Commentary: A new Chestnut Hill resident tells his story

Opinion June 24, 2012 0 Comments


Dilli Bhattari (left) with his family and Elizabeth Walmsley (right)

On Sunday, May 13, Dilli Bhattarai and I, both residents of Chestnut Hill, gave a talk to members of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting about where Dilli and his family had come from and what it had been like there. I read a narrative written by Dilli’s cousin, Devi, which is included below.

The United States has welcomed 60,000 Nepali refugees over the past five years and now, over the past two years, our own Chestnut Hill has welcomed three of these families into our neighborhood.

Chestnut Hill College has employed five members of our three families and for that I cannot thank it enough – Dilli emphasized in his talk that getting a job is the most difficult part of resettling in that it provides the income that makes most other things possible.

Four family members are in various stages of learning how to drive, and since December 2010, I have been raising money for their education, which I will lend to them in small amounts for classes and trainings that will improve their job prospects. This microfinance project is called KISTA Trust (kee-sta means “loan” in Nepali).

Our most recently arrived young woman and her husband are expecting their first child in August – who will be born an American citizen! It is the husband and soon-to-be father of this couple who has written a small piece of his experience. After Dilli’s talk (which I have loosely summarized in my own words above), I read Devi’s piece aloud to the assembled group.

Elizabeth Walmsley

Devi Bhattari and his wife, Asha.

Good afternoon everybody. I am Devi Bhattarai. I am here with my short story. I want to thank all the Chestnut Hill Quaker members from the core of my heart for giving me an opportunity to recite my story. I am not a writer or a poet, so I apologize for my grammatical errors. This is the real story of my life and how it goes.

I am a simple man with a simple thought: My life is full of sorrows and scarcity.

I was born in Bhutan on July 8, 1978, on the lap of Nanda Kumari (my mom) and under the shadow of late Nanda lal (my dad). My father died before I was born, and my mom left me when I was 5. I was raised up by my youngest uncle, Kashi Nath.

My schooling life started at the age of 5. My school was too far – almost two hours’ walk from my home. There was no means of transportation. So I had to walk all the way from my house to school and back, nearly four hours a day for six days a week. Sunday is the public holiday. It was my fortune that my schooling life started at the age of 5, but it is not the same for all.

I used to set out for school in the early morning by seeing how high the sun was. Nobody owned a wristwatch or any other equipment to allocate the time. Usually, I used to reach school late and used to get physical punishment for each time I was late. Sometimes I didn’t go to school if it was late, being afraid of getting harsh punishment from the teachers. I would go swimming for the whole day and return home after school was over, so that I would not be in trouble at home either.

I used to be late coming home. Sometimes I used to find either my uncle or aunt on my way looking for me in the late evening. I was fond of playing marbles and used to play before and after school.

I remember now an incident on one day of my childhood schooling. I was late coming home from school – it was a Saturday, I guess. I was found lying on the road, shivering and unconscious, by a Health Assistant (HA). The Government of Bhutan had provided one HA for each remote village. He was the one for our village. He rescued me and discovered that I was suffering from high fever and malaria. He gave me some medication and took me home.

I became conscious some hours after reaching my home, my family members told me. I was saved. I was lucky – I have gotten the chance to be in the United States and have an opportunity to join my hands with Chestnut Hill Quaker members. Thank God.

The days go on passing in a similar way. The scarcity of means continues. Though there was scarcity of basic human needs, there was no scarcity of love and affection among the family members, friends and neighbors.

Everybody in the family was happy and contented with what we had. Our country is rich in agriculture and has a history of traditional farming tools. We were farmers and owned farming land. We owned a lot of cattle. There was peace and harmony all over the country.

Suddenly, in 1990, there was a differentiation between Hinduism and Buddhism. More exactly, it was between Nepali speaking Bhutanese living in the south of Bhutan and Dzongkha speaking people living in the northern part of the country.

The king announced “one country one religion” in his speech. The king forced his citizens to speak Dzongkha, forced them to wear national dress everywhere – at school, in the office and even at home. He forced his citizens to follow Buddhism and forced them to eat the meat of the cow (which is not a message of lord Buddha, I think).

You know, most of the Nepali speaking Bhutanese are vegetarian, and we regard the cow as a form of the goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth). The citizens didn’t obey some of his orders. As a result, the government officials and some of the teachers burned the Nepali books and banned teaching Nepali throughout the country. I saw my Nepali books burning.

In 1990, the revolution broke out. All the schools in the southern part were closed. Most of the educated Nepali speaking Bhutanese were put in prison and were given physical and mental punishment. Many were shot to death. The army of Bhutan started torturing innocent people. They started visiting our homes at night. If they found any young women at home, they raped them. Many of our Bhutanese mothers and sisters were gang raped.

We had nowhere to appeal. We didn’t get justice. There was no way to stay in our country. The army started to tell us to go away. There was no security of life. Every day there was fear of being raped, killed or put into prison. Life became hopeless and directionless. Finally just to save our lives, we left our country.

At that moment I felt that I was walking in darkness, even though it was daytime. We left our property, animals, farmlands – everything that we owned. We were empty-handed with only our lives. After a short distance, I took a last glance at my house and then I started crying. Everybody was crying.

I think I didn’t cry that much when my mom left me, but that day I cried a lot. My eyes were red and swollen, but the tears didn’t stop. That day I felt as if I had departed from my real mother forever. I bowed down my head and felt the smell of my land. I love my country.

Then we came to Nepal via India. We were settled down in Goldhap refugee camp. There were seven camps originally, but currently there are only four. We spent almost 20 years in the refugee camp.

At the beginning, our condition was the worst. Everybody got sick. We spent such a miserable time that I can’t even imagine it today. It got so bad that nobody hoped for life. I have no words to describe it. As the time passed, we got acquainted with the situation and the new climatic conditions.

Then we got help from the international organization named UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and our basic needs were fulfilled. Then we started getting education too. Then the hope of life began.

Our classrooms were the shadow of the trees. If it rained, then school would be canceled and we would run with our books in hand to our huts. This continued for a year, and then we got a school with a roof rather than the shadow of a tree. I studied up to grade 10 in camp. I graduated from high school from the Higher Secondary Board of Nepal. I graduated with a B.S. in mathematics from Trivuwan University of Nepal.

Again life paved a new path. The International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.) started resettlement for Bhutanese refugees to different countries of the world, such as the U.S.A, Canada, the U.K., Australia, Denmark, and New Zealand. We (me, my wife Asha and Dilli’s family) decided to settle in the U.S.A., and the rest of our family went to Quebec in Canada.

My goals are never fulfilled. When I was a student, my ambition was to be a doctor, but I never thought that I would be a refugee with an empty pocket, penniless.

I always have dreams and aim to reach the top of Mt. Everest. Now I know that daydreaming is dangerous. It is like drinking a lot of alcohol every day. It is bad for health. So I quit everything.

This is the short story of my life. It may differ from others and may be similar to some. Thank you so much for listening to my short and horrible story. Thanks for giving your valuable time.

Thanks for your patience. Thank you so much for reciting my story. God bless you all. Thank you all. If you have any questions, comments or any suggestions, you are always welcome to ask.

Elizabeth Walmsley is a member of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting and has been volunteering as a private citizen with the Nepali refugee community of Philadelphia since April 2010. Devi and Dilli Bhattarai are employees at Chestnut Hill College who arrived with their families in the U.S.A. in the summer of 2011. To donate to KISTA Trust, go to kista.trust@gmail.com.

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