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Nima Lamu2012-03-18

Tibetan Nima Lamu, 35, has served for 12 years as an ordinary village postwoman in Diqing Prefecture of southwest China's Yunnan Province.

She trudges alone, a slight figure bearing a bulky mail sack, along a mountainous 300-kilometer delivery route.

She admits, "It's hard work, but I'm glad to do it because the letters I deliver mean such a lot to the villagers that receive them."

Her red uniform makes her stand out among the greens, grays and yellows along the mountain trail, and easy to spot if she should fall or get lost. This is why she is known as the "red" rather than "green" messenger.

Her name is Nima Lamu, and she is a postwoman from Yuling Township, Deqin County in Yunan Province.

Postwoman Wanted

The Tibetan residents of Yuling Township generally subsist on planting and animal husbandry. Despite its dangers, delivering mail seems to them a good job by virtue of its steady income.

Nima Lamu applied for the position in 1999 when a slipped disc incapacitated Sangcheng, the director and sole worker at Yunling post office.

Then aged 23, her middle school education -- a rare accomplishment in the area -- good health and positive attitude won her the position from among a few of applicants.

Sangcheng acted as Nima's guide and tutor on her first round.

On the second day, Nima was on her own. She delivers mail, mostly on foot, along three routes that total 350 kilometer in length to 5,700 or more residents. This means crossing the Lanchang River by pulley bridge once a week. It takes her more than 10 days to deliver one load of letters and newspapers.

Summer and Winter in One Day

Nima endures extremes of both summer and winter in one day.

Her postal route includes addresses at a 4,000-meter altitude in snowcapped mountains, where the temperature is less than zero degrees centigrade, and also those deep in the valleys where she swelters with her load in 30 or more degree heat.

A steel-wire pulley bridge connects either side of the Lanchang River, one of which is on a higher incline. Crossing from one side to the other entails manually sliding along the wire. 
Local residents say a fall into the river would be fatal. Yet Nima makes the Lanchang every week to a small village called Yongzhi. Although people here receive few letters, they subscribe to four newspapers, which is why Nima must make this risky weekly crossing.

Nima has more grounds than most to fear the Lanchang's torrential current, as her younger brother fell into the river and drowned at the age of 16. 
This part of her route is particularly dangerous in the rainy season, when the slippery mixture of rain and oil on the wire, makes it slippery and difficult to control the speed at which the pulley basket moves. Nima has consequently slammed hard against the wall on the lower side of the river on several occasions.

In Search of 'Dawa'

As many Tibetan names have a similar pronunciation, their Chinese translation often makes delivering mail problematic.
Nima once had a letter to deliver to a person named Dawa in Chalitong Village. But as there were more than 20 inhabitants of that name she had no choice but to seek out each one in the village, fields and meadows before finally finding the right recipient.

She has since formulated her own system of pinpointing the likely activities and whereabouts of the villagers that receive mail. .

Matriculation Mail

Matriculation notices represent to students the fruit of years of hard study. They consequently depend on their safe delivery of these precious documents.

Yet these notices are the most difficult aspect of Nima's work because, unlike other letters that she delivers in bulk to the village office, these must be personally presented to each student.
As many students go herding after returning from school, Nima has no option but to search for them in the mountains. It once took her six days to find one such student.

But the smile on their faces is always ample reward for her efforts. As she says, "Although it's hard work delivering matriculation notices, I'm glad to do it. I only hope that more students pass the college entrance exam and help to make our hometown prosper."

Vital Postal Items

Most Tibetan villages are in locations deep in the mountains inaccessible by conventional forms of transport. Nima's mail bag is thus the villagers' only means of access to daily necessities such as salt, needles and medicine In recent years Nima's load has grown from one to three kilos to its present 10 or more, an addition to her burden that she accepts in her usual philosophical fashion.

Nima in Tibetan means the sun and Lamu a fairy. Nima is thus the "sun fairy" who daily walks through valleys and up mountain to keep her fellow villagers in touch with their loved ones and the outside world.

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