Tashi Nyima: A Generation in Exile: Resistance and Resilience

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

Originally from the Kham region of Tibet, Tashi Nyima was forced to leave his village, aged 28, to escape imprisonment, after taking part in a demonstration in Lhasa. Arrived in France without knowing a word of French, after an incredible journey from the Himalayan mountains to Paris, under a false identity, it was in Paris that he chose to settle, after a difficult path of resilience, and that he opened his restaurant (1). His journey sheds light on the new face of a generation of Tibetans in exile. Encounter.

Where are you from and how did you leave Tibet?

I was born in Tibet, in the Kham region, on the border with China. I grew up in a village of 200 people, where there was no school, but monks from the nearby monastery taught us to read and write Tibetan. I followed their teachings from the age of 13 to 17, while helping my parents, who raised yaks, horses, sheep, and grew wheat, barley and peas. I stayed in the village until I was 25 years old. My sister decided to become a nun at the age of 19, she went to Yarchen Gar monastery. My older brother stayed in the village. When I was 25, my uncle suggested that I continue my studies in Lhasa, so I left to join him. On March 10, 2008, there was a demonstration against China organized by the monks, which lasted for a week. We demanded the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, religious freedom and autonomy for Tibet. The Chinese police arrested the protesters, and we fled to escape the prison. I returned to my native region to hide in the mountains for seven months until I left for Nepal. I only returned to Lhasa to find a Tibetan guide there, who could take us to Nepal with nine other people.

How was this journey?

We left Lhasa in a van, and after seven hours on the road, we walked for twenty days, at night, hiding during the day, because the route was guarded by the Chinese police. It was very difficult, we had to climb up to 6000 meters, and sometimes more, in the Himalayas in the middle of winter! We had no other food than the tsampa (2) that we had brought, and we drank water from the mountains. We never washed because the temperature went down to – 30 degrees!

What was the hardest part of this walk?

Fear, because the snow made walking dangerous, and it was so cold that we couldn't feel our feet; we didn't even know if they still existed. Some members of our group died on the way… And then we were afraid of the police, that's why we were walking at night.

How was your arrival in Nepal?

We arrived in Kathmandu, at the reception center founded by the Dalai Lama, and we were accommodated there until our departure for India, until the permit was issued by the Indian Embassy for Dharamshala. I stayed a year in Dharamsala, where I continued my studies. But I didn't see my future there, and I decided to leave for France.

Why did you choose France?

I have always loved this country. In Lhasa, the teachers taught us the history of Europe, and I liked the history of France, its politics, the Revolution, the way in which the people had freed themselves. I liked this story, I wanted to go there. Today, I have been living there for nine years, I feel good there; I like this country.

How did you get there?

I bought a Nepalese passport from an Indian, and I left for France via Pakistan and Russia, to arrive at the airport

Charles de Gaulle, where, as soon as I left immigration, the police stopped me: “Where are you from? – “From Tibet”. They said to me, “With a fake Nepalese passport? Go back where you came from! And they took me to the police station at the airport to escort me back to the plane to my place of departure. So I said to them, "I want to die, I'm going to kill myself!" banging my head on the plane door, without stopping. They took me back to the police station and then sent me to the doctor. I stayed two days at the airport police before being transferred to the Paris Court. After reviewing my file, the judge told me: “Sign this document”. I refused, because I didn't want to be fired. But she insisted, I understood that there was no trap and I signed. She added: “Now you are free, you can leave, but you must leave the territory within two weeks”.

“In the peaks of the Himalayas, the snow made walking dangerous, and it was so cold that we could no longer feel our feet; we didn't even know if they still existed. Some members of our group died on the way…”

What did you do next?

I didn't know where to go: everything was foreign to me, I didn't know anyone. It was a weird moment, I felt a great void. I sat in the garden beside the Tribunal, and I contemplated this strangeness; I did not know what to do. I asked passers-by if they could tell me about a reception center for Tibetan refugees, but no one knew of one. Until I met a man who took me to the Chapel, to a garden where there were Tibetans. I was so happy! I was finally able to obtain information for the asylum application in this center of the Chapel, which was the reason for which all these Tibetans were gathered in this garden.

How did you obtain refugee status?

I applied to Versailles and was granted political asylum seven months later. It went well, the people were friendly and helped me a lot. Then I found a job in a locksmith, and I studied French. I told my family, relieved but sad, because my parents knew that we would never see each other again. I told my mother that I would go back to see her, but it was not possible.

This trip from Tibet to France was a real test…

The hardest part was the passage from Tibet to Nepal, because the border is very dangerous. The situation of Tibetans in China is extremely difficult, as they do not have a passport and cannot travel with the Chinese identity card, the only document issued to them. The Chinese control everything and refuse to issue passports to Tibetans for fear of demonstrations against the regime abroad. Only 100 Tibetans managed to leave the country! Many more are still locked up in Chinese prisons for protesting…

Do you continue to protest? 

Always ! Every year, on the anniversary date of March 10.

"The Dalai Lama said: 'It is not compulsory to practice to be a Buddhist, but you have to be generous, respectful of everyone, including the animal world.' For young Tibetans, it is a way of being: speaking correctly, being respectful, that is Buddhism. »

What is your relationship to Buddhism?

I did not study it, but my parents are Buddhists, I practiced with them: they did not meditate, but recited the prayers. In Tibetan Buddhism, one is a Buddhist without studying; the monks did not teach us the same thing as what they were transmitted. But my sister, during my visits to her monastery, shared with me what she was learning. I can't say that I really know Buddhism, even though I studied with monks. To know what Buddhism is, you have to study for at least fifteen years.

What does Buddhism mean to young Tibetans today?

The Dalai Lama said: "It is not compulsory to practice to be a Buddhist, but you must be generous, respectful of all, including the animal world". For young Tibetans, it is a way of being: speaking correctly, being respectful, that is Buddhism. Because buddhist culture exists: my parents and I belong to this culture without being "religious". This is the case for many Tibetans.

What does the Dalai Lama represent for Tibetans, in a non-religious context?

The Dalai Lama is very important, because it represents not only a Buddhist leader, but that of all Tibetans. Thus, it was he who organized the reception of political refugees. He is a caring and respectful man. That's what I love about him.

Why did you choose to open a restaurant?

I made this decision with a chef friend: without any particular professional qualification, it seemed to me the best choice.

What is your sister's situation at Yarchen Gar Monastery today?

She has been a nun for 27 years and she is happy. But there are always problems, because of the Chinese: they destroyed 3000 houses in Yarchen Gar, as in Larung Gar.

How do you see the future?

The problem of future generations depends on the future of the Tibetan language: the Dalai Lama has launched an appeal: "Don't forget Tibetan, learn it!" But we don't have language study centers for young people. Now, if we don't speak our language, the Chinese will say: “How are they Tibetans? Also, it is imperative that we speak our language, at the risk of becoming Chinese, because it is the language that differentiates us from them.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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