Headwind, Laxmi’s Story – still available.

In 2011 and early 2012 I wrote the English language novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ about a young Bhutanese woman who was born in a refugee camp in Nepal after her parents were exiled from the supposed to be Shangri-La country Bhutan. Laxmi was resettled by the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) to the Netherlands. In her story she looks back at het past life in the camp and tells about her struggle to create a new life in a society that is alien to her. And all the time she longs for her true love, the boy she grew up with in the camp and who now lives in the United States as a resettler.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is about coming of age in between cultures, about the life as a refugee and a migrant. About having to struggle for a decent life and about a love that seems impossible. It’s about the caste system that is a fundament underneath the Hindu society and the changes that come when people are taken from their home, their country, culture an religion and implanted in a modern society. But above all it’s a story about a young woman with a difficult past who fights her way through life, like most refugees do.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is still available through mailorder in the Empowerment Foundation’s bookshop or directly through me. Here you’ll find the first chapter of the novel to get a grip with the story of Laxmi. Click here for Headwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample. You can buy the book here. All earnings are donated to the Empowerment Foundation in support of their empowerment project.

headwind front coverHeadwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample

 

 

Advertenties

Is UNHCR creating malnutrition in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal?

A few days ago a letter was written by important members of the Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal to the UNHCR in that country. The letter is a request to discuss maltreatment by the UNHCR regarding the refugees they are supposed to take care of.

What is happening?

Since the early 1990’s the UNHCR has managed and maintained a number of refugee camps in the southeast of Nepal (more exact, in the Jhapa and Morang districts). At its height there were over 107.000 refugees listed in those camps. Since 2008 the UNHCR has started the by far largest third country resettlement program ever aiming at completely solving the decades long refugee crisis of the Bhutanese who exiled from their Shangri-La like country in the Himalayas.

unhcr

The UNHCR has done a tremendous job in guarding peace in those camps while at the same time bringing essential humanitarian aid the the inhabitants. Nepal (just like India and Bhutan) never signed the UN refugee treaty so the UNHCR has been working there on a UN mandate. They have been partnering with AMDA (Asian Medical Doctors Association) for health care, Caritas for education, Lutheran World Federation for camp management and monitoring and the WFP World Food Program for food distribution to the camp communities that have no other means of existence.

But things have changed. The aim of the UNHCR in Nepal seems to have shifted in the past few years from caring for the refugees who livin in limbo in the camps to bringing a durable solution to their situation by third country resettlement. According to the international morale of refugees the people should repatriate but that has obviously proven to be an impossible dream as Bhutan, the country of Gross National Happiness, has been frustrating talks and efforts for that ever since the crisis started in 1991. Assimilation in the Nepalese and Indian society is also a no go as Nepal and India do not accept that (the lack the resources to do that on a humanitarian responsible manner), hence the durable solution of the UNHCR: resettling to the west.

This resettlement project is well underway with almost two thirds of the refugees already resettled to mainly the US and countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway Denmark, Netherlands and the UK. But there are fears that not all refugees will resettle. After all it is an opt-in project and not all refugees desire a life in a completely alien western society ultimately losing their history, religion and way of life in due time. Some 10,000 refugees have not opterd for resettlement. Let alone the other more than 4,000* refugees that have not been registered as refugees for a variety of reasons. They do however live in those camps without food, healthcare and proper housing. (* The number is based on a headcount by camp management in 2011 and has decreased to a yet unknown figure.)

So something needs to happen. Recently the UNHCR has announced that they can no longer provide vegetables to the refugees, taking out an important element in their diet which is by no means extensive. The effects of not supplying vegetables as of January 2013 will no doubt be deteriorating health of the camps population in the coming years. The reason the UNHCR has given is that they lack a proper budget for this essential food. Which is very strange as the European Union has provided for a over 3 Million Euro budget for the UNHCR for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, continuing the financing of the UNHCR’s operation in regard to those camps. So what is happening?

According to the Beldangi camp secretary, Dhan Bir Subba, (Beldangi is the largest of the two remaining camps) the UN has informed them that the budget is redistributed by the UNHCR to other refugee crisis areas in the world. Basically stating that they simply do no longer see a priority in maintaining proper support to the Bhutanese refugees still living in the camps in Nepal. Which of course is an extra push to get the refugees to the point that they will opt for resettlement. So is this argument used by the UNHCR just a trick to reach a ‘durable solution’ by increasing pressure on the refugee community to resettle completely? And if so, is that ethical?

According to Subba the UNHCR has declared that they have no other option than to decrease the available budget for the Bhutanese exiles in the camps, a ‘Hopson’s choice’ so to speak. The UNHCR has also declared that they will distribute vegetable seeds as an alternative, but as the remaining camps are heavily populated, the availability of enough land to grow crops is a question that remains. The UNHCR seems to have suggested to use the empty huts of resettlers for that purpose.

The chairman of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, Dr Bhampa Rai, who I have het the privilige to interview a number of times concerning the situation of the refugees, has condemned the UNHCR decision. And by all means, the timeline between announcing and stopping vegetable distribution is just over a month, making it impossible for the refugees to grow enough crops for a healthy nutrition, seems irresponsible.

“The decision has created doubts on UNHCR’s intention towards refugees. How can those who themselves survive on delicious vegetables on daily basis decide to stop the supply of the same items for us,” Dr Rai said according to the Bhutan News Service.

The question that this raises is wether the UNHCR is now going to a stage in promoting resettlement to the refugees by disregarding basic human rights like proper nutrition. And that is not all. The Bhutanese refugees feel that they are pressurized by the UNHCR to resettle, which means that they doubt wether they really have a free choince NOT to resettle but continue hoping for repatriation to their motherland.

Apart from the other issues mentioned in the request written by major community leaders to the UNHCR (see the attached letter), the nutrition issue is a very serious decline in the basic care for the refugees and frustrates the mandate of the UNHCR itself. The monthly supply of (only) 500 grams of season vegetables is ending this month. The diet of refugees in the camps will lack one of its important components and is for health reasons undesireable.

It is worrying that the UNHCR is also forbidding the refugee leaders to bring their complaints to the VIP’s who visit the camps. From personal experience working as a journalist in the camps I do know that some issues (like the large numner of unregistered refugees, the deteriorating education in the camps and the mounting crime like identity fraud and even institutionalized fraud) are being kept under the radar. Freedom of press and freedom of speech are just as much at stake as the basic human rights of the camp population. ‘Thou shalt not report negative’ is an adagium in this unmonitored situation.

LETTER-TO-UNHCR

It seems that the UNHCR is building pressure to end the Bhutanese refugee crisis and is not stepping away from methods that should be doubted and discussed on an international level and especially at the European Union, being the main financier of the UNHCR in Nepal.

In the meanwhile malnutrition is something that the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal should fear. The reality of life in the UNHCR managed refugee camps in Nepal is that things are not at all nice and dandy and in fact seem to become worse. But will the international community respond to that?

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

De wereld veranderd niet.

Als documentair kunstenaar wordt ik soms getroffen door analogiën in oude kunst met mijn eigen werk. Christa Zaat, een facebook kunstverzamelaar die een onvoorstelbaar fraaie verzameling Victoriaanse en Edwardiaanse schilderijen op haar facebook gepubliceerd heeft, verraste me met een schilderij van de Engelse schilder Walter Langley. Zijn schilderij ‘Waiting for the boats’ laat vissersvrouwen zien die wachten op de boten die op haringvangst buitengaats waren. Ze kijken met afwachting, spanning en soms angst naar de zee bij de haven. Komen de mannen terug? Zijn alle boten er? Is mijn geliefde er bij? Of mijn zoontje?

Het schilderij laat het leven zien van de vrouwen in mijn familie een paar generaties terug. Mijn opa was immers een visser. En zijn vader ook. De spanning op de gezichten zijn een voorbode van het leed dat mogelijk op de vrouwen wacht. Want als de mannen niet terugkeerden lag nog zwaardere armoede in het verschiet.

Walter Langley (English painter) 1852 – 1922
Waiting for the Boats, 1885

Maar het schilderij riep bij mij nog iets heel anders op. De treffende gelijkenis in de uitdrukking op de gezichten van de vrouwen die ik fotografeerde in een vluchtelingenkamp in Nepal zes weken nadat een brand hun kamp en alles wat ze bezaten verbrandde. Ik weet overigens bijna zeker dat enkelen van hen inmiddels in Amerika of Australië, Nederland of Nieuw Zeeland of in een ander land wonen, begonnen aan een nieuw en minder uitzichtloos maar zeker ook moeilijk bestaan.

© 2011 Alice Anna Verheij
Vluchtelingen vrouwen en kinderen wachtend op hulp, mei 2011 Goldhap Camp, Nepal

De vrouwen op mijn foto wachten op wat er gebeuren gaat. Er wordt die dag hulp gebracht maar of zij daar wat van krijgen is niet duidelijk. De zwaarte van hun bestaan drukt op ze als een loden last en de ogen stralen niet alleen berusting uit maar soms ook wanhoop. Het beeld van deze foto is er slecht één van de honderden, nee duizenden, die op mijn netvlies staan en die ik in vele foto’s en videobeelden heb. Ze doen pijn. En ze motiveren me om door te gaan met wat ik doe: de beelden delen met een ieder die bereid is de ogen open te houden voor het leed van anderen. Mijn vrouwen zijn geen visservrouwen maar vluchtelingen, gevlucht voor een regime dat niet schroomde om een groot deel van het eigen volk het land uit te jagen. Zoals de visservrouwen de slachtoffers waren van hun armoede in een maatschappij die niet voor ze zorgde.

Er is in pakweg honderdvijfentwintig jaar in werkelijkheid niets veranderd. De ogen van zij die het zwaar hebben laten dat zien. In 1885 en in 2011, dezelfde blik, vergelijkbaar leed:

Hierbij nog wat gegevens over Langley’s schilderij voor de liefhebbers (met dank aan Christa):

Langley’s mastery of watercolour allowed him to capture the clear morning light of Cornwall as the fisherwomen wait on the quayside by the seawall in the last few moments of leisure when they are able to share news, knit and read letters from relatives as they await the arrival of the herring fleet that has been away at sea and is returning with the day’s catch. All is still and peaceful before these women’s strenuous daily work begins and the women have to unload and clean the fish. The youngest of the women appears to be concerned about the arrival of the boats, perhaps nervous that not all of them will return; many men were killed in ocean storms. The anxious expression on her young face is in contrast to the weather-beaten skin of the older women who are used to sitting and waiting for the boats. It is this subtle sentiment that Langley was able to capture so convincingly, because he understood the women and their hopes and fears and knew what it was like to be poor and to work hard.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Still no news from Jeetan

I think I have a friend in prison.

At least, he was imprisoned a couple of months ago and until today I’ve not been able to get new information regarding his safety and well being.

My friend Jeetan training refugee kids in a Journalism Training, summer 2011

I am convinced of his innocence to the charges against him. I worked with him for a while and I’ve seen his passion for his people and the youth that he supported and trained. He is a special guy.

I suspect that his arrest has a lot to do with his continuous efforts for the youth in the camps and his work as a writer / poet involved in community work and refugee journalism.

Currently most contacts in Nepal seem more or less frozen or have at least weakened. Partly because some of my friends were resettled to other places on the globe and mostly to the United States. Partly because some of them have been threatened. The effect is that the story of Jeetan (an alias for his real name Jit) is still unclear.

And I find that worrying.

Therefore I repeat the appeal made by the AHRC (Asian Human Rights Council) on his behalf. Here is the story. If you want to support and apeal his case, and I urge you to do so, go to the AHRC website and sign the petition. This is the link.

This is the story of a desperate guy who was arrested unjustly only days before he was supposed to resettle and get a better life elsewhere:

14 May 2012

———————————————————————
NEPAL: Bhutanese refugee tortured and threatened with false charges in Kathmandu

ISSUES: Torture, Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers, Police violence, Arbitrary arrest and detention
———————————————————————

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a 29-year-old Bhutanese refugee, Jit Bahadur Subba, having applied for third country resettlement was arrested from the office of the International organization for Migrant on 27 April 2012. After his arrest, he was kept in illegal detention for two days without receiving any arrest warrant or detention letter in the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Maharajganj, Kathmandu. He was severely tortured under interrogation and threatened that false charges of drug smuggling would be filed against him. He is now detained at Hanumandhoka Police Station and needs immediate medical treatment. He was not allowed to meet with his lawyer without the presence of the police. 

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information we have received, 29-year-old Jit Bahadur Subba lives in the Bhutanese refugee camp, Beldangi II. He belongs to one of the thousands Nepali-speaking families who, after having lived for several generations in Bhutan, were expelled from the country to refugee camps in Nepal twenty years ago. Mr. Subba had applied for resettlement to the USA and was kept in the transit office of the International organization for Migrant (IOM) in Baluwatar, Kathmandu for investigation of his identification documents from 12th to 27th April 2012.

On 27 April 2012 at around 2.30 pm he was arrested from the IOM office by 4 to 5 police officers in civilian clothes. He was not given any reason for his arrest nor was any arrest warrant produced by the police. He was then brought to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Maharajganj, Kathmandu. He was kept there for two days, without being provided with a detention letter or an arrest warrant. He was brought before a judicial authority on 29 April 2012, exceeding the 24-hour delay set up by the constitution for every person who is arrested to be produced before a judicial authority. This amounts to illegal detention.

He was kept in the CIB for two days, reportedly without being provided with any food or water. His family was not informed of his arrest. There he was interrogated regarding his alleged involvement in the forging of a fake passport and of having purchased Nepali citizenship. The first day he was tortured under interrogation by two policemen, wearing civilian clothes. He was slapped across the face a dozen times, the soles of his feet were beaten and the policemen beat him all over his body. Due to the pain he almost lost consciousness. The policemen then interrogated him on other the involvement of other persons in the same charges and, as he could not provide information, the policemen put a packet of drugs in his pocket and threatened to charge him with drug smuggling. As the policemen were wearing civilian clothes, he could not identify their ranks.

On 29th April, he was sent to Metropolitan Police Range, Hanumandhoka, Kathmandu, and was provided with warrant papers. He was produced before Kathmandu District Court on the same day. The court remanded him into custody for five days the first time, and for six days a second time. According to the police his case is under investigation under charges of forgery of citizenship documents and passports.

At no point during his detention was Mr. Subba informed of his legal rights. His lawyer visited him twice: once on 3 May in the office of the District Attorney, Kathmandu, and the second time on 8 May at the MPR Hanumandhoka. In both cases the police refused to allow the lawyer to meet with his client without the police presence. This is in spite of the Interim Constitution of Nepal guaranteeing the right of every person who was arrested to consult a legal practitioner and that the consultation should remain confidential.

The police was also present during the medical check-up of the victim when they sent him to Bir hospital on 7 May. Due to the presence of the police, the victim did not dare mentioning the torture to the doctor and the doctor did not ask about it either. Therefore the presence of the police during the medical examination prevented the victim from getting proper treatment and he was just provided with some anti-allergic medicines.

The victim’s health condition has deteriorated due to lack of proper treatment and the poor conditions in Hanumandhoka detention center. His body is covered with scars of worms and insects and he suffers from sleeplessness.

The victim is very afraid that he may receive further torture and measures must be taken for his protection immediately.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please join us in writing to the authorities listed below to express concern upon learning of the torture inflicted to Mr. Subba and urge the authorities to guarantee his physical and psychological safety. Please demand that an investigation should be launched into the allegations of torture and that the perpetrators should be held accountable. Please further urge the authorities to ensure that no confession extracted under torture could be used in court proceedings against the accused.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment calling for his intervention into this matter.

Alice Anna Verheij
writer, filmmaker, journalist, human rights worker

Twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen op komst.

Vanaf half september tot na sinterklaas worden er twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen gehouden door mij en mijn collega Eveline van de Putte.

Deze slideshow heeft JavaScript nodig.

Van 15 september tot en met 26 oktober is UNFORGOTTEN te zien in de Domkerk in Utrecht. Daarna zal deze tentoonstelling van 10 november tot 7 december te zien zijn in Café & gallerie Quirky in Den Haag.
UNFORGOTTEN is een tentoonstelling met de beste foto’s uit ons bestand van 18.000 foto’s die we in het kader van het Headwind project gemaakt hebben in Nepal, Sikkim (India) en Nederland. De foto’s laten het leven van de vluchtelingen uit Bhutan zien in de kampen in Nepal en gaat in op de resettlement van hun waardoor zij in enkele jaren in diaspora worden gebracht.

  • 15 september – 26 oktober
    Domkerk Utrecht
    Project presentatie en vernissage met live muziek op zondag 23 september om 12.30u.
  • 10 november – 7 december
    Café & galerie Quirky, Tasmanstraat 128 Den Haag
    Vernissage en fundraising dinner (traditioneel Nepalees-Bhutaanse schotel) met live muziek op zaterdag 10 november om 18.00u.
    Reserveren gewenst. Prijs: €20 waarvan €5 gedoneerd wordt aan de Empowerment Foundation voor het Headwind project.


Reserveren is gewenst en kan op 070 3808502 of info@cafequirky.com

* In English *

From September 15 until October 26 UNFORGOTTEN, the photo exhibition, can be seen at the Domchurch in Utrecht. UNFORGOTTEN will be brought there in co-operation with the Domchurch Citypastoraat.
Special presentation of Headwind and UNFORGOTTEN is on Sunday September 23rd at 1 PM.

From November 10 until December 7 UNFORGOTTEN will travel to Cafe & gallery Quirky in the Tasmanstraat 128 in The Hague. The vernissage on Saturday November 10 will be followed by a fundraising dinner at 6 PM. Cost €20 of which €5 is donated to the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind project. Reervations needed and can be made at 070 3808502 or info@cafequirky.com.

Belofte

foto: © 2011 Alice Anna Verheij – Damak, Jhapa, Nepal

Mijzelf beloven
zo onwerkelijk
zo nodig
als kolen
op verterend vuur
van diep verlangen

Ik beloof
lieve mij
terug te keren
naar andere grond
andere kleur
andere geur
ongeacht
drempels
en beren op wegen

De moesson zal
mijn huid strelen
en daar bij de rivier
klinken tempelbellen
en zachte stemmen
die fluisteren
in onbekende taal
doch door mijn hart
wel gehoord
verstaan
gevoeld

Sta mij de geur toe
van versgeplukte thee
geef het blauw
van bergen in de verte
en laat mij dansen
met jullie
en niets mij tegenhouden
geen band sterk genoeg zijn
mijn voeten te binden
want ik ga met ze mee
ik kan niet anders
immers
dan ademen
en leven

(c) 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story. Pre-publication of the novel.

Dear readers,

today I give you a free sample as a pre publication of my latest novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ that is currently in its final stage before publishing. I hope you enjoy it and will get even more curious and interested in this book that I wrote straight from the heart in the summer of 2011 while staying in Nepal for the Headwind project.

This pre publication contains an explanation of the novel, the prologue and the first chapter. Right click on DOWNLOAD to get the PDF file.


As of today I accept pre-orders for the novel. The book price for non Bhutanese will be €17,95 / 1900 NPR / US$ 22, for Bhutanese this will be €9,00 / 990 NPR / US$11 excl. postage and packing.

For preordering please send an email to alice.writes@xs4all.nl and I wil answer with information regarding payment options.

Alice Anna Verheij
author of Headwind, Laxmi’s Story 

Is Nepal police killing a friend?

On April 27 a friend of mine who I value as a respectable journalist and community worker for the Bhutanese refugees in the camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in Nepal was arrested in the IOM office in Kathmandu while waiting for his resettlement to the US to start a new life just like many other exiles through the UNHCR third country resettlement program. Jeet Bahadur Subba (who I know by a different name which is common practice for many Nepali youth) is a Bhutanese exile, writer, poet, community and youth worker who lived in a Bhutanese refugee camp for many, many years. But in stead of many other youth he worked hard for the benefit of the people, especially youth, in the camps. He did that by co-organizing social events, support actions for fire victims and trainings to empower youth and vulnerable groups in the camps.

We traveled together to the fire struck Goldhap an Sanischare camp and on invitation of Caritas gave journalism training to youth in the Beldangi camp last summer. The way he motivated the youth in that training and his passion in doing so was impressive.

Hanuman Dhoka Police Station, Kathmandu

Jeet Subba (I know him as Jeetan) is quite a character, not to be disregarded. We shared passionate conversations and joined effort for the benefit of his people in the camps. He is now detained at the the Hanuman Dhoka police station on charges of document falsification for Nepalis to be resettled to the US and Canada and having a false Nepali passport himself. An accusation of crimes that are threatening honest and justified third country resettlement. If that is true they are a serious accusation and he should be brought to trial.

However, after his arrest Jeet Subba has been severely tortured by Nepal police during the days before he was formally accused. During that time between April 27 and at least May 2 he was the victim of police brutality and threats. The torture methods included hooding, beatings with batons, falanga and the threats of pushing fabricated accusations of drugs smuggling onto him. Jit Subba admitted the accusations after being heavily tortured and will be brought to court as a result af that. During those first days in detention he was not given food or water while being in solitary confinement , not being read his legal rights, not being handed an arrest warrant or detention letter and not being allowed to talk with a lawyer without police presence. After those first days a visiting lawyer from a Nepal based human rights organization found Jit Subba with scars on his body, not being able to stand or walk and scared for his life. A second visit by a lawyer on May 8 after Jit Subba was transferred from the Central Investigation Bureau in Maharajganj, Kathmandu to Hanuman Dhoka police station was again not allowed without police presence. Current information is that Jeet Subba still needs urgent medical treatment as the result of severe torture.

Yesterday the Asian Human Rights Commission requested the prime minister of Nepal to intervene, just like other organizations had done in the past week.

Obviously Nepal police is, if the accusations of torture are true (and they are confirmed by multiple sources), way out of line on many grounds. From illegal arrest to illegal confinement, torture, threats of framing a citizen, not allowing legal support and not adhering to the Nepal interim constitution in regard to human rights. This is a very serious matter because with everything that is now known the question rises why they do that.

Fact is that journalists working for the Bhutanese exiles in Nepal have continuously experienced trouble ranging from threats and abuse to extremely slow processing of their files for their resettlement resulting in unnecessary prolonged life in the refugee camps. This seems not only to be the case for active journalists but also for community workers.

From a personal angle I have to state that I have witnessed incidents and heard experiences from people I got to know while filming the situation concerning Bhutanese exiles in Nepal. Those incidents and experiences strengthen me in my conviction that also in this case the truth lies far from what Jit Subba is being accused of. For me it is obvious that human rights of Bhutanese exiles are structurally abused by the authorities. This concerns community workers, unregistered refugees and others who are left in limbo on their position and the way the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR is executed in some cases. The claim that Jit Subba was having a Nepali passport on him is something that is for me not surprising knowing the despair of youth who are actively supporting their own people with the side effect of seeing their own third country resettlement not happening. Eighteen years in a refugee camps can drive people crazy up to the point that out of despair they’ll do anything to escape to a better and more human life.

Jit Bahadur Subba seems to be the victim of this and might very well be proven innocent after a transparent and honest police inquiry. The fact that he has been severely tortured by police is by now undeniable, which is a disgrace for a country that is in the process of finalizing a new constitution aimed at bringing peace and order.

If nothing happens I will have to fear for the life of someone I regard a friend.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Uitersten

Foto: © 2011 Alice Verheij – een vriend die nu gevangen zit en gemarteld is

De laatste maanden, weken en dagen is het alsof de ingewikkeldheid van het leven me influisterd dat er iets is veranderd. Het lukt mij ondanks alle pogingen niet los te komen van een wereld zo ver van de mijne maar zo diep in mijn hart gedrongen. Terwijl ik worstel om in deze rijke wereld te overleven aan de ondergrens van het bestaan is het me onmogelijk niet de taal te laten stromen. Maar de taal doet soms pijn.

Ze vertelt me de verhalen van een vriend die in een cel gemarteld wordt en het leven niet zeker is en het kind dat met haar moeder en zusjes uit het krot is gezet bij een rivier in een stad waar andere regels gelden dan in mijn wereld. Ik hoor de verhalen van mensen zonder licht die ondanks hun verlies in staat zijn verder te leven en eigenlijk vooral mooier zijn geworden en ik geniet met een vriend van wat we ervaren. De volgende morgen wordt ik overspoeld door beelden van ver weg en ik voel de verhalen van het leed van diegenen die verjaagd zijn van wat hun ‘huis’ was, ze galmen door mijn hoofd. De hele dag voel ik me wankel en machteloos. Dan komt het bericht dat die vriend niet meer gemarteld wordt en ik besef dat hij desondanks een mens zonder toekomst is geworden.

Natuurlijk vertaald het zich in teksten want dat is nu eenmaal mijn ademtocht. Waar het leven naar mij lacht kan ik niet voorkomen dat die teksten over pijn gaan. Niet zozeer mijn pijn als de pijn van de wereld. De pijn die niet geweten wordt van mensen die niet gezien worden. Voor deze mensen is dit lied.

‘Kepen in mijn hart’

Terwijl de niet zienden zien
en ik slechts observeer
Wanneer de wereld sluimert
en ik me niet verweer
Gaan tijdens het zingen van het lied
mijn gedachten alweer
naar de man in pijn en zijn verdriet
in zijn cel doet alles zeer

Beelden kerven kepen in mijn hart
Geluiden echoën ongezegde pijn
Geuren herinneren aan smart
En toch zal er altijd nog liefde zijn

Wanneer ik dan alsnog ontwaak
uit mijn ongedroomde droom
Beelden zie van mensen verjaagd
wijzigt mijn hart opnieuw van toon
Het kind zonder een dak vandaag
zegt: ik weet niet waar ik woon
ik hoor haar o zo stille vraag
en toch hou ik mijn hart in toom

Beelden kerven kepen in mijn hart
Geluiden echoën ongezegde pijn
Geuren herinneren aan smart
En toch zal er altijd nog liefde zijn

Terwijl de niet zienden zien
heb ik een licht verloren
Wanneer de wereld sluimert
en niemand haar wil horen
Gaan tijdens het zingen van het lied
mijn gedachten steeds weer
naar dat kind met haar verdriet
en de man valt in zijn cel neer

Beelden kerven kepen in mijn hart
Geluiden echoën ongezegde pijn
Geuren herinneren aan smart
En toch zal er altijd nog liefde zijn
Toch zal er altijd nog liefde zijn

Alice © 2012

Skies over Chitwan.

Last year around this time (well almost) I was in Chitwan in Nepal. When I was there I did the usual and the unusual. The usual being the elephant ride, the unusual was falling in love with a wonderful Nepali women with whom I traveled. It didn’t last in spite of our mutual equal feelings, I suppose culture and personal change where in the way. Now, I am past the hurt and only cherish the memory.

The elephant ride however brought me some photos that are truly special. Because of the weather, the environment, the specific moment of the day and the company I was with. One photo in particular is cherished by me because of its composition and the amazing sky that brought a touch of mystery to the photo. As if the Chitwan Nature Reserve isn’t mystifying enough in itself. Here I share that photo with you showing the workers carrying their load past the impressive but unimpressed elephants close by under an exciting sky. Nothing was manipulated in this picture concerning composition and color. It is just like it was at that moment.

It was July 16, 2011 with my then love at my side on top of an elephant in the late afternoon.

photo: Alice Verheij © 2011  – ‘Chitwan Elephants’

Although there are a lot of wonderful things in my life right now, I do miss my days in Nepal and will keep my friends there in my heart. It has become my second home for as far as I am concerned and I will praise the day I can set foot on Nepal soil again. For sure I will return to Chitwan then.

Alice © 2012

Six women.


Video courtesy of Bhutan News Service, filmed at Beldangi 2 on April 29, 2012

Six Women

Six women who do not exist
Waiting till death hard fist
Self chosen fate

Because their life is no life
No joy, not even for a while
Too often betrayed

Eyes directed the other way
Don’t see their loss, hear their say
They are not there

No one stands in front and stays
Or takes away their pains
In defence

When police throws them in a car
Resistance broken, no help so far
In their despair

Treated as if without rights
Because politics always decides
To force them to live

Alice © 2012

I feel powerless in support of these women I’ve met and respect deeply for their perseverence.
It’s always the women that pay the price in international conflicts and international disregard. 

More information on how these women are treated, lied at and cheated can be found elsewhere on this website and on www.bhutannewsservice.com

The benefits of being ill (for a while).

Sometimes life travels at lightspeed for some. The reasons why are usually a totally unpredictable combination of events, challenges, situations and probably more known factors like character, emotion, personality, ambition and health. For me it’s not difficult to attach something personal to all of these words but the last one has, for the time being, become like the sand in the machine. And that was about time.

There’s no need or ambition in me to go through that whole string of words but a few things are at this moment determining my life in the short term. That is until expectedly the end of this year.

So I fell ill. An intense flu crossed my path and although that is no drama at all for me it meant that I for the first time in many months was forced to take a break. If only for a week or two. And taking a brake from work, obligations, efforts and ambitions forces one to think. Usually.

In the coming months is a lot of work waiting for me and with a lot of luck I’ll be able to get it done before summer. The long awaited novel is getting printed and so are two photobooks. The latter two however still have to be produced from ground up and that is quite a job even for someone like me who is able to make beautifully layouted work in a relative short timespan. And then of course there’s the big one. The film. Still so much to do and so much of it only possible to be done by me. It was, is and will be the biggest time consumer for at least another couple of months. That isn’t everything on the agenda. Because I am turning this work of writing, filming, photographing and publishing my profession rapidly. I know exactly what I want to do in the next part of my life and in fact I have been doing that already since about two years. It feels good, it is me out there doing what I love.

But there’s also the demonic shadow of the past preventing me to build a business of it in my home country because of a business past gone bad (nothing special there either but the left overs are still quite unmanageable). So if I want to do what I do on a solid basis I will have to work internationally. The good news is, I love that. Still, being stranded by illness for a while does force me to revise plans. Not in the least because when out of the performance loop the mind starts asking questions. Making reality checks. And so plans change.

Sure, I still will start to work from abroad for a large portion of the year as soon as it can be arranged. Economics will decide when, I decide if. But the timelines and the way this will happen shift, turn and change. It is not realistic for me to work from Nepal as a home base. I will however keep visiting the country I love so dearly and keep following, filming and reporting the fate of my Bhutanese friends in and around the refugee camps. Not because I promised but because I see that as an obligation to do so. There are more angles to the Nepalese society and the developments of Nepal that I want to report about. But it will never be my only world.

I am still a novel writer and that will not change, just like my love for writing poetry and songs for entertainment. So there will always be times when I am not in Asia or anywhere else for local reporting or filming but in stead I’ll be somewhere, anywhere, writing a novel. And the topic will not necessarily be connected to previous work because my very being as a literary artist doesn’t allow fixation.

So what does all of this mean for the plans I had and for a part still have?

Well, I am the journalist writer, photographer and filmer interested and focussed on human and women rights in South Asia. No doubt about that. But maybe after finishing the film not for this year anymore. Probably if not almost certainly next year again. But I am also the heremit writer in a soft spot somewhere writing that next novel. The sort of novel is already decided and quietly I am starting up research for it already. It is going to be very different from previous work, a challenge to write (that’s never a surprise) and a very special book. And I will also every now and then take the stage with a song or a short story in whatever show with dear theatre friends.

It will mean that I will not leave my country permanently. It will mean that I will leave my country intermittently, sometimes for long periods. But I’ll always be back for long periods. Like this year. Because this year, after the dust has settled of the books and the film and the two years of work involving the Bhutanese exiles issue, I will take a break for something very different, to keep myself in shape and not loose myself in one topic to work on and to take care that my mind stayes free. (I will not drop the topic of the Bhutanese, I can’t but it will be not the main focus for some time.)

Sometime this summer the real work on my new novel will start in traditional writing style. Designing the essence of the story, the plot if there is one to be, the characters, events, images and emotions. It will be England from roughly the end of the 19th century until the 1930’s. It will be distiguished romantic painters and one specific exquisitly beautiful model. A girl who became a model by fate and lost that work also by fate, never known by the public by her real name because she was not so high class savvy as that other famous painters model in that time but by the names of Greec goddesses or biblical Heroïns and who faded away in history but by her image remained unforgettable. I long to write about the life and loves of that woman who was once ‘Flaming June’. And this novel is one that will take quite some time to write wether I am in the flow or not. But it is a certainty that this will be my next major work.

Alice © 2012

Another step on Nepal’s long march to peace.

In between 1996 and 2006 Nepal was caught in a civil war. The Maoists euphemistically named it the Peoples War. It was a medium scale civil war which started with the aim to overthrow the Nepal monarchy. It was started and led by Maoist insurgents and forces within Nepal. When unexpectedly the royal family assassination took place in 2001 (many blame the former crown prince but the cause of the event was never completely unveiled) the country was brought into further turmoil. It ended with a peace accord on November 21, 2006. The then king abdicated and Nepal became a federal republic. A democratic republic also as a parliament was instated and efforts started to draft a new constitution. In 2012 the country still doesn’t have a completed draft for the new constitution let alone an installed one. It still lives under parliamentary supported government guided regime and is still in the process of becoming a peaceful democratic country. The good thing is that Nepal has been able to rebuild society into a more open and democratic one and many Nepalis are actively involved in constructing their nation.

Maoist forces in training (photo courtesy of Khairul Today)

Still, a lot of problems, challenges if you will, exist. Crime rate is high especially concerning trafficking of women and children, drugs trafficking and domestic and gender based violence. The Maoist forces have still not completely integrated in the Nepal society and the level op corruption although being the glue in society is very high. Nepal is for all intents and purposes a very complicated country. Poverty is all around but at the same time Nepal has become one of the most attractive tourist countries in South Asia. After all, Chomolungma (‘mother of the universe’ as the Tibetan’s call her) is overlooking the country and with the name Mount Everest it attracts large number of western tourists to the country. And because of that attention and the mystification of the former Hindu kingdom many westerners are confronted with the vast amount of problems that Nepali society faces. Resulting in an extreme large number of NGO’s working in the country with volunters from all over the globe.

What’s lacking is a strong connection on political level with the international community. Reasons for that being that the international community is pre occupied with Africa and the Middle East and everything in the Himalayas seem to be under control. But is everything under control?

Nepal is walking the tightrope. Just today the Nepali army finally took over the maoist army camps which is a major step towards lasting peace. The Maoist are a force to reckon with. They have a formal position in Nepal’s parliament, just as the other communist parties have. The current governent after all is a Marxist/Leninist led government. The Congress Party with it’s traditional India link is currently not in the government seat but has been there for long. None of the parties have a majority. New elections are still not there because there is no new constitution as the drafting process is continuously sabotaged by some of the political parties involved and because of that it is unclear how the democratization and constitutional processes in the country will evolve in the coming years. Which is a pitty as they started off so well in 2006. The drafting process of the new constitution involves a couple of revolutionary novelties in South Asian politics and rule, like the formal dismissal of the caste system that has held the whole population captive for hundreds of years, the introduction of third gender as a legal and equal foundation for lesbians, gays and transgenders and the rights to education and health care for all citizens. Those are few of the amazing changes that this newly drafted constitution will bring to beautiful Nepal. When it gets there and if it gets there.

In the meanwhile the world economic crisis has hit the country hard. Energy is problematic as 100% of the oil reserves are managed by India and the production of electricity is way below the needs of the country. These two resulting in a hampering of economic activitities to an unacceptable level and gross unrest under the Nepali population. This, in combination with strong corruption and a weak and instabel government is continuously leading to bandhas (strikes) in the country. Especially in the densily populated and economic all important south of Nepal. The number of undisturbed working days available to build the economy is terrifying low. And then there still is that silent force of Maoist forces that has its position and power in the country and still has the risk of resurrecting itself if the political situation becomes undesirable for them. They have laid heir weapons down and are being integrated in the Nepal armed forces, their camps are now being taken over and at Thribuvan Airport there now is one checkpoint and not two (one of which was a seperate Maoist checkpoint). Their visible role in everyday life is decreasing fast and the Maoist veterans are slowly becoming part of the greater Nepal society. At least, that’s how it seems. But there are still political killings in the country and press freedom is threatened by continuous attacks on journalist. The government, being not very strong, is unable to dismantle the Maoist forces as they are in fact part of the current political system. And maybe they shouldn’t even try.

The good news is that today the Maoist army camps are no longer Maoist army camp but army camps from the Nepal army. That at least reduces the number of different armed forces in the country. The bad thing is that it didn’t happen voluntary but because of unrest in the camps making the handover of the camps two days earlier than planned to prevent outbreaks of violence.

Still, it’s a small but important step on Nepal’s log march to peace.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Mijn eindeloos verlangen naar geel.

Sangamcwok, Damak, Jhapa in the East terai in Nepal (photo © 2012 Alice Verheij)

Bladerend door de beelden die ik niet los kan laten vecht mijn hoofd met mijn hart een titanengevecht. Een hoofd dat me dwingt om los te laten, als is het maar voor een tijdje, dat in mijn hart gevangen is als de tatoeage in mijn huid. En hoe hart ik het ook probeer, mijn hoods verliest het telkens weer van mijn eindeloos verlangen naar kleuren die hier onvindbaar zijn.

Mijn-eindeloos-verlangen-naar-geel-2.mp3

Mijn eindeloos verlangen naar geel.

Nog immer is het geel gebrand op mijn netvlies
die glans van de uitbundig bloeiende mosterd.
Geen geel ken ik dat in intensiteit zozeer gelijk is
aan het rood van de tika die bij mij gezet werd.

De geur van het veld vast genesteld in mijn neus
mijn vingers voelen ongedacht nog steeds het blad.
Geen zintuig kan nog mijn gevoel ontsnappen
of het eindeloos versmelten met mijn hart.

De dag heeft voor mij allang geen inhoud meer
is onvergelijkbaar met mijn dromen in de nacht.
Mijn ogen spreken niet meer mijn moedertaal
ik verbeid de tijd en leng ongewild mijn wacht.

Ik weiger de gedachte die mij ’t ondenkbare zegt
de angst dat ik verbonden blijf aan deze grond
dwingt mij dat ik mij sterk en dat ik vecht
negeer dat schoonheid mij ernstig heeft verwond.

Geen maand, geen etmaal, geen uur, geen minuut
ja geen seconde laat mijn hart mijn hoofd vrij
het doet mij het juist voelen onder het borstbeen
hamerend, jagend, kloppend, dwingend in mij.

Het geel, dat verzengende geel, zit in mijn hoofd
en zal mij bij leven onmooglijk kunnen verlaten
het maakt mij gek van een onpeilbaar verlangen
naar zand in plaats van stenen op de straten.

Het wachten is te oneerlijk aan het worden
bedrukt me, beneemd me bijna zefls de adem.
Geen vezel in mijn lijf wil hier nog langer zijn
geen cel er van gunt mij nu nog genade.

Mijn hoofd verliest ’n gevecht dat ’t nooit kon winnen
want de donkerte van mijn gedachten sterft versneld
onder de uitbundigheid van de kleur van mijn zinnen
terwijl mijn lijf ’t eindloos verlangen aan mij verteld.

Nog immer is het geel gebrand op mijn netvlies
die glans van de uitbundig bloeiende mosterd
Geen geel bestaat dat in intensiteit gelijk is
aan het rood van de tika door jou bij mij gezet.

Alice © 2012

Approaching 50 and throwing a party.

In a couple of weeks I will be celebrating my fiftiest birthday. Damn. Never thought I would reach that. Sound old where I don’t feel old. The latter being a good thing I guess. And although I hate celebrating birthdays I will make an exception this year. For two reasons:

1. it’s fair to my kids and best friends.
2. it’s also fun having a birthday for once but on my conditiions.

So people are invited and any others are not welcome. Because this is a friends thing. Chairs are also not invited. We have carpets and pillows and such. And all kinds of musical stuff laying around. Simply stuff, don’t worry. And for the ones who do not feel the urge to make noise: you don’t have to. As long as you do sing along because we will sing. It’s gonna be an evening with special songs, Shaffy and others coming along. It’s gonna be a night with food, fun, songs and friends.

The food will be Nepalese. Traditional with a European touch. Dal baat (rice with lentils), tarkari (veggies), naan (bread) and some curries. And for the rest of it tea, water, juice, wine and most important of all: good moods! No fancy stuff and NO, repeat NO gifts!

So the past few weeks I’ve been practising Nepali cooking in semi-private. Meaning sometimes an occasional friend has had to endure. They’re still alive an kicking so I guess it’s ok. The more tricky bits are tried on myself. I still live so I guess that also was good. The biggest challenge is of course making a good, no great, curry. And I have some tricks up my sleave. Like using Turkish 10% fat yoghurt to smoothen things up and use my own mix of masala. Which I will not disclose what is included in it. And I also started fooling around with the rice. So now I can make a nice yellow rice but also a red / pink rice. Which is surprisingly nice.

The veggies are another story. Thank Shiva Nepal is growing similar vegetables that we have over here so I play a little with that. And with some fruits of course. The food is one of the main things to prepare. The rest will follow.

Anyway, I hope you’all come whose invited. Ma timilai mayo garchu. See you guys then and if anyone wants to give a hand cooking you are most welcome! You know when cause you’ve got the invite.

Love,

Alice

New flyer for Headwind available for immediate distribution.

In a last CALL FOR ACTION the Headwind production team is working together with the new eu1.tv pan European tv channel (available on cable and internet) by Ziggo and UPC. In the coming week both the new trailer as a new way of crowdfunding will be published on the eu1.tv website. To support that effort we will distribute flyers on the Movies That Matter film festival starting off in The Hague on March 22 at the Filmhuis.

Alice
director and producer of Headwind 

This is the flyer:

A letter to the Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program.

Today I have send the following email to the Fulbright Program. In astounishment after reading an article of some time ago that was published in an American newspaper about a scholar who was granted a scholarship to go studying Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.

This is the link to the article in the Portland Herald and before that published in the Sentinel.
This is of course the link to the article written by Kai Bird in The Nation.

Dear Fulbright people,

today I’ve read this article in The Portland Press Herald concerning a scholarship for a study by Mrs. Gretchen Lechler who plans to travel to Bhutan to study Gross National Happiness:
I am amazed and quite honestly astounded by this.
Because yesterday I read this article by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird about the Bhutanese diaspora and the cost of that for the US, the international community, Bhutan and the Bhutanese refugees:
I have personally spend six months in 2011 in Nepal to work on the first feature length documentary about the Bhutanese exile and the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR and it’s effects. So I know very well the reality of Bhutan. By experience.
It is totally flabagasting to see a US government funded organization to spend a load of money on a scholarship for studying the myth of Gross National Happiness in a country that is in reality percentagewise the largest ethnic cleansing country in recent history. Especially since it is the same US government that has started the resettlement effort on request of the UNHCR and is actually welcoming over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees to become US citizens.
This scholarship is a disgrace, as is this study that Mrs. Lechler is undertaking. There is no way that Gross National Happiness can be objectively studied without extensive visiting of the Bhutanese refugee camps and realizing that a large portion of the Bhutanese people is all but happy.
I sincerely request your organization to think again because by this scholarship Fulbright is actually passively supporting human rights violations. And preferably, to request Mrs. Lechler to study GNH in the Bhutanese community in exile. To do that she doesn’t even have to leave the US. If needed I can provide all relevent contacts for that and am more than willing to assist in any possible way.
With kind regards,
Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
The Hague, Netherlands / Kathmandu, Nepal
Alice © 2012

Pulitzer Price winner’s article republished on Headwind website.

Today The Nation granted me the rights to republishing an article written by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird on the Headwind website. Kai Bird’s article is an excellent account of recent history concerning the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile in the early ninetees of last century, the ongoing resettlement of Bhutanese refugees and the long term to be expected effects of this on the position of Bhutan, it’s king and government.

Kai Bird won the Pulitzer Prize with his excellent co-authoring on a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘invertor’ of the atomic bomb. Mr. Bird has work for many years in the Middle East and has recently published his autobiographic ‘Crossing Mandelbaum Gate‘ about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and how he has lived, grown and endured in the region. Mr. Bird has lived for some time in Kathmandu, Nepal and recently traveled to Bhutan and was a guest of the royals.

‘The Enigma of Bhutan’ is an absolute must read for anyone interested in the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile, the ongoing largest UNHCR third country resettlement project and the effects of this all on Bhutan.

The article is published in The Nation’s March 26, 2012 issue and can be read on the website of the Nation and on the Headwind website.

Alice

Being lesbian (1920’s – 2010’s).

I live a quite liberal life. In my own country and my own culture. Which means I do not hide my gender or my sexual prevalence. Of course I am open about both as my friends, family and readers know. After all, it’s 2012 and we live in a modern world, don’t we?

Image

1928 American Novel

But this is certainly not true everywhere. There are still many societies and cultures (and / or religions) that disapprove homosexuality and transgenderism. And being confronted with that after many years of being out of the closet is ehm, well ehm, confronting… Without giving away too much details I can safely say that it’s ok to be lesbian and travel and work in Nepal. As long as you stay beneith the radar. So for most of the time I did so. On the few occasions that I was open on myself I received mixed reactions. Some people, including my best friends there, didn’t make a fuss. Others however said they didn understand and as for most people the standard question for a western woman traveling alone is “do you have a husband?”. When answering no most people gave me some sort of pityful look and sometimes even said: “oh how sad.”. In most cases I didn continue conversation on the relationshsip line so that was it. And some specific situations turned awkward when people simply said “We don have that in our society.” Which is of course total crap.

I do honor other cultures and religions I am not familiair with so I just go things out of the way. Why would I make life more difficult than necessary?

But then love strikes and after an initially good time things turned for the worse. And I learned. The hard way. I learned that some things are simply not possible in traditional societies for all kinds of reasons. And I realized that although in many places on the globe people like me are gathered equal to anyone else there still are many, many places where that is certainly not true. That in itself makes me sad. Very sad. Because it takes away the opportunity for that one most beautiful thing on earth: love.

This world is not as modern is it looks like. Unfortunately.

Alice (c) 2012