November 28, 2013

Tulasi Ghimirey's Thanksgiving letter

"I have the pictures of all the
volunteers in my memory of my heart."

First published November 26, 2009

Last summer, I met Tulasi Ghimirey at the Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group July Fourth picnic. In 1991, in an ethnic cleansing, the Bhutanese government exiled the Nepali-origin community from Bhutan, their homeland. For more than a quarter century, they subsisted in UN-run refugee camps in southeastern Nepal. In 2000, Tulasi arrived in the U.S., and in the coming years, tens of thousands more Bhutanese refugees followed, arriving in the U.S. and several other countries. In 2009, Tulasi’s parents joined him in an emotional reunion (photos here). Today, thousands still languish in the camps squalid makeshift huts of bamboo and plastic —  homeless, stateless victims enduring years of struggle and poverty. 

Dear Friends,

It is a THANKSGIVING time and a happy time.

In recent months, many great citizens of this country were involved in helping our Bhutanese people in our transformation process to this new way of life. It is totally different to the way we are brought up and raised.

Take my family, for example. They know manual work, not like high technology work here. We know how to plough the fields using a big bull but not a tractor or the one shown in [children’s TV program] Bob the Builder.

“We came to this land where human rights
and democracy are respected.” 
After my arrival, I realized that I can wear the clothes of my own choice and can eat the food of my habits. I can speak freely and write freely and can have a lawyer in the court house in one’s defense. What a free world.

My dad used to pay fees for having a radio in my house and that was a source of great entertainment. Few lucky ones used to own this, also. Here everyone has their own TV, computer and wristwatch.

We were never exposed to the greater world and came from a bamboo hut to a beautiful furnished house where heating and cooling device is under your control. No more running to the muddy rivers. Boy! Clothes can be washed within a few hours.

Yet every evening you go and talk to my friends:
they are nervous.
Smoke alarm is beeping. Someone tried to warm a boiled egg in the microwave and there was a big bang. Three people came and robbed our cash, showing a gun. A Bhutanese guy was in a dumpster [to recycle some items], and the pickup truck came. The guy’s friend saw [the situation] yet couldn’t explain in English to the driver that a man was in the dumpster. The driver kept loading the dumpster until the friend knocked on the door of the truck and pointed to the dumpster. The driver finally understand, and the man’s life was saved.

Cold was the greatest danger for us. 
Back in refugee camps, the temperature was always hot. People reached Atlanta with NO warm clothes. Children and older people were the victims, especially. And several HEROS OF MANKIND jumped in and started helping our people. There were child volunteers, young volunteers, old volunteers, female volunteers, male volunteers, and of all colors. No one asked me, What is your race?

There are thousand of such stories and a reality. Now things are getting better. Yet this transformation process definitely will take a long time, and your help and support is always needed.

American citizens are great and now we have to learn this culture too. 
I have the pictures of all the volunteers in my memory of my heart. Your love and kindness. Your hard work, time, and dedication to improve the living conditions by using your talents is a greatest gift for us. Several projects have began to support us. God, please protect this great people.

Today Tulasi is with his family for Thanksgiving and would like to thank each of you with greatest respect for your support for me, my family, and my community.

Wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Namaste [Sanskrit: a friendly greeting, meaning, I bow to you].

— Tulasi, Kumari and Ryan

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Cross-posted at Bhutan > Atlanta