In search of a nation

I have been fascinated by Bhutan for a long time. It is located in the Himalayas and is mostly forest. It is considered to be one of the world’s leaders in environmental conservation. It has three types of ecosystem: alpine zone (4000 feet and up) with no forest cover, temperate zone, and subtropical zone. Some of the rarest animals live in Bhutan. They include the golden langur, a species of monkey that lives only in Bhutan. There are also white bellied herons and black necked cranes.

Bhutan is a Buddhist nation and, instead of a gross domestic product, it has a “happiness index.” In the capital city, Thimpu, there are no traffic lights.

Visiting Bhutan, however, is an expensive business. Visitors have to pay $250 for each day that they are in Bhutan, which is in addition to whatever cost they are incurring for lodging, food, tours, and souvenirs. That, of course, does not even include the cost of getting to Bhutan. So it doesn’t look as if I will be going to Bhutan any time in the near future.

Unfortunately, Bhutan’s human rights record is nowhere near as stellar as its environmental record.

On Sunday, Lamin Tamang, who is the coordinator of Buffalo’s Bhutanese-Nepali community, came to speak at Riverside-Salem Environmental Cottage and to show a movie, In Search of a Nation, which was filmed in Jhapa,Nepal in 2013.  The movie was directed by Prakash Angdembe and Samten Bhutia and was written by Prakash Angedembe. All of the performers are nonprofessional actors.

“It tells my story and that of Nepali Bhutanese,” Lamin said. The story is of 120,000 refugees from Bhutan. They are all of Nepali descent.

In 1624, 50 families from Nepal settled in Bhutan. The spiritual ruler of Bhutan, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel signed a formal document with King Ram Shah of Nepal to recruit 50 families of skilled Nepalese artisans to construct Dzongs and monasteries in Bhutan. The families settled in southern Bhutan and lived there for many generations.

In the 20th century, the Nepali Bhutanese were forced to flee their homeland. Thus, 120,000 persons fled and many ended up in refugee camps in Nepal. The movie depicts the terrible living conditions that people had to endure in the refugee camps. They were given “rotten rice and rotten lentils.”  They were subjected to prejudice from the local population and were called names and were physically assaulted. They fought among themselves about their future. Should they seek a new home in a foreign country? Many wanted to return to Bhutan, even though they were not well treated.

Lamin said that he arrived at the refugee camp in Nepal at the age of seven. He now lives in Buffalo, New York. He was helped to come to Buffalo by his aunt and uncle, who are Buffalo residents. His mother and his step father are still in the refugee camp. “My father planted hundreds of orange trees. He had land and cattle. Being in the camp has psychologically affected him so much.”

In the movie, one person asked, “How can I forget the Sunkosh River (a tributary of the Bramaputra)? I’ll carry my love for Bhutan in my heart.”

Lee Tetkowski intently listens to Lamin Tamang’s story

Lamin Tamang talked about his own joys and challenges in moving to a country halfway around the world. He said, “Being here has given me so many opportunities. I feel accepted today, after being without an identity for 26 years.” He works with refugees to maintain their culture. He helps them with language barriers, understanding their mail, transportation, and with obtaining citizenship. He has met with the new principal at Lafayette High School. He is a college student.

He says that life can be difficult. “Sometimes I feel empty. I have nothing to give back.”

Lamin is in regular contact with his mother and stepfather via cell phone and facetime. “I am hoping to see them here,” he said.

After the presentation, there was a delicious potluck dinner.

We had time to discuss the movie in a less than formal environment. 

This is the noodle dish that Lamin and his cousin brought for us to enjoy.

Food and stories are best when shared.

The story of the Bhutanese-Nepalis needs to be shared. What happened to them is something that, unfortunately, happens in many places in the world. It is, sad to say, what human beings do to other human beings.

If you get a chance to see the movie, please watch it. It is a very well-made movie that tells a very sad story. Lamin said that the refugees always long for their homeland, the place from which they came and the place where they feel that they belong. “A refugee’s hope is always to go home,” Lamin said.

3 thoughts on “In search of a nation”

  1. Candess M. Campbell PhD

    What a beautifully written story. Thanks for sharing this and giving us a view of what is happening. You always have such a gentle voice in your sharing and your blog is so inviting.

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