Viviane Dalles

Photo Essay : - A Journey of Exile , 2009/10

Ethical identity remains in the blood. Each generation helps to liberate the coming one despite the uprooting or environmental difficulties. Some minorities have become even stronger than they used to be, it's beyond any law and it keeps me fascinated.

The past is not what disappears but what defines us.


A landlocked Bhuddist country, Bhutan is well-known for being one of the last Shangri-La (paradise) on earth. Bordering China to the north and India to the south, this kingdom is home to about 600,000 people.

In 1974, the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, (1974-2006) announced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as the country’s new philosophy of economic and social development. He believed that the happiness of his people was much more important than the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

But in the late 80s, in order to re-enforce a sense of national identity and ensure a homogenous culture, the King of Bhutan imposed the rule of “One nation, One people” in which the dress code and the official behavior had to be respected by every Bhutanese citizen.

As a result, in the 90s, the "Lhotshampas", an ethnic group of Nepali origin who had been called on by the Kingdom to cultivate land in the south of the country, were expelled.

As a minority speaking Nepali and practicing Hinduism, they represented a threat to the Kingdom’s rule of “One nation, One people” and they were declared to be de facto illegal immigrants.

In total one sixth of the Bhutanese population became refugees with 107.000 of them settling in camps in Nepal coordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). For the past 18 years, the Nepali and the Bhutanese governments have been holding yearly meetings to discuss their fate but neither country has been willing to accept them as citizens, leaving the Lhotshampas in limbo.

In November 2007, after years of waiting, the UNHCR with the cooperation of the Nepali Government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began to roll out a large resettlement programme: Within 5 years, 60.000 of the refugees were to migrate to the United States with the remaining refugees leaving for Denmark, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.

In March 2009 Viviane Dalles spend time in camps in Nepal with the refugees and in August she followed one family, the Mainalis, from their last days in the camp to their first tentative steps on American soil, in Dallas.

Poster of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck (1974-2006) in a hut.
Beldangi camps welcome 50.000 of the 107.000 refugees who arrived in the early 90 s. In total seven camps are scattered throughout the southeast of the country.
Radika Mainali (on the left) with her parents in Bhutan in the 70s.
Radika Mainali with her son, her daughter in law and her two grand daughters.The Mainali have been living as refugees for the past 18 years.Back row from left: Rabi Lal Mainali, 37, his wife Hema Devi, 36. Front row from left: Bidhya, 10, Radika (Rabi s mother), 76, and Rabina, 12.In Few days the Mainali will be travelling to Dallas in Texas: a third country for a new home.Traditional dress gives a sense of Identity and belonging to a community. After being a refugee for more than 18 years, Rabi, Hema and Radika still feel Bhutanese when they are wearing the
Royal Governement of Bhutan.The holder of this card is a Bhutanese citizen.Radika Mainali s Bhutanese Identiy card.
Radika Mainali s Bhutanese Identiy card.
At 5.00 am the Mainali Family, surrounded by friends and relatives, finally left the refugees camps, Beldangi II.
Last goodbie s for the ones who stay in the camps.
Radika s Baptem. Radika Mainali, in a plane for the first time in her life, praying before they take off.
At the airport in Dallas, Hema Devi  Mainali greeted by one of her niece who arrived in United States one year ago.
Hindu Autel. Hema improvises a little Hindu temple in their living room for the upcoming puja to celebrate their new house in America.
L: Wild Fowers Complex, Dallas, TX.R: At the non profit organisation Catholic Charities office in Dallas, Mulla, a former Sudanese refugee himself, works as a case worker and helps the new refugees with the American administrative documents.The Non profit organisation, which is funded half by the American government and half by private donations, will pay all of the refugees expenses ( rent, food, medications, clothes, furniture) for the first four months. From then the refugees must be able to work and cover all theirs bills and needs.
L: The Holy Mai River, Nepal, August 200918 years ago the Mainali family arrived in Nepal amongst more than 100.000 Bhutanese refugees. For six months they lived along this river before the UNHCR set up the camps. Today, they come for the last time to take a bath, to give offerings and to pray for their long journey to the United States.R: Puja - Hindu ritual - Dallas, TX
L: Food distribution, Refugee camps, Nepal, August 2009. Every 15 days the refugees get food ration from the World Food Program.R: Dallas, Texas, September 2009
L: Bidhya at school in the camp, Nepal, August 2009. Children get education in the camps mostly supported by the UNHCR and the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) Caritas. Students learn Sciences, Geography, History, Nepali and also Dzongkha, the National Bhutanese language.R: First day at school for Bidhyat school. Dallas, Texas, September 2009
L: Hema cooking in their hut, refugee camp, Nepal, August 2009.R: Lunchtime, Dallas, Texas, September 2009Rabina and Bidhya in their living room having Dal Bath, the most popular traditional Nepali dish.
L: Refugee Camp, Nepal, August 2009Radika having a nap in the hut where she lived with her son, Rabi, his wife and their two daughters.R: Wild Flower complex, Dallas, February 2010.
Every saturday the Bhutannese community gathers and performs a puja.
Hema on the phone, Dallas, Texas. Radika the grandmother, listening carefully to the news from their relatives who live near the Butanese border.Radika doesn t really fit in her new life in Dallas:
Radika looking intrigued by the dishwasher in their new kitchen.
Since December 2009, two months after their arrival in Dallas, Hema has been working as a housekeeper at Baylor Hospital downtown.She gets paid $910 Us per month.
In Bhutan, his family was rich. They were all farmers with cattle, orange groves and they lived confortably and peacefully. Two months after his arrival in Dallas, Rabi got his first job as a cashier in one of the biggest supermarket chains in the United States. Everyday he spends more than 3 hours traveling to and from work.
Photograph of Rabi Lal Mainali in Bhutan, in the 80s, wearing a Go, the Bhutanese traditional dress for men.
L: BhutanR: Visiting Dallas in September 2009 for the fisrst time with her husband and her two daughters, Hema is impressed by the skyscrapers and exvlaims,