Meet Nyima Lhamo (aka Andrea Balosky). She emailed the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative asking if we could bend the rules a bit. She wanted to register six quilts, but couldn’t print off the confirming email because she has no printer.
“The nearest printer,” she explained, “is about two hours away by shared jeep, on treacherous roads.”
Andrea is an American who lives in the Himalayas, in India. She describes herself as a “Buddhist recluse, but recently with internet access. So “pseudo-recluse” since this fall is more accurate.”
Andrea has lived in India since 2004. She shared this about her life:
I live near Darjeeling, in a small village with the charming name of Mungpoo ~~ high in the mountains, extremely rural. My neighbors are sweet, amiable people, culturally Nepali, who work hard, grow flowers, smile a lot, and forage the forests daily to feed their domestic animals. Other than rice and sugar, all food is locally cultivated, grown in elegant terraced gardens, along the slopes. Electricity and running water are available, but unreliable, on a daily basis. Life is simple, and this humble life is marked by contentment.
Prior to this, I was a professional quiltmaker. [Read about Andrea's quilts here.] Though not lucrative, I didn’t starve. It was a life that was totally absorbing and personally rewarding. I did this also in a rural setting, along the eastern slopes of the Cascade mountains of Oregon. During that period, in addition to making quilts, I was also a hospice volunteer, working directly with patients for several years. When I came to here to India, to engage in a contemplative life, I easily renounced all of my mundane activity, including quilting.
This past summer, after a five year absence, Andrea was in Hawaii visiting her brother and his family. It was there that she read a newspaper article about her cousins Paul and Jane Leong. For the past 10 years Paul has lovingly taken care of Jane who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was in her early 50s.
Inspired by Paul’s devotion to his ailing wife, Andrea decided to take up quilting again to make Priority: Alzheimer’s Quilts for the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative.
For most quilt donors, the challenge is in making the quilt. Andrea also faced additional challenges few of us have ever endured, let alone contemplated. I’ll let Andrea tell the story of her journey to the local post office.
Luckily, at the intersection outside my village, about one km from my house, there was a shared-mini-van taxi waiting to shuttle passengers to the bazaar. There’s no schedule for this service, just whenever. Whenever is good enough because the post office is about six kilometers away, uphill in the Himalayas.
At the post office (one room, about 10′ x 10′, with three small desks), there are five postal workers, amiable and cooperative— cultural traits of the people here. I hand over the two packets to send to the USA, registered, air mail. I suspect this transaction is rare for these parts, so Iʻm prepared for a delay.
Problem: there is no scale in the post office to weigh the packets. As remedy, one worker (wearing hot-pink frame spectacles) leaves the post office, taking the two packets to the woman at a nearby produce stand. Amidst the cauliflower and garlic, she has a manual weighing scale, like blind justice herself.
Meanwhile, I ask one of the workers to verify the PO telephone number, as I had difficulty calling the other day. I show him the number in my mobile. He nods, says itʻs correct. I click to call, get a recording — “unable to connect, check the number.” The worker says, “Yes, thatʻs right, the number does not work.” … Ahhhh … I continue to wait.
With the weights recorded, the worker returns with the packets, but this post office does not have a schedule of overseas postal rates. He calls another office for this info. Rates not readily available. We wait. I ruminate — maybe the phone is for outgoing calls only …
Several minutes later, the phone rings. Rates calculated. But itʻs the ringing phone that has me curious. So, I ask. “What is the phone number for that phone?” indicating the landline phone. The answer that left me smiling, ear to ear: “We donʻt know.” Incredible, enigmatic India! Not wanting to break the spell, I donʻt pursue the issue.
After some bureaucratic machinations, I pay, and prepare to leave. But before I go, another worker beams and hands me a piece of mail. Not mine. With that, I am pressed into service to deliver the mail to the village nonetheless, because I happen to be going there. Thatʻs how I get mail at my door sometimes. Mail gets passed on as in a relay, hand to hand, via neighbors and strangers alike, until it reaches me.
The entire postal experience was about forty minutes, then I walked back to the village, dodging trucks along the length of narrow switchbacks. I surmise that it is better to trudge along the outside edges, rather than the inside curves, because if necessary, I could leap over the side! This is hillside wisdom. En route, I buy bananas and chocolate, and visit the monastery. Total experience, about 4 hours. A full day.
The best of the far side, with a splice of monty python,
Nyima Lhamo/Andrea Balosky
Look for Andrea’s quilt #6397 in the April online auction, along with 25 other wonderful treasures.