The More You Know...
By Sonamjid (Jessica)
Sonamjid is from Golok autonomous Tibetan prefecture, Qinghai Province, China. She graduated in 2005 with an Associated degree in English from Qinghai Normal University Nationalities Department's English Training Program.
While we are searching for the life goals in the cycle of Samsara, we may face a darkness that covers our world and stops us from achieving our goals. However, if we have confidence and look ahead , the world will not be dark forever. Everyday, the sun will arise again. I learned to think this way from my family's life experience.
There was a time when my family was so poor that we could barely feed ourselves. My father's business went under and we borrowed a lot of money from others. In order to pay back the loans, we sold almost all of our livestock and possessions--even the valuable jewelry that had been passed from generation to generation. There were times when we couldn't buy enough food and clothing. But no matter what we faced, we never stopped struggling. Instead, we established new life goals according to the situations we faced. We started to dig herbs, and herd animals for other families. Amazingly, during such difficult times, my parents still managed to support the education of their three children. Slowly, we paid off the loans and started to buy livestock for ourselves. Today, after more than ten years of hard work, my family has earned enough money to have a comfortable life, but still, we have further life goals for the future. From these challenges, I have learned that problems are not always negative. Sometimes they can make you think more, learn more and struggle more bigger life goals. The dramatic changes in my life have taught me that the more you learn, the higher your goals in life become.
Born as a nomadic child, my life was simple and I had no goals other than to become a herdswoman like my mother. My mom was always busy. Besides looking after her seven children, she also had to herd and milk the yaks, collect the yak dung, cook for the family, and fetch the water. In my memories, she was busy every minute. The sleeves of her Tibetan robe were always tied behind her back and on her face there were traces of sweat. Through all of this, there wasn't a single time that I heard her complain about life or say, "I am tired, I want to take a nap." She was always working and struggling,
No matter how hard life was, there was always a warm smile on her gentle face. When I was young I really wanted grow up fast, so that I could help my mom with all of her work. Reaching adulthood was my first goal in life.
My father's face is not clear in my very first memories because he used to live separately from our family, herding sheep in different places in different seasons. In summer, he would move to higher places that had fresh grass for the sheep and in winter, he would move to warmer places where the newborn lambs could keep warm. He rarely came home and only visited us once a month. I only remember that he always wore a green Tibetan robe, which was faded from the sun, rain and snow. He had dark skin and very white teeth; his eyes were small but lively. I used think he was a stranger and not my father. I knew that there was a long distance between us, and I did not like it. I wanted all of my family members to live together.
After several years my wish came true, and my family could finally be together, because the government divided the animals between each family and started to collect annual taxes. Each family had their own land for their livestock. So my father was able to come home and herd on our family's land. Soon after, when I was about seven years old, I became a sheepherder. Every morning my father put me on our old white horse with only had one eye and sent me after the sheep on the mountains. I usually did not dare to get off of the horse, because I was too small to get back on by myself. When I had to get off, I tried to find an overhang as high as the horse so that I could easily get back on. At that time, I was too small to know how to handle a horse; I only knew that the side with no eye was the right side to get on. I was happy to herd sheep, but I still had the goal of growing up fast, so that I could get on and off of the horse easily. When I was young I had small hopes based on what I had learned from my life experience with my parents.
As I grew up, I learned more about life and my goals became more ambitious. In my hometown, people don't know the importance of receiving an education. They think education is useless for herding livestock. In addition, it is difficult even for educated people to get stable jobs; so most people don't send the children to school, unless the government forces them to. The government has mandated that every year, each area must send two or three children to school. Since people will not willingly do this, the village holds a lottery every year to decide which school aged children will be sent to school. After the lottery, the village leader gives the selected children's names to the government and if the families don't send the chosen children to school, they will be punished.
But I am special because my father voluntarily sent me school at the age of ten. The day I learned that my father had decided to send my younger sister and me to school without being selected by the lottery, I was shocked and disappointed. I cried and yelled, "I will not go. I was not chosen by the lottery! School is terrible! The teachers are like tigers that beat up the students. I hate school."
"No, it's not that bad,” my mother calmly replied. “The teachers only beat the bad students. If you are nice they won't beat you, they will like you."
My mother tried to comfort me but I was still afraid.
At that time if a family had school children, their government taxes would be lower. So, I thought my father couldn't pay taxes and had decided to send us to school. I begged him not to send me.
"Father, please don't send me school. I will hate it.” I exclaimed. “I will dig herbs and make money, so that you can pay the taxes easily."
My father knelt down in the front of me and took my hands in his and said, "Sonamjid, my little Sojid! I love you and so I want you to get education, without education it is difficult to survive. I don't want you to be like your father. When I go to a big city I can't even find the toilet."
I yelled back, "I am not going to the city! I like the grassland and I don't need to find a toilet there!"
"Sojid, the only thing I want is for you to be happy, and not have to work hard as your mother and I do."
“If you send me school I will not be happy. People say school is hell. Don't you remember that Lamas say hell is the worst place to be?" I continued to argue.
“Sojid, if you don't go school, you will marry soon and have to obey every order of your husband and his family. Your life will be controlled and I don't want to see that. I don't expect my daughters to marry into rich families, because the richer you are, the more work you have to do. I only hope that my children are not hungry and cold, and have freedom"
While he was talking, tears were rolling down his red cheeks. I began to cry as well. That was the first time I had seen my father cry. His tears moved me; I was sure that he really cared about me because otherwise, how could a man shed such tears? So, I agreed to go school and a sweet smile appeared on my father's face again. “You will understand me one day," he said proudly.
And I soon did. Although at the time I had very small goals based on my experience, my father could see a larger picture, and he had higher hopes for me. Because of my father's foresight, a new world opened up to me. Being a good student became my new goal. My father sewed new school bags and Tibetan robes for my sister and I. The school bags were made of very simple red cloth could only hold two or three books. It was the first time my father had sewn a school bag, and he didn't know the suitable size. I was happy to receive a new blue Tibetan robe, because I hadn't worn new clothing for a long time. However, when I remembered that I had to carry the little red school bag with it, I felt scared.
Back at my home, things weren't going well. My father's small business went under. At that time, my family had a big truck, and we hired a man to drive it. Since the truck didn't belong to the man, he must have driven carelessly. There were two big car accidents while he was driving. To repair it, my father spent more than 30,000 RMB, which was a large amount of money for a small businessperson. My father also had a butter business at that time and he usually took the butter to Lhasa to sell. One time, after he bought more than 4,000 jin of butter and brought it to Lhasa to sell, the butter cost in Lhasa had dropped severely, so he had to sell it for under the original cost, and lost a great deal of money. Then my family didn't have enough money to continue our life in the town, so we decided to go back to the nomadic life.
At that time, my sister was nine and I was eleven. Instead of moving back into the valley with the rest of our family, we had to stay in our adobe house in the town by ourselves so that we could go to school. There were three rooms: my parents' bedroom, the living room, and a bedroom for the seven children. After my family left, my sister and I slept in our parents' room. We could smell our parents' smell there, especially when we were sleeping in our father's sheepskin robe. His smell made us feel that he was there and we didn't need to be afraid during the dark nights. At that time, we had no electricity and we had to light candles to cook and do homework.
Maybe there was no need to be afraid, but for young children, it was scary to face the darkness without our parents. We had heard many stories about robbers and thieves, and we were afraid to light up the candles once it became dark. My sister used to say that if someone saw the light through our windows, he would kill us and take every thing away. I was afraid too, but pretended not to be. I was so scared that I usually slept beside my father's big knife and nailed my mom's robe on the window every night so that nobody could see the light. As a result, my sister and I we were usually late for class because the morning sun didn't reach through my mother's thick robe. We would usually be asleep and Suddenly other students would knock our window and yell, “Sonamjid! Tabo! Get up; you are late for class again." During this time spent alone with my sister I learned that I must be prepared to face difficulties by myself. At that time, I was very young to be independent and I was scared to face the dark nights, but because I wanted to achieve my goals, my only choice was to face those difficulties.
As I faced challenges and learned more about the world and myself, my goals became higher. After five years of dealing with the challenges of primary school, I wanted to continue my education. I entered the county middle school after passing the entrance exam. That was the first time for my town to have three students pass the exam, and I was one of them, so I felt successful. In middle school, as I learned more about education, I had a strong desire to become a teacher in the future. My teachers were the most intelligent and knowledgeable people I have ever seen. They were helping hundreds of Tibetan students receive an education. I thought that if I could become a teacher, I could help my family and other Tibetans.
After my father's business went under, I did not rest for a single day. I was either in school studying hard, or working with my family to support my education. Whether it was raining or snowing, I spent every day of my winter and summer vacation digging herbs on the mountains. No matter how bad the situation got, I never thought about giving up my education. I didn't let hard times destroy my goals and dreams. My hard work paid off and after graduation, I stepped into the gate of college.
I used to think college life would be more fun and carefree, but for me it wasn't. In college I found more challenges and competition. I began learning English at the English Training Program (ETP) at Qinghai Normal University from “ABC” and the first sentences that I spoke were “this is an apple. That is a pig.” My classmates were top students from different Tibetan areas in China. We were all very motivated to learn and work hard. For the first two years, I studied so much that I woke up at five AM and went bed at one AM. Sometimes I didn't know what day it was because no matter whether it was Saturday or Sunday, if you entered the classroom, ninety percent of the students were there studying.
When I went home during the holidays, my parents were sad to see that I had lost weight. They often asked me to rest during the holidays but I didn't feel tired because I knew that I needed more money to support them and be a responsible, independent Tibetan woman. Starting the day after my arrival back home, I would begin digging for herbs in the mountains from sunrise to sunset. Sometimes it was raining or snowing, but I would work hard anyway and enjoy the work because I was doing it together with my other family members.
As my college life continued, I learned many things from my classmates and foreign teachers. They gave me courage and the confidence to set goals higher than I ever could have imagined in my childhood. My goal was no longer to simply help my own family, but also the community that I came from. I watched my classmates complete successful development projects to help their communities, and I took classes like Sociology, where I learned that every one has equal abilities if they have the courage to struggle for what they want. With the help of my teacher Michelle, I designed a grassroots development project to help local people in my hometown. This project, which brought 60 milking yaks to a group of old women in my hometown, was funded by the German embassy in 2005.
Now I am about to graduate from college and I am a part of Shem, a women's group based on charity and compassion. My teacher and female students like me who want to help our communities started this group. We do small-scale development projects focused on women's basic health care and education. I have chosen this work because I am from a rural area and I know what life is like there and what the people really need. Now we are turning Shem into a formal organization with full time staff and an office. I know that there will be many difficulties during this process, but I believe that if we have the courage to face these difficulties, Shem's work can greatly improve the lives of many rural Tibetan women and their communities. I hope that through my work, I can help more Tibetans struggle toward their goals, and teach Tibetan women that if they have confidence, they can be successful. These are Shem's goals and my goals as well.
A person's life is just like a flowing river; it never flows directly but swerves to and fro. Like a river, my life has taken me north and south, sometimes dropping into deep valleys and sometimes stopping in front of huge mountains. But no matter what obstacles life throws at me, like a river, I never stop moving forward, but instead adjust my path. Just like a river never stops flowing, nothing will stop me from achieving my goals. I have many sad stories in my past: being separated from my father, my family's poverty, and my struggle to get an education. Actually I appreciate these difficulties, because without them I would not be who I am today: a strong, independent, educated Tibetan woman, full of limitless dreams.