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As Remembered from Rules of the House by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa states the following:

I am told I was five in 1971 even though my birth certificate states I was born in 1969. The elders count on their fingers. They have done it for a long time.

What does this statement mean? Is her birth certificate wrong? Or am I missing the point?

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My reading is that it has become a part of the family story that she was 5 in 1971, the elders count back the elapsed years and arrive at that conclusion.

But the author says

This is the way I count years: the winters we had fire and the
summers we erased because we were in another place.

If you are counting the years back on your fingers, and discount some years, you may well end up concluding that a person was older in a specific year than the calendar says they ought to be.

She also says

It is not the accuracy of the story that concerns us.

But who gets to tell it.

Tsering Wangmo Dhomp's family are from Tibet, some are still there, some are in Nepal or in India. In an interview with Hollie Hardy on www.14hills.net she says:

My mother’s family was left behind in Tibet. So she was the only one who escaped with my father in 1959. Right before I was born she decided to separate from my dad. She was very unusual in that way because in those days Tibetan women did not leave their husbands, especially so soon, ten years in exile. That’s a lot to deal with. A new land, to be alone with your child. But she did. And she never remarried so it was just the two of us. And the rest of our family, her family, is still in Tibet. I did have a lot of relatives in India, cousins, family friends and I was very close to them. I am still very close to them. And they functioned as family. As close as immediate family can be.

It would be no surprise for the different strands of a family history to get knotted up, or a stitch dropped. But if you survive to tell the story, what does it matter if a year or two get lost along the way?

A further confounding factor may be that:

In Tibetan culture a person's age is counted traditionally according to the principles of the Elemental astrology. But of course modern life also uses the western way of counting age according the solar years.

In Elemental astrology a person's age is determined by the turning of the Elemental New year, and this age is then used in the calculation of the Elemental horoscope. Therefore, it is very important not to mix the official Tibetan New Year (Losar) and the Elemental New Year. The Elemental year a person is born is considered to be year one and so a person is one year old from the day of his/her birth. In the next Elemental New Year everyone becomes one year older. http://www.tactus.dk/tacom/elemental4.htm

So if Tsering Wangmo Dhomp was born in March 1969, in traditional Tibetan counting she would reach the age of 2 at the Elemental (Lunar) New year in December of that same year.

By my reckoning that would still only make her 4 in 1971, but requires fewer slips in the elders' finger counts.

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