Reporter’s Diary: From Beldangi to Louisville
Delved in the process of resettlement in the US, the process facilitated by International Organization of Migration (IOM), I with my family, have had a busy time schedule in last week of December 2008, and beginning of the new year. I had to be careful in time management and meet relatives and friends, especially my team of Bhutan News Service and Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan. Pre-departure medical check-up was scheduled for second day of January, limiting the three day cultural orientation to just December 31, 2008. January 3 was the date for departure from camp.
The evening of January 2 became a worth event to recall and rejoice. There was gathering of in-laws, even from Bhutan, who came to see their parents whom I never met before. Among all it was good time for me talking to Ichha, Thakur and Khem Kafle regarding our mission of disseminating information through media.
January 3 was the day of my family’s departure from camp to Kathmandu. Before the dawn everyone in the house woke up, prepared breakfast and tea for our travel. There were helping hands to carry our bags/luggage to Beldangi –I from Beldangi-II, gifts and souvenirs, tika and all well wishing for the journey. More than that were tearful eyes of kith and kin bidding farewell.
Three IOM buses ferried the first batch of refuges in 2009 from camps to Bhadrapur airport. The chartered flights of Yeti Airlines were delayed several hours due to foggy weather in Kathmandu. It was only at around five o’clock in the evening that we, the last group could board the small aircraft, that flew for forty-five minutes to reach the only international airport of Nepal, TIA.
Flying to Kathmandu from Bhadrapur appeared no less than a thrilling mountain flight. The setting sun in the far end of western horizon was a glowing red ball. The mountain peaks seemed to be floating above the sea of clouds glowed golden yellow to tawny red in the twilight. I felt, the charm of lofty Himalayas could be hardly erased of anyone who chanced to see it even once.
In IOM transit center, Mahargunj Kathmandu
My thirteen years stay in Kathmandu for study and job was summarized to three days before flying to US. Friends- Tirtha, Anjoo and Naveen came to see me and say goodbye. Indra could not arrange time to talk face-to-face, so made a phone call for reasserting our plan of continue uphold media. There was the formality of signing a document of credit to IOM that it loaned to all after being resettled in US.
At the TIA
On January 6, thirty-five of us were scheduled to fly to Delhi from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Heading towards the airport by IOM bus, we experienced an unexpected “bandh” at Chahabil and had to choose a round-about way via Bishalnagar. It took around one hour for the bus to make through the way to Gaushala and finally to the airport. We waited for more than four hours to complete the formalities of exit at TIA. Although we were provided with the boarding-pass for Nepal Airlines (formerly RNAC), it was not likely to be ready for the flight. At about 5:30 pm our escort, Mr. Pascal and we, boarded into the Boeing 787 of Jet Airways that took one hour and forty-five minutes to land at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
In New Delhi
The grandeur of this airport was beyond my imagination. The airfield was fabulously lit with sodium lamps and it was quite warm comparing to Kathmandu. We entered into a more technology-driven world of Asia. Some of my companions were astonished to see the automatic sliding door working while others were bewildered not being able to use drinking water in the lounge.
Delhi was never a hospitable place for Bhutanese refugees in the former years, particularly for the purpose of lobby and advocacy. But now, airport staffs were ready to receive us, serve our dinner in the lounge and guide us to the exit gates leading to the jet plane. Probably south bloc’s idea of making a demographic balance in Bhutan, as expressed by the Indian foreign minister in early 2008 has been working well.
We boarded into a larger aircraft of Jet Airways at about 3:30 am flying from Delhi to Brussels. In the sky the night overlapped moving westward to Europe, and in Brussels it was about 7 am as the aircraft prepared to land. Brussels was covered with snow and temperature below freezing.
Pascal handed over his responsibility to another IOM official who guided us in the airport building for check-in formalities. Brussels was our transit from Delhi to Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey. Before boarding into another jet plane to Newark, we spent a brief period of forty-five minutes in Brussels International Airport.
The plane was scheduled to take-off from Brussels at half- past eight, local time, but was late by half-an-hour. The jet flew across the Atlantic Ocean and landed at Newark airport at about 3 pm, local time. Newark was our port of entry to US.
A little drama at Newark airport
At Newark, it took over more than three hours to complete the formalities of registering ourselves with custom and security officials. IOM officials at Newark airport were too hostile to the refugees. They could not make people feel comfortable on the very first day of their entry to US. The lady officials particularly shouted and even yelled to the top of their voice and make timid refugees confused and worried. I could see their inefficiency in work-they try to separate members of family without giving adequate information what they were actually doing to them.
In our group some families were destined to fly over to their given destination, while some were prescribed to stay in hotel. There was a mess of inefficient management exhibited by IOM-tag holders; themselves not being clear about stay in hotel or arrange connecting flights. The two Bhutanese refugee youths assisting in the airport were reticent enough to communicate with us openly. For a group of five families night halt at Days’ Hotel was arranged where people had an awesome experience not being able to open the hot rooms with the given key-card.
The next day episode
Early at six in the morning, we were virtually ordered to pack our luggage and get down from the lift to be transported to the airport. We could see a lady in the lobby of hotel, shouting at refugees from other part of the world. She was running in and out, here and there; shouting the names of refugees several times, make them stand in line, at times ordering to take their luggage out and at other times carry inside. She was also yelling at other IOM escorts as if she was the sole manager of whole affair. I felt a deep sense of pity for their whole mess of work, and quite uncomfortable for having got such rowdy- natured escorts at a far-away place. We all were worried whether we could reach our designated destinations safely. Finally we were taken to the airport and guided to respective exit doors of the building to board the domestic flights of United States. Three families flew to Chicago and again divided to take respective airplane to our destinations.
At Louisville international airport
It was about 3 pm when my family landed at Louisville international airport. As we were walking through the hallway of airport building, a bit of confusion in mind, we were greeted by a stout, black man of clearly-African-origin who happened to be our case-worker, Hassan. He helped us with our carry-on and luggage, opened the door of his office car and took to our apartment.