Fall Again…new beginnings

The days are warm, the nights cool. I sit on my back deck surrounded by my friends, the giant conifers, soaking in the afternoon sun, squeezing the last drops of heat from the thinning sun before it sinks behind the trees.

The monsoon season is almost over in Dharamsala India. The weather is cooler this fall than usual I’m told. It’s been close to a decade since I discovered McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans in exile, but every year at this time, I long to return to the place where a part of my spirit permanently resides.

A prediction was made more than one thousand years ago by Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche: “When the iron bird flies [airplanes]…the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world, spreading [their culture and Tibetan Buddhism].”

Perhaps next fall, or the next one, we will go back to Dharamsala, before more of our Tibetan friends leave. They truly are spread around the world: France, the US, Australia, one waiting with hope in Toronto for permission to immigrate with his family.

This year my partner is winding down his survey business, preparing to retire at the end of the year. I am returning to my creative and spiritual pursuits, restoring myself after intense immersion in another sponsorship program, this time with Syrian refugees.

As our planet, and we along with it, moves deeper into the vibration of the fifth dimension, I renew my goal to be in connection with spirit continually, participating in activities that feed me and spending time with folks I have deep connections with.

My year’s experience attending the powerful Divine Love prayer circle and the friendships developed there have helped me tremendously with my spiritual pursuits. So has my relationships with the devote Christians on the Working Committee for the Syrian sponsorship, a local church sponsorship, and my time  with our two Christian Syrian families.

Maintaining contact with spirit is simple, if we allow it to be so. I am slowly learning this truth. Angels are around us all the time, and the more we acknowledge this and ask them for assistance, the stronger our connection becomes to spirit.

“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself, [herself], in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
Albert Einstein

 

A Tibetan Refugee Woman’s Story

I would like to bring in the New Year by offering you the story of Tsering, a woman we met in Dharamsala last year. We met her through another friend and I interviewed her in  February of 2015 in our room at Pema Thang Guesthouse. Of all the Tibetan refugee stories I have edited over a period of six years, Tsering’s is, in many ways, the most moving one. Although she was so young at the time, the events of her early life and escape to India are still very fresh in her mind. She is now 26 years old.

Tsering’s Story

I have no parents; I’m an orphan, from the province of Kham in Tibet. When I was nine years old, in 1999, a kind neighbour and an uncle helped me leave my abusive life in a Tibetan town and escape across the border into Nepal, then on to India.

In my early years I didn’t get a chance to play like other kids because of my difficult situation. In our family I’m the second youngest of five children; I have two brothers and two sisters. Everyone was busy at their own work I was alone in the house.

After I was born my mother was sick and I lived with her for the first year of my life only. Then I was sent to my mother’s eldest sister to live in town, where I worked very hard and never had time to play. By the age of five I was looking after the cows. Even though my aunt was a blood relative, they didn’t treat me like their own child, but like a servant, a maid.

My aunt came from a very poor family of nine girls. She married at an early age, an arranged marriage I think. The family became the richest family in the town. She had money and power, but never gave anything to her family members.

When I was seven I had a chance to meet a Rinpoche and told him everything about my situation and my family. Through his help I was accepted as a day student at a boarding school one hour’s walk from home. I studied there for two or three years. But they would call me back from school to work at my auntie’s house. Her husband drank and he beat me all the time. He never wanted me to spend a single day like other kids. By the time I was nine, he forced me to work for other families, nomadic people who also had farms.

Neighbours noticed how badly I was treated, and said “You don’t have to stay here, you’ll never be happy”. So one of the women took me in the night, and we walked to Lhasa. It took us about fifteen days to get there, journeying during the night and resting in the daytime, so my auntie’s family would not find us. We went to the home of my aunt, a young woman in her twenties. Later my uncle came to see me and tried to send me back home. He said the family promised to treat me well, but I knew they were lying. I told him, “If you send me back I’ll run away.”

My uncle came back again after Losar, the Tibetan New Year, after I had been in Lhasa for two or three months. He took me to the border of Nepal, where he left me in the hands of two Nepalese boys, not much older than me, would be my guides from the border to Kathmandu. I had no Nepalese language, but they knew a little Tibetan. We walked most of the night every night. When I was tired they carried me on their backs. Sometimes we slept on the ground.

One night the boys left me, one going ahead as a lookout to check if Chinese soldiers were in the area. The other boy thought I was following him, but I was asleep under a tree. When that boy caught up with the first boy, he asked him where I was. They came back for me, both crying. In their limited Tibetan they asked, “What are you doing here, why are you sleeping?

We reached the Reception Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal after about fifteen days. The trip was slow because we stayed hidden during the day. I knew no one at the centre. After about a month I was sent to the Delhi Reception Centre, then here to McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, on my own the whole way.

At the Dharamsala centre I was the youngest person, all the other refugees were either families or monks. They treated me well. It was here that I met a young monk who helped me. After a while he went into a monastery, but came to visit me sometimes. I’ve lost touch with him and don’t know his name. I’ve tried to find him, asking many people about him. He was a tall man, that’s all I remember. Maybe he’s in a South India monastery now.

After a time at the Reception Centre I was sent to the Tibetan Children’s Village, or TCV school, where I boarded and studied for almost eight years, until the tenth grade. Because I was good at my studies I skipped a grade and was sent to TCV Gopalpur, a half hour’s distance from Dharamsala. Many of the children there were without parents, they were orphans or their parents had sent them to India from Tibet to have a better life.

“You remember so much”, I said to Tsering. “I have seen so much.” came the reply.

In 2011, when I was in my early twenties, my auntie’s young brother-in-law came to India, to the Kalachakara teachings in Boddhgaya, North India, where the Dalai Lama performs special Buddhist initiations. While I was there some monks told me he was looking for me, to take me back to Tibet. I told them not to say I was there.

 

Tsering survived her difficult early years with her abusive family, and received the best education the Tibetan government in exile could offer her at TCV Schools. She now has a very good job in a large Tibetan NGO in Dharamsala, where she helps other refugees.

When she speaks to her brothers and sisters in Tibet by telephone, this younger sister always tells them, “Don’t ask anyone to help you, you know what they’re [the family] like. You’re healthy, you can do everything yourself.”

I asked Tsering if there was anything else she would like to tell me. She replied that she appreciates westerners who have so much feeling for Tibet causes, who learn about issues like self-immolation, and work hard to help. Some Tibetans have much less feeling about Tibet, she told me. Tsering ended our conversation with: “I thank you for your kind consideration for Tibet and the Tibetan people.”.

 

Good Times Too in Dharamsala

Although our trip did not meet our expectations, there were some memorable times in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala. A road trip with our busy Tibetan doctor friends to their older son’s residential school and to a vast, outdoor zoo was a pleasant day. Also visits to their home in the Men-Tsee-Khang Medical Centre’s staff housing were, as always relaxing and heartwarming. We’ve been there so many times over that it feels like a deja vu to sit in their living room, with its wide screen tv showing Dalai Lama footage, while Dekyi, and sometimes her old Mom, sometimes Khenrab, prepare a Tibetan lunch or dinner for us. We’ve had the privilege of seeing the children grow into fine young people over the last five years.

Also we connected several times with another Tibetan family with whom we have a deep heart bond, despite the lack of shared language with most family members. We met both the mother, who sold her handmade bracelets on the street, and the eldest son, at the Hope Centre where we volunteered, in 2009, but we did not get the family connection until 2012. Kelo and I were overjoyed to have a translator to speak through in her son. Our non-verbal communication was loving, but only went so far.

The family is very traditional, most of the adult children are monks and nuns. The eldest son has recently disrobed to run a business to support his aging parents. Former nomads, the father from a noble family, they’ve been out of Tibet for almost 10 years, but with their traditional dress and devout ways they seem like relative newcomers to Dharamsala.

We reconnected with S, a Christian Indian woman, a widow, who begs in McLeod Ganj. S supports her two children back home in the state of Bihar by doing this work, and is currently putting her daughter through nursing school. (She receives more money, and a reliable income this way, as some employers don’t pay up). One Sunday she invited us to her place in Lower Dharamsala. S had told us she lived in a “tent house”, but when she proudly took us to her home in the downtown area, we were shocked at it’s sparseness. Set on a cement pad, the walls actually were blue plastic tarps. Her bed was a pad on the floor, with a small table to hold her food and cooking implements. The public washroom was steps away, with toilets and showers. At night her two male friends, also from Bihar, slept on the cement pad outside her home. It was apparent that S has many friends in the community who care about her. When she goes to Bihar, everything is in place when she returns.

Our good friend Choezom, who we met in 2009 at the Hope Centre, is a strong, independent woman. She lived with her sister until she married and emigrated to France. Intelligent and enterprising, Choezom has found a variety of work in this area of high unemployment, recently studying hairdressing. On this visit she brought a former client to us, a man who needed financial help to attend computer school. We began a crowdfunding campaign on our return home, but his family in Tibet were harassed by the Chinese authorities, so we had to terminate it.

At Pema Thang Guesthouse, where we spent most of our six weeks, we made some new friends. The owner, a singer, is a very westernized Tibetan, having travelled the world giving Tibetan concerts, and before that running a restaurant in Kathmandu. Before we left she told me they had a shrine right there in the hotel, the room where a very evolved monk spent the last four months of his life, after 30 plus years in a mountain hut. Later that day Don and I had the privilege of sitting in the room, soaking up the tranquil, still energy of the monk’s presence, his energy still very much there.

We met few new people on our 2015 visit to McLeod Ganj, our fourth, because we were not able to do volunteer work as expected, however, soaking up the healing Buddhist energy of the town and reconnecting with friends was a gift, as always.

Ellen Besso is a life coach, counsellor, author & energy worker. Her new work combines her newly emerging High Heart Chakra work, EMDR, Reiki & Trager. Ellen’s books, An Indian Sojourn and Surviving Eldercare, can be purchased through Amazon.

Ellen lives on the West Coast of British Columbia and is available for in person or telephone sessions. You can contact her through the blog comment section or email her at: ellenbesso@gmail.com.