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A Tibetan in Nepal

China is Cracking down on Tibet.  The Dalai Lama is now declaring Tibetan culture near extinction.

Below is an interview I did some years ago while trekking in Nepal...



Yingza Lama


A Diaspora of Tibetan refugees began in 1961, when China moved to take control of the region. Thousands of these refugees now live in Nepal, like 47 year old Yingza Lama, a mother of eight who sells antiques but is not allowed to own property or become a citizen. Andrew Lam talked with Lama about her life over the last 40 years and her view of the world. He transcribed and edited the interview into the following first person essay.

POKHARA, NEPAL -- My name is Yingza Lama, and I was born in Tibet in 1953. In 1961, when I was eight years old, we fled to Nepal when the Chinese forced us out of our homes. They wanted us to study to become good communists and arrested all our lamas so we couldn't stay.

We had 14 people in our families and we lived like animals the first three years -- we depended completely on the international charities to feed us. But then my sisters and I learned to weave carpets, and we began to support ourselves and our family.

In Nepal we have no citizenship. After almost 40 years, we still cannot own land. We can only rent or live in a Tibetan camp.

Now I have my own antique store here, but it's not possible to own it. All the properties here are owned by the Hinu Brahmin class and it's been this way ever since I have been here.

The Nepalese benefit from having us here, because Tibetans are the ones with the art works and the tourists love them. I can sell a lot because I can speak English and am very honest with the foreigners. Tibetans are very hard working people.

I am honest because of the duty I feel to the Dalai Lama. He is only one man, but he creates sympathy for the Tibetan people all over the world. Foreigners don't just buy Tibetan art work because they like it, they buy because they feel sad for us too. So I get angry when Tibetans tell tourists that something is silver when it's not. Why cheat? That's not being a good Buddhist. If something is not silver, I say it's not silver. If it's not antique I say it's not antique. I don't want tourists to go home with a bad impression of Tibetan people.

The most difficult part is trading in the mountains. For four months a year my husband and my sons take mules and yaks to the Tibetan border and trade grains and oil and other things they don't have over there for Tibetan antiques. We cannot go back legally so we sneak in to trade. It's very difficult work and people have died trekking in dangerous areas in the snow or fleeing the Chinese authorities. But this trade is what keeps us alive and our children in school.

When I was young in Tibet girls did not go to school. But now I think different. I want my children, girls and boys, to have a good education. I was ashamed when I first came to Nepal and realized girls here could read and write and I couldn't. I want my girls to be educated like boys, more is even better.

You know, I trust my daughters more than my sons. One daughter is in Denver now, studying. I know she'll come back after her studies. I don't know if the same is true of my son -- he could marry an American wife and stay and become American. This happens to many young men. Sons I need to watch and have nearby because they can copy bad things and do wrong, but daughters, they control themselves.

What I worry about is that many young Tibetans are now very materialistic, especially the men. They want new clothes, they stay out late, and they do drugs. This is not the Tibetan way. Tourism is a bad influence for my children -- but it is also the main source of income. So if I don't need my boys to mind the store, I don't let them come here. They stay in the camp instead and study.

I have eight children -- five sons, three daughters. The most important thing now is children's education. Before in Tibet it was not important for me to know how to read or write but now in Nepal I see that's very important. I don't want my daughters to feel ashamed for not being educated here. Women work just as hard as men.

Nowadays young people have abortions. Abortion is killing. This is not the Tibetan way, but now some people do this because they have sex without marrying and don't want the baby. We don't divorce as they do in America but when we do, the village gets together to decide who is more wrong. They then decide what property to give to the husband, what property to give to the wife.

I worry all the time. One of my sons is a soldier in India. It's the best choice since no other career is possible. He went fighting in Kashmir but did not tell me until he came back so I wouldn't worry. But I worry now if there's another war. I don't want to lose any more family members to war. I have enough of war.