Posts Tagged ‘Tibet’

Paragliders float towards the ground against a backdrop of a dark hill, like a descending flock of colorful, lazy birds. Kayaks and rowboats glide along a lake fringed with pollution, but good for swimming at the middle. Shaded shops stuffed with North Face gear, hiking poles, and hippie clothes line the main street along the lake. Pokhara has all of the marks of a well-visited tourist town, but the muggy pre-monsoon air reflects a truth that’s easier ignored than faced.

Although she’s a Tibetan refugee, Lhopsa has never seen Tibet. Her Tibetan mother died when she was young, and Lhopsa began to wash clothes in a hotel in Phokara. Now she comes into town everyday to sell trinkets to tourists, carrying her business in a backpack that looks like an overachieving middleschooler’s. If she sells something, then she gets to eat. Food is expensive in Pokhara.

There are so many injustices that I would hear about in the news or read about in books. Talking to Lhopsa made them real for me. Although born in Nepal, the refugees are not Nepali citizens, so they don’t have a citizens’ rights. And how can I say that they should be made citizens when there are so many refugees (aka illegal immigrants) in my own country who are only slightly better off? She can’t eat. She doesn’t own the land she lives on. She can’t afford to.

So many times I would argue about the problems of international sustainable development- first world organizations going into developing countries to help them meet their basic needs. I was always against it. The more I learned, the more I saw organizations like the World Bank wrecking people’s lives in an attempt to control their resources, all under the guise of sustainable development. But there was Lhopsa, sitting in front of me in her tourist hand-me-down Victoria’s Secret T-shirt, fully aware that she’d received a low lot in life, telling me about her impossible dreams of coming to America.

I wanted to know what she thought. I explained the idea of a self-sustaining community; that she’d be able to grow her own food and generate her own electricity and clean water, and not have to rely on money from tourists. That she and the other refugees would design the community and make all of the decisions. Her answer?

She chuckled and with a smile, said, “Me, I have no education. I know only a little English. Only a little Nepali. If you want to do that, then you come up and see it. You do that.” I don’t think she believed that it was possible.

And so, as she dreams about marriage to a westerner as a ticket to freedom, Lhopsa will continue to come into Phokara every morning to scratch by a living. Sometimes she’ll eat, sometimes she won’t. Her mother left Tibet because she had no freedom there. Lhopsa, too, is now enslaved.

But what can we do? More than anything, we can look this problem straight in the face. We can recognize that a similar problem is happening in the U.S., only we call it by a different name. Maybe, if done properly and by the right people, sustainable development is the solution. I can’t think of any other ones. And as frustrated and angry as I felt, I knew that at least I could write about this. Even though there’s nothing else I can do right now, at least I can listen to Lhopsa’s story. And share it.


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