When we meet people for the first time we have no idea of their background or life experiences, yet true to our human nature, we tend to form opinions of them based solely on our first impression. The problem with that is that each person's first impression is colored by his or her own personal lens, which may be good or bad, but is rarely accurate.
Upon first glance at any of the warm, smiling faces of the resettled population of Bhutanese refugees you'd have no way of guessing the hardships they've endured. If you'd joined them on their field trip to Mt. Rainier, you might have seen their eyes light up when they encountered climbers who spoke Nepali. What you probably wouldn't know was that they'd been forced to live in exile for 15-20 years in eastern Nepal before they were able to find countries that would allow them in.
What crime had 105,000+ native-born Bhutanese committed to deserve this exile? They were Lhotshampas. This means they were of Nepalese ancestry. In the early 1990's, the powers-that-be in Bhutan decided to force this entire population of their citizens out of their own country based solely on their bloodline. While the UNHCR was able to secure some territory in Nepal for refugee camps, Nepal has not been willing to offer them citizenship and Bhutan remains immutable in its stance of denying re-entry.
I can't seem to stop wondering when humanity will look back at its cyclical history and the results of each and every instance of ethnic cleansing and collectively recognize the gravity of it all. And end it. We need only to look into each other's hearts, listen to one another's stories, communicate rather than letting our imaginations and first impressions guide us.
I write this after having spent a lovely afternoon making art with a Bhutanese seniors group last week. From The Art of Saving Humanity's piles of generous art supply donations, we used card stock, art papers, glues, paints and paintbrushes. Having learned of their love of nature and plants, I pulled out a shoebox of botanicals I'd pressed last summer and brought those along as well. This simple art project was refreshingly mindless. Everyone seemed to lose themselves in it, if only for a moment.
Although none of the group spoke English, their facial expressions and creative expression communicated for them. I am grateful to have escaped reality with them for those two short hours and I very much look forward to future group sessions.
There is much more to the story of the Bhutanese refugees. To learn more: