Finding a dying woman
On the way back to the village to get my horses I met two young Tibetan guys who took me to an abandoned house on the edge of the village. They were laughing and pointing at something inside and gesturing for me to go in. I took off my hat and stepped through the doorway. The single room seemed empty, but as my eyes adjusted to the gloom I could make out a pitiful scene in the corner.
A woman lay on a cot with a bowl of embers beneath her trying to stay warm. She was obviously very ill and I had a clear impression that she was dying. It was a shocking scene; she was dying all alone with no one to help her, while the two men stood in the doorway laughing. When the woman saw me she started mumbling something incoherent and reached out her arms, begging for help. I felt helpless, there was nothing I could do. I have no medical knowledge, I had a few simple medicines but I had no idea what was wrong with her and I worried that if I gave her something it could make her worse. I gave her some money, I thought at least she might be able to buy some food. On the ledge of the glassless window was a bag with a few mouldy pieces of bread and a jar of cold tea, but that was all.
Was this another test? If it was, there was nothing I could do to pass it. I turned and walked towards the door angry, furious that this poor woman should have to die this way. She was in a village, there were Buddhist monks here! Why was no one helping her? The two idiots moved out of my way. I pointed to the woman: ‘Why don’t you help her?’ They just shook their stupid heads and giggled. I shook my fist in their faces; it was taking all my patience for me not to thump them, and I knew it was just my own feelings of helplessness and a desire to take it out on someone. I walked off and when they tried to follow me I turned and sent them away: ‘Fuck off!’
Tibet is now part of China, for right or wrong, and the Chinese government make a great show of how they have improved the quality of life for the average Tibetan, but I saw little evidence of it. Where was the doctor to treat this woman? Why was there no medicine for her? There was a Chinese settlement nearby; why had no one come to help her? Why hadn’t the people in the village gone to get help? Where were the benefits the Chinese occupation had brought?
On the Tibetan plateau there was no electricity except for small solar panels that created enough power to run a single light bulb at night. The people had bought these themselves if they could afford it. There was no running water- even in towns the people still had to trek out to the river with pails and barrels. There were no telephones. There was education for the children, who were sent to school where they learned Chinese and were politically indoctrinated; it was hardly an improvement, and they were being encouraged not to study the dharma.
The only improvement I saw was roading. In the mountains I often passed Chinese construction crews cutting away at the hillsides with picks and shovels to make new roads, to link isolated communities with larger centres. But who does this benefit? The Tibetans? Or the Chinese, who can then move more settlers into these remote regions? By doing so the Chinese dragon quietly sinks her claws deeper into the back of the Tibetan yak, which is slowly bleeding to death.