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A practiced hand paints a thanka. Photo by Cara Starnbach, North India Program.

Momola

Moments with Homestay Grandma

Momola! From the moment we met, I knew we would be best friends. Momola wore traditional Tibetan dress every day and had beautiful blue eyes. She would always greet me, in a heavy Tibetan accent, with “good morning!” The extent of her English became clear one night when she greeted me with the same thing but at 10 PM. She spent most of each day in a chair on the balcony, counting prayer beads, reciting the sacred Tibetan Buddhist prayers, and watching the people of Dharmashala go about their busy lives. In the long stretches of time between activities and meals, I had nothing to do so I just watched Momola carry out her routines. Though she walked slowly with the aid of a cane, her personality was energetic and she had mysterious strength despite being at least 90. One of my daily highlights was watching her fling leftover chapatis off the balcony to feed monkeys, dogs, and birds. They would land on the roof of our neighbor’s with an audible “slap” that always made me smile.

Occasionally she just threw things off for the fun of it. One of her other idiosyncrasies was to keep her nose clear at all times. She blew countless snot-rockets onto the neighbor’s roof, or if she was too far, she blew her nose in a crusty, ancient handkerchief. Momola had two favorite places to sit. One was at the top of the outdoor concrete staircase that led up to our homestay apartment. From this spot she always looked out at a nearby construction site and kept track of its slow progress. Her other spot was right in front of the door to my room, which was also the balcony location. When I say in front of my room, I mean practically in the doorway. I had to squeeze by every time, but it was never an issue for me. Who knows how long that had been her favorite spot. Whenever we ate together out on the balcony, she always made sure to push more and more food on to my plate, regardless of how much was already on it. Force feeding is kind of a theme among homestay moms and grandmas, the most common weapons being momos, veggies, Tibetan pastas and breads, and of course chapatis. Even though she never entered the kitchen, she took responsibility for my diet and always was yelling through the window in Tibetan to make my homestay sisters get me peanut butter or something. Momola had a very simple relationship with the fluffy white house dog whose name I can’t remember. Once a day, the dog would walk over and lay down by Momola, who would aggressively scratch the dogs back with a black plastic cup which served only that one purpose. These moments with beloved Momola will always make me smile, giggle, or sigh upon remembering them. Om Mani Padme Hum.