I was raised in a family of farmers and herdsmen. I looked after the goats with my sister until I was fourteen, when I left my village to go to school. After our father died, it was up to my sister, Tsering, to take charge of the herd. She was twenty-seven at the time. I can’t help wondering about the choices life has prompted us to make, about the way life shapes our very being.
Tsering lives alone in the vastness of the Himalayas. Her only companions are her goats and the wild animals that prowl nearby.
The sole link between my world and hers is a transistor radio tuned to All India Radio. I gave her that radio.
For eleven months of the year Tsering lives at an altitude of 4,500 to 6,000 meters, in temperatures ranging from 35°C below zero, to 35°C. She is several days walk from the village. Up in the mountain, higher and higher, she walks all day long, in all weather, seeking meager pastures to feed the herd. How can she possibly survive up there? Where does she find the strength?
In fact, Tsering shepherd’s life – her own life as well as the life of the herd. Anticipating, nursing, protecting, delivering kids, worrying and, in the end, accepting. She and her herd engage in a daily struggle for life.
Last winter the herd lost seventy goats. The snows lasted too long, the kids died, famine threatened, the leopard struck. Tsering dealt with all these hardships. She’s not afraid of anything.
When the possibility of marriage arose, Tsering chose to look after the herd. Denied all human company, my sister learned everything by contemplating the mountains, the elements, plants and animals. Tsering is attentive to everything, to everyone.
She knows every crevasse on the glacier, all the plants that heal, the sky, the moon, the leopard. She knows every one of her goats.
All her senses go to work. My sister is a doctor, herbalist, weather forecaster, veterinarian, botanist, Himalayan guide, economist, philosopher, and goatherd – she’s all of them rolled into one.
Every day Tsering has to cope with limits – her own physical limits, environmental limits. She knows the world is competitive, but that her only real adversary is herself. Tsering is strong.