Pencil drawings by students at Dorje High School in Kathmandu, Nepal. Oil Pastels by Nicole Karsin.
Pencil drawings by students at Dorje High School in Kathmandu, Nepal. Oil Pastels by Nicole Karsin.

I live in exile now, as many of my people do. Once I lived in my homeland, Tibet in the midst of the Himalaya Mountains. I was born in a village, called Kalagunpa, in Kham, Eastern Tibet. My people were nomads, called Khampas, and my village was grassy with fields, little hills, and many rivers. My house was square-shaped and made of stone and mud. The roof was made of sticks taken from bushes, and on top of the roof was room to store grass for the cattle to eat during winter. In the winter we remained in our village, but during the summertime we left our house and lived in a tent made of yak hair (in Tibetan it’s called a bu) and with our cattle we moved around from place to place. Sometimes as many as fifteen families would travel together and follow their cattle. I lived with my mother and brother, and never knew of my father.

My mother was very beautiful. I called her Amala, which means “mother” in Tibetan. She had long black hair that was woven in many little braids. She wore many ornaments made of jewels. Above her forehead was a big yellow stone with a small red one behind it, both tied into her braids. She had big round earrings made of silver and turquoise. Many small bells dangled from her back and made her movements sound like music. All the women in my village had a yellow-and-red hair ornament and many bells, but my mother was known for her beauty.

She worked very hard. We had cattle, and early every morning, when it was still dark, she woke to milk the cows. Then she would cook breakfast for my brother and me, which was usually roasted barley porridge called tsampa. Afterward, she would make cheese and butter from the milk.

Like most Tibetans, my mother believed in Buddha. We had an altar with a picture of Karmapa, our spiritual leader, and many butter lamps and burning incense. Every night my mother would do prostrations in front of the altar and say prayers. Sometimes I would do prostrations with her, but I was always joking when I did. Amala would say that all she ever wanted from life was for my brother Karma Tenzin, to be a monk and for me, her little girl, to be by her side. But I wasn’t by her side; I was always outside playing. In the summers, when we moved around, I spent all my time by the river playing with friends. We would jump from rock to rock across the river trying not to fall in. There were many sheep, yaks, goats, and horses where I lived. And we collected black and white rocks from the riverside and pretended they were different animals. My village also had lots of flowers, and my friends and I would sit in the grass and string the flowers into garlands for our heads.

Tenzin was a monk. He was thirteen years older than I, so in some ways he was kind of like my father. Tenzin became a monk when he was fifteen. I was about two at the time.

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