18 August – Shoveling mud and bowing to royalty

From a Facebook message to family:

This morning we show up at the Leh Buddhist Association at 9:00am ready for who knows what.  We are handed a makeshift vest with LBA Volunteer hand-printed on it, a pair of gloves and a bottle of water.  We sat on the curb with about 50-70 other westerners, all looking keen for work but confused.  Instantly a Dutch woman asks us to join her group.  They had helped dig out part of the basement of a house in Chonglamsar the day before and they were going back to finish that day.  Soon we were all climbing in the bed of the smallest pickup in the world for a short drive.  With us were a Japanese living in Canada, a German man, a Czech born Swiss boy, an Irish guy, an Irish woman and my Singaporean wife and this transplanted Yank.  8 nationalities plus plus.


We worked all day but took several tea breaks and lunch.  My back is breaking at the moment and I am not the only one.  Everyone pitched in 100%.  The main room I was in was only 5′ x 13′ and a meter deep in mud (but the watermark for the flood was at 6′ – taller than the windows and doors).  That’s 200 cubic feet of wet mud.  Another larger room was half-cleared and finished from the day before and we started on the last room for an hour before leaving.  We hitch-hiked home and with our LBA vests (the only time we wore them) we got rides in under a minute.  We’re going back tomorrow to finish the job.

We did drive down the hospital road today and I was stunned by the devastation.  The valley where all the mud came from is just at the end of this road, i.e., the top of the hill.  Several settlements are just gone.  The bus station is gone.  The fruit seller who gave me directions to the hospital last month is gone.  It is all so sad.  I am checking my photos tonight as I think I have some “before” pictures.
Finally a cool thing….  Melanie and I were walking to dinner and we passed the only semi-fancy hotel in town.  I looked back at Melanie and she was bowed and pressing both hands to her forehead in the traditional Ladakhi greeting.  It’s unusual for anyone to be so formal so I took the few steps back to see who it was she was saying hello to.  It turns out that it was a man we met a few weeks earlier in the trip and HE recognized Melanie and called out to her!  That happens all the time to Melanie but usually the person she runs into is not of the same level as the King of Ladakh!  We had a pleasant conversation for several minutes before we bade him well and left.  Neat.
Please pardon the typos but this computer only shows what I typed 60 seconds later.  No kidding.  Shanti to all.

The house where we dug out the mud from the lowest floor. 
You can see the level of the flood at the top of the door and windows. 
You can also see some of the pile of mud that was shoveled out.
(the “hill” leading up to the road near where the stairs used to be)


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