Thursday, August 28, 2008

in the beginning...

well, it's official, i am now neck-deep in this thing called the tibetan aid project. i finally got a chance today to slow down and digest a bit which is impressive considering that i've been here a week. anywho, where to begin...

my mom and i arrived in berkeley a little over a week ago and hoped a ride on the shuttle over to nyingma. that in itself was a notable experience. the driver, a gruff and colorful character took us from oakland to alameda to drop off this man whose company leases an old warehouse at the abandoned naval base there. sketchy? why yes...yes it was :) after that little jaunt (and yes i will be using this word at least once in every entry) we scampered over to berkeley which is everything it's cracked up to be and more. the nyingma institute is situated about midway up one of the many monster hillsides that the berkeley skyline is famous for. from my mom's second-floor guest room you can see all the way from alameda to sausalido, bay bridge and golden gate bridge included. it's quite a breathtaking sunset. as for my rooming situation...i'm rooming with the most lovely girl you can image. her name is meagan, she's 24 and she has a degree in music therapy. she met me at the front desk on my arrival with a huge smile and a stack of paperwork. after the nice men of nyingma helped mom lug our luggage up the two flights of steep stairs (yes, everything is steep here) mom and i got a chance to scarf down some vegetarian goodies and meet the locals. it's a unique feeling to be the only new person at a residential program. everyone, and i mean everyone, knew my name, my hometown, my work assignment and my mom. of course i loved it. i got all the attention i could ever ask for ;) anyway, so this wonderful girl named charlotte gave us the comprehensive nyingma tour including everything from the massive fully stocked (all organic) kitchen complete with recycling and composting to the breathtaking meditation garden with its beautiful prayer wheels, stupa and coy pond. the entire place is yellow and red, making this place so comforting and warm. i still get caught gaping at how gorgeous everything is. i can't seem to get enough of the fluttering prayer flags out the window and the vegetable and spice garden i walk through every day on my way to work. 

ok ok back to my first few glimpses of the place...
after our tour, mom and i went out on the town, grabbing the most delicious coffee ever at this place called brewed awakening (down with starbucks!!!) and taking a 7-mile wander through town. for those of you who don't know, berkeley is basically centered around the UC berkeley campus so once i got oriented my mom and i circled the campus in every way imaginable. we took a peek at the berkeley library and grabbed a bit to eat at this delicious little thai food place (pad thai and thai iced tea all the way!) then dragged ourselves back up the hill to bed. before bed, though, we relaxed on mom's fire escape and watched the sun set over san francisco..aaaamazing.

on our second day we got a slow start so we hopped on the BART and headed to san francisco (not san fran and not S.F.) where we saw anything and everything you can imagine. we checked out lunch at this place called scomas that my aunt and uncle swore by. guess what....they were right! the place is on pier 41 looking out on the bay and in sight of the maritime museum and we watched as they brought in the catch of the day which later became our clam chowder!!! i won't go into all the details but suffice it to say that we say pier 39, coit tower, telegraph hill, the embarcadero, rode a trolley and a streetcar, ate seafood on the pier, hung out with the sea lions, and rode a ferry all on that first day. we also added another 7-10 miles to our ever increasing mileage count. that night we came back and mom took it easy upstairs while i got to know some of the people hereabouts. so let me set the scene for you...i walked down the stairs into this lobby where i could vaguely here some laughter. i walked into the next room and there were 4 people just chillin in this small library that overlooks the bay. i come grab a seat on the floor amongst the scattered african drums, a guitar, some tibetan buddhist books and some pillows and join in the conversation. before long one of the women starts asking these deep questions about religion and interreligious dialogue while at the same time these other two people are jamming on the drums and making new instruments out of a guitar (yes, new instruments). I LOVE THIS PLACE!!! african drumming, deep and penetrating religious discussions, laughter, floor-sitting, sunsets over san francisco. WOW! 

day three consisted of returning to the city for another ride on the trolley, another look at coit tower (i saw the parrots this time!!!) and an epic trek to the golden gate bridge via the maritime museum and fort mason. we even had time for a cup of hot chocolate at ghirardellis. peeeeerfection. the parrots of telegraph hill were definitely an adventure. we walked around forever circling the tower trying to catch a glimpse and finally mom "heard their voices" and went racing around with her arms in the air trying to wave them in. luckily i was standing in just the right spot and saw them as they came between some houses. it was really a scene but all in good fun! 

i have to say i am definitely in love with public transportation. i don't care what kind. i love them all and i tried them all in two days. spectacular!!! we met up with the nyingma gang that night for drinks at this local brewery and i sipped on some pomegranate cider while getting to know my coworkers. everyone is so nice and open and welcoming. i haven't laughed that hard in forever! sadly, saturday was charlotte's last day at nyingma. she left sunday to head home before a two-year stint in mozambique with the peace corps. that morning, mom and i walked to work with everyone from my (future) office and checked out the berkeley tree-sitters on the way. if you haven't heard of them, here's a quick run-down. UC berkeley wanted to cut down some old redwood trees so that they could expand their stadium but some locals protested and took the issue to the city. the city said that technically the university couldn't cut down the trees but by this time no-one was willing to back down. so, in order to protect the trees and make a statement, some local bohemians moved into the trees, literally. they build elaborate tree houses overnight and many have not left since. those that have were met with police and prevented from returning to their posts. the sight is pretty impressive. you walk by and across the street there's this massive barricade guarded by police and behind the barricade are the trees and up at the very top of the trees are the treesitters who are more than happy to wave and smile for a great candid shot. anywho, saturday was also the day that mom headed home and left me to my own devices in liz-heaven. 

my roommate, yet again swept in and smoothed the transition. she, charlotte, morgan (another coworker and friend) and i played cards and mexican bingo (totally not PC and completely hilarious) which ended with me on the floor in tears and rolling around to contain my hysterics. they're great fun. saturday night, meagan and i cooked spaghetti and chilled (before the cards and bingo). sunday went by rather quickly with the san francisco mime troop's performance in a park in berkeley. contrary to rational thinking, the san francisco mime troop's performers are not mime's, nor do they perform miming or act like mime's they actually perform musical political theater...duh! it was enjoyable and very indicative of the berkeley personality to sit in that park watching the show. lots of interesting characters, the locals i mean :) 

so work started monday and i haven't slowed down since. i had a few nonsensical projects to start with but by tuesday i was going to multiple meetings a day, i had become a full-fledged fundraising guru and been to a grantseeking seminar at the public library. apparently fundraising is my new calling. i've done nothing but that since tuesday and i'm really enjoying it. just this week i learned how to navigate an entire foundation database and discussed my finds with one of the most accomplished fundraisers in the bay area. they are training me out the wazoo. i've come to think of myself as a grantseeking detective of sorts. i read secret documents, decode messages and convince people to pay me. it's great fun! 

i will end on yet another classic berkeley moment...
after dinner this evening, which consisted of deviled eggs, homemade potato salad, chai tea and love i watched the democratic national convention on morgan's laptop (no tv here) and then walked to the berkeley campus with meagan where she proceeded to teach me an hour's worth of african drumming. i'm completely enamored with the instrument a djembe and i want one immediately. i always knew that rhythmic anything soothed my soul but sitting next to a pond on the berkeley campus watching the sun set and drumming out a heart pounding rhythm completely rocked my world. i connected with something outside of me and got all wrapped up. and that is how i will leave you tonight, all wrapped up. 

love and blessings,

p.s. a little FAQ rundown...
prayer flags are multicolored square pieces of cloth each inscribed with a prayer and hung high in the air so that when the wind blows through them the prayers are taken, by the wind, all over the world spreading blessings and goodwill
stupas are basically reliquaries that are placed on sacred or auspicious sights and mark the location of some common buddhist rituals 
a prayer wheel is a long ever-spinning cylinder with a scroll rolled inside that has a blessed teaching or prayer written on it. as the prayer wheel spins it to spreads the blessings of those words to all humanity.
total mileage count? over 30 miles in three days with mom!

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Well it's official. I am off to Berkeley on the 20th to join the ranks of work-study volunteers at the Nyingma Institute. I decided to start this blog so that I can keep my friends and foes abreast of my adventures and so that I could ponder publicly all the deep and meaningful life questions I get to confront in the next 6 months. 

My mom and I fly out to Oakland on the 20th and grab a shuttle over to Nyingma. For those of you who know your way around Berkeley, the Institute is located on Highland Place just north of the University of California at Berkeley campus (directly across the street). 

Side Note: Did you know that Berkeley has the second largest library in the country, second only to Harvard? Way excited about that little nerdy tidbit! 

Anyway, so my mom and I will be staying at the Institute for just $40 a night which includes a room and some award-winning vegetarian fare. Yay for Buddhist culinary masters :) For the next three days I expect I'll see as much of San Francisco as my little legs can handle and get a feel for the area. My schedule for the next 6 months is booked solid. I work 6 days a week from 8 to 5 with dinner and classes in the evenings. I have only Sunday off for exploring so I've got a lot to accomplish in the three days before my program begins. 

Here's a link to the specific program I will be joining as part of the Nyingma Institute:
Now you can see for yourself! (Check out the video on the homepage) 

Roselyn White, my new boss, said that the Tibetan Aid Project is a crew of seven women (myself included) who handles all marketing and fundraising for the Nyingma Institute's programs. Everyone calls them the "Party Girls" for the cocktail parties and coat-and-tie dinners they put together. I can't wait! Besides 9-hour work days I will also be taking 4 courses a quarter. They have everything from Tibetan Yogic Meditation to language courses and philosophy.  I start work on the 25th and courses on the 1st. They have a month of specialty classes in September before the Fall Quarter begins in October. I'm going to be neck-deep in this thing and I can't think of anything more exciting. I get priceless work experience, amazing courses, some new spiritual study and free room and board in BERKELEY! 

So in conclusion, I am the biggest nerd in the world and voluntarily elected to spend 6-months in a Tibetan Buddhist community because my religious education just wasn't diverse enough! Hopefully this will throw me headlong into some amazing grad school opportunities. This, in a nutshell, is the jaunt this Jamison is undertaking. More to come as the date gets closer and I  start having packing meltdowns. 

Back Soon,

P.S. "drala" is the Tibetan word for the wisdom and spirit behind all things. I believe a little Tibetan-flavored wisdom gifted me along this path and I can't wait to see where it takes me. Come along for the ride :)