Resources > My Column >

A Near Tragedy Turned into a Good Friendship
Kunga Tsering

"Kunga! Think you can and you will; think you can't and you won't.” Overwhelmed and bubbling with optimism, I boarded the flight to Oklahoma, the heartland of my dream world, on June 2, 1993.

I still remember that sad look over my mother's face when she bid me her final farewell before boarding the flight to the United States. She was at the verge of tears. However, she managed to hold it back. I could feel her soft voice as she gently hugged me for the last time. "Study hard and may you always be free from all kinds of diseases.” She sprinkled some sacred water (that she had brought back from her recent Lhasa trip) over my shoulders as she closed her eyes and prayed for me. I glanced towards my father. I could not imagine what thoughts could possibly be running over his mind. We are so much alike. There were times when I would lose faith in myself, and he would always find a way to elevate my spirit. He would not leave me during my happy moments too. But that day, I was leaving my past and my bygone memories with them. In less than an hour, I would be on a plane bound for America to pursue my dreams. Back in my kindergarten years, my swimming instructor once had barked at me when he saw me struggling desperately to float. "Kunga! Think you can and you will; think you can't and you won't.” Overwhelmed and bubbling with optimism, I boarded the flight to Oklahoma, the heartland of my dream world, on June 2, 1993.

On June 3rd, I arrived in Oklahoma. I was told that there would not be much of a hubbub around the heartland. The airport appeared small and fairly deserted. The people looked different, and they dressed up differently. Small children were running around the main lobby. I even managed to spot a young woman silently sobbing as she let go of the shoulder of a young man.

Few days later, after arriving in Edmond, I enrolled in the University of Central Oklahoma. That first week of class was by far the most terrifying experience in my entire student life at the university. Every event that occurred during that period still lingers vividly in my mind. My first class was American History Since 1877. It took me awhile to find the right classroom. The class had already started when I walked in. I went in thinking that I'd be besieged by familiar oriental faces. But, to my distraught, the room was filled with mostly Caucasians. There were only a handful of Asians. Timidly, I moved towards the end row. The whole method of teaching sounded like "Greek" to me; therefore, I was not able to grasp anything. I missed my next class because I did not have the slightest idea as to where I was standing. I went to my dorm room straight away. I wanted to cry aloud. But, deep down, I knew that it was just the tip of an emerging iceberg. I could virtually visualize the miseries unfolding before me. That evening I dragged myself to the school's cafeteria for dinner. Rice and noodles being my favorite, I searched all corners of the cafeteria. There were none. That same evening, the air conditioner of my dormitory had broken down so we were all endured the sweltering heat for a couple of hours.

The following day, my friend wanted to show me around so that I would be more acquainted with the Oklahoman lifestyle. We stopped by the Wal-Mart and bought some toilet items. Our next stop would be at a Chinese restaurant. I was so glad to be eating fried rice. As we cruised along the streets of downtown Edmond, I did not see any people walking around. This really amazed me. It equally bothered me, too. We finally decided to turn around and drive back to school, when suddenly a huge Mercedes car came screeching towards us. It hit the rear end of our car, and we were shoveled aside on the street.

As I overcame from my short concussion there was an old lady holding me tightly. She appeared very concerned when she asked me if I was hurt. I told her that I was fine. My neck ached as I pulled myself out from the wrecked car. An old man was helping my friend break loose from his seat belt. After a few minutes of scuffling, the old couple insisted that we go over to their house. Since we were helpless, we did not object. As we approached their house, I could not believe my eyes that I would be seeing such a beautiful house, flanked by a huge golf course. Inquisitively, I asked them if they lived there? The old lady said, "Yep!"

We were showed to the living room. It was very huge with antiques dangling from every corner. There was a huge television screen next to a small water fountain in the middle of the room. Soft music was playing from somewhere behind the rugged stone walls. The room looked extremely cozy. We washed ourselves. The old lady had a first aid box with her as she approached us. Then, she asked us to show her our bruises. I was really embarrassed, so I asked her not to bother. She would not let go of the box. After she finished cleaning and putting some ointment over our wounds, I told her that she reminded me of my mother. She laughed and laughed and finally she gently padded me on my back. “You may call me Mary,” she said softly. The old man introduced himself as Ronald. We wanted to go back to school because it was almost dark outside. But Ronald suggested that we stay at their place for the night. We did not want to expose our blunt and naive etiquette, so we told them that we would be penalized for staying there overnight. Ronald later called the dormitory office and briefed them about the whole situation. He was beaming when he revealed to me that we could stay at their place for that night.

It was such a coincidence that Mary and Ronald had both been to Nepal as Peace Corps workers many years back. It was in Nepal where the two had met and fell in love. “We have so many fond memories about Nepal,” Ronald reminisced..

After a fulfilling dinner, we dimmed the whole room slightly and couched ourselves onto a huge, thick Tibetan carpet that was laid next to a daunting sculpture of some wild animal. Mary wanted to know where we were from. Since we were both Tibetans living in Nepal, we talked a lot about Buddhism and the high Himalayas. It was such a coincidence that Mary and Ronald had both been to Nepal as Peace Corps workers many years back. It was in Nepal where the two had met and fell in love. “We have so many fond memories about Nepal,” Ronald reminisced. Mary later told us about the temple where they had tied their wedding knots before a crowd of villagers and a bald, yellow robed monk. They expressed their desire to visit that place again. Later, my friend asked them if they lived all by themselves. Mary hesitated as she told us about how she could not bear any children after she fell into a ditch while skiing in Aspen. We remained silent for several minutes as she went on saying how she had to struggle with the bitter fact of not being able to have her own kids.

The next day, we woke up early in the morning. Mary had already prepared us breakfast. I was dumbstruck when she laid down the steaming food over the table. I asked her how she could still remember to cook Nepali food. She smiled and said, "Ron likes it once awhile. After breakfast, Mary asked us to skip our classes for that day. I glanced over to my friend and he winked. Then I turned towards Mary and Ronald and asked them where they would be taking us. We all laughed. Mary suggested that we roam around the famous zoo. Ronald promised to show us some of his amazing golf strokes. I was especially pleased about the fact that our presence made them so happy. I could not imagine how many lonely nights they had to endure without any children.

We drove around the OKC downtown. Ronald stopped us by a McDonalds where we had a mouthful of cheeseburger. Then we drove straight to the zoo. There we saw a lot of interesting animals. Ronald spoke about their visit to the zoo in Jawalakhel. The thing he liked about the zoo in Nepal was that the whole habitat looked quite natural. "It was like trudging along a scary wood", he recalled. After wandering around, sometimes poking the chimps with branches and whistling to the noisy birds, we left the zoo. Our next stop was at the mall. Mary bought us each a white sweatshirt. Ronald bought himself a hunting knife. Later that afternoon, we all went to the golf course. We shot some balls. I did not enjoy it much because I was simply terrified by the enormity of the ground. Mary was fairly good. She amazed us when she hit the ball right into the hole from a considerable distance. Ronald and Mary laughed and laughed when I made a fool of myself after hitting the ball onto a tree, across the sandy area over the green and right into the pond. Later that evening, we strolled on the lawn. I helped Ronald chop away some overgrown buds. I was proud to show off my outdoor garden skills that I had learned during my Botany classes back home. That evening, Mary told us that she was a pediatrician, and Ronald was a surgeon at the University hospital in Norman, Oklahoma. That night, Mary prepared some of her special dishes for us. We spent that night watching a documentary on African wildlife.

Early next morning as we were ready to leave, Ronald handed my friend a car key. We were puzzled and we were so happy after he told us that it was in return for the wrecked Chevy Spectrum. We thanked them for their warm hospitality. We left their house that morning with so much fond memories and many wishful thoughts. On our way back home we did not see our ill-fated car. Ronald had already taken care of it. Before leaving their house, Mary had handed us a card with their home phone number and street address. She wanted us to visit them during Christmas.

We all met again that Christmas. They appeared older but the spirit and the exuberance with which they had embraced us when we had first bumped against each other was still there. We tried to relive the wonderful time that we had back in June. Since then, every Christmas, my friend and I have been regular visitors at their place. This year will be the third time, and it will be something special for them. It is their golden jubilee of their marriage and we have a very special surprise for them. We hope they will be proud of us.

Written in the summer of 1997.
Kunga lives in Sunnyside, New York.