Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Today was a sunny day so we decided to collect the trash at Chabrang reservoir.
The reservoir is about 10km north of our village. It’s a clean water source for the nearby villages and the prefecture seat down the stream. The kids were thrilled. We packed a few simple lunches and set out on the trip. The area we are in, Erthi, is 30 km west to the Kokonor Lake. Further west is the Gobi Desert of Durlan. It's quite a dry place, especially in winter.
To reach the reservoir, we needed to first pass through Choetsa, a nomadic village that was adjacent to our village. There’s a checkpoint at the crossroads leading into the village. It’s a measure to prevent NCP (novel coronavirus pneumonia) from spreading and is probably more strict in the countryside than in the cities. There’s in fact no case of infection found in the prefecture, but nonetheless, the villagers are strictly prohibited from traveling. We explained to the guards that we were going to the reservoir to collect the garbage, so they let us through. It’s a little nice surprise as we expected a no from them. The area is sparsely populated, so that’s probably why they saw no point in stopping us.
The reason we could have access to the reservoir is because Tashi’s father, grandpa Talo is the reservoir watch. His duty is to keep it clean and record the water levels. Grandpa retired from serving as the village head twenty years ago. He’s 76 years old now, still very healthy, and works all day. If you were to meet him, he’d shake your hand with the firm grip of a
farmer, and the vigor of a countryman.
Cheotsa is a Drokpa (nomadic) village, an original residence of this part of land. Their ancestors lived here at least a few hundred years prior before our ancestors moved in about two hundred years ago. Our ancestors were farmers and we lived off the land, cultivating wheat, barley, potato, and beans. The grasslands were more fit for animals, so the villagers also raised yaks, sheep, cows, and goats, and adopted the free roaming lifestyle from the nomads. Over the centuries, new settlers arrived (mostly Tibetans) from the eastern edge of the plateau who moved westward and made home on the seemingly endless grasslands along the river valleys. To give you an example, there is another village next to us called Yongrong (where we just arrived as of writing this), which is a recent arrival to the Erthi flatlands that existed less than one hundred years ago…
It might be a coincidence but the local deities, even the fierce Dharma Protector, Paldan Lhamo herself, are believed to be fond of the travelers and new arrivals, whose wishes would be answered immediately.
You can find the history of the area in the names, items, and rituals. The region around the Kokonor Lake has seen the rises and falls of different powers. The expansions and retreats of A Sha, Tuyuhun, Tibetans, and Mongolians had left their traces. Our village has a Mongolian name, and so do the local mountains, rivers, and deities. On top of the mountain, Amnye Hato, the incense offering piles of Buddhist and Bon (Tibetan original religion) are settled next to each other. A prayer flagpole has been erected by the monks from the Gelugpa monastery, which stands next to a prayer flagpole of the Ngapa of Nyinma practitioners from the village, which has the same colorful prayer flags as the Gelugpa. Both fly vividly in the harsh wind.
Plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic foams, plastic plastic plastic. Old shoes, gasoline cans, cosmetic containers…things that once bought and touched by somebody, once useful in some homes, thrown away and discarded, contaminating the water that so many villages relied on. Heavy rain swept garbage from ditches near highways and pushed them to the reservoir, where they sat on the banks and in the shallow edges of the water.
Fun time after the work, always!
Lunch time, Tsampa, bread, tea, apples, sweets. All trash went to a bag with a stone in it to prevent it from flying. The kids learned how to keep our own garbage.
For our curfew in the village, each day we found ourselves a new task to complete. One day it was to cut down the dead trees and pile them up as firewood for the grandparents. Another day was to tear down the dirt wall no longer useful and move away the sand that grandpa had meant to do something with for a year. We also did hikes, made pizzas, tried old recipes. All sorts of things for the kids to spend time with the grandparents. As I said in my last blog entry, it is a sad and unfortunate time for the people whose lives are so tragically affected by the virus outbreak. But for us, so far we are very fortunate to have been able to stay safely at the home village. The dirt, sand, stones, water, ice, grass, hills, hiking trails, Sun, prayer flags, a corpse of a cow, horses, rabbits, pheasants...we hope our kids will connect and live among them and remember them as we do.