In Our August, 2017 Issue:

Two more years: Tibetan memoir in the making

by
Caption: Tendar Tsering sets up his video camera at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamshala, India, to hear the Tibetan spiritual leader’s teachings.

When Ten­dar Tser­ing was 12 years old, he left his fam­ily in Tibet. He trav­eled over a thou­sand miles and crossed the Himalayas to study in India. He has not seen his fam­ily since 1997

I could call my fam­ily in Tibet two times a year, but they couldn’t call me. There is no inter­na­tional out­go­ing call ser­vice in most of Tibet. It is a for­bid­den region.

Some­times I could reach them. It took hours of try­ing over and over again. But most of the time, I heard: “Duibuqi, ni de dian­hua buzai choe.” Your call is not reachable

When­ever we spoke on the phone, I sensed that both of my par­ents were liv­ing in agony and regret. My mother would often apol­o­gize to me for send­ing me away to an unknown coun­try. She would always sob. Her tears reminded me that the pain in her heart was still an open wound. Know­ing my tears would be like rub­bing salt into her wound, I held them back. But often I cried in silence, lying on my bed, drown­ing myself with tears.

Since 2010, things have become dif­fer­ent. In all those years when I couldn’t reach my par­ents on the phone, I never dreamed of the day we could do a video chat. Once we had free, cross-​platform instant mes­sag­ing appli­ca­tions, we were able to talk reg­u­larly. I told my fam­ily to seek train­ing on how to go online. Then they could video chat with their long-​lost son.

For days, I was glued to my bed. Soon my fam­ily and I would meet face-​to-​face via video chat. I combed my hair with my fin­gers. I washed my face. With my best clothes on, my lap­top on my lap, I waited for my par­ents to come online.

My eyes were motion­less. Fully focused on my lap­top as if I was going to enter into the screen. Hour after hour went by, until more than six hours passed and my par­ents still hadn’t show up. I was not sur­prised. It was not the first time we had failed to meet online. The pre­vi­ous year, my par­ents had trav­eled hun­dreds of miles to video chat with me, but the con­nec­tion failed.

Yet, I felt this was the day when all I had been dread­ing would finally come. My fin­gers drummed con­stantly on the key­board. My face, rigid with excite­ment and frus­tra­tion, seemed to have aged decades in two days of waiting.

I almost closed my lap­top in anger and frus­tra­tion when finally the call rang out. I clicked the green but­ton. Sud­denly, I was trans­ported back to my fam­ily – back to Tibet.

It was like return­ing home except that every­thing had changed.

My 3-​year-​old lit­tle brother was now a young man, much like my father. My par­ents, who were in their early 30s when I left, had turned into grand­par­ents. My grand­par­ents were nowhere to be seen. Prob­a­bly they were wait­ing for me at heaven’s gate.

With her tooth­less mouth wide open, my mother started wail­ing. In Bud­dhist monk’s robes, my father stood behind her, sniff­ing and pat­ting my mother’s shoul­der. Tears raced down his cheeks. We were all speechless.

My lit­tle brother spoke first.

Ani?

I had to turn my head away. I wiped my tears, then told them what I dreaded to say: “I am going to the United States.

Then, when would you be able to come home?” said my brother.

Two more years,” I replied as I swal­lowed the lump in my throat.

My brother served as our inter­preter. My mother knew only our regional dialect, and I had for­got­ten it. I said yes to what­ever she said. I told my par­ents that I had grown up into a fine, edu­cated man, and it was all thanks to them.“Tsering lho gya, khe lama kyab,” my mother said. She wished me a long life, and asked me to come and see them as soon as possible.

For an hour, we sobbed and stared through our screens. “Life expectancy of peo­ple in our town is short. Peo­ple are dying in their 60s,” my brother said. His words sent an icy wind run­ning through me. With trem­bling hands, we waved good­bye. My screen went black.

This is my fool­ish­ness. I can’t let go of the images of my younger brother as a 3-​year-​old tod­dler, and my par­ents in their early 30s. I see my pa in my younger brother, and my younger brother in my nephew. No mat­ter how hard I try to let go, a part of me is stuck in the past. That empti­ness is always there. I mask it with a smile

When are you com­ing home?” My mother never fails to ask me. My answer is always: “Two more years.”

Editor’s note: This excerpt was first pub­lished in a slightly dif­fer­ent for­mat on Tibet​Tele​graph​.com