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Long Distances: A Love Story from Nepal

Tim first came to in Nepal 1988 to trek. He then came back another time. And another. And another. Some time later, he is back again, living in a Tibetan refugee settlement for five months.

Lobsang’s parents fled Tibet after the Chinese [occupation/liberation] in the 1950s. Her mother died when she was an infant, so her father left her in the care of another Tibetan woman. She never went to school and so she is illiterate. She learned English by selling Tibetan handicrafts to tourists by the lake.

Tibetan refugees selling goods at the lake side in Pokhar, Nepal
Tibetan refugees selling goods at the lake side in Pokhara, Nepal

Ten years ago, Lobsang was selling her Tibetan handicrafts by the lake in Pokhara when she met Tim. They stayed in touch, by phone calls, by letters (written in simple English that could be translated by Lobsang’s literate friends), and by Tim’s yearly visits to Nepal. After ten years of this back and forth, they decided (what I interpreted as) what the hell, lets get married, why don’t we?

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Tibetan refugees with Pokhara lake in the background

I was rather taken aback when Lobsang invited me into her home and I was greeted by a shirtless white man in her doorway. Hello, you’re not Nepali? may have been my first words to him (I need to work on being more polite when I am surprised). Their home is a small concrete block no bigger than my bedroom back home- two twin beds, one coffee table, a few cabinets. (With electricity donated by the US, I was told!) In the room I noticed a large photograph of the Dalai Lama, a jar of peanut butter, incense, men’s deodorant- something told me this wasn’t your typical Tibetan home. Lobsang poured me a cup of tea and went off to prepare a simple but lovely dish of chick pea and potato curry with bread. Tim sat across from me on the other bed as I struggled to find a polite way to ask, what on earth are you [shirtless sixty-something-year-old Swedish man] doing here [in a Tibetan woman’s home]?

Tim told me matter-of-factly that Lobsang was his wife and when she returned, Lobsang told me some stories of her life- of the challenges she faces as a Tibetan in Nepal, of the feeling of being trapped economically, socially, and politically, with no way out.

With a pang of guilt and feeling obligated to repay her for her kindness, I asked to see some of Lobsang’s handicrafts and she brought out a backpack filled with small knick knacks- a prayer wheel, some rings, some bracelets. I asked the price of one bracelet, expecting or hoping to pay only 300 Nepali rupees (about three dollars); 1000 Nepali rupees (about ten dollars), she told me. I shook my head and said I would not pay that much, and asked that she keep the bracelet to sell to another tourist who would be willing to pay more. After asking, how much you pay, how much you pay a few more times, Lobsang said, with a combination of defeat and acceptance in her eyes, there is no money in the low season anyways, I sell to you for 300.

Lobsang and Tim outside their home.
At Tashi Palkhel Tibetan Refugee Settlement, Pokhara, Nepal.

Tim and Lobsang were legally married in India last year and are now trying to work out a passport and visa for Lobsang to live with Tim in Sweden. Until then, Tim will travel to Nepal every year for the five months allowed by his visa, and they will continue their phone calls and letters in the other seven months. Love works in strange ways.

Originally published on

SideBar: It should be noted that most Tibetan refugees are countryless. They are not citizens of Nepal or China or Tibet. This even includes the ones who were born in Nepal.

Emma Watkins
Emma considers herself caucAsian, and enjoys exploring what that can mean in different contexts. She literally can't stand it when her peers overuse and misuse the word literally, and she thinks that good books and proper grammar are sexy. You won't find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, because she's too busy browsing farming and food blogs. She will likely try to force feed you some homemade banana-Nutella muffins if you befriend her, so watch out. You can find more of her writing on her blog at EmmaWuWho

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