She is Damchi, age 64. She is a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She has lived at the Labrang monastery in Gangu province, China, for 60 years.
For Damchi, each day is similar to the one before: she wakes before dawn and, clad in crimson robes, begins her walking meditation around the monastery. From dawn until midday she walks, passing temples, stupas, and spinning 1,178 prayer wheels along the way.
She is one of about 1,200 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns who live and study at the monastery, which is one of the most significant Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet. Shifting her prayer beads under her thumb as she moves, whispering to herself, she walks among Tibetan pilgrims who have traveled great distances to pay their respects to the Buddha, and to walk the Kora, the 3 km circambulation path that encloses the monastery.
The pilgrims move clockwise, always clockwise. Some walk and spin prayer wheels, while others perform dramatic full-length prostrations, one after another, around the perimeter of the pilgrim's path. Most pilgrims wear the traditional clothing of Tibet, while a handful wear the typical modern garb of the Han Chinese. Those performing prostrations wear makeshift full-length protective gear, including heavy gloves, aprons, and face masks to protect them from the abrasive effects of concrete, dirt, and tarmac.
She also answers many, many questions about me from curious passersby: Where am I from, why I am with her, and what else she knows about me. We converse in my elementary Chinese and I am again simultaneously thankful that I have learned enough Chinese to have these conversations, and full of regret that I cannot speak more fluently and cannot get more out of these priceless moments.
After one full turn around the Kora, I take one last photograph and thank Damchi for her time, her patience, and her kindness. Then we part, and I watch her as she continues down the path of her life.