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.
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 TibetTelegraph.com