November 9, 2006

Goats, sheep, and yak, oh my!

(Photos to come!)

In our 5 day overland trip from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal, we got a real feel for rural agricultual Tibetan life outside the big cities.

There are certainly more goats, sheep and yak than there are Tibetans. Our Landcruiser flew down the dirt and rocky roads, slowed only occasionally by small rivers, a checkpoint or two, and by running into herds of sheep and goat, at which point we merely slowed down a little and honked our way through the mass of animals. Having become acquainted with yak milk, butter and cheese in town, we finally saw the huge animals themselves, bearing yokes and plowing the fields.

Many people were in the fields bundling hay for the winter. We had gotten out on the side of the road because Jonathan wanted to take pictures, and we were invited to watch, as the farmers lifted some hay from a large pile in the middle, shook the forkful in the wind to allow the small fragments to blow away, then added the larger pieces to another stack. The farmer motioned to Jonathan to ask if he would like to try, and being Jonathan, he enthusiastically dug in, though there was a small moment of consternation as half the hay he had lifted flew off the pitchfork, off into the wind and on himself. After settling back into the car, his hair was still covered in small flecks of hay – I couldn’t believe I’d married a hayseed. :)

We passed many neat, rectangular Tibetan houses with their four corner turrets and prayer flags huddled together in valleys, surrounded by farmland. Survival and agriculture at 14,00 ft looked hard, and I can only imagine how cold and long the winters must be. While there are some electric lines running through the countryside, it is minimal at best. Life looks like it proceeds much as it has for the last hundred years.

Children of all ages are visible everywhere, running around, strapped to mother’s backs or walking to school. It made me think of how age stratified American society is…I could go for months without seeing anyone under 21, certainly not at work, and not even in the neighborhoods in Newton, where children are carefully chauffeured from one activity to another. Equally, it would be strange to see 70 year olds hanging around on a street corner, sitting on plastic stools and playing cards or chess. It struck me as nice to have that integration, that we’ve lost something without that connectedness between generations.

Despite the great distances between one street towns, we saw all sorts of people in motion, walking, riding motorcycles, sitting on donkey pulled carts, or piled onto the back of a flatbed, pulled by what looked like a lawn mower engine on two wheels. I felt more than a little bad as we passed them on these dirt roads, leaving them in a cloud of dust.

The pace of modernity…

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