I write this note today in honor of my friend Nawang Dechen. Until just recently I had not realized how significant this friend was and is to me. She was one of the very few friends that I hung out with during a difficult time of my life. While she was trying to be a good friend to me, she had imparted many lessons on to me that are unfolding at present. I love this friend dearly still and wish she was just in the neighborhood to just give her a call and hang out over coffee and pokaudas.
Nawang Dechen was born in Tibet. As a very little girl her family had to flee from Tibet due to the Chinese occupation. Her family used to be quite well-to-do but as they fled the country and took refuge in Nepal, they had to start from scratch. I do not know all the little details of how her parents made it through the first years of their life in Nepal. However, right in our neighborhood there was the Tibetan camp. Tibetans are very good at weaving carpets and are known for their success in Carpet entreneurship. Over the years, in partnership with several of her father’s friends they started a carpet business which really flourished. Some of the rich people in Nepal are Tibetans who export carpets all around the world.
As the government of Nepal kept changing, the instability also hit her father’s business. The business stopped flourishing as it used to, but it was good enough that she was able to go to good schools in Kathmandu. I met her when we were in 4th grade. She changed school and through some turn of events we again ended up in the same High School. Those were the years I was struggling with my identity. I was struggling with fitting in and what not. And there Nawang steps into my life with a whole different perspective. She seemed mature for her age as if the hardships of her life had pushed her to skip the frivolity of the high school years. She wanted to study hard and become a ‘somebody’ but the refugee status in her forehead was tearing her apart. The refugee status stunted her motivation as though she knew no matter how hard she tried in school and in other faculties of life, her refugee status would not allow her to prosper. I just did not get that concept. She kept hammering the fact that she did not have a citizenship, and for me she was just a normal high school friend of mine. But in reality she could not be a normal high school girl.
Nawang’s father was already in his 60s. Her mother had somehow moved to the United States and was actually supporting her left-behind family in Nepal. He was lonely, of course and the fact that he was a refugee kept eating away at him that reflected on the family too. Nawang had a younger sister and she took on the burden of keeping her family together. When things became hard, she used to call me. I do not understand what solace she found in me, a spoilt brat that had nothing to worry about in life.
Today as I was making pokaudas, tears just streamed down my eyes in memory of my dear friend. After so many struggles and several rejections, her whole family have finally made it to the United States to be part of what is called the dignified third country resettlement. I am happy that her family has reunified with her mother. Things still do not look brighter yet, but they are hopeful. They are hopeful that the refugee status will soon be deleted from their fate. They are hopeful that now through serious steps in school and vocational jobs, they will prosper.
My dear friend Nawang, I am so sorry for not understanding your circumstances then. Just by being there in my life you had taught such important lessons of life: resilience and faith. And I feel like your presence in my life then was a premonition of what I would be doing in my future life or current life. Just as I could not do anything then for you, but just be there and listen, I feel like being a refugee social worker I come across so many situations where I cannot do anything but just be there and listen.