Those Who Exchange Hearts in Malaysia

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When the sky is clear, Rajan Thapa, 37, stares towards Kula Lumpur from Genting Highlands, which is about 30 kilometers away from the Malaysian capital. For him, the mega towers of Kuala Lumpur are dwarfed by his own towering struggles. Rapid economic growth and neon-lights of the proud and prosperous city fail to illuminate his life.

Born in Gulmi of Nepal, Thapa has spent half of his youth in the highlands, shrouded in difficulties and misery. He has been working as a laborer on a small hill of Genting for the past 15 years. He misses his homeland and mother, of course, but the love for his mistress is strong enough to keep him here. He does not have the legal documents to return home even if he wants to.

Resigned to a confined life, he often does not have time to ponder on life. Like the roads in the hill, his life too is full of twists and turns – each road telling the story of betrayal, fraud and humiliation that he has faced.

Thapa was only 21 when he entered Malaysia in 2002 on a work visa. A few months after he started work, he failed the medical tests by his employer. But how could he fail the test in Malaysia which he had passed in Nepal? He did not understand, but he knew that he would be deported for failing the test.

And one night, he ran away from the company as it prepared to deport him. With that decision, he gave up his legal documents and identity which the company possessed and became a target for the country’s law enforcement authorities.

A few days later, he found a job as a security guard in a casino. However, he felt insecure as he constantly feared arrest by police due to his status as an illegal migrant. He moved to a hill in Genting Highlands where he rented two hectares of land from a Chinese businessman. He then built a small temporary bamboo hut wrapped with flex prints.

Thapa pays annual rent of 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit or about NRs. 150,000 and grows seasonal vegetables like beans and chilly on the  land. However, through bitter experiences, he has found that growing vegetables is risky and not always a reliable source of income.

He shares how in a few days he lost about 3,000 Ringgit as heavy rainfall completely destroyed the ripe beans. The profit and loss, however, does not disturb him as much as the yearning to return home when his mother asks on the telephone, “When are you returning home, son?”

He sometimes wonders how his village might have changed in the decade following his absence. “I do not know whether my mother’s face has wrinkled already. Even the memory of my dad is gradually fading,” Thapa shared. His father passed away some years ago after Thapa arrived in Malaysia. The pain of being unable to attend his funeral still makes Thapa restless.

His only solace is the love for an Indonesian girl, with whom he has been for the past five years. Being alone made him yearn for companionship and that is where the girl, Dinda, comes in. “I’m always busy on the farm from morning to evening. I wished that someone would help me. And when she came, I didn’t realize when I gave her my heart.”

He had just married when he set out for Malaysia 15 years ago, carrying big dreams and aspirations. Back home, his wife waited for him. But two years after Thapa started a relationship with Dinda, she left her in-laws’ home.

His mother tells him that he can bring home a woman of any nationality when he returns. She says she will accept her. However, Dinda does not want to go to Nepal. And Thapa’s love for her has kept him in Genting Highlands of Malaysia.

“Here, I earn about NRs. 20,000 – NRs. 25,000 a month. What can I do if I return in Nepal? Even if I want, I do not have the proper legal documents,” he sighed.

Thapa is not the only Nepali in Genting in a similar dilemma. Tika Ram Nepali, who has been living in Genting and rents land for vegetable farming, said there are at least a dozen Nepalese living in Genting, who have settled down with Indonesian women. The majority, however, do not plan to have babies.

Kintang Gale, who is originally from Nuwakot of Nepal, is another character – a victim of similar circumstances. He entered Malaysia in 2005 after handing over NRs. 150,000 to an ‘agent’ who promised him good pay in a reputed furniture company in Malaysia. But when he did not get the salary he was promised, he ran away from the company and travelled around before settling down in Genting.

Gale has leased three hectares of land for farming and lives with an Indonesian woman. His family in Nepal does not know about his affair. Back home, his wife is raising two children on her own. He sends home money almost every month and calls his wife on alternate days. “We won’t earn this much money in the village. And how can we raise the children and send them to school without money?”

Many people in such a situation do not use contraceptives. They fear going to the city to purchase contraceptives as they risk arrest due to their illegal immigrant status. When women become pregnant, they have no choice but to abort, that too with the help of ‘agents’ who take hefty commissions for the service. They have to spend about 5,000 Ringgit for an abortion.

A Nepali, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said his Indonesian partner had had four abortions. “Not only do I have to spend a huge amount of money, I won’t be able to work for a few days in order to take care of her after the abortion.”

Genting Highland is home to many Nepalese living as illegal immigrants. Some of them shared their dreams and aspirations for a better life while others shared compulsions and regrets. But a common twist of fate led them there. Their stories of how they got to Genting are similar.

According to the Nepali Embassy in Malaysia, as many as 485,000 Nepalese are working in the country. It says the number could be around 700,000 if you add those working illegally in Malaysia.

Nepal Rostra Bank, the central bank of Nepal, has recorded NRs. 68.61 billion in remittance from Nepalese working in Malaysia during the fiscal year of 2016/017. The country is largely dependent on people like Thapa, whose sweat, pain and struggles support the economy of the country.

Asked when they plan to return home, their answer is the same: “If my expectations are met.” But none of them know when their expectations will be met. The embassy occasionally launches programs to aid illegal immigrants to return to the home country. However, the information hardly reaches Nepalese living in remote parts of Genting. Even when they get the information, many cannot produce the necessary documents.

(Originally published in Nepali language in the Kantipur daily.) 

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