Posted by: viaprograms | December 17, 2009

VIA China Volunteers Participate in 3rd Annual Post Exchange

From December 6-13, four China volunteers switched posts– essentially assuming the life of another VIA volunteer at a different post for one week. This exchange provides volunteers with the unique ability to experience and learn first hand about the diversity of China and VIA’s posts. Below is the blog account of Brooke Bryant’s post exchange experiences at one of VIA China’s newest and most rural posts.

When the Shem girls heard I was going to Yushu, they looked at my knee-length quilted down jacket with the fur hood doubtfully, and said I would need to find some warm clothes to bring. I pointed to my jacket. They laughed. One of my students stopped by yesterday and gave me a package of something that might be roots, and might be dried bits of yak dung. Make a tea and drink this, she said. It will help with the vomiting.

Arrived in Yushu on Saturday morning, after 15 of the longest hours of my life on an overnight bus. You would think that packing us in like steamed dumplings would keep the ride warm, but when I finally crawled out from under six blankets in the morning, the windows were iced over from the inside. I’m told the scenery is beautiful, though.

I was not destined to warm up any time soon. Turns out the electricity at Brendan’s house, where I’m staying, is broken. That means no heat, except for a tiny yak stove that I am not currently getting along with (although I no longer mind the human-high pile of yak dung in the corner of one of the rooms), and no light past 6:30 or so. So I sleep in my down jacket, long underwear, jeans, gloves and a scarf under three blankets, a sleeping bag, some kind of fur thing and a pile of my sweaters.

Not that I was expecting the Ritz. I knew there was no running water, I just didn’t quite realize what that would mean at 7 a.m. when you want to wash your face. And I knew that Brendan had an outhouse, I just didn’t realize that meant two boards a foot off the ground in a corner of the yard. On the bright side, I haven’t missed showering as much as I thought I would, since showering would require undressing, and I don’t even like to take off my fur boots when I go to sleep at night. The Tibetans are not big bathers, and I now have no problem understanding why.

And despite all this, I am in love with Yushu.

What is it about Yushu that makes me want to forgive the distressing absence of toilets and showers, the bone-chilling cold, the lack of running water or any plumbing whatsoever?

It might be the mangy mobs of goats that wander the streets, rooting through the ample supply of roadside garbage and ducking into your yard whenever you forget to shut the gate, refusing to allow angry and horn-happy drivers to disrupt a casual afternoon stroll down the center of the street.

It could be the slow-witted yaks who lumber around town, and graze at the school next door.

Maybe it’s the monks on motorcycles, the hive-drone of the Buddhist chants that are broadcast over loudspeakers twice a day, or the fresh yak yogurt sold in plastic buckets by robed women in Yak Square or served in restaurants with a side order of sugar and tiny sweet potatoes. Might be the fact that the world’s most expensive dog — one of the fierce, bear-like Tibetan mastiffs that are in every yard here — hails from Yushu.

It could even be the students here, who are oddly enthusiastic, a little boisterous and more than a little punk rock, and shout “Hello Teacher!” without discernible irony when I walk in the room.

Even the accommodations have improved significantly, ever since I found the showers downtown, and a six-fingered man showed up to “fix” the electricity (which as far as I can tell meant rigging up some wires to steal from the orphanage next door), so I could terminate my tumultuous relationship with the yak stove once and for all.

It’s the little things.

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