Phuni Meston is the owner of Handwork, formerly Karma, in Winchester Center. She graciously shared her remarkable, difficult, and inspiring personal and family history, as well as her reflections on her values, the challenges immigrants face and suggestions for immigrants and others on enhancing life in our community.
Phuni’s family of origin story: Fleeing from Tibet to India
Phuni’s parents were Tibetan nomads. After the Chinese invasion and then the 1959 unsuccessful Tibetan uprising, His Holiness the Dali Lama fled Tibet for India. Phuni’s parents were among the approximately 80,000 Tibetans who followed. She describes a treacherous escape, first by her father who then came back to guide her mother, two of her older siblings, and her mother’s sister. They were walking in the dark, across the Himalayas, having taken very little with them. They first settled in Ladakh, a region in India very close to the border.
Phuni shared several family narratives she has learned over time that have had an impact on her and the way she lives her life. She learned how difficult the time in Ladakh was for the family. They had left their home country, and a nomadic way of life, that was characterized by a peaceful co-existence with nature. Her father was faced with the daunting challenge of adapting to their dramatically changed circumstances, and trying to find work to support his family. Her mother spoke often about how she needed to support and encourage her father, telling him “if you sit there, you will die there.” Her father took action, finding work cleaning pots at an Indian military installation near the border. He was “hired” (quietly, since hiring refugees was not permitted) and paid in scraps of food and leftovers that successfully fed the family. Anything he brought back to them that was not eaten that day was buried, to be preserved for the future. She also learned about her mother’s burden of guilt, being in exile, having left her own mother behind, as they believed that if the entire family escaped together, the Chinese people controlling the area would have noticed and come after them. A third family narrative describes the family’s trip to southern India, when they decided to relocate to a refugee settlement there because the area they were in was becoming overpopulated with all of the Tibetans continuing to flee from the Chinese. Phuni was about four years old at this time. The family survived the bus ride, because their mother changed buses, probably because the first one was too crowded; that original bus crashed, leaving no survivors.
Inspiration and meaning from family narratives
Phuni finds much meaning and inspiration from her parents and these stories. She says it is amazing to her, that despite what they have experienced, her parents live with humility, kindness, and an acceptance of people. They are committed to living life, without resentment, in coexistence with nature, to benefit the whole being, not just the human being. At times it is hard for her to understand how her parents live their best possible life despite what they have endured. She knows their spirituality is central for them – not necessarily prescribing to something that is institutionalized or dogmatic, but to the rhythm of their life, and loving connections with others. She feels they hold a life philosophy similar to that of Native Americans, the way they understand food, community, and their connection to the earth and the universe. She feels that so much of her today, the person she wants to be and ground herself in, is a reflection of her parents. She believes that loving connection and empathy need to be central to our lives. She reflects on how much we all have in common, that so many of our sufferings are very similar, and that what we want for ourselves and our children is also often the same.
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