Mentor Alum Nancy Shapiro reflects on the beginnings of her enduring friendship and mentorship with Tashi Sangmo.
I was a mentor at Girls Write Now for four years, and I had three terrific mentees. One mentee and I, though, particularly “clicked,” and our relationship has blossomed, so that now, 15 years after meeting, we are good friends who stay in close touch.
I met Tashi in 2008 when she was a junior at International High School in Prospect Heights, and I had recently retired as Director of Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T&W), a nonprofit organization that sends writers into schools and publishes materials on teaching writing.
At Girls Write Now’s “speed dating” round to connect mentors and mentees, it was “love at first sight” for both of us: we were exotic to each other. I was a Midwesterner transplanted happily to New York City, and Tashi was a Tibetan girl from the Himalayas with a much more complicated journey. One of our first writing activities was to write pieces called “The Place Where I Come From,” to give each other images of our childhoods and experiences growing up. While I learned so much from Tashi that first year about a part of the world unfamiliar to me, it was only a fraction of what I’ve learned from her since then.
When we wrote plays as part of a Girls Write Now workshop, Tashi wrote about a young girl in Tibet who wanted options beyond those provided to most Tibetan women—to become mothers at a very young age. Tashi herself had left Tibet and her family at age eight to attend boarding school at the Tibetan Community in Exile in India, where the Dalai Lama resides. When she was 14, she immigrated to the U.S. with her mother to meet up with her father in Queens. One of our wonderful days together was when I attended her U.S. citizenship ceremony in 2011.
Though she left Tibet, Tashi continues to embrace Tibetan culture, and I’ve had the privilege of learning about that culture with her. I have the greatest respect for the Dalai Lama and his embrace of happiness and an ecumenical world. Through Tashi, I have also learned more about the oppression of the Tibetans by the Chinese. Tashi’s grandparents still live in Tibet, and I’ve had the chance to meet them and see their house by video on the phone.
One amusing story happened after we went together to a documentary about Tibetan nomads (Tashi came from a nomadic family). In one scene, family members walk through a Himalayan meadow to collect dead caterpillars overgrown by a fungus. The Chinese believe in the medicinal (and aphrodisiacal) effects of the fungus and pay handsomely for the dead caterpillars, which have become a source of income for Tibetans. Tashi said she was particularly good at spotting the caterpillars. At this point, she was already at Mount Holyoke College, but I said, “Why didn’t you tell me this before? What a great college essay that would have made!”
Post-college, Tashi became interested in education, and after being selected for AmeriCorps, she was a math tutor on NYC’s Lower East Side and worked as an assistant teacher in the Boston area. She decided to get a master’s in education at Bank St. College of Education, where she was also hired as an assistant teacher for the two years of her graduate program. Bank St. is just two blocks from the apartment my husband Steve and I have in NYC, and we are empty nesters—our son Sam is grown, though we’re lucky that he and his family live nearby. It only made sense that Tashi should live with us while going to Bank St., which she did for her two years of grad school as well as her first year teaching afterward at Trinity, also near us. During her first year of grad school, COVID hit. Steve & I moved upstate for six months with Sam, his wife Andi, and their twins, so that we could babysit for our grandchildren while Sam and Andi worked remotely. Tashi stayed in NYC with our cat Otis. When we returned to NYC in the fall of 2020, Tashi attended school and taught remotely from our apartment, and the three of us, along with the 4 other Shapiros two blocks away, were happy to be a “quaranteam.”
Tashi is still teaching and now living with a great boyfriend in Queens. We continue to get together whenever we can—especially to go to the Tibetan restaurants in Queens. I have been blessed to have Tashi in my life: thank you, Girls Write Now!