Superhero alert: Dorje Dolma was seven years old when she confronted a snow leopard while herding her goats and sheep in an ice-cold Himalayan ravine.
“My jaw dropped at the sight of the giant beast with the fat, long tail,” she writes in her new memoir, Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal (Sentient Publications). Blood dripped from the jaws of the leopard as it munched on one of Dorje’s goats. Instinct kicked in: The rest of the flock needed protection, so the child began picking up rocks and throwing them at the leopard with all her might. She inched down an icy path, drawing closer to the beast. She screamed at the leopard. She threw more rocks. “I thought he was going to attack me,” she writes. “As his upper body stiffened, he glared at me intensely, and my body chilled. I could feel every hair on my body stand up. He seemed ten times bigger than me, and I almost fainted at the sight of his long, yellow, bloodied teeth.” But the leopard retreated — cowed by a girl who was no bigger than a baby goat herself.
Go, Dorje Dolma! Her name means “thunderbolt goddess.” Now a thirty-three-year-old artist living in Boulder, Colorado, she appears Friday, May 25, at Collected Works Bookstore. Her memoir is special. It is filled with heart, and it is filled with stories. A kind of Himalayan variation on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, it reminds American readers that there are still places on Earth where there are no roads, no electricity, no running water, no doctors, and few schools — and where children at ages five, six, and seven are expected to herd goats and sheep in remote mountain valleys, confronting leopards, wolves, and the freezing cold. It is a place where families must persist to survive, and Dolma’s story is a case in point. When she was ten years old, stricken with a life-threatening form of scoliosis, her parents gathered up the family and walked to Kathmandhu to look for help. It took a month to get there, and Dolma’s retelling of this adventure — which would save her life — is a saga in itself.