How you discovered Surmang Foundation?
I have been told so many times that finding internships in China is the easiest thing on Earth that I’ve stopped counting. The truth is: finding internships in China is the easiest thing on Earth if you are a native English speaker studying marketing. Unfortunately, I was French. And I wanted to work in the translation field. And, most of all, I did not want to spend three months in a huge international company in Shanghai. So I stopped looking at all the job advertisements online. I typed “NGOs in China” on Google. I found this website with an almost exhaustive list of NGOs. I spent hours looking at everything. And here it was…!
What kind of preconceptions did you have before you went?
Like all the French kids of my generation, I’ve grown up reading Tintin. Tibet was the place where Tintin went to save Chang, there were big snowy mountains, levitating monks, and a Yeti. It sounds a bit stupid, but I think the comic sums up pretty well the Western conception of Tibet. The place has held Western fascination for decades. The land of snow, the mythic Shangri-La, the wonderland on the roof of the world. I don’t think there is any other place on Earth that “hypnotize” us that much. As every westerner, Tibet was more a myth than a country to me. And I wanted to see what was hiding beyond that mask.
How did your experience match up?
Well, I’m really disappointed I didn’t get to see the Yeti.
Joking aside, it was a real enrichment to realize that beyond the magic, there were people living.That, despite what we see on TV, not all Tibetans where monks setting themselves on fire. Some of them are, that’s true. But most of them are people as you and me, living, working, laughing, spending time with their families and friends.
I thought Tibet was magic, and I’m even more convinced of it now. But what’s magical is not levitation or this kind of things, it’s the way people keep laughing and loving life in spite of everything.
What was your very first impression?
When I got out of the plane in Yushu on the 13th of May, the first thing I saw were the mountains. All around us, all around the airport, the huge snowy peaks. And I remember thinking something like “WOW! I’m in the Himalayas.” Sudden awareness…!
What surprised you?
The way they could spend 10 minutes trying to catch a tiny insect without hurting it, just to put it back outside and save its life, amazed me.
The fact that rice pudding made with dried fruits, brown sugar and loads of yak butter tasted good was also extremely surprising…
What is the one thing that stands out, that will remember? A scene, a weather pattern, a person, the way someone talked to you.
In June, I was sitting on the stairs outside the clinic, reading. The old lady that works in the clinic came to me, asked me if I wanted yogurt. I said yes. She brought two bowls and a bucket of ice-cold yogurt that we ate without sugar, with our fingers, sitting on the stairs in the strong sun of June, while she was talking to me in Tibetan.
I loved that moment. It was simple and peaceful.
Is there a particular anecdote about your trip that you want to share with us? Do you have any suggestions for the future?
I remember that day, in June, when I was feeling a bit blue. Phuntsok was in Yushu, Drogha was working, I was alone and tired of reading, I did not want to do anything, I wanted to go home. After a moment’s reflection, I decided to go out, even though I really didn’t want to, just because it was stupid to stay in my bed all day.
I went out, and while I was heading to the river, I realized that a religious ceremony was happening in the meadow in front of the monastic school. There where two beautiful big tents, and all the lamas in Surmang where gathered here, wearing their red hats, chanting and playing religious music. It was strange, beautiful, captivating! I was really glad I had decided to go out, otherwise I would have missed it.
In the evening I went to bed thinking, that, well, this had been a pretty good day after all!
A suggestion? Well, keep doing what you do, and keep doing it well.
Would you come back?
I don’t have much choice anyway, Drogha and Banze told me “明年再来”. And it was not a question.