Monday, April 11, 2016

Dechen: A Girl Who Was Lost and Never Found

Dechen still wonders why her father didn’t come looking for her. She wonders if he knew she was actually lost before he died. She remembers having an elder brother who she wishes to meet once.

This true story begins with the death of Dechen’s mother. They were living in Dechencholing where her father was a gardener. After her mother died her father left little Dechen at a neighbor’s and left for Punakha with his new wife. She learned later that she was given away as babysitter. When her father didn’t return for a long time she ran away from her new home and started her journey towards Punakha to find her father, on foot.

Picture and story shared with permission 
Seeing a nine-year-old little girl walking alone on the highway above Simtokha a car stopped. She told the person that her father was in Punakha and she was going there to look for him. The car gave her a ride till Khuruthang. Upon reaching there she didn’t know where to look for her father. She had thought Punakha would be a small place. Having knocked all the doors in Khuruthang town she finally reached a house where a lady took her in.

The lady asked her to live there and work for her until she could find her father. She agreed but when she couldn’t find her father after many days she decided to head back to Thimphu. When she reached Thimphu she went to her maternal uncle’s place in Changzamtog. Her uncle had long moved away. The new tenant occupying the apartment took her in and persuaded her to live with them. With nowhere else to go she stayed with them hoping her father would come looking for her.

Her new guardian soon took her to their village in Paro Shaba and made her babysit there. She grew up from a little girl into a young woman in the new place and became part of the family and the place. Though she wasn’t sent to school or treated equally at home she was happy to have found a place to sleep and feed. She would walk her master’s child to school and work in the field. Often she would take their vegetable produce and sell them by the roadside along with other farmers. 

After six years in Paro, in 2010 she finally met a woman, among the mothers who came to drop their children to school, who knew her parents. It was from her that Dechen learned her father had passed away recently. The woman helped her find the number of her uncle living in Thimphu. And from her phone she made a call. Her uncle asked her to come to Thimphu.

She went home that day and shared the good news with her master’s family only to upset them. She expected them to pay her for all the services and let her go but it turned out that they didn’t want her to leave. Her master’s daughter had gone to Australia and they needed her hand in raising their grandchild.

During her conversations with her uncle over the phone she told him about the situation, so he asked someone in Paro to help her get out of there and pay for her travel till Thimphu. Early one morning, before anyone was awake she ran away from home and went to her uncle’s connection and escaped to Thimphu.

She found her uncle in Thimphu and met many of her relatives whom she never knew existed. But her brother was not among them. Nobody knew where her brother was. Her relatives were nice to her and she was on high demand because she was good at household chores and most importantly at babysitting.

After a while she felt the need to work and earn for herself because she knew no one was going to pay her at the end. So she joined as a laborer at construction of Le Mariden hotel in Thimphu. That’s when her relationship with her relatives soured because she couldn’t be as useful to them now. At her worksite she met a man with whom she finally married and found a place to call her own.

But life had more misery in store for her; she gave birth to a premature baby and lost it shortly. Her husband who now had a steady job took extraordinary leave to pursue degree in India. And to make ends meet Dechen came looking for a hotel job in my sister in-law’s small restaurant. That’s how I knew all about her. She was still recovering from her C- section surgery when she joined. It’s been two years since she joined the restaurant. Her husband returned with a degree but lost his old job.

Last year during Thimphu Tshechu her husband had taken a loan of Nu.43,000 from a friend on a ridiculous interest rate of 10% per month to run a stall. Their stall had run into loss and ever since the loan shark has been harassing them. They have already paid over Nu.30,000 in interest alone and their friend has been raining calls on them. Once they were locked inside their own house when they refused to open the door... 

Dechen once asked me ‘Achu, people say if we suffer we will prosper, but why is my suffering never ending?” I couldn’t answer her. I’m still trying to overcome haunting images formed in my head. It’s almost a horror story and she is brave enough to have survived.

I have so many questions; why did her father leave her? Why he never came looking r=for her? Did he once think of her? Where could her brother be? Why didn’t those families help her find her father? How could all these happen in Bhutan? Why is life so unfair to her? How could Dechen be so happy despite all these?

And through this blog I would like to seek everyone’s help in finding her lost brother. His name is Sonam Tshering and he must be in his mid twenties now. He may be illiterate. Let us make at least one thing fair for her. If you wish to help her more, get in touch with me. I can share other details or even let you meet her personally. 


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