Bhagiratha lived on a farm near a small village in Bhutan. Farms produced their own food, but a few staples had to be purchased. Although they were vegetarians, sheep and goats were kept to sell (to buy the essentials – salt, oil and kerosene). The nearest market was a 3 day walk each way, and supplies were carried in a basket on the back, secured to the forehead by a strap. As there was no electricity, kerosene lamps were used for light.
Bequeathed to a husband at 5 years of age, Bhagiratha left her home when she was 10, going to live with her husband’s family. She cooked and cleaned for the entire household, making meals that included rice, vegetables, lentils, lettuce, milk, and yogourt (from their own cows). Some of the farmland was at a distance so the men would go for a week at a time to work it. Bhagiratha had to hull all the rice and prepare all the vegetables necessary for a week’s meals for those away, while continuing the regular routine for those at home. Fresh meals needed daily preparation, as refrigeration was unavailable. They operated a 12 acre farm, where millet and rice were planted by hand (after sprouting, individual shoots were planted in rice paddies or fields by all the neighbouring families, going from one farm to another). Bhagiratha rarely slept more than 3 to 4 hours a night! Cooking, cleaning and caring for others while living with no conveniences took all of her time and energy.
A mother at 20 years old, she was never formally schooled, as women were “not allowed to touch books in Bhutan.” She eventually had 6 children, all sons. Bhagiratha and her family left their home, because the army would force boys to work as slaves. If the boys hesitated or refused, they would be killed and buried in front of the parents. The army wanted the fertile land, so forced the Bhutanese farmers out. The family made their way to a refugee camp in Nepal where they spent the next 18 years.
Bhagiratha was widowed in 1992, faced with a life without her husband in the refugee camp. The camp was difficult, as there was little food and water. Her sons grew up and married. One taught her to read and write Nepali, and she now proofreads his books before they are published. Some of Bhagiratha’s grown children and grandchildren came with her to Regina, but families were separated, and others went to the US. She stressed that she “came for a better life for my children.” When she and family members arrived, Regina Open Door Society was extremely helpful. She loved going to English classes and would like to continue learning. She now spends hours practicing her letters, but has also discovered art and loves drawing. As new Canadian citizen, she recently voted in her first election.
She wishes good things for her children and grandchildren. Some have pursued higher education and have achieved unprecedented honors (son/PhD). At 92 years of age, Bhagiratha wants the community of Regina to know that she is “so happy and thankful as Regina is a good place, people are kind and welcoming.” She also stresses that she “wants Canada to remain good, with no fighting and all live together in peace.”
L’armée voulait leur terre, et forçait les garçons de travailler comme des esclaves. Les six garçons de Bhagiratha auraient été tués s’ils avaient résisté. Avec beaucoup d’autres familles bhoutanaises, ils ont fui à des camps de réfugiés au Népal, où ils ont passé les dix-huit prochaines années. Bhagiratha a appris à lire et à écrire au camp, et maintenant elle aime étudier et espère continuer son apprentissage de l’anglais. En tant que nouvelle citoyenne canadienne, elle vient de voter pour la première fois!
Âgée de 92 ans, elle « souhaite le meilleur pour ses enfants et ses petits-enfants. Je suis si heureuse et reconnaissante. Regina est un bon endroit, les gens sont gentils et accueillants. Je veux que le Canada demeure un bon pays, où il n’y a pas de combats et où tout le monde habite ensemble en paix. »