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.