I had a most wonderful visit to the TibetanAid Foundation's project in the ChaZhu Valley in Tibet August 2-14, 2005. I flew from Los Angeles (16 hours of flying) to Beijing with a one night layover in Beijing and then on to Xining the capital city of Qinghai Province of the Peoples Republic of China. Both Qinghai and the TAR are on the Tibetan plateau whose valleys are at 12,000 feet with multiple mountain ranges 20-28,000 feet in elevation. Amdo is the birthplace of the current H.H. the Forteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and of Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelupa or Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

When I arrived at the airport in Xining, I was met by DanZhen Tsering who took me on a 4 hour car ride to Hualong, a town 30 kilometers from the ChaZhu Valley. The drive was exquisite with glorious vistas of grass-covered mountains and valleys with sheep, horses, cows and yak grazing on the slopes. Since this area is the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, the elevation is lower: 9000 feet in the valleys with 11-14,000 foot mountains. Traveling between Xining and Hualong, we went over two 11,000 foot passes. We also went through two police checkpoints and I was very interested to see that I was never asked for my passport or my purpose for traveling to this remote area.

When we arrived in Hualong, DhanZhen took us to his very modern apartment with sparkling white floors and a flush toilet. This is very different from the Tibet I experienced in 1986 when I traveled overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Hualong is a modern town with a hospital, bank, cell-phone company, mosque, and Tibetan Medicine College. It is populated by mainly Muslim and Han Chinese people. The ethnic Tibetan people are inclined to stay in their villages and high pastures tending their fields and flocks as they have done for centuries. DhanZhen's wife is a school teacher in the town of Hualong and he is a local government employee involved in the county government of the valley adjacent to the ChaZhu Valley, his birthplace. We spent the night in DhanZhen's apartment because rains had turned the unpaved road between Hualong and the ChaZhu Valley into a slippery mud quagmire.

The next day the sun came out and by midday DhanZhen felt the road was passable. The drive turned into a roller-coaster of emotion as I ooed and aahed over the beauty of the countryside and groaned in fear when our rear wheels spun and the car slid to the edge of the cliff. When we finally made it to the ChaZhu Valley, DhanZhen stopped the car and we got out to look at the new ChaZhu Valley Health Clinic sparkling in the distance below us on the valley floor amid the lush green of the wheat and barley fields. DanZhen has been involved with our project since its inception and says his enthusiasm for the project is matched by that of the villagers. As we got into the car and drove closer to the clinic, I felt my sense of wonderment increase as this absolutely beautiful building, trimmed in Tibetan architectural details, transformed from a vision in the distance into a solid presence: a representation of the joining of the modern sanitized space of healing with the ancient methods of Tibetan medicine. I felt overwhelmed to think that Dorjee Tsewang and his small group of American friends in Ojai had had a dream of a clinic in rural Tibet and now DhanZhen Tsering and his small group of his friends had been able to bring this dream to fruition in such a magnificent way.

That night we stayed at Dorjee's family's home and slept solidly after two days of journeying. The house was the traditional earthen floor, wood and clay structure with the modern amenities of electricity, telephone, and television. Electricity came to the ChaZhu Valley two years ago and running water arrived at a tap outside their back door one year ago. Cooking is still done on a dung and straw fed brick stove.

The next day I spent the whole day in the old clinic with Dr. Sonan Ji and her husband , XiaBa, a Tibetan medicine doctor. They have set up their clinic in two rented rooms in the village, a 10 minute walk from the new clinic. They live in one room and have the clinic in both rooms. I was examining patients on their couch and on their bed. Dr. Sonan Ji had patients sitting on the couch receiving medications by intravenous drip. The patients I saw had coughs, congenital heart defects, abdominal pain, cerebral palsy, arthritis, seizures, eczema, psoriasis, and tuberculosis. I found Dr. Sonan Ji and XiaBa to be very astute in determining whether the patient needed to be treated with Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, or Western medicine. The Western-style drugs that they had in their pharmacy were all very good ones. I was completely impressed with their competence and their compassionate service to the community. When clinic hours were over, XiaBa would take Dr. Sonam Ji on his motorcycle to the homes of patients who were too sick to walk to the clinic, so they could be examined and treated. The level of care the villagers were receiving and the selfless dedication of Dr. Sonan Ji and XaoBa were heartwarming to me. When I left the village 5 days later, I felt even more dedicated to our project and the need to raise funds to provide medicines, health education, and improved diagnostic methods, and free medical care to the people of the ChaZhu Valley.

    ---- Corinne Collins
August, 2005

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