Mary Sojourner | Detained

“What would he say?” Shan asked after a long silence, when he transmitted on the radio?”

“The first few years, he stayed on the run on the mountain, using a sleeping bag from the Americans, saying his mission now was intelligence … he would watch the highway, watch the Chinese army, then come up and report the movements … For a while he decided the Americans had changed the codes, or frequencies, and so he would turn the dials and repeat his number, announcing again and again that he was a sergeant in the Tibetan resistance army. In the end he would talk about the weather or read sutras.”

“Sutras?” Shan asked.

“Eventually he realized it wasn’t the Americans he was trying to reach. He said it was something people didn’t always understand about radios, that even if the Americans stopped listening, the heavens always heard.”

– Eliot Pattison
The Lord of Death

The restaurant is a delight. There are sturdy pine tables and huge windows. The pizza comes with a scattering of fresh basil. I sip my organic iced coffee and try not to dive into the pizza. My friend is late. I don’t care. It is enough to be in this sunny room while softly cool air drifts in through the open doors.

My friend hurries in. “Life,” she says, “detained me.”

We laugh. She is a poet, teacher, environmental activist and the mother of a 12-year old. She knows my story, knows that 40 years earlier, I was so detained by life I didn’t think I had one.
We eat and talk about our work, magic, and our mutual senses that the brittle surface of our comfortable American world is crazing. “Windshield glass,” she says. “One second there was that little ding in the corner; the next second, you can’t see.”

But the basil is fresh and pungent, the coffee is the same, so we toast our good luck and move to different topics.

That night I read Eliot Pattison’s new novel, “The Lord of Death,” set in occupied Tibet. I read about Chinese practices that have been refined far beyond waterboarding – electrodes clamped on nipples and testicles, injections of mind-twisting drugs, beatings administered until the detainee is almost dead. And, for those who are particularly recalcitrant, there is “cerebral pasteurization” in which holes are drilled in the Tibetan’s skull, electrical wire inserted into certain pockets of cells and the ON switch flipped.


All of this is occurring now.

I finish reading the book, go to the computer and find the Web site: There are photos at the bottom of the home page. I go to A Great Mountain Burned By Fire and click on a picture of Lhundup Tso, lying curled in fetal position on a stone courtyard. She was 16 when she was killed when Chinese police opened fire on unarmed protesters in Ngaba.

I click through other photos. One word occurs again and again. DETAINED. Jamyang Kyi, writer, singer and broadcaster – DETAINED. Norzin Wangmo, who spoke on the phone or Internet about Tibet – DETAINED and imprisoned. Lobsang Kirti, 27, monk, who printed and distributed leaflets – DETAINED.

A dear friend wrote me recently. He was concerned about my work load. He wondered if I shouldn’t concentrate on the deadlines for the two books I am writing, and let my political writing go for a while.

I wrote him back. “My political writing is my life-line to my real work.” It is the sutras[1] I am given.

[1] Sutra – an ancient teaching – not a sermon, but a conversation The Buddha told his listeners and students to question and to test his teachings as a jeweler would test yellow metal.