Jordan Farrar is just finishing her Ph.D. in social work. See "A Journey from the South" here and here. Here are her reflections on our experience in Dharamsala with the exiled Tibetans and globalization as well as poems (whitening creams for Indian women and men) from last December. The theme of globalization from Tenzin Tsundue’s talk at the outset of our being in Dharamsala to reliance on Apple products (the titanium is stolen from Tibet; Apple pays even lower wages to Tibetans than to Chinese) and the Chinese advertizement for Chengdu in the flight magazine returning home – Chengdu is also a center of detention and brutalization for Tibetan protestors – captures the underside of glittering oppression, the nearness of Tibet however innocently unaware we are or how initially exotic the word seems.
Jordan also worries about whether the self-burnings of Tibetans, suicide as an act of protest, are not or are not completely nonviolent. A few thoughts about this question (read her essay and then look at them again). To change the violence of those who do evil, nonviolence takes suffering on the innocent. The oppressors act violently. But if you are Gandhi or King or Cesar Chavez and you lead a nonviolent demonstration of oppressed people, individuals, willing to take risks but perhaps not realizing the full danger to them, can end up being injured or killed. That is a consequence of public action against oppression which even the most honorable person has to accept, encouraging preparation for, warning about the dangers of as best she can, as something related to her own acts (mostly in large nonviolent protest, this doesn't happen; given the massive evils of oppression, this consequence is - for people who engage in nonviolence, also take the risks themselves - not impossible to accept...).
If you burn yourself, your husband or wife may be arrested and tortured (or executed). Your family is left to fend for itself (fortunately, most Tibetans still have extended families, but...). There is no political action, no matter how saintly in inspiration, which does not have often at least some ugly consequences (of course, this is also and grimly true of ostensible "non action," i.e. as Jordan emphasizes, consuming the life and skin, as it were, of Tibetans in glossy global products, "living one's life"). What is good about nonviolent protest is that 1) you maintain your spiritual center (you are not trying to kill people which is what participants in violent movements do), 2) nonviolent mass protest can achieve major objectives with relatively few casualties, officially 800, probably a couple of thousand in Arab Spring in Egypt, compared to state extermination campaigns against violent movements. Both are called "terrorists" by the rulers - cf. Egypt's dictator Mubarak about Arab Spring - but everyone in the population and with publicity, often around the world, sees state violence strike outrageously against nonviolent protests. Consider the Chinese soldiers who fired on nonviolent protestors in Tibet in 2008 - and a government whose publicity conjures absurd pictures to this day among the Chinese of violent...monks. Barbara Deming's short essay "Revolution and Equilibrium" is very good on this. 3) nonviolence makes for a better and less violent regime afterwards as in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation; such movements (consider Tunisia after Arab Spring) do not consume their own in the way violent revolutions (the Jacobin Terror, the purge in the Soviet Union) sometimes do.
Unjust violence is a curse of ordinary or normal politics. But that also includes revolutionary politics (even justified violence is never unalloyed, and lots of innocent people get killed). Nonviolence breaks decisively with this. In our rapidly warming and increasingly militarily poisoned world, nonviolence may be - if anything is - a way to break the cycle, a way out. That is also the spirit of the Dalai Lama...
Jordan also recognizes how difficult it is to reverse glaring injustices. She says, perhaps overly strongly, I know I cannot change the world, but I need to act meaningfully.
But one never really knows when an act of protest, an individual decision, will invite the storm - consider Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus...
One also does not know whether even a long time working for decency can achieve unalloyed results. The United States is more egalitarian today with civil rights, women's rights, gay rights - large victories - and yet still murderous, militarist, ravenously inegalitarian....
And outside of revolutionary situations, the changes generated by individual actions are small. It is thus inner conviction - that I can do no other - which leads to small public actions, and, once in a while, with many others, the whirlwind...
"ISL [International Service Learning] Dharamsala: A Compilation of poetry and prose
January 6, 2014
University of Denver
Graduate School of Social Work
Reflection of Experience
One of the more interesting things I learned from our trip came as a result of the speech given by Tenzin Tsundue. Tsundue is a remarkable speaker. He came to Tibet World with all of his knowledge and nothing prepared, choosing instead to feel out the crowd and let his words flow organically. Tsundue began with his childhood and ended with globalization. That might seem odd to an outsider, but when you learn about how those like Tsundue and Yeshe were smuggled out or exiled as young children, I can't think of any other way to begin.
As Tsundue spoke my internal struggle began. His discussion of globalization and consumerism really hit home for me, and probably for most of us. As we learned about the hiring and labor practices of Apple the guilt really started to set in. On this trip alone I brought three Apple products: iPhone, iPod, iPad. In our entire group most everyone had an Apple product. Most organizations we visited relied on Mac books and iPhones to operate most efficiently, yet Tsundue's discussion partly focused on how these products contribute to the environmental degradation of Tibet and oppression of the Tibetan people. For me it really painted a "one step forward, two steps back" scenario.
I still feel extremely conflicted. My work requires me to be on a computer most of the day, every day. As a woman I have been conditioned to think that I need a cell phone so I can reach someone or 911 if ever in trouble; emergency and safety apps are further touted as a woman's saving grace. Is it enough to protest Apple, but not boycott their goods? Surely other companies are just as bad if not worse. I think the conversation we had at Tsundue's ashram really put it into perspective for me. You need to find something you're passionate about and hope that at the end of the day you are proud of what you do. You can't fight every battle and you won't win every war. You can, however, make some ruckus along the way and hope that your tenacity and perseverance make a difference.
Made in China
Made in China it says
Buy me it beckons
My copper parts and lithium fuel are yours
I come from a place unknown
I come from the sacred mountain
I am mined from the colonizer
-for your enjoyment
Made in China it says
I have many stories to tell
I am your lifeline to the world
Without me you are not whole
Without me you are behind
I have traveled all the way from China to be with you
-for your pleasure
Made in China it says
Take me from the Wal Mart shelf
Take me home with you
You are the consumer and I am to be consumed
Together we will live an easy life together
Together we will fulfill each other's need
-for your destiny
Made in Tibet it mourns
don't forget about my other home
the home that is occupied, exoticized, fetishized, colonized
the home that is too cold for you, too windy, too pure
the home only visible as 'un-free' on your bumper
I have traveled from my home and from exile to tell you this
-for my existence
I wrote this poem after our evening discussion with Raschi from Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion in the morning, first and foremost because she was the first woman we heard from and secondly because she spoke with a firey, and at times militant, passion. Even though she was exhausted from traveling all night from Delhi and gearing up for the celebrations on Human Rights Day, she agreed to come to Pema Thang to speak with us about the status of women in India. While I appreciated the advice and insight she provided, I personally did not enjoy her talk. I have to remind myself that India is at a much different place in their feminist/women's movement compared to the United States. I also recognize that because of this it was not possible for our conversation to go deeper. Her talk seemed more like a lecture, something similar to what I hear from my mother from time to time, versus a critical discussion of patriarchy and misogyny and how these concepts are reproduced and reinforced in India's systems. Needless to say I left her talk fairly mad and wrote the following poem as a way to process. I also understand certain portions of my poem were not represented in her speech, but this is what I put to paper.
The Female Commandments
Don't walk alone
Don't go out at night
You shouldn't drink
Don't even think about smoking
These are the rules
Don't speak English
Don't fight back
Don't speak up
Don't step out of line
These are the rules
Call me when you're home
Don't wear your headphones
Know your place
Don't yell for help
These are the rules.
Most of our days were filled and at times, over scheduled. On those days when we had some free time or my buddy was at language partners in my place, I found solace in turning on the television and just checking out if only for an hour. One set of commercials that really struck a chord with me (and others) were the various lines of skin creams promising to whiten or lighten your skin. These creams crossed gender lines as I even saw advertisements for fairness creams for men. I remember in the women's studies courses I took at William and Mary we would discuss the double standard in beauty across "developed" and "emerging" countries. I refuse to use the term "third world", but I won't get into that here. Anyway, we would discuss how in the west women were marketed tanning salons and "native" skin tones as the ideal, while in places like India women are inundated with products pushing whiteness as the ideal. In the west, however, there is always the underlying message of maintaining and exercising one's whiteness. Case in point, a tanned, glowing skin is much more desirable than overly tanned skin a la MTV's The Jersey Shore; be brown, but not too brown. Anyway, while in Dharamsala I watched a commercial for Pond's skin cream called "White Beauty" and I decided to write about it.
Our first week and, as if by chance or "fate", our last full day in Dharamsala a self-immolation occurred. Whereas in the United States we rarely (if ever) hear about these issues, in Dharamsala for those Tibetans living in exile they seem to be a daily reality. Something that has stuck with me, haunted me even, was something I learned at my second to last day at Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD). The Executive Director, Tsering Tsomo, was meeting with someone, someone from Tibet, someone whose identity was kept from the rest of the staff. This informant traveled to Dharamsala from Tibet and immediately came to TCHRD with all the information they had; something I learned was fairly typical and greatly explained how TCHRD received all their information regarding the abuses perpetrated by the Chinese on the Tibetan people. It was essential that their identity was protected as this person was returning to Tibet the following day; compromising their identity was a matter of life and death. In passing, Tsering mentioned the presence of a list. This list is filled with thousands of names of Tibetans living in Tibet. To put it in perspective, the last list I found my name on was the posted Indian Railway train reservations at Chakki Bank. This list was more sinister, this list was essentially a sign up sheet for self immolations. Thousands of Tibetans, hopeless and fighting for survival, had signed up to show their commitment to self immolating in the name of the Tibetan cause. Even as a write this I get chills. During our time in Dharamsala self immolations were presented as one of the highest forms of nonviolence. People were literally willing to take the suffering of all of Tibet on their shoulders, versus, say, suicide bombing as a contrast mentioned at the Tibetan Parliament in exile. While I agree the act itself is nonviolent, what about the violent aftermath or the trauma inflicted by witnessing such an act? We learned that families of those who self immolate are often jailed and sometimes killed. Is it still nonviolent? Maybe, but I don't know. This is maybe one of the harder concepts/issues I'm grappling with from the trip. I wrote this poem after the first candle light vigil we attended in Dharamsala.
The Fire Breather
I breathe the fire
It comes out of me and into your view
This is my struggle
This is the only way I know to communicate it to you
-I am the fire breather
But it's nonviolence you say
I'm taking the struggles of the world on my shoulders
With a match the struggle is mine
But what about the family?
What about the eyes that are never the same?
The eyes that see your pain go up in flames
-the eyes that burn
If nonviolence begets violence is it still noble?
Cut down your flag pole!
Speak your Mother tongue!
-ingest the purity of His soul day
But I breathe the fire
It comes out of me and into your view
This is my struggle
This is the only way I know to communicate it to you
-I am the fire breather
I wrote this poem the day following the performance put on by Jagori, Eve Ensler, and One Billion Rising on December 16, 2013. I had a fairly surface knowledge of the "Delhi Gang Rape" incident so after dinner following the performance I did a little bit of research online. I remember telling my partner Pat, "after reading what happened to Jyoti, I will never forget, I will never un-remember what I read, I don't know if I will ever be the same."
Never the Same
A bus will never feel the same
It will never be a safe and environmentally friendly way of travel
As I wait for my stop at 30th & York I think these thoughts
For I am not the same
Not the same after hearing your story, hearing your struggle
A tire iron will never look the same
I remember my Dad showing me how to use it
With the ease of his hands he showed me
"Take it like this, you see"...this is how it works
See, it's used to fix, to help, not tear apart, not violate
Your name, Jyoti, or "flame", will never read the same
I did not know you, but I have heard your story
A story you are no longer here to tell
I have seen your sisters dance and mourn and yell
Because of you, your struggle, I will never be the same
But this is bigger than you and I
Because of you, women everywhere, India, the world, will never be the same
One billion will be violated, but a billion more are ready
Ready to stand, to fight, to cry, to mourn, to remember
Because of you we are ready, because of you I will never be the same
In conducting research at TCHRD I came across a political prisoner named Dawa Dorjee. Dorjee, a student, was detained and imprisoned for "shout speech". What I found most interesting about Dorjee was his gift as a writer. Through Dorjee I learned about the Tibetan secular art form known as the "street song". These songs rely on sarcasm and irony to voice criticism of the socio-political; an important tool in heavily censored communities. Traditionally song lyrics in Tibet follow a format where each stanza is comprised of 4 lines, each with 6 syllables (Goldstein, n.d.). "Because they normally consisted of only one or two stanzas (4 or 8 lines), they were heavily dependent on imagery. Like political cartoons, they caricatured political, and sometimes social events and people with a few deft strokes but here the strokes were alliterations, extended puns on names, allusions, etc" (Goldstein, n.d., p. 56) For this assignment I chose to tackle such topics as a myriad of social issues in the United States, the performance we attended on December 16 where Eve Ensler spoke, and the recent Edward Snowden/NSA leak.
Red, white, blue is freedom
Barack, the drone of peace
Kerry our white savior
Heroes honoring home
We are a mosaic
Wielding welfare we'll win
Land envied by brown gaze
Red, white, blue is freedom
Rise for Justice
It was unique and weird
Dancing in the temple
A space for all to share
Weary women wanting
Even Ensler exclaims
Hips moving, bodies shake
All rising for justice
Banned Russian far away
Snow-den wintery 'morn
Spied on like little thieves
Welcome to the U.S.
Protecting us from them
A need to know basis
Obama's ears they burn
N.o S.afer A.lly here
This poem was inspired by the two very different, yet similarly passionate talks we attended by Tenzin Tsundue and Lhasang Tsering. Tsundue clearly favors nonviolence as the best method in order to achieve an independent Tibet. Tsering, on the other hand, favors a more militant approach. Some call him a patriot, others more specifically point to his past involvement in guerilla warfare. While I personally favor nonviolence, I enjoyed Tsering's concrete proposal of civil disobedience. It was frequently discussed, and maybe even a common point of contention, that many discussions on nonviolence failed to provide specific steps in order to realize a nonviolent movement. When I sat with Tsundue and Dr. Gilbert I felt like I received more information as to how Tsundue sees a nonviolent movement carried out; something that I personally found lacking in his presentation to our group. Anyway, I envision this poem as representing how a conversation between Tsudue and Tsering might play out.
We're not that different you and I;
We're cut from the same sheet.
But you're the fiery sword of patriotism,
And I preach nonviolence and don't eat meat.
Your beard is long.
My headband's red.
Your dream is filled with passion,
While mine swirls in my head.
As your fervor grows,
you beat your chest.
While my patience persists
in Lakhar dress.
You stand and pace
I cross my legs.
Your thoughts they race
While the movement begs.
We may be different,
but our identity is strong.
We may disagree,
but neither is wrong.
So you have yours
and I have mine.
And one day we will see
A Tibet for us to call our own.
A Tibet that will be free.
Here I am sitting on Lufthansa Flight 418 from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C. I really lucked out with a bulkhead seat meaning unlimited leg room. I was excited to notice it was the same type of aircraft we took from Delhi: spacious, two floors, plenty to eat (and drink), basically anything one could need to make their time in flight as enjoyable as possible. I noticed business class had a lot of empty seats. My naivety caused me to actually consider asking to stretch out there, hoping to use my long journey as my argument. I quickly decided against this. I hate how whenever I fly I always have to pass through first and business class before coming to my seat in economy or coach. It's like those cartoons where the carrot is dangled in front of a horse or donkey as an incentive. I always picture what it would be like to fly like that; getting the beverage of my choice before the "others" have even reached their seat or handed a magazine to read that "we" have to pay double for in the airport. I usually don't put this much thought into my flying experiences, but this was the first time I was given the "curtain treatment".
Much like the world in the late 1940s, the iron curtain was dropped. Of course it wasn't iron, just thick blue fabric, but it served essentially the same purpose: containment and separation. See this particular curtain separates economy class from business and first class. No matter it creates a nuisance for the stewards when passing through cabins or infringes on my sitting space. It creates a separation, a barrier between us and them, as though we are things to be separated. Perhaps it is for our protection. Yes! Imagine if we got wind of all the perks reserved for those privileged few. Perhaps they worry an Occupy Lufthansa would commence at 36,000 feet. The bigger slap in the face, at least in my opinion, is the sign letting "us" know that "we" are to use our own bathrooms, not those in first class. I have noticed, however, if the toilets in first class are occupied, it is acceptable to cross the fabric barrier and use the toilets in economy class. Could you imagine those in first class actually having to wait to use the bathroom? The mayhem! Of course I am writing this with quite a bit of sarcasm and disdain. I clearly remember Naomi and P.B. remarking how nice Lufthansa is, how accommodating the stewards are, etc. I would agree. At the end of the day, however, Lufthansa is a business, a corporation. Their business is not people, it's money. Something I have really taken away from this entire experience is the power of big business, capitalism, globalization, and consumerism. Even though I am fully aware of these things, I directly participate and contribute to the maintenance of all of these institutions. I am hopeful that all of my experiences provide me with a way to push back, to speak out, and to be an ally. I can't change the world, but I know that my passions and commitment to social justice will aid me as I continue to work to understand and speak out about these issues.
Classified and stratified
Tibetans, IDPs, and exiled refugees
From lower to upper class
First, business, and economy
There's a reason for this taxonomy
Men and women
with their separate spheres
A woman with a voice
is something to be feared
Boarding group 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5
We all fight to be first
while you fight to survive
We all race to the front
while you bear the brunt
of this cruel, cruel world
that does not care
or know you exist
and if you do
we'll separate you out
declare us versus them
and never let you forget
where you stand in line
as you pay for your crime
As I wrap up this paper I wanted to reflect on one final thing that always seems to invade my thoughts as I return home from these extended trips. I should note that the past three international trips I have embarked on have been focused on volunteering/service learning, meaning your experience is as close to authentic and real as it gets. Every time I leave I am left wondering if all my caring, sympathy and motivation to be present in the issue will dissipate. It’s easy to fall back into the routine you had before embarking on a journey, especially if the issue is not in your face like it has been for the past month. As I sat on my flight finishing up the previous poem I decided to grab the Lufthansa magazine in the seat pocket and take up some time.
Anyway I’m browsing through this magazine, thinking about how the “Tibetan issue” will become so removed from my life when I come across a full page write up titled, “Western China’s Emerging International City”. This piece was about Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan Province and host to the FORTUNE Global Forum and World Chinese Entrepreneur’s Convention among other things. While at TCHRD I learned about Chengdu (its Tibetan name escapes me) as a prime location for the detainment and sentencing of political prisoners. This piece boasts Chengdu as having “a global transportation network, a vast talent pool, and a comfortable lifestyle” (n.p.). While Chengdu is touted as being “home to more than 50 higher education institutions” (n.p.), I was entering prisoners aged 19 and up into a database, a database that logs all those Tibetans who are arrested, detained, and sentenced by the Chinese government. Many of those whose name I entered were college age, but instead of heading to one of Chengdu’s 50 universities, they were heading to prison, or maybe a labor camp, or maybe they were just going to be tortured for the next 4 months before being released.
In this piece a 20-year-old Chinese man, Wang Liping, was quoted as praising Chengdu for its many opportunities. I wonder- does this person even exist? This idealized version of Chengdu only exists for a select few. The Chengdu that I learned about was much more abrasive, controlling, and limiting in what it had to offer its inhabitants. The Chengdu I learned about had a lot of blood on its hands, but this Chengdu has the world at its fingertips. I quickly realized that the Tibetan issue is very much a part of my reality, it’s just up to me to decide what that means."