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Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Escaped From Tibet

I am a Tibetan monk and refugee. The root cause of my father’s disease was his prolonged imprisonment and torture by the Chinese police in 1959. My name is Dakpa. I’m 24 years old. I was born in a smallest village eastern of Tibet. Amdo province of Tibet in 1984. I’m a Tibetan monk and a refugee. This is my story. . Our village is very small and the school has only 15 students. My father was a farmer and he knew the value of education. He sent me to the village school in 1993, and for four years, I was determined to study hard so I wouldn’t waste my parents’ support. Because of my financial situation, I would work with old books and pens collected from the garbage. Our school has about two hundred student but I never saw a student wearing clothe without patch. ( 1 ) . As soon as I finished primary school, my father suddenly became ill. My family had to take him to the hospital, where the food and lodging were even more expensive than the medicine and consultation fees! In addition, we had to deposit 4,000 Yuan as security at the time of admission. If any of the patients failed to give the hospital staff presents like wine, they were not examined well. In desperation, we had to sell two cows and three sheep to raise money for my father’s treatment. The root cause of my father’s disease was his prolonged imprisonment and torture by the Chinese soldier in 1959. I was really fortunate my father survived. However, that year many Tibetans became orphans. We Tibetans are deprived of education and our own culture. It is socially acceptable in Tibet that people have no work and no money. It is the law that each and every citizen has to pay taxes to the government, but the Chinese government collects taxes beyond the reach of most Tibetans’ income, and they annually fail to fulfill even their basic necessities. It is for this reason that my father could not afford to even buy salt for preparing tea after his recovery. So I thought it was better to go somewhere in search of work, rather than continuing school. I went to a district where the Chinese occupied most of the restaurants and shops. I was not even allowed to go inside because my clothes were torn and my face was covered with sweaty dirt. Fortunately, I met an old Tibetan man, who was a toilet cleaner. He gave me work for a couple of months. I helped to drive his cart for a small amount of money. I bought a pair of shoes for my mother, chicken and fruits. Returning home, I didn’t know what my family would think, but tears were trickling down their cheeks when they saw the presents.(2) ( )On the request of my father, I decided to become a monk in Lhamo Kirti Monastery in Tibet. I started in 1995. The monastery is far away from our village. Moreover, there is no road between Tsong district and our village. It takes almost two hours on foot to Tsong and then three hours to a place called Lhamo. Being a poor monk, returning home frequently was wishful thinking. I would go home only twice a year. I was very young and got the opportunity to continue my studies in the monastery school. However, I was determined to come to India. I wanted to continue my studies, see His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and learn how Tibetan people live in India. I had heard in Tibet that India is the largest democracy in the world. On October 18, 1998, I got my chance. There was very nice green land near my monastery. One day, I went for a walk with my friend and we started discussing India. We decided we would travel to India during the monastery's winter holiday, which is from mid-October to mid-November each year. At that time many monks go home and some monks go to villages to earn money by performing prayers for people. I went home and my friend went to his own village. Then, on the 18th, my friend called me and said, "We will go to India today." I was poor and did not have any money. The only way was to steal from my family. I went to the second floor and opened one old box where I knew my family usually put cash. I found the wallet in the box. Out of the 2,000 Yuan, I took only 800. Neither of us told our families. If we did, it would be very dangerous for them. We had heard a lot of bad stories about the journey and how dangerous it was, but we still decided to go. That night, we stayed in town and the next morning, we went to the ticket office and bought two tickets to Lanzhou. At 4 p.m., the bus left. The bus was full of people, but all Chinese. We were the only Tibetans. The next morning, we arrived in Lanzhou. It is not a big city, but for me it was huge. I had never gone anywhere outside my own village and monastery. We didn’t even know where to find the train station and where we would live. We were lost and confused, standing over a bridge, looking at the water when someone called to me, “Hey monk, where are you going?” I was very happy to hear another Tibetan voice! It was a 23-year-old guy who was studying in the city. He guided us to the train station and told us to keep our money in a safe place. We took a train to Xining, and on October 21, we boarded the bus to Lhasa. But on the way, one of the wheels on the bus broke. The driver told us that he did not have money to buy a new wheel and he couldn’t repair the old wheel. He asked everyone to give 100 Yuan. People were very angry, but what choice did we have? On the 22nd, we arrived at Lake Kokonor. It is China’s largest salt-water lake. At night, we arrived at the Tanggula Mountains. They are very high and rise 5,000 meters above sea level. All the Chinese people were very scared. Eight people were very sick and dizzy, and three women vomited. People were crying and screaming. I thought they would die. We arrived in Lhasa on the 23rd morning, and we were very grateful to see the Potala Palace for the first time. Next, we had to find a good guide to help us cross the border into Nepal. By a stroke of good luck, I ran into someone from my own village. He said he’d been to India before and could help us find a guide. That night, we stayed in his room and he told us that we should not tell anyone that we’re going to India. The next day he found a guide for us. The cost of the guide was 1500 Yuan - too expensive! We asked to speak to the guide, but my friend said that guides don’t reveal their identities because they could go to prison for helping Tibetans escape. Finally, through my village friend, the price of 800 Yuan per person was settled. We went to the market and bought 10 kilos of tsampa and two kilos of butter. We also bought lay clothes so that we could disguise ourselves. We gave 200 Yuan to the guide’s friend and the rest of it to our friend who would pay the guide once we reached Nepal. We couldn’t fully trust the guide; sometimes they betray the Tibetan people and alert the Chinese police. At 7 p.m. that evening, we went to the meeting place where we saw an old truck covered with black cloth. We got inside. The truck was full of people who wanted to go to India. It was cramped, but I was happy because now we had a lot of company and I wasn’t the only one scared. There were 52 people in the truck - 40 men and 12 women. My friend and I were the youngest. I was 15 years old. The truck was very crowded, and my leg was soon very numb. The guide said we would go by road for six days, and then we would walk. A few days later, we arrived in a Tibetan village, and everybody wanted to go in for hot water, but the guide said we shouldn’t because there may be Chinese spies. We waited until nightfall and then we went through the village. Nobody saw us. Most days, we stayed in the forest, while we traveled at night. On our last night in the forest, we ate tsampa with old water. The guide told us that when we finally got out of the truck, we had to make sure no one saw us. After we would hear the truck stop, we had to quickly jump out and run into the forest as quickly as possible. Two women were very scared and stayed in the truck. The guide got very angry with them, and they were crying, but they finally jumped. Everyone was waiting for us near a big river. The river is deep and runs very fast. The guide said that we must cross it without a bridge. There was no other way. We all had to hold on to a long rope, and it would be much safer if there were more people. It is not that dangerous if everyone is holding on to the rope. We went into the river and slowly started crossing. An old man started screaming loudly, “I can’t go over the river!” He was very scared and was falling into the water. A few strong men went to help him and carried him out, saving his life. The night was very dark and we couldn’t see the way. I fell on the way a few times. I broke my elbow and hurt my knee. This was the first time we were in very deep pain. Every night after that was painful. We walked for 18 days. There was no more green land when we arrived at the foot of the mountains. We had to cross through them and it wasn’t easy carrying our burden. Towards the middle, everyone was very thirsty. I only had one bottle of water - how can that be enough for 52 people? I gave it to the old man. He must have been 60 years old. I was feeling even thirstier later, but there was no way to find more water. Day after day, we walked. Unfortunately, on the day we arrived at a very isolated region, where there were no people and no families, one of our group members, a monk, fell very sick. He was 50 years old, and he couldn’t walk and couldn’t eat. He told us to leave him there. “Please,” he said. “I don’t want to interrupt your journey. At the end of the valley there will be the Chinese military camp and it will be very dangerous. You all must go and leave me here. You must go to India and see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Please pray for me in front of him. I am very old. I will not survive.” That night, about 2 a.m., we arrived near the Chinese military base. We could no longer all continue together, so we made groups of seven. One by one, the groups moved forward. We were all very scared. I was trembling. I was missing my dear mum and dad on the way. Thankfully, we all crossed over the Chinese military base safely. Now we were near the Nepal border. All our food was finished. On our way to the border, we came across a cave. A few people went inside to check and started screaming at us to come inside. We went in, and there were two Tibetan corpses lying on a flat rock. Maybe they died of hunger. One was an old woman, one was a child. We wanted to burn the bodies, but some of the group members disagreed and said it would be dangerous to everyone. The Chinese military was not far and they would see the smoke. Of course, we knew it was true. We waited for it to be very dark and then we burned the bodies. We left soon after that. We didn’t eat any food for five days. At that time I didn’t care if the Chinese army arrested me. I was so tired and so hungry. The guide gave me a little dried meat. After half a day, we arrived in Nepal. The next day, the Nepali police arrested us and asked where we were going, if we had any documents. None of us did. We said we wanted to go to India as political refugees. The police checked our bags, but we had no belongings. We did have money and the police took a total of about 80,000 Nepali Rupees. Then they released us. With no money, we had to exchange our clothes, torches and watches to buy food. Finally, we reached the Reception Center of the Tibetan Government in Exile in Nepal. One month later, we were sent to India. With a great sense of learning Tibetan culture, I joined an institute for higher Tibetan studies. Maybe it is a big mistake that I came to India, because I didn’t see my dear parents when they died. I heard this bad news when someone from my homeland came to India in 2005. As soon as we met in Dharamsala, he told me that my father was dead. I was so upset. I sent mail to my family by post office a few times. But I didn’t get any reply. My home is in the village, so it is very difficult to get mail from any country. For a few years, I had no method of contact with my family. Then last year, one of my monk friends came to India and said that one family has a phone in our village. He gave me the phone number. So I called my family. They told me that my mother was not well. My brother said that he had taken her to the hospital a few times, but there was not much benefit. I called three times after that, but her condition had not improved Then the fourth time I called, they said she had died two days ago. I was very unhappy and I went to the Dalai Lama temple and prayed for my dear mother.

1 comment:

  1. A really arduous journey for you! What an experience of hardships you had. I really credit you for all the patience you had to come to India to meet H.H. the Dalai Lama. It takes a lot of courage to do all that... :-O