Connecting Cleveland / Education Materials

The settlement turned into ashes in an hour

By Hari Kumar Dahal

hkMy body trembled. My ears alerted towards reverberating sounds in the vicinity; difficult enough to figure out the actual sources and directions. There seemed to be continuous cracking and bombing. The atmosphere appeared totally strange with lots of sounds of varying intensities.

It was the fifth period in Tri-Ratna Secondary School. The Mathematics teacher, Narayan Baniya, was tutoring us ‘Time and Works’, a chapter in Compulsory Mathematics. The unknown uproars unexpectedly interrupted the classroom environment. Still, the teacher asked us to focus our eyes on the blackboard, where he was solving some logical problems. Thus, we tried to ignore the surrounding sounds that were really aloud to tolerate.

Suddenly, students and teachers from other classrooms started screaming – fire, fire. They started running hither and thither. Looks like everyone was running
like a herd of dispersed rabbits. The single entrance became a cotton thread for all of us. Finally, I came out of the classroom with my school bag, and started running towards the massive smokes, gushing the west.

The usual route on foot up to Sector C from our school took hardly a minute for most of us to reach the fire site, which was, otherwise, longer while in normal walk. Nearer we approached, louder became the cracking sounds. We could hear heavy explosions – probably caused by gas cylinders. The flame was bouncing from roof to roof adding panic to the hearts of women, children, elderly and differently- able people residing inside the thatch and plastic roofed huts. The assemblage of smoke was so dense that it was extremely difficult to estimate numbers of huts turning into ashes one after the other in no time.

People were running desperately – some of them trying to reach their relative’s huts for assisting them to take out if anything seemed possible. Some were seen helplessly crying, some capturing the cruelty of inferno in their cameras and smashing banana trees to contain the fire, or carrying water in whatever capacity they could. Inside the crowd, I found my Account Teacher, Padam Kalikote, horridly fighting the inferno heading towards his hut. Thank god. I could at least played my role as a pupil in safely taking out few sacks of kitchen items to save his hut from turning to ashes. Like his, several Bhutanese families’ fate may be blamed.

Then arrived a fire truck donated by the UNHCR from Damak Municipality bringing a lot of hopes for other refugees, who were fearing of being displaced. Another fire brigade vehicle reached the site in a couple of minutes and started battling the inferno.
I stood by a side and rang the Kathmandu- based office of Bhutan News Service for a breaking news after confirming that the mishap was taking place in Sector C4. The fire battle lasted almost for an hour, also joined by another fire extinguisher from Mechi Nagar Municipality. The settlement of Sector C4 turned into ashes in less than an hour, destroying valuable documents and other properties of fellow- Bhutanese refugees. They have lost almost everything that is a must to prove their Bhutanese identity. Students lost their dresses, books, textbooks and certificates. While, their parents have lost everything including jewelries, camp registration documents, refugee identity cards and IOM related papers in no time, forget about their personal belongings and clothes.

I felt pity for those who suffered the fate. I could do nothing except praying to Almighty that our people never come across similar fate in future. After I reached my hut in Sector A, I tried concentrating in my studies but failed. I thought several friends have become homeless, and have no books to read. The home assignments given by my teachers were certain to remain unaccomplished, as the school was likely to remain shutdown the very next day.

In the evening a part of my mind abated me to jot down this piece to let our fellow relatives, friends and well-wishers living across the globe know, ‘if you have anything to serve mankind in dire need, its high time to raise helping hands in any form‘.

(The article was first published in the news portal of Bhutan News Service (Dec-07- 2012) , and also in Bhutanese newspaper, The Refugee Herald of December.)
And additionally, this article is also published in the bulletin of Connecting Cleveland, January 2014.

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