I was born in and grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal. My parents and grandparents were born in Bhutan. In 1980, the king of Bhutan introduced a dreadfully harsh new citizenship law, which was against the majority of the Bhutanese of Nepali origin called Lhotshampas, or “people of the south.” Some knowledge of Dzongkha language, Bhutanese customs, and traditional values became requirements for citizenship. But the Bhutanese of Nepali origin had their own language, culture, and customs. Thus, they were warned to flee the country. However, they protested and claimed their right to stay where their generation was born. They didn’t flee because they considered Bhutan to be their motherland, and their love for their nation pulled them back. For them, the place they lived had become a paradise. Waking up in the morning by the chirps of the birds, whistling with lyre bird’s soothing song while heading towards the farm at dawn, going to the barns because of the “mooo mooos” of cows, and climbing the fruit trees until they quenched their hunger had become their daily routine.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t continue that routine because a cultural cleansing began. Language and customs became the tools of persecution. Bhutanese soldiers were ordered by the government to kill people of Nepali origin. As a result, many women were raped, children became parentless, and parents lost their children. And at the end, all of the violence compelled them to leave their land and properties and flee from Bhutan to Nepal.
However, even though their culture, language, and customs were Nepali, Nepal didn’t accept them as citizens. So, an organization called UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) provided camps for all of the Bhutanese- Nepali to live their lives as refugees. My family and I are here today because we are refugees. I lived for fourteen years in a refugee camp in Nepal, which I would define as a desert. Everyone there searched for something to eat, but found little or nothing until international organizations started providing rations once every fifteen days; however, it was not enough. We survived in a place deprived of basic necessities for life such as food, electricity, healthcare and a quality education. We used to live in huts, fragile tent-like houses, made of up bamboo and thatch, so that the fear of being blown away with the huts during ominous storms on autumn days was always horrifying. The mortality rate had increased immensely because people ended up losing their lives because of the simplest illnesses, like fevers. People were crowded into the camp like chickens on a farm, which resulted in poor sanitation. To defeat starvation, parents had to leave their children at home and work for the whole day to put food on the table. I was left alone at home. There was nobody to give me food when I cried with hunger; there was nobody to stop me when I ate mud to quench my hunger. I missed the presence of my parents’ hands and eyes when I first learned to walk, I missed the presence of my parents’ ears when I first learned to talk, I missed my parents’ hands when I first learned to grasp. I just missed my parents’ presence in my roots.
When we were given the opportunity to move to the States, we knew that we were going to take it, because we heard about the US from people who came to the refugee camps encouraging us to move because they had already been here. The videos and the pictures of America that they showed us seemed fascinating because they looked like heaven, so beautiful- the skyscrapers, electricity 24/7, shiny cars, pitched roads. Those are things that we had never seen before. I knew I was going to have a better life if I moved. I knew I was going to receive a better education.
But I didn’t realize that moving to a new country, adapting to a new environment, and learning a new language would be this tough. Not being able to understand and speak English made me lonely in school. I had difficulty having conversation with Americans. In my first year in America, people would just walk away from me because they couldn’t understand me.
But I gradually learned the language because of my intrinsic hard work, and with the help of teachers and school here. Being a refugee, adapting to a new culture, and learning a new language were difficult hardships to endure, but I have learned a lot from it. Through pain comes opportunities; people should never give up and always be resilient.