A hiss rips through the frigid winter air and I know that morning has silently arrived. Water drips onto the heated stones of the clay stove which sits roaring in the middle of our “ba”, a yak wool tent.
Fire is an essential to life here. I am lodged stubbornly under a pile of smoky yak wool blankets from where I balk at starting the day. An icy patch of wool is frozen stiff where my breath has damped it. At over 12,000 feet in the barren Ganzi Prefecture, winter mornings are a true force of nature.
Omu, the indestructible matron of the household and my hostess, ghosts into the tent, wrapped in great layers of wool, somehow smoothly negotiating two massive buckets of water into the tight, yet-to-wake household. She calls both of her sons to get up: “Luden! Chamba!” Feeble groans are the reply.
The missing yak might be dead
The aged matriarch of the family, Oje, asks about a missing yak from under her blankets. “Has it returned”? Omu answers “No”, and, as she does every morning, repeats a mantra asking the spirit world for peace, prosperity, and health. She also adds a request to the deities for the return of the yak. “The cold is intense and the yaks are covered in ice,” she tells us all. “The missing yak might be dead.”
Omu’s husband Ajo then asks her the question I’ve heard every morning in Tibet: “Is tea made?” Omu’s answer is also the same: “Of course!”
Omu has been up since the sun first touched the sky. She always is. Her morning journey to fetch water from a nearby stream involves digging through thick ice that refreezes each night. The only sign of the six other bodies in this homestead, still wrapped in woolen balls, are the vapor trails of humid breath.
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