BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Didn't see it coming, I guess ...

Here's another one that I snagged at the dollar store. Generally speaking, if the book has to do with Tibet, I'll grab it, as that mountain kingdom has held an ongoing fascination for me, and I figure (especially at a buck), there will be something enough to hold my attention no matter what the specifics of the book are. However, I'm also a cynical guy moving towards full curmudgeon-hood, and there was a lot in Sabriye Tenberken's My Path Leads to Tibet: The Inspiring Story of HowOne Young Blind Woman Brought Hope to the Blind Children of Tibet that I found more in the “what were you thinking?” zone than finding it “inspiring”.

This is not to say that Ms. Tenberken's efforts detailed in her book aren't admirable, but perhaps the most amazing thing here is that she managed to succeed (heck, even survive) in her goals despite all the difficulties (anticipatable and otherwise) that were in her way. The author is from Germany, as is blind herself, although she did have dwindling sight up to when she was 12 or so (so is able to vividly envision things from descriptions), and at some point formed the idea that she wanted to start a school for blind children in Tibet.

She is evidently among those types for whom all travel is a grand adventure, as she describes numerous situations in China and Tibet hat I would have hated to have gone through during my globe-trotting days in my 20's and 30's, and she, with the complication of not being sighted, seems perfectly equanimitable in the face of aggravations that would have turned me into the perfect example of “the ugly American”! The book opens with a description of her and a traveling companion on horseback, in the mountains, in a storm, attempting to find their way through, evidently without a guide, and then trying to get shelter in a village they encountered.

She then turns to story to a trip to Beijing, with its own matrix of frustrations, and a stay at Chengdu University. The tale eventually flips back to her preparation time in Europe. One significant achievement Tenberken had there was adapting Braille to the Tibetan language, requiring a conversion to a Latin-alphabet transcription of the Tibetan syllables. The system she developed was the key to her later efforts in Lhasa.

The narrative bounces back and forth between Asia and Europe, and one of the most unexpected snags she found was that she was virtually unable to find any funding … her goals and many Tibetan development organizations seemed to be at odds, and every attempt she made to get government funding bounced back to her having to have backing from an established group … she eventually got hooked up with a small one, but it ended up not helping her.

Undaunted, she ends up in Lhasa, and eventually connects with a family who ran an orphanage, who offered to build an extension for her school. This moves forward agreeably for a while, but it eventually turns bad, as these people end up embezzling funds that had supposedly been spent for furniture, etc.

To top this off, a magazine correspondent shows up to do a story, and works his way into their confidence, only to admit that he was in the country only on a tourist visa, and has drawn the attention of the Chinese authorities who suddenly pull the visas of Tenberken and her partner … requiring them to journey to Nepal until they can get new approval for returning to Tibet … not having funds to fly, they had to hire a driver, and the trip which typically took 2 days took 4 because of road conditions (forcing them to have to drive through a river where a bridge had failed).

Eventually they do get permission to return to Lhasa, but at that point the German organization that had been officially backing them pulled its support (it turns out the group's President hadn't been informing the board of anything happening in Lhasa, and was doing everything she could do to sabotage the project), and they were back on their own. Fortune smiled on them again, however, with another (quite well-to-do) Tibetan family offering them their large house and compound to set up the school again.

I suppose My Path Leads to Tibet is inspirational in the way the author, despite everything, presses forward and eventually achieves her dream, but the path there is brutal, and it's difficult to read if one has any level of identification with her along the way. Except for the final turn of events, almost nothing goes right here, or at least not for long (before going horribly wrong). At several points (while dealing with German groups) the idea of her naivety comes up, and this certainly has an aspect of feeling like one of those “let's put a show on in the barn!” tales of cluelessness, but in this case including hazardous journeys, hostile governments, and people running scams left and right.

If you're looking for a book about somebody with seriously naïve plans overcoming a world of difficulties to make her “vision” come true, you'll probably like this book a lot … however, if you're like me and cringe at people being idiots, this will be nails-on-the-chalkboard. It is one heck of a tale, though … and certainly and interesting read. This does appear to be out-of-print (other than in e-book formats), but the new/used guys have “very good” copies for as little as a penny (plus shipping, of course), and “new” copies for a couple of bucks. This is more touchy-feely than I typically like, but I know I'm way off on the cranky end of that scale, so this would probably appeal to most readers more than it did to me!

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Tags: book review
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