The hotel Mountview in McLeod Gang has a section with about nine rooms that juts out over the valley offering three sides of view: from the rising Himalaya to the north, around to the plains of India below to the south. Two buildings over from our room atop that section is the Yong Ling pre-school. Every morning at about 7AM the sound of playing and laughing children made its way through prayer flags in the surrounding trees to the hotel room and provided a rainbow-sound colored transport from deep Dharamasala sleep to the crisp morning air.
On the first day of the second week, with a deeper understanding of the area and the Tibetan people, we approached the headmaster of the Yong Ling school to ask if we could run a workshop with the 85 little ones that woke us each morning. He gave us his blessing and so we set out to gather local materials: bamboo, sticks, branches and the all too easily found plastic bottles, bottle caps and bags that are seen in the ravines and low areas throughout India.
The cafes and restaurants of McLeod Gang are gathering and story-telling spaces for travelers and trekkers. Telling the earthaware story several times a day gathered a collection of caring, mostly Western souls asking to volunteer to participate on a workshop or two. By the time this first Dharamasala area event began we had over ten people on the team.
Day one of the workshop started with learning to draw animals. We made a monkey, a dog, hippo, bird and snake (a cobra of course). After an hour or more of drawing we got up and Ada lead us in yoga movement, we hopped like a rabbit, flapped our wings like eagle and quacked like a duck… fun, learning and movement all in one.
Day two we broke into groups of 10-15, took our materials and formed the animals we drew the previous day. Starting with the flexible bamboo we made rings that represented ribs. Then using the stiffer branches as spines we taped and tied the ribs on to form bodies and heads, even a fish form. Next we “skinned” the bodies with plastic and burlap vegetable sacks, leaves, ribbon and bark. Last we added legs, heads, flippers and tails of bottles and braided plastic bags: then it was play-time! Animals got names and sounds, were lifted, they flew about, they got chased, they screeched and barked and howled. Six teams with six very different animal forms.
Day three we worked as one big team making a big animal-hippo-rabbit-thing that the kids could not just play with but in as well. Some of the animals from day two were used for the head and old sneakers were used as the feet. The kids lined up and took turns playing inside and rocking back and forth. We did not understand the name they gave it but they ran around yelling it for days, we were still awakened to the sound of them calling and playing with it a week later.
Many thanks go to the fantastic Earthaware volunteers of Yong Ling: Paul, Frank, Juan, Marcella, Niusia, Anna, Leila, Ada, Leon, Raj, Melissa, Kat, Beth, and Jennie