The Lamb Lays Down...

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, April 6, 2006

Greeted by a snowstorm blanketing the hills in white, I arrived back in Shangri-la. I had mixed emotions being back: having a home away from home was comforting, yet returning to an uncertain work environment after over two months of traveling felt constraining. Questions in my head did not yet have answers: Would I be able to stay in the country? Would WWF ever finish my contract or pay me? And most importantly, what would I do? Would I stay or would I go?

For three weeks, I worked alone--no one else was around very much, if at all. Trouble was that most of my work involved needing translations, meetings, trainings--other warm bodies. Many days I stayed in the office, chatting on Skype with friends and family. My WWF supervisor knew the situation and I was quite firm, but there was nothing I could do about it--except to go to Napa Hai, where I stayed for days on end, photographing Black-necked Cranes, Himalayan Griffon, and the wetland and mountain landscapes for WWF publications. While there, I studied the landscape and began to understand its intricacies.

I grew attached to the cranes, and Napa Hai is now firmly planted in my heart.

After ten months of persistence, some things finally fell into place: I was able to get an F visa, meaning I no longer needed to pretend to "travel with WWF" and could remain in China. Also my one year contract was signed, almost in time for it to expire. Finally, I was also paid as well, which will help with travel expenses in the future. Things seemed to be turning around at WWF-China, which had witnessed three different directors since I had arrived.

At night, I walked the streets as before and often ate dinner at a local Muslim restaurant. I would order mianquar--a cut noodle dish--and fried lamb, which filled my belly. Often as I would enter their small restaurant, with posters of Mecca hanging on the wall, the young Muslim boys from Gansu would be killing and skinning a lamb, with blood on the streets trickling into the gutters. Once they had freshly killed a lamb; another one was bound on the sidewalk, her eyes looking up into mine.

Perhaps she was my next meal?

I felt deeply and strongly about this. As I was eating lamb that night, I wished that the lamb had lived a good life in the meadows around Shangri-la. I thought about what Ilana had once told me while we sat on Wiscosim's Rock as the autumn sun of Martha's Vineyard warmed us. We were talking about death: "I'd rather be eaten by a lion...part of the food web."

I feel the same way. At the same time, I had respect for the lamb who died. The world is a violent place, but that can be okay, because in this web of life--we are all interconnected--the Venus Fly Trap needs its fly. Turn a lion into a tame house pet, and he'll still crave the hunt, like Alex in Madagascar.

So if someone finds my gnawed bones somewhere, sometime--that's all right, you can feel good about it all.

During the one month that I have been back in Shangri-la, my head has been full of developing thoughts that sometimes resembled a roller coaster ride and sometimes seemed more clear. Still, it all felt like a process that I needed to go through. At the end, I made my decision: I was leaving WWF and Shangri-la.


"I feel that I still need to walk the earth, like Caine from Kung Fu."

"I promised that I would stay a year--in May, it will be one year."

"WWF-China is an organization with promise, yet is currently undergoing a reconstruction of sorts. It's not the best time to be around if you want to get things done."

"Shangri-la isn't a real place anyway, you can take it wherever you go, even if you're packing light."

I called my director a couple of nights ago. We had a good conversation. "You are welcome back anytime," she said.

I said, "despite all the problems, I am glad to have this amazing opportunity. Thanks for that. In the future, if you ever need a hand, let me know."

I will make the most of the remaining time I have here.

I want to help this program as much as possible. It had done so much in the past only to have the carpet pulled from under its feet during the last year.

More importantly, I believe in this project. But I also believe in many other things.

I believe that now is the time for me to continue roaming.

It feels like a new beginning.

Last day with WWF: May 10.
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