High Peaks Pure Earth presents the English translation of a blog post written in 2012 by young poet and writer Khawa Nyingchak who tragically passed away on June 26, 2015.
The passing of Khawa Nyingchak (kha ba snying lcags) was well noted on social media and there was an outpouring of emotion on platforms such as Weibo, WeChat and on Tibetan language blogs.
His death was also reported in English by Radio Free Asia on June 29, 2015: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/attempt-06292015162712.html
The prose piece “Life and Ice” by Khawa Nyingchak was originally published in the collective volume Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia (T. Goossen & A. Hazra, eds), published by Lexington in 2014. The English translation is being posted below with the kind permission of the translator Francoise Robin.
In the collective volume Human Rights and the Arts, Khawa Nyingchak, along with other Tibetan writers through poems and pieces of prose, tackle and criticise the policy of the forced settlement of nomads.
“Life and Ice”
By Khawa Nyingchak
When I was very young, all my relatives still dwelt in black tents. Very few people lived in houses, and those were little more than shacks. One night, as I lay between my dad and mum, waiting for sleep, I looked at the stars twinkle through the star-hole in the roof and felt that every one was moving swiftly, like the eyes of children who cannot fall asleep. I wandered into a dream as I listened to my father tell me the story of the poor youth and the rich young maiden.
In the middle of that night, I awoke feeling that part of my back had frozen, an area the size of an adult’s palm. When I opened my eyes, I saw that my bedding was getting soaked. My father had forced a stake under the side of the sagging tent to lift it over my head. My mum wanted to carry me outside on her back, but at that very moment, thunder crashed outside and red lightning flashed. She dared not take a step farther. My father shouted at her to get out fast, the stake was about to break. His voice was strong but empty of anger. Instead it was filled with care and love. This was the first time I realized how heavy the tent could get—when it was lifted by my father’s hands.
When we had made it outside, my parents said our sheep were not in the corral any longer, and our yaks had broken their ropes and fled, leaving only a few calves. My two older sisters who slept in the small tent planted next to the main one were missing too. My parents took me swiftly to the neighboring family that lived beyond a little hill, and went to look for our cattle in the heavy rain and wind.
We could easily have lost everything on that dark night. I could have disappeared, too, if they had not taken such great care of me. The rain was absolutely unrelenting. Our neighbors were the only ones in the area who lived in a shack, where the rainwater poured off the roof. Later, I found out that the only difference between a tent and a solid house resided in the fact that the latter was unlikely to collapse in a storm.
It was said that one earlier winter so much snow fell that the tips of the grass disappeared. Many cattle died of hunger. According to my mother’s stories, I was so young then, I could not even crawl. To feed the cattle, people had to take them far away, although this was not enough to guarantee that they wouldn’t starve. Every morning that winter, my mother would carry me in the back of her robe when she went out to herd the cattle. Every evening, she would return home with me in the front pouch of her robe. One morning, I peed in the back of my mum’s robe; then, the same afternoon, I peed in its front. When she untied her sash at night, both the back and the front of her robe were frozen stiff, like two frying pans.
That was a snowy winter. The whole season was unbearably cold. My family had run out of sheep droppings and yak dung so they picked the thorny bushes that grew among the steep boulders to use as fuel for our fire. Mother says that they could see stars shivering through the open roof of the black tent.
But when I sit by the table and reflect, the strings of my relatives’ biographies untied, biographies of all sizes, I do not see their backs shivering in the cold of the tempest. I do not see their cheekbones cracked and red in the cold of the blizzard. I do not see the fear and panic in their eyes every dark and rainy night.