Lunch with a Tibetan Grandma

The clouds were moving swiftly across the sky, hanging so low as if you could reach out and touch them. It was still early and instead of yaks, people from the villages were tending the fields. The women dressed in traditional Tibetan clothes with bright pink-red scarves to cover their heads, standing out like beacons in a sea of brown earth. I spotted a monk and his disciple walking in the distance and proceeded to follow in their direction.

Breathing became more difficult once again but I managed to say “Hello” to a farmer when I walked passed him. He greeted me back with asked me something in what must have been Mandarin. I smiled and tried to explain to him, using my hands and facial expression, that I couldn’t understand him. “Thai Guo” I pointed at my chest and moved my right index and middle finger across the palm of my hand to resemble someone walking. “Ok, to go here?” I pointed to the path in front of me leading to a small village at the end. He nicked and smiled.

The farmer who helped me with directions

The village was quiet but I did notice people going about their daily routine as I walked down the main road. Two women passed by and greeted me with a friendly ‘Ni Hao’ (Hello in Chinese) before I reached a house and peeked through the window to spot another woman on a loom, weaving what I concluded to be one of the pink head scarves.

I was near the end of the village, when I spotted a beautiful old grandma sitting on a wooden log right next to the road. “I have to take her photo” I told myself and I walked up to her with a big smile. I pointed to my camera and then at her, to give the universal sign asking for permission to take her photo.

She smiled back, a beautiful and genuine toothless smile that would fill anyone with her grandmotherly warmth. I took one photo and showed it to her, her face filled with joy to see herself on the screen. “One more” I said in English, whilst gesturing the number one with my right index finger as I held the camera up with my left hand.

One of the first pictures I took of grandma
She loved to pose

She immediately understood and cleaned off some of the hay caught in her dress and straightened her back to get ready for the next photo. After the last shot was done she pointed to me and then the empty spot next to her signaling me to sit down. I showed her more photos I took of the village and the other women on the fields when she turned to me and made a hand gesture about eating food whilst pointing to me and herself. I understood what she meant and accepted her invitation.

She stood up and waved me to follow her through the gate into the courtyard of what must have been her home. It was a massive wooden structure with the top half still under construction. Another door led us inside a dark room with a metal stove right in the middle. The heat radiating from it filled the entire room and I had to take off one or two layers of my clothing to not overheat. The grandma gestured me to sit down, whilst another younger woman walked in, who must have been her daughter.

The gate leading to her house

The two of them were talking, most likely about me. The younger one didn’t seem all too happy about it at first but I kept smiling and trying to communicate with my hands and my phone. Whilst looking around the room I noticed that the coffee table adjecent to the stove was prepared with plates and bowls. “They are expecting more people” I thought to myself and it didn’t take much longer until more women arrived from the fields.

I smiled and greeted each of them as they came in and sat around the coffee table. I kept sitting next to the stove sipping on the hot yak milk as the women around the coffee table were talking and occasionally glancing over to my side of the stove. I felt slightly awkward at first but relaxed a little after the grandma and her daughter brought me food and joined the round. There were a variety of dishes: something that looked liked a deep fried croissant, a white cheese like bun and a plate of pickled vegetables with strips of pork.

These kids were playing in the fields whilst waiting for their mothers

“Hao Chu Ma?” one of the younger women asked, whilst pointing at the now half empty plate in front of me. “Hao Chu! I replied with confidence as ‘delicious’ was one of the first Chinese words I learned by heart.

They all laughed by surprise and proceeded to top up my plate of food.

It was difficult to communicate but one word I understood: “Mama”. I took out my phone and went through my photo library. “Mama” I pointed at the photo of my mom and my sisters and gave them my phone to pass around.

It must have been around half an hour since the women arrived, when one after another stood up and said goodbye, leaving only me and the grandma behind.

One of the typical Tibetan houses

I helped her clean up the table, but she made herself understood that I should stay seated. I looked around the room once more: a delicately wooden chest of drawers, a poster of the chinese president and his wive, an outdated calendar and photos of what must have been her family. As she came back from the kitchen, I handed her a little empty notebook I kept in my bag. “For you” I smiled and pointed at the notebook. She seemed very happy about my present and proceeded to put it in one of the drawers right next to the family photos. She got up again to disappear into the kitchen and returned with a red bag filled with the deep fried croissants.

“Shie Shie” I said, as I walked down the road and waved goodbye to my Tibetan grandma. My heart filled with joy to have experienced this moment of genuine kindness.