Drolma* tells her story to her new friend as they sit on the beach.
My story began in a place very different to here. My family lived on “the roof of the world”. They are extremely religious – even here, my parents are always muttering mantras as they finger their beads, and I’ve had to beg Mum not to walk down the street spinning her prayer wheel because it is so embarrassing. My uncle was a monk,– a really good monk. One problem, though, was that his monastery wasn’t allowed to have monks anymore. As if being an illegal monk wasn’t dangerous enough, one time he stood in his maroon robes on the town square and told everyone who would listen that he hoped that His Holiness could one day come back to lead our people. Of course, my uncle was arrested. It’s good that he didn’t set fire to himself – some monks do, you know, as a public way of showing despair.
My grandfather and dad were questioned at length. The truth is that they were sympathetic to my uncle’s cause, and they knew too much. My grandparents decided that they and my parents should flee.
After careful planning, including getting together as much cash as they could, my parents and grandparents slipped away. They were okay while hidden in the back of a truck that took them towards the border, but when faced with several days of walking at night over snowy mountain passes and hiding deep in the forest during the day, my grandparents turned back. Mum and Dad made it though, despite Mum’s growing belly. Mum says that the night they met their contact near the river bordering Nepal was both the highlight and the low point. They love their homeland, but fear for their own lives as well as hopes for the next generation propelled them on. After handing over a wad of money, they were each harnessed to a wire running across the river. It only took a few minutes to be pulled across the churning water below to freedom and exile both.
They made their way down to Kathmandu then on to North India where they registered at the centre for Tibetan refugees and waited … and waited … and waited. I was born a few months after they arrived, and my brother followed a couple of years later. As we grew older, we went to a school for refugee children where we learnt English. The day our parents heard that we would be given humanitarian visas by Australia they threw a party.
That’s how I come to live near this beach. My brother and I are sort of like Australian teens already, even though the Tibetan community here holds activities to help us remember what it means to be Tibetan. It’s hard for Mum and Dad. Even though they’re adults, they go to English classes every day. There are people who will help them find jobs when their English is good enough.
We’re safe and mostly happy here, but Mum still cries when people talk about our hero monk uncle. We don’t know what happened to him. We did hear that our grandparents made it back safely, but Mum and Dad don’t contact them because they are afraid it will only lead to trouble.
Thanks for listening to my story. I’m sure my parents won’t let me to go to youth group at your church, but it’s kind of you to ask. We’re Buddhist, of course, because we’re Tibetan. The lama says that it doesn’t matter what others believe though, so long as they are good people. Can we still be friends, even though I’m Buddhist and you’re Christian? That’d be awesome.
The author is a CultureConnect team member working with the Tibetan community in Australia.
* Drolma is a fictional character, but her story is based on those of many who have fled their homeland and been welcomed by Australia.
For more information about Tibetans in Australia, see “Tibetans Community Consultation Report 2016“.