By Brooke Hines
As I sat with Tsering, my mind raced in a new way.
This boy was daringly peaceful. The passion with which he explained his hopes permeated the room and I found myself whispering questions so swiftly that quoting for this story from the recording was nearly impossible. I was curious as to the tendency of this new generation of Tibetans to turn to violent tactics in order to regain freedom instead of the nonviolent techniques of their ancestors.
I had seen teenagers wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and strumming guitars all over McCleod Gang for the past week and, when pondering my own community’s reaction to an issue like this, I was sure there was more to the story.
He was patient with me, much like a teacher is patient with a curious child who asks if all clouds are made of cotton balls.
He began to talk about His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. His Holiness (HH) is not just a political figure, he is the spiritual leader of a theocracy that has been at peace for thousands of years. To Tsering, HH is an example of a loving god, one that would never leave the Tibetan people looking for revenge, even if society taught them otherwise.
He spoke of hope and middle-ways, wished me a safe journey, and ran back to work at the pizza shop. If there was unrest about the slow process of fighting for justice without violence, it was not in the heart of Tsering.
|Pictures of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama can be found in any
room in the rolling hills of McCleod Gang and Dharamshala.
I grabbed my bag and walked to the Times Square of McLeod Gang to wait for a bus to Delhi while my mind brewed over this Tibetan Buddhist wonderland. I watched cars park, buses turn around, people gab, grandmothers sell momos, and children play. Traffic attempted to fly, horns blaring, arms waving and every face seemed to glow.
I met a man in a North Face jacket next to the toothpaste shop where I was perched. His name was Yeshim and he began to tell me his story.
Yeshim had escaped from Tibet in 2004 and was thankful for the American support of the Tibetans. He had lived in Tibet his entire life. He was a businessman and was active in the political community. After a few years, the Chinese government caught wind of his involvement and Yeshim was arrested. After four months of interrogation and beatings, he was released, never having admitted to the charges. He jumped right back into his political work, determined to work for freedom.
One evening, he received a note from a friend telling him there was another warrant for his arrest. When the police arrived at his home, Yeshim’s father could honestly tell them that he didn’t know where Yeshim had gone, but he wouldn’t be returning. Fearing further incarceration, Yeshim had fled to India. He walked through Nepal and arrived in India one month later.
I asked him of his hope for Tibet, not as a reporter, but as a young woman who has never had to fight for peace for my people. “I feel that Tibet will be free one day when the Chinese people get tired of this control.”
I thought of Grace and Ruth, the friends I made on a recent trip to China. They are my age, studying English, and were happy to practice with our class from MSSU’s Education Department in May. They did not complain of censorship, oppression and I wondered how their sentiments are similar to Tsering and Yeshim’s. Will they ever feel the need to fight, or even harder, not fight for freedom of expression, self-determination, representation? Or is it a strong national identity that clearly defines what is expected that will satisfy their passions?
Two months before, I had stood in Tiananmen Square struggling to conjure some emotion. I had expected to feel the sorrow of the massacres or sense the magnitude of the powerful speeches once given in this square. But it was so ordinary — so nonchalant. I stared at the picture of Mao Zedong and realized that even the gates of the Forbidden City did not resonate in my mind or heart. No tears for the riots, no heartbeat for the starved, no thought for the Tibetans. The magnitude of Tiananmen Square was nothing like this — not like whispering stories of torture with a political prisoner. Not like holding the hand of a child who had never seen white skin before she touched my face. Nothing like hearing a man my age speak patiently regarding the hope that his generation would carry on the non-violent techniques of his ancestors, while my own family is running for the battle grounds. These places do not move me. These people do.
I now see the danger of replacing faces with numbers — our hearts become detached. Our minds let us forget that blood is pumping in our veins and in their veins as well. Once we lose the humanity of the subject, apathy can too easily step in. I don’t want to forget Tsering and Yeshim are in my textbooks, in the UN articles in my inbox. The numbers and statistics have faces, stories, North Face jackets, and hope for the future.
I realized that I do not have answers to all of these questions; the answers are by no means black or white, red or yellow. But the perspectives I had the privilege of sharing were much more valuable to my understanding than a concise answer from the mouth of a Google search.
While my textbooks have provided political theories and historical context, my experiences abroad have taught me how to apply it. At times during this trip, my heart was beating in rhythm with my questions and the flow reminded me that I was very much alive, much like the women I see in the forms of numbers stamped on statistics. A search for numbers fades in my mind if it does not resonate in my heart. If our studies do not empower us to breathe a little deeper, then perhaps we’re just as alive as our textbooks.