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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

a letter from North India

I belong to a group on ravelry called "mindful knitters". Today, I found this post by a fellow mindful knitter. She gave me permission to quote her post in full. (I aplogize in advance for any funny linebreaks -- blame blogger....)

Hi All,

The situation there is, indeed, serious and tragic. It’s also
frightening how little information is getting out to the “official” media. I
live in the Indian Himalayas, essentially within driving distance of the Tibetan
border (if there were roads open.) The village in which I live and work is home
to many Tibetan refugees who have been come here since 1959. Everyone is worried
and frightened at the turn of events in Lhasa. Most of us have family and
friends inside Tibet and we are holding our collective breath, waiting to hear
some word of them, some sign that they are alive and well. There are people we
have been expecting to return from visits “home” who haven’t yet arrived and
whom we can’t reach by phone now. What word we do hear confirms that hundreds of people have been arrested, that much of Lhasa is burning and that many have died in the past few days at the hands of the Chinese soldiers.

For the past several nights, there has been a candlelight protest/vigil/ceremony around the lake that is the center of our town - Tso Pema - the Lotus Lake of Guru Rimpoche and Mandareva. The lake has been ringed with the fire of hundred of candles and the impassioned chanting can be heard well up the mountains as monks and students and villagers show their solidarity with the people of their homeland.
There are three monasteries here as well as the cave community at the top of
this mountain, a community of yogis, yoginis, lamas and nuns of which my partner
and I are a part and have been for many, many years. There’s a lot of fear, a
lot of tension, a lot of anger. We are waiting to hear more. Waiting to hear the
whereabouts of people like Dorje Wangdrak or Sogyal or Kunchok who should have
been home by now…
During our time here, we have started an emergency fund and
free medical clinic to provide help to Tibetan refugees. Most of the people we
see are monks and nuns, the very elderly and the children. Most of them have
walked out of occupied Tibet to be free to practice according to their tradition
and culture. Almost all of those who actually make it out (we lose hundreds
every year. This year’s count is 300+ missing somewhere in the Himalayas) are
malnourished, sick and badly traumatized by the time they get here. In our
makeshift clinic we see nuns and teenaged girls who have been raped and beaten
by Chinese soldiers. This is… commonplace. We see groups of little kids who
walked out through the snow mountains without their parents and old people who
saw their children die. We see monks who were once strong and sure who were
captured, beaten and tortured until they are emaciated and frail and flinching.
They come here and they try to make a life for themselves.
All of them are connected by ties of culture, history and - most important - kinship - to Tibet and its land and its people. We hear what is going on. We’ve known that things were bad there and going to get worse. It’s been a topic of conversation in the
tea shops and backroom bars for months. I understand some of the politics, some
of the cultural pressures, but I’m not going to try to explain and analyze here,
just tell you what we see happening. I’m afraid that, for every one of the
refugees that does make Kathmandu (actually, they’ll end up in Bouddha) we’ll
lose 2. I’m bracing for more to reach her by the year’s end. First they’ll land
in Nepal, then they’ll figure out how to get here to North India (we’re actually
north of Kathmandu where I’m at.) If they have kin in India, that’s where
they’ll go. Some to Bir, some to Dharamsala, some to Dehradun or Tashijong. Some
of them will come here to Tso Pema and we’ll fit them in and help them stay

We’re heading off next week to the West to see family and so that my
partner, who is a lama, can visit some of the many centers around the U.S. that
have invited her to come and teach meditation. It’s a hard time to go away. On
the other hand, we hope we’ll be able to raise some money to help the refugees,
both the ones already here and the ones who will be coming soon.
If I have any concrete news that isn’t already public, I’ll try my best to post it to my
blog. That’s where I do talk about this place where we live, about the Tibetan
people and culture here, the events, the places. There are lots of pictures and
information about what we’re doing with the Tso Pema Medical / Emergency Fund
and how that works and who we’re helping. Things have been hectic the past few
weeks, so I’m behind in posting there, but I will stay in touch with my Tibetan
family here and try to keep things updated. You can read it at www.customjuju.com/joy/joyblog
Any help - from your prayers, your political support on petitions and at
demonstrations of solidary, to your donations of time or supplies or money to
the organization or cause you support - will make a difference to the Tibetan
people and their allies. Hard times for everyone, we’re all doing what we can.
Thanks for caring enough to read this.


Okay, so from the phone call our family member got this morning, ALL the deaths have been Tibetan (or maybe a few Chinese.) The body count that the Tibetans are “sure” of varies between 120 and 300 depending on who you talk to. I know someone who has lost at least 2 monks from his remote home village. But the Westerners who were there when the troubles began are supposed to be safe and getting escorted out of the country quickly. Both sides of the conflict - Tibetan and Chinese - do not want the foreigners to get hurt so they are taking some care. The California contingent and all others actually, should be fine and should be surfacing soon. If they were going through Nepal they will probably get delayed as Nepal is seething right now, though the protests there are supposedly much calmer than in Lhasa. Nobody is sure how the Nepali government will react - will they let the refugees in easily or will it be a mess? Nobody is saying yet. However everyone is gearing up to receive an influx.
The word on the street (in Lhasa that is) is that the protests will continue through August (that’s when the Olympics happen.) Also that suicide protests are beginning now among the monks.
Here in Tso Pema the air continues tense. Last night’s events left the air very smoky so that everyone is wheezing this morning. The monks from all the monasteries ringed the little lake, invoking Guru Rimpoche’s aid and attention on the plight of Tibetans. Enough incense was burned to be smelled all the way in Lhasa and the lake looked like it was aflame with butter lamps and candles. Wish I could take good night pictures. It is really interesting to hear OM AH HUNG BENDZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG chanted in a martial war-chant sort of way! Others drove trucks round and round the kora path on the lake, flashing lights and also chanting. The village is almost empty today. Every Tibetan, who was able - that is, everyone who has legal papers, is physically fit and can possibly afford not to work for a day - piled into one of four trucks to drive into the local district headquarters for a more visible political demonstration. Those who have vows, are too old or infirm and those who wish to emphasize their spiritual practice over their political one, have gathered in the Nyingma monastery’s courtyard for three days of intense puja and prayers. Tibetan owned shops and businesses are closed if there are no Indian friends or partners to help run things. The silence on the streets is eerie.
And yes, the other word on the streets is that we’ll be seeing an influx of refugees here by the end of the year. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.


As some of you may know, one of the things I do here (and have done for the past 18 years) is administer a voluntary sponsorship programs that matches Tibetans in need of help here in India and Nepal with individuals in the West who offer to sponsor them by sending $20-25 US per month directly to that individual. Most of the people being sponsored are practitioners (monks, nuns, yogis and yoginis) children and old people and those to ill to work. The goal is to make sure that nobody starves or freezes and that the sick can have medicine and the children can go to school. Over the years, I feel like we’ve done a good job and, living here now, I see the difference it has made in this village. We don’t limit ourselves to just this place however and we’ve found sponsors for Tibetans all over India and a goodly handful who are unable to leave Nepal due to lacking papers or health to travel.
A few minutes ago I received an e-mail from one of the long-time sponsors of a Tibetan refugee family who lives outside of Kathmandu. Attached to that e-mail was a letter from the father of the family. I think it’s worth sharing as it’s written very directly and from the heart, so I’m copying it below for you all to read. This is the unaltered words of a Tibetan in exile about what is happening, right now, in his homeland:
Dear K…….., Thank you very much for your mail. We are so happy to hear from you. We are also so happy to know that you are always there for us. I(Paya’s father) is seriously ill and we are also so worried about his bad health. We are praying for those who lost their lives for the nation and its culture and religion.
We are very very sad now that thousands of Tibetans were killed in Tibet without any mercey. We can’t do anything and we need the whole world’s support to have peace in Tibet. Many more are injured. Hundreds of Tibetans are put in the prisons. I think UNO is sleeping soundly. If they can’t do anything for people in the world then why did it start? Today we all Tibetans are going to ask help for the UNO but we they are afraid of Chinese power. Now who is going to support us? Chinese didn’t allow any medias in Tibet. The people in Tibet can only see the smoke and hear the gun shots everywhere. I think whole world is watching but no one is dare to say anything. We look forward to hearing from you soon. With best wishes and warm regards. Yours sincerely
Paya and Penpa

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