.?
That they are people who always have in mind the idea of sharing, even if it is with people they don't know at all. They always have the people around them in mind. and they care about them as if they know them. In most situations where one was surrounded by Tibetans, there was this kind of community dynamic, in which I, despite being a foreigner, was included without the slightest hesitation.
Apart from that, I was struck by the fact that when it came to talking to someone, they always bring out rather spiritual themeswith profound questions. They almost always have compassion, or happiness, as their final theme, and it is not unusual for someone you have just met to ask you a question that you don't even know the answer to because you haven't stopped to think about it. Let's say that when they "talk about the weather" the last thing they think to talk about is the weather.
Time passes to a different speed there. On the less good side of the scale, I saw that the work is somewhat relaxed and diffuse, the concept of productivity is not very well established.
|The contact with the monks and with Tibetan and Indian people is enriching.
Do you think some of the lessons you have learned have changed your outlook on life?
I had spent my whole life reading about Tibet and practising certain aspects of their culture, so rather than learning new things, I have seen them first hand there. The idea of compassion, of eliminating one's negativity because it serves no purpose and leads to unhappiness, like the monks, and Tibetans in general, always have the common good, the community and helping others in mind... Seeing people who live their lives by these principles is a source of inspiration of great value.
Are you still in contact with Bhanu, your best friend from McLeod Ganj?
Yes! His name is Bhanu, he is Hindu, from the Dharamshala region. The poor guy has a very complicated life. I've learned a lot from him. He is a guy who always has karma in mind, doing things right for the sake of doing them and love for family and friends. He's a guy who has nothing, but shares everything. We still keep in touch and talk every week. I take away from him having met a real Hindu. We had a lot of good times together. He is an excellent person.
|This travel is very suitable for people who love yoga and meditation.
If you had to choose one moment of the trip, what would it be?
The best part of the trip, without a doubt, has been the meet Naroha, the Chilean volunteer who was there when I arrived.. We have become very good friends, and we talk every week. She is a wonderful person. There were many talks with her. We are both interested in certain spiritual topics and we were able to share experiences and opinions that you rarely get to talk about with people. We went on a few trips together, ate together every day, and talked for hours.
It was also very fortunate to be able to attending talks given by the Dalai Lama at his residence. The translation issue was not very successful and I missed part of the message, but the simple fact of being able to attend that event makes me a very lucky person.
And a thought?
The reflection I take away from the trip is that it is necessary to eliminate negativity from our livesbecause it only leads to suffering. Somehow we can always choose to see things in a more positive, or at least less harmful way for ourselves.
Alejandro made a solidarity trip to India from 26/04 to 20/05/19.