In the back lane outside the locked door sits the cold damp air with a mutinous group
Souls washed away by the white sea, souls who perished when God came to town
What remains are some tiny eagle feathers and they make the city beautiful cry
She in turn hides her sorrow and each night sleeps with ten thousand cars.
Traveling in a time machine the union of ill matched headbands stray
At the holographic edge of methamphetamine and crack
Tick Tock t-i-c-k- t-o-c-k kept calling the deep end
But unheard screams and sudden paranoia nudge them further in the sand.
Another amongst them is gone… another one with a toothless smile
who searched for nylon socks, love and alternative philosophy
Leaving me stories of rats that tied her when mama went to work
And bed bugs saw her die on torn sheets.
Through all that time healing lived in an oblivious world
Offering occasional silicone to mask the broken doll
Axis 1, 2, 3, 4, what is the point now? I see her unhinged, pupils dilated
Saying over and over again a life guru once told me it’s only sunya at the end.
It has been a while not because I haven’t been writing per se. If you ask me, I attempted three half poems which subsequently got couriered to E-trash because I couldn’t stand them. In between I was struggling to see what Dolma (can’t get more cliché as Tibetan names go) will do as she becomes an outcast in her community in the second half of my story. I tell you the “short” story is growing up and becoming a messy, rebellious teenager…I am fighting to contain it but so far it hasn’t stopped sprouting its shoots. Sometimes I think it’s not bad at all but other times I just don’t want to touch it because it seems THAT pathetic. Driven by utter hopelessness (I can be quite melodramatic) I hung onto what I do best; work and read.
One of my friends selected Compassion Fatigue and Countertransference: Two Different Concepts as the topic of discussion for our next work-related journal meeting. The article argues that compassion fatigue and countertransference (amongst therapists) are two distinct concepts. But what spurred this post is a discussion within the article on ‘enactment’, which formed part of the authors’ conceptual framework. I quote “Enactments occur when the therapist is induced into reenacting a part of the client’s internal world, perhaps forged in early traumatic experiences” (Berzoff & Kita, 2010). The idea is that enactment as a therapeutic tool assists the client’s mental processes and strength to revisit a past trauma in a safe environment thereby making it less traumatic over time. The post below revisits a political event, which I have alluded to from time to time in a self-righteous, patriotic sort of way, but today I want to write about it from another angle with the hope that one day I can get some closure.
I am talking about the time when the Chinese government instructed all their Tibetan employees to bring their children back from India. We were that group. After years spent in exile schools with heavy discipline and an austere, non-family life we had returned home to Tibet where doting parents over-compensated for their years of absence combined with the guilt of having torn us away from completing our education.
Not surprisingly the overwhelming majority of us ended up becoming English tour guides. The lucrative and carefree life of a tour guide at the time meant that frequent travel, fancy clothes, good food, rides and night clubs which were previously beyond our grasp was well within reach and soon we were lost to a different life. We were teenagers and young adults thrown in a fast environment, moving from town to town with a job that ensured we always had plenty of cash. For us there was no sense of balance and only few were wise enough to know this was not going to last.
Starting in the late 90’s, the political backlash against tour guides was in full force leading to the development of black list (Hei Ming Dan) which primarily consists of names of those who have been schooled outside of Tibet. Those in the black list were banned from working and as a result many became jobless. In an attempt to survive, we created new resumes that did not include any educational experiences in India. I remember my resume stated that I was a middle school drop out who learnt English at the Ghangshon Evening School. When I was called for an interview at the Tourism Bureau, I had to dumb it down and pretend that I couldn’t understand some of the basic questions that were asked in English in order to ensure that my resume reflected my short years of education. But these farcical tactics didn’t last long and our covers were blown in no time.
Around that period NGOs also began to see a surge in applications from former tour guides for translation and interpretation work. Unfortunately their hands were tied since the recruitment process involved sending resumes of potential employees to the Public Security Bureau for their approval and for them we were a political liability. Moreover the trend had started towards hiring people that could write and speak Mandarin fluently so that organizations can build better relationships with the local government bureaus. Hence, invariably we got rejected.
As the situation deteriorated the implications on our personal lives were tragic. Friends informed against each other to secure favor with the Tourism and Public Security Bureaus. If anyone within our group was still employed we suspected they had done something political to retain their job. Families advised against hanging out with the very people with whom you share similar childhood memories and background. The dust of family unification had settled and looking at our lives anew parents saw us for what misfits we were and openly regretted their decision to sent us to India. We spent our days aimlessly on the street and in the tea stalls with fellow unemployed. Many turned towards excessive drinking, frequent brawls and suffered further blows to self-esteem as marriages failed and became the talk of town. People wondered how we who had “received the Dalai Lama’s blessing” could be so unsettled and blamed us for dishonoring his name while party loyalists saw it as validation that children turn out better if raised and educated in Tibet/China. We were social failures.
What made it worse was that we internalized the views held against us and openly projected our perceived deficits onto each other. We felt it was better to dress like the locals, hang out with those who have been educated inside Tibet or China (better still were cadres), adopt their mannerisms, imitate their speech and learn Mandarin really fast. We secretly derided those who came after us from India…their speech, their accent, their lack of manners and showed little empathy for their integration and acculturation process. I was struck by the irony of it all when I visited India and found similar prejudices against the newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet. The difference was that no matter what the locals’ personal views, politically the ones from Tibet had the institutional support whereas for us there was no place in the system. Nowhere to turn to we were perfect victims for the police. Our “foreign” backgrounds are tarnished enough to be always a political suspect but unlike the monks and the nuns the police don’t have to worry about angering local sentiments since we are not that popular. Anytime there was a slight hint of unrest we were the first to be rounded up, questioned, finger printed, intimidated and detained. With the political upheaval since the 2008 demonstrations and ongoing self-immolations, I am sure their lives must be a nightmare.
In Lhasa when people speak of the political past, a popular saying is “dewa shung ghi jhutok desey goleb ghi jhigi reh” which can roughly be translated as “matters of the government are the flat-headed (Desey Sangye Gyatso) regent’s business” implying that it is not the business of ordinary people. However in the exile community, no matter how far one may try to stay away from politics it does have an insidious way of sneaking up on you and latching on to the tail end of your chupa until you surrender to the almighty responsibility of being a Tibetan.
The translation of Woeser’s article in English by High Peaks Pure Earth http://highpeakspureearth.com/2012/why-was-ngapo-jigme-director-of-radio-free-asias-tibetan-service-suddenly-dismissed-by-woeser/ regarding Ngapo Jigme being expelled from RFA is a highly disturbing piece made murkier by letters from Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s desk that are openly circulating online. The first letter was addressed to the RFA’s president Libby Liu urging the head of the organization to provide clarification on the turn of events while the second was penned for our prime minister (Sikyong). When I read the second letter, as a Tibetan, I was offended by the manner in which an outside party had addressed the senior-most elected member of our community. I also realize that my outrage can partly be attributed to what I can only call the medusa-like characteristic of funding bodies and agencies. Their rhetoric about humanitarian initiatives sounds ennobling and is punctuated with buzzwords like peace, sustainability, transparency, accountability and empowerment. However, their power and sense of entitlement over those whose lives and livelihoods depend upon their grace often ends up being a case study in neocolonialism.
You can accuse me of nit picking but note the typo “Indian” underneath the address. I also felt that the letter is poorly written and overly aggressive in its tone. I am sure that the representative’s office could have easily rectified these flaws and proof read the letter but the fact that they didn’t is insulting; do they feel that the office of our prime minister doesn’t even warrantee the decorum and diplomacy that may be extended to any other public office? I am almost tempted to prepare an alternative letter to showcase the fact that one can be assertive without being offensive but it is not my place and my responsibility to complain about how far the standard American’s literacy rate has fallen.
Despite my hang-ups about the letter I agree that clarification is needed as to whether Sikyong and anyone else had a role in Ngapo Jigme’s eviction. If the Sikyong had indeed maneuvered the RFA president towards such an action (which the letter seems to imply) then he should state (valid) reasons for doing so because this inadvertently raises questions about Ngapo Jigme’s integrity and more importantly it becomes an issue of the freedom of Tibetan press. Furthermore, given the occasion I was struck by the representative’s digressive tirade on self-immolation and particularly the concern regarding “serous accusations” about US funding for Tibetans that “may have been misspent”. Certainly at first glance it seems as if he is getting different issues mixed but the more I think about it I am willing to infer that these are dots connecting the line. However given that we have very little information to begin with and total silence from the Sikyong, this is a one-sided story for now.
Perhaps it is an unfortunate fact of life that it takes very little time before the line between truths and perception blur…despite local sniggers about the Sikyong’s infamous cow and other such sound bites (many view his personal narrative as egocentric instead of sociocentric); he has maintained the relatively “fresh”, scandal-free, progressive persona that capitulated him into power. If the above accusations- fund misuse, censorship of the press and attempt to subvert divergent views- hits the proverbial fan, the Sikyong stands to lose much for tales have a way of outliving the man.
A month ago I took the flight to India. It wasn’t the homecoming I had hoped for because of circumstances that forced the visit but since I was already there, I made the trip to Dharamsala and decided to visit my old school.
My earliest memories of school are less than happy. I could have been the poster child for Save the Children; a skinny little girl with a haphazard haircut and a large tummy hidden underneath an oversized sweater on which was usually pinned a handkerchief. I remember falling asleep during lunch hours on the steps outside the head office and being awakened by irate older boys who would reluctantly piggy-back me home at the behest of our warden. I call them my Oliver Twist days. It was only when I was slightly older and started to read that the world changed. I escaped into a different reality. This was a world where children had tree houses, caring mothers who made them ginger bread cookies and lemonade; food I’d never had but knew it was good because the children in Enid Blyton’s books loved it.
Interestingly although I started out as the proverbial bookworm and was highly introverted, my love of books and the other children’s love of stories led me to become the official storyteller. Some stories took an evening, others many nights and the latter became the norm as I grew older and the stories became more complex. Since there were no parental restrictions I read anything that came my way and became my own censor. The little group would gather on my bed after class and in the evenings, often when the lights were turned off a long time ago. In the course of story telling my characters underwent an acculturation process so the group can understand them better. If I had to impress upon the group how beautiful the protagonist was, I changed the color of her hair and eyes from blonde and blue to black so they fit our cultural ideals of beauty. I guess in a way I followed our ancestors who altered the face of historical Buddha so we can gaze at his image and form a ‘native’ connection. Anyway…
The school looked exactly the way it was. Sure there were some new buildings but the essence of the place felt the same. I was in a time machine as I stood on the steps of the head office. But I am told things are changing. Fewer refugees make the journey across the mountains and the stream of children who come to India for education is drying up. Is it a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing that happens to diaspora communities over the course of time as people integrate or assimilate into a new system? The signs are all there. The closer I look at how we live, how we think, how we speak, what we read and what we know, I see groups of Tibet-Tibetans, Chinese-Tibetans, Indian-Tibetans and (more recently) Westernized-Tibetans. This said let’s end with an ode to environment – Nay! Ye shalt not be the death of us yet!
Tonight the rain fell on a barren mind one muddy splash at a time
You! Said my heart – you are mine
You are fractured little thoughts melded into a haphazard string
Coddled by many sleepless nights on voices of dead writers and disappearing poets.
As you grew my body expanded in anticipation
When I saw your silhouette I clasped my palms hysterical with relief
I sang you borrowed words hoping to appease your ears
But soon you started to run beseeching the sky to open imagination.
The last I was in Ling searching for golden hoof prints
I saw you scatter every thought, I saw you strip away our language
Sometimes you appeared as if a vulture feeding on any carcass
Sometimes you were timid as if a pika on the disappearing grassland.
The nomads told me to let go, to let go of any association with you
On calm spring nights they say you will stop by my tent to smell the smoke
I should be mindful not to empty the cup of rancid tea nor pick the flies on its surface
For those are the only things that remain between you and me.