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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching Beijing with a Tibetan Guest

Last Friday night, Dolma Kyab came to our home in Mt. Vernon to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. Dolma is from Tibet. Seven years ago, he sought political asylum in the United States, leaving his wife, children, and family in Tibet. In his homeland, he had been a high school teacher and was enrolled in law school. Now, living in a small town in Utah, he works for a landscaping company.

In Tibet, he was called Dolmakyab. All one word. When he came to the U.S., he was told that he must have two names - a first name, and a last name. So his name was split in two. Calling him Dolma is a reminder that his life, too, has been severed.


Just before Dolma left Tibet, he told us there had been a riot between a group of Tibetans and Mongols; more than 200 modern warriors threatening to attack. Dolma and four other teachers thrust themselves between the warring factions and, miraculously, violence was averted. This modern confrontation, fueled by generations of hate, lit a literary fire under Dolma. For the last seven years, since coming to the U.S., he has been writing a story about this ancient feud set in the Lake Kokonor region. He hopes to find a producer interested in turning the story into a movie.

Just before Dolma came to our home, he had been in Aspen listening to the Holiness the Dalai Lama speak. Tickets for the event were $1200. But Dolma had friends among the volunteer monks and was allowed into the room where His Holiness was speaking. Later, he met the Dalai Lama and shook his hand.

"We come from the same place in Tibet," Dolma told us. "We lived only two mountains apart." In a land of 471,700 square miles with mountain ranges that rise 15,000 feet above sea level, they were nearly neighbors.

As we watched the Opening Ceremonies together, sitting in our living room, I was struck by how much Dolma seemed to enjoy them. Often, in halting English, he would provide commentary. "What they are wearing," he told us about some of their elaborate costumes, "is from the 6th or 7th century China." When a group of colorfully dressed children representing more than 200 different ethnicities appeared, Dolma leaned forward, smiling. "There," he pointed excitedly, "there, that young girl, she is Tibetan."

The next morning we sat outside on the deck and, during breakfast, visited about the story he has written. He explained the legend of the sixth-century monk who traveled to Lake Kokonor from Lhasa. The monk, upon arriving at the lake, found the water too salty to drink and, losing his temper, he cursed the lake. "Even a monk is not perfect," Dolmakyab explained. "The root of anger is in all of us."

Known in China now as Qinghai Lake, more than 23 rivers and creeks drain into this salty body of water, the largest lake in China. According to Dolmakyab,the root of anger continues to pollute the water.

His story of Lake Kokonor, which I read in the translated version, gives the reader a "glimpse of the vanishing lifestyle of the nomads of Tibet and Mongolia. It is a tale of brutality, of courage, of compassion and of the transformation from societies of warring tribes to people living together in peaceful coexistance."

Let's hope that this year's Opening Ceremonies lead us closer to an understanding of how to reach the deepest tendrils of that root of anger so that some day, Dolma can once again be known as Dolmakyab.

POSTSCRIPT: More about Dolma....

I just had a great phone visit with James Navé who co-produces (internationally) The Writing Salon with Allegra Huston and I want to add a postscript to yesterday's blog in the hopes of building even more buzz around Dolma's story, Lake Kokonor. So, here's the rest of the story...

I've been presenting at the July Taos "Writing from the Imaginative Storm" salon for the last three years and love going back. It's always a great group of people, and Navé and Allegra provide a fun and laid-back but professionally stimulating environment (see my favorite links).

Dolma and I first crossed paths at Navé's place this July. Navé had offered Dolma a place to stay, and a chance to check out the Salon. Dolma hopes, of course, to snag the interest of a movie producer who might be willing to take a chance on Lake Kokonor. Dolma and I shared a cup of tea and a halting conversation (his English is much better than my Tibetan, which is non-existent).

A few hours later, I had to take off for Santa Fe to speak at the "Writing Women's Lives" conference. Apparently, Dolma stayed on in Taos for the rest of the Salon and, despite the language barrier, he charmed everyone and the group has also taken a personal interest in the story he has written. Now, he's got several of us cheering him on.

Perhaps we can be the hopeful pebbles cast into these difficult waters, creating ripples that will eventually help illuminate the vanishing lifestyle of the nomadic Tibetans and the Mongolian Buddhist nomads in Dolma's story, and by doing so, shine a light on (in Dolma's words) "a more compassionate and peaceful way to coexist."

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