Especially when you are at distant, I would bid that hardly you believe it when you hear the news related to death of your beloved family member. Perhaps this doubt is likely to last for several hours too at least until you get closure to clues about the truth. It might be because this is an obvious human nature. Not to an exception, I stranded for several hours in confusions when I first heard the news (soon swung into public concern inside refugee camps) that explored the death of my beloved sister Menuka Poudel, 20, in Arizona. The later-on-proven-fact that she committed suicide was yet another mind blowing sock to me for there existed no any valid reasons for her to opt for such a ‘means’ to end up worthy life.
My sister Menuka committed suicide in less than a couple of months since she had arrived Arizona with parents and youngest sister through resettlement program. When I heard the news for the first time, it was told that both my parents including the youngest sister were in unconscious state due to the tragic incident. Some of them were rushed to hospital too; thanks to better medication system here in the USA.
The reason, now I guess, might be because I was still back in camps. I was and am still a responsible son, brother, to my family members for they completely depend on me. My other two sisters (both younger to me) were still in camps at a time when the tragedy took an otherwise turn in my new home in Arizona. Besides the worry about the condition of my parents and little sister in Arizona, I equally had the challenge to convince two other sisters who were still in camps. Nevertheless, patience has had to serve as ‘inspirational tool’ to me throughout this tragic period; thanks to all relatives, neighbors and community folks back in camps who showed up to share my grief by giving me further courage, strength to overcome this hard-hit challenge.
On the other side, I was more concerned about the fact that if my meeting with parents would be delayed further, there might occur another unexpected awful incident. I was also pretty much worried about whether it would be possible to carry out the ritual rites in accordance with the Hindu culture, whether I would be able to meet my family during the time of ritual rites as I was yet to receive my departure date. I am now proud that finally I was able to join my family in Arizona in a few days time (though I could not pay my last tribute to my late sister Menuka). Making ‘friend in need is friend in deed’ hit the reality; many of my friends, neighbors helped me to share my story with the concerned authorities for expediting my departure from Nepal. He does not want his name to be publicly mentioned here, in his own words it’s sensitive, but one of the top editors of Bhutan News Service has a significant hand in convincing the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to expedite my flight. I hardly find appropriate words to appreciate his timely help but I continue to hope he will show up to help as many people (like me) as possible in becoming the ‘voice of the voiceless’ in future too.
When I arrived here in Arizona on December 9, I found the situation otherwise than what I had expected while I was in camp. I could see many friends and relatives from Bhutanese community showing up to extend their helping hands; even at night time there used to be more than twenty individuals gathered in my home, a situation exactly similar to what it used to be back in Bhutan or in camps. I will be unfair if I miss to take this opportunity to thank all of those who helped me and my family to get out of such throbbing circumstances.
The IOM’s help in expediting my case is very appreciative; thanks to those involved in arranging my early flights. Chandra Bhattarai, who played crucial role in taking my voice upto the office of the IOM, deserves my sincere words of gratitude. I had never realized the importance and power of media until my late sister Menuka’s story was highlighted by Bhutan News Service, which had made community folks to wake up to lend their helping hands; thanks to the BNS family. I am also equally thankful to Bhutanese community folks here in Arizona for their continuous and praiseworthy support during sorrowful time. The support of my family’s resettlement agency was learnt to be prompt, timely and appreciative, thus, I cannot stay away without offering them a garland of thanks. I also like to appreciate the help (be it of any nature) rendered by community folks from ‘out of State’.
Interestingly, I still remember one incident back in refugee camp that developed as a result of the news of my sister’s suicide. One of my neighbors, who was ready to ‘sign application declaring his willingness to get resettled,’ pulled back his stance and never showed on the day of his appointment in the UNHCR office. I feel he is still not ready for doing it. I do not want to hesitate here to let the community folks know through this write-up that ‘resettlement alone might not be the reason for her to commit suicide.’ Yet, frustration after resettlement might have contributed a bit on her courage to commit suicide. As you all wonder the exact reasons for her to commit suicide, I can just join you for I am much unknown about it too.
At a time when third country resettlement was gaining a good momentum, both rumors and factual news about suicide cases, in particular in the USA, time and again indulged refugee camps in Nepal. Most of such rumors have largely contributed to withdrawal of ‘declaration of interests for resettlement’ by many refugees. For those Bhutanese parents, who wish not to opt for resettlement despite their young children’s keen wish to be resettled, this serves as an immediate exceptional ‘lame excuse’. Appropriate measures and needy efforts to address this emerging problem on time are, however, thinly heard, if not at all. As far the role of settlement agencies is concerned, I would say the orientation given by IOM should include lessons that morally and psychologically boost resettling folks. In addition to this, resettling agency should also conduct workshops and trainings that help in building positive thinking and psychological strength among the resettled folks.
A single person, community or concerned authority, let alone, cannot be blamed; yet we are part of it when viewed from moral sense. Since those committing suicide are Bhutanese, it is the responsibility of all of us to kick-start fresh talks, debates on ‘how to “try” to stop/discourage’ such incidents in the future course of time. I am already convinced to the fact that stopping it permanently might be challenging and almost impossible but we can bring a change and make a big positive difference if we start such campaign quite dedicatedly. Then are you ready to be a part of it? Can we stop suicide? Let’s keep this debate going and obviously we might be able to explore some possibilities.
To conclude, I like to pray and wish that the soul of my beloved sister late Menuka including those community members who have committed suicide after their resettlement rest in peace in heaven. Let god give rest of us a powerful strength to overcome this crucial transitional phase after resettlement.
Editor’s note: Khem Khadka has partially helped the writer to prepare this open letter.