Saturday, April 5, 2008

Free Tibet

In August of 1987, when I returned to Kathmandu after three and a half weeks in Tibet, I stopped by a small shop where I had met and enjoyed conversations with Tashi, an exiled young Tibetan man, who ran his own business where he sold handmade backpacks and duffel bags (all made out of brightly colored Nepali fabric). I wanted to know where I could get a Tibetan flag embroidered on my day pack as I still marvelled at the fact that the small pack had held all I needed during my time in Tibet, and I was still so high on the experience of actually visiting the magical kingdom and walking through the Potala in Lhasa (among many other amazing adventures) that I was eager to place a reminder of the journey on my pack. Tashi, whose English was impressive, understood my wish immediately and rather than refer me to another shop down the street, he insisted on taking my day pack and having the embroidery done for me. I assured him I would pay whatever the cost and left my pack with him, thinking it would take a few days to have the flag put on my pack. The next morning as I was passing Tashi's shop, he called to me and motioned me inside. He then displayed my well-worn pack with a large Tibetan flag embroidered across the top of it. I tried to pay him for the work, but he would accept no money. It was a gift he explained from the Tibetan people for the time and interest I had demonstrated by visiting their country. I hugged Tashi, smiled and bowed in the way I had learned in his homeland. I still have that old day pack, although the embroidery is now threadbare and the flag has lost most of its luster, but I will never forget the careful explanation of the meaning of the symbols on the Tibetan flag that Tashi provided when he gave me back my pack.

That trip has been on my mind lately as I read about reports of protests and ongoing oppression and abuse by the Chinese in Tibet. My experience in Tibet taught me that if a religion or belief can be judged by how it is manifested in those who believe or practice that faith (and really, how else can a belief-system be judged?) then the faith of Tibetan Buddhism is far and away the most peaceful, beautiful and blissful belief on the planet. Every Tibetan I met, without exception, was kind and welcoming, willing to share what little she/he had with me, ready to laugh or at least smile in appreciation of my feeble attempts to speak a phrase or two of their language. The course I had taken at the Kopan Monastery in Nepal before I headed to Tibet had given me a very rudimentary understanding of the practices of Tibetan Buddhism, but I was thankful for the crash course that allowed me to fall in line with other pilgrims on their way to the next monastery or temple, share their food (tsampa - barley flour mixed with tea or chang - a fermented barley beverage: very sour, but oddly thirst-quenching), and hang prayer flags along the way.

I remember sharing the disdain that the Tibetans felt for the Chinese and agreeing with their view that the Chinese had no place in the sovereign country of Tibet. I also remember the faces of the monks and nuns who had been disfigured by the brutal Chinese. The Chinese are definitely an occupying force and as such rule the country as the unwelcome bullies that they are. I chose to stay in Tibetan Guest Houses rather than the sterile concrete Chinese "hotels" in locked compounds that those who were on Chinese guided tours were forced to patronize.

My heart weeps for oppressed people all around the world, but I have a very soft spot in my soul for the Tibetan people who by no act of their own, rather by a fluke of geography, have come to be occupied by a tyrannical government that would sooner see them all dead or converted to good Chinese as it would negotiate with their leader (His High Holiness the Dalai Lama) over some measure of autonomy for a proud indigenous people who deserve to manage their own affairs and run their own sovereign country.

For more on my trip to Tibet, please visit an older post: His High Holiness the Dalai Lama

Here are a few good links that provide more information on how you can support the people of Tibet:
International Campaign for Tibet
Tibet Online
Free Tibet

Reporters without Borders on Boycotting the Beijing Olympics 2008
10 Reasons to Boycott the Beijing Olympics

1 comment:

velveeta jones said...

What a great story!! (I'll want to hear more in DC, bring pictures).


I am so sad what is happening in Tibet. I DEMAND that the US boycott the olympics!!

Or, better yet, its not too late to MOVE THE OLYMPICS!!