Tired of being an armchair activist, Isabel Losada decides to take matters into her own hands. From the streets of London to the temples of Dharamsala, in this adventure, Isabel falls in love with a monk, impersonates a member of the Chinese army, starts an activist organization, breaks the law, puts lives at risk (including her own), and appears on the news around the world. In the end, she meets the Dalai Lama to ask him the crucial question, "Can one person make a difference?"
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About the Author
Isabel Losada has worked as an actress, singer, television producer, and full-time single parent. She is the author of The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment, which is a bestseller in twelve countries. She really does live on Battersea Park Road, in London.
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A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World
By Isabel Losada
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Isabel Losada
All right reserved.
The Beginning of the Beginning
Wenesdays Between Six and Eight
This being the twenty-first century, "the man who moves a mountain starts with one small click." Whatever it is you want to do to change the world, the first step is now to switch on a computer. My computer skills are of a fairly basic kind, but I know that there is a butler somewhere in my machine, called Jeeves, and I can ask him anything I want, from "Is there life after death?" to "What shall I do on Friday evening?" I don't really see Jeeves as a political activist, but he's a mine of information. So I asked him, "What can I do about Tibet?" and he told me that on Wednesdays between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. there is a demonstration against the Chinese occupation outside the Chinese embassy, just down the road from the BBC in Portland Place, London.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd demonstrated for or against anything. My last book, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment, is an exploration of personal happiness. Happiness is a great subject, and being happy ourselves is perhaps the best contribution that we can make to the world. On the other hand, I realized that the critics who had accused me of tummy-button gazing wereright. I know about the world inside me, but I have no experience in trying to change anything not sporting my navel. Reflecting on this, I was filled with shame. As a student I'd joined a march with The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the antiapartheid movement, and since then I've written two letters for Greenpeace. Perhaps there is a balance, but I'd leaned over so far one way I'd fallen asleep. Standing outside the Chinese embassy for two hours may not be doing much, but it would be more than I'd done for the last ten years.
When the day came, I found myself wondering what you wear to demonstrate. Don't sigh. I don't mean the right Ab Fab fashion. But there is a dilemma. If you wear clothes in which you can sit on the pavement and keep dry if it rains, you soon look scruffy and fit far too easily into a category where the Chinese officials and the police can just see "troublemakers." So I arrived in shorts and a white top on my trusty two-wheeler, to find a very small crowd in anoraks and raincoats. If you can call eight people a crowd.
Should you ever venture down Portland Place early on a Wednesday evening, you could be forgiven for being confused. Apparently there is an international law that protects embassies in all countries. If you want to demonstrate outside an embassy, you are obliged to stand on the other side of the road. Fortunately for the Chinese, it happens that Portland Place, where they are lucky enough to have their embassy, is a very wide road. So what you see is a group of demonstrators outside the Royal Institute of British Architects. Car drivers stare curiously at them, presumably thinking that there really are some ugly buildings in the United Kingdom, but what could the vexed individuals be demanding?
Meanwhile, the night that I cycled up, peace reigned in the building opposite. No flag was flying to indicate to passersby that it was an embassy. The windows were closed, and the shutters were down. It looked totally deserted.
A delightful character with a long beard and long straggly hair arrived and pulled out his homemade banners from a bag that he carried on his back while wobbling along on his bike. The banners said, "Free Tibet," "China out of Tibet," "Free the Panchen Lama-- the World's Youngest Political Prisoner," "Stop Enforced Birth Control in Tibet," "Stop Nuclear Dumping in Tibet," "Stop Human Rights Abuses in Tibet." Huge issues painted with poster paints on old pieces of cardboard.
"Hello. Which one would you like?" said the bearded character.
I rather liked "Beep Your Horn for Tibet," but someone else took that. "I'll take that big Tibetan flag on the bamboo pole, please," I said. "Thank you."
I looked at my fellow demonstrators and considered the might of the continent of China. One or two ladies in their sixties. One wore a T-shirt--"Don't kill the elephants." The other looked like a member of the Women's Institute or the Mothers' Union. One man wore a large straw hat and had a horn that, he informed me, he'd bought at the Notting Hill Carnival. He wore sandals that were falling apart, and most of the buttons had long since parted company with his shirt. I smiled at him, and he leaned towards me and whispered in a conspiratorial tone, "I've heard some bad news . . ."
"Oh?" I said, noticing his flushed red face and swollen stomach.
"About Colombia . . . but don't tell anyone . . ."
I said, "I don't know anything about Colombia. So perhaps you'd better not tell me."
I looked at him, and he honked his horn. No one else spoke to him.
In fact the demonstrators didn't seem to talk much to each other. One very tall and thin man gave off "don't talk to me" vibes with every ounce of nonverbal communication that a human being is capable of. He looked very uncomfortable and avoided my eye as I attempted to smile at him. Two women talked between themselves; they seemed to have been demonstrating for many years and maybe they were tired of people who turned up once and never came back. They didn't approach me, so I didn't approach them.
Then the remaining lady said, "Hello. I'm Paula." She must have been in her forties or early fifties ...
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