Blog: Finding meaning in exile limbo

Kunkey in Dharamsala
Kunkey in Dharamsala

1st February 2016
Post by Kunkey

When you are born and brought up in exile, you want to find out more about where you come from. That desire intensifies when a superpower is out to erase your history, your present and your future. I'm a child of exile life and I have never had the opportunity to visit 'home', my country Tibet.

I think the biggest toll on being a refugee, whether politically recognised or not, is the life in limbo that I live to this day, even at the age of 35. The lack of sense of belonging is harrowing sometimes.

One way that I try to live my Tibet life is by listening to accounts and stories from the older generation. The greatest contribution so far has come from my father, who is in his 80s, and his amazing memory. I've also spoken to many of my people who managed to escape from Tibet (post-1959) to seek a life where basic human freedoms can at least be enjoyed.

Kunkey's father in India in the 60s

For my work as a researcher with Tibet Watch (Free Tibet's research partner), I recently interviewed a nun from Tibet over the phone. As I'm based in Dharamsala and she lives in a nunnery quite far away in south India, it all had to be conducted over the phone and I was eager to ask her about her experiences in Driru which I knew to be a hub for Tibetan resistance.

I am always nervous before an important interview. This was important because I was going to make her relive a painful part of her life and a life which still continues for her family and friends and all the other Tibetans back in Tibet. She told me of her interactions with her family in Tibet over the phone: a painful thing to do when you cannot be open and free to say what you want.

They are referred to as the 'red dogs' the nun tells me.

On the phone her family begged her not to mention anything about the nunnery or the nuns or anything else that might place them in danger. This is because being a nun is a difficult life to live in Chinese occupied Tibet, the power that feels threatened by the mere red of the robe the monks and nuns wrap themselves in. They are referred to as the 'red dogs' the nun tells me.

Her courage to speak out and trust us made me feel grateful and also humbled.

I always love interacting with the people who have real experiences of Tibet but it is also very sad. When you are working on these issues, the stories are not pretty at all, they are heartbreaking. Sometimes the stories make me feel helpless and guilty. I have even cried during previous interviews but these days I can start to feel myself becoming numb.

I am an emotional person and like most Tibetans, the nun was very open, honest and passionate. Her courage to speak out and trust us made me feel grateful and also humbled.

About the author: Kunkey joined Free Tibet's research partner Tibet Watch as a Researcher in June 2015 and has also worked for Tibetan political prisoners association Gu Chu Sum, for Dolls 4 Tibet, on a BBC radio documentary about the exile Tibetan women's football team, and on other Tibet related projects as a freelance translator/interpreter/transcriptionist. Before moving to Dharamsala she spent much of her life on the move: from a remote Tibetan settlement in the south of India to Chennai for her degree in English Literature, to Bangalore to continue earning a living in the field of Sales and Marketing and then to Dharamsala because, as a Tibetan, she wanted to contribute to the Tibetan cause.