Call for Action: the importance of free Bhutanese journalism in Nepal.

A couple of days ago I wrote an article on this website to advocate the role of journalism for the Bhutanese community in exile. I did that after a fire incident hit the Beldangi 2 refugee camp near Damak in the Jhapa district of Nepal. The whole situation concerning information flow of the events proved the importance of adequate and independent journalism in the region.

Yesterday I received further information on the challenging situation the free journalists focussing on the Bhutanese refugees / exiles are. For many years now they have been covering the situation and major events for this large group of people with almost no financial means. On their own pockets and with little support from abroad. And because these journalists are refugees themselves they have to be careful as they are not issued formal journalists status in Nepal. Refugees are not allowed to do paid work outside the refugee camps.

Journalists and community workers from Bhutan Media Society bringing relief to fire victims in Sanischare camp,
Morang District, Nepal, summer 2011. (Photo © 2011 Alice Verheij)

Their challenges are not only financial. Due to the nature of long term refuge in camps (more than 20 years now) it is only logical that tensions rise frequently inside the refugee community inside the camps and the Nepalese communities around these camps and in nearby villages. Working as a journalist coming from the refugee community means that one has to toe the line quite often. Some of these men (unfortunately only men are doing this work) are threatened or even abused. The work can easily become from relaxed to difficult to dangerous. Only their perseverance and conviction that free journalism is the essence of a free peoples has been and still is keeping them active.

Bhutan is not a free country and threats are often coming from Bhutan to the more active refugees in the community who inevitable critisize the government of their country that has exiled them. Nepal is not a completely democratic and liberal country although much progress has been made in the past six years after the revolution that abolished the monarchy. In present day Nepal there still is an instable government and freedom of press is not something that can be taken for granted. The number of attacked journalists is unfortunately impressive. This poses an extra danger to the work of the Bhutanese journalists in exile.

Lastly there is the massive UN guided resettlement going on. This means that some of the group of active young journalists are leaving the area to be resettled in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmakr, the UK or the Netherlands. So continuous refreshment of resources is essential to keep proper journalistic work alive and news regarding the situation in the refugee camps flowing. It is therefore that a lot of things are needed. Equipment, training and good connections with the journalistic community in Nepal and abroad.

Much of what is needed is still there but to be honest journalism is endangered strongly. These journalists need support. Urgently. Their running cost mounts to some 535 dollars per month to keep the websites online and the journalists at work. That amount of money is needed for transport and media access and normal running costs. Thankfully there is a free news agency setup some years ago. The Bhutan News Service. They as a group are connected with a community aid group the Bhutan Media Society and they keep the websites www.bhutannewsservice.comwww.apfanews.com and www.radiobhutanonline.com alive and kicking.

And now they are about to go down. The funds are exhausted, there are no reserves available and support is low. The exiled community globally is not economically alive to the level that it can be expected that they on their own will be able to cater for the cost.

I myself have been working with these journalists extensively in the past one and a half year. I know their qualities and their sacrifices. I know what they can do and I know that if they can no longer work that the effect will destroy one of the last remains of freedom for the Bhutanese living in the camps in Nepal.

CALL FOR ACTION

If you want to help them, please contact me through email at alice.verheij@xs4all.nl. I would like to work with anyone who understands the importance of free journalism in refugees communities and am able to channel support to the right people and organizations. Any media organization, Journalistic educational facility or individual journalist is kindly requisted to contact me and step in to build a proper financial backing for these young and strong journalists and to facilitate training facilities for the upcoming generation of free Bhutanese journalists.

Alice Verheij © 2012
director Headwind (www.headwindfilm.com)
friend of Bhutan Media Society

Advertenties

Headwind and bad times.

Within a couple of weeks my world has turned for the worse. I experience a shitload of headwind.

For whatever reason my love left me, the exact reasons are still a bit unclear although some hints are there. No one to blame. After that came creative crisis. Poetry is far away, theatre performance went well but the videorecording failed tragically (can’t do camera and perform at the same time) and a few days ago my allowance was decreased with more than 30% leaving me with not enough money to live. Rent, health care and normal dayli things leave me without enough money for food. Hard times ahead. And to top it all the effort of finishing Headwind is for whatever reason anyone has until now still more than 90% depending on me. Too little support, to little progress, too little co-operation. It is so clear that if I would stop working on this film it will never hit the screens. That alone makes that this is essence a film made by with. With some support but not enough by any length. Financially this film project has made gone all the way into post production with a reasonable balance sheet but also with ruining my personal economic life. Productionwise it still is mainly me effort, no matter what has been tried so far to expand that effort and have others become co-creators. Currently I am doing camera, audio recording, soundtrack building, audio and video editing, directing and 90% of the producing, writing and financing myself. That is not a good feeling at all.

So I have to get back in fighting mode but somehow I really can’t. Too damned tired of it all. Because doing this all on my own is just too much. But ok, I’ll put up another fight, like I’ve always done but there is little pleasure left in my life especially as I feel so very much displaced with my heart and emotions left in Nepal and my body in this cold, grey and cynical country. From whatever perspective my personal life is a total shambles. Single, desolated, technically bankrupt and creatively worn out. This time the fight is extra tough and I have no idea how long it will take to get on my feet again.

A few things are clear however.

I will finish my film no matter what happens and my finished novel will be published. No idea where or how to get thefunds for it, but it will certainly be finalized in the coming two months. After that all I do will be connected with making my personal life manageable, because at this stage it certainly isn’t. And when that point is reached I will be gone. Leaving this country for as long as possible beause I do not want to spend the rest of my life in this land. I cannot survive here and I feel out of place an useless. I hope that some time soon I will be able to go and place my life in the hands of whatever God / Gods and dedicate what’s left of it to writing, filming and showing the western world the gravity of life in South Asia. Because it is high time that that region with all it’s challenges becomes more known to the west.

I feel I am finished here and as always before in my life I know that this means I have to go elsewhere. And no matter what, I will be able to finish what I started and what I love to do when I feel a bit better: finishing Headwind and bringing my work to the screen. And that is not easy, not easy at all. But it certainly is worth all the crap that is happening to me. Because there are people waiting for that film to come to their screens. Unfortunately in the west most people don’t give a damn about knowing the reality of forgotten exiles let alone support the making of a film. In the end it is like with most guerilla filmers: you make it because there is no way not to do that, wether anyone is interested or not.

Alice © 2012

About the need for free journalism for the Bhutanese in exile.

A couple of days ago a fire ravished a part of the Beldangi 2 Bhutanese refugee camp in the southeast of Nepal near the little town of Damak. I know that camp well as I have spend there a lot of time filming my upcoming documentary ‘Headwind’. There were no fatalities or severe injuries and that of course is both a good thing and a miracle. Knowing the situation in the camp and knowing where in the camp that fire was I can safely state that swift action of the inhabitants of Beldangi 2 who demolished some 35 huts to prevent the fire spreading has saved them from a disaster like the one that took place on March 22 2011 in the Goldhap camp which was almost completely incinerated. This time ‘only’ some 250 people have lost their huts, their homes.

During the hours of the fire incident and in the wee hours of yesterdays morning I reported on the incident on my website mirroring and analyzing the information given to me through different channels I have with people in Nepal and outside of Nepal and who had direct access to witnesses at the scene. That has made it possible to be clear on the status of the incident and be clear on the fact that no casualties were to be counted, a thing that is of great importance to all Bhutanese who have family and friends living in that camp. I tried to be as objective as possible and continued checking facts and figures by referencing the information coming at me. Hopefully I did that well enough to serve the community. Looking at the statistics of my website it is obvious that the news regarding the fire was well read by many people in a very short span of time. I am pretty sure that a lot of Bhutanese have read the information I gave.

One thing that has become very clear is the fact that it is totally impossible to have any news concerning incidents like this spread to the global community (and international media if needed) without the presence of journalists in the area. Most of the people I connect with are young journalists who are taking their voluntary task as a non profit journalist very serious and they have once again proven to be the backbone of news and information gathering and publishing for the Bhutanese community.

But their work is under grave threats. Let me explain.

First of all none of them are regarded as professional journalists because they are refugees themselves and therefore not allowed to work as a journalist. This means they have no press cards and no legal protection like other journalists do have.

Secondly, a lot of them are themselves being resettled and the more experienced in that group of very motivated young people are quite indispensable for free journalism in and around the refugee camps.

Thirdly, they are lacking professional equipment and good connections for swift response even though some equipment was brought to them recently.

And besides all that they have only limited support for their work.

Still, there are some media initiatives that have proven to be of great value and some of them have been working in this area for years. Websites like Bhutan News Service , Media Network Bhutan and the newly instated e-paper The Refugee Herald are well managed regarding the circumstances they have to work under. These guys need support, continuously. Support from international media and support from the global Bhutanese community. Their work is of increasing importance now that the resettlement of the refugees is going fast. Within a couple of years most of the refugees will have been resettled, but not all of them will leave. Many (some think maybe up to 15,000) will stay in the camps after resettlement closes in 2015 as the UNHCR has hinted. Who will tell their stories if local journalism has gone? Who will keep relatives and friends informed of their situation from a journalistic angle.

This observation should lead to a call for action. A call fo action to the international journalistic community for support and a call for action to the global Bhutanese community to not let these guys down and support them in supporting the Bhutanese living in the camps and living in diaspora.
For me this means that I will continue reporting and traveling to the region in the coming years and do whatever is in my ability to help out.

Alice © 2012

Aftermath of Bhutanese refugee camp Beldangi 2 fire.

UPDATE :
According to Bhutan News Service the Government of Nepal provided a cash aid of Rs 1000 (less than €10) each for 54 huts razed by fire on Friday morning. However, no donations have been made available to households whose huts were destroyed while preventing the mishap. Around three dozen of huts fall in this category, according to Camp Secretary of Beldangi camp. The current price for a hut is around Rs 2400 at least.
This means that some 30 families will not be rehoused if they are not financially supported and all other victims will not be able to rebuild their huts completely without financial support.
It is only natural that UNHCR is pressed to add funds from the refugee budget for this needed support. Unless anyone else brings in these needed funds!

The fire is under control and extinguished. The number of destroyed huts is according to one source 85 huts with 250 displaced refugees who are now housed in the English language school for the time being. More info will become available after some time. The location of the start of the fire is known and the cause is being researched.

Tragically the fire started in the hut of the former camp secretary of Goldhap camp, his family now been struck by massive fire for the third time in 4 years.

Luckily enough there seem to be no casualties and international aid organizations have arrived at the scene to scale up relief work. There were problems with late arrival of fire squads. No human casualties have been reported according to the Bhutan News Service sources. More information is available on www.bhutannewsservice.com.


video courtesy of Kumar Mishra / Bhutan News Service 

This information came to me while events were still happening:

The fire inferno in bel 2, nearly more then 300 huts burnt.
 Police say investigation is under proces.
 3 water tankers still r trying to control fire bt not progres.
 Fire begain at 1.09 am acording 2 eye witnesses n stil going on....

Beldangi 2 is struck by fire again. Every year there are fires in this time of year. Last year in March an enormous fire destroyed the Goldhap camp that was dismantled last summer with it’s inhabitants moving to the Beldangi camps. And now that camp caught fire in the night. The fire started in sector B/2 after 1 am local time this Friday. Because this was a nightly fire it was very difficult to get under control but by preventively dismantling around 35 huts the camps inhabitants have been able to prevent further spread of the fire.

Affected area is on the left of the central crossing in the camp. (Map by Google Maps)

photo courtesy of Kumar Mishra / Bhutan News Service 

Beldangi 2 is currently the most densely populated Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal with refugees recently arriving from the Timay camp. Fires are one of the main hazards of camp life and are the immediate result of a combination of factors. Huts are constructed of materials that catch fire easily, in the period February to May there is little rain, rising temperature and sometimes strong winds making small fires spread quickly, the huts are build very close together increasing the risk of fires jumping to other huts and to top it all there is no fire squad stationed at the camps. Fire squads will have to come from Damak (4 km’s) and places like Itihari and Kakarbitta making swift response impossible. The effect of the latter being important time loss when fires do break out and therefore increasing the risk of massive camp fires. The Beldangi camp has this time been very lucky that the didn’t spread and destroy a much larger portion of the camp as happened last year at the Goldhap camp. Especially now that the Beldangi camp has recently been repopulated with refugees from the now dismantled Goldhap and Timay camps. Fires are next to increasing social problems the main worry of everyone who knows the scene.

This report was made possible thanks to swift communication with sources from Bhutan News Service and others in the area.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Missing paradise.


The countryside around Damak, Jhapa, Nepal. Photo: © 2012 Alice Verheij

It’s now almost two months since I left what I consider paradise. With love in my heart. Not long ago that love left me for reasons I will not share. Too sensitive. In these two months the country I traveled, lived, cried, laughed and made great friends never ever left my thoughts for much longer than an hour or so. Actually, I even think that it isn’t even an hour.

I feel sad, depressed and out of place. Homeless. I am most certainly in the wrong place. The ricefields, the fields filled with mustarde plants, the warmth, sun and smiles. The ever blue skies and crystal white mountaintops, the deep green of the forests and the calming and comforting sound of mountain waters streaming onto the plains. The rivers and the monkeys, the chaos on the roads and in the towns, the smells, the food, the colours. It is all not here. I feel like my senses are dimmed constantly as if my body is in a constant sleep with feelings chilled and sensitivity lost.

I live in a nice house, with nice people and except for the problems in my life that are always at the background I live a happy life. When looked upon from the outside. But I live alone and in the wrong place. Every few days I wear my Nepali clothes, they make me feel better. They suit me better. Every day in the mornings and evenings I do Puja, greeting my personal Gods and asking them to take care of my soul. Every day my room is filled with the soft scent of incense and because of the work I do with the sounds of Nepal streets and voices.

Editing our film, my film, is complicated and challenging. It quite often kills me. Not because of technical issues or creative problems but because it fires the longing to unmanageable proportions. All I do is focussed on getting out of here and finding a way to live and work in the country that I have left in January against my will. Because that is what really happened. I have this constant feeling that leaving for ‘home’ was actually leaving my real home. Like abondoning my ship. That feeling has not left me since I set foot on the damned airplane that flew me to this cold country. My best friends here understand that there is nothing that can hold me back from returning to the land I love to that culture that has for a part become mine.

I am a woman with a history that she prefers not to have. With a present that is pushing her down and a future that is uncertain. someone who has lost her old home and not yet been able to move to her new one. Someone who has lost the attachment with the society and life she comes from and who feels the hurting ties with a society that’s at this moment out of reach.  So for my own good I just have to continue and fight, be strong, not cry and not feel down. But work hard to live my dream of leaving this life in the west. If not forever than at least for as long as possible. Because whatever anyone might say or think, I do no longer belong here anymore. I miss my Nepal, I miss Kathmandu, Patan, the Terai and Damak. I never thought that making a film would do this to me.

Alice © 2012

The Party for Happiness / Partij voor Geluk

UPDATE: The ‘Partij voor Geluk‘ has removed their link to Bhutan as a guiding country for Gross National Happiness in response to the comments made by me. Which is a good thing and I welcome that! I wish this new party all the best in their endeavors. Obviously it is important that the myth of Bhutan as a hallmark for happiness is dismantled and the human rights violations by Bhutan are recognized and acknowledged.

A new political party is coming to the Dutch politcal arena. As a counter movement to the current development of Dutch (or even western) society. The Party for Happiness, in Dutch ‘Partij voor Geluk’ (www.partijvoorgeluk.nl). How nice.

A Party for Happiness, what a great initiative don’t you think? Because, to be honest, everything in this world is judged in financial economical terms like Gross National Product (GNP) meaning money, the filth of the earth. And there is another option like the one that this PvG suggest. Just look at Bhutan they say. Bhutan the buddhist Himalayan kingdom where Gross National Happiness is the measure for government success, Bhutan where the people are happy and Bhutan where according to it’s prime minister Mr. Thinley ‘even the dogs smile’…

But is that true? How are things concerning Gross National Happiness in Bhutan really? Is Bhutan really that happy conutry and does the United Nations indeed push them forward as an example, as a guiding nation for the world?

The answer my friend, is blowing in the Himalayan wind. And it simply says: no. Not at all. Bhutan is not an overly happy country and although the dogs might smile, many of it’s people certainly don’t. Bhutan is the only 100% Bhuddist ruled country in the world. A country that in the years 1990 – 1992 exiled some 120,000 of it’s citizens to India and in the end to refugee camps in Nepal where they have lived ever since. Almost 20% of the Bhutanese population now live outside the country in global diaspora since the United Nations started mass third country resettlement in 2007 shifting almost all of these refugees to countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. Bhutan as a nation is responsible for the percentagewise largest ethnic and cultural cleansing since world war two. Hardly a nation to set an example to the world.

Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is according to the latest results certainly not all over. Things like health care and education are experienced as factors making the mostly rural population less than happy. According to Bhutan’s own annual GNH report that was recently published. Bhutan does not have freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of travel, freedom to speak Nepali, freedom to dress to your own desire, freedom to smoke a cigarette… Bhutan does however have over 400 political prisoners (according to sources like Human Rights Watch), it throws monks in jail for carrying 30 grams of tobacco on them and has been denying international requests to repatriate it’s own people to the south and east of the country. Bhutan sabotaged 19 years of talks with the Nepalese government for repatriation, lies structurally to the refugees, the international community and the press about their willingness to take their people back and Bhutan remains a country as closed to the outside world as North Korea. If you live in Bhutan and oppose the government you can be thrown into jail, be tortured (Bhutan has the doubtful reputation of a great inventor of torture methods), thrown into exile or even get killed.

Over the past decades the Human Rights Evaluations by the United Nations on Bhutan have repeatedly shown many comments from countries like the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands and others on the situation concerning the exiled population now living in the refugee camps in Nepal with already half of them resettled in the largest third country resettlement project of the UNHCR ever. Continuous reporting by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Global Human Rights Defence have made clear that Bhutan is not a country of Gross National Happiness but a country of Gross Human Rights Violations.

It’s sad to see that western society has a very biased and uninformed view of the Bhutanese reality. Bhutan has been able (and has been given ample space to do so) to build an effective reality distortion field around it’s atrocities. That reality distortion field has a name: Gross National Happiness. As a concept welcomed by Buddhists and politicians globally. It is because of that western urge to be inspired by something nice as ‘happiness’ that helps Bhutan in covering up the reality and trying to change history. Using that concept is very much like taking king Herod’s approach to an unwelcome reality: washing hands in innocence while allowing human rights violations to continue.

Not quite a good start for a political party I suppose.

If you want to know more about the reality of Bhutan and the situation of the Bhutanese exiles surf to http://www.headwindfilm.com, watch the trailer of the upcoming documentary and read my essay about the topic.

© 2012 Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
director of Headwind
Friend of Bhutan Media Society

Is resettlement a solution and a success?

As you all know I am pretty much involved with the fate of the Bhutanese exiles and especially with ones who have been resettled to my country and the ones who are left behind in the refugee camps in Nepal.

Today I read the following on Bhutan News Service, the webzine that is the only viable news source from the global Bhutanese community with good access to the refugee camps and the communities in the resettlement countries. They have become a trusted and all important news agency for te Bhutanese people focussing on Bhutanese in exile. No matter what the Bhutanese government is saying by the way. Anyway, this is what was written:

If everything goes as projected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and resettling countries, at least 10.37 percent of exiled Bhutanese are likely to remain in the camps when the ongoing resettlement program ceases by 2015.

The initial camp population of 113, 486 has come down to 54,652 as 58,834 individuals have left for various western countries by January 19 this year, according to the UNHCR.

In total, 49,396 exiled refugees have left for the US, 4,213 for Canada, 3,217 for Australia, 589 for New Zealand, 612 for Denmark, 372 for Norway, 324 for the Netherlands, and 111 for the United Kingdom.

Of the remaining residents, at least 42,873 individuals have declared an interest in resettlement. Once this figure leaves for resettlement, the camp population will come down to 11,779.

The information is – as always – pretty reliable. But honestly, it’s also incomplete. Because the figures do not take into account the reality completely. Thing is, in the refugee camps live another over 3,500 refugees who have for various reasons not been registered as refugee by the Nepal government and therefore do not show up in the UN based statistics. So, if policy doesn’t change and there poor people are not counted and their situation managed properly the real figure of the population in the camps (by 2014 probably only the Beldangi camp will be left) will be closer to 15.000.

Giving a Journalism Training in Beldangi 2 camp, Summer 2011

And that is not all. Not all refugees live in the camps. Some (and their number really is unknown) live outside the camps in Nepal. Often in dire straits as they have no civil rights. And many live in India in Sikkim, Assam and elsewhere. Still they too are refugees, the ones in India obviously not acknowledged as such because there is the 1948 treaty between Bhutan and India stating that Bhutanese are allowed to travel, live and work in India. But these are the ones that can not return to Bhutan. They are just as well refugees and their figure is unknown. Only estimates exist that run upto 20.000.

So the worst case scenario of the number of remaining Bhutanese refugees in the Himalayan region really should be close to 35.000 and not less than 12.000 in 2014.
It is the way figures like these 11,779 in 2014 are communicated by the UN and the international community that assist in the cover up of reality. So the UNHCR statement that the resettlement is a success is based on the reality of the statistics simply not true. Of course it’s also not a failure, but a success is really sometinhg else.

The other thing that’s against the PR from the international community is the thoughts that resettlement is a good solution to the problem. Well, honestly is many cases of young people it certainly is for them. But many resettlers are older than 35. Which means that it is not certain they will be able to adjust to western society and for the elderly it is pretty clear that they never will. The social issues in the resettled communities are diverse and form a heavy burden. Issues like lack of possibilities to exercise religion, home sickness, loss of culture, conflicts in families because age differences and adjustment problems to western society, broken friendships and continuing long distance family ties that are increasingly difficult to handle are but a few of the issues burdening resettled refugees. Life is often a struggle that is not always lessened by resettlement. Because:

Imagine being in 40 years old.
Imagine that in the past you were driven into exile and ended up without any hope for a decent future in a refugee camp.
Imagine living under bamboo roofs and simple soil for most of your life. Next to the river where the dead are being cremated.
Imagine loosing sight of friends and family who have been resettled from your daily existence.
Imagine that one day you might very well resettle to a far away country with a culture that is completely different from your own.
Imagine you have children whom you want to have a better life.
Imagine that in reality you long to return to the country you were born.
Imagine there is no mandir to go to.
Imagine not to be able to eat the food you are used too… because it’s nowhere to be found.
Imagine living a town or village and being the only one from your people, being the alien in the minds of your neighbours and anyone else.
Imagine having to learn another very complicated language in a few years to be able to have some sort of life, and if you don’t succeed you’ll get a penalty or will not ever get a passport meaning you will never really be free.
Imagine all that…

Would that be seen as a success? Western society does a lot for refugees who have been resettled but still it starts of as a completely alien place to live. Surviving there is not easy at all and while in the end most will find their way through perseverence it is never an easy path to go. And western society is not becoming nicer to immigrants. So, where UNHCR speaks of a success it should also push the governments of the resettlement countries to really take their responsibilities and support the immigrants and their communities to find some sort of new life that is acceptable. These responsibilities are certainly not always met because much support is being broken down as an effect of the global financial crisis leaving imigrants more on their own and with less support than is reasonable. And don’t forget, once resettled there is no way back. Ever.

It is for all this that I will have to continue writing, filming an photographing the reality of the Bhutanese resettlement. Because in my country, in the west, most people simply have no idea.

If you feel that you might be able to support me, the Headwind team and the Empowerment Foundation, please make that decision and do so. It’s easy. Buy a Headwind production share or become donor. Help us finishing the documentary that will dive into the issue of the Bhutanese in exile and resettlement. The first feature length film that covers it all and will be screened globally. We need your support and we need it now! Send an email to alice@empowermentfoundation.nl or goto to the Headwind website and check the crowdfunding page!

Alice © 2012

When I close my eyes.

The rice fields just north west of Damak, Jhapa district, Nepal

When I close my eyes

 

When I close my eyes

I see paddy fields of rice

Against a stage of blue hazed mountains

 

Small clusters of leaves

In rhythmic pattern

Growing in square ponds filled with rain

 

I see oxen and a plough

And hear the man shout

Synchronous with the animals breath

 

A schoolboy on a bicycle

Slowly crosses my view

From left to right with a youthful smile

 

The rope in my hands

Of the bucket in the well

Gives me something at least to hold on to

 

While my mouth tastes

Freshly plucked mango

Mixed with cardamom scented black tea

 

And your soft hands strike

My arm with the sensual

Brief touch of an unspoken tender love

 

Alice © 2012

Shall I?

I have no experience in this. Like most people this simply never happened to me and so I never had reason to think about what to do and what is needed to make it come true. My mother died almost two years ago and it changed my life. I had become an orphan since my father passed away ten years ago. When your father dies it leaves a gap but when your mother dies it leaves a vault. A gap that is so big that there is now way it can be filled. Since then there is no elder who can guide me, advice me on what to do or not to do. No one related to me that has enough authority to question my decisions or my feelings. No one to let me make that reality check that parents often force upon their childrens ideas.

So I changed my life once more. I started working on things that no one seemed to care about. A book and a film about a group of people in a far away land to whom I do not have any relationship or obligation. A group in danger of being forgotten in history, washed away in time and overlooked by politics and media. A group of people of no importance to the selfish western world. And  I went there. I’ve been to the camps, talked to them, interviewed them, filmed their life in those horrendous camps. Filmed their new life in my country, freshly started after resettlement. And while in the country where their camps are I lost my heart. Nepal grabbed it to keep it.

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I lost my heart first to the cause of unveiling the reality of the Bhutanese exiles to the world that’s so uninformed or misinformed about what has happened and how things are. And while working there I lost my heart to the land itself. To the amazing beauty of the Terai flatlands filled with rice fields and field of mustarde plants or sesame plants. With mountains in the distance hiding the dramatic landscape in the north while in the monsoon these mountains bring clouds filled with rain. The land of fireflies in summer dancing and hovering above the fields while the mango’s are ripe and pregnant of sweet and tasty juices. Coconut trees around the farms keeping the house cool and protected from wind and heat. With only a water well and a few hours of electricity available for the daily needs. And in the end I lost my heart for the third time to someone very special.

So here I am in the cold wet winter underneath grey skies and with a nightly frost on the streets. In the middel of a city with cars, trams, busses and bikes. With buildings higher than three storeys and offices everywhere where people go in in the morning and come out in the afternoon. A meaningless city. On my editing desk is a computer and a big screen. They show me images of rice fields and bamboo huts, the speakers let me hear the sounds of the camps, the towns and the landscape. I hear birds again, thousands. Sometimes so loud that they cover the sounds of the crickets and the people. Without knowing I can even smell the food being prepared and that so typical smell of a small farm. I smell the woodwork of the house and my feet feel the planks creaking and bending while my mind steps on them. Someone makes tea with too much sugar in it and when evening falls it only takes a few hours before the power goes and load shedding starts throwing darkness over the place. Candles and little oil lamps are suddenly there and the voices dim. The two of us leave for our room, the door closes and the conversation becomes more intimate. We talk and talk, knowing that in the end I will have to leave. Both of us not wanting to think of that moment that is inevitably there.

I wake up from my daydream and switch on my computer, checking a website. She’s there. We chat. And I know it’s a matter of time and effort and decisions to be made before we will be together again. I know, she knows, that we will. Some day soon. Will it be forgood? Shall I make the decision? Shall I go? Shall I? Can I accept that the decision is actually already made by me? It only takes one decision to go. Just one decision. I guess I made it when I left sometime ago. She knows, and I know, what will happen next.

Alice © 2012

Headwind production team brought donations to Beldangi hunger strikers.

Dear readers and visitors,

Attached here is a newsitem as published on the Bhutan News Service, the information regarding the handover of donation funds for food and first needs support from the Dutch Nepal Foundation (Vereniging Nederland Nepal) by the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind Nepal Production Team in co-operation with BRAIN (Bhutanese Refugees Association of Intellectual Novas) on Janury 3, 2012 in the Beldangi 2 refugee camp in Nepal to the ex hunger strikers.

Please read and support the Bhutanese refugees, the making of the Headwind documentary and the Empowerment Foundation for making this charity work possible.

Alice © 2012
director of Headwind
communications Empowerment Foundation
www.headwindfilm.com
www.empowermentfoundation.nl 

Winter morning.

The morning sun shines through my window. I can see how it lits the pearly white of the woodwork of the house opposite of the one I live in. It’s cold in my room. The heater was turned down last night and it usually only takes a few hours for my room to become freezing cold. My windows are single pane, the house is quite high and I live just under the the flat roof on the top floor. So the nightly cold easily takes hold of my little hideout. My hideout is made just right for me. It’s small and exists of a square room and a small annex, the latter being used for storage, drying laundry and the cat bin. The room itself is spacious enough to live in but to small to stack my things in a nice manner which results in a somewhat cluttered look. I somehow, being quite chaotic, haven’t found the way or the discipline to keep it tidy. So there’s things lying around everywhere. My equipment for filming, photographing and writing. My artwork and my books, a chaise longue in bright red, a bed that’s white and too empty with only me in it. The desk is small and occupied by a hundred years old typewriter and little bottles and boxes because I like little bottles and boxes.

There are musical instruments but I rarely play on them. I seem not to have the time to learn playing one properly. An electric bass and a collection of percussion instruments and drums. And on the wall opposite of my bed is a huge wall painting on cotton by Klimt: The kiss. In the not so far corner is a heater. It works on gas and above it is a tiny chimney with a big golden mirror and my temple. Not that I am overly religious but I do like to medidate and my temple has a role in that. Shiva is the God who’s most impressively positioned in the middle of the chimney, dancing as ever in a tempting pose. Next to Shiva are Parvaati on the one side and Aradanashvara on the other side. The three of them being my inspiration with a mix of feminine looks and male powers. Of course there’s incense. I like the smell of good incense. And some Bhuddist things like a prayer wheel and a shell. To remind me of the culure that impressed me and to remind me that there’s more in this world than this European non-religious and non-spiritual world.

I don’t like the cold. Especially not when I am alone. Today at least there’s a sun shining so I won’t get depressed but the days when even that light is gone push me down. I miss my love, her presence and smile. Her laughter and cheerfulness. I guess that’s what it means to live with a long distance love. I long for another chaotic phone conversation in which we seem unable to hang up on each other but I have to take care not to use the phone too much, it’s costly calling and crossing 10.000 km’s.

So, I get up and make breakfast. Fried rice with tea because I still have some rice left from a previous meal and I notice I’m out of milk. Today I will do some shopping and when I get dressed I realize my clothes are dark, mostly black. It looks good on me but somehow I long for the bright colors I wear when in Nepal. I’d rather wear orange or red but these colors are absent in my wardrobe while the kurta’s I have are to chilly to wear on a day like this. Somehow it took just a week to be dragged back into the greyness of life here. My mind still wonders to the rice fields around the little farm with the fields filled with yellow mustarde plants, the mountains in the distance in a light blue haze and the sounds of birds everywhere. There are no birds here and mustarde comes in small pots. My body is in Patan holding the one I love and my eyes scan the old carvings of the temples at Durbar square. My skin thinks it feels the sun touching it and keeping me warm and when I close my eyes I can still hear the sounds in the streets of the little town and smell the smell of freshly prepared food everywhere. I even hear the bells of the mandir, I think. But it’s becoming like a dream as if it is not real.

And I know I am lost. Unable to stay here, unable to go there. At least for now because I have to finish my film first. But then I will return and see her again. Will it be forever then?

Alice © 2012

Eve teasing.

It’s fairly common in South Asia. Due to the changing society and increase of women’s liberties it is all to common now in countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal for women to travel without male company. Many men in those countries cannot handle situations where women prove to be independent and some of these men (and boys) become harrasive. Eve teasing is the term used for their sexually abusieve behavior.

Eve teasing relates of course to the Biblical Eve and the word teasing to a playful thing, which it for obvious reasons is not. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working in Nepal, in the southeast Terai and due to the way we work we often used public transport. Two western women, one of them dressed European style and the other dressed Nepali style but still very obvious European white women. Most of the days and most of the travels are without incidents and also most of the days and travels men noticeably observe and watch. Not much ado about anything.

And then, one day, there’s a local bus ride from a provincial town to a refugee camp. The bus is crowded, over crowded as the busses always are. It is by all means the quickest way of transport in that location although one would probably not think so according to the speed of the vehicles. It’s the big bus, not one of the small ones and after a few stops the thing is completely filled with people standing against each other, leaning over and trying to grab anything that can hold them upright while the bus bumpes it’s way along te road. And we are of course noticed.

Most people don’t even react, some of them look at us and children gaze. Older women smile when they see us and younger women look curiously. Old men have no interest but the other man gaze. Except for one. The guy starts throwing remarks. Friendly at first as if he’s trying to charm us but after a while he continues with his remarks in a flirtatious way. Some people laugh. Some remarks are in Nepali and not in English, presumably he thinks we do not understand his Nepali. He is right as far as my European dressed curly haired companion is concerned but I do understand some words. They are sexually loaded remarks.

No one interferes and he seems unable to get more attention than a few laughs from other young men and a couple of giggles from teenager girls. Still, his remarks were pretty indecent as the whole of his behaviour was. The only reasons for it being two western women traveling in the same bus he was in. He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.

This time there were no others to jump in on his attempts to be ‘funny’. This time there were many women on the bus and only few men. So this time it all stayed at a harmless level. Quite different from another instance earlier last year when I solely walked the streets of a little town during a bhanda, a general strike. At that instance I came into a situation where young men in their early adolescense started throwing remarks at me. Mind you, I was dressed Nepali style as usual at the time. Still they started of from the other side of the street making remarks. First it were words but within minutes some of the were shouting remarks at me. A few of the remarks I understood as I do understand some Nepali. I was being ‘Eve teased’. Not in a ‘funny’ way like on the bus but in a more agressive and intrusive way. I didn’t quite understand what happened at the time but now I know that it was one of those examples of harrasment that many women in South Asia experience when moving in public without male company.

Both instances of Eve Teasing were relatively mild but both of them unwanted. Both instances were sexually loaded and directed at me and both instances were examples of sexual harrasment as in both cases it wat unwanted and intrusive.

Now, after months living and traveling in the region I know more and now I realize how deep the unease of a lot of men is when they see women in public without a male companion. I also understand now that social change and women liberation in countries like Nepal and India has come at a consequence that society has not been able to handle. Men simply seem not able to accept women being emancipated.

Now ofcourse this all is quite different from the experiences we’ve had in working with the great guys who were helping us with our work. They are the modern guys. The ones who act normally and do not fool around. They support and enjoy working together and gender is not an issue with them. But outside this amazing group of guys there are so many men in Nepal and India who seem sexually frustrated. Harrasing women is an evil in society that is unfortunately all to common. Bollywood enforces that as society is constantly flooded with gender traditional images on television. Films, commercials and even music underline an overly heterosexual and gender biased mentality in a culture that is changing rapidly but does not yet understand the importance of female independency and emancipation. Eve teasing is just part of that. It should be fought against as much as possible.

Alice © 2012

2011, a review.

It’s two weeks after the demise of 2011. A good moment for a quick review of my life in that year.

First of all, I’m getting used to realizing that part of my life actually is not following the western calendar but the Nepali calendar which means that this review is some three months too early. Anyway 3.5/12(2067)+8.5/12(2068)=2011 in a somewhat nonmathematical way the reality of last year but for the sake of readability and because I just happened to live in Europe until last year let’s review the past twelve months as the 2011. Thing is, 2011 has become a very surprising year in almost all aspects of life. So much has happened and although some things were really bad most of the year has brought me happiness. Reviewing is not an easy thing in my life as it might very well become a rollercoaster reading experience so I will try to stay chronologically correct.

End of 2010 I had started working on the Headwind project (then Atma project) to bring myself to Nepal and become useful for society in a place that is not as selfish and egocentric as the west. At the same time I had to experience a conflict in the lesbian scene in the Netherlands that pretty much made me sick to my stomach and desiring even more to let it all go and go elsewhere. Little did I know of what would happen.

In january the Atma Project turned into a project for filming a documentary and the decision was made to make a research trip to Nepal and hopefully to ‘a refugee camp’ to find out if making a film would be feasible. We left in February with three team members and it became an amazing trip. We did see a camp, we talked to UNHCR and affiliate organizations and we decided to go on with the filming. That is to say we decided I would continue filming. One team member couldn’t cope working in Nepal. In March we returned to Holland.
Back in Holland that lesbian thing had become worse and so did my disgust with it. It’s not nice to see how a friends business is destroyed by cybercrime and idiots spreading false information on the internet and in the scene. It’s even worse to find out that most lesbians and even some lgbt organizations swiftly hopped on the crucifixion bandwagon pushing for the destruction of an honest business and not caring one bit for the person who runs it. It became the downfall of many lesbian ‘icons’ for as far as I am concerned. So I wrote about that shit.

Then on March 22 the Goldhap camp in Nepal burned down and I just had to leave for Nepal to go to the site as soon as possible. Which meant that I left for Kathmandu in April and stayed there until August. That whole summer including the monsoon I worked and filmed there. I wrote my novel in June (to be published within a couple of months) and I came back with almost all the footage I had set out to get. I visited three major camps including the unfortunate Goldhap camp and the huge Beldangi refugee camp. I gained friendships with amazing people and in the end I lost my heart in Nepal. In August I returned, in love with the country, the people and a woman that I’d met. I had not intended to fall in love, but I did. Still I didn’t know if the feeling was mutual in spite of the special friendship we already had developed. From September disaster (relative disaster that is) struck. The investments for the film had been high and financial support extremely low basically draining my last financial means to the extend that I had to leave my house. Eviction, a traumatic experience.

But I found out that friends do exist and to my great surprise within weeks I found a much cheaper and much nicer place to live. Within a group of people in a beatiful city house and for the first time in ten years I really felt at home. Home is not about the roof above the head but about the people one lives with. A great lesson to learn. And although the financial troubles were big, and still are unsolvable, I felt much happier. The filmwork was in good progress although the Dutch shooting took much longer than anticipated. And then after a couple of month filled with homesickness for the beautiful Nepal countryside and missing my dear friends there all of a sudden that phonecall was there. My co-producer / co-director suggesting me to travel to Nepal and India to escape the grey Dutch winter.

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I knew it was my chance to do extra fieldwork of the things I had missed and, more important, to find out wether my love was something that could be mutual. To find out if she loved me too. So we went on December 10. Back to Kathmandu, back to Jhapa, Damak, the camps, the little farm, to my love. The trip to Nepal and India was amazing. A true adventure shared with the best travel and working companion imaginable and resulting in more than 10.000 photo’s, 8 hours of great video and in the end with a new love in my life. December has been the best month in the year for me which is in itself miraculous as I tend to hate that month.

So it worked out pretty well. And here I am now, fresh in the new year, counting the days before I can travel back to Nepal and start a new life, living together with my love in Kathmandu for at least half of the year and maybe longer when we’re smart. Only months before the release of Headwind, the documentary and the publication of not one but three books. Only months before I will be able to hold her again with the solid intention to start sharing life again.

In the meanwhile that gruesome Dutch lesbian community affair had escalated into the courtroom and end of the coming week a verdict will be read by a judge against one of the people who’ve been rightfully accused of setting up a slanker campaign to kill some other woman’s business. I’m curious wether justice will be done.

As for me, this year will be different from other years, this year I will divide my life between time in my country of birth and time in my country of love. This year will be the year that I am finally done with the biggest perils in my life and restart into another stage of my life with better, more important and more creative work and for the most of it together with that one woman I love so much.

2011 has been a miracle, 2012 is going to be magic!

Alice © 2012

‘The Storm’ (2) or ‘Back Home?’

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Namaste my dear readers and friends. I wish you all a great New Year.

I Know, I know, I’m a bit late in doing that but as you know I’ve been away for a month to a region where modern technology is something that is not available constantly. And (I only dare to whisper that) I actually haven’t written much in that month. except for some love letters and the occasional FaceBook status update. But I’m back home. That is to say, my Dutch home for I have during my travel found a new home to live. A Nepalese heart where I feel loved and safe. I won’t reveal nor bother you with the details so let’s just say I’m hooked up with a wonderful nice woman who I love dearly. So I now have another ‘home away from home’ in the south of Nepal, the eastern Terai region to be exact.

The storm I wrote about last month has eased. The questions I had while leaving the Netherlands have been answered and many decision has been taken. The most important one being that I desire to lead a splint life. Half of it (or more) in Nepal, half (or less) of in in the Netherlands. The rest is just the execution of that desire. On the flight back the most vivid sign that such it a good decision is that we faced heave storms over de middle east making the flight slow and the flight time long. We faced ‘headwind’ while returning from the last shooting trip for my film ‘Headwind’. Actually, OUR film ‘Headwind’ as the positions in the production team have changed. Making ‘Headwind’ is no longer my personal task and responsibility, it has become a group thing now with a co0directing producer and a co-pruducing director.

Our trip to Sikkim to shoot mountain footage and travel through the earthquake struck area of the south central Himalayan state of Sikkim has been successful. We’ve also seen the teagardens of Darjeeling and the mists over Pokhara. We visited the now familiar places in Kathmandu, Patan, Pashupatinath and Boudha and travelled by bus, mini taxi, tourist taxi, airplanes, four wheel drives, local busses and riksha’s. We revisited the refugee camps near Damak, the now abaondoned and somewhat spooky Goldhap camp and we talked to and interviewed many. We visited the ex hunger strikers in Beldangi who have risked their lives for the unregistered people in the camps. We stayed at the farm of my love just outside Damak village in between the now still empty rice fields in between fields of amber colored mustard.

And we never had any disagreement or quarrel. Everything happened just like it should. We delivered financial aid to vulnerable non registered, brought media equipment to motivated and eager journalists in the exiled community and brought the photo’s from our exhibition (the one in the Netherlands) back to where they originated. And it all went well.

So here I am in my European home. Feeling happy with what we did living in anticipation of the next few months in which the film will finally become reality. Feeling sad about the love that I had to leave behind (but will see again soon). Making plans for the next journey, the publication of a number of books within three months and feeling dislocated as my heart is still out there.

In the coming months the following results will finally come from the project I started almost one and a half year ago:

  1. the English language novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’
  2. a photobook about elderly people in the Himalaya‘s
  3. a photobook about the Bhutanese exiles living in diaspora
  4. the documentary ‘Headwind’
  5. a photo exhibition about resettling in the Dutch community
  6. a cd with music from the film
    and many, other things…

It’s going to be a busy time. After that time I will travel back to Nepal and God willing stay there for five months to live with my love and to promote and sell the results of our work. To show the film to the people who have become my inspiration and are part of it.

For now I’ll just focus on the work. Writing here will be less intense as it has been last month simply because of all the things I have to do for the project that not only produces these wonderful things and art but that has also changed my life and the life of some others working on it.

For the record: we’ve produced almost twelve thousand photos this journey, seven hours of footage and millions bits of memories. So much happens when filming and so memory memories build upon each other. In the end it feels like an epic journey and maybe that’s what it was.

So, namaste my dear western friends, I’m back. For a while. And for my eastern friends I can only say ‘pheri bethaula’.

Alice © 2012

A Bhutanese story from the past. History re-told.

To my Bhutanese friends,

the (unedited) story below was penned down and published on an independent news website. It’s an untold story like many stories from the southern Bhutanese. It tells about the gross human rights violations that happened in the early nineties of the last century in Bhutan. The problem with stories like these is the absence of physical evidence so people can only base opinions on oral reporting of the events.
In Europe over the years projects were started to re-tell the stories of the people who have been oppressed and dislocated during the second world war. These project collected these stories and the basis was always recording first hand experiences told by the people themselves. It’s project like those that are continuously raising awareness of what happened and the threat of such situations in society.

Until now, the stories from the southern (and eastern) Bhutanese, have not been captured and saved for history.

But I am sure that just like the story below they have a function in society. They remind everyone of what has happened and might in the end even proof to be of great importance to find justice for the people who became victims of a derailed regime.
It is therefore that I republish this, and it is therefore that I seek confirmation of this story.
So, can anyone confirm this specific story. First hand? And has anyone stories like these? If so, please let me know because I would like to collect them, list them and republish them on a dedicated website so that history will not be forgotten and not be deformed by propaganda.

This idea for document unwritten history came to me because of the problems concerning registration of refugees in the camps and the hunger strike of the past few weeks by a brave group of women in the Beldangi camp. It occurred to me that if stories untold become stories unwritten history will become blurred and truth fades away.

Namaste,
Alice 

— from APFA Bhutan —

Reviewing Eviction Options – Historical Human Disaster

Previously published on 23 November 2011 at http://www.apfanews.com

By Santi Ram Poudel

Dorona is the most remote and backward ‘Gewog’ (block) of all the inhabited area of Dagapela that can be logically argued through the availability of goods and services both in terms of forward and backward linkages. It had a dispensary in a two roomed single floor house at Nimtoladara with the staffing of a compounder and local peon and other was the Extended Classroom (ECR) of Powgang Primary School at Tharphu with the provision of one full time teaching staff and a local temporary teacher. The ECR was three roomed shed with wild bamboo messed walls and the double-pitched roof freely standing at the mud floor.

None of the houses were ever served with the public utilities and other infrastructure services for public goods. Furthermore, the most embarrassing situation was that due to the lack of any public built spaces; the ‘Gup’(Mandal –popularly elected block representative) had to run the office from their respective private houses. And till 1992, none of the Gups had the formal education, and this was not the qualifying criterion for that representation. The central had looked this area with least priority both in terms of capacity building and infrastructure development. May be with this reason, people used an idiomatic way of rating the civil officers as ‘am not afraid of such a high profile chaprasis (forest guards) and why should I fear of Dzongda’(Chief District Officer). Such was the exposure of the people from this block who couldn’t distinguish the comparative level of a Dzongda to a forester.

Some Phenomenal Incidences
Firstly, the officiating Gup left the country to join the antinational movements on September 1990 thereby creating a type of void between the grassroots people and the administrative authority for the proper and accurate communication. Taking the advantage of vulnerability of people, the remoteness and guardian-less condition, some 4 unidentified men took control of then on duty compounder at the midnight of September 29th, 1990. The staff didn’t surrender them but was helpless. The outfits then set the dispensary on fire where the inferno destroyed everything, the facility and the structure to ashes. On the same night they abducted the health staff leaving his wife and children there at miserable condition hardly anyone there to take care of them. This was all the movement of Dorona block.

Later when the country’s situation was normalize after a month or so the authority accused the local inhabitants not only of Nimtola village but for every household of the gewog for their involvement and not acting as a true citizen of Pelden Drukpa. People tried their best to convince their innocence, the authority turned their deaf ears and ultimately compelled everyone to leave the country.

Nimtoladara Meeting
The then Dzongda Hisey Dorji of Dagana District called a meeting for the people of Dorona block on April 4th, 1991 to convey the message of HM to the people of the block and also to review some of the occurrences that took place during the southern uprisings. The meet was conducted to find out the peoples’ involvement in the uprising that was against the prevailing regulations and give the clean sheets to the people. The meeting was scheduled to start at 9.00 am but due to commuting problems it actually began at 10.00am.

The general public were asked to sit at the ground like an amphitheatre stage, the performers at the front and the audiences facing towards the authorities that comprised of the Dzongda, the security chief Maj. Chachu with his armed military team and other local government staff. Dzongda was the all in all speaker to address the meeting. He began using really harsh language to scold the people and at times using bad mouthing. He took out a typed letter from his gho pouch and showed to the people mentioning that the very letter has been sent by the king. He didn’t read the letter but referring the document began saying that king isn’t happy with the people of south and got really infuriated with the type of situation prevailing in this region. He told that the king was caring the southern people more and had undertaken many physical development to facelift this area in spite of many developmental challenges. But he began losing faith and trust towards you all. You all used a plate to eat the food and used that same tool to pass the excreta. He questioned to the people whether or not the royal family would ever use the facilities of the local area.

There was a pin drop silence; no one had the courage to break such timing due to two reasons, first- all the participants were 100% illiterate comprising of shepherds, cattle herders and mere farmers to understand and explain the authority and second the people from the gewog never committed such act and lacked the background knowledge and factual information. Then it was dzongda himself to break the ice and said that you people pretend. Again he asked the mass to provide with the names of people who were involved at torching the dispensary building. Again no one uttered a word.

He took out another hand written paper that contained the names of all the people of the Gewog and began to read the names and segregate the people into two groups; one group was the clean sheet category and other the black list, people who had hands for the physical destruction a type of indirect challenge to the king and country. There were just two people on the clean sheet category namely the man who provided the list and second was his father in law family where as rest of the people were totally grouped under black list. The list was secretly prepared by the ‘Gup’ through the help from the local clandestine individual, a kind of espionage and was based on the personal relation of such providers.

Again referring to the letter send by HM, he began briefing that king has opened three options to the black listed people and told that it was mandatory to choose the best options for each family and told that early the better. The options opened were:-

Eviction Options

  1. Leave the country immediately with no conditions.
  2. Serve the compulsory detention term of 13.5 years.
  3. Face the extermination of public shooting at Capital’s national stadium.

Each family from my ‘Geog’ (block) had to choose the best among the above three alternatives provided by the state administration through the local bodies. Each option were detailed and explained to make it clear so that the ordinary layman can understand and reach at decision.

For the 2nd options, it was mandatory for each and every individual who were black listed by the government and were over 18 years to serve the prescribed period. Had the people been interrogated and had chance to express their involvement or prove their innocence, it would have been fair to enlist but how rationale was it to rubberstamp the list provided by such miscreants.

Extermination threat was made more convincing through the justification of numbers of bullets per individual southern population and public announcement was made that RGOB had bought 10 bullets equivalent to each southern person very recently from India’s goodwill. And some examples relevant to such practice were highlighted naming Chabda, Mahasur and others and there could be similar fate for everyone and the people were threatened to take the matter seriously and give the prompt response.

For the first option, if people were interested to opt then government would immediately make the sufficient arrangement at the earliest possible. What people have to do was just submit in writing that the person would be leaving the country at own will. People also had to mention that they were not forced by any law enforcing authorities and need to sign it that would automatically convert into the legal documents.

People watched the government’s move for about one complete year with a hope that government will be little flexible and considerate enough on these options but the situation further ruined. There were no any indications of improvements and at each and every step there came a barrier at every mode of activity. Within the extremism there reached a critical stage where people began saying that it is worth to be sanity than to end the life. People can tolerate to certain degree and when the level crosses the bearing limit then it’s obvious to shift the position in regards to uncertainty. Sadly, at the end people were compelled to sign the eviction form preferring madness than facing unnatural human disaster. When the autocrats think in an ethnic superiority conditions with total dominating and hate feelings towards minority population then there could be chances that such exterminations would prevail in the broad daylight where history has shown many such lessons.

During the process of eviction, people need to submit and surrender all the testimonies in regards to Bhutanese identity, be it citizenship card, tax receipt or property registration certificate. It’s those documents that show the proof as Bhutanese and once such documents are seized then it is obvious to brand the people into different categories, call it by illegal immigrants, economic emigrants, homeless dwellers or people of nowhere.

Now can we term this entire phenomenal move to be at people own will or some externality compelled to leave from the place of birth and citizenry?

Donation drive for Beldangi hunger strikers.

Aimed at supporting 12 women including breast-feeding mothers, who fasted-to-death for 12 days, and nine children associated with them, the Bhutan Media Society has launched an online donation drive, involving the resettled communities of various eight countries and their well-wishers, Monday.

At least 12 women, who were forcefully evicted from Bhutan fasted-to-death for 12 days demanding “refugee status” and facilities from the Nepal government and aid agencies. The Government of Nepal finally acknowledged their demands and committed to fulfill them within the next five months. Women, who have lost their health and even developed various side effects due to long fasting, were admitted in the AMDA Hospital in Damak for treatment. However, they were released in a couple of days.

The Bhutan Media Society has been following their situations from the very start of the protest. Now, these women need diatary supports to regain their lost health. Some of them are breast-feeding mothers, and there are nine children below the age of 10 associated with these women. In our observation, these women are unable to work to earn their daily bread for at least a week or two.

This is what one of the women told us:

We would be greatful if the resettled community could help us. I have a child but no ration. My husband remained busy in escorting patients during the hunger strike. My baby was helpess during that period, without any fixed timing for food. We still don’t have food to eat.

My chest and throat ache. I have a problem in my kidneys. I am very week.

Most of us are mothers with small children. We are not in a position to earn the daily bread for our children. We feel that the support from resettled community would help us to feed our children until we become able to do so again.

For supporting the women to recover their lost health and their children with food, the Bhutan Media Society has launched a donation drive. The donations that we receive from our esteemed donors will be mobilised to assist the women with dietary supports, and ensure foods for their children at least for a week.

Based on the their request, the Society has decided to garner some supports from the resettled Bhutanese community, their organizations and well-wishers of exiled Bhutanese, added Mishra.

The Society and its associates have appealed every Bhutanese to support the initiative on humanitarian grounds. According to Mishra, the official website of Bhutan News Service will publish details of all donations made on regular basis, like in various donations drives conducted by the Society.

The donation drive lasts until mid-night of December 5, 2011, Nepal Standard Time.
Please distribute this video at will in support of our campaign.
We are committed towards transparancy of all transactions made through our initiatives.

BHUTAN MEDIA SOCIETY
Kathmandu, Nepal

For details :
www.bhutannewsservice.com
editor@bhutannewsservice.com

For donations click here to go to the donation drive.

The rabbit hole 2.0.

It’s been rocky since I came back from Nepal. Getting used to life in this neurotic Dutch society isn’t easy after one has lost her heart in the mysterious and enchanting Nepal. But I managed so far. Working on the photo exhibition, which by the way was rather successful, did help me acclimatize.

After only a few weeks back I was overtaken by the financial drain of making movies. I had to leave my house. To prevent forceful eviction I frantically searched for a safe house. With a little help from some friends. And it worked itself out. Some good tips and meeting great folks has turned things around. So last weekend I shifted my stuff from my shelter (because that’s what my ‘old house’ was) to an old city house and a small but decent studio somewhere on the second floor. The house is over a hundred years old and as I understood in the very same room I am living now a character from a novel lived for some years. I share the house you see. With some wonderful people and on my floor a nice girl, gay like me, who has this lovely little dog and a great smile. Life is getting relaxed now.

The rent of the place is less than half of the other house that has been so hostile to me over the years, making life a bit easier for me. It also gives me the opportunity to have my dear sister from Nepal coming over in due time. Anyway, the room is square and high. Exactly what I have wanted for so long. So I decorated it in a style that is so much more me and so different from my old place (and the ones before that). It’s got everything. Old and high windows, old fashioned heating, big white walls that are now covered in record sleeves, dozens of small picture frames and musical instruments. Even the lighting is so much easier here. I made my little temple there and everywhere you look there are traces of me. It’s by far the most individual room I ever had. It even has an annex which is big enough for a sleepover. Next week my bed will arrive. A single bed that can made into a double in a jiffy. Because one never knows.

This house and these rooms, these people and the atmosphere here is so welcoming and friendly that right now I feel totally at home. A sensation that is rather new to me. I had in Nepal, I didn’t have it in the Netherlands in the last ten years. It feels like I’ve arrived. Finally. And now all the other – complicated – affairs can be taken on. Fixing situations that should have been fixed a long time ago but were impossible to fix due to the monthly financial drain hat my old place was for me.

Last night there was the shock of the news of the earthquake in Sikkim and Nepal. So close to my dear friends. After a night and morning long series of attempts to contact them I finally reached my dearest friend there. She’s safe and although life is difficult there, she’s cheerful. And so, after days of work and lots of tension, this evening has become one of the most relaxed evenings since my return from Nepal. I feel safe here, overlooking the old cities rooftops from my window with a tram passing by just around the corner. City life, city sounds. As it should be. I’m there where I am supposed to be. A place where I can create, write, edit my film, design things and think. A place that feels like… the rabbit hole.

Alice © 2011

Solar (bottle) lights.

When I was in Nepal I saw many slumps in Kathmandu and many small towns and villages in the country. I also visited the refugee-camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in the south. When I was there the energy situation was terrible. Load shedding made that in many places electricity was only available for a few hours per day. And just after I left news got to me that the largest refugee-camp of Bhutanese in the vicinity of Damak was blacked out by the local population and the energy company leaving the 30.000 refugees in that camp without electricity at all.

Due to the construction of the houses in the slumps of the cities and towns and camps (actually sheds and huts) electricity is needed to bring some light inside them. Without light during the day inside these homes living is more difficult because of the darkness that these constructions have.

And then I saw a YouTube video in one of my FaceBook friends timeline about solar bottle light. Here it is. Watch it an realize that with this simple engineering many people in Nepal could have just a little less trouble in their daily life.

Alice © 2011

On the state of Nepal.

First and foremost, I love Nepal. To the extend that I would very much like to live there for some time. The Himalayan country is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen with unmatched natural richness and people that one cannot withstand to love dearly. I’ve been there this year for almost five months and it feels like home somehow.

But I’m worried. Worried about the state the country is in. Nepal, often mentioned as one of the poorest countries in the world (as stated by many but in my view a misrepresentation of reality) has a multitude of problems. Most of them related to poverty. But by far the largest problem is the inability of Nepal politics to rule the country and rebuild it into a prospering south Asian state.

Over the weekend prime minister Jhalanath Khanal stepped down. In his words due to the lack of support for the peace process by the Nepal Congress party and the Maoist party. It’s an easy statement and although true in a sense it doesn’t address the real issues. Thing is, Nepal is desperate for a new constitution and has seen politicians battling over power and in the process make a mockery out of the development of that constitution. And a constitution is urgently needed in the country that in 2006 overthrew it’s monarch after a ten year civil war with Maoist insurgents. Since then the country lives in limbo.

In a country with some two hundred thousand refugees (Bhutanese, Tibetan and others) pushing on the economy (Nepal is both one of the poorest countries and one of the countries with the largest number of refugees according to the UN), in a country with by far the largest number of children, young girls and women being trafficked for prostitution, in a country with regular famine in remote areas as the result of bad infrastructure and bad logistics, in a country with problems with culture clashes between youth and older generations, in such a country there should at least be a number of politicians that take responsibility and push aside party lines to share efforts in building the nation.

But not so in Nepal. Politics is dominated by party wars and old men. Women are under represented and so is youth. Democracy is a farce in such a system as lots of people have been pushed away from politics due to the selfishness and power greed of many politicians. The whole situation concerning the writing of the new constitution is becoming totally ludicrous. Deadlines are repeatedly passed and pushed away and even committee members travel abroad for prolonged times while they’re supposed to work on the text of the constitution. It seems like many politicians only play lip service to the new constitution but frankly don’t give a damn if it ever gets finished. The constitution, being the legal infrastructure of the country, is being treated as the roadworks in Kathmandu. As things are now only travelling to Kathmandu will unveil reality. The Bagmati river is a merger of a garbage dump and sewer, roads are insufficient and in areas like Kirtipur the many beautiful new houses are in extreme contrast with the surrounding lack of infrastructure. Peoples interest seem only focussed on the area within their fences, as soon as one passes the doorstep one gets back in the usual Nepali infrastructural chaos. Does anyone really give a damn about the general interest? Does anyone really worry about the poor state roads, buildings, hospitals and other general facilities are in? It seems not. The constitution is unfortunately just like these unfinished roads. Bumpy, no pavement and to be unfinished forever.

And now, the prime minister stepped down, again leaving the country without a government and with little hope of a new order. The first thing he does is bash the other political parties in stead of looking at his own disability to get things done. In the meanwhile it’s shocking to see that there only a handful young politicians active in the Nepali parliament. The situation shows an important generation gap that is in line with the emotions and ambitions of many young people in Nepal: to find a live in the west and become rich.

Exceptions are there, but unfortunately they are not powerful enough to make a stand. In their respective parties they are sidelined by the older generation. An older generation that not only rules in their parties with iron fists but also grossly manipulate the media. Free press in Nepal is under constant pressure. Journalists are being attacked and although the guilty ones are known, nothing is done to arrest them. Newspapers are ‘owned’ by political parties with only a handful exceptions. Media manipulation goes hand in hand with censorship as the government tries to hold firm grip on visual media. Filming in Nepal can be done but when it’s about anything controversial it can only be done illegally. Current law still demands government film permits and ‘liaison officers’ to be present while filming and even insight in the resulting film material. Crazy, undemocratic and a direct threat to free journalism.

There is much that needs to change in Nepal. The people need a fresh new government that really addresses the many difficulties the country has. They are hungry for change and I guess that if that change doesn’t come any time soon, Nepal might very well end up in a chaos worse than during the civil war some years ago. But maybe all is not lost yet. Maybe young ambitious and above all honest and straight forward politicians stand up and let their voices be heard. Please let it be soon for that to happen.

Alice Verheij © 2011