Happy kingdom flourishes in Adelaide’s north


There is only one tree in Kamal Dahal’s front yard. It is an orange tree. Hidden amongst its thick, waxy leaves, small green orbs are slowly growing.

Kamal his wife Tukula, and their children Rohan and Rewaz (Picture courtesy: Nat Rogers/Indaily)
Kamal his wife Tukula, and their children Rohan and Rewaz in their house in Salisbury Plan (Picture courtesy: Nat Rogers/Indaily)

Kamal is a refugee from Bhutan, and this is his house. He bought it last year. When I visit it and sit on the soft brown couch in the front room, it is full of the smell of cooking spices.

His story, which he recounted to me at length sitting on the soft brown couch in the front room, is one of great sadness and great hope. He is one of more than 1000 Bhutanese refugees who have quietly settled in Adelaide’s northern suburbs over the last decade. About 60 Bhutanese refugee families have just purchased homes in the area. Kamal is the face of one of Adelaide’s fastest growing communities, and one of the real success stories of the northern suburbs.

Bhutan, a landlocked microstate on the eastern flank of the Himalayas, is mostly known in the West for placing eighth on Business Week’s index of the happiest countries in the world in 2008. Substantially less well-known is the country’s history of ethnic cleansing.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Bhutan’s ruling majority came to fear a rapidly growing Bhutan-born ethnic Nepalese minority. The government conducted a prolonged campaign of legal harassment to force the ethnic Nepalese – known as Lhotshampas – over the border. In the early part of this century, according to Human Rights Watch, about 108,000 Bhutanese were living in seven refugee camps in Nepal.

Kamal’s journey started when he received a letter from Bhutan’s government.

“They sent us a letter ‘you have to go away from Bhutan, you have to leave the country, you have to flee, this week’,” he told Indaily.

“Everyone says it’s a peaceful country. But more than 100,000 people have been evicted from the country from 1990 to 1993. So it’s very hard to explain how it looks, how it is, whether it’s full of happiness or… some other thing.”

The small family – Kamal, his younger sister and his mother – fled, hitching a truck ride through India to Nepal, and to a UN refugee camp where the young Kamal would spend the next 20 years.

He remembers little of home.

“I was a very little boy. I don’t know how my mum cared about it. I have no idea what a person can feel when he or she has to leave the country.

“But when I think now, we had huge lands, like 10, 12 acres. House, cattle, cardamom, orange garden. So when someone has to leave behind, how does a person feel that?”

The Bhutanese refugees are effectively stateless. Their citizenships have been revoked by Bhutan. And despite Nepalese ancestry they are not Nepalese citizens, leaving them in a legal limbo.

In the early part of this century governments from Nepal and Bhutan cautiously entered into talks to attempt to find a resettlement solution for the Bhutanese refugees.

By this time, Kamal had put himself through school and gained qualifications as a teacher, all the while living in a bamboo hut in the camp.

He thought he was going home.

“In the beginning I thought that I could go back to Bhutan, and I could stay in my own land, my own country. But after 15, 16 months of negotiation between the Bhutan and Nepalese government, nothing came, it was all in vain.

“So I opted for third-country resettlement.”

Since 2007 a resettlement process led by the United States has found new homes for more than 60,000 refugee Bhutanese. Kamal, and his wife Tukula, ended up in Adelaide.

Someone has put a small silver pot on a battered gas hob. I ask Kamal if that’s where the spice smell is coming from. “Dinner,” he replies.

Tukula, meanwhile, is trying to shush an intermittently-crying toddler Rewaz, who burst into tears the moment I arrived. She’s two and a half-years old and looks terrified, huge eyes poking out at me from behind a wet brown fringe. Her old brother Rohan, 11, is just back from soccer training at the local club.

The Dahals came to Australia in 2008. Kamal – ever industrious, always keen to “earn the bread” – is working as an assistant nurse at a local hospital. Rohan was born in Nepal; younger Rewaz was born here.

“We are four now,” Kamal tells me. “She’s my wife. And I’ve got two boys, and myself, so four.”

After six months in emergency accommodation, the Dahals moved into the private rental market. Kamal reckons he travelled through five different properties in four years.

Last year they took out a loan from state government agency HomeStart Finance and purchased the small brick house, financed by Kamal’s work at the hospital. HomeStart provides affordable loans to people on low incomes who can’t afford large deposits; despite that, it’s still quite an achievement to go from refugee to new arrival to home owner in such a short time.

He’s not alone. I’m told almost 60 Bhutanese families have recently bought homes in the area, many taking advantage of the HomeStart loans. The Bhutanese community in the area is large and thriving, well-connected, up to 1000-strong by Kamal’s estimate. “We help each other. It’s a sense of belongingness,” he says.

Despite being Hindus, Kamal and Tukula have decorated the front room with both Buddist and Hindu tapestries – so that the home is welcoming for everyone, Kamal tells me quietly.

Out the front, Indaily’s photographer is arranging the Dahals for a family snap in front of their new house. Rohan, feeling all of his 11 years, is trying to play it cool for the camera. Kamal reaches over, squeezes him by the cheeks. “Smile”. Rohan smiles. The flash goes off.

I’m standing next to the orange tree. I call over to Kamal, “what does owning this place mean to you?”

He’s looking at the camera lens, and doesn’t turn his head when he answers.

“I feel like I am having something, something here.”

I think about his mother’s cardamom plants and her orange garden in Bhutan, and I look again at the little oranges growing on the tree. New life.

Reproduced from http://www.indaily.com.au/