Jamaili Rai

Utica, NY

Jamaili Rai came to the States 3 years ago. She was born in Bhutan and left for Nepal when she was 25. She lived in UNHCR refugee camps in Nepal for more than 2 decades before being resettled in the US.

“भुटानमा बसोबासको कुरा गर्दा त आँशु आउँछ। मेरो बुवा खसेको म सानै हुँदा। म १० बर्ष, २ बहिनी, ३ भाइ, ममीले कति दुखले हुर्काको होला! सानैबाट गाईगोठाला गर्न सिकायो। त्यै त हो नि! खेतीपाती गर्नुपर्थ्यो, दाउरा गर्नुपर्थ्यो, पानी लिन जानुपर्थ्यो, कोदो धान जानुपर्थ्यो। जग्गाजमिन थियो, घर थियो, गाइबस्तु पालेको थियो।”

(“I get teary-eyed when talking about our life in Bhutan. My father died when I was little. I was 10, and had 2 sisters and 3 brothers — how difficult it must have been for my mother to raise us! She taught me from a young age to look after the cattle. You know how it is. We had to farm, get firewood, get water, cultivate rice, millet. We had land, a house, and animals.”)

“के भो भने, हाम्रो देश नेपाल रछ, भुटान भोटेको देश अरे। स्कूलबाट निस्कायो, द्ज़ोंग्खा उनीहरुको भाषा बोल्नु रे, कपाल लामो नापल्नु रे, उनीहरुको जस्तो गर्नु रे। बुढाबुढीले रुमाल लाउँछ नि टाउकोमा, त्यो नलगाउनु रे, रातो टिका हरियो पोते नलगाउ रे। आफ्नै देश बनाउन खोजेको रछ। अहिले बुझेको है, त्यतिखेर त के थाहा! अनि त्यस्तो गरेपछि नेपालीहरुले त्यै कारणले जुलुस गरेको रछ। अनि त जता पायो त्यतै जेलमा हाल्न थाल्यो! कति मान्छे भाग्यो, धान पाकेको बारीमै छोडेर, गाईबथान बस्तीमै छोडेर, सबै सामान छोडेर। के बोक्नु अब त्यति टाढा, गाडीमा ठाउँ छैन!”

(“So what happened was, apparently our country was Nepal, and their country was Bhutan. They removed us from schools, asked us to speak their language Dzongkha, not to grow our hair long, and to do everything as they do. You know how elderly people put handkerchiefs in their heads? We were not to do that, nor wear red tika or green pote. Now I understand — they were trying to create their own country, but who knew at that time? And when they did that, apparently Nepalis started protesting. And then they started jailing us haphazardly. So many people fled, leaving their paddy yield in the field, leaving their livestock in their farms, leaving everything behind. What would you even carry that far, there is no space.”)

“तर कत्ति नेपाली छ नि अझै भुटानमै, मामा माइजु, मेरो श्रीमानको दिदीबहिनीहरु। केही कुराकानी केही छैन। उताको उतै यताको यतै।”

(“But there are still so many Nepalis in Bhutan, my uncles and aunts, my sister-in-laws. There is no conversation. Those who are there are there, who are here are here.”)

“शरणार्थी जीवनमा पुगेपछी कहाँ पुग्नु ल्याएको कुराले! काम गर्ने छोराछोरी भए, लुगा फुकालेर लगाउनु पर्यो। दुध मासु केही छैन। खिसृएको कोइला दिन्थ्यो १ महिनाको लागि, १०-१२ दिनमा सकिन्थ्यो। कोइला नसल्केर काँचकाँचै हुन्थ्यो भात कहिले। अनि बस्तीबाट बाँस ल्याएर पकाउँथ्यौं। बाँस कै खुट्टी, बाँस कै झ्याल थियो। छाना दिन्थ्यो संस्थाले, हावाहुरीले उडाएर लग्दिने! चामलहरु सबै भिजेर! दबाइको लागि लाइनमा पालो नै नआउने २ दिन सम्म। पालो भएन भने दबाइ खान नपाएर नै कति मान्छे मर्थ्यो नि गर्मी मा बिरामी हुँदा! पानी लिन जाँदा २०-३० वटा जर्किनको लाइन हुन्थ्यो, आधी नपुगी पानी नीभ्ने। पानी बस्तीमा खोज्न जाँदा कुनैले दिन्थ्यो कुनैले दिन्थेन। हामीले पैसा तिरेको तिमीहरुले बिगारिदिन्छौ भनेर।खोलाको फोहोर पानीमा पनि बाँच्नुपर्यो। गर्मी त्यस्तै फेरी दिनभर र रातभर। नानीहरु नानिदाएर! रातभरी हातले पंखा चलाएर पाता दुखेर! शरणार्थी जीवन त सार्है दुख नि!”

(“When we got to our refugee lives, how would the few stuff we brought over suffice! We had children who could work and needed to change clothes. They [UNHCR] would give us burnt out coal — the ration that was supposed to be for a month lasted barely 10–12 days. And because the coal would not burn, the rice would be undercooked at times. Then we would get bamboo from the villages. The door and windows were also made from bamboo. The commission gave us tin plates for ceilings, but those were always blown away by the wind. The rice would all get wet. Even to get to the medicines, our turn would not come even after 2 days in the queue. Without their turns in the queue, many even died because they did not have their medicines. Even to get water, there were long lines of 20–30 gallons at any given time, and the water would stop coming with barely half of them full! So we would go to the surrounding neighborhood to get water — some neighbors provided water, others did not. They said that we would break their water taps that they paid money for. So we had to live off of the dirty water in the river as well. It was equally hot, every day and night as well. The children could not sleep! And I would fan them to sleep all night — made my arms hurt a lot. Refugee life is really hard.”)

“डुल्न जान चाहीं राम्रै हो। आफ्नै नेपाली भाषा बोल्ने भएर गाह्रो मान्नु परेन।”

(“It is good enough for travel. They speak the same language so we did not have difficulty.”)

“अमेरिका जाने बिषयमा पहिले चाहीं मन लागेन। पछि आउने भनेर बस्दा बस्दा पहिला छोरा आयो अनि १ १/२ वर्ष पछि आएको हामी। अब राम्रै होला अमेरिका, त्यै भएर त सबै साथीहरु आएको होला भन्ने लाग्थ्यो। यत्रो ठुलो अमेरिकामा चारपट्टि छरिंदा आएकै चाल पाउँदैन!”

(“I was not too excited about coming to America in the beginning. So we kept stalling it. First our son came and then a year and half later, we did. I figured, if our friends came here, it must be a good place. But in this huge country, with everyone scattered in four corners, we do not even know who is where!”)

“काम गर्न मन छ तर बिरामी को बिरामी छु। सानोमा पढ्न पाइएन अब कि त काममा जानुपर्यो कि त इङ्ग्लिश पढ्नुपर्यो। Refugee Centerमा साथीहरु Korean, Burmese, African सबै छ। आफ्नो उसले बुझ्दैन, उसको आफुले बुझ्दैन। ‘How are you my friend’ भन्यो, ‘I am good’ भन्यो। ५० बर्ष पुग्न आटिसक्यो, जति पढ़िसक्यो उति बिर्सिहाल्छ!”

(“I want to work but I have been sick. We did not get to study when we were young, and here you either go to work, or you go to study. I have Korean, Burmese, African all kinds of friends at the Refugee Center. They don’t understand me, I don’t understand them. I ask ‘How are you my friend’ and reply ‘I am good’ when they ask. I am nearing 50 now, so however much I study, I forget as much!”)