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The Long Walk
By Lauren Edwards and David Anderson
Photography by David Anderson

TIBET-November 11, 2004

- Slavomir Rawicz in The Long Walk

She teetered on the uneven steps of the Ganden Monastery, bowing her head in my direction, with a large burlap sack strapped to her back and a worn pack in her arms. As I rushed to give her a hand, the old woman immediately stuck her tongue out at me. She did this not to offend me but, as many elder Tibetans do, to show that it was pink and she was a friend, not the devil who has a green tongue.

She was alone making one last pilgrimage to the monastery. We exchanged few words, but managed to smile and laugh despite the language barrier. From the folds in her maroon yak wool robe she pulled out an orange, a rock-hard biscuit and several bottles of pills. As she shared the orange with us she pointed to her side and grimaced. She then pecked at her head with her fingers pantomiming a Tibetan sky burial, where the body of the deceased is brought to a mountain top and the vultures return the nutrients to the ecosystem. She was 72 years old and indicated to us that this would be her last year. I couldn’t help but think of my own 72-year-old mother who had passed away before our expedition began.

The nighttime temp-eratures dropped into the teens, but in the morning the old woman happily emerged from her thin blankets to say good-bye. She grabbed my hand and held it until I looked into her eyes, then she smiled and let me continue on my journey.

reported by David Anderson

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