Lack of Air and Butter Tea

May 24, 2011
By , Carrollton, TX
Most events in life are insignificant, and leave no deep, inset memory in one’s mind. During these days the sun rises and sets all the same. Summer of 2010— not one of those insignificant happenings.

Chunks of nasty, brown liquid rolled out of my mouth as the train I was aboard whizzed past nearby trees. My mother eyed me sympathetically, patting my back and trying not to throw up herself. As I wiped my mouth, tears blurred my eyes and I stood up to reach the oxygen channel across the compartment. The lack of oxygen and constant wobbling of the compartment was exactly what I needed after a twenty hour train ride. I glanced at the scene outside my window, desperately hoping Tibet would be worth the nauseous feeling in my stomach.

After a few more hours the train came to a screeching halt, and all the passengers sluggishly trudged off. The perfect, cool wind hit my cheeks, and immediately brightening my mood, if only a little, as a pair of Tibetans welcomed me with a white kata scarf around my neck. I anticipated that this trip was going to be one of the best experiences I would have.

Needless to say, Tibet was extremely different than any other culture I have experienced. As my mother, my aunt, our tour guide, and I walked down the street, people stared because they were not accustomed to our lighter complexion. Because of the higher altitude, oxygen was scarce and even though the temperature was mild, the sun had a deathly glare. The people around us hid behind long sleeves and cloth masks, and even behind their simple protection, we could see signs of dark, sagging skin, that were obvious even among the young.

After a short time the oxygen pills kicked in and I was finally allowed to enjoy everything Tibet had to offer. I drank the traditional tea for the first time, and to my surprise, it was disgusting. It was called butter “tea” but in reality it just tasted of extremely salty milk. Made with buffalo butter, tea leaves, and salt, it was probably one of the most unappetizing things to enter my mouth. Besides the food, there were also many customs in Tibet that I was not prepared for. A few times I got reprimanded for pointing at certain things the wrong way, and my mother would rapidly scold me when I stared at the soldiers walking down the street. However, the most heartbreaking situation was when I first saw a baby on the streets begging for money. I’m not exaggerating. The poor thing was probably about a year old, holding a basket with a measly amount of change, sitting on the dirt near a vendor. When an old lady teasingly took the basket out of his hands and walked away, he screamed, and then she proceeded to walk away. After a few steps she turned back, smirking, and placed the basket in his lap once more. The four of us exchanged somber glances and proceeded back to the hotel.

Even with all the poverty, Tibet still remained an amazement to me. One of the days we were there, we took a long trip down to the plains to ride the horses, what I had been looking forward to the whole time. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe the scenery there. The mountains that encircled us were dark and pure, looming like gods above a quiet land. Almost immediately, I was placed on a horse. She was stunning: a deep chestnut creature with a simple white line about her nose. My tour guide mounted a similarly gorgeous black beauty next to me, and— slowly but surely— she led me through the grass. The height of my horse initially scared me as she galloped through the lush plains, but as I became used to the speed, my fears vanished. As we picked up speed, the wind whipped my hair and the refreshing cool air swirled around us. To me, this was nature at its finest. There was nothing else on my mind except for the intense rush I was feeling and the chills running through my veins. She seemed to lead herself, almost as if she knew that I had no idea what I was doing, and never straying too far away. Even though I rode for hours, it only felt like a few minutes. As the sky grew darker, the keeper called his horse in and she willingly obeyed. I was hesitant to dismount her, but I knew that this was surely a day when I had experienced God’s gift of Tibet.

Besides the extremely uncomfortable train ride, my week in Tibet passed by way too fast. Other than the fact that I had an incredible time, my trip was also incredibly eye-opening. I had never been somewhere with so much culture, so isolated from the rest of the world. Tibet was more than a vacation, it was a lesson, and even though many of their customs were incomprehensible to me, I learned to respect them, just because they are sentimental to the people that lived there. Trips like that are what I cherish. The experience. The lesson, and the life.

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