Today we welcome Dorje Dolma to share with us what inspired her to write her memoir Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal, the first ever from a Dolpo native, and her new goal now that the book is in print.
I started writing Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal when I was fifteen because I didn’t want to forget the events and people of my childhood.
I was born in Dolpo, a culturally Tibetan, extremely remote area of Nepal on the border of Tibet, where I herded my family’s goats, sheep, and yaks from age five to ten. My life there was very different than it is here in America, where I came at age eleven with my adoptive parents so I could receive life-saving surgery not available in Nepal. I could sense that some of the details of my childhood were disappearing from memory and I didn’t want to let that happen, so even though my English was utterly rudimentary, I began to write the story of my life to that point.
I am a creative person by nature so I soon discovered that even though it was quite challenging to express myself in a language I barely knew, I enjoyed the effort to shape the ideas and memories in my mind into something others could experience. I wanted to convey what it was like to grow up in that ancient, traditional, survival-based culture, far from the modern world, to people who may never have encountered anything like my childhood home.
I took pleasure in the painstaking expression of the smallest, most evocative details of my colorful life in Dolpo.
I wanted others to see the stunning, untouched natural beauty of the 14,000-foot-tall mountains that I climbed nearly every day, to smell the fire in the middle of our home that needed my constant tending, to feel the raw bite of the freezing snow on my face when I had to herd my animals towards home in a blizzard, and to get to know beloved members of my family.
I also wanted to preserve our family history for my younger brothers and sisters, who barely remember life in Dolpo because they left at a young age to be schooled in Kathmandu. (There were no schools in Dolpo at that time and the few that have been established in recent years are still very basic.) As the modern world slowly creeps into Dolpo, our ancient way of life there will eventually transform into something different, some hybrid of centuries-old methods and much newer ones. If I could capture at least a part of this disappearing culture in my writing, I felt that I could in some way keep it alive, if only in my book.
So although my English tutor had to ask me what I was trying to say in almost every other sentence at first, I persevered, and as the years went I steadily improved my ability to express myself and the book grew. It took me all of fifteen years to bring the manuscript to conclusion and it was a very happy milestone in my life when I was able to present the stack of laser-printed pages to my editor.
Now that Yak Girl is in print and I am starting on the book tour, I have a new goal.
I want to educate people about my remote homeland and help them understand what the people of Dolpo need most from the modern world. There are no doctors in Dolpo—we have always made use of the local lay lamas and their herbs and prayers when someone falls sick. As a result, many lives are lost each year unnecessarily.
Beginning a few years ago, it became possible to take a helicopter from Dolpo to Kathmandu to get medical care, but that is a very expensive flight that almost no Dolpo residents can afford. One can walk all the way to Kathmandu, as my family did to get me help when my life was threatened by severe scoliosis, but that obviously will not work for someone with pneumonia or appendicitis or any acute disease that can be fatal if not treated in a much shorter time, even if the patient had the strength for the trip. If one has enough money, another option is to walk for a week and then take an airplane to Kathmandu, but that also is not possible for most critically ill Dolpo people.
So it is my new goal to find a way to create the first medical clinic in Dolpo through donating part of the proceeds of my book, encouraging others to contribute, and partnering with a non-profit to make this dream a reality. If you’d like more information, please see my website, dorjearts.com.
Yak Girl Synopsis:
Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal
This unusual memoir immerses us in the fascinating story of a spirited girl in a remote, undeveloped region of Nepal near the border of Tibet, a place made known to the world in Peter Matthiesen’s The Snow Leopard. Life above 13,000 feet in Upper Dolpo—often called the last paradise because of its breathtaking snow-capped peaks, untouched beauty, and hand-irrigated green pastures—was one of constant risk and harsh survival.
Dorje’s life centered around the care of her numerous younger brothers and sisters and the family’s sheep, goats, and yaks. At age five she began herding and was soon taking the animals high in the mountains, where she fought off predatory wolves and snow leopards. Covering her first ten years, the story takes Dorje from her primitive mountain village to the bewildering city of Kathmandu, and finally to a new home in America, where she receives life-saving surgery.
With humor, soul, and insightful detail, the author gives us vividly told vignettes of daily life and the practice of centuries-old Tibetan traditions. This wonderful and surprising tale of survival, loss, and self-reflection offers us entry to this difficult, yet magical, place.
Publication Date: January, 2018, Sentient Publications. Paperback; 328 Pages.
Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction, Travel. Author: Dorje Dolma
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About the Author, Dorje Dolma
Dorje Dolma was born in the remote Dolpo region of Nepal, high in the mountains bordering Tibet. She was the oldest of eleven children, only six of whom survived the harsh conditions of their lives. Dolpo had no running water, electricity, motor vehicles, phones, school, or doctors, other than the local lamas, trained in the use of herbs and prayer. Dorje began herding the family’s goats and sheep at age five and by seven she was defending them from attacks by wolves and snow leopards.
When she was ten, Dorje’s parents took her on a month-long trek to Kathmandu to find help for a serious health condition. There they encountered Westerners who arranged to bring Dorje to the United States and get her the surgery she needed to save her life.
Adopted by her new American family, Dorje eventually graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Fine Arts. She worked as an early childhood teacher in Boulder, Colorado, and now continues to develop her art. Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal is her first book.
Yak Girl Reviews
“A rare and fascinating testimony, told from the inside, of a little girl who made an incredible trip from inner Dolpo to America—and from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.” —Eric Valli, director of the Oscar-nominated film Himalaya
“Reading this Dolpo native’s expression of life as a young girl in her remote homeland is the best way to truly experience and understand the untold story of its unique culture and traditions.” — Tenzin Norbu, internationally known artist and illustrator, native of Dolpo
“Yak Girl tells the heartbreaking story of a young girl raised under very difficult circumstances, high in the Himalayas. Dorje tells her personal story with such vivid details and honesty that it will move everyone who reads it.” —Simonka de Jong, documentary filmmaker, director of The Only Son
“Dolma’s extraordinary book offers an insider’s perspective on the family structures, ceremonies, and rituals of a remote culture. Struggles are related in a straightforward manner, and recollections are marked by happiness and family love. Language rings with honesty and dignity.” —Foreword Reviews